Mexican War of Independence
|Mexican War of Independence|
|Part of the Spanish American wars of independence|
Clockwise from top left: Miguel Hidalgo, José María Morelos, Embrace of Acatempan between Iturbide and Guerrero, Trigarante Army in Mexico City, Mural of independence by O'Gorman
Army of the Three Guarantees (1821)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Miguel Hidalgo † (1810-11)
Ignacio Allende † (1810-11)
Ignacio López R. † (1810-11)
José María Morelos † (1810-15)
Vicente Guerrero (1810-21)
Mariano Matamoros † (1811-14)
Guadalupe Victoria (1812-21)
Francisco Xavier Mina † (1817)
Agustín de Iturbide (1821)
|Francisco Venegas (1810-13)
Félix María Calleja (1813-16)
Juan Ruiz de A. (1816-21)
Francisco Novella (1821)
Juan O'Donojú (1821)
100,000 irregular23,100 regular
|Casualties and losses|
Part of a series on the
|History of Mexico|
The Mexican War of Independence (Spanish: Guerra de Independencia de México) was an armed conflict, and the culmination of a political and social process which ended the rule of Spain in the territory of New Spain. The war had its antecedent in the French invasion of Spain in 1808, and extended from the Grito de Dolores on September 16, 1810, to the entrance of the Army of the Three Guarantees to Mexico City on September 27, 1821.
The movement for independence was partly created by the Age of Enlightenment and the liberal revolutions of the last part of the 18th century. By that time the educated elite of New Spain had begun to reflect on the relations between Spain and its colonial kingdoms. Changes in the social and political structure occasioned by Bourbon reforms and a deep economic crisis in New Spain caused discomfort mainly in the Creole population.
Political events in Europe had a decisive impact on events in most of Spanish America. In 1808, the king Charles IV and Ferdinand VII abdicated in favor of Napoleon Bonaparte, who left the crown of Spain to his brother Joseph Bonaparte. The same year, the ayuntamiento of Mexico City, supported by viceroy José de Iturrigaray, claimed sovereignty in the absence of the legitimate king. That led to a coup against the viceroy and led the leaders of the movement to jail.
Despite the defeat in Mexico City, small groups of conspirators met in other cities of New Spain in order to follow in the steps of Mexico City. In 1810, after being discovered, Querétaro conspirators chose to take up arms on September 16 in the company of peasants and indigenous inhabitants of the town of Dolores (Guanajuato), called by the Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
From 1810 the independence movement went through several stages, as its leaders were imprisoned or executed by forces loyal to Spain. At first they recognized the sovereignty of Ferdinand VII over Spain and its colonies, but later the leaders took more radical positions, including issues of social order as the abolition of slavery. Secular priest José María Morelos called the separatist provinces to form the Congress of Chilpancingo, which gave the insurgency its own legal framework. After the defeat of Morelos, the movement was reduced to a guerrilla war in the hot country under the leadership of Vicente Guerrero. By 1820, there were few rebel groups, notably in the Sierra Madre del Sur and Veracruz.
The reinstatement of the liberal Constitution of Cadiz in 1820 caused a change of mind among elite groups who supported Spanish rule. Monarchist Creoles whom the Constitution affected decided to support the independence of New Spain and sought to ally with the former insurgent resistance. Agustín de Iturbide led the military arm of the conspirators and early 1821 he met Vicente Guerrero. Both proclaimed the Plan of Iguala, which called for the union of all insurgent factions and had the support of the aristocracy and the clergy of New Spain. It called for monarchy in independent Mexico. Finally, the independence of Mexico was consummated on September 27, 1821.
After that, the mainland of New Spain became the Mexican Empire which was an ephemeral Catholic monarchy which became a federal republic in 1823 due to internal conflicts and the separation of Central America.
The struggle for Mexican independence could be seen to date to the decades after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when Don Martín Cortés (son of Hernán Cortés), the second marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, led a conspiracy against the Spanish colonial government, which sought to eliminate privileges for the conquistadors, particularly putting limitations on encomiendas. However, once that mid-16th-century conspiracy was suppressed, there was no challenge to royal rule until the Hidalgo revolt of 1810.
There is considerable evidence that North-American-born Spaniards in New Spain did develop an increasing understanding and tie to their New World homeland, a rising Creole patriotism, but they did not pursue the idea of political independence from Spain until the destabilization of the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian peninsula.
In the early 19th century, Napoleon's occupation of Spain led to the outbreak of revolts all across Spanish America. After the abortive Conspiracy of the Machetes in 1799, a massive revolt in the Bajío region was led by secular cleric Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, whose Grito de Dolores touched off the first stage of the insurgency for Mexican independence. Before 1810, there was no significant support for independence and once the Hidalgo revolt was underway, there was major support only in the Bajío and parts of Jalisco.
First phase of the insurgency - the Hidalgo revolt
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest and member of a group of educated Criollos in Querétaro, hosted secret gatherings in his home to discuss whether it was better to obey or to revolt against a tyrannical government, which is what he considered the Spanish government in Mexico to be. These meetings came to include famed military leader Ignacio Allende. In 1810 Hidalgo arrived at the conclusion that a revolt against the colonial government was needed because of the events and injustice being perpetrated upon the poor of Mexico, which had gotten out of hand. By this time Hidalgo had achieved some fame. He had distinguished himself as a student at the prestigious San Nicolás Obispo school in Valladolid (now Morelia), where he received top marks in class and later went on to become Rector of his old school. Later he also became known as a top theologian. When his older brother died in 1803, Hidalgo took over as Priest for the town of Dolores.
Hidalgo was in Dolores on 15 September 1810, with other leaders of the rebel "conspiracy" including military commander Allende, when word came to them that the conspiracy had been discovered. Needing to move immediately, Hidalgo ran to the church, calling for all the people to gather, where from the pulpit he called upon them to revolt. Inspired by his words, and tired of their ill-treatment by the wealthy (who had befriended the Spaniards) and the Spanish, they all shouted in agreement for such a revolt. They were a comparatively small group, and poorly armed with whatever was at hand. Some only had sticks and rocks as weapons. On the morning of 16 September 1810, Hidalgo called upon the remaining locals who happened to be in the market on that day, and again, from the pulpit, he announced his intention to strike for independence and exhorted the people of Dolores to join him. Most did: Hidalgo had a mob of some 600 men within minutes. This became known as the “Cry of Dolores” as the people shouted, or "cried", from the church "Independencia!"
Hidalgo and Allende marched their little army through towns including San Miguel and Celaya where the angry rebels killed all the Spaniards they found. Along the way they adopted the standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe as their symbol and protector. They soon reached the town of Guanajuato on September 28, where the Spanish had barricaded themselves inside the public granary. Included in that barricade were some forced royalists, creoles that served and sided with the Spanish. The small rebel army had reached about 30,000 by this time and the battle was horrific. Over 500 Spanish and creoles were killed. The rebels now marched on toward Mexico City.
The Viceroy caught word they were coming, and quickly organized a defense, sending out the Spanish general Torcuato Trujillo with 1,000 men, 400 horsemen, and 2 cannons - all that could be found on such short notice. On October 30, Miguel Hidalgo's army encountered Spanish resistance at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces, fought them and achieved victory. When the cannons were captured in combat, the surviving Royalists retreated to the City.
Although they had the advantage and could have easily taken Mexico City, Hidalgo retreated, against the counsel of Allende. This retreat, when victory was so close, has puzzled historians and biographers ever since. It is believed he wanted to spare the great number of Mexican citizens in Mexico City the inevitable sacking and plunder that would ensue. This has been considered Hidalgo's greatest tactical error.
Rebel survivors of the battle sought refuge in nearby provinces and villages. The insurgent forces planned a defensive strategy at a bridge on the Calderón River, pursued by the Spanish army. In January 1811, Spanish forces fought the Battle of the Bridge of Calderón and defeated the insurgent army, forcing the rebels to flee towards the United States-Mexican border, where they hoped to escape. However they were intercepted by the Spanish army. Hidalgo and his remaining soldiers were captured in the state of Coahuila at the Wells of Baján (Norias de Baján). All of the rebel leaders were found guilty and sentenced to death, except for Mariano Abasolo, who was sent to Spain to serve a life sentence. Allende, Jiménez and Aldama were executed on 26 June 1811, shot in the back as a sign of dishonor. Hidalgo, as a priest, had to undergo a civil trial as well as a visit from the Inquisition. He was eventually stripped of his priesthood, found guilty, and executed on 30 July. The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez were preserved and hung from the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato as a warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.
Following the execution of Hidalgo, the leadership of the insurgency was assumed by José María Morelos. Under his leadership the cities of Oaxaca and Acapulco were occupied. In 1813, the Congress of Chilpancingo was convened and on 6 November of that year, the Congress signed the first official document of independence, known as the "Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America". It was followed by a long period of war at the Siege of Cuautla. In 1815, Morelos was captured by Spanish colonial authorities, tried and executed for treason.
Father Hidalgo is today remembered today as the Father of his Country, the great hero of Mexico's War for Independence. His position has become cemented in lore, and there are any number of hagiographic biographies of him.
The truth about Hidalgo is a little more complex. The facts and dates leave no doubt: his was the first serious insurrection on Mexican soil against Spanish authority, and his achievements with his poorly armed mob were significant. He was a charismatic leader and worked well with Allende despite their differences.
But Hidalgo's shortcomings make one ask "What if?" After decades of abuse of Creoles and poor Mexicans, there was a vast well of resentment and hatred that Hidalgo was able to tap into: even he seemed surprised by the level of anger released on the Spaniards by his mob. He provided the catalyst for Mexico's poor to vent their anger on the hated "gachipines" or Spaniards, but his "army" was more like a swarm of locusts, and about as impossible to control.
His questionable leadership also contributed to his downfall. Historians can only wonder what might have happened had Hidalgo pushed into Mexico City in November 1810: history certainly would be different. In this, Hidalgo was too proud or stubborn to listen to the sound military advice offered by Allende and others and press his advantage.
Finally, Hidalgo's approval of the violent sacking and looting by his forces alienated the group most vital to any independence movement: middle-class and wealthy creoles like himself. Poor peasants and Indians only had the power to burn, pillage and destroy: they could not create a new identity for Mexico, one that would allow Mexicans to psychologically break from Spain and craft a national conscience for themselves.
Still, Hidalgo became a great leader...after his death. His timely martyrdom allowed others to pick up the fallen banner of freedom and independence. His influence on later fighters such as José María Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and others is considerable. Today, Hidalgo's remains lie in a Mexico City monument known as "the Angel of Independence" along with other Revolutionary heroes.
Second phase of the insurgency and independence
From 1815 to 1821 most of the fighting by those seeking independence from Spain was done by isolated guerrilla bands. Out of these bands rose two men, Guadalupe Victoria (born José Miguel Fernández y Félix) in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca, both of whom were able to command allegiance and respect from their followers. The Spanish viceroy, however, felt the situation was under control and issued a general pardon to every rebel who would lay down his arms. After ten years of civil war and the death of two of its founders, by early 1820 the independence movement was stalemated and close to collapse. The rebels faced stiff Spanish military resistance and the apathy of many of the most influential criollos.
In what was supposed to be the final government campaign against the insurgents, in December 1820, Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca sent a force led by a royalist criollo officer, Colonel Agustín de Iturbide, to defeat Guerrero's army in Oaxaca. Iturbide, a native of Valladolid (now Morelia), had gained renown for the zeal with which he persecuted Hidalgo's and Morelos's rebels during the early independence struggle. A favorite of the Mexican church hierarchy, Iturbide was thought of as the personification of conservative criollo values, devoutly religious, and committed to the defense of property rights and social privileges; he was also disgruntled at his lack of promotion and wealth.
Iturbide's assignment to the Oaxaca expedition coincided with a successful military coup in Spain against the monarchy of Ferdinand VII. The coup leaders, who had been assembled as an expeditionary force to suppress the American independence movements, compelled a reluctant Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. When news of the liberal charter reached Mexico, Iturbide saw in it both a threat to the status quo and an opportunity for the criollos to gain control of Mexico. Independence was finally achieved when conservative Royalist forces in the colonies chose to rise up against the liberal regime in Spain in an about-face to their previous stance against the insurgency and independence. After an initial clash with Guerrero's forces, Iturbide assumed command of the army and, at Iguala, allied his formerly royalist force with Guerrero’s radical insurgents to discuss the renewed struggle for independence.
While stationed in the town of Iguala, Iturbide proclaimed three principles, or "guarantees," for Mexican independence from Spain. Mexico would be an independent monarchy governed by King Ferdinand, another Bourbon prince, or some other conservative European prince, criollos and penisulares would henceforth enjoy equal rights and privileges, and the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico would retain its privileges and position as the official and exclusive religion of the land. After convincing his troops to accept the principles, which were promulgated on February 24, 1821 as the Plan of Iguala, Iturbide persuaded Guerrero to join his forces in support of the new conservative manifestation of the independence movement. A new army, the Army of the Three Guarantees, was then placed under Iturbide's command to enforce the Plan of Iguala. The plan was so broadly based that it pleased both patriots and loyalists. The goal of independence and the protection of Roman Catholicism brought together all factions.
Iturbide's army was joined by rebel forces from all over Mexico. When the rebels' victory became certain, the viceroy resigned. On August 24, 1821, representatives of the Spanish crown and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala. On September 27, 1821 the Army of the Three Guarantees entered Mexico City and the following day Iturbide proclaimed the independence of the Mexican Empire, as New Spain was to be henceforth called. The Treaty of Córdoba was not ratified by the Spanish Cortes. Iturbide, a former royalist who had become the paladin for Mexican independence, included a special clause in the treaty that left open the possibility for a criollo monarch to be appointed by a Mexican congress if no suitable member of the European royalty would accept the Mexican crown. Half of the new government employees were Iturbide's courtiers.
On the night of the May 18, 1822, a mass demonstration led by the Regiment of Celaya, which Iturbide had commanded during the war, marched through the streets and demanded that their commander-in-chief accept the throne. The following day, the congress declared Iturbide emperor of Mexico. On October 31, 1822 Iturbide dissolved Congress and replaced it with a sympathetic junta.
Ironically in 1810 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had offered Iturbide a post in his revolutionary army, but Iturbide refused and pledged himself to the Spanish cause instead. His defense of Valladolid against the revolutionary forces of José María Morelos dealt a crushing blow to the insurgents, and for this victory Iturbide was given command of the military district of Guanajuato and Michoacán. In 1816, however, grave charges of using his command to create trade monopolies and plundering private property caused his removal.
- Afro-Mexicans in the Mexican War of Independence
- List of wars involving Mexico
- Spanish reconquest of Mexico
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