High Lights of the Mexican Revolution - J. L. McLeish

Don Augustin de Iturbide

After the death of Hidalgo, the list of heroes who kept up the fight against Spanish rule is a long one. Don Ignacio Rayon, Don Jose Morelos, the illustrious Guerrero, a York Rite Mason; Padre Matamoras, Nicolas Bravo and many others from every district of Mexico are on the roll of honor.

There was one officer in the Royalist army, of Mexican birth and patriotic inclination, who by unusual ability had long held in check the leaders who took up the fight where Hidalgo left it. His name was Don Augustin de Iturbide. The man destined of the gods to bring liberty to Mexico was, strange to say, a product of the aristocracy. By early associations and training he had but little in common with the masses. His brief career upon the stage of his country's history was replete with excitement and action. It was almost as dramatically romantic as that of the man he idealized and emulated—Napoleon Bonaparte. His ending was quite as pathetic. Like Napoleon, too, Iturbide was a Mason. This leader commanded a battalion of provincial troops in the service of the Viceroy Venegas. He was a native of Valladolid. In his early training and education, he had enjoyed exceptional advantages. During the early days of the first Mexican Revolution, Iturbide and his command had participated in many engagements. These battles had cost the patriots dear, for Iturbide was a born soldier and most intrepid fighter.

Iturbide was a man of ordinary appearance and average physique. He possessed a tireless activity and an endurance bred of long and hard campaigning. He was ambitious, self-assertive, intolerant of authority, as are most born leaders of men. He depreciated danger, laughed at all obstacles, however formidable. He seemed not to know the meaning of fear. Each battle in which he participated found him in the most exposed position.

At the time when he heard the call of his people, and answered the signs and summons of the Craft by espousing the cause of those who fought for the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, Iturbide did not underestimate the prowess of the Spaniards. He knew from contact the personal capacity of each Royalist commander, but above all he appreciated his own superior qualifications as a practical soldier.

For years Iturbide had been thoughtfully observing the progress made by the patriots. Soon he was brought to a realization of the fact that, slowly but surely, Spain was losing her iron grip upon Mexico. He was a far-seeing man. He had always yearned for honors, for military distinction and for glory. The mother country, torn by internecine strife, trembling on the very verge of a precipice, could not, thought Iturbide, long maintain her foothold in the New World. Nearly all of Spain's American provinces had won their freedom. Bogota and Caracas had thrown off the yoke of suzerainty. Driven to desperation by such losses, the Spaniards now clung desperately to Mexico. Large reinforcements were being constantly dispatched across the sea to uphold their imperiled authority. Viceroy Venegas had been replaced by an even sterner martinet, Don Juan Apodaca. With barely enough military leaders to successfully direct the moments of their armies in the peninsula, the Spaniards nevertheless set aside enormous amounts to pay for the transportation of fresh troops to Mexico, and sent with these some of their ablest generals.

Iturbide could now see plainly the handwriting upon the wall. He realized that the wide scope of his ambitions could never be fulfilled were he content to remain an officer in the Royalist army. For years he had been quietly formulating a plan to be used against the Spanish, when the time should come for him to openly declare himself. Astute, clever, far-seeing, he had attached to himself, by ultra-clever intrigue, Mexicans of every party—ecclesiastical, military and political. Now looking back through the years upon his colossal undertaking, against what had seemed at its inchoation insurmountable odds, Iturbide could have the satisfaction of having performed a sacred duty to the Grand Architect of the Universe, to his country, to his neighbors and himself.

Knowing the yearning of his compatriots for independence above everything else, he made that a fundamental feature of his plan, which he denominated "Las Tres Garantias": To exemplify his objects he used the word "Union;" to conciliate the native clergy he added "Religion;" to inspire the sympathy of the blanketed hoi polloi, he added the inspiring slogan "Liberty." With the magic symbolism of these three words, Iturbide confidently hoped to rally those powerful enough to drive the Spaniards to the shores of the sea, thus forever ending Viceroy rule in old Mexico.

Veiling his plans with the greatest secrecy, Iturbide obtained from the Viceroy the command of a division to set forth in pursuit of the insurgent leader General Guerrero, with whose downfall a vital blow would be struck at the patriot's cause. Yet far from his plans was the overthrow of that gallant and able representative of York Rite Masonry, whose whole life had been modeled upon the Symbolic Code of the Square and Compass. Quite to the contrary, Iturbide knew that he must have Guerrero's support at any cost, inasmuch as this insurrecto general represented a very powerful faction in the national life. Couriers were dispatched ahead to arrange a meeting of the two. Towards the latter part of January, 1821, Iturbide and Guerrero met in a mountain canon. The scene was one of striking contrasts. Upon one side General Iturbide, in a brilliant uniform of azure and gold, at the head of his smartly equipped Spanish battalions. Opposite was the little bronzed band of patriots, martialed by lion-hearted Vicente Guerrero, their torn, weather-stained, homespun uniforms affording striking evidence of many a hard fought fray.

The interview was brief but was to the point. After the two generals had embraced, Iturbide said, "I cannot express the satisfaction which I experience upon meeting with a patriot who has sustained the noble cause of independence, and has survived unaided such hardships, maintaining alive the sacred fire of liberty. Receive this merited tribute to your valor and your virtues," to which Guerrero, greatly moved, responded: "I, senor, am happy that my country has this day received a son whose valor and sentiment have been so marked."

With extreme frankness Iturbide disclosed his plans to the commander of the York Rite. And Guerrero, completely convinced of their merit, attracted irresistibly by the magnetic personality of the younger soldier, carefully aligned his troopers and cried: "Soldiers, this Mexican whom you see present is Don Augustin de Iturbide, who for nine years has been an opponent of the cause which we defend. Today he has sworn to defend the national interests, and I, who have been your leader in battle, and whom you cannot doubt as willing to die in sustaining Liberty, I am the first to recognize Don Iturbide as the Chief of the national armies. Viva la independencia,—Viva la Libertad."

So soon as Guerrero's alliance with Iturbide became known, the revolutionary chieftains flocked to the new leader from all quarters. Soon Iturbide, at the head of a powerful army, in quick succession invested Valladolid, Queretaro, and Puebla. Viceroy Apodaca proclaimed martial law. He forcibly conscripted all male citizens capable of bearing arms. Even with such strenuous measures, he found himself beset by insurmountable odds and was forced to abdicate.

The authorities at Madrid had anticipated just such a happening. Already there was landing at Vera Cruz, the sixty-fourth and last Spanish Viceroy, General O'Donoju. On his march to the Mexican capital O'Donoju was permitted to advance as far as Cordoba. Here he was met by General Iturbide with an overwhelming force of patriots. Realizing the utter futility of resistance, General O'Donoju signed the Treaty of Cordoba, recognizing the independence of the Mexican people, allowing them to form a provisional junta, and to make choice of a ruling sovereign, this latter to be selected, from the royal family of Spain.

Crafty, far-seeing Iturbide! From the first he had known instinctively that the Spanish Cortes would never countenance any such arrangement, wherefore he permitted himself to be named president of the Mexican junta. He hoped, and not without reason, that when the time arrived, his people would elevate him to the place he coveted.

On the morning of September 27, 1821, a great crush of people flocked to the southern outposts of the Mexican capital. There were poverty-stricken leperos, and dirty, squalid Indians, who pressed ever so closely about the closed caleches, through the tiny openings of which timidly peeped black-robed senoras and petite senoritas. Occasionally an aguador with his great clay pitcher strapped upon his back, and filled with fresh water, elbowed his way through the crowd, as he cried his most monotonous refrain, "Agua—agua fresco." And some gaily decked cavalier in silver-bullioned black jacket, with gold-braided zapateros and peaked sombrero, wearing the colors of his lady love upon his arm, a gaudy serape jauntily wrapped about his gold-embossed saddle, dug the rowels of his spurs into the foam-flecked side of his steed, recklessly riding down a group of affrighted children, or helpless leperos, to the great delight of the petite senoritas in the caleches. The chimes of the Cathedral rang out merrily, as well they might on this day of days. The Liberator general, who had done for his country what many patriots had failed to do in ten years incessant warfare, was about to enter the capital. Therefore, Mexico City rejoiced. Loud sounded the petards of the soldiery. Occasionally a troop of cavalry dashed into the crowd, blending oaths and shouts and adding to the general confusion all about.

At the Portales which flanked the Vera Cruz road a regiment of Jalapa infantry were drawn up. The monotony of their long wait was enlivened by the martial music of a regimental band, interrupted at times by a distant roll of drums, or the prolonged blowing of bugles from an approaching troop of cavalry. Everywhere excitement exercised supreme sway. Beneath a huge triumphal arch at the Plaza Mayor, were assembled the authorities of the city in gorgeous uniforms. With them were the prefects and clergy. Close at hand waited a band of white-robed little ones, bearing huge floral pieces adorned with the tricolor adopted by General Iturbide. Only where a few Spaniards had been bold enough to foregather, might be seen the cockade of the Spanish Bourbons.

Presently the great guns at the southern entrance to the city told the populace that the national army was about to enter the capitol. Soon they came marching by. First, a regiment of chausseurs in green and gold, followed by troops of dragoons and hussars. Next a procession of black-robed native priests, with banners and chasubles, chanting a Te Deum. After them the dusky, bronzed veterans of General Guerrero and the fighting Indians of Guadalupe Victoria. Last of all came the "Scarlet Riders," the regiment of General Iturbide, with long black plumes waving in their helmets, facings of gold showing jauntily upon their red uniforms, their fierce moustaches bristling and their scarred faces, aglow with pride. At a double quick these troops marched through the streets of Mexico City. They were warmly welcomed on all sides. After them came a gorgeous state carriage drawn by ten sturdy mules with silver trappings, and driven by savage looking mozos with rough jackets of skins, great zapateros and peaked sombreros. As outriders four trumpeters rode. Within this coach sat the last of the Spanish Viceroys, General O'Donoju, and the Liberator of Mexico, General Augustin de Iturbide. On each side of the coach rode the swarthy, gorgeously uniformed suite of His Majesty's Vicegerent, led by Brigadier General Linan, General Don Jose Davila, Captain Fernando del Valle, and Teniente Navarette.

Such a scene of pomp and panoply this staid old Mexican capitol had never before witnessed in all the three hundred years of its existence. The blanketed hoi polloi were wild with enthusiasm. They thought that they had come into their own at last. Poor fools! Nor did these peons dream that they were but exchanging task-masters: that the future held for them a period of stress and bloodshed destined to extend over many, many years: that the man they now acclaimed their Liberator General, was soon to fall a victim to that fickleness which is an inherent characteristic of all Latin-Americans: that grim old Guerrero too, was to share a similar fate: least of all, that the young General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who now rode proudly with the staff, was eventually to compass the downfall of all these patriots when they stood in the way of his own preferment, and after sweeping them away like chaff, would hold Mexico in his own iron grip for fifty long, weary years. And so, quite ignorant of the future, the Mexican masses shouted and entered happily into the spirit of this day of days, to many of them symbolic of brotherly love, relief and truth.

Nor did it take long for Iturbide to evolve order out of chaos. With an eye to his own future, he carefully organized the new elements of the Mexican government, abolishing the restrictive laws of the Spaniard, and to all intents playing into the hands of the Mexican people. Day by day Iturbide's personal popularity increased. There came at last news to the capitol. The Spanish Cortes had rejected the treaty of Cordoba. But for this Iturbide had prepared. The time for his own great coup had come. It was the culmination of his many years of watchful waiting. The Mexican Congress was packed with his personal adherents and members of the Lodges.

Before ever the people had recovered from their shock of surprise caused by Spain's repudiation of "Las Tres Garantias," the personal following of Don Augustin de Iturbide proclaimed him Emperor of Mexico. A vote of four to one in his favor, taken by Congress, confirmed him in his new dignity. And the man who had so cleverly manipulated the patriot generals, who had united all the diverse patriot factions, now ascended the new world throne as Emperor Augustine I. His coronation was another occasion for magnificent display. It took place in the great cathedral of Mexico City, July 21, 1823.

From this moment Iturbide cast aside his mask. To the patriots he revealed that they had but served as stepping stones to further the personal ambitions of a Mexican aristocrat of the aristocrats. Yet he was equally honest with the representatives of the Clerical party. When to the Palacio Iturbide there came His Eminence the Archbishop of Mexico, attended by his black-robed suffragans, to advance the claims of Holy Church and to insist that the Inquisition be not at all curtailed in its activities, he brusquely concluded with the statement: "Refuse my demand and I shall withdraw from your cause the countenance and support of the Church of Rome."

To this Iturbide coolly retorted:

"Your Eminence, my cause was reared without the aid of the clergy, and it will live without the aid of the clergy. In England, Henry VIII divorced church and state. In France the republicans hurled defiance at the Pope. In Mexico, I, Augustin de Iturbide, Emperor by the Grace of God and the will of the Mexican people, bid you go with your empty forms and mummery, fit alone for the priest-ridden Bourbons. For two hundred years the Church of, Rome has preyed upon this poor country, like the sopilote of the desert, exercising the vilest extortions, practicing the most fearful inhumanities, working upon the fears of the simple minded by the dread terrors of the Inquisition, and taking over the national resources to fatten your monks and your nuns, to build your cathedrals, and rear up a tinsel frame work of ceremonials and to pander to your idle vanities, while the ragged lepero, the beggared ranchero, and the despairing tradesman bow their worn, emaciated bodies in the dust to receive, in return for all they have given to the Church, the empty, vacuous smile and meaningless benediction of some over-fed, lumbering priest, whose very shovel hat and black robe have been paid for from the full measure of their sacrifice. Out upon such sophistry as yours which excuses all things on the ground that the end justifies the means."

"You have hurled down your grito of defiance and must answer to the Pope," cried the exasperated Archbishop, his form shaken with wrath, "The cause of the Excumulgado has ever been a lost cause."

"I shall answer to my God and to Him alone," was Iturbide's unshaken response, "And if my cause fail because I have been the first of the Mexicans to raise my voice against extortionate priestcraft, then be it so. But hearken, your Eminence, that day will come for Mexico when some man shall rise strong enough to forever divorce Church and State. Perhaps it may be an Iturbide, perhaps a man of a future generation, as yet unborn; but so surely as tomorrow's sun shall rise over the city, so surely will the hour and the man come. Go then, Your Eminence, mete out the curses of the Church of Rome, let the Papal Bulls decry against my cause, flee across the water to the Court of the Bourbons. I defy you all, and rest my cause before Almighty God."

"So be it," said the Archbishop, restraining himself with difficulty, "Until you retract your words, Augustin de Iturbide, you rest under the ban of disapproval of the Church of Rome." And motioning his somber suite to follow, he left the presence of the Emperor.

About his gorgeous court Iturbide now gathered the wealthiest and oldest of the native families in the country. He was lavish in his expenditures. He created a new world nobility. He distributed titles promiscuously. The Order of Guadalupe which he created was modeled upon the Order of the Garter.

He also fashioned another after Napoleon's Legion of Honor. In his self-absorption and burning eagerness to build up a brilliant aristocracy, founded upon old world traditions, aiming to surround himself with an atmosphere of formal ceremonial and magnificence, the Emperor accorded scant attention to the men whose tireless energies and personal sacrifices had brought him to his present high estate. And so he sealed his doom. Iturbide, in reverting once more to his type, was compelled to relegate such sincere patriots as Guerrero and Victoria to the background. His vanity told him that such men, pure products of the common people, would in nowise add to the brilliant court functions now of daily occurrence in his capitol. In the hourglass, that emblem of human life, swiftly ran the sands for poor Iturbide. Before the year was fairly done, Santa Anna proclaimed a Republic at Vera Cruz. And in the north, Generals Guerrero, Bravo and Guadalupe Victoria sent signs and summons to their trained veterans to take the field once more. This time, theirs was a punitive purpose, for they meant to overthrow the clay idol they had set upon a pedestal.

In vain the Emperor dissolved the Congress of the Mexican people. In vain he summoned the soldiers of the Empire to rally to his Imperial standard. The magic of his name had lost its charm. All past performances of the Liberator General seem to have been forgotten in the hatred now inspired by the arrogance, extravagances and personal vanity of the Emperor. The Ides of March had indeed come for this new world Caesar. On the nineteenth of that month, in 1823, Augustine the First abdicated from the throne of Mexico. And the blanketed hoi polloi proved very generous in their hour of triumph. They voted Don Augustine de Iturbide an annual pension of $25,000 conditional upon his living abroad. Iturbide with his family took up his residence at Nice. Like the great Mason he had taken for his model, Napoleon Bonaparte, poor Iturbide in exile, was constantly dreaming of a recall by his people. He yearned deeply for that power, his no longer.

In Mexico far-seeing Santa Anna, fully appreciating the caliber of the soldier who had terminated Spanish rule in one short year, not underestimating the personal ability of the man who had been his emperor, craftily prevailed upon the Mexican Congress to enact a law decreeing the death of Don Augustin de Iturbide, should he ever again set foot on Mexican soil. The man against whom this cruel enactment was made, in his faraway exile, knew nothing of his Machiavellian enemy's machinations. He heard only that Mexico was once more in a state of dire anarchy. Promptly he responded to what he deemed his country's need. He felt assured that the army would quickly flock to the standard of the Liberator General. Alas, instead of a welcome at Vera Cruz he found prison bars. On July 19, 1824, the soldier whose sword had won for him a new world throne, was shot by men he had often led to victory.

More to Don Augustin de Iturbide than to any other man does Mexico owe her independence of Spain. He was as intrepid as a lion, farseeing, a shrewd diplomat, a natural politician, with a pleasing personality and, best of all, a Mason of the Masons. It was Iturbide's great misfortune to have been born an aristocrat. It seems but natural that in the little hour of his prosperity he should have favored his class. To his own vanity he fell a victim, but more he was the victim of the selfishness and fickleness of the people for whom he had done so much, a people he had brought from the darkness to the light, a people he had perhaps served best when he firmly told His Eminence that for Mexico the Inquisition had had its day forever. So ended the first revolution in Mexico with the establishment of the Republic on October 10, 1824.

A peon of the peons it was whose privilege it became to take up the reins of power rudely snatched from an aristocrat of the aristocrats. General Guadalupe Victoria, the old guerrilla chieftain, was chosen first President of Mexico. Anarchy soon followed. Not a year passed but some new aspirant for power unleashed the dogs of war against the incumbent of the presidency. Guerrero enjoyed a little period of power as third President, and in due course was shot in 1831 by the people whose freedom he had so long striven for. For fifty years General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna played a melodramatic part in the drama of Mexican history, now as President, again as dictator; at times an exile, at others the popular idol, occasionally a hunted fugitive, yet ever in the public eye, this irrepressible, omnipresent, crafty, soldier-statesman and Scottish Rite Mason, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. After him came the few years' fiasco of emperor Maximilian, then the reestablished Republic of another Mason, Benito Juarez, until for thirty years the iron hand of grim old Porfirio Diaz, another popular idol held supreme sway until swept aside by the young idealist, Don Francisco Madero, Jr.