THE INDEPENDENCE of New Spain was not the result of an anticolonial struggle. Rather, it was a consequence of a great political revolution that culminated in the dissolution of the Spanish Monarchy, a worldwide political system. The movement was an integral part of the broader process that was transforming Antiguo Régimen societies into modern liberal nation-states. The new country of Mexico that emerged from the breakup of the Spanish Monarchy retained many of the shared institutions, traditions, and practices of the past. Although political ideas, structures, and practices evolved rapidly after 1808, antiguo régimen social, economic, and institutional relationships changed slowly. Throughout this period of transformation, new political processes and liberal institutions merged with established traditions and practices.
Two broad movements emerged in the Spanish World, a great political revolution that sought to transform the Spanish Monarchy into a modern nation-state with the most radical constitution of the nineteenth century, and a fragmented insurgency that relied on force to secure local autonomy or home rule. These two overlapping processes influenced and altered one another in a variety of ways. Neither can be understood in isolation.
The great political revolution had its origins in the eighteenth century, a period of constant wars between Great Britain and the Spanish Monarchy that strained the resources of the latter. The Spanish World was adjusting to the economic and political impact of Bourbon Reforms, designed to strengthen royal authority and increase revenue, when the French Revolution of 1789 plunged Europe into twenty-five years of war. The Viceroyalty of New Spain, the most populous, richest, and most developed kingdom in America, contributed significantly to the defense of the worldwide Spanish Monarchy. This occurred not only because novohispanos considered their kingdom a significant and integral part of that monarchy, but because they shared the same general culture. As Vicente Rocafuerte observed: they possessed the “spirit of the great Spanish family.”1
The international wars consumed vast financial resources, but they did not threaten the foundations of the Spanish Monarchy. The situation changed