TheRise and Fall of Agustin De Iturbide
Agustinde Iturbide played a significant role in the protection of thecolonial government as well as the fight for the independence ofMexico. Due to his military prowess, he was revered by the royalistsand the rebels feared him. While fighting for the colonial powers heachieved victory after victory in battle and due to his combatskills, he was referred to as “The Iron Dragon.” The locals,however, accused him of misusing his authority for financial gains,and this injured his reputation to the point of being demoted fromhis prestigious military post. Iturbide was competent as a militaryleader, but his poor governance of the Mexican Empire led to hisdownfall.
OnJuly 7, 1811, the Military Court of The Loyalist government foundMiguel Hidalgo-Costilla, the then leader of the insurgents for thebattle of sovereignty, guilty, and he was executed. After his death,Maria Morelos Pavon took control of the IndependenceRevolutionary Movement.Morelos took charge of the military and political wings of theinsurgency. His first move was to develop a strategic plan on how hewould lead rebels in encircling Mexico City, the Centre of colonialpower, as well as cut all communications to the coastal areas.1
June8, 1813, was when Morelos Convokeda National Congress ofRepresentatives drawn from all the provinces of Mexico atChilpancingo in the present- day state of Guerrero. The main agendawas to discuss the future of Mexico as an independent nation.2 The Congress developed a document whose key points includeduniversal male suffrage, the abolition of forced labor and slavery,adoption of Roman Catholicism as the official religion, popularsovereignty, end to corporal punishment and end to governmentmonopolies. Morelos’s forces registered initial successes, butafter six months, the colonial authorities broke the siege of MexicoCity and surrounding areas and finally invaded Chilpancingo.3
May1813 was when Agustin de Iturbide encountered Morelos and his rebelsin his native city of Valladolid. He outdid the rebels due to his wartactical skills and won the battle causing the rebels to retreat tothe forest. For this, Agustin was promoted to captain and in 1814promoted to Colonel where Viceroy Felix made him the leader of theregiment in Celaya.
Dueto his voracious pursuit of rebels, he was made forces commander ofthe highly contested Bajio in Guanajuato. In this region, his primaryopponent was Morelos between 1813 and 1815.4
December22, 1815, was when Maria Morelos Pavon was captured and executed byfiring squad in northern Mexico. From 1815 to 1821, the fight forMexico’s Independence from Spain was done by isolated guerrillabands led by two notable figures i.e. Guadalupe Victoria in Pueblaand Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca. These two men were able to commandrespect and allegiance from their followers. The Spanish Viceroy didnot, however, see them as a threat to the colony and issued a generalpardon to rebels who were willing to surrender and down their arms.5
December14, 1820, was when Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca decided to mount whatwas supposed to be the final campaign by the colonial governmentagainst the insurgents. He sent a force led by Agustin de Iturbide toOaxaca to defeat Guerrero’s army. Iturbide having defeated Hidalgoand Morelos and persecuted their soldiers in the earlier independenceencounters with zeal, was renowned and respected within the ranks ofthe colonial army. He was by then the Colonel of the royalist armyand the general of the south of New Spain. Iturbide was also likedwithin the Mexican church hierarchy since he was devoutly religious,committed to the defense of social privileges and property rights andheld conservative Criollo values. However, he was dissatisfied fornot being promoted even after the many successes he had after variousencounters with the insurgents and also disgruntled at his lack ofwealth. Iturbide’s assignment to defeat Guerrero and his army inOaxaca coincided with a successful coup in Spain against FerdinandVII and his new monarch.
FerdinandVII had assembled the coup leaders as an expedition force to suppressthe American independence movements, but they compelled him to signthe liberal Spanish constitution drawn in 1812.6
WhenIturbide got wind of the turn of events in the mother country, he sawthat as the best time for the Criollos to gain control of Mexico. Hecamped at Teloloapan where he set up his headquarters. Iturbidecontinued with the attack on the Guerrero’s army. However,correspondences between Agustin and Vicente indicates that the twowere constantly holding negotiations at the time. All this time,Iturbide had fought to preserve the Bourbon dynasty’s right to ruleMexico and those who sought to overthrow the Spanish monarchy.7
February24, 1821, was when the plan of Iguala was created. Agustin wasconvinced that to protect Mexico from the eminent Republican tideindependence was the only viable option. He became the leader of theCriollo independence movement and sought to form a coalition withliberal insurgents, the church, and nobility and to achieve this hewrote the plan of Iguala. The plan was based on three guarantees, andthe first one was that Roman Catholicism was to be the onlyrecognized religion in the new country. Secondly, regarding theunion, all the inhabitants of Mexico were to be treated as equals. 8Thirdly, the new nation was to acquire freedom from the colonialmasters, Spain. The plan was meant to drum support from the mostimportant factions including the clergy, the insurgency, and theSpaniards. To retain the support of the royalists, a monarchy wasensured.
Iturbidenegotiated with Guerrero and offered him a full pardon if hesurrendered. He rejected the amnesty but agreed to meet withAgustinto todiscussMexico’s independence. The meeting between the two leaders was heldat Acatempan, and they decided to implement the plan. Also presentwas Guadalupe Victoria, another insurgent leader, and the conferencewas named the embrace of Acatempan where the plan of Iguala came intoeffect.9
March1, 1821, Iturbide was proclaimed head of the army of the threeGuarantees with Guerrero recognizing him as the defacto leader andoffered his full support. The document was rather vague especiallythe part that it sought to bring Ferdinand VII to Mexico City torule. However, the plan had promised and catered for the needs ofvarious relevant groups within the colony. The clergy was assured ofthe supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church because they wereuncomfortable with the anti-clerical policies of Spanish liberalism.The plan also guaranteed that all inhabitants of the new nation wouldbe considered as equals including Creoles, Spaniards, and themestizos as well as abolish slavery. With this plan, all warringparties including military leaders, villagers, families, and soldierswho had been fighting one another for over ten years joined forces toattain Mexican independence.10
August24, 1821, is when the Treaty of Córdoba was signed in Veracruz,Mexico. It was a negotiated agreement between Agustin de Iturbide,the head of the Army of the Three Guarantees and Juan O’Donoju whowas acting on behalf of the Spanish government. The treaty recognizedNew Spain as an independent empire which was regarded as monarchical,constitutional and moderate. The crown of the Mexican empire wasgiven to Ferdinand VII of Spain.
Itfurther stated that if Ferdinand were not available within thespecified time, then the crown would be given to his brothers insequence, cousin or another individual of the royal house. Animportant clause was inserted in the treaty indicating that if nomember of the royal house accepted the crown, then parliament coulddesignate a new king not necessarily from the royal house.11One could see this as a plan by Iturbide to leave it that way so thathe would take the crown if the opportunity presented itself.
September27, 1821, is the day when the Army of the Three Guarantees took overMexico City and by the following day, the independence of the MexicanEmpire was declared. However, the Spanish parliament did neitherrecognize the Treaty of Cordoba nor the treaty of Iguala, actually,they did not acknowledge the independence of Mexico until 1836. AMexican monarch was elected by the Congress and as widely expectedIturbide was proclaimed Mexico’s emperor the following year on May18, 1822.12
December15, 1822, was when the Plan de Casa Mata was signed by GuadalupeVictoria Antonio and Lopez de Santa and the two started efforts tooverthrow Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. After independence, some ofthe promises contained in the plan of Iguala proved to be quite toughto implement. This factor caused disquiet within the various factionsand even those in power. The Emperor lived lavishly, choose ministerspersonally and demanded preference for his army. In the inaugurationof 1822, Congress swore not to allow all state powers to be vested inthe hands of an entity or individual. It also considered reducing thesize of the army and decreasing military pay. All these moves couldbe seen as intended to lessen the influence of Iturbide government.
Opinionis divided on how Agustin became the Emperor of Mexico.Somebelieve that he took advantage of the circumstances as well as thepolitical situation at that time and therefore his decision a couporchestrated by him and his close confidants. Others hold the viewthat he went by the wishes of the Mexican people who believed that hewas a hero of the independence struggle.13Later after Iturbide’s abduction members of Congress revealed thatthey elected him out of fear their lives since during the vote manypeople were present and they all proclaimed Iturbide14.
Asection of royalists who supported the creation of an empire hopedfor a European ruler. The election of Iturbide was therefore againsttheir expectations and most of them conspired against the newemperor. Agustin’s enemy-turned- ally Vicente Guerrero escapedMexico City and joined the rebels. Many military leaders also turnedagainst the Emperor and joined Santa Anna’s forces. The wholenation had now accepted the Plan de la Casa Mata and sensing this,Iturbide reopened Congress to present his abdication indicating thathe did this to avoid a bloody civil war. He went on exile on May 11,1823.15
12Young,Julia, "Mexican Exodus: Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of theCristero War. Oxford University Press. 2015).
Agustinwas on many occasions approached by the insurgents to join theindependence struggle but declined on several times. For example, in1810, Miguel Hidalgo offered him the rank of general in the rebelforces, but Iturbide refused. This aspect shows his military prowesswas respected by friends and foe and everyone considered him an assetin battle. Before joining the insurgents later in his career to fightfor independence, he ensured that they had no chance of advancing toMexico City as they intended to take over power. It is widely agreedthat after twelve years of struggle, Mexico’s independence onlybecame a reality after he switched alliances to join the rebels. Forthis, he is considered a hero of independence and father of thenation.
Theway Iturbide run the Mexican empire after independence contributed tohis downfall. He was not a sound financial manager and Mexico facedeconomic turmoil. After the war, public coffers were strained, andofficial bureaucracy had grown. He was also confronted with a lot ofcriticism from the Congress and instead of handling this grievanceshead on, he dissolved the Congress and authorized for the arrest oflegislative members who were opposed to him. This strategy wasinappropriate because in effect he was fueling the growing rebellionfrom within his government. In fact, prominent figures in themilitary and the political establishment despised the emperor fordissolving Congress and termed the move as a mockery of nationalrepresentation. Ferdinand VII also broke economic ties with Mexicoand no other European nation recognized his leadership. His economicpolicies were also weak. For example, he abolished colonial-era taxesbut retained a large well-paid army and lived extravagantly. He alsofell out with the elite for imposing a forty percent property tax onthem. This was not only economically unsustainable but also unpopularwith most of his followers. Iturbide’s economic policies failed,and he was unable to pay the army leading to discontent in his powerbase. He even censored the press when criticism towards him and hisgovernment grew. This aspect united the opposition groups in therealization that the imperial concept was not good for Mexico andthat to combat despotism, a republican model was inevitable.
Iturbidewas a superb front line military leader but a poor head of governmentand this lead to his downfall. This factor means that he was onlyskilled in combat and thus, he succeeded in all his encounters. Hisfortunes started dwindling immediately he became Emperor where hisweaknesses as a leader became evident, and this led to his failureand destruction.
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1 Andrews, “Constitutional Projects,” 46
2 Rodriguez, “We Are Now the True Spaniards,” 2.
3 Rodriguez, “We Are Now the True Spaniards,” 4.
4Andrews, “Constitutional Projects,” 46.
5 Rugeley, “Mexican History Today,”6.
6 Soto, “Lucas Alamán,”15
7 Hernandez, “Mexican American colonization,” 756.
8 Soto, “Lucas Alamán,”16
9 Iturbide, “Plan of Iguala.”
10 Carpenter, “Mexico`s Break Up,”32.
11 Büschges, “Aristocratic Revolutionaries” 498
12 Radding, Environment, Territory, and Landscape Changes, 67-68.
13 Rugeley, “Mexican History Today,”7
14 Rugeley, “Mexican History Today,” 12
15 Young, Mexican Exodus, 57.