There persists a myth, particularly among Mexican Bonapartists, that Mexico could have retained the Spanish Cession had the North American engagement in Florida during the 1810s not resulted in a broader war that resulted in the cession of Spanish lands north of the Gila River and the Rio Grande to the United Sates. The claim is particularly absurd given the track record of the Mexican emperor historically.
The shocking demise of Napoleon Bonaparte following injuries sustained during the disastrous Battle of Regensburg
resulted in a hasty French retreat thereafter from the Iberian Peninsula and an accord that returned Ferdinand VII on the throne and secured his marriage to Charlotte Bonaparte
. The reign of Ferdinand VII was tumultuous, and resulted not only in the war with the United States, but simultaneously conflicts resulting in the independence of the former Spanish possessions on the mainland of the Americas. The new nations of South America would opt to build republics largely modeled on the United States as well as influenced by the French revolution, but Mexico opted for monarchy. Ultimately, the elites in Mexico would opt for the younger half brother
of the Spanish consort.
In Spain, a dispute arose late into the reign of Ferdinand VII over succession, as his only surviving children were daughters. Under Spanish tradition, women in certain circumstances could inherit the throne, but since the First War of the Spanish Succession
, Bourbon house law forbidding female succession had prevailed. Making matters worse was that the conflict between liberals and conservatives simmering in Spain since the Peninsular War took on a dynastic component, with liberals supportive of the accession of Princess Isabella, and conservatives backing the accession of the king's younger brother, Charles V
As the death of Napoleon I left many issues unsettled, the intervention of France in the Spanish succession conflict inevitably resulted in a broader war. The decision of Emperor Charles of Mexico to intervene on behalf of his half niece in the war had profound consequences, namely the secession of the former Kingdom of Guatemala
from Mexico, and, later, the fall of the monarchy itself. Isabella too would lose for reasons that ultimately had little to do with domestic politics.
To be clear, much of the Bonaparte legacy in Mexico endures to this day, but the monarchy itself was inevitably going to lose ground. As it was, the British officially, and Americans informally actively worked against his regime, particularly during the Second War of the Spanish Succession. This would surely have still happened, only perhaps with more formal American involvement had the Mexican Empire inherited Alta California, Nuevo Mexico and Nuevas Filipinas
. Deserts and rivers separate these lands from the bulk of Mexico, and given the brief rise of republics in northern Mexico and on the Yucatan as opposition to the Spanish war grew across all classes of Mexican society, it simply is not plausible that Mexico could have kept the then-sparsely populated areas acquired historically by the United States.
Bonapartistas like to point to the Virginia slave revolt
as evidence that U.S. expansion into what had been the Spanish Empire beyond Florida was not inevitable. There are a few problems with this argument. Firstly, if, as they argue, the U.S. only gains Florida during the skirmishes of the 1810s, there may not be a slave revolt in the 1830s. To this, they respond that if there was not a slave revolt, or if it had happened differently, perhaps there would have been a civil war. This is possible, but the timing would be different, and, postulating such is the opposite argument from the first. If historical events would happen anyway, then they are not necessarily going to be substantially altered in their broader effect. But, if historical divergences result in profound consequences, then there's no reason to assume that the mainland portions of New Spain could or would stay together.
It''s important to remember too that the Florida War also resulted from disputes over the exact borders of the Louisiana Purchase. If Mexico is busy fighting a war in Europe, then the U.S. would have a prime opportunity to resolve the border issue by force in its favor. Sure, perhaps the border would be different, or these lands would have a population base that was more thoroughly Mexicanized, but as it is, leading Catholic families in the area would provide noteworthy U.S. politicians within a generation anyway, as this happened anyway. If though U.S. rule does not materialize, British influence or domination is very possible. Remember, it was American intervention and the Canadian revolution
that saw the British abandon their efforts at propping up a client state in Comondú
I totally get that explorations of scenarios shrinking the United States are popular. Many are worth exploring, but there are better and more interesting ways of achieving this. One way is suggesting that the Americans end up at war wit the British in the 1810s instead of Spain. That though, is an exploration for another time.