The residents of these kingdoms exercised a high level of political and economic autonomy. Only very late, during the reign of Carlos III , did the Crown attempt to centralize the monarchy and create a modern empire with Spain as the metropolis. Americans everywhere opposed the political and economic innovations that restricted their autonomy and modified many to suit their interests.
On the eve of independence, the leaders of the New World retained a significant degree of autonomy and control over their regions 3. Printed laws, decrees, and official notices were distributed to the relevant authorities who, in turn, informed the people by posting them in public places and by employing town criers to read them to the public. Royal officials and private individuals often wrote letters that contained information or comment about the events of the day to friends and colleagues. The recipients of this mail in turn informed their friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
Much information was transmitted orally. Curas often discussed important questions both formally, during mass, and informally outside the church. Public scribes informed the illiterate public of the latest events.
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Muleteers, merchants, and travelers kept the inhabitants of towns and villages abreast of events occurring in viceregal and Audiencia capitals or in Europe. People talked about the events of the day in social gatherings of all sorts. Thus, even the vast illiterate population was much better informed than is generally believed. Of course, rumor and misinformation were also widespread 4. Frequently, the rapidly changing circumstances in the Peninsula confused and disturbed the people of Spanish America.
The printing press, which became the indispensable instrument of politics, fueled an explosion of political activity in the entire Hispanic world. In the months and years that followed, important notices — particularly about the struggle against the French —, decrees, laws, minutes of special meetings, reports of elections, statements from prominent persons, and other matters of interest were published and distributed rapidly. News from Europe and America circulated widely in viceregal and Audiencia capitals as well as in the provincial capitals and other cities and towns.
Politically active Spanish Americans learned of significant events shortly after their occurrence; they quickly received copies of important documents; and they learned to exercise their rights 5. The people of Spanish America possessed a vibrant and public political life. However the body, formed by representatives of the juntas of the Peninsula, soon realized that it needed the support of the American kingdoms to conduct the war against the French.
The Junta Central was particularly concerned about countering French overtures to America.
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On January 22, , it decreed:. The act was profoundly revolutionary. Thereafter, Americans had to be recognized as the equals of the Spaniards. In ways that were difficult to imagine at the time, that recognition of equality transformed the relationship between Spain and America and granted the people of the New World the rights they had demanded but had not actually expected to receive.
It created a relationship between metropolis and the overseas territories that no other European monarchy ever granted its overseas possessions 8. The complicated and lengthy elections constituted a profound step forward in the formation of modern representative government for the entire Spanish Nation. Moreover, the process explicitly recognized the ancient putative right of the provincial capitals of America — the ciudades cabezas de partido — to representation in a congress of cities.
However, the degree of regional representation varied widely since New World authorities differed in their interpretation of the election decree. New Spain, with nearly half the population of Spanish America, granted fourteen cities the right to hold elections, whereas, in the much smaller Kingdom of Guatemala, an equal number of cities enjoyed that privilege. The situation also varied widely in South America: In that respect, the elections followed traditional Hispanic principles and practices Traditional electoral processes were being adapted for new political purposes.
The elections in Guadalajara provide an example of the electoral process at the regional level. The members of the ayuntamiento de Guadalajara, like those in other capitals with the right to elect a deputy, consulted broadly and received recommendations from representatives of other cities and towns in the intendancy. The Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara met on the April 24, to hear the reading of the election decree.
Three ballots were held to select the members of the terna. The three finalists enjoyed great prestige and power: He was among the eight Europeans and six American selected by lot in the fourteen cities eligible to elect candidates. French armies reoccupied Madrid and during defeated Spanish forces throughout the country.
News of these calamities frightened Americans, many of whom believed that the Spanish Monarchy would not survive as an independent entity. They feared that the authorities in Spain might surrender America to the French. It was a fear that profoundly influenced New World actions. It is not surprising, therefore, that in , even as they were electing their representatives to the Junta Central, movements for autonomy erupted in the two South American kingdoms that had not been granted individual representation to the Junta Central, the Audiencia of Charcas in May and July and the Audiencia of Quito in August Both movements were rapidly controlled by the royal authorities.
It subsequently appointed a five member Council of Regency that included an American representative and dissolved itself at the end of January As its last act, the Junta Central charged the Regency with convening a Cortes. Although some members of the Regency questioned the need for a national assembly they eventually ordered that the Cortes convene in September In addition, a deputy was to be elected for every 50, inhabitants. At the parish level, vecinos elected compromisarios who then selected parish electors; these in turn met in the capital cabeza de partido to select partido electors.
The latter met in the provincial capital to choose provincial electors who finally elected the deputies from the province by lot That complex indirect electoral process, which provided for widespread representation, would be enshrined subsequently in the Constitution of According to the decree issued by the Council of Regency February 14, Moreover, it continued to rely on the partido , a vague and undefined term, as the regional unit for elections. No provision was made for representation based on population The electoral decree also indicated that: There were, however, two major differences.
No other European metropolis granted its overseas territory comparable representation. The English parliament, generally believed to be the most advanced in the world, never considered granting its North American colonies anything but virtual representation.
In , the city was swollen with refugees, Americans as well as peninsulares, who had retreated to the port from other regions of Spain to escape French control. Suplentes had to be at least twenty-five years of age and naturales of the provinces that elected them. Members of the regular orders, convicted felons, public debtors, and domestic servants were not eligible.
As in the case of the Spanish provinces, the electors were to gather by province and choose seven compromisarios, who then would select three to form a terna from whom one would be picked by lot. Instead, the American electors met as four regional groups to pick the New World suplentes: New World suplentes were a varied group; they included military men, lawyers, academics, clerics, and government functionaries.
Two were grandes of Spain and one, Dionisio Inca Yupangui, was a Peruvian Indian who had served as a lieutenant colonel of dragoons in the Peninsula Moreover, when the proprietary deputies from America arrived, most suplentes remained in the Cortes representing New World realms that had failed to send proprietary deputies. The election of substitute deputies has confused many historians who believe that America was only allotted thirty deputies to the Cortes. They confuse the number of suplentes assigned to the overseas territories with the number of proprietary deputies allocated to these areas.
As a consequence, these historians overstate the supposed inequality of representation between the Peninsula and the other regions of the Spanish Monarchy By , most Americans expected the French to triumph. Napoleonic armies, after all, controlled the majority of the Peninsula. Fear of French domination strengthened the desire of many in the New World to seek autonomy. All these regions sought to establish caretaker governments to rule in the name of Fernando VII. The autonomy movements of , unlike those of , inadvertently unleashed other social forces.
Discontented groups and regions capitalized on the opportunity to redress their grievances. Within a short time, civil wars consumed large parts of the American continent The elections had a great impact throughout the New World. The capitals of most of the provinces eligible to elect deputies consulted widely with the villas and pueblos of their regions. Each urban center prepared lists of notables by consulting prominent individuals of the area.
During the process of consultation, there was widespread discussion in public places, such as plazas, markets, garitas, government buildings, parks, eating places, inns, and taverns.
Curas discussed the importance of the event at mass and outside of church, emphasizing the significance of opposing the godless French — who were a threat to the holy faith, the king, and the patria — by participating in the government of the Spanish Nation. The elections in the provincial capitals were generally conducted in public and were accompanied by ceremonies that usually began with a mass of Espiritu Santo and ended with a Te Deum, the ringing of bells and other public celebrations.
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Cities, villas, and pueblos decorated the center of the town to commemorate the festive occasion. In large capital cities, the celebrations were accompanied by the firing of cannon and fireworks. These events created a spirit of optimism and gave Americans a sense that they could overcome the grave political crisis. When the Cortes convened, deputies were present, 30 of them represented the overseas territories. The others were admitted as they arrived. Since the Cortes was extraordinary , it had to establish rules and regulations.
On the second day, the members appointed a commission of five deputies to prepare a Reglamento for the governance of the body. The commission, which acted with great care, took months to complete its project that was submitted on August 18, In the ensuing debates, which lasted several months, the deputies addressed fundamental issues, such as the role of the Cortes, the king, and the Judiciary; the nature of provincial and local government; the nature of citizenship and political rights; the nature of trade, the role of education and the military, and taxation.
In the process of debating the articles of the proposed constitution, the deputies were forced to make political compromises among competing interest groups and ideologies represented in the Spanish Monarchy. The extensive parliamentary debates were widely disseminated by the press and significantly influenced those Spanish Americans who supported as well as those who opposed the new Hispanic government The Constitution of was not a Spanish document; it was a charter for the Spanish world.
The arguments and proposals of American deputies convinced many Spaniards to embrace substantial change in America as well as the Peninsula. With the creation of the provincial deputations, the Cortes abolished the viceroyalties, transformed the audiencias from judicial and quasi-administrative bodies into high courts of appeal, and divided the Spanish world into provinces that dealt directly with the national government in Spain.
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Ramos Arizpe and Guridi y Alcocer also played a key role in the establishment of the second home rule institution created by the Cortes, constitutional ayuntamientos, which substituted popularly elected officials for the hereditary elites who had heretofore controlled city government. Deputies from New Spain also successfully argued for the expansion of those governments in Spanish America; formerly city governments existed only in major cities. The Constitution, therefore, provided Americans who desired autonomy a peaceful means of obtaining home rule.
A majority of Americans seized this opportunity. It created a unitary state with equal laws for all parts of the Spanish Monarchy, substantially restricted the authority of the king, and entrusted the legislature with decisive power. When it enfranchised all men, except those of African ancestry, without requiring either literacy or property qualifications, the Constitution of surpassed all existing representative governments, such as Great Britain, the United States, and France, in providing political rights to the vast majority of the male population.
The judiciary received little independent power and the executive was subservient to the legislature. National sovereignty was entrusted to the Cortes. Mass political participation was ensured in two ways. First, local government increased dramatically because population centers with a thousand or more inhabitants were granted the right to form ayuntamientos. The change would have the greatest impact in America which previously possessed fewer ayuntamientos than the Peninsula.
And second, granting all males, except those of African ancestry, the franchise without requiring either literacy or property expanded the scope of popular politics beyond that of any other contemporary Western government. When it allowed cities and towns with a thousand or more inhabitants to form ayuntamientos constitucionales, it transferred political power from the center to the localities by incorporating vast numbers of people into the political process The Constitution of was widely introduced in those regions of the Monarchy that recognized the government in Spain.
It is striking that New Spain and Guatemala, lands that contained more than half of the population of Spanish America, implemented the new constitutional order more fully than any other part of the Spanish Monarchy, including Spain itself. For orders visit www. Streaming and Download help.
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