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The celebrations of the bicentennial of 1808 in Mexico City.

On 18 July 2007, Mexico City’s head of government, Mr. Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, presented his administration’s programme to commemorate the bicentennial of Mexico’s Wars of Independence and the centennial of the Mexican revolution. The programme encompasses a series of events ranging from literary awards to civic ceremonies which are to take place between 2008 and 2010.

In opposition to the celebrations being organized by the federal government, which are centred around 2010, Mr. Ebrard’s programme will commemorate the events which took place during the summer of 1808 in Mexico City. According to Mr. Ebrard, the four Juntas organized by Viceroy José de Iturrigaray during August and September 1808, and more importantly the session held by Mexico City’s Ayuntamiento on 18 July 1808 —during which the aldermen agreed to ask the Viceroy to preserve the kingdom of New Spain for its legitimate sovereign, the Spanish King Ferdinand vii— ‘gave birth to [Mexico’s] struggle for independence; as a matter of fact, it was a very clear vindication of the people’s sovereignty, [which] therefore restored all the ayuntamientos in the country with the authority and representation from which they were being deprived’.[1]

Mr. Ebrard’s programme is aimed at having Mexico City ‘finally obtain the recognition it should have as the capital of [the Mexican] Republic, with the knowledge it should have of its rights, its liberties and the autonomy which [it] deserve[s] as capital of Mexico’.[2] The political goal at which this programme is targeted is Mexico City obtaining its own constitution, a desire repeatedly expressed by the previous administration and one of Mr. Ebrard’s campaign promises.

Mexico City, or more accurately the Federal District, the political entity in which the central and southern areas of the city are located had been deprived of an autonomous government since 1823 and only recovered the right to elect its own authorities in 1997. Ever since, a segment of the city’s inhabitants and its government, have argued in favour the Federal District becoming the thirty-second state of Mexico. A first step in this direction would be having its own constitution since, to this day, the Federal District is governed by a ‘Government statute’, a constitutional law granted by the national legislature, which still retains, a long with Mexico’s president, a strong influence in the city’s administration. By stressing the ‘independentist’ character of Mexico City’s Ayuntamiento of 1808, and claiming that the Wars of Independence began in Mexico City during that year —as opposed to the official version which marks the ‘Grito’ pronounced by father Miguel Hidalgo in the town of Dolores in 1810—, Mr. Ebrard hopes to accentuate the importance of the city in the nation’s history and thus strengthen its claim for autonomous government and a constitution.

However, the claim that Mexico’s Wars of Independence began in 1808 is, at best, weak. As some historians pointed out immediately after Mr. Ebrard’s announcement, the events of the summer of 1808 can perhaps be considered ‘precedents’ of the Wars, they might have accentuated the grieves which lead to the desire for independence, but they can hardly be considered the starting point of insurgency.[3] 

Mr. Ebrard’s programme, however, is bound to unleash a certain amount of controversy since the events of 1808 have long enjoyed the status of a watershed of Mexican history. To this day, many still believe, against all evidence, that the claims put forward by Mexico City’s Ayuntamiento during the summer of 1808 were, if not outright revolutionary, at least very progressive and challenging of the Hispanic tradition of government. It is not at all uncommon to hear reputable scholars claim that Francisco Primo Verdad, the city’s syndic at the time, had argued that sovereignty was vested in the people, when in reality Verdad along with Juan Francisco Azcárate, Jacobo Villaurrutia and the other men in favour of convening a representative junta of New Spain only claimed that, in absence of the King, his sovereignty could be represented by the whole kingdom embodied in its magistrates, its noblemen, its clergy and its cities and towns represented by their respective ayuntamientos; the very same theory behind the erection of local and provincial Juntas all over Peninsular Spain during the summer of 1808.

What is perhaps undeniable is that the unexpected coup which overthrew Viceroy de Iturrigaray on 16 September 1808, and put an end to the projected convocation of a ‘Cortes’ of New Spain, did cause a significant amount of resentment among the inhabitants of the viceroyalty. To many it was then made clear that, in the eyes of Peninsular Spaniards and the Monarchy’s central institutions, the Spanish American kingdoms were mere colonies which could no longer aspire to the condition of equality with Peninsular kingdoms which had been systematically argued and defended since the Conquest.

 

 



[1] Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon. La forma más inteligente de conmemorar la Independencia y la Revolución, es que nuestra ciudad por fin obtenga el reconocimiento que debe tener como capital de la República, con derechos, libertades y autonomía. Available on line through the website of Mexico City’s government. Links to this and other references can be found in the right-hand side column of this page.

 

[2] Idem.

 

[3] See the article published in Mexico City’s daily news paper Excelsior.

Links.

Addresses by Mexico City's Head of Government.

18 July, 2007.

Address delivered by Marcelo Ebrard during the public presentation of the General Programme for the Celebrations of the bicentennial of Independence and the centennial of the Revolution, 2007-2010.

 

Mexico City's Government Gazette.

18 July, 2007.

Issue publishing the 'Agreement creating the Office in charge of coordinating the celebrations of the bicentennial of the Independence and the centennial of the Revolution, in Mexico City'. (PDF Document)

Mexico City's News Paper Excelcior.

19 July, 2007.

'Mexico City's Government iniciates a polemic over the bicentennial'.(PDF Document)

'It is valid to remember the precedents of Independence: historians say'.(PDF Document)