The first week of rule was obviously a busy one for Quito’s Supreme Junta. In addition to deposing the Audiencia and its president, the junta initiated attempts to gain support both in the city and in the region traditionally ruled by the High Court whose seat was the highland capital. They had much more success with the former than with the latter. In addition, the junta informed the two neighboring viceregal capitals of their actions and justifications. In part, the junta’s initial successes in securing and maintaining loyalties in the barrios of Quito owed to the Marqués de Selva Alegre’s judicious use of traditional performative claims to legitimacy– particularly costume, religious ceremony, and at least the veneer of consultation. The 13th of August, two hundred years ago today, was one of a few important days in securing this legitimacy, culminating on the 16th with a cabildo abierto. As I recount in my book,
Ever mindful of the need to legitimize the new government, the Marqués de Selva Alegre and his core advisors announced the convening of a cabildo abierto on 16 August to publicly ceremonialize the Junta. With a continued eye to the plebeians in the barrios, the Junta ordered that people in the city should burn lights in their windows the for three days to illuminate the streets and the plazas, and music concerts were nightly at 7 pm. On the final night, the 13th of August, the Junta attended mass together at the Church of Carmen Alto, dressed in their most ornate affairs. The Marqués de Selva Alegre appeared in full livery of a knight of the Military Order of Carlos III. Stevenson recalled that the others wore, “scarlet and black; the two ministers were distinguished by large plumes in the hats; the corporation, officers of the treasury, and other tribunals, in their old Spanish uniforms, and the military in blue, faced with white instead of red, as heretofore.”[i]
All was not pomp and circumstance, though. The Junta readied a series of public manifestos explaining the justifications for its actions. They also considered the tax, commercial, and security policies the Junta should pursue. The central message communicated to the surrounding provinces, as well as to the Virreynatos of Santa Fe and Perú, expressed in the Manifestos and in communications sent directly by the Marqués, was that the establishment of the Junta Suprema de Quito was a defensive maneuver intended to protect the interests of the patria in the face of French aggression and heresy and peninsular suspicion. King, Religion, and Patria was on everyone’s lips.[ii] Support outside of Quito was immediately noticeable in its absence. This brought quickly to the fore the issue of public security, as Don Juan Salinas pressed to form and deploy three regiments of troops to protect the city from potential aggression radiating from Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Popoyán, soon to be joined by Peru and New Granada. Meanwhile, the Junta did almost immediately address an economic grievance that had its root in the 1760s, and ended the royal monopolies on aguardiente and tobacco.
The royal monopolies on aguardiente and, to a lesser extent, tobacco had been a burr in the side of both elite and plebeian Quiteños for decades, and were partially responsible for the great tax revolt of 1765 that shut Quito down to royal authority for more than a year. The interests of patria were served in abolishing those monopolies, while the pomp and circumstance of a public mass and the donning of the noble attire of the Order of Charles III– the actions reinforced claims to the defense of King and Religion. There were also much less compelling to interests outside of the city who were not witness to the events, and who still accepted the legitimacy of the burgeoning liberal authority of the Junta Central in Spain, which vested royal authority in the loyal viceroys.
It is interesting to note that much of the most inflammatory rhetoric used up and down in the Andes in the 1809-1814 period questioned the loyalty of royal officials who were appointed by Godoy, tainting their position vis-a-vis the Napoleonic usurper government through association with their one-time patron. Liberals on both sides of the Atlantic used the vacuum of legitimate royal authority to engage in liberal revolution, even as the forces of Napoleon and his Spanish allies claimed themselves to be fulfilling French revolutionary mandates. The result was that, in the complicated way politics work, the struggle during the period between 1809 and 1814 was less between revolutionaries and royalists, than between competing visions of the Spanish Empire and the locus of authority in the midst of liberal change. The Quito junta, together with the other juntas formed in the Americas and with American representatives to the Junta Central, and then the Cortes of Cadiz, were making an argument for equality within the Spanish Empire, as opposed to pushing for its dissolution.
More on the 16th of August and the junta’s failure in the days to come.
[i] Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive, 16. Wearing plumes in one’s hat became an almost instant fashion statement, leading letter writers who wished to curry favor with the Junta to request friends and family members send any plumes that could be found to Quito. See letters in Andrade (1934), “Arenas a su hermana chepita,” p. 732; “Parra y Oramas a Fran.co Oramas,” 748-749; and, “Joaquin Yerovi a Pedro Camacho,” 745.
[ii] See, Ponce, Quito, 1809-1812, “Manifiesto del Pueblo de Quito,” 142-144; “Manifiesto de la Junta Suprema de Quito al Público,” 136-142; “Manifiesto de la Junta Suprema de Quito a América,” pp. 157-158; and, “Oficio del Marqués de Selva Alegre al Ayuntamiento de Popayán,” p. 139.