The First Mexican Empire
In the best of circumstances nation building is a precarious business, but how does one create a nation out of a newly independent state when the economy is in shambles and the political atmosphere is pervaded by acrimony and mistrust? How does one fashion a set of national contours when ideological fissures and profound regional differences tear at the heart of the body politic? These questions obsessed many Latin American leaders in the nineteenth century once parental authority had been successfully challenged. Iturbide did not have all of the answers, but he felt that he had one reliable formula. Identify the head of government with the state, subsume the two into one, and by some miraculous metamorphosis a nation will emerge. But the crucial element in the process, he believed, was to identify a dynamic, resourceful, and charismatic leader. Not worried about overstepping the bounds of modesty, he could identify only one Mexican possessed of all these redeeming prerequisites.
Joel Poinsett, an American who would later become the first United States minister to Mexico, met Iturbide in the fall of 1822 and recorded his impressions.
I will not repeat the tales I hear daily of the character and conduct of
this man…. [I]n a society not remarkable for strict morals, he was dis-
tinguished for his immorality…. To judge from Iturbide’s public pa-
pers, I do not think him a man of talents. He is prompt, bold and deci-
sive, and not scrupulous about the means he employs to obtain his ends.1
As provided by the Plan de Iguala, Iturbide named a provisional junta to govern the country. This junta, completely dominated by con-
1. Joel R. Poinsett, Notes on Mexico Made in the Autumn of 1822, Accompanied by
an Historical Sketch of the Revolution (New York, 1969), pp. 68–69.