June 27, 2018
Why the United States doesn't pay attention to the history of New Spain
From a modern perspective, it may seem strange that history books in the United States focus only on the Pilgrims. That is, the groups of people who came from England in the 1630s to seek religious freedom. And it's a story that is repeated every Thanksgiving, and focuses on Native Americans and people from England, mostly eating turkey, and corn. But there were Europeans all over the Americas, and many of them were from Spain.
I'm going to ask you to time-travel back to a time when the concept of government by the people, for the people, and of the people, was a brand new idea. It's an era called "the enlightenment" if you want to Google it, and I like to call it the "end of the divine right of kings".
Now stay with me here, because the divine right of kings to do whatever the heck they wanted to do had been tied to religion, either with the Holy Roman Empire, or in England with the Anglican Church. And it was taken for granted that ruling people had a divine edict, handed down through generations of the ruling classes, backed by the Church. And that gave tremendous power to rulers like King Henry V.
In 1776 the United States of America wanted to try something different. And that meant a return to an ancient idea, which was called Democracy. And this meant that there would be no King, no Priests, no divine rights. This would be a country founded on the idea that people could rule themselves. It was an outrageous idea, and one that 87 years later (fourscore and seven years) nearly failed. The United States created a representative democracy, called a Republic. Power to the government would come from the votes of the people, not through any type of divine right, or aristocracy, and certainly would not come through an official state church. This was called "separation of church and state".
Separation of Church and State would have been unthinkable in New Spain. When California was New Spain, anyone who wasn't Catholic was forbidden to own land. That's how it worked. To this day Spain still has a King, although like in England his power is nominal.
Ultimately, even my Puritan ancestors lost out. In fact, every one who wanted the new country of the United States to be tied to a particular religion failed. The United States was established without a state religion, which outraged many people then, and still does to this day. But religious freedom is a cornerstone of freedom in the United States, and has been since its founding. Anything that seeks to undermine that chips away at that foundation.
Posted by Brad Hall