It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare. — Edmund Burke

Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The Great Revolution
(1810 to 1821)

The first decisive blow for freedom was struck in the month of September, 1810. Don Miguel Hidalgo, cura, or parish priest, of the little town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, was the one who first applied the firebrand to the combustible material that the past ten years had been accumulating. He was a well-educated man, a graduate of Saint Nicholas College in Valladolid, and had received sacred orders in Mexico in 1779. He was born in 1753, and was a man of great capacity, and well-instructed in agriculture and the industrial arts. He cultivated the vine and the mulberry in order to encourage his people in these labors, established small industries for their benefit, and by his labors for their good had entirely won their love and affection. This, in brief, was the man who placed himself at the head of the Mexican movement in 1810.

At the break of day, on the 15th of September, the patriot priest committed himself entirely to the cause of the people, and gave the watchword of Independence!  It is known in history as the "Cry of Dolores." Thousands Tallied about his banner; from mountains, from valleys, from the seclusion of forest retreats, as well as from the midst of populous haciendas, the Indians and Creoles poured forth to join him. The day of vengeance had at last arrived! Three centuries of oppression had bequeathed to them its hatred of their foreign masters. The desire to avenge their wrongs, so long suppressed, now burst forth in uncontrollable fury.

They marched upon the noble city of Guanajuato, twenty thousand strong, armed only with sticks and staves, and with here and there a musket, but all animated with the same desire for the blood of their oppressors. Their war-cry was "Death to the Guachupines!"  By this name they designated the Spaniards, the hated enslavers of their race. The Spaniards were attacked in the city of Guanajuato, and their stronghold fell before the savage fury of the Indians. For three days the insurgents rioted in murder and robbery. Their chief could not restrain them.

Then the warrior-priest set his forces in motion for the capital, for Mexico itself, and entered the valley in the last days of October with an army of near one hundred thousand men. Hidalgo met a Spanish army about twenty miles from the capital, attacked them with resistless fury and defeated them. When within fifteen miles of Mexico he halted, and, after a few days, commenced a retreat. There is little doubt that Hidalgo and his savage horde could have swept the valley and conquered the city had he but advanced instead of sounding a retreat. His prestige thenceforward was gone. The viceroy, Venagas, despatched General Calleja with an army of ten thousand men and a train of artillery in pursuit. He overtook them and gave battle, and though the Indians fought with unsurpassed bravery, the disciplined body of regular troops prevailed over the untrained masses. The Spanish troops were commanded by a fiend, Calleja marched upon Guanajuato, took it, and not only put the defenders to the sword, but murdered in cold blood fourteen thousand  defenceless men, women, and children. The streets ran blood, and even the fountains were choked with the life-current of these innocent victims. Thus mournfully opened the first chapter of Mexican independence.

[A. D. 1811.] Rallying his scattered forces Hidalgo awaited his foe again near Guadalajara. Near the bridge of Calderon, on the 17th of January, 1811, the decisive battle was fought. The patriot chief had nearly 80,000 men under his command, but they were unskilled in warfare and very poorly armed. Hidalgo and his men at first prevailed, but superior discipline again showed its superiority over disorganized masses, and the battle was turned into a massacre. Hidalgo and other leaders, with a few thousand of his followers, escaped; it was their intention to reach the United States, and with a portion of the rich treasure obtained in the sacking of Guanajuato, purchase munitions of war and return to renew the struggle. But they were captured, through the treachery of a man named Elizondo, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to be shot.

The names of the leaders of this great uprising, names cherished by native Mexicans to-day, were Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama, and Jimenez. With the execution of these brave men ended the first great popular uprising, on the first day of August, 1811. Their heads were cut off, carried to Guanajuato, and placed upon the four corners of the Castle of Grenaditas, where they had obtained their first victory over the Spanish defenders.

The first martyrs to liberty had fallen, but the friends of the cause were undismayed. They were scattered in every direction, fugitives from justice, but only waiting a leader and opportunity.

[A. D. 1812.] The remainder of the year 1811 passed quietly, but early in 1812, after penetrating to within twelve miles of the capital, the insurgents retired to the town of Cuautla, where they were besieged by the royal army. Morelos, who had assumed the leadership, made vacant by the death of Hidalgo, was a man of similar qualifications to the first, and educated in the same seminary of learning, in Valladolid. He was born in the year 1765, of humble parentage, and, though studiously inclined, could not gratify his thirst for knowledge till late in life. At Cuautla (now known as Cuautla Morelos) the patriots were besieged for sixty days, until, when on the verge of starvation, they effected a retreat. By rapid marching Morelos reached Orizaba, which he took, then Oaxaca, far in the south, and then marched upon and captured the important city of Acapulco, on the west coast.

[A. D. 1813.] In November, in the town of Chilpantzingo (in the present state of Guerrero) was assembled the first National Congress of Mexico, composed mainly of distinguished men, such as the historian Bustamente, and the patriot Ignacio Rayon, who had kept alive the spark of revolution after the death of Hidalgo.

The First Declaration of Independence

Was made on the 16th of November, 1813, by which the Mexicali people gave voice to their feelings, and declared their resolve to dissolve their connections with the throne of Spain. Slavery was declared abolished, as also imprisonment for debt, and the holding of monopolies. All men were declared free and equal  before the law.

In the same month of November there appeared upon the scene a personage who subsequently filled an important place in Mexican history, Colonel Augustin Iturbide. He was then loyal to the king, and at the head of a large force he encountered Morelos, and defeated him in Valladolid. Morelos was subsequently captured through treachery, sent to Mexico for trial, and shot. Indomitable to the last, he expressed himself contented to die, since he had founded and left behind him the beginning of an independent government. He knelt before his executioners, saying, "Lord, if I have done well, thou knowest it; if ill, to Thy infinite mercy I commend my soul." Then the volley was fired, and this great and generous soul passed from earth.

[A. D. 1814.] Persecuted on all sides, driven from post to post, the first Mexican Congress yet found time to draft a constitution for the Mexican people, dated from the forest of Apantzingo, October 22, 1814. It was a year before the death of Morelos, which sad event occurred December 22, 1815. Calleja, that man of execrable memory, occupied the viceregal chair from 1813 to 1816, and lost no opportunity for the murder of the patriots.

Other chiefs, acting in unison with Morelos, deserve our notice, though space prevents more than mention of their names. These were Guerrero, Alvarez, Bravo, Victoria, Osorno, Mier y Teran, Rayon, and Matamoros, the latter of whom was shot in August, 1814. The names of all these men, most of whom fell martyrs to the cause, have been kept in remembrance by a grateful people. States, provinces, and towns are called by their names, in this country for which they fought so desperately to free from oppression.

Examples of individual bravery and magnanimity might be cited that would fill pages with the chronicles of their daring deeds. Let one suffice: The generous Bravo took the town of Palmar by storm, capturing three hundred prisoners. These he immediately offered to the viceroy in exchange for one man, his father. The offer was rejected, and Don Leonardo Bravo was led out to death at once. The son, learning of this, at once ordered all the prisoners to be liberated, saying, "I wish to put it out of my power to avenge my parent's death, lest in the first moments of grief the temptation prove irresistible."

Can you find in the history of any people an example of greater magnanimity than that? There were heroes in those days! Our fathers fought no more fiercely in the American Revolution, nor prolonged the struggle with less encouragement, than these fathers of Mexican independence.

Soon after the death of Morelos Congress was disbanded, and the people no longer had a central point upon which to focus their gaze. But its principles lived! It had done its work in teaching the masses the first lesson of freedom!

From the year 1816, through 1820, Juan de Apodaca, Count of Venadito, represented the royal power in New Spain. His mild rule was admirably adapted to the conciliation of the dissatisfied Indians and Creoles.

A Hacienda.

In 1817 the disbanded rebels received new encouragement from an unexpected source. There was in Spain a guerilla chief named Xavier Mina, who had fought against the Bonapartes, and who, having failed in exciting a revolution, fled to Mexico with many adherents. Landing on the coast with three hundred and fifty men, he successively defeated different parties sent against him, and on one occasion took a fortified hacienda, with a booty of one hundred and forty thousand dollars. Not meeting with the aid he had anticipated from the Independents, he was at last driven to bay in the central part of the state of Guanajuato, where, overwhelmed by the numerous forces sent against him, he fell, bravely fighting to the last. Thus terminated the short, though glorious, career of this champion of Mexican independence, in a little over six months from the time of his landing.

There was now but one rebel chief in the field. The viceroy considered the rebellion crushed. But this one leader, alone, after all the others had been captured, or availed themselves of the pardon offered by the viceroy, maintained alive the sacred fire of liberty and independence. Don Vicente Guerrero—a name that should ever be sacred to Mexicans—retreated with his followers to the fastnesses of the mountains, where he protected the members of the persecuted Junta, or Congress, and whence he made frequent sallies upon the enemy. Born of humble parentage, in 1782, his youth was passed (as was that of the great Morelos) in the occupation of a muleteer. In 18ro he cast his lot with the revolutionists, and soon became famous for his valor, for his clemency to the vanquished, and his activity in the campaigns. Resisting every bribe held out to him by the Spaniards, he retired to the mountains of the south. The year 1819 was the most fortunate of any for the patriots, for in it they had triumphed in twenty actions with the Spanish troops.

[A. D. 1820.] In the year 1820 Colonel Augustin Iturbide, who had been appointed commander of the troops of the west, surprised the whole country by declaring himself in favor of the independence of Mexico. It was the defection of this energetic military chief, and the self-denial of the brave Guerrero, that gave the favorable turn to affairs at this critical period of Mexico's history, and brought to a conclusion a war that had raged during ten years, and had drenched with blood the soil of New Spain. This remarkable man was born in the city of Valladolid (now Morelia, in honor of Morelos) in the year 1783. From his youth he had been in the royal service, and since the year 1808 had thrown all his influence against the cause of his native land. He was celebrated for his bravery, his activity; and skill in strategy. On the 16th of November, 1820, he marched forth from Mexico with s000 men in pursuit of Guerrero, hidden in the sierras of the south. His acute intelligence informed him how events were tending, and he saw that eventually Mexico must gain her freedom. He resolved to cast his fortunes with the party of the future, rather than with that of the past.

In January, 1821, instead of engaging with the patriot chief, Guerrero, in deadly conflict, he invited him to an amicable meeting.

[A. D. 1821.] On the 24th of February of the same year he proclaimed the celebrated "Plan of Iguala"—so named from the town in which it was first conceived—the principles of which were, Union, civil and religious liberty. He joined forces with Guerrero, that great chief granting him the supreme command, and their combined armies marched upon the capital. The skilfully-constructed proclamation, which, while it assured every man his liberty, and declared independence of Spain and all other nations, still professed a conditional loyalty to the mother country, was calculated to stir every heart. The whole country responded, and men rose everywhere to swell the ranks of the "Army of the Three Guarantees"—RELIGION, UNION, AND INDEPENDENCE.

They entered the capital in triumph and without bloodshed, on the 27th of September, 1821, sixteen thousand strong, amidst universal rejoicing, and beneath the tricolored banner, symbolizing the three important principles of the proclamation—;UNION, RELIGION, AND INDEPENDENCE.

While preparing to enter the capital, Iturbide learned that another viceroy had been sent by Spain, Don Juan O'Donoju, the sixty-fourth  royal representative, and the last. As only the fortress of San Juan de Ulua remained in Spanish possession, the viceroy was compelled to recognize, provisionally, the Plan of Iguala, and the virtual independence of Mexico. A provisional government was formed, and a regency appointed, consisting of Iturbide, O'Donoju, Don Manuel de la Barcena, Isidro Yanez, and Velasquez de Leon.

The Mexican Empire now extended from Texas to Guatemala, and included the Californias and New Mexico. It is said that, with the exception of China and Russia, it was then the most extensive in the world.

[A. D. 1822.] Another Congress was assembled in February; but it seems that the people were not yet ready for a republican form of government. On the night of the 18th of March, 1822, a sergeant of a regiment collected a disorderly mob, and proclaimed Iturbide emperor, and on the 21st of June he was solemnly crowned in the cathedral taking the title of AUGUSTINE I. His arbitrary conduct soon alienated the people, and by dissolving the Congress and instituting another more in accord with his despotic views, he brought upon himself the enmity of his old companions-in-arms. It is at this period that we first hear of SANTA ANNA, who was such a conspicuous character in the subsequent war with the United States, and who was then Governor of Vera Cruz. He at once declared against the emperor, and issued a pronunciamiento—or declaration—in favor of a Republic. All the old revolutionary chiefs joined with him, and Iturbide, seeing how useless it would be to resist, at once offered his abdication. He was allowed to leave the country, being provided with a vessel to Italy, and allowed an annuity of twenty-five thousand dollars in consideration of his distinguished services.

This was in March; his reign had been brief, lasting only nine months. In July of the following year the exiled emperor imprudently ventured to return to Mexico, but had hardly set foot on his native soil when he was arrested, hastily tried, and sentenced to be shot. Thus fell another martyr to Mexican independence, one who had done more than any other man towards the final severance from despotic Spain. Thus miserably perished the first Mexican emperor since the great Guatemotzin.

Congress was hastily assembled upon the expulsion of Iturbide, and placed the government in the hands of an executive power, composed of Generals Bravo, Victoria, and Negretti. In October, 1824, a Federal constitution was adopted, which was mainly modeled after that of the United States, though it declared the Roman Catholic religion to be that of the Republic, and forbade the exercise of any other.