Hidalgo, Morelos, and Itúrbide


(See Mexican country notes for brief chronology)




In 1810, Napoleon Bonaparte had been in control of Spain since 1808; king Carlos IV had been deposed; Napoleon's brother José Bonaparte had been installed as the new king of Spain (José I); and Carlos IV's son, the future Fernando VII, was a prisoner of Napoleon's in France. Since Mexico, like the rest of Spanish America, was legally an integral part of Spain, Mexico's European ruler was, therefore, the French dictator and emperor, Napoleon. As in most of the rest of Spanish America, Mexico's criollos (native-born Spanish Americans) rose against Napoleon in order to hold Mexico for the ruler they considered legitimate; i.e., Fernando VII. Not all Spaniards or Mexican criollos, however, favored the Spanish king; many were Enlightenment intellectuals who favored the progressive reforms instituted by Napoleon. An example is the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City, who managed to keep Mexico City and environs firmly in Spanish (that is, French-controlled Spanish) hands. As a result, in Mexico, unlike the rest of Spanish America, the independence movement started in rural areas, notably in the small town of Dolores, about 100 miles NW of Mexico City.




The man who began the Mexican War of Independence was Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811). He was a man of good character, the son of a farmer, and a good student. He studied French philosophy (notably Jean-Jacques Rousseau), and he approved of the French Revolution. However, he was the father of two daughters who lived in his house, he opposed the Pope, he questioned the Catholic doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus' mother Mary. As a result of these facts he was denounced and then jailed by the Inquisition, but he was freed and sent back into internal exile in his home town of Dolores. There he learned the local native languages; he organized an orchestra for the Indians; he improved the vineyards, the cultivation of mulberry trees, and various industries such as pottery, the tannery, bricks, etc. He also engaged in a special mission for the poor. By 1810 he had joined the criollo conspiracy in the city of Querétaro. On September 16, 1810 (Mexican Independence Day) he made his famous "Grito de Dolores" (independence proclamation of Dolores). The cry itself is this: "¡Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe! ¡Muera el mal gobierno! ¡Mueran los gachupines!" (Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Down with bad government! Down with the nasty Spaniards!) Immediately, he armed the workers and he freed prisoners from the local jail. At the Dolores church he said: "My children, this day comes to us a new dispensation. Are you ready to receive it? Will you be free? Will you make the effort to recover from the hated Spaniards the lands stolen from your forefathers 300 years ago?"

Father Hidalgo led an army composed of 50,000 native soldiers. It was a very spirited army, but it lacked discipline. This army ravaged the region from Querétaro to Guadalajara. Then it marched toward Mexico City, but it stopped. Because it hesitated too long it lost momentum, when it is possible that, had it continued to the capital, it could have defeated the Spanish army in Mexico City. The army then deserted Hidalgo. He was driven north to Saltillo. On January 11, 1811, he was captured by the Spanish army, defrocked by the Catholic Church, and executed by the Spaniards. When Mexico became a republic in 1824, Hidalgo was considered a kind of secular saint. The state of Hidalgo was named for him, and the name of his town was changed to Dolores Hidalgo.





The second phase of the Mexican War of Independence was led by José María Morelos, who, like Miguel Hidalgo, was a Catholic priest. This phase goes from the execution of Fr. Hidalgo in 1811 until Morelos' execution by the Spanish royal army in 1815. Morelos, however, begins his militant independence activity as one of Hidalgo's lieutenants in 1810. Morelos leads the second, third, and fourth independence campaigns until his death. Because of his central position in the order of events in Mexico's fight for independence, because of his talents and his martyrdom, Morelos is considered the major hero of Mexico's independence campaigns.

For the giant statue of Morelos in the central plaza in Cuernavaca, click here: Cuernavaca #10.

For a separate narrative of Morelos' life and achievements, see the following pages: Morelos.





The third phase of Mexico's War of Independence covers the years 1825 to 1821. The principal figure in this phase is Agustín de Iturbide (Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Aramburu, 1783-1824). As his father was from Spain and his mother was a Mexican Spanish criolla connected to a noble family, he was born and raised in Mexico with royalist sympathies. Iturbide joined the Spanish royal army in 1797, and he fought for Spain against the insurrections of Hidalgo and Morelos. In 1815 he led the defeat of Morelos, but in 1816 he was banished from the Spanish army due to accusations of misuse of army funds for his own profit. He switched sides from a supporter of Spain to a supporter and leader of the independence movement, however, in 1820, when liberals in Spain under Rafael Riego forced king Fernando VII to govern under a liberal constitution. Due to this change in European Spanish politics, the conservative Mexican criollos, including Iturbide, opted for independence from Spain. In 1820, criollos seized Spanish banks and mines in Mexico. The last actual fighting between royalist and insurrectionist forces took place in January 1821. The following month conservative and liberal revolutionaries come to an agreement by signing the famous Plan de Iguala (Iguala is a town south of Mexico City). The three principal points in this "plan", also known as the Three Guarantees (las Tres Garantías), are (1) a declaration of independence, (2) the creation of a constitutional monarchy, and (3) the institution of the Catholic religion as the only legal religion in Mexico. There is no provision in the Plan for native rights. The throne is offered to Fernando VII of Spain or one of his brothers, but they never come to occupy it. Iturbide manages to get most of the troops, both insurrectionist and royalist, to come together in one unified army called the Ejército Trigarante (the tri-guarantee army). In August, 1821, the treaty ending the war between Mexico and Spain is signed, and the Ejército Trigarante enters the capital in triumph (=> Triumphal Entry). Iturbide presides the formation of the new government; he is promoted to Generalísimo; and he is awarded a fortune in money and land (in Texas) that elevates him to a power level similar to the former viceroys. In 1822, Iturbide is proclaimed emperor with the name of Agustín I. In December of this year the Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna (the same general made famous at the battle of the Álamo in Texas in 1836) rose against the Mexican empire and declared support for a republican government. So much pressure builds against Agustín I (i.e., Iburbide) that he abdicates in 1823. After living in exile in Europe, Iturbide returns to Mexico in 1824, where he is arrested and summarily executed. Shortly after Iturbide was deposed Spain tried to recapture Mexico, but General Santa Anna defeated the Spanish invaders on the coast at Tampico.


In 1823, Guatemala and the rest of Central America except for Panamá separate from Mexico.