In the early nineteenth century, Spanish power went into rapid decline. Although Spain was allied with France during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1808 Napoleon Bonaparte forced the Spanish king to abdicate and thus placed a Bonaparte upon the Spanish throne. In response, the Spanish erupted in revolt in Madrid and throughout Spain, setting off a chain of uprisings in Latin America. In Honduras, resentment against rule by the exiled Spanish king increased rapidly, especially because increased taxes for Spain’s struggle against the French threatened the cattle industry. In 1812, the disturbances that broke out in Tegucigalpa were more linked to a long-standing rivalry with Comayagua, than to an opposition to Spanish rule. The disturbances were quickly controlled, and, to appease local discontent, the municipal government of Tegucigalpa was reestablished.
The rivalry between Tegucigalpa and Comayagua helped precipitate the final collapse of Spanish authority in Honduras. A new Spanish administration attempted to transfer Comayagua’s tobacco factory to Tegucigalpa. This move led to defiance by Comayagua, which refused to acknowledge the authority of the government in Guatemala. The weakened Spanish government was unable to end Comayagua’s defiance, and for a certain period of time civil strife threatened to break out. Conflict was averted by the decision made by all the Central American provinces on September 15th, 1821, to declare their independence from Spain. This action failed to resolve the dispute between Tegucigalpa and Comayagua – however, the former now urged the creation of a unified Central American state, while the latter favored union with the Empire of Mexico under the rule of General Augustín de Iturbide. Ultimately, Comayagua’s position prevailed, and in early 1822 the Central American provinces declared their allegiance to Mexico.
This union lasted just over a year and produced few if any benefits for either party. In March 1823, Iturbide was overthrown in Mexico, and the empire was replaced by a republic. The Central American Congress, in which Comayagua (yet not Tegucigalpa) was represented – was quickly convened. With little debate, the United Provinces of Central America declared their independence from Mexico. Mexico’s only effort to reverse this decision consisted in maintaining control over Chiapas, the northernmost of the six previous provinces of Central America.
From its 1823 inception, the new federation (the United Provinces of Central America) faced a series of ultimately unresolvable problems. Instead of engendering a spirit of unity, Spanish rule had fostered divisions and local suspicions. In the case of Honduras, this divisiveness was epitomized by the rivalry between Tegucigalpa and Comayagua. There was even some sentiment for admitting these two cities as separate provinces within the federation, but that proposal was ultimately rejected. In addition, much of the region was suspicious of Guatemalan ambitions to dominate Central America and wished to retain all possible local authority rather than surrender any to a central government.
An equally serious issue, was how the politically active population became divided into conservative and liberal factions. The conservatives favored a more centralized government; a proclerical policy, including a church monopoly over education; and a more aristocratic form of government based on traditional Spanish values. The liberals wanted greater local autonomy and a restricted role for the church, as well as political and economic development as in the United States and parts of Western Europe. The conservatives favored keeping native people in their traditional, subservient position, while the liberals aimed at eventually eliminating indigenous society by incorporating it into the national, Hispanic culture.
At the time of Central American independence (1823), Honduras was amongst the least-developed and least-populated provinces. In 1824 its population was estimated at just over 137,000. Despite its meager population, Honduras produced two of the most prominent leaders of the federation, the liberal Francisco Morazán (https://lempiratimes.com/2020/03/10/honduran-hero-number-2/) and the conservative José Cecilio del Valle. In 1823 del Valle was narrowly defeated by liberal Manuel José Arce for election as the federation’s first president. Morazán overthrew Arce in 1829 and was elected president of the federation in 1830, defeating del Valle.
The beginning of Morazán’s administration in 1830 saw some efforts to reform and promote education. Success was limited, however, because of lack of funds and internal fighting. In the elections of 1834, del Valle defeated Morazán, but del Valle died before taking office, and the legislature offered Morazán the presidency. With clerical support, a conservative uprising began in Guatemala in 1837, and within a year the federation had begun to dissolve. On May 30th, 1838, the Central American Congress removed Morazán from office, and declared that the individual states could establish their own governments, whereupon on July 7th, they recognized these as “sovereign, free, and independent political bodies.”
Information obtained from reports submitted to the US library of congress.