MEXICO: Empire, Independence and Nation Building

PART ONE – “EMPIRES”, COLONY and INDEPENDENCE.                                 1)Mexico is a large, geographically diverse nation.

Northern Mexico is largely desert.

Southern Mexico is largely tropical rain forest.

2)The Sierra Madre mountains run north and south.

A high plain or plateau runs down the central part of Mexico.

The altitude of Mexico City is 7200 feet.


3)The Aztecs or “Mexica” were the last of the many nomadic tribes to enter the Valley of Mexico from the north.

Wherever they appeared, they were violently driven away by the native population.

4)The Aztecs spoke the same language as the old Toltecs, (Nahuatl) They otherwise were considered “uncultured” by their neighbors.

5)After a series of defeats and humiliations, the Aztecs established themselves on island in Lake Texcoco.

They would achieved complete independence, eventually conquering their neighbors and building a large empire.

6)The Aztecs required all conquered peoples to pay heavy and burdensome taxes and tribute.

After only one century, the Aztec empire grew rich and powerful.

7) Hernando Cortes, a Spanish adventurer, marched his soldiers into Tenochtitlán in 1519.

Its magnificent size and engineered temples, palaces and gardens astonished the Spanish “Conquistadors”

8)The Spanish, with the help of native allies who resented Aztec rule, would defeat the Aztecs.

This began the 300 year-long colonial period called “New Spain”.

9)One “empire” was replaced with another. Cortes and the Spanish are often “demonized” by historians. Should both the Aztecs and Spanish can be considered brutal and exploitative and “oppressive” in their rule over Mexico?

10)Four social classes emerged in “New Spain”. “Peninsulares” were Spanish born.

“Criollos” were Mexican-born Spaniards.

The majority of the native, indigenous population would die off under Spanish rule. (largely from disease)

The “Mestizo” class, of “mixed” Native and Spanish race, would emerge as the most numerous social class, in a sense “replacing” the dead Native population.

11)The colonial government of New Spain was dominated by Spain-born Peninsulares, (derisively called “Gachupines”) despite the Criollos being a ten to one majority

12)The Spanish king had rewarded the “conquistadors” by granting them both haciendas and the Natives who worked them in a forced labor system known as Encomienda.

Indians lived a peasant-like existence.

13)On ejidos, communally lands, peasants (“peon-es”) did “subsistent” farming to meet their own basic needs.

Many landless, jobless peasants traveled from place to place as migrant workers.

An elite few owned most of the land.

Land distribution and lack of economic opportunity for the masses would be a recurrent theme in Mexican History.

14)In 1807, Napoleon’s French forces occupied Spain, setting up his brother Joseph as king. Confusion spread in Mexico

15)The French Revolution and Napoleonic wars diverted the attention of Spain, leading to increasing discontent and desire for an independent government in Mexico.

16)Neither Peninsulares nor upper class Criollos desired to involve the majority of native Indians and mestizos in government.

Lack of political participation and “elitist” rule would also be a recurrent theme in Mexican History.

17)Mexican born Criollos resented the Spanish born “gachupines”, who had legal and social priority and “privilege” over them.

18)With French control of Spain, the Criollos recognized an opportunity to overthrowPeninsular rule.

The Criollos sought to avoid direct confrontation by establishing Mexico as an independent nation under King Ferdinand’s Spanish empire

19)The Peninsulares under Bonaparte’s rule would be driven out of Mexico. However, the Gachupines were alerted by loyal Criollo officers who had refused to join the independence movement.

20)Father Miguel Hidalgo was a well-educated priest sympathetic to the Indians, which was unusual amongst Mexican clergymen.

Against colonial law, Hidalgo taught Indians to grow olives, mulberries and grapevines and to make pottery and leather.

21)Hidalgo, had close ties with the Criollo revolutionaries, he was targeted for arrest. 

Hidalgo called Indians and Mestizos to his church in Dolores, calling for a rebellion so that Mexicans could govern themselves.

22)On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo called them to rebel against the hated Gachupines, who had exploited and oppressed Mexicans for ten generations

23)Hidalgo’s revolt was a radical change from the original plot devised by the Criollos.

With clubs, slings, axes, knives, machetes and intense hatred, the Indians took on the Spanish military armed with guns and artllery.

24)The movement became a bitter class struggle instead of a political maneuver.

Alarmed by the violence of popular revolt, the Criollos withdrew their revolutionary support.

If the mestizo “underclass” could overthrow thePeninsulares, they could threaten the rule of the Criollo class.

25)Hidalgo later regretted the violent bloodbath he had incited with his “Cry of Dolores.”

He had not foreseen the violence, death and destruction that occurred.

26)Father Hidalgo was eventually captured and executed by the Spanish military.

Despite his ambivalence toward the violent class struggle, Hidalgo is still
revered as the father of Mexican independence.

27)Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, another priest, continued Hidalgo’s struggle. In 1813, Morelos held a congress that issued the first formal call for independence and would wrote a Constitution for a Mexican republic.

28)Morelos hoped to attract Criollos who wanted independence. Morelos succeededfurther than Hidalgo.

However, in 1815, Morelos too was captured and executed.

29)Lack of Criollo support undermined independence.

By 1816, Spanish troops had captured or killed almost all of the rebels. King Ferdinand VII was returned to the Spanish throne.

30)King Ferdinand VII did not realize that most Criollos supported him, and that they still only wanted “reform”.

Instead, the king thought that ALL Mexicans were traitors to Spain.

Ferdinand organized a large army to put down any and all “revolution”. This convinced many Criollos that they could not longer trust Spain.
31)In 1820, a revolt swept Spain.

Ferdinand’s power weakened.

Many Criollos saw their chance for revolution.

Unified Criollo support finally resulted in Mexican independence in 1821.


32)Following independence, Criollo leaders could not agree on a plan of government.

33)“Conservatives” sought a monarchy modeled on “old”, feudal Spain. “Liberals” sought a republic modeled after the “modern” United States.

34)Conservatives could not persuade a member of the royal Hapsburg family of Spain to be king. Revolutionary Criollo general Augustin de Iturbide became “emperor” in 1822.

35)Iturbide was a poor and unpopular ruler. Military revolt drove him from power in 1823.
36) In 1824, Mexico became a constitutional republic with an elected President and a two-house legislature (law making body) heading the national government.

The country was divided into nineteen states, each with it’s own government.

37)The new constitution and government was largely ignored by the majority of the population.

Political division would be a recurrent theme in Mexican History.

38)The period of the “early republic” was marked by political instability, financial problems and humiliation in dealing with foreign powers.

39)Social problems faced Mexican government and society.

The nation’s illiteracy rate was over 90%.

The expulsion of most Spaniards resulted in the exodus of many educated and talented persons.

There was a lack of experience in self-government.

Did Mexico exchange imperial tyranny for independent anarchy?

Liberals vs Conservatives
40)The political divide between liberal “left” and conservative ”right” widened over the years.

For the next fifty years, government control changed back and forth between both factions.

It split families, divided the population and resulted in political instability, “revolutions” and civil war.

41)Liberals feared the “tyranny” of a strong centralized national government.

Conservatives feared liberal “chaos” and disorder, seeking “peace and order”.

42)Liberals sought an “open” and “egalitarian” society.

Conservatives sought a “traditional” society ruled by a hierarchal elite that would provide order.

43)Liberals sought separation of Church and State and “toleration” of all
religious sects. Conservatives preferred a state “monopoly” of religion by the Roman Catholic Church.

44)Conservatives generally came from the landed elite, Church hierarchy, military officers, business owners and merchants.

Also, peasants and the indigenous “Indian” population generally supported conservative positions.

45)Liberals came from a variety of backgrounds, but many were from the “middle” class, including journalists, teachers, lawyers and small businessmen.

46)Liberals were subdivided into “moderados” who wanted limited social reforms, and “puros” who wanted radical restructuring of Mexican society.

47)Did liberals seek to “impose” liberal, democratic institutions on a majority of Mexican people who preferred feudal, conservative values ???.

48)Conservatives hoped a strong, centralized government would bring “peace and order” to a divided and often “chaotic” nation.

49)A revolution under conservative general Anastasio Bustamente resulted in his presidency from 1830 to 1832.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana led a revolt and took power as a “liberal” in 1832.

However, he rejected the liberal constitution in 1832. Political instability and conflict would mark the next few decades.

50)Santa Ana symbolized politically divided Mexico.

Santa Ana became president 11 different times, constantly changing political beliefs to suit his personal ambitions.

Was Santa Ana the “Napoleon” of Mexican history, a national “HERO” or “HYPOCRITE”?

51)The increasingly “conservative” Santa Ana was overthrown by liberals in 1855. Liberal reforms and the new Constitution of 1857 would lead Mexico into two irreconciliable camps.

52)Political divide led to the War of La Reforma (1857-62) , a bloody civil war.

Atrocities occurred on both sides. Liberal forces eventually took control,

53)Liberal rule and war led to political, social and economic chaos.

In 1862, Mexico experienced another military coup (takeover)

54)With support of the Roman Catholic clergy and upper class conservatives, an Austrian Hapsburg took the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximillian I.

55)French troops were sent to Mexico to help “enforce” Maximillian’s rule and collect debts owed to French business interests.

56)President Benito Juarez kept the Federal government, exiled in El Paso in the north, functioning during the French Intervention. Maximilian was eventually captured and executed.

57)Liberal“chaos”and persistent problems continued under the re-established presidency of Juarez.

The federal government was unable to establish control over many areas of geographically large and diverse Mexico.

Often, unelected regional “caudillos” (local “bosses”) established control and order, benefiting both themselves and the local peoples they effectively ruled over.

58)President Juarez died in 1872. A former “liberal” general under Juarez, Porfirio Diaz, was elected president in 1876.

He would dominate Mexico for over 30 years.
59)Mexico had gone through twenty years of “chaos”. (political division, war and foreign intervention)

Diaz’ rule brought a period of relative social peace and economic development “progress”.

60)Diaz brought “modern” material development, under the supervision of an elite “cientifico” class of advisors.

Increased farm production, railroads, fueled by foreign investment, did bring an increased amount of productivity and wealth.

61)Whatever material progress that occurred was undercut by persistent problems of lack of economic opportunity and unequal land distribution for the peasant underclass.

62)Politically, Diaz went from “democrat” to “dictator”.

63)The “tyranny” of the Porfirato would end in “cataclysmic” change, with what historians of Mexico call “The Revolution”, which began in 1910.

This would lead to more than a decade of “revolution” and civil war.


64)Like the American and French Revolutions, Mexican independence would bring both the “progress” and “problems” of the “modern” nation-state, reconciling old and new.

65)In addition to political divisions, the “nation” of Mexico would face continued problems of social and class divisions, geographic fragmentation, economic inequalities and distribution of land, and the role of Church and State.

66)Considering “Mexican” history, one needs to ask the question – “WHICH MEXICO?”

67)Is Mexico “LIBERAL”, a “modern”, democratic and prosperous nation-state? 


is Mexico “FEUDAL”, a “privileged” hierarchal elite dominating a “peasant” underclass?