The Events of 1809
THE COTTAPSE of the Spanish Monarchy triggered a series of events that culminated in the establishment of representative government in the Hispanic world. The initial step in that process was the establishment of local governing juntas in Spain and America. Although the Spanish provinces made that transition easily, the American kingdoms faced opposition from royal officials, resident peninsulares, and their New World allies. Initially, neither the Spanish nor the American juntas had a clear vision of the government they would form. Most possessed vague notions of what they meant when as the Ayuntamiento of México declared: “in the absence or during the impediment [of the king] … sovereignty lies represented in all the kingdom.” Nonetheless, all the juntas asserted that sovereignty had reverted to the people. In practice, this meant that the elites of the provinces of Spain and the kingdoms of America assumed the mantle of the people. Moreover, since the act was taken in the name of Fernando VII, the assumption of popular sovereignty was provisional. When the king returned, presumably, sovereignty would revert to him. Alone among the realms of the Spanish Monarchy, New Spain experienced a golpe de estado to prevent the Americans from forming a congress of cities or a local governing junta in the name of Fernando VII.
In Spain the first impulse after May 1808 was centrifugal—that is, regional juntas were formed to govern individual provinces. Each provincial junta acted as though it were an independent nation. Although the Spanish juntas achieved a great victory at Bailén in the summer of 1808, forcing the surrender of a Napoleonic army for the first time, and although the heroic defense of Zaragoza electrified the oppressed peoples of Europe, it was evident that the country could not survive if its government remained splintered. The need for a unified defense led to the organization of a national governing junta, the Junta Central Suprema y Gubernativa de España e Indias (Supreme Central Governing Junta of Spain and the Indies), which first met in Aranjuez on September 25, 1808.