Latinamerica Collection
History of Mexico

Pre-Columbian Period

The earliest traces of humans in Mexico dates to around 10,000BCE and during the next few thousand years domesticated corn, squashes, beans, and other indigenous plants which gave them a constant source of food. Likewise, these plants allowed the indigenous populations to permanently settle the area. With less time required for cultivation, more energy was focused on cultural technical advancements. For example, by the year 1500BCE there was evidence of not only pottery but also clay figurines and other advanced clay work. Also, during this period, various villages were built as the number of people in the area increased.

By the years 200BCE to 900CE there were various advanced civilizations which is why this period later earned the name the Golden Age of Mexico. During this time period arts and sciences reached their apex and a writing system was created. Many of the impressive pyramids and structures that still exists today were also build during this time.


Around the year 900CE these civilizations immediately declines, and the reasons are still not known for sure. Many speculate that it could have been due to such things as bad harvests, drought, plague, or military actions from surrounding civilizations. What is known is that the period after 900CE was characterized by a great deal of violence compared to the so-called Golden Age, and it was no longer for purposes of land expansion. The different civilizations were joining together to fight their common enemies. Wars were now waged to acquire prisoners that would be used as sacrifice to the gods. This period of violence caused many different civilizations to rise and fall in a short amount of time.


Colonial Period
In 1519, a crew of eleven ships and 700 men led by Hernán Cortés, set out for modern day Mexico. Because of the Spanish superior firepower and luck, the conquistadors worked their way inland without much difficulty. Shortly after their arrival the Spanish took over Tenochtitlán and imprisoned the Aztec emperor. After various revolts against the newcomers as well as a smallpox outbreak that killed most of the indigenous population, the Spanish eventually conquered all of the indigenous emperors and built the colony's capital overtop of the Tenochtitlán ruins.


After the fall of the capital, Cortés sent out expeditions to survey the surrounding lands and establish political control. This turned out to be no difficult task as the remaining villages surrendered without the central control of the former capital.


The first judicial body formed by the crown was in 1527 and was known as the audiencia of Mexico City. However, because of the difficulty in controlling every move of the new colony from such a far distance, Spain eventually appointed the first viceroy of New Spain in 1535, and by the end of the 1600s the Viceroyalty of New Spain stretched from Mexico to Panama and included the Caribbean islands and the Philippines.


As word began to spread of the American and French revolutions in the late 1700s, Mexico began considering it themselves. The power of the crown continued to diminish as political relaxation led to greater autonomy in the colonies. This led to an 11 year war between the loyalists and those in favor of independence beginning in 1810 with the declaration of independence. Though the Spanish crown nearly prevailed, this civil war eventually resulted in Mexican sovereignty in 1821.


The treaty signed in 1821 called for a Mexican constitutional monarchy which failed in 1822. For that reason, a republic was proclaimed and took effect in 1824. The period following was characterized by constant struggle among liberals and conservatives. During the first two terms of office by Benito Juarez lasting until 1871, the Mexican government experimented with economic reform.


However, the same social and economic problems continued until the onset of revolution from 1910 until 1920. This led to the writing of the 1917 constitution and the formation of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1929. For 71 years, Mexico's government was controlled by this party. Only with the election of National Action Party member Vicente Fox in 2000 did this prominence diminish.


The 1917 constitution which is still in effect today provides for a federal republic made up of three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial houses. Though the strongest power lies with the executive branch, the legislative branch has been increasingly crucial since the increase in power of the opposition party in 1997.