From Empire to Republic - Arthur H. Noll

The "Plan De Iguala," the Treaty of Cordoba, and the First Mexican Empire

Upon Fernando's reestablishment of Absolutism in Spain, a revolution broke out in that country. In 1820, the Constitution of 1812 was proclaimed by the revolutionists in Saragossa, and Fernando found himself under the necessity of proclaiming it in Madrid, and convening the Cortes. His speech at the opening of that body was remarkable for its expressions of liberal sentiments, and for its general hypocrisy. The Cortes proceeded to restore its former work: it dissolved the convents, abolished the Inquisition (this time finally), ordained the freedom of the press and the right of holding popular meetings and forming political clubs, and even went so far as to seize the tithes of the secular clergy on the grounds that the money was required by the State in a great emergency.

When the restored Constitution and the decrees of the Cortes came to be promulgated in Mexico, there was a great commotion among the European residents there. The results were almost the opposite of what had been expected in Spain. The people were at the time excited over an election in which they were to exercise the suffrage, and the spirit of Independence was about to break forth again. The Creoles were of course pleased with the restoration of the Constitution, whereby their rights were recognized and enlarged. The Europeans, however, were divided in their opinions. Some were favorable to the new order of things, while others preferred the old system under which they had fattened and grown wealthy. The pay of the army was reduced under the new system, and this caused widespread discontent in that powerful political body.

In Spain, the adherents of the King in his struggle with the liberal party were known as "Serviles." The Serviles among the Europeans of New Spain thought of offering a refuge to Fernando in Mexico, and thus securing to the clergy through him the rights of which they were deprived by the Constitution and the liberal decrees of the Cortes. The Viceroy, Apodaca, was under the influence of the Serviles. After taking the oath prescribed by the Cortes to support the Constitution, he was really planning its overthrow.

The clergy of Mexico now found themselves forced into a curious position. Under orders from the Pope, they had, nine years before, opposed the revolution in Mexico, and had denounced as heretical the idea of Independence or separation from Spain. But that was at a time when they felt that Spain and the Spanish system were the only conservators of their rights and privileges. Now they found their rights and privileges menaced from that very quarter. The liberal Constitution took from them much valuable property and many prized prerogatives. It was the liberalism of Spain, not that of Mexico, that now threatened religion itself. Their interests demanded "an absolute separation from Spain and its radicalism."

The clergy began to hold secret consultations with their closest adherents among the "Old Spaniards," and to devise means whereby the rights and prerogatives of the religious orders might be conserved, the immense revenues of the Church saved, and the cooperation of the people of Mexico (whom they had previously estranged) secured in their interests. The Spanish treasury was known to be exhausted, the army was unpaid and ready to mutiny, and there were other indications that should the struggle for Independence be renewed it would be successful. It was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later an independent nation would be established in Mexico. It seemed best for the clergy and their friends to effect a compromise with the extreme Independents, and get control of the revolutionary movement. With this object in view, meetings were held in the Church of the Profesa in the City of Mexico, and were attended by "Old Spaniards," Creoles, and the more influential Mestizos. The clergy were, of course, largely represented. As a result of these meetings, a plan of action was agreed upon for accomplishing what Hidalgo, Morelos, and thousands of heroes had fought and died for—the Independence of Mexico.

Prominent among those interested in this new movement was Agustin de Iturbide, who was destined to take a very prominent part in the affairs of Mexico. He was a native of Valladolid (now Morelia), and a Mestizo, his father being Spanish and his mother a Mexican; but he was regarded as a Creole, and was generally so termed. He had entered the provincial militia at the age of sixteen, was rapidly promoted until he reached the rank of colonel, and in 1820 was in his thirty-eighth year.

Upon the outbreak of the revolution under Hidalgo, he looked into the nature of the quarrel between Mexico and Spain, and at first espoused the cause of his native land. But he soon afterwards joined the troops organized for the support of the Viceregal government. Up to 1820, the energy, not to say vindictive cruelty, with which he had pursued the revolutionists left no grounds for suspicion as to the direction of his sympathies in political affairs. But he had recently been removed from the army for some malfeasance, and was an idler in the City of Mexico, devoting himself to religious exercises and extending his intercourse with the clergy. He was handsome in person, of elegant address and polished manners, and was highly esteemed by the clergy, through whose influence he regained much of the popularity he had lost by his cruelties and his rupture with the army and the government.

His rapid promotion in the Viceregal army stimulated his ambition, and his observation of affairs in Spain changed his political views. With the entire separation of Mexico from Spain, there would be no chances for his further advancement, civil or military. He had nothing to hope from the Mexicans, having been a bitter opponent of the Independents. If, on the other hand, he were allied to the successful party, and had a hand in effecting the separation which he now concluded was inevitable, his chances for promotion under the new regime would be greatly enhanced. He believed that the cause of Independence could be made to triumph by effecting a union of the Europeans, the Creoles or Mestizos, and the Revolutionists, under a "Plan" then under discussion at the Church of the Profesa. He was taking an active part in the meetings being held there, and afterwards claimed to have originated the "Plan" which was finally adopted.

When the necessity for a military leader arose, the qualifications of Agustin de Iturbide were readily seen by the plotters at the Church of the Profesa, and he was selected for that position. The military leader being thus secured, it became necessary to secure an army for him to lead. This was accomplished by inducing the unsuspecting Viceroy to appoint Iturbide to the command of a native army which was preparing to destroy Vicente Guerrero, and proclaim in the western coasts of Mexico the restoration of the King's absolute authority, which the Viceroy was expecting simultaneously to proclaim in the capital.

General Vicente Guerrero was the one revolutionary chief who had refused all overtures from the Viceroy, and was still in formidable resistance to his authority. He was of humble origin, and was said to possess that drop of African blood in his veins which deprived him of the rights of Spanish citizenship under the Constitution of 1812. He had been a follower of Morelos, and had led bands of guerrillas after the defeat of that great patriot-priest. In March, 1818, he was apparently the only general officer in resistance to the government of the Viceroy. Thus early he set to work to collect the scattered patriots and reorganize them for a final struggle. By a series of victories over the Viceregal forces in 1820, he won recognition as a formidable revolutionary leader. He was destined to become an important factor in the liberation of Mexico from Spanish domination.

The army of Guerrero was threatening a march on the capital, where the military strength of the Viceroy was concentrated, when Iturbide was sent to destroy it and proclaim the absolute authority of the King. Iturbide left the capital, in November, 1820, with twenty-five hundred soldiers, and established himself near the headquarters of the Independent chief. He was in no haste, however, to engage in battle. He was convinced that by bringing the old insurgents to act in concert with the Creole troops, he might easily shake off the authority of Spain and proclaim the absolute Independence of Mexico. On these points there was a perfect understanding between him and the clerical schemers at the capital. The following February (1821), an interview was arranged between the two military leaders. Iturbide disclosed his plan for the establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy in Mexico which should guarantee to the people, (1) the Roman Catholic Religion, without toleration of any other, and with the rights, immunities, and property of the clergy preserved and secured; (2) the absolute independence of the country; and (3) the enjoyment of the same civil rights by all of the actual inhabitants of Mexico, whatever their birthplace or descent,—thus doing away with all distinctions of race or color. The scheme provided for the recognition of Fernando VII. as Emperor, provided he would consent to occupy the throne in person and take an oath to observe the Constitution to be adopted by a Congress of the Mexican nation. Guarantees were to be given for the conservation of the property and rights of the clergy; and provision was to be made for an army to take the Roman Catholic Religion under its protection, for a Mexican Congress to frame a Constitution, and for a governing junta pending the arrival of the King.

On the twenty-fourth of February, 1821, Iturbide assembled the chief officers of his army at Iguala and presented to them a set of propositions for the institution of a national government in Mexico in conformity with this scheme, to which was given the name of Las Tres Garantias  (The Three Guarantees), though it has ever since been popularly known as the "Plan de Iguala" from the little village (now in the State of Guerrero) directly south of the capital, where it was announced to the army of the Viceroy. The "Three Guarantees"—Religion, Independence, and Union—were to be symbolized, in the national flag to be adopted, by the colors red, white, and green.

The "Plan de Iguala" was more definite than any that had preceded it, and gave more certain promise of success. The concession on the part of the clerical promoters of the plan was, of course, in regard to the equality of the various social classes; all class distinctions were to be abolished. Compensation for this concession was to be had in the protection which the clergy hoped to receive for their religious privileges. The proposal of adherence to Fernando was intended merely to deceive. When the Independents hesitated to accept a government under a Bourbon prince, they were assured that there was little prospect of the execution of that part of the plan, though the primary intention was to free Mexico from the domination of Spain and Spanish people, not from that of the King. It was necessary to have this provided for at the outset, though it was generally understood that the provision was not likely to be retained. The Mexicans generally, apart from the Independent leaders, knew little and cared less about the form of government to which they were to submit when once freed from that of the Viceroy and Audiencia; and, visionary and impracticable as it now appears, the idea of giving to Fernando VII. an Empire in the Western World, in place of one he had found so irksome in Spain under the constitutional restrictions imposed in 1812, was very attractive to the Mexican people at that time.

It was, in fact, the Spanish Cortes that objected. The "Plan de Iguala" was a most impudent subversion of their plans. Fernando was, indeed, under their arrangement of affairs, a mere figurehead in the government of Spain and persona non grata  to the Spanish people. But the Cortes preferred to have that figurehead kept at home. It was not the intention to have the King transfer his capital from Madrid to the City of Mexico, and establish on American soil a new Empire to be the rival of the old. And although the Cortes treated the matter with all seriousness when it came before it, it could not fail to see the ludicrous side of the Mexican proposal.

Guerrero received the disclosures of Iturbide's plan, when first made to him, with uncontrolled joy, and at once ceded to the Mestizo Colonel the command of the "Army of the Three Guarantees," composed of his own forces and those under Iturbide, who swore to support the "Plan de Iguala." The news of the movement spread like wild-fire throughout the country. Iturbide went into the Provincias Internas  to arrange for its publication there, leaving Guerrero in command of the troops in the south.

All the Viceroy's offers of money and political advancement failed to win the now revolutionary Commander-in-chief back to his former allegiance. Iturbide not only took with him the soldiers in his immediate command, but he influenced many others to espouse the cause of the "Plan de Iguala." Pedro Celestino Negrete, who up to this time had been in command of a division of the Viceroy's troops, pronounced for the Plan in Guadalajara. Colonel Anastasio Bustamante, afterwards President of Mexico, with his whole regiment, declared in favor of the Plan; and the Creole troops, which had not joined in the previous revolutions, now came forward in support of this. Juan Alvarez, Carlos Maria Bustamante, Jose Joaquin de Herrera, Nicolas Bravo, and many others who were destined to attain to prominent places in the subsequent history of the country, gave in their adhesion to it. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and others on the Gulf Coast, arose in support of the Plan; Felix Fernandez came forth from his hiding place; Revolutionary leaders who had retired from the struggle discouraged, again came to the front; and Iturbide soon found himself at the head of sixteen thousand men, all enthusiastic over the success of the new enterprise. The Bajio, Valladolid, Toluca, Queretaro, Puebla, Durango, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, and other localities, came into the ranks of the "Three Guarantees." The Independence of the country seemed assured without the sacrifice of another drop of blood.

Such were the conditions which caused the retirement of Viceroy Apodaca from Mexico. It is believed that he was at first inclined to favor the "Plan de Iguala"; but when he saw the true state of affairs, and what it was that Iturbide was seeking to accomplish, he declined the offer made to him of the Presidency of a junta to be created to carry the Plan into effect, and issued a proclamation warning the people against the new movement and offering pardon to all who would abandon the constantly growing forces of the "Three Guarantees." Nevertheless, the Serviles seemed to regard him with suspicion, and brought charges against him of lacking energy in an emergency and of taking no active measures against the Plan. The troops in the capital mutinied, and seemed inclined to go over to the army of Iturbide. So Apodaca resigned, and on the fifth of July, 1821, turned the government over to his Chief of Artillery, Francisco de Novella.

Apodaca is known in history as "The Unfortunate." Novella appears as Viceroy ad interim, but he did little by way of discharging the functions of the Viceregal office, and his term lasted but a few days. His authority was scarcely recognized. The Serviles failed to support him; the officers of the army ignored him. On the thirtieth of July, 1821, General Juan O'Donoju, bearing the commission of Captain-General, arrived in Mexico to supersede Novella. Upon landing in San Juan de Ulua, he took the oath of office as Viceroy, and issued a proclamation declaring the liberality of his principles and the rectitude of his intentions, and holding out the prospect of arranging satisfactorily all that was desired by the "Plan de Iguala." He requested that hostilities might be suspended until he could consult with the Independents and receive instructions from Spain. Vera Cruz was then in the hands of the Independents under Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. O'Donoju was therefore placed in the embarrassing position of having to ask of Santa Anna the privilege of landing upon the continent, and of requesting from Iturbide a safe-conduct to the capital.

O'Donoju (whose name bespeaks his Irish origin) saw at a glance that it would be impossible to arrest the revolution by force, and he proposed to treat with Iturbide. Iturbide answered his letter by offering to meet him in Cordoba; and there they met, on the twenty-fourth of August, 1821. With that date, the Independence of Mexico may be considered as begun. There was apparently no difficulty in getting O'Donoju to sign, on behalf of the government he was supposed to represent, what is known as the Treaty of Cordoba.

This Treaty embodied the "Plan de Iguala." It declared Mexico sovereign and independent, and provided for a constitutional, representative monarchy; for the call of the Bourbon family of Spain to the throne; and for the immediate establishment of a provisional government, pending the arrival of the chosen monarch. The Treaty also assured to the people the liberty of the press and the equal rights of Mexicans and Spaniards then residing in the country, and agreed that the army of the "Three Guarantees" should occupy the capital and that the Spanish troops should be sent out of the country as speedily as possible. In accordance with this stipulation. Colonel Herrera entered the capital, on the twenty-third of September, with a detachment of the Independent troops. The Commandant at San Juan de Ulua and Novella, in the City of Mexico, were the only prominent military officials who remained in opposition to the Treaty of Cordoba; and their following was but small.

The Treaty of Cordoba having been secured, and all things being in readiness, Iturbide, on his thirty-ninth birthday (twenty-seventh of September), entered the capital in triumph at the head of his army. He was hailed as "The Liberator," and the occasion was marked by every demonstration of joy. He at once gave his attention to executing that clause of the Treaty which provided for a government ad interim. The provisional government, consisting of the Bishop of Puebla and two lay associates, selected Iturbide, O'Donoju, Manuel de la Barcena, Jose Isidro Yanez, and Manuel Vasquez de Leon, to compose the Regency.

Barcena, Yanez, and Leon are new names in the history of these times. They were among the promoters of the "Plan de Iguala," and had previously taken no interest in the Independence of Mexico save to oppose the Revolutionists. The five Regents were without delay solemnly installed in the Cathedral, upon taking an oath to support the Treaty of Cordoba. The Regency organized by electing Iturbide President. He appointed a ministry altogether inconsistent with the declared purposes of the "Plan de Iguala," and inadequate to the special demands of the times. The old Revolutionary party was completely ignored, and the portfolios of Hacienda (State), War and Marine, Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Domestic and Foreign Relations, were given to the new party of Independents,—those who had sought and obtained the separation from Spain through the "Plan de Iguala."

The death of O'Donoju, on the eighth of October, enabled Iturbide to augment his powers still further. The Bishop of Puebla was appointed to the place of the deceased Viceroy in the Regency, and Iturbide conferred upon the prelate the honorary presidency of that body, while he retained for himself the command of the army, with the title of Generalissimo and an annual salary of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, and thus grafted upon the political system of the new nation one of the worst features of the Old Spanish regime—ecclesiastical and military domination. With the further title of "Lord High Admiral" conferred upon him, and addressed by the people as "Serene Highness," the Mestizo Colonel was within a step of the gratification of his loftiest ambition. He separated himself from the old Revolutionary leaders, ignored the services they might render him, allied himself with the army, and ingratiated himself with the clergy and aristocratic classes as most likely to serve him in time of need.

A junta composed of thirty-eight "Notables," and more popularly constituted than the Regency, proceeded to arrange for the organization of Congress, as contemplated by the "Plan de Iguala;" but its members did not propose to accept too readily Iturbide's plans for the organization of that body. Instead of two houses of legislation, they proposed to allow but one, and that was to be composed of deputies elected by the people. In those provinces which were to send more than four deputies, they proposed that there should be one ecclesiastic, one military man, and one lawyer; and although all the members of the junta professed to be guided by the "Plan de Iguala," a diversity of political views became apparent from the outset. Certain writers at this time began to propose openly the adoption of the Republican form of government. The public press began to attack the "Plan de Iguala." An organized movement toward the establishment of a Republic was actually discovered and suppressed by Negrete, toward the end of the year, and Felix Fernandez, Nicolas Bravo, and others, were made to suffer imprisonment in consequence thereof.

When assembled, on the twenty-fourth of February, 1822, Congress was found to comprise three distinct parties, notwithstanding the oath taken by each deputy to support the "Plan de Iguala" and the Treaty of Cordoba. The "Bourbonistas "were the strictest adherents to the Plan and Treaty, and desired a constitutional monarchy with a Prince of the House of Bourbon at its head. They comprised the Spaniards who had been unable to leave the country because of their valuable interests therein, and whose welfare could only be conserved by a strict construction of the Plan, of which they were, in fact, the original promoters.

The "Republicans" desired that the Plan should be set aside, and a Federal Republic be instituted. They fully appreciated the difficulties in the way of realizing their hopes, but they had begun to be suspicious of Iturbide; and being composed for the most part of the old Revolutionary leaders, they were naturally hostile to him personally.

The third party called themselves "Iturbidistas." They accepted the "Plan de Iguala," but, anticipating the action of the Spanish Cortes in regard to the Treaty of Cordoba, they were preparing to substitute Iturbide for the Bourbons named in the Plan and Treaty, and elevate him to an Imperial throne. These partisans of Iturbide comprised representatives of the army, the clergy, and the more influential Creoles. The three political parties thus beginning to crystallize foreshadowed those which subsequently played football with the highest interests of the Mexican nation.

The declaration of the Spanish Cortes that the Treaty of Cordoba was null and void, was received in Mexico at the time that the Constituent Assembly or Congress was organized under the Presidency of a pronounced opponent of Iturbide. The resolution of the Cortes to make an effort to recover the American provinces by reinforcing the troops in the revolting countries, meant nothing more than an emphatic protest against the course affairs were taking; for Spain had neither money nor men to spare at the time. And the immediate result in Mexico was that the "Bourbonistas" ceased to exist as a party, and the interests of the Congress were narrowed down to those of the "Iturbidistas" and Republicans. The latter were led by such men as Guerrero, Fernandez, Bravo, and others of their class, and were augmented by the former "Bourbonistas." They were bitterly opposed to the further advancement of Iturbide. Guerrero naturally felt that he was entitled to some recognition in the distribution of honors under the new regime.

Congress, which was largely dominated by the Republicans, placed further obstacles in the way of Iturbide' s progress toward the gratification of his ambition. The reduction of the army was a blow aimed at his personal support. The Regency was deposed, and General Bravo, the Count of Heras, and Miguel Valentin were placed in their stead. A decree inhibiting the members of the Regency from bearing arms, intended to suppress Iturbide' s candidacy for the Imperial throne, passed to its third reading, and was about to be adopted, when Iturbide made up his mind that it was time for his friends to take the final step necessary to secure the ends he had in view.

On the eighteenth of May, 1822, the "Liberator" obtained a pronunciamento in his favor in the cuartel  of San Hipolito in the capital. The ostensible leader in the movement was one Pio Marcha, a sergeant in the First Regiment of Infantry, who but for this would have been absolutely unknown to history; and despite his important relation to the incidents now brought to our attention, obtained no greater promotion than to a captaincy. He was seconded by Epitacio Sanchez, Colonel of a regiment of Horse Guards, and the movement spread to the various cuartels  of the city and was assisted by demonstrations in favor of Iturbide in the theatres and by salvos of artillery in the streets. Enthusiasm is infectious, and to any disinterested spectator in the City of Mexico that day it would undoubtedly have appeared that the popularity of Iturbide had been increasing rather than diminishing since he made his triumphal entry into the city as the Liberator of his people, and that the whole city had determined upon his becoming the Emperor of the nation.

In a turbulent meeting of the Congress, from which the Republican members were in a measure excluded, and in which the influence of Iturbide was by various means greatly extended,—with the galleries filled with his friends, who were instructed to applaud at any mention of his name,—Iturbide was elected Emperor of Mexico by a vote of seventy-seven to fifteen. If we may accept his own account of these proceedings, his election was greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm, and the air was rent with shouts of "Viva el Emperador! Viva Agustin I.!"

He immediately took the oath of office before Congress, and organized a Provisional Council of State, composed of thirteen persons. Then, to the neglect of matters upon which the welfare of the nation and the happiness of the people depended, he applied himself to the arrangement of the succession to the throne and the titles to be borne by the members of the Imperial family. On the twenty-fifth of July he was anointed and crowned in the Cathedral in Mexico, and assumed the title of "Agustin I., Emperador."