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Mexican Independence from Spain - The Hidalgo Era, 1810-1811

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Mexican Independence from Spain - The Hidalgo Era, 1810-1811

Miguel Hidalgo, Father of Mexican Independence

1864 Painting by Joaquin Ramirez

Miguel Hidalgo and Mexican Independence:

Mexican Independence from Spain was a long and bloody process, which took over a decade and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Although there had been conspiracies and movements before September of 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo's Cry of Dolores was the spark that ignited Mexican resentment against the Spanish and set the revolution in motion. Between the Cry of Dolores and his execution in July 1811, Hidalgo was the [i]de facto[/i] leader of the independence movement.

Discontent in Mexico:

By 1810, many Mexicans were chafing at Spanish rule. Spain had always favored native Spaniards over creoles, or men and women born in Mexico to Spanish parents. All of the best and most lucrative positions in the colonial administration were reserved for men born in Spain, while those born in Mexico had to be content with lesser jobs. In addition, taxes were raised greatly to pay for Spanish wars in Europe. Some men, including Hidalgo, were ruined by the new tax policies. Spain's stranglehold on trade meant that Mexicans could not find competitive markets for their goods.

Napoleon and Spain:

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and imprisoned both King Charles IV and his heir, Ferdinand VII. Word of this outrage quickly spread to the New World, where many people did not know how to react. Those who had long advocated independence seized upon this act as a reason to cut ties with Spain. Even many who remained loyal to the crown were convinced that it was in everyone's best interests to declare limited independence in defiance of France: these men and women believed that they would revert to being loyal Spanish colonists when Spain's rightful rulers were restored.

Hidalgo and Allende:

Before the struggle for independence broke out, there were numerous conspiracies intended to overthrow the Viceroy in Mexico City. Usually these were found out by the authorities and the conspirators harshly punished. In 1810 such a conspiracy formed in and around the city of Querétaro. Two of the members were professional soldier Ignacio Allende and parish priest Father Miguel Hidalgo. They hoarded weapons and recruited soldiers and officers to their cause. The revolution was to begin December of 1810.

The Cry of Dolores:

The conspiracy was found out, however, and the conspirators were forced to act. On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo rang the church bells in the town of Dolores, summoning the men from the fields and nearby market. There he gave his famous "Grito de Dolores" or "Cry of Dolores" in which he announced his intention to take up arms against the Spanish and invited the people to join him. Within moments, hundreds of men took up arms and followed the radical priest.

The Siege of Guanajuato:

Hidalgo had tapped into a deep well of resentment and the rebel horde soon swelled to as many as 80,000, looting cities and killing Spaniards as it went. On September 28 this mob descended on the town of Guanajuato, where all of the Spaniards and wealthy creoles had fortified the public granary. After a day of bitter fighting, the rebels broke in and stormed the granary, killing almost everyone inside, sparing only women and children. By now, Hidalgo and Allende had the attention of the Viceroy in Mexico City, and the royalist army stationed at San Luis Potosí was summoned to protect the capital.

The Battle of Monte de las Cruces:

The rebel army kept marching on Mexico City, and Spanish officers and bureaucrats feared that the army would not arrive in time to save them. Every available soldier was sent out under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Torcuato Trujillo. They met the rebels outside the city at Monte de las Cruces, where another pitched battle was fought. Although they fought bravely, the Spanish force was greatly outnumbered and eventually driven back to Mexico City.

Retreat:

After the victory at Monte de las Cruces, Hidalgo did not press into Mexico City but surprisingly retreated. Hidalgo’s retreat when Mexico City was within his grasp was a huge tactical mistake. Allende and Hidalgo split up, with most of the professional soldiers going with Allende. After the Spanish army under General Felix Calleja drove Allende out of Guanajuato, the two men once again joined forces in Guadalajara.

Calderon Bridge:

In January of 1811, Calleja caught up with Allende and Hidalgo outside of Guadalajara. The rebels had fortified the Calderon Bridge, which leads into the city. The two armies clashed on January 17, 1811; Hidalgo's army numbered near 80,000 to the 6,000 or so led by Calleja. Calleja's troops were well-equipped, trained and disciplined, however, and Hidalgo's soldiers were not. The two armies fought to a standstill until a lucky Spanish cannonball ignited a rebel munitions wagon, creating a great explosion and much smoke. The rebel army scattered.

Hidalgo’s Legacy of Independence:

Their army scattered, Allende, Hidalgo and the other rebel leaders tried to make their way north to the US, where they could regroup. They were betrayed, however, and captured. All of the leaders, including Hidalgo and Allende, were put on trial and executed. The last one to die was Hidalgo, on July 30,1811: his trial had taken longer because as a priest, the Inquisition had to be involved in his interrogation.

The executions of Hidalgo and Allende mark the ending of the first phase of Mexico's War of Independence. It would be another priest, Jose Maria Morelos, who would pick up where they left off and lead the struggle until his own execution in 1815. Morelos learned from Hidalgo's mistakes and tried to win over the Mexican Creole class to his struggle while employing a smaller, swifter and more disciplined army.

As for Hidalgo and Allende, they are considered great heroes in Mexico. Their remains are interred at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City.

Sources:

Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present.. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962

Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

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