The Mexican War of Independence was the struggle of the oppressed people against feudal Spain, which had been plundering its colony for three centuries. The war of liberation was not only the fight of the Mexicans for independence, but also a great war of the Indians of Mexico for their land. The war was a grassroots indignation of the downtrodden classes and ethnic groups, and a spontaneous uprising of the peasantry against feudal oppression.
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By the beginning of the 19th century, most Latin American countries were colonies of two European feudal absolutist powers – Spain and Portugal. The economic development of the Latin American colonies was fully subordinated to the interests of the Spanish crown (Stein 22). Negative effects of Spanish rule had an impact on trade: for example, between Mexico and Peru, it was allowed to transport goods for the amount of no more than 100 thousand pesos a year. The rest of the trade went only through Spanish ports. For the sake of the Spanish wine merchants, whole vineyards were cut down in Mexico (Henderson 4-6). Indians and mestizos were considered as second-class people in Mexico while it remained under Spanish rule. The Indians became slaves; they paid tribute and worked on plantations and mines, bearing the burden of maintaining the church that was an essential part of the Spanish colonial system. Church tithes began to be demanded from the Indians, as well as fees for marriage, baptism, and burial (Henderson 6-9). Such colony management paved the way for national and social struggle for the establishment of a new nation.
The colonization of Mexico, which had such devastating consequences for its peoples, objectively contributed to the formation of a historically more progressive socio-economic formation in the country where pre-feudal relations had previously reigned supreme. Prerequisites arose for the gradual involvement of North and Central America in the orbit of capitalist development and their inclusion in the system of the emerging global market. However, the colonialists themselves were least concerned about the ideas of social progress. Caring only for their own benefit, they plundered the natural wealth of Mexico (Stein 12-14). Also, they mercilessly exploited the masses, brutally cracked down on those who showed the slightest discontent, established a regime that impeded the growth of the productive forces of the colony in favor of the interests of the metropolis.
Creole and Mestizo intellectuals, who read smuggled writings of Voltaire, Diderot, and Russo, as well as the Jefferson Declaration, dreamed of overthrowing the royal power and creating a new republic. It became apparent that the Spanish rule in Mexico was coming to an end. In the event of an uprising, Creoles could count on military support from the United States and Great Britain, in exchange for trade privileges.
The anti-colonial war in Mexico that unfolded after the occupation of Spain by Napoleon’s troops developed under the influence of the French Revolution and the War of Independence in the United States. The immediate impetus for the rise of the liberation movement in New Spain, as well as in other Spanish colonies, was the events of 1808 in the mother country – a crisis of power as a result of French intervention and the successive abdication of Kings Charles IV and Ferdinand VII (Henderson 32-33). Bonaparte’s activities inflicted serious damage on the financial and economic interests of the Creoles, who were burdened even by greater duties in order to maximize the funds for warfare. In circles of freethinking Creoles, dissatisfaction with the colonial status of New Spain grew, especially in the context of political events taking place in the mother country. At the same time, the liberation movement did not originate among the capital’s Creoles (whites of American origin), but in the center of the mining region.
Miguel Hidalgo, a rural priest, also began to think about a rebellion against the Spanish crown. In 1809, he was already 56 years old, but age did not become an obstacle to active work to consolidate supporters. The elderly priest began to study military craft diligently – first of all, engineering, technical, and artillery disciplines.
At the same time, Hidalgo set about developing a practical plan for the military operation to start the uprising. He joined one of the separatist circles – along with Corregidor Queretaro Miguel de Dominguez, his wife Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, Captain Ignacio Allende, and some other Mexican revolutionaries. Initially, it was decided to set the date for the uprising on December 1, 1810. Captain Ignacio Allende proposed to rise earlier – on October 2; however, on September 13, the Spanish authorities became aware of the planned uprising. Josefa Dominguez directed the alcalde Ignacio Perez to warn Miguel Hidalgo, who was at that time in the village of Dolores (Stein 15-18). The Padre said that now that the conspiracy had been exposed it was too late to retreat, and there was no other way but to oppose the Spanish authorities.
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Thus, the uprising, originated in the village of Dolores on September 16, 1810, was led by the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811). Hidalgo found immense love among the poorest people, Indians and Mestizos (Marley 10). He urged them to take up arms and conquer the lands captured by the Spaniards 300 years ago. Hidalgo gathered a small detachment in the morning, and arrested all the Spaniards in the city. Then he rang the bell of his church, as if summoning the Indians to mass, but instead of preaching, he appealed to his parishioners to revolt against the Spanish colonial authorities. This appeal was called “Cry of Dolores” (Henderson 76-77). Ignacio Allende, the captain of the Spanish army, sympathizing with the independence movement, was appointed a military commander of the rebels in the event of resistance. Armed mainly with cold steel, the Indians, led by Hidalgo and Allende, proceeded to liberate Mexico.
For several days, an uprising swept over much of Mexico. By order of Viceroy Francisco Javier Venegas in Mexico, military units from other cities were pulled in, and the garrisons of San Luis Potosi and Guadalajara were put on full alert. On September 27, the Viceroy declared high cash rewards for the heads of Hidalgo and other leaders of the uprising (Henderson 74-86). Understanding that the balance of power was not in favor of the rebels, Hidalgo abandoned the attempt to take Mexico City. Entering Guadalajara at the end of November, Hidalgo issued a decree in which he was the first in the American continent to proclaim the abolition of slavery (Marley 18-22). One of the most striking documents created by Hidalgo was the manifesto published in early December, 1810. This document expressed his desire to unite all classes and layers of the colonial population in the struggle for independence.
At the beginning of 1811, the colonial authorities decided to speed up military operations against the patriotic forces, the main center of which at that time was Guadalajara. Under increased pressure from the enemy, Hidalgo had to retreat; on January 21, the royalists entered Guadalajara. Strongly thinned insurgent units retreated north. The royalists pursued the departing remnants of the main rebel forces. On March 21, as a result of treason, Hidalgo and his associates were captured. The military court passed the death sentence to Hidalgo; the same fate befell other leaders, as well as many ordinary participants in the uprising. The ecclesiastical capacity was removed from Hidalgo, and, on July 30, he was shot (Henderson 105-107). After the death of Miguel Hidalgo, the uprising was led by his colleague, another Catholic priest, José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón (1765-1815).
The uprising was the beginning of the armed struggle of the Mexican people for independence, socio-economic and political transformations, which, after the execution of Hidalgo, were continued by other freedom fighters. Until 1820, the struggle for independence was at the level of guerrilla action. However, in 1820, after the victory of the revolution in Spain, the Creole elite decided to take the side of the fighters for independence. At the beginning of 1821, the army joined forces with the rebels and reached Mexico City almost without resistance. The capital was occupied on September 27, and on September 28, 1821, independence of Mexico was proclaimed, continuing its further development as a republic. On October 4, 1824, the country’s first republican constitution was adopted (Fowler 38-40). General Victoria Guadalupe (1786-1843), a former seminarian, who left school under the influence of Miguel Hidalgo and fought in the units of Hidalgo and Morelos, was elected the first president of the country.
In general, the history of Mexico’s struggle for independence from the Spanish monarchy is markedly different from that of the liberation struggle in other Spanish colonies, and there is a range of reasons for this. Firstly, the conquest of the Indian tribes of the Aztecs and Mayans by the Spanish conquistadors was much longer and more difficult than the conquest of the indigenous population of other regions of Latin America. Secondly, in New Spain, the percentage of the white population was very high (up to one third) compared to other colonies in South America (Henderson 17-20). The immigration of the Spaniards to Mexico did not stop until the declaration of independence of the latter.
The Spanish crown regarded Mexico as a real “diamond in the necklace” of its Latin American colonies. Namely, Mexico gave the bulk of gold and silver mined at that time (Henderson 32-35). Thirdly, the Indians, accounting for half of the inhabitants of New Spain, were excluded from all political processes, eked out a miserable half-starved existence, and did not have access to education and training of any profession. Their lifestyle, customs, and occupations in the early 19th century continued to remain the same as during the era of first conquistadors. Therefore, when the war of independence began in 1810, the Indian tribes joined it with the demands of land reform and other radical transformations.
The struggle for the independence of Mexico was of great historical significance. As a result, people achieved national independence, which was their vital interest. The elimination of the colonial regime and the achievement of political independence were accompanied by important transformations. The republican system was established, slavery was abolished, and the rights of the church were restricted. The indigenous population was exempt from paying capitation taxes and compulsory labor duties, the Inquisition was abolished, and noble titles were eliminated. Exemption of the former colony from any prohibitions and restrictions in the economic field, from compulsory and petty regulation, and the elimination of monopolies paved the way for faster development of the economy. Mexico got the opportunity to engage actively in international trade. Thus, more favorable prerequisites were created for the development of capitalist relations.
Fowler, Will. Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821–1858. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.
Henderson, Timothy J. The Mexican Wars for Independence. Hill and Wang, 2009.
Marley, David F. Mexico at War: From the Struggle for Independence to the 21st-Century Drug Wars. ABC-CLIO, 2014.
Stein, Conrad R. The Story of Mexico: The Mexican War of Independence. Morgan Reynolds Pub, 2007.