- “We Are Now the True Spaniards.” Sovereignty, Revolution, Independence, and the Emergence of the Federal Republic of Mexico, 1808–1824 by Jaime E. Rodríguez O.
It has always seemed that Mexico achieved its independence under somewhat mysterious circumstances. After a much-studied insurgency had failed by 1815, the country magically became independent in 1821, under the direction of an ex-royalist officer who had previously captured one of the major leaders of the insurgency, who was then executed. How did this happen?
Fortunately, Jaime E. Rodríguez O. has written a seminal book in which he explains the mystery. Rodríguez’s atypical formation partly accounts for his ability to understand what transpired during the years between 1808 and 1824. Neither American nor Mexican, he is Ecuadorian by birth. That anomaly explains how he is able to approach [End Page 182] the subject differently from works by those educated in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Mexico.
First, Rodríguez puts Spain in the picture in a substantial and forceful way. In this he follows in the footsteps of his dissertation advisor, Nettie Lee Benson. By insisting on the importance of Spain, he gives us a much clearer picture of why the people in New Spain reacted as they did when Napoleon put his brother on the Spanish throne. At the same time, he gives short shrift to the significance of the Bourbon Reforms, which were in place for a only a few decades—in contrast to Spanish law and tradition that lasted almost three centuries. By doing so, Rodríguez forces historians to confront the true nature of the Spanish-speaking world: its religiosity, its monarchical spirit, its tradition, and its genuine differences from its English- or French-speaking neighbors. I would have preferred that he include more about the economic motivations and consequences of various actions, but hopefully other scholars will take up that challenge.
And yet, as he takes the reader through events, Rodríguez shows how representative and democratic Spain, and by extension, New Spain could be. That too is a shock. Over and over again, he emphasizes precisely what few others do—that Spanish tradition allowed males, with the exception in some cases of Afro-Mexicans, to vote on multiple occasions for representatives to the Spanish Cortes, the various provincial deputations, and later, congresses. He also insists that Mexico had just as much a tradition of government by the legislative branch as by the executive. In fact, once Iturbide resigned, Mexico returned to congressional rule.
Although Rodríguez never faces the problem squarely in this book, his interpretation of events reveals how scholars in the English-speaking world have accepted their unconscious prejudices against Spain. It was not accepted that Spain had a political and religious tradition that could be defended against that of the “godless” French. Mexicans, of course, can be forgiven for wanting to emphasize their grassroots movements above those that actually made Mexico independent and republican, almost by default.
This book is a magnum opus of scholarship; for 345 pages of text, Rodríguez supplies almost 100 pages of notes, in some of which he regales the reader with his view of arguments among scholars. The notes themselves are a delight and well worth reading as a history of various interpretations. He also alludes, very briefly, to a problem that historians confront continually: the understandable lack of source material for clandestine meetings and operations. To give just one example, Rodríguez believes that Iturbide did not write the Plan of Iguala, but he cannot produce evidence to show just who the author might have been.
This volume is quite clearly intended for scholars. However, its findings need to be made much more widely known. Take for example one of the most commonly used textbooks, The Course of Mexican History (2007). Neither the Cortes of Cadiz nor the provincial...