Catholic Church in Mexico underscored both its conquest and its independence. Organizationally, the church prior to the liberation theology of the 20th century has always been more cogent than the Mexican government. The church has traditionally been amalgamated with conservative interests that include the military and wealthier landowners. The institution of tithing and the role of the church as a colonizer through its missions helped to make the church the most powerful pre-revolutionary institution in Mexico. Additionally, at a time before the existence of broad-based commercial lending, the church not only acted as the principal lender in the colony and early republic, but served as the nexus for all public activity in many smaller communities. However, the influence of the church was severely limited under liberalism. Although the Diaz government returned to the Catholic church some of its former glory, the 1916 Constitution ultimately spelled an end to the church's dominance over the state.
The church had a major role in the revolution. This is because it felt threatened by liberal reformers that wished to auction off its land. Following the French Revolution, republicans in France had seized all church lands and sold them in an attempt to break the church's grip on the country and on society. This was reflected in the interests of liberals in Mexico from before the revolution through the civil wars that resulted in the liberal governments of the 1860's and 1870's.
The Spanish monarchy was the first administration to try to break the church'es grip on power in Mexico. In the 1700's it ejected the Jesuits from the country, and in 1804 introduced the Royal Law of Consolidation. This law authorized the government to seize Church lands for auction. To the consternation of most Mexicans, it also allowed the government to seize money lent out to individuals, in order to meet Spanish revenue needs. This in turn threatened to weaken the colonial economy by reducing money available for internal loans.
By the end of the eighteenth century the Church had become the principal lender in Mexico. For instance, in the area around Guadalajara it loaned as much as 70% of the funds for commercial projects. Many contended that the church'es capital wealth exceeded even its vast land holdings. Although it remained in effect for only four years, this decree severely affected small landholders and businessmen who operated with Church loans. The Church responded by demanding immediate payment of all loans. Those who could not make the payment had to sell their property at an inopportune time, and many property holders suffered.
There is no disputing that until the late 1850's, the church was one of the largest, wealthiest organizations in Mexico. However, in addition to this, it provided a cultural link to many between the state's sanctioned religion and their ancestral past. Many believe that the modified Christianity that resulted from the coercive conversion of natives was encouraged by the early Catholic priests in Mexico. This bears its similarities to the conversion of European tribes that resulted in the adaptation of holidays to Christianity.
In many cases it is unclear whether conversion was forced or voluntary. The religion that emerged represented the blending of Aztec and Christianity in a process known as syncretism: this was literally the fusion of various elements from each religious experience. The early church exhibited political power in what was essentially a fronteir;
Between 1570 and 1820 the Courts of Inquisitions in the colonies heard 6,000 cases, resulting in 100 individuals being burned at the stake. However, this continuation of the Spanish Inquisition was not aimed at the Indians but rather was an attempt by the Spanish to protect their market share: few of those that were brought before the Court were Indians, the majority being Protestant or those who had recently converted from Judaism and who were suspected of heresy toward the Catholic Church.
An analysis of the factions at play in Mexican independence cannot be attempted without a careful look at the demographics of their members. The liberals were comprised of a scholarly, mercantile and industrial middle class that dominated in a few of the major cities. They were inspired by their European counterparts and maintained republican philosophical leanings. Following the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars they advocated the 1812 constitution which placed systematic restrictions on the power of the monarchy. They principally wanted to divest the church of its large land holdings; they felt more threatened by the church as an institution than by the Mexican aristocracy. Although they reflected the ideological fervor of French and American liberals, their influence was initially limited compared to that of the church and the aristocracy.
The conservatives were comprised of the church, the aristocrats, and the military. They were in favor of tradition and frowned upon what might be thought of as enlightened principles: the church was interested in maintaining its institutional power while the aristocrats wished to maintain their large holdings. The military, which in Latin America has always maintained a degree of self-styled autonomy, was predominantly conservative in that it wanted to protect itself as an institution, although there were dissenters among the ranks.
By the end of the 1810's, Liberals had grown upset with King Ferdinand's failure to abide by the 1812 constitution, which had been a stipulation of his restoration to the Spanish throne in 1814. A number of liberal Spanish officers under Rafael de Riego refused to comply with the crown unless it accepted the 1812 constitution. At the same time, conservatives in Mexico feared the liberal policies being implemented in Spain, which included anti-clerical policies.
The most prominent of these conservatives in the military was Inturbide, the conservative head of the army that made peace with the rebels and proposed the establishment of a Mexican state in the Plan de Iguala in February of 1821. This agreement established a precedent for political change that dominated Mexico until the twentieth century. Iturbide's plan consisted of three planks, one of them being that the Catholic Church would remain the central form of religion. This connoted intolerance of other religions. The plan also established the Army as the guarantor of these principles. This plan, which also appealed to liberal interests in that it advocated independence, was hugely popular.
A disturbing trend in Iturbide's plan was that the army was responsible for this set of political objectives. The idea of a politically empowered army had been rejected in England in Cromwell's time but has remained a permanent fixture in Latin American politics; up through the Chilean and Argentinian dictatorships of the 1980's. The catholic church has usually backed armies, which tend to be conservative; they were initially threatened by the insistence of the capitalist republican liberals of auctioning off their land. Accompanied by rebel leaders Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria, Iturbide at the head of the Army marched into Mexico City on September 27, 1821.
The political arena subsequently became a stage for a series of power struggles between military leaders; the church and many within the military clamored for the appointment of a Mexican king. This, to the church, had worked well in Europe where Metternich had stabilized the political system by returning many governments to monarchic rule. The church saw this as something that did not threaten the established order.
Despite a political order ostensibly modeled after that in the United States, armed conflict typified the condition of Mexico until the Reforma forced Mexico to examine its political and social organization and recognize the need for change. Moreover, Iturbide's emergence as a political leader also marked the beginning of the era dominated by caudillos such as Santa Anna. The country found itself repeatedly led by charismatic military leaders. Mexican independence hadn't been a republican struggle, but rather a factional power grab by elites in Mexico from elites in Spain.
This suited the church'es interests perfectly. The liberals derived their wealth from capitalism and desired social reforms that would empower the masses by extending equal opportunities. This they figured would be enhanced through social services and private lending. However, all of these things were diametrically opposed by the existing social order maintained by the church. The church maintained a unifying factor in a fragmented society in times where factions vied for political power. In such an environment (which must have seemed biblically forboding to devout Catholics,) the church provided a stable institution that if summoned, would attend to the needs of the community.
Following August'n Iturbide's flight into exile, three military: officers -Nicolas Bravo, Guadalupe Victoria, and Pedro Celestine Negrete -- controlled Mexico through their positions in a junta but wished to create a stable republic. This resulted in the adoption of the Constitution of 1824. The delegates used the U.S. Constitution as a model. Importantly, however, they abandoned the separation of church and state clause, and instead stated that only Catholicism would be practiced in Mexico.
Conservatives saw it in their interest to protect the fueros, or privileges, possessed by the Church and military…