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Political Developments

The term of office of the first viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, was marked by the Mixton War, by an attempt to suppress the encomienda system, and by a violent epidemic among the natives. Under his successor, Velasco, the measures taken for the relief of the natives provoked the landowners to a conspiracy (repressed with great severity) to set up Cortes' son as king of New Spain. In 1568 the island of Sacrificios, near Vera Cruz, was seized by John Hawkins, who was surprised by the Spanish fleet accompanying the new viceroy, de Almansa, and escaped with Sir Francis Drake, but without the remaining ships of his squadron. In 1572 and 1578, however, Drake took abundant vengeance, and in 1587 Cavendish captured the Manila galleon - a success repeated in the next century.

For the next sixty years an urgent question was the prevention of floods in the capital. Situated on the lowest of four lakes, whose waters had only one small outlet from the the valley, it was only 4 ft. above the level of the Capital, and was flooded on an average once in every twenty-five years. It had been protected under the native kings by a system of dikes, which were added to under the earlier viceroys, but serious inundations in 1553 and 1580 flooded the city, and the latter suggested the relief of the highest lake, that of Zumpango, by a tunnel carrying its chief affluent into a tributary of the Panuco, and so to the Atlantic. This, however, was not then undertaken, and when mooted again in 1603 was opposed as certain to involve a heavy sacrifice of Indian life. Another inundation, in 1604, suggested the transfer of the city to Tacubaya, but the landowners opposing and the city being again inundated in 1607, the Nochistongo tunnel was begun under the auspices of a Jesuit, Enrico Martinez, and roughly completed in eleven months. It passed under a depression in the mountains of the extreme north of the valley. Humboldt states that it was 6600 metres long, 3 wide and 4 high. But it did nothing for the southern lakes, so that a further system of dikes was recommended in preference, in 1614, by the Dutch engineer Adrian Boot; it was inadequate for its work and, not being lined with masonry, it was liable to be choked by falls. Repairs were suspended in 1623, and a further inundation, with great losses of life, occurred from 1629 to 1634. The removal of the city was again mooted and, though sanctioned by the king of Spain, successfully opposed by the landowners. Another flood occurred in 1645. After a disastrous attempt to enlarge the tunnel in 1675, it was eventually converted into an open cutting, but the work was not finished till 1789, and the bottom was then 29 ft. 6 in. above the level of the lowest lake.

A negro revolt in the Vera Cruz region (1609) and an Indian rebellion in Sinaloa and Durango may be mentioned among the events of the earlier part of the 17th century. The regular and secular clergy had early come into conflict, particularly over the tithe and the control of the Indians; and in 1621, the marquis de Gelves, an energetic reformer, who as viceroy favoured the appointment of the regulars to deal with the natives, came into conflict with Archbishop Serna of Mexico, who placed the city under interdict, excommunicated the viceroy and constrained him to hide from the mob. Some years later the bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, transferred many native congregations from the friars to secular priests, and subsequently, in 1647, came into conflict with the Jesuits, whom he excommunicated, but who eventually triumphed with the aid of the Dominicans and the archbishop. The power of the church may be judged from the petition of the Ayuntamiento of Mexico to Philip IV. (1644) to stop the foundation of religious houses, which held half the property in the country, to suspend ordinations because there were 6000 unemployed priests, and to suppress feast days because there were at least two per week.

To check the Dutch and British corsairs the Barlovento ("windward") squadron had been set up in 1635; but the British capture of Jamaica (1655) aggravated the danger to the Spanish convoys. During the rest of the century the ports of Yucatn and Central America were frequently raided, and in 1682 Tampico suffered a like disaster; in May 1683 Vera Cruz itself was captured through stratagem by two buccaneers, Van Horn and Laurent, who plundered the town for ten days, committed shocking outrages, and escaped as the Spanish fleet arrived. In 1685-86 the Pacific coast was ravaged by Dampier and Swan, and in 1709 Woocles Rogers, with Dampier as pilot, captured the Manila treasure galleon, a feat repeated by Anson in 1743.

But the European wars of the 18th century had little effect on Mexico, save that the privileges of trade given to Great Britain by the treaty of Utrecht facilitated smuggling. The first half of the 18th century witenessed the appearance, intermitently at first, of the first Mexican periodical - the Gaceta de Mexico - in 1722, a severe epidemic of yellow fever in 1736, and the establishment about 1750 of a standing army with a nucleus of Walloons and Swiss, negroes and Indians being excluded and the half-breeds admitted under restrictions.

The great event of the 18th century was the expulsion of the Jesuits from Mexico, as from the other Spanish dominions, in 1767, under orders from Charles III. They were arrested en masse on the night of the 20th of June; their goods were sequestrated, and they themselves deported to Havana, then to Cadiz, Genoa, and eventually Corsica. They had done much to civilize the natives and to educate the whites, and their expulsion, which was greatly resented by the Creoles, probably tended to increase the popular discontent and prepare for the overthrow of Spanish rule.

In 1769 Don Jos de Calvez was sent out as special commissioner to devise reforms, with powers independent of the then viceroy, but without much immediate result. It was, however, a consequence of his work that in 1786 the provinces and kingdoms were replaced by twelve intendencias (Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Durango, Sonora, Puebla, Vera Cruz, Merida, Oaxaca, Valladolid, Guanajato, San Luis Potos, Mexico), whose governors and minor officials were directly dependent on the viceroy, the former alcaldes, mayores and corregidores, who were very corrupt, being abolished. Possibly it is this reform that gave rise to the antithesis of Federals and Centralists, which was so conspicuous in the history of republican Mexico.

Among the later viceroys the Conde de Revillagigedo (1789-1794) deserves mention as a progressive ruler who developed commerce and improved administration, and took the first, but very imperfect, census, on which Humboldt based his estimate of the population in 1803 at 5,840,000. The European wars of the French revolutionary period interfered with the traffic with Spain, and so relaxed the bonds of a commercial system which hampered the manufactures of Mexico and drained away its wealth. Already in 1783 the Conde de Aranda had suggested to the Spanish king the scheme of setting up three Spanish American kingdoms bound to Spain by perpetual treaties of alliance and reciprocity and by frequent royal intermarriages, and with the king of Spain as overlord. The plan was devised as a means of rivalling Anglo-Saxon supremacy, but was rejected through fear of the mixed races predominating over the whites. A similar fear helped to keep down the tendencies inspired by French revolutionary literature, though plots occurred against the viceroy Branciforte in 1798 and 1799.

The real causes of the revolution were local. The chief was the Creole jealousy of the Spanish immigrants. There was oppressive taxation, restriction on commerce and manufacture in the interest of Spain, even vineyards having been prohibited; and the courts were very corrupt. But to these grievances was added in 1804 the sequestration, to provide for Spain's needs, of the benevolent funds (obras pas) in Mexico, amounting to about $45,000,000, and nearly all invested on mortgage. The mortgages were called in: forced sales were necessary, the mortgagers were frequently ruined, and less than a fourth of the total was realized. Other confiscations and exactions followed.

When the rule of Fernando VII was succeeded by that of Joseph Bonaparte, the municipality of Mexico invited Iturrigaray, the viceroy, to declare the country independent. He proposed the convocation of a national congress, but was overthrown by a conspiracy of Spaniards under one Yermo, who feared that they would lose their privileged position through severance from Spain. The two next viceroys were incompetent; further demands from the Spanish authorities in revolt against Joseph Bonaparte increased the disaffection, which was not allayed by the grant of representation in the Spanish Cortes to the colonies; and, on the demands being repeated by a third viceroy, Vencgas, Creole conspiracies arose in Quertaro and Guanajato. Their discovery in 1810 was followed by the outbreak of the revolution.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:01:05 ZULU