When Napoleonic armies occupied Spain in 1808, patriots appointed provincial juntas to govern the country in the name of deposed King Ferdinand VII and to help in its defense. On 28 March 1811, the juntas declared that each of their numbers would include a captain-general, intendant, and nine members. No provision, however, was made for Spanish America, whose residents spontaneously had formed juntas of their own. On 23 October 1811, a delegate to the Cortes of Cádiz representing New Spain, José Miguel Ramos Arizpe, proposed that such a junta, which he later dubbed "provincial deputation," be established in Saltillo, the capital of the Eastern Interior Provinces of New Spain.
The Spanish Constitution of 1812 ultimately established six locally elected provincial deputations in Mexico and one in Guatemala. Their function was to execute and oversee government orders concerning military recruits, taxation, the census, education, and state jobs. They were located in Mexico City (including México, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Querétaro, and Tlaxcala), San Luis Potosí (comprising San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato), Guadalajara (New Galicia and Zacatecas), Mérida (Yucatán, Tabasco, and Campeche), Monterrey (Nuevo León, Coahuila, Nuevo Santander, and Texas), and Durango (Durango, Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, and the Californias). This decision, together with several others, combined to transform the way Spain would govern its empire and gave the former colonies some measure of home rule. At the same time, the Cortes abolished the viceroyalty, made the audiencia into a high court, and prepared to govern each American province directly and individually.
The elections for provincial deputation, although indirect, gave residents in New Spain their first experience with popular democracy and autonomy from control by both Spain and Mexico City. Soon the original seven groupings divided into provinces, jurisdictional entities that would continue into the early years of independence. Selection of the provincial deputations helped pave the way for self-rule. In the words of their foremost scholar, Nettie Lee Benson, "the people had been awakened to citizenship through the numerous elections held annually in the parishes to elect deputies for the various positions in the municipalities, Cortes, and Provincial Deputations, and they were enlightened politically in preparation for a new system." (The Provincial Deputation, p. 129).
Nettie Lee Benson, ed., Mexico and the Spanish Cortes (1966), and The Provincial Deputation in Mexico: Harbinger of Provincial Autonomy, Independence, and Federalism (1992).
Medina Peña, Luis. Invención del sistema político mexicano: Forma de gobierno y gobernabilidad en México en el siglo XIX. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2004.
Vázquez, Josefina Zoraida. El establecimiento del federa-lismo en México, 1821–1827. México, D.F.: Colegio de México, 2003.