The Board of Zitácuaro, also called the Supreme American National Board, was the first attempt to establish a kind of governmental bodies outside the authorities of the Viceroyalty of New Spain . His performance is part of the first stage of the Mexican War of Independence.
The Napoleonic invasion of Spain and the consequent departure from the throne of Ferdinand VII , had provoked reactions throughout America under Hispanic rule. In Mexico, there were soon uprisings in Valladolid and Querétaro carried out, especially, by groups of Creoles .
After the Grito de Dolores , the Mexican insurgency grew, until it reached a fairly general uprising. After the death of Miguel Hidalgo , Ignacio López Rayón took the leadership of the insurgents. One of his proposals was to create a Board to govern the liberated areas.
On August 19, 1811, the Junta de Zitácuaro was inaugurated, which would remain until 1813. The different positions of the most prominent members ended up causing its dissolution and the convocation by Morelos of the Congress of Chilpancingo.
The French invasion of Spain in 1808 caused Ferdinand VII to lose the throne and was replaced by José Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. Opponents of the invaders began to form Defense Boards to confront them. Little by little, they became Government Boards of the areas in which they had been established.
The repercussions of what was happening in the colonial power did not take long to reach America, reluctant to remain in the hands of the French authorities.
In this way, the Juntas de Sevilla, Zaragoza and Valencia sent messages to New Spain to request its official recognition, although the Viceroyalty did not grant it.
Conspiracies of Valladolid and Querétaro
This did not prevent Creole groups from beginning to organize apart from the viceregal authorities. The best-known conspiracies occurred in Valladolid, in 1809, and in Querérato, the following year and with the leadership of Miguel Hidalgo.
The conspirators tried to create their own governing bodies, but swearing allegiance to the Spanish king. The reaction of the viceroyalty and the sectors most loyal to the crown was to repress these movements.
Before this situation, Hidalgo launched the so-called Grito de Dolores, which marked the beginning of the War of Independence.
For several months, the insurgents commanded by Miguel Hidalgo have been occupying a lot of ground from the royalists. However, the reaction of the viceroyalty cut off the advance of the rebels.
In March 1811, Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, and other leaders of the movement were in Saltillo. The first two planned to leave for the United States to obtain weapons, but were betrayed and executed.
Before leaving, they left Ignacio López Rayón, who had been Hidalgo’s own secretary, in command of the troops. Upon the death of the insurgent leaders, Rayón took over his post.
Together with José María Liceaga, Rayón went to the center of the viceroyalty, occupying Zacatecas. It was there that he sent a message to Viceroy Venegas to propose a possible agreement to the conflict.
Rayon’s words were the following:
“The pious America tries to erect a National Board or Congress under whose auspices, preserving our ecclesiastical legislation and Christian discipline, the rights of the much loved Mr. Don Fernando VII remain unharmed, the looting and desolation are suspended”
The Viceroy did not even reply, nor did Félix María Calleja. Given this, the insurgents decided to take the step by themselves.
Creation of the Board of Zitácuaro
López Rayón’s troops then headed for Zitácuaro, in Michoacán. It was not an easy journey, since the royalists had reconquered most of the cities from the insurgents.
When they reached, after three months, their objective, Rayón prepared to convene, on August 19, 1811, an American National Supreme Board.
The declared objective of Ignacio López Rayón for the convocation of this Board was, in his own words “for the preservation of the rights of Fernando VII, defense of the holy religion and compensation and freedom of the oppressed Homeland.”
Its function would be to “organize the armies, protect the just cause and liberate the country from the oppression and yoke that it had suffered for three centuries.”
The main members of the Board were José María Liceaga, José Sixto Verdugo, José María Morelos and López Rayón himself. The latter would be appointed Universal Minister of the Nation and President of the Supreme Court
The document that formalized the creation of the Board was quickly disseminated among its supporters. In the same way, they tried to reorganize the insurgent army, quite dispersed and decimated by the royalist attacks.
Calleja, for his part, denied any recognition to the Board and called to obey the newly created Cortes de Cádiz.
Monarchists vs. Republicans
Despite the creation of this governing body, there were already certain ideological differences between the insurgent leaders. The most important, that of the form of government.
On the one hand, López Rayón was a supporter of the monarchy, with the Spanish king on the throne. However, Morelos had always been more inclined towards the republic.
At first, for reasons of strategy, Morelos accepted the writings of Rayón that raised fidelity to the king. However, very shortly after, and under pressure from the Viceroyalty troops, he proclaimed his republican ideas, although without breaking with the Junta.
Expulsion from Zitácuaro
Félix María Calleja, at the head of the royalist army, gave the insurgents no truce. On January 2, 1812, he managed to take Zitácuaro itself, forcing the members of the Junta to move to Sultepec.
This was where the Board took most of the legislative measures during its existence.
Actions taken by the Board
One of López Rayón’s plans was for the Junta to draft the so-called Constitutional Elements. He intended, in this way, to lay the foundations for an authentic Magna Carta for Mexico. However, the lack of agreement, especially on the monarchical issue, left this initiative highly devalued.
However, the Supreme American National Board did promulgate several laws and regulations that were, in theory, applicable in the territories they controlled. First, it approved appointments and titles for the different insurgent leaders, in addition to deciding the military strategy they should follow.
As part of the war policy, it led to the opening of weapons factories and an economic plan to make better use of national resources. On the other hand, he ordered to mint his own coin.
Given the difficulty of getting his message to other parts of the country, the Board got a printing press. Thanks to her, they published a newspaper, El Ilustrador Americano, in which Quintana Roo’s writings were highlighted.
The Junta also tried to carry out a foreign policy. As Miguel Hidalgo had previously tried to do, his efforts focused on getting support from the United States.
The Board’s loss of influence began relatively early. Morelos, who controlled the south of the country, was not willing to support López Rayón’s monarchical proposal.
Morelos declared: “As the fate of this great man (Fernando) is so public and notorious, it is necessary to exclude him in order to give the Constitution to the public.
Although the position favorable to Fernando VII was the majority in the Junta, the truth is that the insurgent chief with the most territorial power and the most influential among his own was a republican.
Attack on Sultepec
The internal division between the insurgents was joined by the military pressure exerted by the viceroyalty. López Rayón, trying to counter the prestige of Morelos, began a series of military campaigns, but they were not successful.
Little by little, due to internal disagreements (and not only with Morelos) and military defeats, the authentic territorial influence of the Junta was very limited. The attack on Sultepec expelled the Junta from the city and caused the members to separate.
The dispersion of the Junta only increased dissent and the lack of a single authority. Each of the members carried out their own policy, leaving the legislative body without real content. Rayón totally lost control and Liceaga and Verduzco proclaimed themselves as top leaders.
Finally, it was Morelos who put an end to the chaotic situation among the insurgents. In June 1813, he called for a congress to be held in Chilpancingo. Rayón had no choice but to accept the call.
The Congress of Chilpancingo took over from the Board of Zitácuaro and José María Morelos became the Mexican Generalissimo.
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