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Agustín de Iturbide

Agustín de Iturbide

Agustín de Iturbide (Spanish pronunciation: [aɣusˈtin ðe ituɾˈβiðe] (listen); 27 September 1783 – 19 July 1824), in full Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu, also known as Augustine of Mexico, was a Mexican army general and politician. During the Mexican War of Independence, he built a successful political and military coalition that took control in Mexico City on 27 September 1821, decisively gaining independence for Mexico. After the secession of Mexico was secured, he was proclaimed President of the Regency in 1821. A year later, he was announced as the Constitutional Emperor of Mexico, reigning briefly from 19 May 1822 to 19 March 1823. He is credited as the original designer of the first Mexican flag.[1][2][3]

Although Iturbide's reign was short, it defined the political struggles before and after independence. The two ends of Mexico's political spectrum, liberals who favored populist representative government and conservatives who favored a more authoritarian regime, each gained the upper hand at various times in the decades after Iturbide's abdication.

Agustín I
Emperor of Mexico
Reign19 May 1822 – 19 March 1823
Coronation21 July 1822
PredecessorMonarchy established
SuccessorProvisional Government (Chronologically)
Maximilian I of Mexico
(as Emperor)
Prime Ministers
President of the Regency of Mexico
Reign28 September 1821 – 18 May 1822
PredecessorMonarchy established
SuccessorJuan Nepomuceno Almonte (Second Mexican Empire)
Born(1783-09-27)27 September 1783
Valladolid, Michoacán
Died19 July 1824(1824-07-19)(aged 40)
Padilla, Tamaulipas
26 October 1838
Mexico City Cathedral
SpouseAna María Josefa Ramona de Huarte y Muñiz
IssueAgustín Jerónimo, Prince Imperial of Mexico
Princess Sabina
Princess Juana de Dios
Princes Josefa
Prince Ángel
Princess María de Jesús
Princess María de los Dolores
Prince Salvador María
Prince Felipe
Prince Agustín Cosme
Full name
Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu
FatherJosé Joaquín de Iturbide y Arreguí
MotherMaría Josefa de Arámburu y Carrillo de Figueroa
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureAgustín I's signature
Full name
Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu
House of Iturbide
Iturbide arms
Coat of Arms
Heads of the House
Styles of
**Agustín I of Mexico**
Coat of Arms of the First Mexican Empire.svg
Reference styleHis Imperial Majesty
Spoken styleYour Imperial Majesty
Alternative styleSire

Life before the war of independence

Agustín Cosme Damian de Iturbide y Arámburu was born in what was called Valladolid, now Morelia, the state capital of Michoacán, on 27 September 1783.[4][5] He was baptized with the names of Saints Cosmas and Damian at the cathedral.[6] The fifth child born to his parents, he was the only male to survive and eventually became head of the family.[7] Iturbide's parents were part of the privileged class of Valladolid, owning farmland[4][5] including the haciendas of Apeo and Guaracha as well as lands in nearby Quirio.[6] Iturbide's father, Joaquín de Iturbide, came from a family of the Basque gentry who were confirmed in nobility by King Juan II of Aragon. One of his ancestors, Martín de Iturbide, was designated as Royal Merino in the High Valley of Baztan in the 1430s, and thereafter many in the family held political or administrative positions in the Basque Country from the 15th century. As a younger son, Joaquín was not in line to inherit the family lands, so he migrated to New Spain to make his fortune there.[7] While the aristocratic and Spanish lineage of Agustin's father was not in doubt, his mother's ancestry was less clear.

His mother was of pure Spanish blood born in Mexico, and therefore, a criolla.[6][7] Some sources state she came from a high-ranking family in Michoacán.[4][5][8] In the Spanish colonial era, racial caste was important to advancement, including military rank, and having some indigenous ancestry was often a disadvantage.[9] Iturbide insisted throughout his life that he was criollo (native born of Spanish descent).[10][11]

Agustín studied at the Catholic seminary called Colegio de San Nicolás in Valladolid, enrolled in the program for secular officials, though he was not a distinguished student.[1][4][7] After that, he worked as an overseer at one of his family's haciendas for a short time, discovering he was a very good horseman.[1][4]

In his teens, Iturbide entered the royalist army, having been accepted as a criollo.[11] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the provincial regiment.[4][5] In 1806, he was promoted to full lieutenant.[7]

Marriage and family

In 1805, when he was twenty-two, Iturbide married Ana María Josefa Ramona de Huarte y Muñiz, member of the House of Tagle of the family of the Marquises of Altamira.[4][7] She came from Valladolid, from a prosperous family of businessmen and landowners.[12] She was the daughter of wealthy and powerful noble Isidro de Huarte, governor of the district, and the granddaughter of the Marquis of Altamira. With her dowry of 100,000 pesos, the couple bought the Hacienda of Apeo in the small town of Maravatío.[7]

Military career

In the early 19th century, there was political unrest in New Spain. One of Iturbide's first military campaigns was to help put down a mutiny, headed by Gabriel J. de Yermo.[13]

He quickly grew in popularity amongst the royalists, whilst becoming a feared foe for the Insurgents. A peerless horseman and a valiant dragoon who acquired a reputation for achieving victory against numerical odds, his prowess in the field gained him the nom de guerre of "El Dragón de Hierro" or "The Iron Dragon", in reference to his skill and position in the army. He was given an important charge in the army. However, he was accused by locals of using his authority for financial gain although he was recognized as valiant in combat.[11] Those accusations could not be proved but cost him his post. He turned down the offer to reclaim his post since he felt that his honor had been damaged. He may have been involved in the initial conspiracy to declare independence in 1809 that was headed by José Mariano Michelena in Valladolid.[13][14] It is known by his and Hidalgo's documents that he was a distant relative of Miguel Hidalgo, the initial leader of the Insurgent Army. Hidalgo wrote to Iturbide, offering him a higher rank in his army. Iturbide writes in his memoirs that such an offering required musing over it but that he ultimately turned it down because he considered Hidalgo's uprising ill-executed and his methods barbaric.

Combating insurgency


After the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla offered Agustín de Iturbide the rank of general in the insurgent forces. Agustín rejected the offer, as he repudiated the atrocities that the mostly-untrained insurgent army committed against Spanish civilians, choosing instead to fight for the royalist forces. Over the course of the war, Agustín fought against generals José María Morelos from 1810 to 1816 and Vicente Guerrero in 1820.[1][5]

One of Agustín's first encounters with the rebel army was in the Toluca Valley in 1810 as it advanced toward Mexico City from Valladolid. Royalist and rebel forces engaged on the east bank of the Lerma River at the end of October in what is now known as the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. Royalist forces, under the command of Colonel Torcuato Trujillo, withdrew from the area, allowing rebels to take Toluca.[15] Despite the loss by his side, Iturbide distinguished himself in this battle for valor and tenacity.[4][13] He would later maintain in his memoirs that it was the only battle he considered to have lost (in which he was directly involved).

Iturbide's next major encounter with the rebels would be against Morelos himself and in his native city of Valladolid. Iturbide led the defenders. He demonstrated his tactical skill and horsemanship by breaking Morelos's siege of the town with a well-executed cavalry charge that caused the insurgent forces to withdraw into the forest.[11] For that action, Iturbide was promoted to captain.[16]

As a captain, he pursued rebel forces in the area, managing to capture Albino Licéaga y Rayón, leading to another promotion.[16] In 1813, Viceroy Félix María Calleja promoted Iturbide to colonel and put him in charge of the regiment in Celaya.[8] Then, in 1814, he was named the commander of forces in the Bajío area of Guanajuato, where he continued to pursue the rebels with vigor[16] in a strongly contested area,[8] and was Morelos's principal military opponent from 1813 to 1815.[12]

The next major encounter between Morelos and Iturbide occurred in a town called Puruarán, Michoacán,[7] on 5 January 1814. In the battle, rebel forces were soundly defeated by forces led by Iturbide, forcing Morelos to retreat to the Hacienda of Santa Lucía and to leave Mariano Matamoros and Ignacio López Rayón in command of the rebel army, with over 600 insurgents killed and 700 captured. That marked a turn in the war as Morelos would never again achieve the same level of competency as he had before this defeat.[17] Iturbide and other Spanish commanders relentlessly pursued Morelos, capturing and executing him in late 1815.[2]

Relieved of command

Print of Iturbide as Emperor of Mexico

Print of Iturbide as Emperor of Mexico

Iturbide's fortunes reversed after his victory when a number of accusations of cruelty and corruption surfaced.[12][16] The accusations could not be proved, but Iturbide considered his honor to be tarnished by them and expressed so in his memoirs, written in exile.

Iturbide's persistence against the rebels was widely known as well as his views against their liberal, anti-monarchical politics. In his diary, he refers to the insurgents as "perverse," "bandits," and "sacrilegious."[4] In a letter to the viceroy in 1814, he wrote of how he had 300 rebels, to whom he referred as excommunicates, executed to celebrate Good Friday.[18] Iturbide was also criticized for his arbitrariness and his treatment of civilians, in particular his jailing of the mothers, wives, and children of known insurgents.[8] As for corruption, the Count of Pérez Galvez extensively testified that profiteering by many royalist officers, of whom Iturbide was the most visible, was draining the effectiveness of the royal army. Iturbide acquired a large personal fortune before 1816 by questionable dealings.[15] Some of those shady practices included creating commercial monopolies in areas that he controlled militarily. Other accusations against Iturbide included sacking private property and embezzling military funds.[8] In 1816, the viceroy relieved Iturbide of his command for corruption and cruelty.[2][8][16]

However, one year later, with the support of an auditor, named Bataller, and staunch monarchists in the viceregal government, the charges were withdrawn. Iturbide's supporters further convinced the viceroy that he was needed to vanquish the last remaining rebel leader.[2][8][16] However, Iturbide never forgot the humiliation of his dismissal.[8]

Against Guerrero

Iturbide was fully reinstated to military command in November 1820 by viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca.[12] He was reinstated as colonel of the royalist army[13] and general of the south of New Spain. For a couple of years after the defeat of Morelos at Puruarán, the independence movement had diminished significantly. However, Iturbide was given the task of putting down the remaining insurrectionist movement southwest of Mexico City led by Guerrero.[13][16] Iturbide installed his headquarters at Teloloapan. For more than a century, historians believed that Iturbide had first attempted to carry out his duty in destroying Guerrero but that he met with failure and so decided to strike an alliance with the rebel. However, in 2006, new evidence was discovered by Mexican historian Jaime del Arenal Fenochio: a letter between the two military leaders dated November 20, 1820, which also referenced a previous letter. Since communications had been proven to have existed between the two leaders before Iturbide ever set out to seek out Guerrero, it is now believed that both were then carrying out negotiations. Regardless, some encounters between the two military forces were unavoidable, as the troops of Guerrero and Pedro Ascencio (another insurgent leader) managed to force Iturbide's rear guard to withdraw from an ambush. In their further correspondence, Iturbide and Guerrero lament the clashes, and Iturbide further attempts to convince Guerrero of his intentions of liberating Mexico.

Switching sides

Criollo rebellion

From 1810 to 1820, Iturbide had fought against those who sought to overturn the Spanish monarchy and Bourbon dynasty's right to rule New Spain and replace that regime with an independent government. He was solidly aligned with the Criollos.[2][11][12] However, events in Spain caused problems, as the very monarchy for which that class was fighting was in serious trouble. The 1812 Cadiz Constitution, which was reinstated in Spain in 1820 after the successful Riego Revolt, established a constitutional monarchy, which greatly limited Ferdinand VII's powers. There was serious concern in Mexico that the Bourbons would be forced to abandon Spain altogether.[13][19] That led to the disintegration of viceregal authority in Mexico City, and a political vacuum developed that the Mexican nobility sought to fill, seeking limited representation and autonomy for themselves within the empire.[12] An idea arose in the class that if Mexico became independent or autonomous, and Ferdinand were deposed, he could become king of Mexico.[19]

Alliance with Guerrero

Embrace of Acatempan, between Iturbide (left) and Guerrero (right), by Ramón Sagredo

Embrace of Acatempan, between Iturbide (left) and Guerrero (right), by Ramón Sagredo

Iturbide was convinced that independence for Mexico was the only way to protect the country from a republican tide. He decided to become the leader of the Criollo independence movement. However, to succeed, he would need to put together a very-unlikely coalition of Mexican liberal insurgents, landed nobility, and the Church. Therefore, he penned The Plan of Iguala, which held itself up on Three Guarantees: Freedom (from Spain), Religion (with Roman Catholicism being the only accepted religion in the new country) and Union (with all inhabitants of México to be regarded as equals). In that manner, he was paving the road to gaining the support of the most powerful factions: the insurgents, the clergy and the Spaniards. In the plan, a monarchy was ensured, thus assuring the support of the royalists as well. Iturbide held a series of negotiations with Guerrero and made a number of demonstrations of his intentions to form an independent Mexico.[2] Iturbide offered Guerrero a full pardon if he surrendered. Guerrero rejected the pardon but agreed to meet with Iturbide to discuss the independence of Mexico.[4] That meeting is now referred to as the "Embrace of Acatempán," after the locale in which they agreed to implement the plan.[1][2] Iturbide, Guerrero, and another insurgent leader, Guadalupe Victoria, announced the plan on 24 February 1821.[2] On 1 March 1821, Iturbide was proclaimed head of the Army of the Three Guarantees.,[4] with Guerrero fully supporting him and recognizing him as his leader.

Plan of Iguala

The plan was a rather vague document that sought the transition of the center of power in New Spain from Madrid to Mexico City. Essentially, the idea was to bring Ferdinand VII to Mexico City to rule. If he did not come to Mexico, another member of the Bourbon royal family would be chosen to rule there.[18] If no European ruler would come to rule México, the nation would have the right to elect a ruler by its own people. To attract the disparate parties involved in the scheme, the plan offered three guarantees: Mexico would be independent from Madrid, Roman Catholicism would be the official religion, and all inhabitants of the new nation, later México, would be considered equals, with no distinction being made between Spaniards, Creoles, Mestizos, etc., thus eliminating the complicated caste system that had been used until then and abolishing the use of slaves in the territory of the new nation as well.

The promise of independence convinced the insurgents to accept the proposal. The promise of the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church was offered to the clergy, who were frightened by anticlerical policies of Spanish Liberalism.[12] The offer of equality between Criollos and the Spanish-born Peninsulares assured the latter that they and their property would be safe in the new state. That was important because the Peninsulares owned a significant part of the valuable real estate and many of the businesses in Mexico. If the Spaniards had left, that would have been disastrous for the Mexican economy.[19]

The plan gained wide support because it demanded independence without attacking the landed classes and did not threaten social dissolution. Therefore, Iturbide succeeded in bringing together old insurgents and royalist forces to fight against the new Spanish government and what was left of the viceregal government. Military leaders, soldiers, families, villages, and towns that had been fighting against one another for almost ten years found themselves joining forces to gain Mexican independence. However, their reasons for joining together were very different, and those differences would later foment the turmoil that occurred after independence.[19]

Both the sitting viceroy and Fernando VII rejected the Plan of Iguala.[7][8] The Spanish parliament sent a new "viceroy," Juan O'Donojú, to Mexico. (Technically, the office of viceroy had been replaced by a "superior political chief" under the 1812 Spanish Constitution.) O'Donojú, however, arrived to witness a nation on the brink of achieving independence and knew that its consummation could not be stopped.


Iturbide's triumphal entrance to Mexico City

Iturbide's triumphal entrance to Mexico City

Flag of the Mexican Empire Regency (1821–1822)

Flag of the Mexican Empire Regency (1821–1822)

Iturbide met with O’Donoju and hastily negotiated a treaty, called the Treaty of Córdoba.[15] Similar to the Plan de Iguala, the document tried to guarantee an independent monarchy for New Spain under the Bourbon dynasty. The successor state would invite Ferdinand VII to rule as emperor or, in default, his brother Don Carlos. If both refused, a suitable monarch would be searched for among the various European royal houses. In the meantime, a regency would replace the viceroy. All existing laws, including the 1812 Constitution, would remain in force until a new constitution for Mexico was written.[12] A key element was added at O'Donojú's suggestion: if Spain refused its right to appoint a regent for the Mexican Empire, the Mexican congress would have freedom to elect whoever it deemed worthy as emperor. That crucial clause was not in Iturbide's Plan de Iguala, a point against the argument that Iturbide entertained the notion of becoming the ruler when he started his campaign for Mexico's independence.

To show the military might of the alliance, Iturbide co-ordinated with associated royalist and insurgent commanders in the provinces, opting for a replay of the strategy of closing in on Mexico City from the periphery, which Morelos had attempted in 1811–14. However, Iturbide had the advantage of having most of the former royalist army on his side.[1][12] Iturbide marched into Mexico City on 27 September 1821, his own birthday, with the Army of the Three Guarantees.[19] The army was received by a jubilant populace who had erected arches of triumph and decorated houses and themselves with the tricolor (red, white, and green) of the army.[4] Cries of "¡Viva Iturbide I!" were heard first on that day. The next day, Mexico was declared an independent empire. In much less than a year, Iturbide had bloodlessly achieved what eleven years of bloody war could not.

What remained of the royalist army retreated to Veracruz and was cornered in the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa,[18] and O'Donoju, who had been assured an important position in the government of the new empire, died shortly afterwards, dishonored by his Spaniard compatriots.

Iturbide was named President of the Provisional Governing Junta, which selected the five-person regency that would temporarily govern the newly independent Mexico.[1] The junta had 36 members who would have legislative power until the convocation of a congress. Iturbide controlled both the membership of the junta and the matters that it considered.[2] The junta would be responsible for negotiating the offer of the throne of Mexico to a suitable royal.[5][18] Members of the former insurgent movement were left out of the government.

The new government was overwhelmingly people loyal to Iturbide himself.[8] Opposition groups included the old insurgents as well as a number of progressives and those loyal to Ferdinand VII. Many liberals and progressives also belonged to Masonic lodges of the Scottish rite, leading these branches of the opposition to be called escoceses (Scots). The plan of Iguala was a compromise of the differing factions, but after independence, it became clear that some of the promises it had made would prove very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. That state of affairs began to instill turmoil even among those in power.

Iturbide moved to Mexico City and settled himself in a large palatial home that now bears the name Palace of Iturbide. The mansion was lent to him by the family that owned it but was not living in it.[20]

Iturbide began to live extravagantly. He demanded preference for his army and also personally chose ministers.[18] In the meantime, Ferdinand VII rejected the offer of the Mexican throne and forbade any of his family from accepting the position, and the Spanish Cortes rejected the Treaty of Córdoba.[10]

Emperor Agustín I

Coronation of Iturbide in 1822.

Coronation of Iturbide in 1822.

Half-length portrait as Emperor of Mexico

Half-length portrait as Emperor of Mexico

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Special Envoy to Mexico

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Special Envoy to Mexico

Lady Ana María Huarte, empress consort of México, by Josephus Arias Huerta.

Lady Ana María Huarte, empress consort of México, by Josephus Arias Huerta.

Shortly after signing the Treaty of Córdoba, the Spanish government reneged.[18] Ferdinand VII had regained the upper hand against the liberals in Spain and increased his influence outside the country. He even had credible plans for the reconquest of the old colony. For those reasons, no European noble would accept the offer of a Mexican crown. In Mexico itself, there was no noble family that the populace would accept as royalty.[19]

In the meantime, the governing junta that Iturbide headed convened a constituent congress to set up the new government. The new government had indirect representation, based on the Cadiz model, but the Plan of Iguala and the Treaty of Córdoba were clear that the order of things would be kept as it had been before the Cadiz Constitution. Thus, Iturbide and the junta declared that they would not be bound by the Cadiz Constitution but kept the Congress that was convened.[12] That led to division, which came to a head in February 1822. In its inauguration, Congress swore that it would never abide for all of the powers of the state to fall into the hands of a single person or entity. It, however, proceeded to assign sovereignty to itself, rather than to the people, and proclaimed that it held all three powers of the State. It also considered lowering military pay and decreasing the size of the army. Those moves threatened to reduce Iturbide's influence in current and future governments.[2][12]

That led to political destabilization, which was resolved temporarily when Iturbide was elected Emperor of the Mexican nation.[12] However, it is not clear whether he took the crown at the insistence of the people or simply took advantage of the political situation.

Accounts of the time sustain the hypothesis that it truly was the wish of the people that Iturbide, who had gained unparalleled fame thanks to his role in achieving Independence, was crowned Emperor. Some call Iturbide's decision a coup[2][18] and state that the public support for him was orchestrated by him and his followers.[2][7][12] Others insist that the people's offer of the throne was sincere, as there was no other candidate and the people were grateful to him for the liberation of Mexico. The latter accounts stress that Iturbide initially rejected the offer, in favor of persuading Ferdinand VII to change his mind about ruling Mexico, but then reluctantly accepted.[6][7] When the liberating army entered Mexico on September 27, 1821, the army sought to proclaim Iturbide as Emperor, which he himself stopped, with no lack of effort. A month later, on October 28, he was publicly proclaimed Emperor by the people but again refused any such attempt.

The US government appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett as a special envoy to independent Mexico when Iturbide was declared emperor since James Monroe was concerned about how popular and long-lasting the regime might be. Poinsett indicated the empire was not likely to be enduring, but the US still recognized Mexico as an independent country. Poinsett's Notes on Mexico are an important source as a foreign view of Iturbide's regime.[21] Poinsett also took advantage of the opportunity to proposition Iturbide's government on the issue of the US wish of acquiring Mexico's northern territories but was soundly refused.

Famed Mexican author José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, El Pensador ("the Mexican Thinker"), the author of El Periquillo Sarniento, wrote about the subject at the time: "If your excellency be not the Emperor, then our Independence be damned. We do not wish to be free if your excellency will not be at the lead of his countrymen." Timothy E. Anna points out that in the months between the achievement of Independence and his crowning as Emperor, Iturbide already practically ruled the nation, as he was president of the Regency, and the junta had granted him command over all land and sea forces. He was appointed protector of commerce, navigation, local order and ports and was given the right to expedite passports and navigation licenses even after the Emperor had been instated (and according to the Emperor's wishes). Iturbide had what he could have possibly wanted before becoming Emperor, Anna notes, and so it is not probable that Iturbide conspired to appoint himself Emperor. Iturbide himself notes in his memoirs written in exile: "I had the condescension–or, call it weakness–of allowing myself to be seated in a throne I had created for others."

Historians point out that Iturbide had quite possibly all the power, influence, and support he needed before redacting the Plan of Iguala, to crown himself Emperor, and he still wrote the Plan with the clear intention of creating a throne meant for a European noble.

Most historical accounts mention the crowd that gathered outside what is now the Palace of Iturbide in Mexico City shouting "Viva Iturbide!" and insist for him to take the throne of Mexico in May 1822. The crowd included Iturbide's old regiment from Celaya. Some detractors of Iturbide insist that this demonstration was staged by Iturbide himself or his loyalists. From a balcony of the palace, Iturbide repeatedly denied his desire for the throne. One interesting twist to the story is reported by Mexico City daily La Jornada, which states that Iturbide held the first popular referendum in Mexico. According to the article, Iturbide sent out a questionnaire to military and civilian leaders as to whether the people preferred a republic or a monarchy. The answer came back in favor of a monarchy.[22] Iturbide asked the demonstrators that night to give him the night to think it over, and to respect the wishes of the government. The Congress convened the next day to discuss the matter of Iturbide's election as Emperor. Iturbide's supporters filled the balconies overlooking the chamber. The Congress confirmed him and his title of Agustín I, Constitutional Emperor of Mexico, by a vast majority.[1][2] After Iturbide's abdication, members would state that it had elected Iturbide out of fear for their lives, as the common folk were present during the vote and loudly proclaimed Iturbide, and no member voted against his crowning as Emperor. However, three days after Iturbide had been elected Emperor, Congress held a private session in which only it was present. It ratified the decision, created titles for the royal family, and declared Iturbide's title to be lifelong and hereditary.

Iturbide's coronation was held at the Mexico City Cathedral on 21 July 1822, and his wife, Ana María, was crowned empress, in an elaborate ceremony.[2] It was attended by the bishops of Puebla, Guadalajara, Durango, and Oaxaca[8]. According to the author Pérez Memen, Archbishop of Mexico Pedro José de Fonte y Hernández Miravete objected and did not attend. Iturbide was crowned by Rafael Mangino y Mendivil, the head of the Congress, in itself a statement by Congress: the state, not the church or any other power, would be sovereign. The Congress decreed the crown to be hereditary with the title of "Prince of the Union." As emperor, Iturbide had sovereignty over lands bordered by Panama in the south and the Oregon Country in the north, including the current countries of Central America and the US states of California, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.[23]


Dissolution of Congress

Throne of Agustín de Iturbide in the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones.

Throne of Agustín de Iturbide in the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones.

The republican minority was not happy with Iturbide as emperor. While the Catholic clergy supported him,[18] the coronation dashed republican hopes, and while the Plan of Iguala and the Treaty of Córdoba directed that in the event of it being impossible to instate a European ruler on the Mexican throne, a national sovereign could be chosen, some of the royalists that had supported Iturbide had hoped for a European ruler. Many of the landed classes supported Iturbide and those documents because they offered a sense of continuity with the past. Iturbide's election to the throne was against their wishes, and many of them withdrew their support for him and conspired against the new empire.

The strongest opposition to Iturbide's reign came from the Congress. A significant number of the Congress supported republican ideas[16] because a number of the members also belonged to Masonic lodges, which were introduced to Mexico in the 1780s. Those ideas found a voice when Manuel Codorniu founded the newspaper El Sol, essentially becoming the in-house publication for the Scottish Rite lodge in its struggle against Iturbide.[1] Gorka Rosainz claims that the lodges also received support from the United States, which wanted to see European influence decreased in the Americas.[6] Iturbide's government was notoriously harsh in turning down territorial negotiations with agents of the US government, as attested by Poinsett. That lends support to the theory that Iturbide's opposition had US support and influence behind it. The Congress, believing itself to be sovereign over the Emperor and the people (whom it claimed it represented) and the recipient of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers, openly antagonized Iturbide. The Congress's sole declared mission was to create a new Mexican Constitution by which the Emperor could rule, but in the eight months of its existence, it never moved to create even a draft of a Constitution. Furthermore, people loyal to the Emperor became aware of a conspiracy that involved several members of the Congress who planned to kidnap the Emperor and his family and tear down the Constitutional Empire. As a response to the threat to his life and that of his family and sovereignty and to combat the resistance, Iturbide closed down the Congress on 31 October 1822 and created a new junta, the National Institutional Junta, to legislate in its place two days later, answering only to himself.[16][19]

The National Institutional Junta was directed to create much-needed legislation in economic matters, create a provisional set of laws for the Empire, and then issue a call for a new Constituent Congress. By a new formulation, the new Congress would better represent all the provinces in the Mexican Empire and proceed to issue the long-awaited Mexican Constitution. Iturbide persecuted his enemies, arresting and jailing a score of former members of the Congress, but that did not bring peace.[1][2][13]

A number of prominent politicians and military leaders, many of whom had supported Agustín as emperor, turned against him for having "made a mockery of national representation."[19] Among those were prominent Insurgent leaders Vicente Guerrero, Nicolás Bravo and Guadalupe Victoria.

Meanwhile, Mexico suffered as an independent country. Ferdinand's resurgence as a ruler in Spain and his clear intentions to reconquer Mexico meant that no European nation was willing to recognize Mexico's independence, and most broke off economic ties with the new state. Iturbide's economic policies were draining resources as well. To increase his popularity, he abolished a number of colonial-era taxes. However, he still insisted on a large and very well-paid army and lived extravagantly himself.[19] The elite turned against him when he imposed a 40% property tax.

The situation did not last long. Soon, Iturbide was unable to pay his army, forming discontent in a significant portion of his power base. When criticism of the government grew strong, Iturbide censored the press, an act that backfired against him. Opposition groups began to band together against him.[2] Leaders such as Valentín Gómez Farías and Antonio López de Santa Anna began to conspire against the imperial concept altogether and became convinced that a republican model was needed to combat despotism.[19]

Veracruz and Casa Mata Plans

Iturbide meeting Juan O'Donojú in 1821

Iturbide meeting Juan O'Donojú in 1821

Santa Anna publicly announced his opposition to Iturbide in December 1822[2] in the Plan of Veracruz, supported by the old Insurgent hero, Guadalupe Victoria. Santa Anna would later admit in his recollections that at the time, he did not know what a republic was. Iturbide had tried to stop Santa Anna by inviting him to Mexico City. Recognizing the danger of such an invitation, Santa Anna responded with his Plan de Veracruz, which called for the reinstatement of the old Constituent Congress, which would then have the right to decide the form of government of the new nation. Curiously, it did not specifically call for a republic or for the abdication of Iturbide. Santa Anna wrote to Iturbide, explaining his reasons and swearing to sacrifice his own life if it was necessary to ensure the safety of the Emperor. Iturbide's enemy-turned-ally, Vicente Guerrero, turned back to enemy when he and General Nicolás Bravo escaped México City and allied themselves with the rebels. In a proclamation that explained their reasons, they also called for the reinstatement of the disintegrated Congress, which would then decide the fate of the nation. Bravo and Guerrero wrote that they swore to abide by the Congress's decision, even if it decided to stay as a Constitutional Empire and it elected Iturbide again to lead them.

Iturbide sent his most trusted man, his protégé of sorts, whom he wrote he had treated as a son), General Echávarri, to combat the rebels. Iturbide's effort met with success. Santa Anna considered escaping to the United States but was stopped by Victoria. Santa Anna, with most of his infantry destroyed by the Imperial army, fortified himself in the city of Veracruz with his superior artillery. Victoria was separated from Veracruz, fighting behind Imperial lines. Bravo and Guerrero were defeated, with Guerrero suffering such a grievous injury in battle that the nation believed him dead until he resurfaced months later. However, Echávarri and several other imperial officers decided to proclaim a new plan, the Plan of Casa Mata, which called for the installation of a new Congress, as opposed to the old one. It also recognized the Empire as the elected and legitimate form of government, and Iturbide as the legitimate ruler of the nation. Thus, none of the treaties proclaimed against the Empire actually called specifically for Iturbide's abdication. Casa Mata's key point was giving provinces the right to govern themselves in the interim until the new Congress was formed. Almost all of the provinces wished to govern themselves, rather than letting a central government do so. Thus, they all accepted the plan, with the exception of the province of Chiapas.

Additionally opposing Iturbide, much of the area now known as Central America declared its opposition to Mexico City's rule. In 1823, authorities in what are now Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras convened a Congress to declare themselves independent from Mexico and Spain as the United Provinces of Central America.[18]

Santa Anna's army marched toward Mexico City, winning small victories along the way.[1] Iturbide gathered and sent troops to combat Santa Anna who did not put up a strong resistance. Many military leaders who Iturbide appointed turned on him upon contacting Santa Anna's forces. Iturbide later admitted he had made a mistake by not leading his armies himself. Iturbide recognized that although his provisional junta was working to call a new Congress, such a process would take too long, and most of the nation had accepted the Plan de la Casa Mata. Recognizing the wishes of the country, Iturbide personally reopened the same Congress that he had closed in March 1823 and presented his abdication to them. This measure surprised the Congress, as none of the rebellions had demanded Iturbide's abdication. He later wrote that he was choosing abdication over bloody civil war. However, Congress refused to accept his abdication, arguing that acceptance of abdication would imply that the existence of the throne was legitimate. Instead, they nullified their own election of Iturbide as emperor and refused to acknowledge the Plan of Iguala or the Treaty of Córdoba.[18] That was recognized by some members of the Congress as very irregular, as its powers flowed from Iturbide's naming of the Congress. By nullifying Iguala and Córdoba, the Congress nullified its own legitimacy. However, those inconsistencies within the mandate were brushed aside.[8][18]

Executive leadership of the country was passed to the "triumvirate," made up of the generals Guadalupe Victoria, Nicolás Bravo, and Pedro Celestino Negrete.[19]


On his way to exile, Iturbide and his family were escorted by former insurgent leader Nicolás Bravo, who uncharacteristically treated Iturbide harshly. Though the republican movement had triumphed, the people still held Iturbide in high regard and greatly admired him. On his way out of the city, his carriage was surrounded by the people, the horses dismissed and the people sought to drag the carriage themselves out of the city. That treatment was customary in the entrances or exits of great figures in or out of a city. The soldiers escorting Iturbide prevented that from happening and would henceforth lead the former emperor on hidden roads, as the government feared a popular rising in favor of Iturbide.

On 11 May 1823, the ex-emperor boarded the British ship Rawlins en route to Livorno, Italy (then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany)[4], accompanied by his wife, children, and some servants. There, he rented a small country house and began to write his memoirs, known under the name of Manifiesto de Liorna. Iturbide and his family struggled financially during this time despite claims by historians and some members of the Congress that deposed him that Iturbide had indulged in illegal enrichment throughout his military career and rule. In exile, Iturbide was approached by a Catholic coalition of nations that sought to enlist his help in a campaign to reconquer México for Spain. Iturbide declined. Spain pressured Tuscany to expel Iturbide, and the Iturbide family moved to England.[7]

There, he published his autobiography, Statement of Some of the Principal Events in the Public Life of Agustín de Iturbide. When he was exiled, Iturbide was accorded a government pension, but it was never received by Iturbide. Congress also declared him a traitor and "outside of the law" to be killed if he ever returned to Mexico. Iturbide was unaware of the penalty. After his death, many an author decried the decree calling for Iturbide's death, as it was against all known precepts of the law at the time: it was unheard of that a law could be issued solely against a specific citizen, instead of issuing a general law that would be applied to particular cases.

After his departure, the situation in Mexico continued to worsen. Reports of a probable further Spanish attempt to retake Mexico reached Iturbide in England.[10][11] He wrote in his memoirs that he was very worried about the future of the nation that he had liberated. He continued to receive reports from Mexico and advice from supporters that if he returned he would be hailed as a liberator and a potential leader against the Spanish invasion.[10] Iturbide sent word to congress in Mexico City on 13 February 1824 offering his services in the event of Spanish attack. Congress never replied.[18]

Conservative political factions in Mexico finally convinced Iturbide to return.[5][11]

Execution and burial

Declaration to the World (Manifiesto de Liorna) by Agustín de Iturbide or rather Notes for History, a manuscript tinged with his blood and found between his sash and shirt after his execution.

Declaration to the World (Manifiesto de Liorna) by Agustín de Iturbide or rather Notes for History, a manuscript tinged with his blood and found between his sash and shirt after his execution.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Coffin containing Agustín de Iturbide's remains in Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.

Coffin containing Agustín de Iturbide's remains in Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.

Iturbide returned to Mexico on 14 July 1824,[2] accompanied by his wife, two children, and a chaplain.[18] He landed at the port of Soto la Marina on the coast of Nuevo Santander (the modern-day state of Tamaulipas). They were initially greeted enthusiastically, but soon, they were arrested by General Felipe de la Garza, the local military commander. Felipe de la Garza was notorious in that he had been the head of a short-lived and unpopular revolt during Iturbide's reign. De la Garza gave up without a fight and was presented to Iturbide, who chose to pardon the general and reinstate him in his old post. The roles, as it happened, had not been reversed. Perhaps it was because of this debt that de la Garza wavered in his resolve to detain Iturbide, at first receiving him warmly but then arresting him and, on the way to his trial, de la Garza gave Iturbide command over the military escort that accompanied them and requesting that Iturbide presented himself to the nearby village of Padilla.[6][8] Iturbide gave his word of honor and did as was bid, surrendering himself to authorities. The local legislature held a trial and sentenced Iturbide to death. When a local priest administered last rites, Iturbide said, "Mexicans! In the very act of my death, I recommend to you the love to the fatherland, and the observance to our religion, for it shall lead you to glory. I die having come here to help you, and I die merrily, for I die amongst you. I die with honor, not as a traitor; I do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy. I am not a traitor, no."[8] He was executed by firing squad on 19 July 1824.[5] Three bullets hit him, one of which delivered the fatal blow.

The aftermath of his execution was met with indignation by the people of México in general and with relief by his adversaries in Congress, who had always feared the return of Iturbide. The sentiment of those horrified by the execution was compiled by novelist Enrique de Olavarría y Ferrari in "El cadalso de Padilla:" "Done is the dark crime, for which we will doubtlessly be called Parricides."

His body was buried and abandoned at the parish church of Padilla[8] until 1833. In that year, President Santa Anna, deciding to rehabilitate the memory of Iturbide, ordered his remains to be transferred to the capital with honors. However, it was not until 1838, during the presidency of Anastasio Bustamante, that the order was confirmed and carried out. His ashes were received in Mexico City with much pomp and ceremony, and the same Congress that had been against him for so many years gave him honor as a primary hero of the War of Independence.[13]

On 27 October 1839, his remains were placed in an urn in the Chapel of San Felipe de Jesús in the Mexico City Cathedral, where they remain. On the stand is an inscription in Spanish that translates to "AGUSTÍN DE ITURBIDE. AUTHOR OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF MÉXICO. COMPATRIOT, CRY FOR HIM; PASSERBY, ADMIRE HIM. THIS MONUMENT GUARDS THE ASHES OF A HERO. HIS SOUL RESTS IN THE BOSOM OF GOD."[6]

Iturbide's remains still rest in the Metropolitan cathedral.

Iturbide's role in history

While Iturbide's reign lasted less than a year, it was the result of and further defined the struggle between republican and traditional ideals, not only in Mexico, but also in Europe. For a number of Mexican autonomists, a constitutionally sanctioned monarchy seemed a logical solution to the problem of creating a new state as it seemed to be a compromise between those who pushed for a representative form of government and those who wished to keep Mexico's monarchist traditions. One must keep in mind that a Republican, Federalist government was virtually unheard of, and that for 300 years New Spain had lived in a monarchy. When things are viewed in this light, historian Eric Van Young states that Iturbide's seizure of the crown "seems less cynical and idiosyncratic when it comes along at the end of the independence struggle."[15] However, the rest of the 19th century would be marked by oscillation between the two political extremes, with each side gaining the upper hand at one point or another. The old Mexican nobility kept their titles and coats-of-arms close at hand, ready for a comeback. Members of the Iturbide family intrigued against the Mexican government in Madrid, New York City, Paris, and Rome as late as the 1890s.[24]

Liberal or republican ideas were and would continue to be embraced by creoles outside the Mexico City elite. These came out of Bourbon reforms in Europe that were based on the Enlightenment. Attacks on the Church by liberals in Spain and elsewhere in Europe would be repeated in Mexico during the La Reforma period. Ideals of the Constitution of Cadiz would find expression in the 1824 Constitution of Mexico. An interesting fact is that this constitution would influence political thought on both sides of the Mexican political spectrum, with even Iturbide bending to it when he created the first congress of an independent Mexico. After Iturbide, there was wide general consensus, even among the landed elite, that some form of representative government was needed. The question was how much power would be in legislative hands and how much in an executive.[19]

Iturbide's empire was replaced with the First Republic. Guadalupe Victoria was elected as the first president, but in subsequent years, Vicente Guerrero became the first in a long line of Presidents to gain the Presidency through a military revolt after losing an election. Guerrero was betrayed and assassinated, and Santa Anna would rise to avenge him, beginning the era of Mexican History that Santa Anna so clearly dominated. This regime would oscillate and finally be overcome by the Plan of Ayutla. The new Government would struggle between anti-clerical, reformist views and conservative views during the Reform War. During the French Intervention the country would face Civil War amongst conservative, Catholic, Europe-adherent monarchists led by the ironically liberal Maximilian I of México, and liberal, masonic, anti-clerical, reformist and United States-adherent liberals led by the American-backed Benito Juárez. Having prevailed, Juárez died after 15 years of forcefully remaining as president. Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th century would install a one-man rule which imposed upon México its first true period of relative peace, in exchange for freedom, and Díaz remaining for the next 30 years in power. He would be overthrown with the Mexican Revolution.[12]

In historical memory

President Alvaro Obregón, who staged elaborate centennial commemorations in 1921.

President Alvaro Obregón, who staged elaborate centennial commemorations in 1921.

Flag of the First Mexican Empire, 1822-23

Flag of the First Mexican Empire, 1822-23

Early in the independence period of Mexico's history, even the day used to mark Independence would be based on one's side. Traditionalists favored 27 September to celebrate, when Iturbide entered Mexico City, but liberal politicians preferred 16 September to celebrate Hidalgo's call for rebellion against Spain.[24]

In 1921, former revolutionary general and newly-elected president of Mexico Alvaro Obregón mounted a massive centenary celebration for Mexican independence, even larger than the one that Porfirio Díaz had staged in 1910, and the first time since the mid-19th century that the date was commemorated.[25] The 1921 commemoration was an opportunity for Obregón to assert his own state-building vision by appropriating a piece of Mexico's history. By overseeing the ceremonies, Obregón could shape and consolidate his own position in power, which was then relatively weak.[26] The Mexican Army benefited from the celebrations with new uniforms and equipment, and there was even a re-enactment of Iturbide's triumphal entry into Mexico City.[27]

In modern Mexico, the liberal tendency has dominated, to the extent that conservative movements are academically and politically almost ignored. When they are treated, it is with a strong partisan slant. That is true of much of the writing about Iturbide, being portrayed as a "traitor" of 19th century Mexico. Many authors consider that a historical injustice has been committed against Iturbide, as his enemies had the privilege of writing history.

Iturbide's strategy of defining a plan and using the military to back it up started a trend in Mexican politics that would dominate until the 20th century. He can also been seen as the first "caudillo," or charismatic military leader, who used a combination of widespread popularity and threat of violence toward opposition to rule and would be followed by the likes of Antonio López de Santa Anna and Porfirio Díaz.[2] However, bloody confrontations were not involved in Iturbide's rise or his fall from power.

México owes its name to Iturbide, that of México, as opposed to "United Mexican States." While the latter is considered the official name, the inhabitants of the country refer to it by the name of México. Another legacy that Iturbide left to Mexico was its modern flag, still used today. The three colors of red, white, and green originally represented the three guarantees of the Plan of Iguala: Freedom, Religion, and Union. In the place of the Spanish emblem for Mexico, he resurrected the old Tenochtitlan symbol for Mexico City, an eagle perched on a nopal cactus holding a snake in its beak. With it, he hoped to link the upcoming Mexican Empire with the old Aztec one.[3][6]

Iturbide is also mentioned in the Himno Nacional Mexicano, the national anthem for the country. The stanza translates as follows: "If to battle against the foreign host, the warrior trumpet invokes us, Mexicans, the Sacred flag of Iturbide bravely follow. Let the conquered banners serve as a carpet to the brave steeds, may the laurels of triumph bring shade to the brow of the brave Captain."

Titles, styles, honors and arms

Titles and styles

  • 19 May 1822 – 19 March 1823: His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Mexico


  • Knight Grand Cross of the National Order of Our Lady of Guadalupe[28]

Full title as Emperor

His Imperial Majesty Don Agustín I, By Divine Providence and the National Congress, First Constitutional Emperor of Mexico.


Escudo de Armas de S.M.I. Agustín.svg
Coat of Arms of H.I.M. Agustín de Iturbide as Emperor of Mexico


Agustín was married on 27 February 1805 to Ana María Josefa Ramona de Huarte y Muñiz (1786–1861); they had 10 children:

  • HIH Don Agustín Jerónimo de Iturbide y Huarte, Prince Imperial of Mexico (1807–1866) father of Jesusa de Iturbide Fernández

  • HH Doña Sabina de Iturbide y Huarte (1809–1871)

  • HH Doña Juana María de Iturbide y Huarte (1811–1828)

  • HH Doña Josefa de Iturbide y Huarte (1814–1891)

  • HH Don Ángel de Iturbide y Huarte (1816–1872) father of Agustín de Iturbide y Green

  • HH Doña María Isis de Iturbide y Huarte (1818–1849)

  • HH Doña María de los Dolores de Iturbide y Huarte (1819–1820)

  • HH Don Salvador de Iturbide y Huarte (1820–1856) father of Salvador de Iturbide y de Marzán

  • HH Don Felipe Andrés María Guadalupe de Iturbide y Huarte (1822–1853)

  • HH Don Agustín Cosme de Iturbide y Huarte (1824–1873)

See also

  • Mexican War of Independence

  • First Mexican Empire

  • List of heads of state of Mexico

  • Declaration to the world

  • Vicente Guerrero


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