The war for Mexican independence took place in two stages. This outline looks at the first stage, a race and class war that began in 1810. One of the two core regions of the Spanish American Empire, Mexico was rich in silver and Indian labor. A small elite of Spaniards (Creoles and Peninsulars) ruled over a large population of Indians and racially mixed peoples. Beginning in 1810, two priests, Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, led an uprising of poor people, largely Indians, and threatened to annihilate the upper-class whites. This class and race war was the ultimate nightmare of Latin American elites, and both Creoles and Peninsulars closed ranks in Mexico to defeat the insurgency and restore order.
Now that we have seen the wars for independence that liberated Spanish South America, we turn to the process of independence in Mexico and Central America.
A. The war for Mexican independence took place in two stages.
- This lecture looks at the first stage, a race and class war that began in 1810.
- One of the two core regions of the Spanish American Empire, Mexico was rich in silver and Indian labor.
- A small elite of Spaniards (Creoles and Peninsulars) ruled over a large population of Indians and racially mixed peoples.
- Beginning in 1810, two priests, Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, led an uprising of poor people, largely Indians, and threatened to annihilate the upper-class whites.
- This class and race war was the ultimate nightmare of Latin American elites, and both Creoles and Peninsulars closed ranks in Mexico to defeat the insurgency and restore order.
B. Mexico was the richest colony of Spain, and its elites had more at stake in the struggle for independence than in any other colony in the Americas.
- Since the 16th century, its large Indian labor force and rich silver mines had produced great wealth for Spain and the colonial elites.
- With a population of some 6 million in 1800, the viceroyalty of New Spain contained one-third of all the inhabitants of Spanish America.
- By the end of the 18th century, Mexico provided Madrid with enormous profits and created the richest family fortunes in the Americas.
- At the same time, the masses suffered greatly through 10 major famines in the century before 1810.
- The Catholic Church had accumulated enormous wealth, primarily in landholdings and loans.
C. New Spain was the classic Spanish American colony, where several thousand Peninsular Spaniards ruled over a million Creoles, who ruled over 5 million Indians and mestizos.
- Creoles grew increasingly resentful of the small and powerful Peninsular elite and began to speak of greater autonomy by the 1790s.
- Much as it had been for the Haitian and Peruvian elites in the 1780s, the great nightmare of the Creoles was that a war against the metropolitan center might touch off a social and racial war.
The first outbreak of revolution in Mexico has strong similarities with the French Revolution.
A. Famine and brutal treatment created a volatile peasantry, and an elite crisis opened the door for a radical social revolution.
- Spain’s constant need for more taxes to pay for war with Britain prompted a drastic measure to confiscate assets of Creoles and the church in 1804.
- The Peninsular elite, fearing rebellion in the aftermath of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, staged a coup to assert control in 1808.
- This move produced powerful Creole anger but not yet a revolution.
B. The first wave of revolution was led by a parish priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
- A Creole and the son of a hacienda manager, Hidalgo was conversant with the political and intellectual currents of the times.
- In 1803, he became the parish priest in the town of Dolores in the Mexican north.
- Along with some other local Creoles, he hatched a conspiracy in nearby Querétaro that was discovered by authorities.
Hidalgo triggered the war for Mexican independence on September 16, 1810.
A. At mass on Sunday morning, Hidalgo called for rebellion with the so-called Grito (or “Cry”) de Dolores.
- In the coming weeks, some 60,000 peasants, primarily Indians, rallied to his call, armed chiefly with bows and arrows, lances, and machetes.
- Hidalgo’s call to seize the property of Europeans, abolish Indian tribute, and invoke the support of the Virgin of Guadalupe had enormous appeal to the poor masses.
- This wave of poor peasants converged on the mining center of Guanajuato in September 1810, brutally annihilating Creoles and Peninsulars.
B. Hidalgo’s agrarian radicalism and the racial and social nature of the revolt alienated both Creoles and Peninsulars.
- His was a classic revolutionary movement of the masses, one that called for a complete transformation, not only of politics, but also of social and economic structures.
- Hidalgo was never able to attract more than a few hundred Creole supporters.
- The movement prompted a conservative reaction and the mobilization of military forces.
- After hesitating on the outskirts of Mexico City with some 80,000 men, Hidalgo was defeated in January 1811.
- Betrayed and ambushed, Hidalgo was captured and executed in March 1811.
With the death of Hidalgo, the leadership of the rebellion passed to another parish priest, José María Morelos.
A. Morelos was even more closely attuned to the life of the Mexican masses than Hidalgo.
- Born in 1765 in Valladolid, Michoacán (now named Morelia in his honor), Morelos came from a poor mestizo family.
- He joined the Hidalgo rebellion and began to organize troops in southern Mexico in late 1810.
B. A staunch nationalist, he published a manifesto that was a curious mix of Enlightenment ideals and traditional Catholic cultural values.
- Morelos presented this document to a rebel congress at Chilpancingo in September 1813.
- His thought was radically egalitarian, devoutly Catholic, and fiercely nationalist.
- Unlike Hidalgo, Morelos tried very hard to rally the support of Creoles.
- Like Hidalgo, Morelos was too radical for most Creoles.
- His execution by firing squad on December 22, 1815, effectively ended the armed uprising begun by Hidalgo in September 1810.
Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas