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 1821 in the territory of New Spain. The war had its antecedent in the French invasion of Spain in 1808; it 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 inspired 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 among the Creole (native-born) elite.
Political events in Europe had a decisive effect on events in most of Spanish America. In 1808, King Charles IV and Ferdinand VII abdicated in favor of French leader 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; when it was suppressed, the leaders of the movement were jailed.
Despite the defeat in Mexico City, small groups of conspirators met in other cities of New Spain to raise movements against colonial rule. In 1810, after being discovered, Querétaro conspirators chose to take up arms on September 16 in the company of peasants and indigenous inhabitants of Dolores (Guanajuato), who were called to action by the Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
From 1810 the independence movement went through several stages, as 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 such 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 survived as a guerrilla war under the leadership of Vicente Guerrero. By 1820, the few rebel groups survived most 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 the elite groups who had supported Spanish rule. Monarchist Creoles affected by the constitution decided to support the independence of New Spain; they sought an alliance with the former insurgent resistance. Agustín de Iturbide led the military arm of the conspirators and in early 1821 he met Vicente Guerrero. Both proclaimed the Plan of Iguala, which called for the union of all insurgent factions and was supported by both the aristocracy and clergy of New Spain. It called for monarchy in an independent Mexico. Finally, the independence of Mexico was achieved on September 27, 1821.
After that, the mainland of New Spain was organized as the Mexican Empire. This ephemeral Catholic monarchy changed to a federal republic in 1823, due to internal conflicts and the separation of Central America from Mexico.
In some respects, the struggle for Mexican independence had roots extending to the decades after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and was often related to the elite's drive for power. Don Martín Cortés (son of Hernán Cortés), the second marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, led a conspiracy against the Spanish colonial government after it sought to eliminate privileges for the conquistadors, particularly putting limitations on encomiendas. After the suppression of that mid-16th-century conspiracy, the people raised no substantial challenge to royal rule until the Hidalgo revolt of 1810.
Ethnic Spanish born in New Spain developed a different understanding and ties to their New World homeland, a kind of rising Creole patriotism. They did not pursue political independence from Spain until the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian peninsula and defeat of Spain destabilized the monarchy.
In the early 19th century, Napoleon's occupation of Spain led to an outbreak of numerous revolts against colonial government 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. His Grito de Dolores was the first stage of the insurgency for Mexican independence. Before 1810, there was no significant support for independence. Once the Hidalgo revolt was underway, it received 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, as he defined the Spanish colonial government in Mexico. Famed military leader Ignacio Allende was among the attendees. In 1810 Hidalgo concluded that a revolt was needed because of injustices against the poor of Mexico. By this time Hidalgo was known for his achievements at the prestigious San Nicolás Obispo school in Valladolid (now Morelia), and later service there as Rector. 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 rebel leaders including commander Allende, when they learned their conspiracy had been discovered. Hidalgo ran to the church, calling for all the people to gather, and from the pulpit urged them to revolt. where from the pulpit he called upon them to revolt. They all shouted in agreement. The people were a comparatively small group, and poorly armed with whatever was at hand, including sticks and rocks. On the morning of 16 September 1810, Hidalgo called upon the remaining locals who happened to be in the market, and again, from the pulpit, 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. When they reached the town of Guanajuato on September 28, they found Spanish forces barricaded inside the public granary. Among them were some 'forced' Royalists, creoles who had served and sided with the Spanish. By this time, the rebels numbered 30,000 and the battle was horrific. They killed more than 500 Spanish and creoles, and marched on toward Mexico City.
The Viceroy 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, Hidalgo's army encountered Spanish military resistance at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces, fought them, and achieved victory. When the cannons were captured by the rebels, the surviving Royalists retreated to the City.
Despite having the advantage, Hidalgo retreated, against the counsel of Allende. This retreat, on the verge of apparent victory, has puzzled historians and biographers ever since. They generally believe that Hidalgo wanted to spare the numerous Mexican citizens in Mexico City from the inevitable sacking and plunder that would have ensued. His retreat is considered Hidalgo's greatest tactical error.
Rebel survivors 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.
But 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 of treason and sentenced to death, except for Mariano Abasolo. He was sent to Spain to serve a life sentence in prison. 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 and review by 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 dared follow in their footsteps.
Following the execution of Hidalgo, José María Morelos took over leadership of the insurgency. He achieved the occupation of the cities of Oaxaca and Acapulco. In 1813, he convened the Congress of Chilpancingo to bring representatives together 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". A long period of war followed in the Siege of Cuautla. In 1815, Morelos was captured by Spanish colonial authorities, tried and executed for treason.
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Father Hidalgo is today remembered today as the Father of his Country, the great hero of Mexico's War for Independence. There are numerous hagiographic biographies of him.
The truth about Hidalgo is more complex. 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 historians ask, "What if?" After decades of abuse of Creoles and poor mestizos, Hidalgo found that there was a vast well of resentment and hatred of the Spanish government. He provided the catalyst for Mexico's poor to vent their anger on the hated "gachipines" or Spaniards, but his "army" was impossible to manage or control.
His leadership decisions, most importantly, his retreat from Mexico City, contributed to his defeat. Historians can only speculate about the result if Hidalgo had pushed into Mexico City in November 1810. Hidalgo appeared to be 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 in Guanajuato and other towns alienated the group most vital to any independence movement: middle-class and wealthy creoles like himself. They were needed to develop a new identity and government for Mexico, one that would allow Mexicans to break from Spain.
Hidalgo achieved mythic status after his death. His martyrdom was an example to others who picked up the fallen banner of freedom and independence. He influenced later fighters such as José María Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and others . Today, Hidalgo's remains are held 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 for independence from Spain was done by isolated guerrilla bands. From these, two leaders arose: Guadalupe Victoria (born José Miguel Fernández y Félix) in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca, both of whom gained allegiance and respect from their followers. Believing the situation under control, the Spanish viceroy 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 Colonel Agustín de Iturbide, to defeat Guerrero's army in Oaxaca. Iturbide, a native of Valladolid (now Morelia), had gained renown for his zeal against Hidalgo's and Morelos's rebels during the early independence struggle. A favorite of the Mexican church hierarchy, Iturbide symbolized conservative criollo values; he was devoutly religious, and committed to the defense of property rights and social privileges. He also resented his lack of promotion and failure to gain 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, part of an expeditionary force assembled to suppress the independence movements in the Americas, had turned against the monarchy. They compelled the reluctant Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. When news of the liberal charter reached Mexico, Iturbide perceived it both as a threat to the status quo and a catalyst to rouse the criollos to gain control of Mexico. Independence was achieved when conservative Royalist forces in the colonies chose to rise up against the liberal regime in Spain; it was an about-face compared to their previous opposition to the peasant insurgency. After an initial clash with Guerrero's forces, Iturbide assumed command of the army. At Iguala, he 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 would be given equal rights and privileges to penisulares; and the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico would retain its privileges and position as the established 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 this conservative independence movement. A new army, the Army of the Three Guarantees, was 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 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 henceforth to be called. The Treaty of Córdoba was not ratified by the Spanish Cortes. Iturbide 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 appointed were Iturbide's followers.
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 their commander-in-chief to 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.
In 1810 Hidalgo had offered Iturbide a post in his revolutionary army, but the officer at the time pledged himself to the royalist Spanish cause. His defense of Valladolid against the revolutionary forces of José María Morelos dealt a crushing blow to the insurgents. 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 plunder private property had resulted in his removal.
- Afro-Mexicans in the Mexican War of Independence
- List of wars involving Mexico
- Spanish reconquest of Mexico
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