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Chapter V

California Passes From Spanish to Mexican Rule, Secularization of the Missions

Amidst the beauty and glory of Spain's dominion in California, while the gold emblazoned banners of Castile and Leon floated proudly under azure skies, while the Spanish governors, officers and colonists were doing honor and credit to their ancient race, and the saintly missionaries were working marvels for the souls and bodies of the aborigines of the land, while Spain was thus lending "her beauty and her chivalry" to California; Mexico, forgetting her old debt to Spain, when she explored her then heathen shores, had revolted against Spanish rule and set up an empire of her own, making Augustin Iturbide, a man of half Indian blood her Emperor. Immediately Mexico claimed California, as well as Texas, Arizona and New Mexico as a portion of her empire, although the people of California, with the exception of a handful of Mexicans, had never shown the least desire of change of government, for the greatest number of her settlers were Spaniards or their children who were intensely loyal to the Crown of Spain. Here we will add that no person who held any office of importance was any other than a Spaniard, or of purely Spanish blood or parentage, hence missionaries, bishops, army and navy officers, surgeons, etc. were all "children of Spain," the highest decoration that a mixed blood could attain in the Spanish army of California or of Mexico was that of Corporal or Sergeant. But when Mexico gained her independence all these corporals and sergeants were suddenly made generals by their country, Mexico; and here was clearly seen "who was who" for all mixed bloods as well as those of purely Indian birth, both in Mexico and California raffled around their standard, the new Mexican flag; in this number we will only except many of the Christian Indians, in California, who clung piteously to the missions, and who had more of their share of suffering. This state of affairs enabled the new Mexican authorities, exultant over their victory in the gain of their independence, to send several war vessels to Monterey late in 1822 and demand of Governor Solá, the surrender of California in the name of Emperor Augustin Iturbide. As we have already seen, nowhere in Spain's New World possessions was loyalty to the mother country more intense than in California, and the people, army and navy were loud in their demonstrations of opposition, and expressions of willingness were offered to the governor to fight the intrusion of Mexico to the end. But the comparative handful of soldiers of the various garrisons, as well as the few ships which the Spanish could muster in California were no match to the overwhelming forces from Mexico, and Governor Solá considered it no cowardly act but rather his conscience-bound duty to prevent a useless carnage, wisely preferring an honorable surrender under the circumstances. The prudence of this decision was soon seen in a clearer light by the people. It was thus that the grand old flag of Spain was hurled from her state fifty-three years after she had been hoisted amid the blessing of Junipero Serra, the salutes of her proud ships and the loyal acclamations of Portolá and her other gallant sons. Now Spanish rule was virtually ended in California, but we repeat, not dishonorably. Spain's, work was well done, her chief purpose gained, namely, the exploration and christianizing of California.

As it took sometime for Mexico to mobilize her troops and settle her rule in California, the Royal Presidio of Monterey was not immediately emptied of its officers or of the Spanish families, whose positions entitled them to a residence there, and who continued to live there close on to 1824. Thus although the old familiar standard gave place to Mexico's new red, white and green, the imprint of Spanish rule remained.

Indeed it was several years before Mexico could change the face of California, and the Spanish element continued to rule social life at least to a great extent through virtually all the Mexican period. The Mexican society of the time certainly contained some excellent exceptions, but as a general rule it was a sad contrast to that of the preceding period, nor had the ten governors of this era the energy or standing of the ever remembered Portolá, Boríca, de Neve, Arrillaga or Solá. At times, the Mexican authorities treated Spaniards shabbily for it is important to note that contrary to what many histories state, Spaniards unanimously refused to take the Constitutional Oath of Allegiance to Mexico, and withdrew as a consequence from all public affairs, only inasmuch as their family interests or the good of the community demanded their intervention. Thus we find no Spaniard as Governor, General, or the like during this period. But here a curious thing occurred. In later years when writers and historians of California became numerous many Mexicans declared themselves Spaniards or classed themselves as of purely Spanish descent, passing as such into some histories, while at the same time they did not hesitate to "sting" the Spanish name; and there are many California families who are referred to as "Spanish" whose ancestors in the baptismal and marriage records of the various mission archives are recorded as "neófita de la mission" ("neophyte of the mission") for the Spanish missionaries were most accurate of details, and their records of marriages, baptisms and funerals are like sketches of the persons concerned; parentage, birth all are given in detail. Thus a child born of Spanish parents is referred to as "de calidad Española" ("of Spanish quality") or if of some other purely foreign extraction the same is mentioned. And fortunate indeed, that this care of detail was had in the new country, else how would much valuable knowledge be obtained?

During our narrative we do not wish to lose sight of the fact that we have professed our work to be primarily a work of love, avoiding bitter truth, which can do no good, and avoiding personalities, hence the absence of names may be noted in this chapter, but it is invariably the unpleasant duty of a writer to tell some unpleasant things in a historical sketch, else how could justice be done to others, and how straighten misunderstandings? We do not wish to merely cast aspersions at the Mexican race or any other, for the gross and sordid not to say sinful delight of doing so, but we wish to present to the reader plain facts of this period of history. Here we will add that even as "there is beauty in a blade of grass" there were and are good qualities and virtues in many individual Mexicans, but we cannot but wonder at the contrast of the two first periods of our state's history, and at the difference so vast between two races and characters so often absurdly confused. Here, we must mention perhaps the most deplorable incidents of this period, incidents to which in spite of ourself we have so often alluded, namely the Acts of Secularization of the missions. First, we will mention that some writers accuse Spain of having passed an Act of Secularization of Mission property in 1813, but such an assertion is considered unfounded by good authorities, perhaps it had rise from the fact that disturbances against Spanish rule were felt in Mexico as early as that period and echoes of it reached the small Mexican faction of California, causing much uneasiness to the missionaries. But three Acts of Secularization of the missions were passed in the years 1826, 1829 and 1835. And what did not the good fathers with their neophytes and converts suffer! And what did not the many loyal friends of these beloved fathers not suffer with them through sympathy! Indeed no Spaniard or his descendants can speak of those Acts without the crimson of just indignation mounting to the cheek. But Spaniards were powerless to check the lawlessness of the times. The missions were gradually but slowly dispossessed of their lawful property, and all their wealth confiscated, several times were many of the dear Spanish fathers deported; they returned to Spain where a warm welcome awaited them, but how sad to leave their missions reared by the most heroic labors of the "martyr stuff" within them or their immediate predecessors, Serra, Lasuén, Lopez, Dumetz, Crespí, Paloú, names "held in benediction;" and what would become of their poor converted Indians who clung to them so faithfully and whom they had raised to the plane of christian men and women from nakedness, savagery and paganism! Besides the missionaries, many other Spaniards, too, were put on a list of those to be deported, among these there would not have been much resistance offered, as the changes of the government were sad enough, but before the resolution was carried out, while many of them were settling their affairs and preparing to leave, a few of the better class of Mexicans interposed, saying, "the Spaniards' are of greater value to the Province than any harm which could ever come from their presence, it behooves us to let them remain," so under the condition that they would not be interfered with, and that no oath of allegiance to Mexico would be forced from them, the Spanish families remained, and their presence indeed was of "greater value" than for which credit has been given them. American, English and Russian trading ships continued to make their appearance in Monterey, to these were added French ships. Several mercantile establishments existed, carried on chiefly by Spaniards and Englishmen, and gay little social gatherings and dances still went on.

In 1823 Mexico overthrew her empire and established a republic. But throughout this period, disturbances and guerrillas scarcely ever ceased, while the gradual but sure devastation of the missions and the behavior of the authorities towards the beloved padres heightened the indignation of all noble-minded citizens and increased the unpopularity of the governors and authorities, most of whom were so very different to the Spanish governors, who at all times declared themselves "loyal sons of mother Church" and of whom no record of the practice of the contrary exists save a very few minor differences in defining the extent of military and ecclesiastical power. Good Bishop Garcia Diego, Bishop of California and worthy Prince of the Church was also a sufferer on several occasions from the disrespect of the civil authorities of Mexico, who even tried to prevent his landing in Monterey, the seat of the diocese then. Let us repeat a few Mexican authorities were exceptions of this type, but as we have said, these were few indeed, and slowly Mexican power began to wane. United States, England and France all stood in line for possession of California as soon as a ripe opportunity presented itself. This plan was most welcome to the Spaniards, who contrary to the statements of some prominent historians, entertained no dislike for any of these nations. Spaniards, like some others only wished that a happier and better government would supplant the inactive yet turbulent government of Mexico, who had hurled the Spanish flag from her position years before and despoiled the missions of their wealth and glory. Thus United States Consul, Thomas Larkin was always well received in the homes of the Spanish families and in turn Mr. Larkin always referred to them in words of praise. Meantime, things went from bad to worse, a change of government seemed inevitable. We will soon see how this came about.

The only things for which Mexican rule in California was noted, was the continuation of the making of large land grants, and an easy, careless existence without the "hurry and flurry" of today; feasting, making merry, and great parties in the "rancherias" where there were always large "spreads;" it was during this period chiefly that the typical Mexican dishes of tamales, enchiladas, and others which are still relished in California were introduced in this province. In a word this was the period of the sweet "mañana," where everyone seemed to have time to enjoy the "dolce far niente" and exercised an open handed generosity with regard to the "fleeting goods of earth."

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