The Conquest Of The Valley Of Mexico
The revolt of Cortés.—In the very year of the founding of Panamá Hernando Cortés entered Mexico. The return of the expeditions of Córdova and Grijalva to the Mexican coast had caused excitement in Cuba. Governor Velásquez prepared an expedition to follow them up, and appointed Cortés to lead it. Becoming distrustful of his lieutenant, Velásquez sent messengers to recall him, but Cortés set forth, nevertheless. In defiance of the governor, on February 18, 1519, he left Cuba, a rebel, with eleven vessels, some six hundred men, and sixteen horses. Proceeding to Tabasco and up the coast, he founded Vera Cruz, by whose cabildo he was chosen captain-general and justicia mayor, and his position was thus given the color of legality. By this act Cortés placed himself under the immediate protection of the king.
The march to Mexico.—On the way and while at Vera Cruz Cortés had learned that the Aztec "empire" was honeycombed with dissension, and that the subject peoples were burdened with tribute and filled with hatred for Montezuma, the native ruler at the city of Mexico. He therefore assumed the rôle of deliverer, and the Indians rallied to his standard. At Cempoalla he connived at a revolt against Montezuma's tax gatherers. Scuttling his ships and thus cutting off all chance for retreat, in August he set out for Mexico. His march was a succession of audacious deeds. At Cempoalla he threw down heathen idols and imprisoned the chiefs. At Tlascala he was attacked by several thousand warriors, but his genius changed them into allies in his train. At Cholula, discovering a conspiracy, he raked the streets with cannon shot and burned the leaders at the stake. In triumph he entered the great pueblo of Tenochtitlán or Mexico. While lodged as a guest of Montezuma in the center of the city, he seized the Aztec ruler and held him prisoner.
The loss and recapture of the city.—In the spring of 1520 Cortés learned that Pánfilo de Narváez had arrived at Vera Cruz with nearly a thousand men, under orders from Velasquez to arrest him. Leaving Pedro de Alvarado in charge, he hastened to the coast, won over most of Narváez's men, and then hurried back to Mexico. During his absence the Aztecs had revolted, through the rashness of Alvarado. Soon after the return of Cortés the natives rose again, killed Montezuma, and replaced him by Cuauhtemoc, a more vigorous leader. Cortés now sought safety in flight, but during the night retreat he lost more than half his men. This "unfortunate night" became known as "Noche Triste." But the defeat was only temporary. Raising new allies, Cortés conquered the towns round about Mexico, built a fleet at Tlascala, launched it on Lake Tezcuco, besieged the city, and by a combined attack, by land and water, on August 13, 1521, he recaptured Mexico, the most important native town in all America.
Cortés's contest with Velásquez.—Knowing that Velásquez would oppose him, Cortés, while at Vera Cruz in 1519, had at once sent agents, bearing rich presents, to represent him at the court of Charles V. Then began a three-year contest with the agents of the Cuban governor. The delay was fortunate for Cortés, for in the course of it he won favor by his remarkable feats of conquest. Through the influence of Fonseca, Velásquez secured the appointment of Cristóbal de Tápia, an official of Española, as governor of New Spain, to take charge of the government and investigate Cortés. But Cortés got rid of him as he had disposed of Narváez. Arriving at Vera Cruz in December, 1521, Tápia was met by a council of delegates from the conqueror and practically driven from the country, on the ground that new orders were expected from the king.
Cortés made Governor and Captain-General.—Before this Cortés had sent Avila to the Audiencia of Santo Domingo to obtain its favor. Scarcely had Tápia been ejected when Avila returned with tentative authority for Cortés, subject to royal approval, to continue his conquests and to grant encomiendas. This greatly strengthened Cortés's position. Having succeeded so well in Española, Avila was now sent to Spain. Here he triumphed also, for on October 15, 1522, the emperor approved the acts of Cortés and made him governor and captain-general of New Spain. The victory of Cortés was as complete as the discomfiture of Velásquez and Fonseca.
Mexico rebuilt. Encomiendas granted.—The work of conquest on the mainland was accompanied by the evolution of government and the establishment of Spanish civilization, just as had been the case in the West Indies during the earlier stages of the struggle. Wherever the Spaniards settled, they planted their political, religious, economic, and social institutions. Mexico was rebuilt in 1522 as a Spanish municipality, Pedro de Alvarado, the most notable of Cortés's lieutenants, being made first alcalde mayor. In the regions subdued the principal provinces were assigned to the conquerors as encomiendas. Much of the actual work of control was accomplished through native chiefs, who were assigned Spanish offices and held responsible for good order and the collection of tribute. This method was later adopted by the British in India.
The Development of Southern Mexico, 1519-1543.
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