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The History of Mexican Independence

Within hours, Hidalgo, a Catholic priest in the village of Dolores, ordered the arrest of Dolores’ native Spaniards. Then Hidalgo rang the church bell as he customarily did to call the indians to mass. The message that Hidalgo gave to the indians and mestizos called them to retaliate against the hated gachupines or native Spaniards who had exploited and oppressed Mexicans for ten generations.

Although a movement toward Mexican independence had already been in progress since Napoleon’s conquest of Spain, Hidalgo’s passionate declaration was a swift, unpremeditated decision. "Mexicanos, Viva México!" Hidalgo told the Mexicans who were the members of New Spain’s lowest caste. He urged the exploited and embittered Mexicans to recover the lands that was stolen from their forefathers. That he was calling these people to revolution was a radical change in the original revolution plot devised by the criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards).

alt=Mexican Independence Statue

Groups of criollos across Mexico had been plotting to overthrow the authority of gachupines who, because of their Spanish nativity, had legal and social priority over the criollos. When Joseph Bonaparte replaced King Ferdinand as the leader of Spain, the criollos recognized a prime opportunity for Mexican sovereignity. The nucleus of this movement was a group of intellectuals in Querétaro led by the corregidor of Querétaro, his wife and a group of army officers distinguished by the adventurous Ignacio Allende.

The criollos plan for revolution did not originally focus on the manpower of the Mexicans. Rather, the criollos sought to avoid military confrontation by convincing criollo army officers to sever their allegiance to the gachupines. By claiming loyalty to the defeated King Ferdinand, the criollos aimed to establish Mexico as an independent nation within King Ferdinand’s Spanish empire. The gachupines who claimed authority under Bonaparte’s rule would be driven out of Mexico.

Hidalgo had close ties with this group. Approaching sixty years of age, Hidalgo was beloved and greatly respected by Mexicans. Once the dean of the College of San Nicolas at Valladolid in Michoacan (now Morelia), Hidalgo was a well-educated, courageous humanitarian. He was sympathetic to the Indians, which was unusual amongst Mexican clergymen. Against gachupin law, Hidalgo taught Indians to plant olives, mulberries and grapevines and to manufacture pottery and leather. His actions irritated the Spanish viceroy who, as a punitive measure, cut down Hidalgo’s trees and vines.

Gachupines were alerted to the criollos independence movement bycriollo officers who had refused to join the revolutionary movement and by a priest who had learned of the plot through a confessional. Hidalgo was among the central figures targeted for arrest on September 13, 1810. The Querétaro corregidor’s wife informed the criollos of the gachupines plan. Allende immediately departed from Quértaro to inform Hidalgo.

alt=Mexican Independence Celebration

Allende arrived in Dolores in the early morning hours of September 16. His message forced Hidalgo to make the most signficant decision of his life, a decision which marked the first struggle for Mexican independence and that would distinguish Hidalgo as the national hero of the revolution. The criollos had not gained enough military alliance to forfeit the gachupines rule, as the plot had leaked three months before the criollos target date of December 8.

Hidalgo had three possible options. He could await arrest, flee Dolores or call on the Indian and mestizo forces. His decision to call the exploited groups to revolution completely changed the character of the revolution. The movement became a bloody class struggle instead of a shrewd political maneuver. When Hidalgo called the Indians to action, he tapped into powerful forces that had been simmering for over three hundred years. With clubs, slings, axes, knives, machetes and intense hatred, the Indians took on the challenge of the Spanish artillery.

When the indian and mestizo forces, led by Hidalgo and Allende, reached the next village en route to Mexico city, they acquired a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint whose image was of a woman of color. The Virgin of Guadalupe, who was indigenous to Mexico, became the banner of the revolutionary forces as Hidalgo and Allende led the path toward Mexico City and the expulsion of the gachupines.

Hidalgo later regretted the bloodbath he had incited with his fateful cry of Dolores. When he made his hasty decision in the pre-dawn hours of September 16, he had not foreseen the mass slaughter of Spaniards. Before the revolutionary troops descended upon Mexico City, Hidalgo retreated with only a few associates to Dolores, where he would be executed by the gachupines only a year later. Despite his ambiguity toward the violent class struggle that was the Mexican revolution, Hidalgo is still revered as the father of Mexican independence.

Eleven years of war, decades of despotic Mexican rulers and political unrest proceeded Hidalgo's cry of Dolores. Yet throughout the years of turmoil, El Grito de Dolores, "Mexicanos, viva México," has persevered. Every year at midnight on September 15, Mexicans shout the grito, honoring the crucial, impulsive action that was the catalyst for the country's bloody struggle for independence from Spain.

The History of Benito Juarez

Benito Juarez is considered one of Mexico's greatest and most beloved leaders. During his political career he helped to institute a series of liberal reforms that were embodied into the new constitution of 1857. During the French occupation of Mexico, Juarez refused to accept the rule of the Monarchy or any other foreign nation, and helped to establish Mexico as a constitutional democracy. He also promoted equal rights for the Indian population, better access to health care and education, lessening the political and financial power of the Roman Catholic church, and championed the raising of the living standards for the rural poor.

alt=Benito Juarez

Benito Juarez was born March 21st 1806, the child of Zapoteco Indians. After they died when he was three, he went to live with his uncle, but when he was 12 he joined his sister in Oaxaca. He began studying for the priesthood, but in 1829 changed to studying for a law degree, which he received in 1831. That year he also began his political career, with a seat on the municipal council. In 1841 he became a judge, and the governor of Oaxaca.

In 1853 the conservatives took power in Mexico and many liberals were exiled, including Juarez, who spent his time of exile in New Orleans. In 1855 the liberals won the election, and Benito Juarez returned from his exile as the Minister of Justice. In 1857 he was elevated to preside over the supreme court, in effect making him the Vice President. In 1858 the conservatives rebelled, and again Juarez had to leave Mexico City, this time fleeing to Veracruz, where he created a government in exile.

In January 1861 the conservatives lost power, and Benito Juarez became the President of Mexico. As the treasury was practically empty Juarez made the decision to suspend payment on all foreign debts for a two year period. After Mexican congress rejected an agreement Juarez had made with the British Prime Minister to protect the interests of European countries Spanish, British and French troops landed in Vera Cruz. Spain and Britain were there to protect their financial interests, and left in April, after it became clear that France had conquest in mind. The French troops fought for two years, and although suffering a serious defeat on 5th May 1862, eventually captured Mexico City in June 1863, and placed Archduke Maximilian of Austria on the Mexican throne.

Benito Juarez and the government of Mexico were forced to retreat right back to Ciudad Juarez, on the border with the USA. After four years with growing pressure from America, continuing resistance from Mexicans and criticism from the French govenrment and people, finally the Napoleonic forces withdrew. Maximilian himself was captured and executed on 19th June 1867.

Juarez returned to Mexico city, and the presidency even after suffering a stroke in October 1870, and the loss of his wife in 1871. He won the presidential election in 1871, but died on 18th July 1872, of a heart attack.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910

For most of Mexico's developing history, a small minority of the people were in control of most of the country's power and wealth, while the majority of the population worked in poverty. As the rift between the poor and rich grew under the leadership of General Díaz, the political voice of the lower classes was also declining. Opposition of Díaz did surface, when Francisco I. Madero, educated in Europe and at the University of California, led a series of strikes throughout the country.

alt=Las Adelitas - girl soldiers of the Mexican revolution

Díaz was pressured into holding an election in 1910, in which Madero was able to gather a significant number of the votes. Although Díaz was at one time a strong supporter of the one-term limit, he seemed to have changed his mind and had Madero imprisoned, feeling that the people of Mexico just weren't ready for democracy.

Once Madero was released from prison, he continued his battle against Díaz in an attempt to have him overthrown. During this time, several other Mexican folk heros began to emerge, including the well known Pancho Villa in the north, and the peasant Emiliano Zapata in the south, who were able to harass the Mexican army and wrest control of their respective regions. Díaz was unable to control the spread of the insurgence and resigned in May, 1911, with the signing of the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, after which he fled to France.

alt=Mexican Revolution Soldiers

Madero was elected president, but received opposition from Emiliano Zapata who didn't wish to wait for the orderly implementation of Madero's desired land reforms. In November of the same year Zapata denounced Madero as president and took the position for himself. He controlled the state of Morelos, where he chased out the estate owners and divided their lands to the peasants. Later, in 1919, Zapata was assassinated by Jesus Guajardo acting under orders from General Pablo Gonzalez.

It was during this time that the country broke into many different factions, and guerilla units roamed across the country destroying and burning down many large haciendas and ranchos. Madero was later taken prisoner and executed and the entire country existed in a state of disorder for several years, while Pancho Villa rampaged through the north, and different factions fought for presidential control.

alt=Mexican Revolution Firing Squad

Eventually, Venustiano Carranza rose to the presidency, and organized an important convention whose outcome was the Constitution of 1917, which is still in effect today. Carranza made land reform an important part of that constitution. This resulted in the ejido, or farm cooperative program that redistributed much of the country's land from the wealthy land holders to the peasants. The ejidos are still in place today and comprise nearly half of all the farmland in Mexico.

Carranza was followed by others who would fight for political control, and who would eventually continue with the reforms, both in education and land distribution. During this period the PRI political party was established, which was the dominant political power for 71 years until Vicente Fox of the conservative PAN party was elected. The holiday itself commemorates the day, November 20th of 1910, when Madero denounced President Díaz, declared himself president of Mexico and called for a national insurrection.

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