Mexico, country, North America: To the Early Nineteenth Century
To the Early Nineteenth Century
A number of great civilizations flourished in Mexico long before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the early 16th cent. The Olmec civilization was the earliest of these, reaching its high point between 800 and 400
The first Europeans to visit Mexico were Francisco Fernández de Córdoba in 1517 and Juan de Grijalva in 1518. The conquest was begun from Cuba in 1519 by Hernán Cortés, who with lieutenants such as Pedro de Alvarado managed to conquer the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán; to capture Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, and to bring down his empire; and to ward off Spanish rivals like Pánfilo de Narváez. In 1528 the first audiencia (royal court) was set up under Nuño de Guzmán, who later carried the conquest north to Nueva Galicia. The territory was constituted the viceroyalty of New Spain under Antonio de Mendoza in 1535.
Despite efforts by such men as Juan de Zumárraga to induce the indigenous population to accept European religious and social practices, the Spanish had difficulty establishing control, as is evidenced by such events as the Mixtón War (1541). Nonetheless, the small minority of Spanish succeeded in holding power over the rest of the population, and the society slowly developed three different status groupings—Spanish, native peoples, and mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous).
Although certain viceroys, including Luis de Velasco (both father and son), attempted to improve the material conditions of the indigenous peoples, there remained an unbridgeable gap in status between the wealthy, almost exclusively Spanish landowning class and the depressed laboring class on the land, in the mines, and in the small factories (chiefly the textile mills, called
The mercantilist system, under which manufacturing was largely forbidden in New Spain, drained the wealth of the country to Spain. Lesser officials often were corrupt and ignored the country's problems. At the same time, the Spanish succeeded in conquering new territory. Most of present-day Mexico and the former Spanish holdings in the present-day United States were occupied early. In the 16th cent. California was explored, but it was not until the middle and late 18th cent. that NE Mexico and Texas were occupied by Europeans in any large degree. Many of the administrative evils were ended by the reforms (especially that of 1786) of José de Gálvez, but discontentment with Spanish rule continued to grow among the creoles.
Sections in this article:
- Developments since 1945
- The Revolution
- To the Early Nineteenth Century
- Land and People
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