Since the 1520s these regions, along with the Mexican state of Chiapas, had composed the captaincy general of Guatemala, part of the viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico). In 1821 they became independent from Spain, and in 1822 they were joined to the ephemeral empire of Mexico, ruled by Agustín de Iturbide. Following Iturbide's abdication in March 1823, delegates from the Central American provinces, representing mostly upper-class creoles, assembled at Guatemala City in July to declare themselves completely independent and to form a federal republic--the United Provinces of Central America. They drew up a constitution that provided for a federal capital in Guatemala City and a president for each of the five constituent states, which were to enjoy complete local autonomy; suffrage was restricted to the upper classes, slavery was abolished, and the privileges of the Roman Catholic church were maintained. Manuel José Arce was elected first president in 1825.
Liberal-Conservative dissensions developed and soon erupted into civil war; the Liberals gained control in 1830, when their leader, Francisco Morazán, was elected president. His administration quickly disestablished the church and passed a series of anticlerical laws; other measures were enacted to promote trade and industry. In 1834 Morazán moved the capital of the foundering federation from Guatemala City, a Conservative stronghold, to San Salvador.
At first the captaincy general was part of the Mexican Empire under General Agustín de Iturbide, but efforts by Mexico to control the region were resisted all over Central America. Separatist feelings throughout the isthmus grew, however, and five of the United Provinces of Central America--Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, andd Nicaragua--declared their independence from Mexico in July 1823. The sixth province, Chiapas, opted to remain with Mexico. Under a weak federal government, each province created its own independent internal administration. Inadequate communication and internal conflicts, however, overshadowed efforts to institutionalize the federation for the next decade and a half. Efforts to centralize power led to civil war between 1826 and 1829.
Morazán, Francisco [ b. Oct. 3, 1792, Tegucigalpa, Honduras; d. Sept. 15, 1842, San José, Costa Rica] president of the United Provinces of Central America (1830-40) who was the outstanding military and political hero of Central America from 1827 until his death.
Self-educated, Morazán began his political career in his native Honduras. In 1827, at age 35, he led the Liberal Party's forces in a revolt against Manuel José Arce, first president of the United Provinces (established in 1823). The Liberal forces defeated the Conservative Army in 1829) at Guatemala City, the capital, and in 1830 Morazán was elected president. He introduced many reforms designed to limit the power of the Roman Catholic church, but his administration aroused the anger of Conservatives and he had to devote most of his energy to putting down revolts.