AT THE BEGINNING OF 1810, it appeared that the French would conquer the Iberian Peninsula. Although the Junta Central attempted to function as the government of the Spanish Monarchy, it possessed little power and authority. In the areas of the Peninsula not dominated by the French, provincial juntas administered their localities. Although the royal authorities retained control of most of America, the autonomy movements of 1809 in South America and the Valladolid conspiracy in New Spain demonstrated the determination of the people of the New World to govern themselves and to remain free from French domination. In those circumstances, the Junta Central ordered elections held for a Cortes for the entire Spanish Monarchy. Thus two possibilities emerged for Americans; either they could participate in the political transformation of the Spanish Monarchy through representation in the Cortes or they could take control of their destiny by force of arms. That is, they could participate either in a political revolution within the Spanish Monarchy or in an armed revolution to establish their own autonomous junta to govern New Spain.
In the monarch’s absence, Hispanic legal tradition recognized the sovereignty of the representatives of the people—the cities, the tribunals, and other major corporations. Neither the provincial juntas nor the Junta Central—composed of two representatives from each Spanish province, two from Madrid as the capital, and, eventually, nine from America—fulfilled those requirements.1 Thus voices emerged both in Spain and in America insisting on convening a general junta, Cortes, or national congress.2 In New Spain, the proposal of the Ayuntamiento of Mexico to hold a congress of cities had been rejected by force by a few peninsulares. The golpe did not diminish the desire for representative government. On the contrary, the Ayuntamiento of Zacatecas insisted “that legislative authority be restored to the nation by convening a Cortes.”