Agustín Rivera, one of Mexico’s savants of the nineteenth century, spent a number of years attempting to write a balanced account of the colonial period of New Spain and the Independence movement. Basically, Rivera wished to challenge the writings of conservative Lucas Alamán. Secondly, he sought to buttress the Cuadro histórico of Licenciado Carlos María Bustamante with the exception that Rivera did not intend “atenuar los crímenes de los insurgentes, ni exagerar los de los realistas.” This was certainly a noble objective, especially in an era when Mexico was not noted for an objective approach to her past connections with Spain. Because of his long life (1824-1916), Rivera was able to observe in Mexico the lessening rejection of things Castilian. Nevertheless, this work did not get into print during his life. A few months after his death, the Academia Mexicana de la Historia published Principios Críticos in his memory. The present volume is a reprint edition issued by the Comisión Nacional para las Conmemoraciones Cívicas de 1963.
It seems to me that the publication of this reprint version is a sad mistake, perhaps prompted by the urgent need for something to meet the occasion of ceremonies in 1963. For example, no one has bothered to write a new introduction to place Rivera’s work in historical perspective, nor is there so much as one word of explanation as to why this particular volume was chosen to be reprinted. Indeed, it seems likely that the only difference between this new edition and the original of 1916 is the addition of the names of the members of the National Commission of 1963. This review, therefore, is concerned with a work that is half a century old; and it has not worn well over the years.
It seems superfluous at best to recount and discuss such topics as:
the possible relationship between Mexican independence from Spain and the lingering desire of the Aztecs to be free once again;
the belabored argument that the conquest of Mexico was a true conquest rather than an effective alliance between Cortés and the Tlaxcalans. (After all, as we are needlessly reminded, an alliance is a union of equals and not one joining the conquerors and the vanquished); (3) the proposition that the exchange and mixture of Old World and New World crops, animals, products, and diseases were mutually both advantageous and disadvantageous. (This is hardly a startling concept.) After these profundities there are endless sermons, panegyrics, and testimonies by mostly obscure persons all designed to support the hypothesis that Spain did not foster a healthy and viable society in New Spain.
For those who have the patience to read these 940 pages, the rewards are pathetically few.