12. The End of Spanish Colonial Rule at Tucson, 1821


Up: Contents Previous: 11. Religion at the Royal Fort of San Agustín del Tucson, 1779–1821. Next: PART III. POPULATION DYNAMICS


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THE ROYAL FORT OF SAN AGUSTÍN DEL TUCSON ceased to exist in the fall of 1821 when Mexico achieved political independence from Spain. The garrison and the fortification remained, but the presidio was no longer a royal institution or a unit in a vast colonial empire. Political revolution converted it into a military unit of a passing monarchy which disappeared in a year to make way for a republic. The process of conversion was orderly at Tucson and other frontier posts because the key events occurred at higher headquarters and overseas.


Citizenship: A Revolutionary Concept

One very necessary although not sufficient condition for the Mexican revolution of 1821 stands out. This is the concept of citizen. Official and semi-official letters and reports from the immediate post-revolutionary period in Mexico abound with evidence of the tremendous import of this concept, expressed in Spanish by the term ciudadano.

Throughout this book, the Spanish term vecino has been translated also as “citizen.” That translation corresponds with United States frontier usage of “citizen” as an ethnic, racial term for the politically dominant group in a multi-racial country. A ciudadano marches to a different drum than a vecino, however, although one English term combines the meanings of two Spanish words. The ciudadano was not necessarily a vecino. Ciudadano became a socio-political term denoting a political status of every man regardless of his ethnic background.

For that reason the concept of citizen (ciudadano) held utmost importance for the Mexican revolution, precisely because it cut across the social barriers inherent in the concept vecino. It symbolized a new-found belief in an inherent value and worth in every man as a political being. This socio-political concept reinforced the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of the worth and value of every individual soul. Thus, it created a climate of opinion and resulting social action in New Spain in the late colonial period which made the 1810 and 1821 revolutions inevitable, and set the pattern of political intercourse and formal interaction for many decades.

The specific concept of ciudadano that spread through New Spain at the end of the colonial period came directly from revolutionary France. It stood diametrically opposed to pre-existing principles of differential and hierarchical ranking of individual men in terms of political roles with a king at the


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apex of a pyramid of lesser valued persons. It opposed previous principles of differential social stratification of individuals in a manner parallel to the political pyramid. It clashed with traditional principles of religious ranking of clerics and laymen on scholastic and ethnic grounds. This revolutionary new concept was all the more congenial and plausible to the Mexicans because French troops provided objective verification of it when they chased the king of Spain from his throne. Napoleon's conquests in Spain toppled a centuries-old faith in the Spanish king and the immutability of the imperial system.

The concept citizen became a revolutionary one, given the previous ordering of political and social action. It can be viewed as equally important as gunpowder, cannon, dynamite and other tools of violence. These technological items were only means to ends. One of the most important concepts defining ends toward which they are applied was that of citizen.


European Background

A necessary condition for successful Mexican revolution, although remote at first thought, may have been the international relationships in Western Europe late in the 18th and early in the 19th centuries. Franco-British hostility can be traced back into medieval times. A Norman duke sailed across the English Channel and landed an expeditionary force on English soil. It made him king of England by winning a decisive battle at a place called Hastings in 1066 A.D. The French dynasty thus created in England retained a lively interest in the governance of France.

Eventually personal ambitions overrode emerging national ties. When a problem arose in the French succession, English kings thought they should assume the French throne. French claimants disputed that thought, and the dispute degenerated into one of the longer hostilities in recorded history. Armed conflict between England and France became predictable in almost any circumstance in which the ruler of either country thought he saw an opportunity to weaken the other.

Without complicating this analysis more, one may trace the course of events that converted the Royal Post of San Agustín del Tucson into a Mexican republican presidio. The concept citizen had been operating on men's minds in the British Isles for several centuries, reducing the autocratic powers of English monarchs. The reality of citizenship steadily expanded to begin to approximate the ideal of equality advocated by political philosophers. In the North American colonies of the English king, the reality of citizenship expanded as social equality increased through selective migration. Autocrats, well-satisfied with their existing situations or seeking betterment through the hierarchical system, left the lower classes to emigrate to the colonies and Continent.1 Consequently, colonial society became somewhat less stratified than that in the metropolis. The colonial system of governance maintained metropolitan social distinctions in the face of g colonial equality. A consequent lack of “fit” generated sufficient stress among key colonials in seaboard cities that they rebelled to bring their government into closer congruence with their social structure.


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Inspiration from the French Revolution

The North American colonial rebels achieved political independence only with much external help, primarily from France and Spain. France succumbed to the temptation handed down from the past to twist the lion's tail. Losing its North American colonies would weaken the English, ergo, the king of France would aid rebel English colonists.

In the hindsight of history, that decision appears to have been possibly the worst thing the French king could have done in terms of his own self-interest. Once freed from English control, the colonists proved that citizens equal under the law could govern themselves, so a traditional hierarchy was not necessary. Once that proof of the viability of citizenship became manifest to the world, many people hastened to abandon the medieval concept of hierarchical society with a monarch at the apex.

The French war effort brought economic suffering to the people of France, already oppressed by their nobility. Tempted by the few tastes of citizenship they had enjoyed, and reacting against worsening economic conditions, the commoners of France launched another revolution. Their successful effort translated the local and limited success of the North American colonials into a worldwide message of citizenship and egalitarian political forms. The French Revolution put the success of the North Americans into terms understandable to Spanish colonials. The Anglo-Saxons were not very sympathetic models for Mexicans. The French revolutionists, on the other hand, spoke a Romance language closely resembling Spanish, and brought to earth the strongest royal system in Europe save that of Spain.

The French Revolution further directly precipitated the political independence of Mexico when Napoleon intervened in Spain. Accustomed for generations to viewing the Spanish monarchy as the next thing to divinity, the colonials suddenly learned that a diminutive ex-corporal of French artillery sent two kings of Spain scurrying for their lives with a few rag-tag French republican troops nipping at their royal heels.2

The nerve-center of Spanish imperialism, the colonial administration and home government disintegrated into chaos. Peninsular Spaniards suddenly became far too busy trying to free their country from French invaders to work very hard at imposing their will on New World colonials. They had to establish local governments to replace the vanished monarchy. These necessarily functioned more democratically than the dispersed court. Thus, colonial Spaniards and subject peoples witnessed the emergence of a model of local self-government at the very time they necessarily made decisions for the first time that the colonial administrators had always made for them.

The Napoleonic changes in European society, then, moved New Spain toward increased de facto independence from Spain and the traditional monarchy. By the time the latter institution was restored on the Peninsula, colonials had experienced more than a decade of greater freedom than ever before. Attempts to re-impose royal authority in New Spain along ancient lines fostered the same kind of lack of fit between tradition and reality that proceeded the rebellion of Great Britain's North American colonies. In Argentina,


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Venezuela and then Mexico, colonials moved to achieve a more comfortable fit. They discarded the king of Spain and his viceroys and colonial administrations. Often they did so with urban militia forces created beginning with King Charles III to protect the New World colonies against European invasions.3


Techniques of Successful Rebellion

New Spain became independent Mexico by a course of revolutionary action different from that in other colonies. The northern frontier forces, long dedicated to fighting Native Americans, played key roles in the independence movement. The nature of that movement is best grasped, perhaps, by comparing how the men who achieved political independence in 1821 defeated the social revolution launched by Hidalgo in 1810.

In British North America, loyal subjects of the king were called “Tories” by the rebels, who labeled themselves “patriots.” In New Spain, most loyal subjects of the King were Gauchupines (Peninsular-born Spaniards), while the rebels began terming themselves Mexicanos, adopting what they took to be an old Native American terminology. The 1821 political rebellion remained relatively bloodless because many men who would have been Tories in North America were patriots in Mexico.

In 1821, the upper class carried out a palace revolt by means of which colonial leaders seized control of the machinery of government and continued to operate much as they had prior to independence. These members of the elite leadership wanted independence from political interference from Spain, but they were not the sort of radicals who could rally to the banner that Hidalgo had raised. In fact, they were often the very royal officers who had stopped Hidalgo's radical social revolution in its tracks.

They learned after 1810 and wider dissemination of the ideals of the French Revolution that colonial society could never be restored to its pre-1810 ridigity.4 It could never again be as oblivious to the aspirations of the lower class as it had been. Yet the rebel leaders intended to maintain their own power to rule.


Rebel Leaders in the Frontier Provinces

The true character of the 1821 Mexican political revolution may be grasped from the careers of a sample of the men who carried it out in the Western Frontier Provinces.


Alexo García Conde

The senior imperial administrator in the Frontier Provinces had for many years been Intendent-General Alexo García Conde. This African-born Spaniards5 had become chief of the provinces toward the end of 1796 as colonel of fuseliers. In 1802, he received a promotion to brigadier general.

In 1810, when Hidalgo's popular revolt threatened to overturn colonial government, revolutionists dispatched an expeditionary force under Colonel


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Gonzalez Hermosillo from central New Spain toward the northwest Intendent-General García Conde learned of the rebel advance through Sinaloa from Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Villaescusa. Sweeping the remaining royal garrisons before him, Hermosillo defeated Villaescusa at Rosario.6 The intendent-general collected troops from the frontier posts under his command, and adding a large contingent of Opata Indians, marched south to intercept the rebel column.

General García Conde had not won his military rank solely as an administrator. He had learned his primary trade in the hard school of active fighting in the Old World. Wounded during the Algerian campaign, García Conde spent four years in the siege of Gibraltar. He understood very well how to fight decisive battles with massed troops. The rebel colonel led his numerically superior force, well armed with captured hand arms and artillery and well provisioned from captured royal stores, against General García Conde's chosen position at San Ignacio Piaxtla in Sinaloa on 8 January 1811. When the smoke cleared from the field, Hermosillo's enthusiastic thousands were either dead or fleeing for their lives. García Conde's few hundreds celebrated their victory which shattered the rebel threat to northwestern New Spain in one brief engagement.

Brigadier General Alexo García Conde became field marshal and governor of Nueva Vizcaya, an office he assumed in October of 1813 in Chihuahua. In November of 1817, he was made commandant general of the Western Frontier Provinces. In this position, García Conde occupied a key position in Spanish colonial government in New Spain. While the Frontier Provinces had been split into eastern and western sections and re-subordinated to the overall authority of the viceroy, the commandant general enjoyed considerable latitude of decision, particularly at that period of disorganization in Spain and the top colonial apparatus. Thus, García Conde grew accustomed to making his own decisions.

When the situation crystalized in 1821 on the question of independence or continued royal Spanish rule, Field Marshall Alexo García Conde chose independence. Native of Ceuta, his entire professional career spent in the royal Spanish army in which he had reached maximum rank, decorated with the Order of San Fernando and the Order of San Hermenegildo by his King Fernando VII — this paragon of Spanish virtue defected. He took his command into the rebel camp, ordering residents of all towns in the Western Frontier Provinces to swear fealty to the revolutionary Mexican government.

Field Marshal Alexo García Conde took his decisive step on 24 August 1821, when he adhered to the Plan de Iguala, the pronouncement for independence. He guided the Western Frontier Provinces through the transitional period until 1 July 1822. Then he transferred to the capital city as a new lieutenant general decorated with the new Order of Guadalupe and became inspector general of cavalry.7


Mariano de Urrea

Another member of the Sonoran provincial elite, Lieutenant Colonel Mariano de Urrea, played a key role in Mexican independence in the Northwest. Mentioned in Chapter 10 as a lieutenant in the Tucson garrison, he


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commanded the Bacoachi Opata Indian company and the Altar units8 after leaving Tucson. When Intendent-General García Conde called for presidial troops to meet the 1810 rebel threat, Urrea led a strong detachment from Altar. After the rout at San Ignacio Piaxtla, Urrea carried on pacification campaigns in Sinaloa and then Nayarit. In 1815 he won promotion to lieutenant colonel and became governor of Colotlán Province. In 1819, be was chief of the Fourth Section of New Galicia, and in June of 1821 he supported the commanding general there in swearing allegiance to the Plan de Iguala and independence.9


Simón Elías Gonzáles

In the influential Elías Gonzáles lineage, Simón helped take Sonora out of royal control in 1821. Born at Banámichi, he was one of Captain Francisco's grandsons. He served in the Tucson, Buenavista and Bacoachi garrisons and the secretariat of the commandant general of the Frontier Provinces. Promoted to lieutenant in 1805, he took command of the Tubac Pima Company, but remained at Chihuahua until April of 1807. After serving at San Antonio de Bejar in Texas, Simón returned to Chihuahua. He then commanded the Santa Cruz presidio in Sonora in 1814. In 1820, he became adjutant inspector of Sonora. In that office he stepped out of the royal traces and adhered to the Plan de Iguala and independence.10 His lieutenant colonelcy confirmed, he won election as deputy to the first national congress in 1822. He went on to a most distinguished political and military career including terms as governor of the states of Occidente, Chihuahua and Sonora.11


Antonio Narbona

A creole born at Mobile in Spanish Louisiana (modern Alabama) joined the Sonoran officers to guarantee independence in 1821. Antonio Narbona first arrived in Sonora as a cadet in the Santa Cruz Company in 178912 sponsored by his brother-in-law, Brigadier Enrique Grimarest,13 who was commandant of arms. Narbona be 179314 and captain of Fronteras in 1809. In 1820, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and made adjutant inspector of the commandancy general with command of the troops in Arizpe. When Lieutenant Colonel Narbona led the garrison in adherence to the Plan de Iguala, and independence, his commander, the political and military chief, resigned and left Narbona to take actual command and insure the local success of the revolution. Having secured Arizpe and northeastern Sonora in concert with Simón Elias Gonzáles, Narbona marched on the Gulf of California port of Guaymas where a royalist priest led Tory elements in opposing independence.15 Narbona later commanded the Sonoran troops and served as governor of New Mexico.


Tucson and the Rebellion

No documentation has come to the author's attention that would indicate that the Tucson garrison resisted independence in 1821, or actively intervened to secure it. Probably post commander José Romero swore fealty


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to the Plan de Iguala at an opportune moment, ordering his subalterns and troops to follow his example, in the same style as García Conde, Urrea, Elías Gonzáles and Narbona.

Little visibly changed with the political transfer of allegiance, but an era had ended. Mexican Tucson would be a rather different place than the Spanish colonial presidio.

Up: Contents Previous: 11. Religion at the Royal Fort of San Agustín del Tucson, 1779–1821. Next: PART III. POPULATION DYNAMICS




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