December 6th, 2017
The document is written by Alexander Von Humboldt and comes from his book, “Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain” examines the relationship between two sects of Spaniards, the peninsulares and the criollos, that he observed and witnessed first-hand while exploring in colonial Mexico during the 1800s.
The first thing that Humboldt mentions is how the white inhabitants, peninsulars and criollos, makes up a very small percentage of the population in New Spain, but together controls the land, the wealth, and power. However, Humboldt seems to also take notice of the uneasy relationship and the social disparity between the crillos and the peninsulares. Humboldt takes notice that how even though, both crillos and peninsulares are both white and are Spaniards they do not hold the same positions in colonial society. Since both classes are white Spaniards, they should have Spanish law protect them, yet as Humboldt writes “those who have the execution of the laws endeavor to destroy an equality which shocks the European pride.” Humboldt is critiquing how the peninsulares viewed themselves as inherently superior and with support from the crown, can abuse their power and status in the hierarchy and in government to keep the criollos below them as second-class citizens and never allow them to reach the same levels of success and wealth. Humboldt backs this up when he says, “the most miserable European, without education, and without cultivation thinks himself superior to the whites born in the new continent” He is highlighting the basic caste system of colonial Mexico and how white skin and limpieza de sangre, purity of blood, were valued about all other characteristics.
Because the Bourbon crown was “suspicious of the criollos” as Humboldt says, and had wanted to make colonial Mexico as profitable and efficient as possible and wanted to decrease the power of local born elites, they imposed sanctions that prohibited criollos from serving in office and sent in tax collectors to regulate and breakup the criollos land ownings and revenue and forced the Jesuits, many of whom were criollos, to sell their land and haciendas and leave New Spain altogether. One thing that Humboldt doesn’t seem to get right is when he says, “for the most part it was not a suspicious and distrustful policy, it was pecuniary…”
Whether if Humboldt believed the Bourbon’s reforms were targeted at the criollos or not it doesn’t change the fact that was correct in saying that it resulted in “a jealous and perpetual hatred between the Chapetons (peninsulares) and the Criollos.” The Bourbon reforms did anger the criollos who were constantly competing with the peninsulares for special administration positions in New Spain, causing a friction and tense relationship between the two groups. This made them both see themselves as having separate identities from one another. This sense of new identity led many criollos to declare ” I am not a Spaniard, I am an Americans” and form a sense of nationalism, that would separate them from the crown of Spain, and spark the idea of independence.
While the Criollos were not the most oppressed people in New Spain, in fact they were the least oppressed, they would become the primary opponents against the crown and be the leading innovators in achieving independence. The reason why the criollos would strive for independence is because they felt that by doing so they would be able to hold onto the privileges and wealth that they did have. As Humboldt explains, “the abuse of the laws. The false measures of the colonial government, the example of the United States of American, and the influence of the opinions of the age, have relaxed the ties which formerly united more closely the Spanish Criollos to the European Spaniards.” These Bourbon reforms did not sit well with the criollos, especially with letrados such as Father Hidalgo, which had left many priests disgruntled. It also didn’t help that across Europe and in North America, revolutions were breaking out against oppress regimes. The Criollos would look at the American revolution and the French revolution as inspirations for them to conduct their own revolution for independence. Because the criollos did experience some prosperity, they probably outgrown the need of the crown and felt that they were capable and better off governing themselves.
What Humboldt does seem to get wrong, comes at the end of the article when he says “a wise administration may reestablish harmony, calm their passions and resentments, and yet preserve for a ling time the union…”. Here he is falsely predicting that the issues between the criollos and the peninsulares could be settled peacefully through diplomatic solutions. If the two sides were to just set aside their differences and engage in peaceful diplomacy they would be able to come to an agreement that would not just be beneficiary to each other, but to the rest of the Mexico, the newly formed United States and Europe. However, Humboldt seems to have neglected that the Spanish crown had been overthrown and replaced by Napoleon Bonaparte, who wanted to set up his liberal principles of the French Revolution in New Spain. This angered the ruling class of the peninsulares. They felt that their status as elites in New Spain and their relationship with the Church were being threatened. This also allowed the criollos the opportunity to expand their position and power by taking advantage of swearing loyalty to the new Spanish regime. Along with this, a huge uprising made up of peasants, castas and compesinos, led by Father Hidalgo, revolted against the peninsulares, igniting the revolution. The Criollos supported Father Hildago’s revolution because it was targeted at the peninsulares and was a fight for independence which is what the criollos wanted. Regardless if he was naïve or simply too optimistic, Humboldt should have known and been aware that any chance of there being a peaceful resolution between the criollos and the peninisulares would have been hopeless, considering especially since he would have been aware of Spain’s new regime and of Father Hidalgo’s revolt which had started a year before the publication of his essay.
Another thing that Humboldt doesn’t seem to mention in his article is that not all criollos were interested in or even desired independence, and those that did want it, didn’t want any structural change. Not all criollos were suffering as a result of the Bourbon Reform, many were actually profiting greatly from them and held no ill will toward the crown. Those that were benefiting from crown were often the ones that were still land owners, still owned their haciendas, held some kind of public office or were officers in the crowns militia. Because they were more well off and establish than others, these criollos didn’t have any issues with swearing their loyalty to the Spanish crown that had given them economic and political stability. Also, father Hidalgo’s revolt helped unite some of these criollos with the peninsulares. This caused issues for the criollos that supported independence because many of the castas and peasants in Hidalgo’s revolt couldn’t tell the difference between the criollos and the peninsulares. To them both the criollos and peninsulares were the same and was nothing more than white imperialist, and the castas would often attack the criollos that were supportive of them as often as the peninsulares.
In the document examines how the relationship between the peninsulares and the criollos were strained due to political and economic inequality between the two classes, ultimately leading to the criollos seeking independence from Spain through a revolution.