The day an independent New Mexico was born, a fiesta erupted.

Church bells rang out in Santa Fe, religious processions unfolded in the dusty streets, and there was much celebrating. Gunfire lingered into the night, as parades, dancing, eating and drinking carried over into the early morning. New Mexico no longer was a kingdom, province and colony of Spain.

On Sept. 16, 1821, Mexico declared independence from Spain after over three centuries of monarchical rule by that nation.

The fight for independence had a messy start in 1810 when the Catholic priest Miguel de Hidalgo y Costilla issued his Grito de Dolores, a rallying cry for independence from Spain. It was not to be, as the upper classes were reluctant to unite with the poorer mestizos and Natives Hidalgo pulled together for the revolution.

Still, the seeds of enlightenment, freedom and equality, ideals of previous revolutions in the United States and France, were planted in what would become the nation of Mexico.

These events would have an effect on New Mexico as history unfolded, making the area part of Mexico.

New Mexico had been an appendage of Spain’s world empire for over two centuries, a colony at the end of the Spanish world where Natives and mixed blood Nuevo Mexicanos were governed by appointed governors and Franciscan priests from Spain and Mexico. Since 1598, New Mexico was ruled from Mexico City and was part of colonial Mexico.

New Mexico was intimately and intricately connected — culturally, politically, racially and historically — to the land and people that became Mexico. Under Mexican rule, New Mexico would have a similar development.

The last Spanish governor of New Mexico, Facundo Melgares, was a natural at transitioning New Mexico from colony to Mexican territory. Melgares’ account of the celebration resembled much of what has been described of how other towns and cities in Mexico celebrated independence from Spain. Melgares described the events with the finesse of a Mexican national propagandist, containing much truth if not a hint of exaggeration and flourish.

An American in Santa Fe at the time had a much more critical perspective of the proceedings and wrote with vitriol and a sense of Puritan superiority and disapproval about how the locals acted, shouted, drank, danced, and how the women were dressed and carried themselves.

The contrast in perspectives from a Spanish, then Mexican, governor and an American adventurer was stark and startling.

There is some indication some officials in the New Mexican government were unenthused about the transition. This attitude likely was less due to any loyalty to royalty; rather, a disdain for change in a place where change had come so rarely in the remote outpost.

Change was especially rare in towns such as Taos, Abiquiú, Las Trampas, or Truchas, where New Mexicans had learned for generations to rely on their own fortitude and knowledge of the local terrain and people for survival, and not faraway centers of government such as Madrid or Mexico City.

It was a shaky start for the new nation of Mexico. Just as the United States flirted with having a king, Mexico opted for an emperor after wrestling with the concept of a European monarch. What was the point of independence if not to shed such archaic notions?

Over the course of the next 25 years, Mexico would have about the same amount of changes of government, an instability that came partly from the foundations of the new nation being ancient institutions, such as absolute monarchy and the Catholic Church. This instability made Mexico vulnerable to the new, “get it done” United States to the north, which was created out from progressive ideas and new technologies.

For the most part, the New Mexicans embraced Mexican nationalism, which was not that different from Spanish rule, but had hints of democracy and liberty. The old caste system based on race was dissolved, and everyone declared a ciudadano Mexicáno, a Mexican citizen.

Efforts by the national government in Mexico City to centralize power and take away the rights of outlying areas such as New Mexico and Texas in the 1830s brought new taxation and resulted in revolts in both places — the more famous being the Alamo, and its New Mexican counterpart at Chimayó in 1837.

For more than 200 years, New Mexico existed as part of colonial Mexico, then for 25 years as a territory of Mexico. Those historical events shaped New Mexico and led to a war with the United States in 1846 that would change the state forever.

Rob Martínez, New Mexico’s state historian, writes a column about the state’s rich past every month in The New Mexican. View episodes of his YouTube series, New Mexico History in 10 Minutes, at

(11) comments

Jarratt Applewhite

Thanks for the great column, Mr. Martinez.

People interested in this history might enjoy the highly readable new book: Forget the Alamo - The Rise and Fall of an American Myth

Mike Johnson

And those of us in the August 18th Society will always celebrate the liberation of New Mexico from Mexico by American forces, and the great state we are today because of it.

Emilio Gonzales

New Mexico was not liberated, it was annexed according to the US policy of "Manifest Destiny". Although, it has been a cultural struggle at times, it is the guiding principles of the US Constitution that makes it better to live here than in Mexico.

Mike Johnson

Actually, you should read about the liberation of NM, some tried to fight against the Americans, but were too weak and disorganized, not to mention cowardly....

Al Chavez

Liberation? I disagree. It was more of a change in the ruling government, a change that caused many New Mexicans to lose land and alter their way of life. Native Americans in particular suffered greatly at the hands of the Americans. History is messy.

Derek Gzaskow

Great read ! Unorganized government not fulfilling their promise.

"People" killing, stealing , and taking women.

Not enough "soldiers" to protect the new "Civil" ( register your land with paperwork) Americans .

Didn't I read all those same issues in yesterdays New Mexican?

Hey but 100 years later we got running water, septic systems, solar panels and ice cream in the freezer.

Mike Johnson

Well Mr. Gzaskow, if you are unsatisfied, it is easy to move to Mexico and enjoy all that fine country has accomplished over the last few centuries, they would love to have rich gringoes......[lol][lol][lol]

Emilio Gonzales

It should be noted, that until independence from Spain in 1821by, the region encompassed by Mexico was known as Nueva España. The province of Nuevo Mexico was bordered by the provinces of Alta California and Nueva Vizcaya, which were also remote, unsettled and under-developed provinces.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Interesting facts, Mr. Gonzales.

Also, I saw Vizcaya and immediately identified Basque Country. So many are unaware of the vital role the Basque played in Spanish expedition, discovery and settlement. Some expedition leaders were Basque, although more crew-members. Including the crews of The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria.

!Viva Euskaldunak! !Liberdad por Los Vascos!

Floyd Cable

RE Texas breaking away from rule in Mexico City - it was much less about a local resistance to autocratic rule from the Mexican capital, and much more about transplanted Americans (most of them illegal immigrants) fighting to own slaves and run slave-dependent plantations. They were effectively "rebelling" against the nation of Mexico trying to enforce its 1824 laws prohibiting the enslavement of human beings. The national government in Mexico City could certainly be callous and ham-handed, but the Texan myth of its war of independence is based on the desire to enslave other people. There were plenty non-slaveowners fighting on the Texas side, just as was the case with the Confederacy of the U.S. Civil War, but the Texans' fight for freedom was about their freedom to shackle and enslave other human beings. Good luck, however, in trying to find much about this in Texas public school textbooks ,or in textbooks elsewhere in the U.S. (because many textbooks are prepared with the Texas market in mind).

Prince Michael Jauregui

Thank-you for another great article, Mr. Martinez.

I would be interested to read about the state's transition from U.S. Territory

to state. How were the lives of residents directly affected? What gains and losses resulted?

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