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Home ARTICLES The Treaty of Córdoba

The Treaty of Córdoba: Independence or Empire?, by Magdalena Mas

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he Treaty of Cordoba was the beginning of a new chapter in Mexico’s history. In this treaty, Mexico is recognized as a nation independent of Spain by Juan O’Donojú, who had been sent by the Spanish government as the new viceroy. Today, this treaty, signed on August 24, 1821, seems controversial. So controversial, in fact, that a recent attempt to add this date to the Law of the National Coat of Arms, the Flag and the National Anthem did not pass the Senate.  It is always difficult to judge events that are part of a process that was as complex as Mexico’s independence. Nevertheless, these events should be analyzed dispassionately, in this case taking into account the circumstances, background and direct consequences of the signing of the treaty.


Except for the capital and Spanish forts such as those in Veracruz, Perote and Acapulco, hardly any royalist troops remained. However, the insurgent army was divided and weak. It was Guerrero’s acceptance of the Plan of Iguala signed by Iturbide, and his acceptance of Iturbide as head of the Army of the Three Guarantees in February 1821, which enabled the insurgents and the royalists to combine their efforts to free New Spain from Spain.


In this way, thanks to the treaty and O’Donojú’s role as mediator, the war ended and the royalist troops surrendered the capital.  From September 13-22, General Novella, provisional viceroy after Apodaca, rid the capital of the royalist army so that the Army of the Three Guarantees could make its triumphal entry into the capital on September 27. Iturbide and O’Donojú saluted the crowds from the balcony of the palace as they watched the troops march by. The flag of the three guarantees waved as command of the city and its keys were handed over to Iturbide. The Supreme Provisional Governing Council was installed, and the act declaring the independence of the Mexican empire was signed just a day later.
Here follows a brief review of the circumstances under which the treaty was signed and the subsequent events.


The royalist troops were expelled and the capital was taken peacefully. No more blood was spilled.


King Fernando VII did not recognize the Treaty of Córdoba, and Spain withheld official recognition of its former colony until 1836. In fact, the last remaining Spanish troops, in San Juan de Ulua, did not surrender until four years later, and there was an attempt to reconquer Mexico in 1829.


The Provisional Governing Council was created many long years after Primo de Verdad and Francisco Azcárate tried to establish in Mexico a council capable of taking decisions and, as stated by its members, “...with the freedom to organize itself as it so desires; and with representatives that can manifest their will and their designs...” (Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire).


Without a doubt, for Iturbide’s movement, a monarchy was the only possibility; there was no other. The first article of the treaty says to the letter: This America will be known as a sovereign and independent nation and it will be called from here on “Mexican Empire.” The crown is first offered to Fernando VII, and afterwards to his brothers and to members of the Bourbon dynasty in strict order of succession. The Provisional Council would only elect a monarch if all of the Bourbons to whom it was offered refused to come to Mexico and accept the crown. In fact, the first documents drafted by the rebel movement, especially Hidalgo’s movement, favored the idea of returning the throne to Fernando VII, imprisoned by Napoleon. A monarchical form of government was a familiar and generalized form of government, especially in Catholic countries such as this one.


The treaty also said that if no monarch from a European dynasty accepted the throne of the new nation, the Mexican courts would designate the new leader. Thanks to this article, in May 1822, Agustín Iturbide was proclaimed emperor of Mexico.


A moderate constitutional monarchy was established in accordance with the Plan of Iguala, with separate legislative and executive branches. This gave the new country a regime that was not absolutist or despotic. At that time, Spain was in the midst of the “liberal triennium,” a reaction against Fernando VII’s despotism; he was made to swear to the Cadiz Constitution. O’Donojú himself had been one of the members of this movement headed by Rafael de Riego to restore the constitution.


Iturbide excluded the veterans of the insurgency from the governing council, occupied the presidency of the Regency, was named emperor and dissolved Congress. This makes it difficult for us to identify him not only with the rebels’ principals but also with the moderate tone of the treaty and with the Plan of Iguala.


Given all of these issues, today the Treaty of Cordoba is not seen as a document that fits with our traditional idea of what the insurgent movement was, nor does it fit with the republican principles that were later adopted by Mexico. But it is a fact that, thanks to this treaty, a war that had dragged on for eleven years ended and Mexico’s formal existence as a sovereign nation began.


The Treaty of Cordoba was, in this sense, key to consolidating our independence. It was guided by a sense of conciliation between the Americans and Spaniards, which was symbolized by Iturbide’s statement to O’Donojú: “Given the good faith and harmony with which we are conducting this business, I think it would be very easy to untie the knot without breaking it.” And, in fact, after the treaty was signed, no one could doubt that the knot had been untied forever.




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