September 16th is Mexican Independence day and it is right around the corner. Like many things in Mexico, the story of independence is long and complicated. Compare it to other countries such as the U.S., where the independence movement was basically a straight line, or others who simply had their independence granted to them, and the unique nature of Mexican independence can be appreciated. Now if you are a reader of this blog I assume that you aren’t a Mexican local, and we could all use a little history lesson to appreciate the country that has accepted us into its’ busom. So I am writing a brief account of the events to inform us all.
The story starts in the early 1800s as marginalized mixed-race peasants and some high-born Mexicans of Spanish descent (criollos) in New Spain (Mexico) had become disillusioned with the crown and its treatment of locals as 2nd class citizens and much worse. A well regarded priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo had been having secret meetings in his home with other prominent men to discuss the possibility of revolt against the crown.
Ignacio Allende, a famed military leader, joined the secret meetings to discuss the validity of Spanish rule in New Spain at the home of Hidalgo. In the early morning of Sept 16, after discovering that loyalists had gotten wind of his secret metings, Hidalgo ran to the church in the city of Dolores and rang the bells to gather the towns people and asked them to join him in revolt. The “Grito de Dolores” or Cry of Dolores as it has been named, called for an end to 300 years of Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and racial equality in Mexico. By the morning of Sept. 16 he had a mob of 600 men, armed with whatever the could find, ready to fight. Most of his mob was made of the poor and mixed race lower class indians and mestizos who felt that the Spanish and New Spanish aristocracy treated them poorly.
His mob of the poor and neglected marched south from town to town killing all the Spanish and loyalists they could find and recruiting others to join their efforts. On Sept. 28th, numbering around 30,000 they reached the town of Guanajuato and killed some 500 Spanish and criollo loyalists that they found hiding in the Granaditas of Guanajuato (granary).
On Oct. 30th Hidalgo and Allende’s army encountered a small group of Spanish military, hastily organized by the viceroy (Spanish colonial governor of new spain), made up of 1,000 soldiers, 400 horsemen and 2 cannons and defeated them ouside of Mexico City at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. He then committed what scholars roundly agree was his greatest tactical error and decided not to march on Mexico City. No one knows for sure why but most speculate that he wanted to spare the people of Mexico City the violence and plunder that he knew would ensue had he invaded.
He instead took on a defensive strategy and met the spanish army again in January 1811 at the Battle of the Bridge of Calderon and was defeated.
Hidalgo, Allende, and leaders Jimenez, Aldama were all captured in Coahuila, tried, and executed. All of their heads were hung from the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas of Guanajuato where they had slaughtered the 500 loyalists as a warning to those who dared follow in their footsteps.
Following the execution of Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos assumed command of the insurgency capturing key cities. 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 North America. However in 1815 Morelos too was captured, tried and executed by the Spanish.
by 1815 the revolt seemed all but squashed as most major factions and all major leaders had been defeated and captured. Between 1815 and 1821 most independence fighting was done by small bands and factions of rebels. The monarchy in Spain had it all but under control.
in 1821 the crown sent famed military leader Augustine de Iturbide, who gained his reputation fighting Hidalgo’s forces, to squash an insurgency force lead by Vincente Guererro in Oaxaca. Iturbide was a criollo (Person of Spanish descent born in Mexico) who was very conservative and staunch supporter of the established order and monarchy. When a liberal uprising in Spain overthrew the crown and forced King Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal constitution of 1812, establishing a constitutional monarchy, Iturbide saw it as a threat to the status quo in New Spain (Mexico) and called for a meeting with Vincente Guererro in Iguala to discuss joining forces and fighting for independence.
The “Plan of Iguala” established the “three guarantees” for Mexican Independence from Spain: 1) Mexico was to be a monarchy 2) criollos were to have equal rights to peninsulares (Spanish people born in Spain), and the Roman Catholic Church would continue its privileged position in Mexico. Mexicans of mixed or indian blood would still, however, have lesser rights. Guerrero and Iturbide’s forced joined and formed the Army of the Three Guarantees and defeated the remaining Spanish Royalist forces.
On August 24th, the viceroy signed the Treaty of Cordoba which agreed to make Mexico an independent constitutional monarchy. Since no European monarch could be found, Iturbide was named emperor. However, his reign was short lived as in 1823, republicans Santa Ana, who would become the famed general, and Guadaloupe Victoria, another independence leader, overthrew the monarch and established a republic with Guadaloupe Victoria as the first president.
Independence day is celebrated on Sept. 16th as the first day that arms were risen in Mexico against the crown and Hidalgo is considered by all as the “Father of Mexican Independence”. So this weekend when the festivities kick off, this date will mean more than just beers and barbecues to those visitors and ex-pats from afar. Enjoy and VIVA MEXICO!!