Short History of Mexico - Arthur H. Noll

The Viceroys of the 18th Century

Upon he retirement of the Count of Moctezuma, the Bishop of Michoacan, Juan de Ortega Montanes, for the second time undertook the management of civil affairs in New Spain, and held the position of Viceroy a little over a year. He was then succeeded by Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva Enriquez, Duque de Albuquerque y Marques de Cuellar, the founder of the now important New Mexican town of Albuquerque, and its namesake. It was in 1709 that the Collegiate Church of Guadalupe was completed and consecrated.

In 1711 the Duke of Albuquerque was succeeded by Don Fernando Alencastre Norona y Silva, Duque de Linares. This Viceroy established the tribunal of the Acordada  to apprehend robbers; he continued, as far as Belen, the aqueduct begun by the Viceroy, the Count of Monclova, and founded the town of Linares, in Nuevo Leon. He was succeeded in 1716 by Don Baltasar de Zuniga Guzman Sotomayor y Mendoza, Duque de Arion y Marques de Valero, who seems to have made an attempt to comprehend in his own cognomen as many of the names of his predecessors as was convenient. This Viceroy was the benefactor of Queretaro, supplying that town with water by means of a noble aqueduct, still standing and in use, two miles in length, supported upon handsome arches, some of them ninety feet high. This aqueduct is connected by a tunnel with a natural reservoir five miles from the town. A statue of the Marquis of Valero, now shattered by balls thrown by the Republican cannon in the siege of Queretaro in 1867, adorns the plaza of that town. The building of the Teatro Principal in the Calle Coliseo in the capital, and the completion of the Church of the Profesa, at the cost of private parties, belong to this period.

The rule of the successor of the Marquis of Valero, Don Juan de Acuna, Marques de Casafuerte, beginning in 1722 and continuing for twelve years, was marked by the correction of many abuses, and the exercise of much prudence in all departments of the government of New Spain. He was a native of Lima, Peru, and a man of energy and of honor. A newspaper named the Gaceta de Mexico  (Mexican Gazette) was begun during his administration, and continued publication until the year 1807. The town of San Antonio de Bexar, now an important city of Texas, may trace its history back to this period. The Marquis of Casafuerte died in office in 1734, leaving a part of his wealth to public works and objects of benevolence.

Upon his death the Archbishop of Mexico, Juan Antonio de Vizarron y Eguiarreta, assumed charge of the affairs of New Spain. It was in his reign that the Virgin of Guadalupe was officially declared by the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church in Mexico, the patroness of the Mexican Indians, in recognition of her protection during a plague which swept over the land in 1736. It was some time afterwards (1754) that she was by papal bull proclaimed the especial patroness of the Indians. The Archbishop's palace in Tacubaya was built by Vizarron. It is now the national observatory. The prelate-Viceroy also began the church of San Fernando, in the capital, which still stands, though its adjoining monastery is in ruins.

The Archbishop only claimed to hold office ad interim  though his rule extended over six years. In 1740 he delivered over the office of Viceroy to the appointee of the crown, Don Pedro de Castro Figueroa y Salazar, Duque de la Conquista y Marques de Gracia Real, whose brief administration was devoted principally to the fortification of the castle of San Juan de Ulua, which had been built more than a century previously, and is now a strong fortress, and used also as a prison. The Duke of the Conquest died a year after his arrival, and (the Audience conducting the affairs of government for a while) was succeeded in 1742 by Don Pedro Cebrian y Agustin, Conde de Fuenclara, whose monuments are the Calzada de San Antonio Abad and the colonies of Nueva Santander, now Tamaulipas.

Pirates burned the town of Champoton in Yucatan, and a valuable cargo of silver and gold (more than $2,000,000), derived by Mexico from its trade with China, fell into the hands of the English admiral Anson. The first efforts to obtain correct geographical and statistical knowledge of Mexico dates from a decree of Philip V in 1741, directing Jose Antonio Villasenor y Sanchez, as "Cosmographer of New Spain," to collect and digest the necessary data. As a result of his labors, the population of the City of Mexico is given in the year 1747 as 50,000 families of Spaniards, Europeans and Creoles, 40,000 mestizos, mulattoes, and negroes, and 8,000 native Indians.

The Count of Fuenclara was succeeded in 1746 by Don Juan Francisco de Guemes y Horcasitas, primer Conde de Revillagigedo, who managed both to increase the wealth of the country and make an immense fortune for himself during his thirteen years in New Spain, notwithstanding famines which prevailed in Zacatecas and Guadalajara part of this time, owing to the failure of the corn crop.

The fortieth Viceroy, arriving in the country in 1755, was Don Agustin de Ahumada y Villalon, Marques de las Amarillas, an honorable man, who, before he had been five years in the land, was stricken with paralysis and went to Cuernavaca to recover his health. He died there in 1760, and it is considered worthy of remark that he left his widow poor.

The Audience took charge of the government until the arrival of a successor, Don Francisco Cajigal de la Vega, ex-Governor of Cuba, who, though holding office for only about six months, by giving his attention to matters directly within sight of his palace, was able to do much towards the improvement of the capital. He was succeeded the same year (1760) by Don Joaquin de Monserrat, Marques de Cruillas. The principal event of his rule was an inundation in Guanajuato, followed by a sack of the city by the lower classes and the loss of much property. The Marquis of Cruillas was the first to organize a standing army in Mexico, and he ordered the houses in the City of Mexico to be numbered; but whether he is responsible for the present execrable system of numbering in that city or not is uncertain.

After six years the Marquis of Cruillas was succeeded by Don Carlos de Croix, Marques de Croix, whose rule was filled with significant events. He greatly improved the capital, enlarged the Alameda to its present size, and increased the revenues of the government by a tax on tobacco. He issued a decree that the Spanish language should everywhere be spoken in Mexico,—but with what effect may easily be imagined. It was during his reign that Archbishop Lorenzana presided over the Fourth "General" Council of Mexico, in which action was taken closely resembling the Alt-Catholic movement of a little more than a century later. But the greatest event of his administration was the sudden imprisonment by the Marquis of Croix, in June, 1767, of all the Jesuits in New Spain, and the confiscation of their goods. This was under a decree of the Spanish Cortes. The order of Jesuits was rich in haciendas and city houses. The Jesuits were subsequently expelled the country. Many of them died of vomito  in Vera Cruz on the way. Others reached Habana, and finally Italy. Among them was the famous historian Clavigero. The Marquis of Croix carried with him to Spain in 1771 the good-will of the people of Mexico, despite his attempts to force a strange language upon some of them, and his firmness in executing the mandates of the Spanish Cortes against the Jesuits. His successor was Don Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua, Bailio de la Orden de San Juan, and Lieutenant-General of the Army of Spain.

Various monuments to the energetic and beneficent rule of Bucareli are to be found in Mexico. There is a Paseo  at the capital that bears his name. It was planned and executed by him, and was once beautiful, but is now abandoned and fallen into decay. The aqueduct from Chapultepec to Salto del Agua, heretofore referred to, was completed by him at his own cost. The castle of San Diego, in Acapulco, was built by him. There are several institutions existing in the capital to-day which took their rise at the time of his rule. The Monte de Piedad, founded in 1776 by Pedro Romero de Terreros, Conde de Regla, the owner of the famous mines of Real Monte, is one of these. His purpose was to break up the usurious rates of the money-lenders, and to enable the poor to borrow money upon personal pledges. He endowed the establishment to the extent of $300,000. It is now an immense establishment, having survived many seasons of financial depression. It is one of the most noted institutions of Mexico.

The Real Tribunal de Mineria was founded in 1777 for the purpose of stimulating mining enterprises. It now exists as the Mineria, or School of Engineers, in one of the handsomest buildings in the capital. The Foundling Hospital (now known as La Cuna, "the cradle"), in the Puente de la Merced, whose actual founder was Archbishop Lorenzana, is another of these institutions. It is provided that all the foundlings taken under its care shall be legitimated for all civil purposes, and shall bear the much-revered name of Lorenzana as a surname. The Hospicio de Pobres  ("the Poor Asylum"), on the Avenida Juarez, was opened in 1774 by royal order, but through the benevolence of Dr. Fernando Ortiz Cortes.

Bucareli died in Mexico in 1779, and was buried in the Collegiate Church of Guadalupe, to which he had given silver ornaments to the value of $1,000,000, still adorning that interior. A bronze slab in the floor of the west aisle marks his resting-place and records his numerous virtues. He was the best of the Viceroys, and few of them have deserved the good that has been said of him.

Don Martin Mayorga, the Governor of Guatemala, became Provisional Viceroy upon the death of Bucareli, and held the office until 1873, when Don Matias de Galvez, who had also been Governor of Guatemala, became Viceroy. His rule was brief, lasting from April, 1783, to November, 1784, and he was one of the few untitled Viceroys, save that by his energetic conduct of public affairs in Mexico he gained for himself the title of "the Diligent." He gave his attention to the improvement of the police and sanitation of the capital, cleansing the acequias, and paving some of the streets. He obtained permission to rebuild the castle of Chapultepec, which had remained in ruins ever since the Conquest; but his death in November, 1784, cut short that work. After the Audience had administered affairs until January, 1785, his son, Don Bernardo Galvez, was made Viceroy, and carried to completion the work at Chapultepec at a cost of $300,000. He built also the Calzadas de Piedad and San Agustin de las Cuevas, the latter running out to Tlalpam. A general famine, in consequence of severe snow-storms and the loss of grain, in the year 1784, was followed by a plague the ensuing year.

The Viceroy died in the Archbishop's palace in Tacubaya, in November, 1786, and in May, 1787 (the Audience assuming charge ad interim), Alonso Nunez de Haro y Peralta, Archbishop of Mexico, was placed in charge of the government in the capacity of Viceroy and Captain-General, and continued in office until August of that year, no especial event marking his brief administration, save the opening of the hospital of San Andres. He was succeeded by Don Manuel Antonio Flores, who had been Governor of Bogota, and now assumed a sort of military authority in Mexico, whence he is called "Flores, the Soldier." He was succeeded, in October, 1789, by one of the most energetic and best, albeit the most eccentric of the Viceroys.

With the administration of Don Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco de Padilla, segundo Conde de Revillagigedo, begins the history of what might be called "the modern City of Mexico." Before his time, despite the efforts of some of his predecessors, the city was filthy beyond description. The plaza was given up to the venders of tamales, tortillas, and fruits. The streets were unpaved, unlighted at night, and infested with robbers. The second Count of Revillagigedo gave to the capital his immediate attention; saw it cleansed, well policed, and its morality advanced. The streets bearing his name, running south from near the west end of the Alameda, are a lasting monument to his energy, and if the story regarding them be true, it furnishes a fit illustration of the eccentricity of his methods.

He was accustomed to patrol the city himself at night, and upon discovering anything amiss, to send for the responsible person, and have it rectified at once. He once entered a street which ended suddenly in the midst of some mean hovels. The Count at once sent for the proper official, and directed him to prepare an open street to the city walk, and have it ready for him to drive through on his way to mass the next morning. It was accordingly done.

The Count was equally energetic in his management of affairs outside of the capital. He established weekly mails between the capital and the principal military posts; re-organized the militia; advanced explorations as far north as Behring Strait; corrected all abuses which came to his notice; and that none might escape his attention, he placed a locked box in a public place, in which petitions, complaints, and other communications might be put, by means of an opening in the top. Thus there was no subject who could not secure the attention of the Viceroy.

It was while the plaza in the capital was being cleansed, in 1790, that the so-called "Calendar Stone" now preserved in the National Museum was found. For many years it occupied a conspicuous place in the outer walls of the westerly tower of the great Cathedral. Its removal to the Museum occurred in 1885. In 1791, in excavating a channel for a sewer running to the Portal de Mercaderes, the Sacrificial Stone was discovered.

The Count of Revillagigedo was calumniated and persecuted, despite his integrity, energy, and wisdom, and retired from Mexico in disgust in 1794. He was succeeded by his chief calumniator, Don Miguel la Grua Talamanca, Marques de Branciforte, a native of Italy and a relative of Godoy, the favorite of the Spanish King. He was guilty of many acts of meanness, among which was his confiscation of the goods of the few French residents of New Spain under the shadow of, an excuse,—the war between Spain and France. It is pleasant to learn that the accusations brought by him against Revillagigedo were dismissed by the Council of the Indies.

The rule of the Marques de Branciforte is noted for a remarkable encouragement given to Art in New Spain. The San Carlos Academy had already had several years of precarious existence. It had begun as a school of engraving, under the management of the engraver of the Mint, in 1779. Two years later it had been enlarged to include painting, sculpture, and architecture. In 1783 royal sanction for the establishment was obtained, and still another two years elapsed before the Academia de las Nobles Artes de San Carlos de la Nueva Espana (the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in New Spain) was formally opened. In 1791 Don Manuel Tolsa was sent over to New Spain with a gift of casts from the antique, valued at $40,000. Tolsa was a very eminent architect, and Mexico contains many specimens of his architectural skill. He designed the Mineria (the School of Engineers), and Branciforte began its construction in 1797, and it was completed in 1813 at a cost of over $1,500,000. Subsequently nearly $100,000 were spent upon it in repairs necessitated by the settling of the foundation.

The equestrian statue of Carlos IV., at the initial point of the Paseo de la Reforma, is more a monument to the interest taken by the Viceroy, the Marquis of Branciforte, in art, than to the monarch whose name it bears and for whose memory Mexicans have little or no respect. It is distinctly stated upon the pedestal on which it now stands that the statue is preserved solely "as a work of art." The Marquis of Branciforte procured royal permission in 1795 to have this statue made and set up in the plaza. The understanding was that the costs were to be defrayed by him personally, but they actually fell upon the municipality and some private parties. The design is that of Tolsa, who was sculptor as well as architect. It has attracted the attention of eminent critics, and has been pronounced upon very high authority inferior only to the Marcus Aurelius at Rome as an equestrian statue. There is a tradition that Tolsa's death was caused by chagrin at hearing his work criticized by the people. It is true that he survived the completion of the work only a short time. The Marquis of Branciforte did not remain in New Spain long enough to see his work actually set up. And the subsequent history of this statue—the first important piece of bronze cast in the Western world—belongs to another period. Yet it seems best to recount it briefly here.

The casting was the work of Don Salvador de la Vega, who made his furnaces and moulds ready in the Gardens of San Gregorio College (now the School of Correction), spent two days in melting the metal (about thirty tons) and began filling the moulds at 6 A. M., the 4th of August, 1802. The statue came from the moulds without defect, and fourteen months were spent in finishing it. It was placed on a pedestal in the plaza in November, 1803, and on the 9th of December unveiled with great ceremony. It remained there until 1822. Then the feeling against Spain and everything Spanish was so bitter that fears were entertained that it might be destroyed. It was at first enclosed within a huge wooden globe, but two years later it was removed to the patio of the University. In 1852 it was removed to its present position, and was subsequently made the initial point of the magnificent Paseo de la Reforma.

The conduct of the Marquis of Branciforte, unpopular as it was in Mexico, excited the suspicion of the Spanish government also, and in May, 1798, he was succeeded by Don Miguel Jose de Azanza, whose rule extended for a few months into the nineteenth century. He was an honorable man and a good Viceroy. A conspiracy was discovered and quelled in 1800, called "los machetes," that marks the beginning of the hostilities between the Creoles (Americans of Spanish parentage) and the Europeans,—to ripen in the early years of the nineteenth century into a war for independence. Azanza and the Marquis de Branciforte, after their return to Spain, became the partisans of Joseph Bonaparte in the political affairs of Europe; and this has given to the last Viceroy of the eighteenth century (who had no other title to distinction) the name of "The Bonapartist."