This volume has a long history. More than forty years ago, in May 1968, I visited Mexico City for the first time to begin research on a doctoral thesis that eventually became my first book, titled The Emergence of Spanish America: Vicente Rocafuerte and Spanish Americanism, 1808–1832 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). In that volume, I maintained that a great political revolution began in 1808 within the Hispanic world and that Spanish Americans, who had participated in that transformation, initially favored the creation of a constitutional Hispanic commonwealth. But the subsequent failure of the Hispanic Cortes (parliament) (1810–1814 and 1820–1823) forced them to seek independence.
Since that time I have been intrigued by the process of nation building and the factors that stimulate or retard state consolidation. My work in this area has focused on the Americas and Spain. I was perplexed by the question of why one former colony, the United States, succeeded in establishing a stable government and a flourishing economy, while other former colonies, the Spanish American countries, endured political chaos and economic decline. During the last four decades, I have focused my research on two regions: Ecuador—the former Kingdom of Quito—and Mexico—the former Viceroyalty of New Spain. Since the two lands are radically different in size, resources, location, and so on, their comparison allowed me to gain a broader understanding of the impact of regional conditions on their transition from kingdoms of the Spanish Monarchy to independent nations.
In 1986 I began work on a volume on the First Federal Republic of Mexico. But as I examined the secondary literature I became convinced that scholars lacked a genuine understanding of the causes, the process, and the consequences of the movements that led to independence and the formation of the new nation. My opinion was strengthened when the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas invited me to present a paper on the First Federal Republic for a symposium on Mexican historiography held in Oaxtepec, Morelos, in October of 1988. In the process of preparing that presentation, I realized that because we did not understand the process of independence “all of us who work on the early national period are not only confused, but utterly lost in the miasma of the era.”1
Therefore I returned to the archives of Mexico, Spain, and Ecuador to reexamine the independence period. Also, I began a dialogue with colleagues