Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hidalgo Revolt: For the Independence of Mexico

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
by Jose Clemente Orozco
It was the revolt that moved a country towards independence. The Revolt Fr. Miguel Hidalgo plunged Mexico to a decade long war for independence. A revolt rooted from centuries of oppression, inequality, and discrimination, it brought out the best and the worst of men. A revolt drove by anger and vengeance that ultimately caused Hidalgo’s downfall.

Mexico before 1810, had been one of Spain’s biggest colonies in the Americas. Conquistadors under Hernan Cortez ended the centuries old Aztec Empire in the 16th century and started a three century old colonial rule under a new entity known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Under the rule of the Viceroyalty, natives or Amerindians fell prey to the abuses and excesses of their colonizers. Their progress and status degraded so low that they were virtually slaves, without being labelled as such. Later on, even Spaniards born in the colonies, as creoles, became also victims of prejudice and discrimination of Spaniards from Spain, or known as peninsulares or gachupines to the natives and creoles. After the American and French Revolution, ideas of nationalism and liberty spread across Europe and the Americas. National consciousness and liberalism took root in Mexico.

Change came in 1808, when Spain fell to the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte who installed his brother Joseph as the new King of Spain. As news of the fall of King Ferdinand VII reached the American colonies, juntas or council appeared in various major cities and decided on the fate of their respective colonies. In Mexico, the same happened. Creoles demanded the establishing of a junta. The Viceroy of New Spain, Jose de Iturrigaray sympathized with the creoles. However, the peninsulares acted against such moves and they launch a coup that ousted Iturrigaray. The creoles never stopped in calling for a junta, which they saw a way to make the colony autonomous and a path towards reforms.

Conspiracy developed in the viceroyalty for the purpose of establishing a junta. A plot had been discovered in December 1809 in Valladolid in Michoacan. But the interim Viceroy, Francisco Javier de Lizana y Beaumont showed leniency towards the conspirators to the dismay of the peninsulares. Following the plot in Valldolid came another plot in Queratero.

The Queretero conspiracy involved individuals from different sectors that aimed for the creation of a junta and establishing autonomy for Mexico. Clerics, officials, and soldiers came together to formulate a path towards autonomy. They met under the auspices of a literary society. Major figures included the Corregidor of Queretaro, Miguel de Dominguez, and his wife, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez otherwise known as “La Corregidora.” Creole officers in the militia, such as Ignacio de Allende and the commander of the cavalry unit of the Queen’s militia, Juan Aldama joined as well. Clerics with a creole background also supported cause. Fr. Miguel Hidalgo became one of the clerics who supported strongly the conspiracy.

Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, in particular, had an interesting background. A priest who received instruction from the Jesuit became aware of the ideals of the Enlightenment and Liberalism. When he became a priest, he followed an unorthodox lifestyle. Drank, read forbidden books, and even fathered children. Eventually, in 1807, the Inquisition transferred him to the impoverished town of Dolores. However, Fr. Hidalgo turned around the lives of his parishioners, mostly natives. He defied government economic restrictions such as monopolies in wine. Hidalgo promoted agricultural development and other crafts. With his actions, he earned the respect of many natives and creoles alike.

The Conspiracy planned a revolution. The plotter in Queretaro devised a revolution across Mexico that would expel the dreaded gachupines and the evil colonial government, set up a junta that would rule Mexico in the name of the Spanish King Ferdinand VII. From that point, they would have a better chance of declaring independence later on. They set the date for the said revolution in December 1810.

The Spanish authorities, however, discovered the conspiracy in September 1810. Colonial authorities arrested La Corregidora, who before being captured sent word to Allende and Aldama about the discovery of their plans. In turn, Allende and Aldama rushed to Fr. Hidalgo in Dolores. At a critical junction and on the brink of life or death, they made a fateful decision in the early Sunday morning of September 16, 1810. 

Hidalgo made the Cry of Dolores or the Grito de Dolores. Upon hearing the bells of the church of Dolores, the parishioners woke up and gathered to the church not to hear a mass but a cry made by their parish priest. Fr. Hidalgo made a mesmerizing and inspirational speech to the listeners, arousing the sentiment of a revolution. The exact contents of the speech had been lost, nevertheless it has been said to have attack the indignities that the gachupines had committed to the people. In the end of the cry, he shouted the following: Long Live America! Long Live Ferdinand VII! Long Live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Death to the bad government! On which, the people shouted in reply: Death to the Gachupines! After the cry, Hidalgo then ascended as the leader of the rebels. The bells of Dolores continued to ring and called more people to join what it seemed to be an army that will expel the hated government and gachupines. They released supporters of independence from local prisons, recruited more men, and armed themselves with whatever weapons they have, ranging from lances, to pitchforks, to bows and arrows.

Hidalgo’s Army, however, differ greatly from a truly well-organized fighting force. It composed mainly of natives armed with scanty weapons. Disciplined did not exist as most of them fought driven by emotion of anger and hatred towards their oppressors – the colonial government and the gachupines. Hence, they attacked peninsulares and their properties. Looted and pillage what they could from them. Brutal killing smeared the reputation of Hidalgo’s army.

Hidalgo’s army advanced quickly towards the capital, gaining more supporters on the way. When they captured Atotonilco, Hidalgo took a banner depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe, the miraculous dark-skinned virgin then became a symbol for the rebels and for Mexico. The rebels then captured cities like San Miguel el Grande and Celaya. After the fall of Celaya, the rebels conferred to Hidalgo the title of Generalissimo. Allende on the other became the Lieutenant General of Hidalgo.

Guanajuato, rich and prosperous city for the peninsulares fell to Hidalgo on September 28, 1810. Hidalgo’s 50,000 rag tag army overran the defenses. However, the conquest of Guanajuato brought out a terrible image for the rebels. When the city fell, 400 to 600 peninsulares, with women and children, and some defenders took refuge in the granaries or Alhondiga along with the riches of the Guanajuato.  Alhondiga proved to be small fortress, complete with stone walls. The rebels had difficult time of besieging the place. It took them two days before a certain miner named Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez Amaro, nicknamed El Pipila, crawled low towards the wooden door of the Alhondiga with tar and a torch and a huge slab of stone in his back for protection. El Pipila successfully crawled to the door and burned it. Upon the opening of the entrance, Hidalgo’s soldiers rampage with unlimited ferocity and blood thirst. All of the peninsulares, whether women and children, saw their brutal demise in the hands of the rebels who gone berserk.

The incident marked the rebels as barbarians and cruel. More incidents of brutal massacres followed after Guanajuto. Similar fate came to the Peninsulares in San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. Hidalgo’s revolution lose the support of many creoles who became appalled by the unjust and merciless killings of the natives. Hidalgo attempted to prevent such events from happening again to no avail.

Following Hidalgo’s advance, rebellions sprang out in different parts of Mexico. In the north, Allende led the rebels to victory. Same in the south under the command of Jose Morelos. Fr. Luis de Herrera led the rebels in San Luis Potosi. Jose Antonio “El Amo” Torres commanded rebels in Guadalajara. In Nayarit, Jose Maria Mercado launched a rebellion in the area. In Saltillo, Ignacio Jimenez rebelled against the government while Juan Bautista Casas also rose up in revolt in Texas. 

Meanwhile, the Peninsulares and colonial authorities condemned the revolt. The new Viceroy, Francisco Xavier de Venegas, prepared the defense of Mexico City and raise an army to face the rebels. In addition he offered a huge P10,000 rewards for the heads of the leaders of the revolt. He also urged the church to act against their fellow priest Hidalgo. In compliance, the Bishop of Michoacan, Manuel Abad y Queipo, issued the excommunication of Hidalgo and all those who would support the revolt.

Even with excommunication, the advance of Hidalgo continued and threatened to move on Mexico City. Hidalgo captured Valladolid, forcing Bishop Abad to flee his church. They then followed through by capturing Acamboro. And on October 30, 1810, they defeated royalist forces under the command of Torquato Trujillo in the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. Hidalgo threatened to attack Mexico City when it captured a suburb of the city, Cuajimalpa. But a full scale attack on the city never materialized, even though Hidalgo commanded about 80,000 to 100,000 of rebels. Reasons of Hidalgo’s hesitation to attack remained unknown. But reasons ranged from indecisiveness in part of Hidalgo and his commanders, to low in supply, or fear of a bloodbath once the city had fallen. His decision not to launch a full scale assault on Mexico City marked the beginning of the end of Hidalgo’s revolt.

Hidalgo began to face defeat from Spanish royalist forces.  Royalist forces under General Felix Calleja defeated rebel forces in the Battle of Aculco. Hidalgo then retreated to Valladolid, while his lieutenant, Jose Allende prepared the defense of Guanajuato in hope of dividing the Spanish army’s attention. In Valladolid, Hidalgo, in order to maintain the spirit of and morale of his army and also as form of punishing the peninsulares for their resistance, ordered the execution of numerous gachupines. Calleja exacted revenge when on November 25, his forces retook Guanajuato from the forces under the command of Allende. Calleja then ordered the execution of numerous rebels in the same granary where more than 400 saw a bloody end in the hands of the rebels. After the fall of Guanajuato, Allende and Hidalgo retreated to Guadalajara with over a 100,000 men remaining.

Hidalgo then took measures to re-energize his revolt. He allowed the death of many peninsulares and organized a formal government. In hope of getting help, he sent Pascasio Ortiz to the United States. He also abolished slavery, established equality among all citizens, and ordered that natives had the only right to till farmlands. In jubilation, the people gave him the title of Alteza Serenisima or the Most Serene Highness. Nevertheless, Hidalgo continued to face defeat.

Hidalgo continued to suffer defeat at the start of 1811. On January 17, 1811, Hidalgo’s army of over 100,000 failed to defeat a much smaller royalist force of 6,000 men. Hidalgo’s undisciplined and ill-equipped army had no match to the much disciplined, well-trained, and well-armed royalist forces. It proved to be true when the royalist forces just hit a rebel munition wagon, Hidalgo’s army became disorganized. It gave the royalist forces an opportunity to defeat the rebels. After the battle, Guadalajara fell to royalist forces causing Hidalgo to flee to Aguascalientes and then to Zacatecas. While in retreat, in Hacienda del Pabellon, Hidalgo’s lieutenants deposed him as commander of the rebel army and replaced by Allende. They then decided to flee to the United States to seek help and support.

Hidalgo failed to escape. On March 21, 1811, Hidalgo with Allende, Jose Mariano Jimenez, and Juan Aldama were betrayed by a former comrade in the revolt, Ignacio Elizondo. Elizondo helped the royalist to capture Hidalgo in Acatita de Bajan. The royalist then moved Hidalgo to Chihuahua and sent them to trial. Obviously, the court sentenced them to death. On June 26, 1811, Ignacio Allende, Jose Mariano Jimenez, and Juan Aldama saw their demise in form of a firing squad. Hidalgo, on the other hand, had to face the Inquisition that defrocked him or removed him from the clergy. He then faced the firing squad on July 30. The authorities took the heads of Aldama, Jimenez, Allende, and Hidalgo to the same granary in Guanajuato and placed them in cages to be displayed and serve as warning for any future rebels.

Revolt continued nevertheless. Some of Hidalgo’s follower continued to fight for independence, the strongest being Jose Maria Morelos in the south.  The Revolt of Hidalgo started a decade long fight for the independence of Mexico. Although it fought for a righteous cause, the means of attaining it through an army characterize by unimaginable brutality smeared somehow its reputation. Later on, many independence fighters learned from Hidalgo’s lack of enforcement of discipline. But still, it does not remove the fact that Hidalgo’s revolt inspired the Mexicans to rise up against their colonizer and for the independence that they longed for.

See also:

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

Chasteen, John. Americanos: Latin America's Struggle for Independence. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Gonzalbo, Pablo et. al. A New Compact History of Mexico. Mexico, D.F.: El Colegio de Mexico, 2013.

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

Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010

Miller, Robert Ryal. Mexico: A History. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

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