World History 2 118 - 8.2.2 Iturbide and the Plan de Iguala

In 1820, Spanish liberals succeeded in forcing Fernando VII to reinstate the liberal Cádiz Constitution of 1812. In New Spain, liberal creoles welcomed the implementation of this constitution because it reopened possibilities for their participation in government. However, the conservative creole elite could not accept the measures attacking the privileges of the Catholic Church and the military, in which many of them held positions. The Spanish king again proved his inefficiency in controlling the Spanish colonies, laying the ground for a second independence movement. This one was led by creoles with the goal of improving their status and power. Rather than making colonial society egalitarian, which had been the goal of Hidalgo and Morelos, the creole elite simply wanted to rule Mexico for themselves.

The creole elite—major landowners, military officers, and church officials—decided to declare independence from Spain and forged a very pragmatic partnership with the mestizo and Indigenous followers of Vicente Guerrero. The winning strategy was to be nationalism in the form of an intense pride in Mexican (as opposed to Spanish) identity, an identity defined by birthplace that creoles shared with Indigenous and mixed-blood people as well as the children of enslaved Africans. This mostly anti-Spanish nationalism allowed creoles to fight for independence but keep the social hierarchy more or less intact.

Agustín de Iturbide, a royalist creole officer who had distinguished himself in the campaigns against Hidalgo and Morelos, offered such a strategy. He formed an agreement with Guerrero, the man whose revolutionary movement it had been his duty to crush. Iturbide had the military force needed to win independence, while Guerrero had the support of Indigenous and mixed-race Mexicans, the majority of the population. Both shared the goal of independence from Spain.

On February 24, 1821, Iturbide announced the Plan de Iguala. This plan combined both conservative and radical views and was based on principles known as the Three Guarantees: independence, religion, and equality. Mexico was to be independent of Spain. Roman Catholicism was the official religion. Social equality and protection were to be provided for all residents of Mexico—whether born in the Americas or in Spain. The plan also called for a new imperial Mexican Crown, to be offered to a willing European royal, and the establishment of a regency during the waiting period before the new royal leader was named. To uphold the movement’s grounding principles, a new Army of the Three Guarantees (Ejército de las tres garantías) was formed under Iturbide’s command.

Link to Learning

You can view the full text of the Plan de Iguala at the Library of Congress.

On September 27, 1821, a date marking the three-hundredth anniversary of the fall of the Aztec Empire and the end of an eleven-year rebellious period, Iturbide made a triumphant entrance into Mexico City (Figure 8.14). With the support of the conservative creole elite and two powerful liberal insurgent leaders, Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria, he proclaimed Mexican independence. Mexico became a constitutional monarchy, which, according to the Plan de Iguala, protected the interests of both Spanish-born peninsulares and the church. At the town of Córdoba, Iturbide and the Spanish representative Viceroy Juan de O’Donojú y O’Ryan signed a treaty accepting the terms of the Plan de Iguala, with one adjustment. According to a new clause, in the absence of a European monarch, a local emperor could be chosen. Under this arrangement, eight months later in 1822, the newly elected congress confirmed Iturbide as Agustín I, constitutional emperor of Mexico.

In this painting, Augustin de Iturbide, rides a horse down a city street. He is followed by soldiers on horseback. Civilians line the road and crowd the second story of nearby buildings.
Figure 8.14 In 1821, Agustín de Iturbide entered Mexico City as the victorious leader of the Army of the Three Guarantees. This unknown artist’s imagining of the event shows him being greeted by a largely creole crowd. (credit: “Agustin de Iturbide entrance to Mexico City on 27 September 1821” by Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

However, Iturbide’s reign was brief. His monarchy did not have popular support, and the royal requirements clashed with the fiscal realities of the new nation. In 1822, Iturbide dissolved the congress, a move that sparked uprisings on many fronts. In 1823, he abdicated in response to growing opposition and left for exile in England. Mexico became a republic, and a new constitution was drafted.

The Constitution of 1824 marked a compromise between liberal and conservative interests, with liberals favoring social reforms such as those championed by Hidalgo and Morelos, and conservatives concerned with protecting the status of elites and the church. Social equality was written into the constitution, with the exception of special judicial privileges given to the military and the clergy. The power to pass laws and to tax was given to the government of the Mexican states. Following the adoption of the new constitution, the liberal general Guadalupe Victoria became Mexico’s first president. When Iturbide changed his mind and decided to return from exile, he was captured as soon as he arrived at the port and was shot by the new republican troops. The sharp division between liberals and conservatives dominated Mexican political life for the rest of the nineteenth century.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax