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The History of Mexico: Independence to Modern Times

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Miguel Hidalgo

The "Father of the Nation" of Mexico is Miguel Hidalgo. It was Hidalgo who issued the battle cry in 1810 on September 16—which is Independence Day in Mexico—that led to the eleven year Mexican War of Independence.

Miguel Hidalgo was a well educated priest who had fallen into disfavor with the Church for living with, and fathering two daughters with, a woman to whom he was not married. Father Hidalgo joined a conspiracy of wealthy Creoles (Spaniards born in Mexico) that plotted a revolution in Mexico. Their aims were to free Mexico from Spanish rule; kill all Spaniards not born in Mexico; and redistribute land to Indians and Mestizos.

The Mexican peasants were suffering from a two year drought and famine at that moment. Prices for food quadrupled. A lack of food for mules led to mine closings and layoffs of miners. Indians and Mestizos rose up and began to loot and kill whites.

MIGUEL HIDALGO

MIGUEL HIDALGO

Mexican War of Independence

Miguel Hidalgo led a group of 25,000 Indians and Mestizos to the provincial capital Guanajuato (capturing two towns along the way) where they trapped and massacred 600 white men, women, and children. The city was burned to the ground by the raging mob.

The numbers of insurgents swelled each day. Within a month, there were 80,000 of them, and they marched toward Mexico City. Before they could get there, they were crushed by Royalist forces in three battles. Miguel Hidalgo was captured, executed, and his severed head was displayed for ten years at the granary in Guanajuato where the massacre had taken place.

GUANAJUATO MEXICO

GUANAJUATO MEXICO

JOSE MARIA MORELOS

JOSE MARIA MORELOS

The Mexican Empire

The revolutionaries regrouped in 1811 under the leadership of a Mestizo priest and mule driver, Jose Maria Morelos. Morelos defined his program: Establish independence for Mexico; Abolish slavery; Terminate special privileges of the Church; Take land from the wealthy and give it to the poor; Exclude the wealthy, the noble, and the powerful from the new democratic republic of Mexico.

For the next four years, Morelos, a brilliant military commander, led the insurgents in battles—winning half of them, always against superior forces—until he was captured and executed in 1815.

The new leader of the rebels was a wealthy Creole, Vicente Guerrero, whom the state of Guerrero is named after. A showdown was looming with Royalist forces commanded by Agustin de Iturbide. In a sudden and shocking development, Iturbide switched sides and joined Guerrero against the Spanish government. In 1821, Spain recognized Mexico's independence.

Mexico declared itself an empire, which at first included the Central American provinces of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Belize. Agustin de Iturbide was named Emperor.

THE MEXICAN EMPIRE 1822

THE MEXICAN EMPIRE 1822

VICENTE GUERRERO

VICENTE GUERRERO

EMPEROR AGUSTIN ITURBIDE

EMPEROR AGUSTIN ITURBIDE

The United Mexican States

In 1823, the Mexican Empire was overthrown and a republic replaced it: the United Mexican States. Iturbide was shot a year later. The coup was led by an ambitious young colonel, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, perhaps the most colorful character in Mexican history.

The first president was General Guadalupe Victoria. The Central American provinces seceded, plunged into a long civil war, and emerged as five republics. For the next fifty years, Mexico itself would be torn by civil wars.

Mining and manufacturing suffered for decades after independence. There was a distinct lack of technical knowhow, investment, and functioning machinery in the new Mexico.

The young republic of Mexico was plagued with economic depression and utter lawlessness. Revolting against the established order is not the same thing as governing a large country.

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The ongoing difficulties led to the rise of the caudillo—a charismatic military-political strongman who heads an authoritarian government. The caudillo is generally a beloved leader who presents himself as the guardian of the people's traditions, and defender of their way of life. He is their advisor, protector, guide, and father figure. And he is one of them.

THE UNITED MEXICAN STATES 1824

THE UNITED MEXICAN STATES 1824

GUADALUPE VICTORIA

GUADALUPE VICTORIA

CARPET READY FOR EASTER PROCESSION IN MEXICO

CARPET READY FOR EASTER PROCESSION IN MEXICO

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church was the one colonial institution to survive independence. The Church enjoyed enormous popularity among the people, and it was easily the best organized, administered, efficient, well financed entity in Mexico.

The Church owned half the real estate in Mexico as independence dawned. Its clergy were the most educated segment of society, and they were the only providers of education in Mexico, from primary school to university.

Liberals saw the Church as a threat to state power, since it had more contact with the people than did the state, and enjoyed a far better relationship with the people than the government.

Besides Sunday services, people looked to the Church for all important events in their lives: baptism, marriage, last rites, and burial in a Church graveyard.

The Church wielded not only spiritual influence, but carried an awesome weight in regard to economics, politics, intellectual pursuits, and social issues.

To Liberals then, the Church must be controlled by the state.

The Church did not help its stance with Liberals by opposing independence, out of loyalty to Catholic Spain. After independence, high ranking Church officials were expelled from Mexico for refusing to swear allegiance to the new government.