In my last entry I opined that it was no surprise that various members of society within New Spain (Mexico) were ready for a revolution and independence from the Spanish government, given the way that all but the guanchipines were treated. But this the fight for Mexican independence did not begin until 1810. Now, the Spanish conquest was completed in 1521. Now, conditions for the lowest members of society were very bad from day 1. So why did it take almost three centuries to get to the place and time where it was right for revolution?
One historical website offers the following opinion,
…we must recognize that people rarely break easily with the past. The forces of tradition and the safety and comfort of timeworn ways restrain radical thinking, preserve old institutions, and discourage exploration of unfamiliar paths to new relationships, be they political, economic or even social. Thus, for over three hundred years, Spain's colonies in America evolved slowly, stage by gradual stage, with little evident or dramatic change, at least to the eye of the contemporary observer. Life was predictable. Born an Indian peasant, one expected to die tilling the same soil as one's ancestors, passing that legacy on to a sturdy son if God so willed it. Born a creole, that is, a native-born American of pure Spanish descent, one expected more privileges, perhaps an education at the local college, marriage to a young girl of one's own caste and rank, and a comfortable job in the government bureaucracy. There was constancy to life for man and woman, whether Indian, black slave, mestizo shopkeeper, or creole aristocrat.
In other words, it’s hard to break out from that which is known into a situation where one’s lot in life may be improved but that isn’t guaranteed and that could end up very badly and in which one could lose one’s life or cause harm to their families.
So what happened to the people of New Spain that allowed them to consider revolt? The consensus among historians (as far as I can tell from fairly limited on-line searches) is that the revolutions in France and North America, together with the fact that Spain’s attention was diverted by the Napoleonic Wars, and the general atmosphere of the the Age of Enlightenment contributed to New Spain’s wish for self-governance. The revolutions in France, America, and Mexico were all part of the same historical momentum.
Juntas were formed that sought to gain self-governance for New Spain, but without the involvement of mestizos or Indios or Negroes. The Spanish government found out about these and a crack-down ensued. Liberal organizations went underground. In 1821 America’s Declaration of Independence was published in New Mexico. A liberal intellectual group, the Literary Club of Queretaro (of which Padre Hidalgo was an active member) ultimately became interested in revolution-plotting group.
And, for the first time, the revolutionary thinkers and plotters began to consider including indios, mestizos, negroes in their plans. I think this is a significant turning point in the trajectory toward revolution. Once a movement is more inclusive and there are more and more people involved, it becomes possible to convince people to move outside their comfort zone, to work to make things better for themselves and their families. To consider that what they have can actually be changed by their participation. Add to this a nascent feeling of nationalism – the conciencia de si – and pride in the glorious Aztec past. With the figure of the Virgen de Guadalupe – a native Mexican – at its symbol, and you have the beginning of a powerful movement indeed.