Conversion of the St. Rafael Company from Imperial to Republican Status


The royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac ceased to exist in the fall of 1821 when Mexico achieved political independence from Spain. The garrison and the fort remained but they were no longer royal institutions, no longer units in colonial empire. They had been converted by a class revolution into military units in a passing monarchy which disappeared in a year to make way for a republic. The process of conversion was so orderly at Tubac and the other frontier military posts in Sonora that its execution and causes are of considerable interest.

1. Citizenship: A Revolutionary Concept

In a search for causes of the Mexican revolution, one very necessary although not sufficient condition stands out. This is the concept citizen. Anyone who has read any number of official and even semi-official letters and reports of the immediate postrevolutionary period in Mexico cannot help but be aware of the tremendous import of this concept, expressed in Spanish by the term ciudadano. Throughout this report the Spanish term vecino is translated also as citizen-correlating frontier Spanish usage of vecino with the U. S. frontier usage of "citizen" as an ethnic, a racial term for a politically dominant group in a multi-racial country. Ciudadano does not have this same meaning, although the one English 517term "citizen" combines the meanings of the two Spanish terms. The ciudadano was not necessarily a vecino-it was not an ethnic term but a socio-political term denoting a political status of every man regardless of his ethnic background. For that reason the concept of citizen (ciudadano) was of utmost importance in the Mexican revolution, precisely because it cut across social barriers inherent in the concept vecino and symbolized a new-found belief in an inherent value and worth in every man as a political being. This sociopolitical construct, added to the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of the worth and value of every individual soul created a climate of opinion and resulting pattern of social action in New Spain in the late colonial period between the French Revolution and independence which made the latter inevitable and set the pattern of political intercourse and formal interaction for many decades.

The specific concept of ciudadano which spread through New Spain at the end of the colonial period was imported directly from revolutionary France. The French concept had gained impetus from the successful revolution of the United States, but it was not the same concept that the North American rebels held nor was it otherwise derivative. The English and the French concepts of citizenship and political role derived ultimately from the same sources, but these were much more ancient. Both developed over a long period of time from familiarity with Roman law and the Roman concept of citizen. As reinterpreted and reapplied to existing political systems 518in post-medieval France and England, the concept of citizen became a considerably more democratic construct than it had ever been in Rome. The fact remains that the Romans had developed and spread this concept of the individual worth of men in political terms. Yet the Romans themselves hardly invented the idea, for it was characteristic of quarrelsome Greek city states centuries before Rome was more than a noisome peasant village on the banks of the Tiber. Beyond the Greeks the concept of citizen as an individually worthy and valuable unit of political decisionmaking cannot be traced. Presumably some Greek group invented this idea.

The concept of citizen was an extremely important innovation just because it placed emphasis on individuals, on inherent qualities of individuals of positive valence in social and political action. This concept was diametrically opposed to pre-existing principles of differential and hierarchical ranking of individual men in terms of political roles with a king or similarly-titled potentate at the apex of a pyramid of lesser valued individuals. It was diametrically opposed to pre-existing principles of differential social ranking of individuals in a manner parallel to the political pyramid. It was diametrically opposed to pre-existing principles of religious ranking of individuals in the same pyramidal hierarchy. This revolutionary new concept was all the more congenial and plausible to the Mexicans because the French provided objective verification of it by chasing the King of Spain from his throne, toppling at a blow the centuries-old 519faith of the subjects of the Spanish King in the immutability of the imperial system.

The concept citizen was, given the previous ordering of political control and social action, a revolutionary concept. It has been at the bottom of most of the revolutions in the Western World since its resurrection in post-medieval times, including the Mexican revolution against Spanish Imperial rule. Thus its invention can be viewed as equally important to that of gun, powder, cannon, dynamite or atom bombs. These generally recognized tools of revolution and warfare have been important enough, but they are only means so the occasions and objects for their use are necessarily determined by considerations not inherent in them, and one of the most important of those considerations has been the concept citizen.

2. Anglo-French Dynastic Rivalry

The search for necessary conditions for the Mexican Revolution of 1821 leads also into an exploration of the international relations existing in Western Europe in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth. Most specifically it leads to an examination of the long continued enmity between France and Great Britain.

The roots of Franco-British hostility can be traced far back into those medieval times when the concept of individual equality inherent in the Roman concept of citizenship was well in abeyance and virtually forgotten. As every schoolboy is presumably still taught, a Norman duke sailed across the 520English Channel and landed an expeditionary force on English soil which proceeded to make him King of England by winning a decisive battle at a place called Hastings in the year 1066. The French dynasty thus created in England retained close kinship ties with the French ruling dynasty, not an unusual situation among ruling families.

Eventually personal ambitions tended to override the affective ties generated by kinship, especially when so enticing a plum as a country's crown was at stake. Moreover, the ruling families tended to absorb some local viewpoints. So when the time came when a problem arose in the succession to one of the thrones the stage was set for a falling-out on a grand scale. It happened that the French succession was the one in dispute and the English kings thought they were entitled to take over the French throne because they were perfectly good heirs to it. The French claimants were also perfectly good heirs and closer to the scene of action at the moment of crises, and they had a very grave objection to the English claim. Aggravated dynastic rivalry blossomed into one of the historic hostilities of recorded history. The English and French nations were turned into war machines to attempt to enforce the views of one or the other claimant to the French crown for centuries. This continued fighting naturally tended to produce vengeful feelings among lowly participants who didn't care a whit about the French succession even if they knew about it, so that armed conflict between Great Britain and France became predictable in any circumstance 521in which the ruler of either country thought to see an opportunity to embarrass or weaken the other.

3. A Two-Variable Interpretation of Modern European History

Without complicating the analysis of causation anymore, it is possible to interpret the series of events which produced Mexican independence from Spain largely in terms of the two necessary conditions just briefly outlined.

The basic concept citizen had operated in the British Isles for several centuries, and by political action whittling away autocratic powers of English monarchs, the objective reality of citizenship had steadily expanded to more and more nearly approximate the ideal of absolute equality advocated by political philosophers. The history of that whittling is well known and requires no explication. The fruits of it had been transported to the North American colonies of his Britannic Majesty, where the reality of citizenship was further heightened by geographic isolation from the centres of autocratic power in Britain as well as by the selective migration to the colonies. The autocrats, well-satisfied with their existing situations or seeking betterment through the hierarchical system left emigration to the lower classes so colonial society was less stratified than in the mother country and therefore nearer the ideal of social equality.  The system of colonial government did not closely correspond to the social condition of the colonists and this lack of 522"fit" in time produced so much stress on key colonials in so many seaboard cities that the situation blew up in the face of the home government. The colonials were de facto much nearer the ideal of egalitarian citizenship than they were de jure, and they undertook to achieve a de jure situation in conformity with their de facto situation. They did.

The North American colonials succeeded only with a great deal of outside help that came primarily from France and Spain. When the French observed the British having serious trouble putting down the rebellion of their overseas colonial cousins, they succumbed to the temptation to twist the lion's tail in time-hallowed hostile tradition. The loss of its North American colonies presumably would weaken the British Empire, ergo, the King of France would aid the rebel colonist.

In the hindsight of history this appears to have been just about the worst thing the King of France could have done in his own self-interest. While he may have been motivated by the ancient dynastic quarrel and the hostile tradition it had developed, as a king his interest lay in helping the English King George-who was a Hanoverian anyhow with no personal claim to any French throne-put down the rebellion as promptly and emphatically as possible. For the colonists were fighting for an even wider dissemination and realization of the ideal concept of citizenship and when they were successful their republican government proved that citizens equal under law could govern themselves and that a traditional hierarchy 523was not necessary to govern a nation. Once this modern proof of the pudding of citizenship was made manifest in the world the fat was in the fire for the medieval concept of hierarchical society with a monarch at the apex, merrily to mix metaphors. And that fat still burns.

Very soon after the success of the North American colonial rebels, the commoners of France, suffering economically under the burdens of the wasteful nobility plus the King's war to aid the overseas rebels and tempted sorely by the few tastes of citizenship they had had, launched another revolution-the one which translated the local and limited success of the North American colonials into a worldwide message of citizenship and egalitarian political forms.

In terms of the later revolution in New Spain the glorious French Revolution translated the successful revolt of the North American colonists into understandable and pursuable goals. The New World Spaniards probably could not have grasped the import of the North American colonial revolt, nor have attempted to emulate its architects, even though the Spanish king emulated the French in assisting the English rebels and recognizing their independence, thus sanctioning colonial revolt (Bancroft 1885:IV:19). Those cold, idealistic AngloSaxons with their long peculiar history of struggle for equalization of political decision-making on an ever wider population base were hardly sympathetic models for Mexicans.  The New World Spaniards could, on the other hand, quickly 524grasp the import and goals of the French revolutionists who like themselves spoke a Romance language and had brought to earth the strongest royal system in Europe save their own.

The French Revolution further precipitated the independence of Mexico directly through Napoleónic intervention in Spain. The western historian Hubert Howe Bancroft (1885:IV:5-7, 12-22 etc.) has described in several masterfully insightful essays the effects of French intervention on the beliefs and attitudes of the Spanish colonials. Accustomed for generations to viewing the Spanish monarchy as the next thing to divinity, as all-powerful and unassailable, the colonials suddenly saw a diminutive ex-corporal of French artillery send two kings of Spain scurrying for their lives with a few brigades of rag-tag French republican troops nipping at their royal heels (ibid., IV:20). The centres of Spanish imperialism, the colonial administrative apparatus, and the Spanish home government disintegrated overnight into chaos. The Peninsular Spaniards were suddenly far too busy trying to free their country from French invaders to work very hard at imposing their will on the New World colonials. They had to set up local governments to replace the vanished Spanish monarchy, and these were necessarily more democratic institutions. Thus the colonial Spaniards and subject peoples were provided with a ready model of local self-government of a republican sort at the same time they were forced to make for themselves for the first time decisions which historically 525had always been made by the Spanish king and his administrative heads in the mother country.

Through the NapoLeónic Wars and their aftermath, then, New Spain progressed jerkily toward more and more de factoindependence from Spain and especially from the monarchy. By the time that institution had been finally restored to the Peninsula, the colonials had experienced more than a decade of greater de facto freedom than ever before and attempts to re-impose royal authority in New Spain in the old form merely produced the same lack of fit between de facto and de jure government which had provoked the original rebellion in the North American colonies of King George III of Great Britain. Mexican independence was the result: the colonials altered the de jure situation to coincide with the de factosituation, discarding the King of Spain and his viceroy and colonial administration to do so-although it took the proud Spaniards some time to admit the fact.

4. The Technique of a Successful Revolution

In British North America, loyal subjects of the King were called Tories by the rebels, who referred to themselves as patriots. In New Spain, the loyal subjects of the King were primarily Peninsular-born Spaniards and were called mostly Gauchupines while the patriots began calling themselves Mexicanos adopting the old Indian terminology. The Mexican revolution of 1821 succeeded and was relatively 526bloodless because so many of the men who would have been Tories in North America were patriots in Mexico. The 1821 revolution was not a completely radical revolution like the one in France nor the one its leaders had extirpated when Hidalgo raised the flag of popular revolt in 1810. This was an upper class or palace revolt by means of which the colonial leaders seized control of the machinery of government and continued to operate it much as they had before independence. They simply wanted independence from Spanish domination and interference, a termination of the viceregal system. But they were hardly radicals of the sort who rallied to the banner Hidalgo had raised, and were in fact the very royal officers who stopped that radical rebellion cold. They had learned since 1810 and the wide dissemination of the ideals of the French Revolution guaranteed that Mexican society could never be returned to its pre-1810 socio-political rigidity (Bancroft 1885:IV:714), and that it could never be as oblivious to the aspirations of the lower classes as pre-Napoleónic colonial government. Yet the revolutionary leaders intended maintaining their own power to rule even though they might have to make some concessions.

The character of the Mexican revolution of 1821 can be grasped clearly from the character and actions of the men who made it in the Western Frontier Provinces.

a. Alexo García Conde. The top imperial administrator in the Frontier Provinces had for many years been Intendent-General 527Alexo García Conde. This African-born Spaniard (Almada 1952:294) had become chief of the provinces toward the end of 1796 as a Colonel of Fuseliers. In 1802 he was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1810, Hidalgo's popular revolt threatened to overturn colonial government, winning great initial popular support, especially in central New Spain. The Frontier Provinces were less affected by the rebellion, and the revolutionists dispatched an expeditionary force under Colonel Gonzalez Hermosillo toward the northwest to bring Sinaloa and Sonora over to the rebel side. Intendent-General García Conde learned of the rebel advance through Sinaloa, where Hermosillo was sweeping the remaining royal garrisons before him, from Lt. Col. Pedro Villaescusa, who had been defeated at Rosario by the revolutionaries (Bancroft 1885:IV:238). The Intendent-General collected troops from the frontier forts under his command, and adding a large contingent of Opata Indians, marched south to meet the rebel column. General García Conde had not won his military rank as an administrator-he had learned his primary trade in the hard school of active fighting in Europe. He had been wounded during the Argel campaign and he had spent four years in the siege of Gibraltar. Fighting decisive battles with massed troops was something he understood very well, whatever his capabilities for frontier Indian warfare (at which he was no slouch). The rebel colonel led his numerically superior forces well armed with captured hand-arms and artillery and 528well provisioned from captured royal stores, against General García Conde's chosen position at San Ignacio Piaxtla in Sinaloa on January 8, 1811. When the smoke had cleared from the field, Hermosillo's enthusiastic thousands were either dead or fleeing for their lives. García Conde's few hundreds celebrated their victory which had shattered the rebel threat to northwestern New Spain in one brief engagement.

Brigadier General Alexo García Conde was promoted to Field Marshal and Governor of Nueva Vizcaya, an office he assumed in October of 1813 at Chihuahua. In November of 1817 he was made Commandant General of the Western Frontier Provinces. In this position, Field Marshal García Conde occupied a key position in Spanish colonial government in New Spain.  While the Frontier Provinces had been split into eastern and western sections and resubordinated to the overall authority of the viceroy, the Commandant-General still enjoyed considerable latitude of decision, particularly at that period of disorganization in Spain and the top colonial apparatus. Thus García Conde grew accustomed to making most of his own decisions.

When,the situation crystallized in 1821 on the question of independence or continued royal Spanish rule, Field Marshal Alexo García Conde, native of Ceuta, his entire professional career spent in the royal Spanish army in which he had reached top rank, decorated with the Order of San Fernando and the Order of San Hermenegildo by his King Fernando VII-this paragon 529of Spanish virtue took a walk. He didn't just walk out of the picture, but he took his command with him into the rebel camp, ordering the residents of all the towns in the Western Frontier Provinces to swear fealty to the revolutionary government.

Field Marshal Alexo García Conde took his decisive step on August 24, 1821, when he adhered to the Plan de Iguala, the pronouncement for independence. He guided the Western Frontier Provinces through the transitional period until July 1, 1822, when he was transferred to the capital city, promoted to Lieutenant General, decorated with the new Order of Guadalupe and made Inspector General of Cavalry (Almada 1952:295).

b. Maríano de Urrea. Another member of the Sonoran provincial elite who played a key role in Mexican independence was Lt. Col. Maríano de Urrea. He was born in the fort at Altar, grandson of old Captain Bernardo de Urrea, and gained his military training in Sonoran frontier posts. He served as a cadet at Altar, ensign at Horcasitas, lieutenant at Tucson, commanding lieutenant of the Bacoachi Opata Indian garrison and captain at Altar (Almada 1952:810). When Intendent-General García Conde called for presidial troops to meet Hermosillo's rebel expedition, Captain Urrea led out a strong detachment from Altar. After the rebel disaster at San Ignacio Piaxtla, Urrea carried on pacification campaigns in Sinaloa, then in Nayarit, and in 1815 was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and made governor of the Province of Colotlan. 530In 1819 he was made chief of the Fourth Section of New Galicia while retaining his governorship, and in June of 1821 he supported the commanding general there in swearing allegiance to the Plan de Iguala and independence (ibid., p. 811).

c. Simón Elías Gonzalez. One more officer who belonged to the Sonoran provincial elite helped take that province out of royal control in 1821. Simón Elías Gonzalez had at one time commanded the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac.  Born at Banamichi, Simón was a grandson of old Captain Francisco Elías Gonzalez. He had served in the garrisons at Tucson, Buenavista, Bacoachi and in the Secretariat of the Commandant-General of the Frontier Provinces when he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1805 and given command of the Tubac Pima Company. He remained at Chihuahua City, however, until April of 1807. After serving at San Antonio de Bejar in Texas and again at the City of Chihuahua, Eliaz Gonzalez returned to Sonora in 1814 to command the fort of Santa Cruz.  In 1820 he received a promotion anticipated six years previously, and as Adjutant Inspector of Sonora Simón Elías Gonzalez stepped out of the royal traces by adhering to the Plan de Iguala and Mexican independence (Almada 1952:242). His Lieutenant Colonelcy was confirmed, and he was elected a deputy to the first national congress in 1822, going on to a very distinguished political-military career including terms as governor of the State of the West (Elías June 18, 1826), Chihuahua and Sonora.

531d. Antonio Narbona. A criollo born at Mobile in Spanish Louisiana (modern Alabama) joined with the Sonoran officers to put across the movement for independence in 1821.  This was Antonio Narbona, who had first arrived in Sonora as a cadet in the Santa Cruz Company in 1789 (Mata B. 1794), sponsored by his brother-in-law Brigadier Enrique Grimarest (McKenna, July 28, 1794) the commandant of arms. Narbona became ensign of the Fronteras garrison January 27, 1793 (Mata B., 1794), became captain at Fronteras in 1809. In 1820 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and made Adjutant Inspector of the Comandancy General with command of the troops at Arizpe. When Lt. Col. Narbona led the garrison in adherence to the Plan de Iguala and independence, his commander, the Political and Military Chief, resigned and left Narbona to take actual command and insure the local success of the revolution. Having secured Arizpe and northeastern Sonora-in concert with Elías Gonzalez-Narbona marched on the Gulf of California port of Guaymas where a royalist priest was leading tory elements in opposing independence (Almada 1952: 500). Narbona later commanded the Sonoran troops and served as governor of New Mexico territory.

e. Tubac. Unfortunately for this study, documents relating the way in which the garrison of the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac was taken out of royal Spanish service into that of independent Mexico have not been located. In the absence of specific documentation, however, it must be assumed 532that the process of transfer to freedom there followed the pattern followed everywhere else in Sonora. Lieutenant Ignacio Elías Gonzalez, the post commander, simply swore fealty to the Plan de Iguala at a suitable moment, and ordered his subalterns and troops to do likewise, and the transfer of allegiance was accomplished.

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