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Part One: Chapter V: THE END OF FRANCISCAN RULE
THE FOOTING of the Franciscans in California rested from the beginning upon the power of Spain. They could not have come at all without the financial and military support of the Spanish monarch, nor could they have remained save with the aid of his soldiers. When the power of the Castilian began to wane, it was inevitable that the Franciscan rule should diminish in proportion, and that even the institutions which they had founded should begin to crumble and, at last, become a mere memory with no monument except mouldering heaps of adobe.
Spain's empire in Mexico lasted for three centuries. It was in 1521 that Cortés virtually completed his conquest, and it was in 1521 that Iturbide wrested the country from the feeble grasp of Ferdinand VII. The Mission of San Diego was then almost at the zenith of its prosperity, and as the good Fathers basked in the sunshine or looked out upon their smiling fields, they fondly believed that their works would endure to bless the land and enrich their order for many generations to come. They knew that the internal fires of revolution had been blazing in Mexico for more than a decade, but had little fear that the hand which had held the region for three hundred years would lose its hold, at least in their time.
The Spanish statesmen had given the missionaries the utmost latitude because their scheme of converting and utilizing the Indian population was admirably adapted to meet the political necessities of the Empire in this far country. But Mexico bad different necessities and naturally proceeded to make different plans. It had no time to lose in strengthening itself against the rising power of the United States. It could not leave so precious a possession as California to the control of an element which, at best, could be but lukewarm toward the new-born power which had overthrown Spanish control, and thus done violence to the great tradition of which the missions were themselves an important part. Moreover, Mexico had friends to reward as well as enemies to punish. Some of the men who had fought its battles, and who would be needed to fight its battles again, looked with longing eyes upon the rich dominions of the missions and began to dream of founding great families and great estates.
It is a very convenient thing to be able to pay your debts with other people's property. Mexico was in this fortunate position and proceeded to take advantage of it. In 1824 the Colonization law was enacted. This authorized the government to make grants of unoccupied lands to Mexican citizens to the extent of eleven square leagues. Under this law thousands of acres were parceled out among the supporters of the government. These grants encroached upon the mission holdings and gave the Fathers their first shock of serious apprehension for the future In 1832 the Mexican power mustered the full courage of its convictions, its necessities, and its desires. It passed the act of Secularization, which was simply an act of confiscation, from the Franciscan point of view. It was the object of this legislation to take all the property of the missions, real and personal, and divide it among those who would use their wealth and influence for the defense and development of Mexico. The attempt of Governor Figueroa to put it into effect in 1833 was a failure, but it was gradually executed, being extended little by little until the day when Mexico lost the country to the United States.
With the adoption of the policy of secularization, the Mission Fathers knew that their long day was passing into twilight and that it could be a question of but a, few years when they must relinquish their hold upon California. Some of them were utterly discouraged and unwilling to attempt the continuance of their work. Some were frankly hostile to the new rulers and went home to Spain. A few persisted to the last and died peacefully at their posts. The effect of the new order of things on the Indians was demoralizing. Their loyalty could hardly be expected to survive the shattering of priestly power. The only government they understood was the patriarchal form, and the very foundation of this Government had now disappeared. Nevertheless, the Mission of San Diego lived on for more than a dozen years, after its ultimate downfall was clearly foreshadowed. It was not until 1846 that the ownership of the property was legally and finally taken from the Church.
The full force of the blow could no longer be stayed. Mexico was threatened with invasion by the United States and it became imperatively necessary that the country should be put in the best possible condition of defense. Thus the governors of the various states and departments were vested with extraordinary powers and instructed to adopt drastic measures to strengthen the government. Governor Pio Pico sold the missions as rapidly as possible in order to raise money for the war which impended. In June, 1846, he sold to Don Santiago Argüello so much of the property of the San Diego Mission as had not already been granted to Mexican citizens. The deed of sale read as follows:
Being previously authorized by the Departmental Assembly to alleviate the missions, in order to pay their debts and to avoid their total ruin; and knowing that Don Santiago Argüello has rendered the government important services at all times, and has also given aid when asked, for the preservation of the legitimate government and the security of the Department, without having received any indemnification; and, whereas, this gentleman has, for his own personal benefit and that of his numerous family, asked to purchase the mission of San Diego, with all its lands and property belonging to it, both in town and country, he paying fully and religiously the debts of said Mission, which may be established by the reports of the Committee of Missions, binding himself besides to provide for the support of the priests located at said Mission, and of divine worship. In view of all which I have made real sale and perpetual alienation of it forever, to Don Santiago Argüello, according to, and in conformance with, what has been agreed upon, with all the appurtenances found and known at the time as belonging to it, whether consisting of lands, buildings, improved real estate, or cattle.
The reader will not fail to note the pious terms in which the instrument was drawn. The object of the transfer was "to alleviate" the Mission; and to avoid its "total ruin." The purchaser was required to provide for the support of the priests and to maintain divine worship. These diplomatic phrases deceived no one, and least of all the priests. The idea of a proprietary mission dependent for its support upon the bounty of an individual, must have been repugnant to their souls. Certainly, such an arrangement could never have proven workable, but it was not put to the actual test. The war came on with swift footsteps, and when it had passed, Mexico had gone the way of Spain and the Missionary Fathers had gone with them, so far as the dominion of California was concerned. What was the net result of Spanish dominion in San Diego which nominally began with the discoveries by Cabrillo in 1542 and Viscaino in 1602, and ripened into actual occupation with the expedition planned by Galvez and executed by naval, military, civil, and missionary leaders in 1769?
They left, of course, a great memory which will endure to the end of time and which is likely to grow rather than diminish in the quality of picturesque and romantic interest. They left their nomenclature, and this is somehow so pleasing to the ear and eye of the composite race which has evolved into the American population of today that it seems likely to last as the visible expression of the Spanish tradition. Not only does it remain in the name of the city and of landmarks to which it was given by the Spanish explorers and founders, but it blooms perennially in many other forms, including the names of new residences and estates, for which it is frequently preferred to names associated with the racial, national, and family traditions of their owners. Nothing could more strikingly illustrate the power of the memories of Spanish occupation upon the popular imagination. The same influence is apparent in architecture, and this seems to be growing and likely to grow more in the future. The Spanish speech still lingers and may do so for a long time, though it tends to disappear and will some day be no more in evidence than the speech of other European peoples who had nothing to do with the early time.
|Ruin of San Diego Mission|
Aside from this virile tradition, expressed in the nomenclature and architecture of the city and its surrounding country, the Spaniard left nothing pertaining to his national life. But the value of this contribution to civilization should not be underestimated. Happy is the land which has memories to cherish! Twice happy when the memories are associated with the pioneers of pioneers! And thrice happy if, as in this case, those memories chance to be sanctified by the struggle to light the lamp of spiritual exaltation in the darkness of ignorance and savagery! As time goes on, the earliest history of San Diego will be revived in art. More and more, it will supply a rich theme for painting, for sculpture, and for literature. But the institutions which it sought to plant deep in the soil have perished almost utterly. English law and English speech have taken the place of Spanish law and speech, and even the religion which the founders brought apparently owes little or nothing of its present strength to their teaching or their building. The Catholic Church is powerful, of course, but by no means as powerful in San Diego, whose legitimate child it was, as in Boston, which was established by those who deliberately fled from its influence.
What shall be said of the missionary achievement? For the most part, the answer to this question depends upon the individual point of view. No mere material conquest is to be compared with the salvation of immortal souls. The Mission Fathers brought thousands to the foot of the Cross and persuaded them to live in accordance with religious ways. Those who believe that these thousands of souls would otherwise have been lost justly place the missionary achievement above the most enduring things done by the soldier, the law-giver, or the founder of institutions. Those who accept distinctly modern views of religion may hold more lightly the purely spiritual conquest accomplished by Junípero Serra and his fellow priests, yet even such must credit them with the noblest aspirations and must concede that the Indian population gained much in simple morality from the missionary teachings. Nor has this gain been wholly lost, even after Father Serra has slept for more than one hundred and twenty years in his grave at Monterey. The Indian was unquestionably elevated by his spiritual experience and by his manual training, and, dubious as his condition seems today, is still a better man because the Mission once flourished under the sunny skies of San Diego.
The literature of the missions is voluminous and constantly increasing. For reasons already stated, it is somewhat remote from the real history of San Diego. It is not the picture itself, but the shadowy background of the picture. Nothing more finely expressive of the appeal which it makes to the poetic senses has been written than the following extract from a sketch of the Mission of San Luis Rey, by Will H. Holcomb:
To behold this beautiful structure for the first time under the softening effect of moonlight requires no great stretch of the imagination, to believe one's self among the romantic surroundings of some Alcazar in old Spain. Below, among the purple shadows of the valley, which half conceal and yet reveal, lies the river, a counterpart of the Guadalquiver; ranged about are the hills, dreamy, indistinct, under the mystic canopy of night, while nearer at hand are the delicate outlines of arches, facades, and vaulted roofs, reflecting the pearly light, and appearing half real, half visionary, against the ambient breadths of starless sky. The land breeze wafts clown the valley from the mountain heights, cool and sweet, and whispers among the columns and arches, and we are tempted almost to inquire of these voices of the night something of the tales of adventure, of love, of ambitions gratified and hopes unfulfilled, which cling to this sacred spot, from the shadowy period of the past.
[from William Ellsworth Smythe's History of San Diego, 1908, pp. 71-76]