Print this pageHistorical Text Archive © 1990 - 2015
by Cynthia Sisk
"Mexicanos, Viva Mexico!" were told the men in Dolores. This is what Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla said when he made a historic decision to declare independence from Spain. Hidalgo is known as "the Father of Independence." His accomplishments and contributions made Mexico what it is seen today. His achievements in the independence revolutionized the course of Mexican history.
Hidalgo was from a moderate well-off family. He was born in Mexico of Spanish descent. Hidalgo was born in Corralejo Hacienda in Penjamo, Guanajuao on May 8, 1753. His father worked as mayorodomo (resident manager). Hidalgo was well-educated liberal. He attended San Nicolás Obispo College. He received his Bachelor's degree at the University of Mexico in 1774 in Theology. He was ordained into priesthood in 1778 and returned to Valladolid to teach Theology, Philosophy, and Ethics at the College of San Nicolás Obispo. He later became college rector.
By 1800, rumors and facts of Hidalgo's sinful doings had concerned the Holy Office of the Inquisition. He was breaking laws, not taking his vows as serious as he should be. He had adulterous affairs where he fathered two children out of wedlock. He read anti-clerical works of the French encyclopedic philosophers and seemed to disregard the Church.
In 1803, age of fifty, Hidalgo was given a parish in Dolores. He was the priest there for many years. His house was open house to his parishioners. While at Dolores his main concerns primarily were with improving the people of Dolores' economic potential. Also, he turned over the clerical duties to one of his vicars. He devoted himself to executive business and humanitarian activities. He introduced new industries that helped the town become prosperous. He established tile making, tanning, carpentry, wool weaving, beekeeping, silk growing, and wine making. He gave this to the Indians and Mestizo to run, not to the gachopines or native Spaniards.
Hidalgo was a member of the Literary and Social Club of Queretaro. He helped found the literary club, which included many well-educated corregidors. The club was formed for intellectual discussion and later became the formatting the planning and organization for revolution. The literary circle became the political circle for the true incubators of the independence movement. Hidalgo questioned the church policies including clerical celibacy, banning certain literature, infallibility of the pope and the virgin birth of Christ. While at Queretaro Hidalgo met with Captain Ignacio Allende. Allende was a revolutionary thinker in the Spanish army and together they planned uprising for independence.
The stage for the upheaval and dissatisfaction that gave rise to Mexican independence was set by political and economic changes in Europe and its American colonies of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Also, with the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars diverted the Spanish from concentrating on their colonies. By Napoleon invading Spain and overthrowing Ferdinand VII, birth of the separatist movement was born. Groups of criollos across Mexico had been plotting to overthrow the authority of gachupines. Hidalgo had planned to attack in December. However Hidalgo got word from Allende that the gachupines knew of the revolt.
16 September 1810, marked the date of first face to face struggle. Hidalgo rang the church bells at Dolores and said to the people:
" My friends and countrymen neither the king nor tributes exist for us any longer. We have borne this shameful tax, which only suits slaves, for three centuries as a sign of tyranny and servitude: [a] terrible stain which we shall know now to was away with our efforts. The moment of our freedom has arrived, the hour of out liberty has struck; and if you recognized its great value, you will help me defend it from ambitious grasp of the tyrants. Only a few hours remain before you see me a head of men who take pride in being free. I invite you to fulfill this obligation. And so without a patria nor liberty we shall always be at a great distance from true happiness. It has been imperative to take this step as you know, and to begin this has been necessary. The cause is holy and god will protect it. The arrangements are hastily being made and for that reason I will not have satisfaction of talking to you any longer. Long lives, then, the Virgin of Guadeloupe! Long live America for which we are going to fight."
This was a bold step for the Hidalgo to launch a revolt on the behalf of the criollos. He gathered up an immense army of local Indians, and flew the banner of Our Lady Guadalupe as a symbol of Independence.
The major causes for his independence were for social reform, exemplified in the emancipation of slaves, the cession of the tribute tax, and the return of the land to the indigenous Indians. The gachopines who claimed loyalty to the French crown were also driven out of Mexico. Hidalgo was influential over his men. He was well respect among the Indians and Mestizo. Hidalgo's army was armed with weapons of clubs, slings, axes, knives, machetes, and the hatred of gachopines. The Indians, although not armed as well as the Spaniards, attacked repeated while facing superior Spanish artillery.
Hidalgo regretted the bloodshed that he had to incite among his people, but he had made a decision. He never believed in the violence and mass slaughter of Spaniards, but unfortunately, he did not have the power to control it.
Allende and Hidalgo also had problems. For example, when they were in the town of San Miguel, Allende tried to calm his members down by hitting them on the head with his sword. Hidalgo thought that he was mistreating the people. But Hidalgo was even less qualified to be general than he was a priest.
The revolution force gathered together was more like a mob than an army was. The men consisted of Indians and Mestizo from local towns near Dolores. Allende and other criollo officers took part in the conspiracy and brought colonial militia radical criollos into Hidalgo army. Hidalgo first swept through everything before him. He captured San Miguel with 6,000 men. At Celaya he had amassed of 20,000, and at Guanajuato, 50,000 men. When Hidalgo's army of 82,000 engulfed Toluca, to imitated Mexico City. Hidalgo did not go to Mexico City, he only went to outskirts. However, on 21 March 1811, a periodic rebel turned loyalist, Ignacio Elizondo, ambushed Allende, Hidalgo and associates at the Wells of Bajan on the road to Monclova in Coahulia. Hidalgo and associates were captured and executed in Chihuahua. On his execution day Hidalgo was placed in a front of a gallantry. He instructed the firing squad to aim for his right hand that was placed over his heart.
Despite Hidalgo accomplishments, he lost his life but his memory is remembered for the conquest and the independence of Mexico. The revolution may have taken 11 years to finally overthrown the Spaniards, but would not have occurred without Hidalgo making the first move. He showed his compassion for the criolos and his loathing of injustice. His intelligence and well-designed economic development made up his achievements. This is why we can say that he is the Father of Mexican Independence. Without Hidalgo, Mexico could still be under Spanish rule.