Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cry of Dolores: Cry for Change and Independence

Hidalgo in the center with the banner depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe
From a sleepy town, the Cry of Dolores marked the end of Spanish rule in Mexico. A cry made by a group of men and women dedicated to the ideas of Enlightenment led by man from the least suspected sector of colonial Mexican society. It signaled an uprising that later inspired Mexico’s fight for independence.

The Cry of Dolores happened on September 16, 1810. Because of an uncovered plot to remove the Spanish colonial authorities, Fr. Miguel Hidalgo made the cry in his parish in the town of Dolores in the province of Guanajuato. It marked the beginning of the Hidalgo Revolt and eventually recognized as Mexico’s declaration of independence.

The events leading to the cry and the following revolt had been the result of centuries of colonization, subjugation, oppression, and discrimination. From the time of the cry, Spain controlled Mexico since the 16th century. The fall of the Aztecs to the conquistadors led to the foundation of the Spanish colonial authority under the name of Viceroyalty of Nueva EspaƱa or New Spain. Spanish colonial official initiated policies that reduced the standards of living of the natives. Policies on landownership, taxation, tribute, force labor, and monopolies made the lives of natives a living hell. These caused a deep resentment in the part of the natives. Other than natives, mestizos and crioles or creoles also had their own bitterness towards Spanish colonial authorities. Creoles, mestizos, and Spaniards from Spain, known as peninsulares had differences. Mestizos came parents with one side Spaniard and the other native. Creoles on the other hand were Spaniards born in the colonies, in this situation Mexico. The peninsulares showed prejudice and biases against the creoles as well as mestizos. This led the mestizos, creoles, and the natives to develop a sense of difference from peninsulares, which developed when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.

The French Revolution created a new wave of ideas centered on the slogan of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It spread the idea of a nation and the ideas of Enlightenment. This attracted many intellectuals and other individuals who gained access to books that preached about the ideas of the French Revolution. One of them turned out from the sector least suspected of liberal and radical ideas – the clergy.

Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, served as the parish priest of Dolores. His name became infamous among the clergy for his unorthodox attitude. The clergy, most especially those in the Spanish colonies, showed deep conservatism and loyalty to rule of the crown. Hidalgo, on the other hand, acted freely, loved wine, women, and liberal books. When the Inquisition of Mexico discovered his behavior, they sent him to Dolores in 1807 as an unofficial punishment. Nevertheless, Hidalgo continued to deviate from the norms. The rebel priest became popular among his parishioners, including natives, for his audacity to go against policies of the colonial authorities. For example, he violated the government monopoly on wine, honey, and silk by promoting viticulture, sericulture, and apiculture among his congregation. Other than his progressive projects, he also became involve with revolutionaries studying and promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment.

In 1808, a chance came for the supporter of the Enlightenment came. France’s Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph as her new King. Automatically, the whole of Spanish America convened juntas or councils to discuss their own faith. It became a chance for revolutionaries to voice their ideas and call for independence, or at least, autonomy. In Mexico, the viceroy supported the suggestions of liberals, including mestizos and creoles, to make Mexico autonomous from Spain. However, the peninsulares, with the support of the authorities in Spain, launched a coup to depose the viceroy and strongly reinstate and cement the continuation of Spanish colonial rule. The interruption of the peninsulares affected the emotional sentiments of liberal mestizos and creoles and saw that there was no chance for a political way to gain more rights and power. They started to believe that armed conflict should be use.

In December 1809, a conspiracy had been discovered. It happened in Valladolid de Michoacan and involved militia and church officials. The conspiracy included an armed uprising in order to establish a junta that would rule Mexico on behalf of Ferdinand VII. Obviously, they did not want to completely severe ties with the crown, but they only wanted to achieve better treatment and more voice in the daily state affairs. Colonial authorities discovered the Valladolid conspiracy and took it down immediately. But some elements of the conspiracy continued and moved to the province of Queretaro.

The Querataro Conspiracy involved many officials. The conspiracy aimed, like the previous one, to start a revolution then establish a junta that would rule Mexico in the name of Ferdinand VII and expel the hated Peninsulares from Mexico and used their properties to fund the junta. Military officials, like the Captain of the Queen’s Regiment, Juan Aldama, and another military officer, Ignacio de Allende, took part in the conspiracy. Local officials, like the Corregidor or the head of the province, Miguel Dominguez and his wife, Josefa Ortiz de Domingues otherwise known as “la corregidora” supported the conspiracy and its enlightened ideas. Church officials also played part, with Fr. Miguel Hidalgo being the most prominent. They met in Queretaro to discuss their plans of an uprising under the cover of a literary society discussion. They hoped to start their revolution on December 1810 and began collecting weapons and manufacture lances in Dolores.

However, authorities discovered the plot by September. Colonial authorities made Miguel Dominguez to act against the conspirators. Authorities arrested Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, but La Corregidora managed to send a warning to Ignacio Allende, who then warned Fr. Hidalgo. The conspirators converge in Dolores. They had no choice but to start the armed struggle earlier than planned. And so, at the Sunday morning of the September 16, 1810, to the sounds of the bells of the church of Dolores, the congregation, including natives, mestizos, and creoles, gather around the church and saw Fr. Hidalgo and his companion ready to face them. Hidalgo then gave El Grito de Dolores or the the Cry of Dolores calling the people to fight against the oppressive peninsular colonial government. No one knew the exact speech but in the end, Hidalgo shouted: Long Live America! Long Live Ferdianand VII! Long Live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Remove the bad government and death to the gachupines! Hidalgo made sure that he would not alienate the creoles and mestizo who respected King Ferdinand VII and recognized it. He also used the Virgin of Guadalupe, deemed as an important symbol of Mexico. Lastly, he recognized the sovereignty of Ferdinand VII but hated the terrible colonial government in Mexico and called for the expulsion of the gachupines (a term used for peninsulares). 

The cry electrified those who listened. It cemented Hidalgo as the leader of the conspirators and the rebellion as well. The natives, who despised the peninsulares, also became aroused by the call. Immediately, after the Grito, revolutionaries in prison were released and the people turned against the peninsulares, many them died in the hands of disgruntled natives who hold grudges for centuries of oppression. They marched towards the capital, Mexico City with the banner depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe as their color.

However, the forces of the peninsulares proved to be too much against the unruly and undisciplined army of Hidalgo. During the battle for Mexico City, Hidalgo’s forces crumble because of its unpreparedness and indecisiveness. Hidalgo’s army fell and he along with other leaders captured by the Spanish authorities and executed. Hidalgo's lieutenants faced the firing squad on June 26, while it took a month before Hidalgo faced execution on July 30, 1811. 

Although Hidalgo fell, the Cry and the revolt himself became a symbol of independence for Mexico. The Cry itself served as the focus of the independence celebration during September 16. The President of Mexico makes a cry from the balcony of the National Palace in front of a huge crowd gathered in the plaza. In the cry, the President makes homage to leaders of the Hidalgo Revolt ending with the cry: ¡Viva Mexico!

See Also:

Guedea, Virginia. "Hidalgo Revolt" in Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico. Edited by Michael Werner. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.

Guedea, Virginia. "Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel" in Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico. Edited by Michael Werner. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.

Foster, Lynn. A Brief History of Mexico. New York, New York: Fact On File, 2010.

Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Russell, Philip. The History of Mexico: From Pre-Conquest to Present. New York, New York: Routledge, 2010.

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