In 2010 Mexico celebrated its bicentenary of freedom from Spanish rule and the Cry of Dolores could be heard ringing out across the country. Read this article to discover why the War of Independence was necessary and how it unfolded.
The War of Independence between Mexico and Spain began on 16 September 1810 and ended 11 years later in 1821.
The Spaniards first arrived in Mexico in 1517, when a group of explorers traveled to the Americas in search of land and gold. In 1519, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, arrived in Mexico with his supporters and defeated the Aztec Empire, and from this point onwards La Corona de Castilla (The Crown of Castilla) controlled the majority of Mexico. As a result, it was renamed the ‘New Spain’, demonstrating that Mexico belonged to the Spaniards and was entirely under their command. This new reign meant that the Mexican natives were left with no sense of freedom or power, and were exploited by the ‘encomiendas’ (those with control over land) forcing them to work for nothing.
The arrival of the Spaniards also brought disease into the country, causing the death of a large number of Mexicans between 1519 and 1605. Working conditions resulted in many fatalities and the natives became increasingly discontent: many died in the mines and, all-told, 95% were killed by diseases and by being overworked (Green, 2005: 6). The consequential reduction of the population in Mexico drove the Spaniards to force the Afro-Americans to become slaves in place of the Mexicans.
In addition, the Spaniards forced the Mexican women to have sexual relations, resulting in the birth of the Mestizos: children with a Spanish father and a Mexican mother. Martin Cortes, son to Hernan Cortes and Dona Marina, was the first Mestizo as well as the first soldier to rebel against the Spanish government in resistance to the Mestizos’ treatment. Many of the injustices in Mexico existed due to social status. The Spaniards were the most superior, then came the Creoles (those who were born in Mexico but to Spanish parents), then the Mestizos, followed by the native Mexicans: the indigenous population, and finally the Afro-Americans. The natives, low down in the pecking order, were the worst treated and hence their craving for national independence.
After three hundred years of suffering, the Mexicans decided to fight for freedom from Spanish rule. It began when Hidalgo, a Catholic priest from Dolores in Mexico, summoned his followers telling them ‘Mexicanos, Â¡viva Mexico!’ (Mexicans, long live Mexico), and this saying is now known as ‘el Grito de Dolores’ (the Cry of Dolores) (Kartha, 2010: Buzzle.com). Hidalgo and his followers captured one of the mines run by the Spaniards and continued to fight against the interlopers for many years, eventually gaining control of the majority of Mexico but, due to the strength of the Spanish army, failed to defeat them.
Higalgo was killed on 30 July 1811 but, despite this, the Mexicans did not lose hope. Jose Maria Morelos, another Catholic priest, assumed command and captured Oaxaca and Acapulco, two major cities in Mexico. He too was killed by the Spaniards, on 22 December 1815. Both Hidalgo and Morelos are today considered heroes in Mexico for their efforts during the War of Independence.
Two revolutionaries, Vincent Guerrero and Guadalpe Victoria, then took up the fight for freedom. In 1820, the Viceroy of New Spain, Juan Ruiz de Apodaca, forced the Creole, Agustin de Iturbide, to overthrow Guerrero and Guadalpe. When Fernando VII (the King of Spain) finally decided to accept a liberal monarchy, Iturbide was afraid it would be worse for the Creoles and supported the fight for independence. He believed that if they could achieve it, the Creoles would control Mexico. He came up with the ‘Plan de Iguala’ which stated that when Mexico achieved independence it would be a Catholic country and that the Creoles would have equal power to the Spaniards.
Juan Ruiz de Apodaca knew that Guerrero and Guadalpe’s followers would support Iturbide and resigned his post as Viceroy. In September 1821 the independent government of Mexico was established, run by Iturbide who crowned himself ‘Emperor of Mexico’ (Kartha, 2010: Buzzle.com). But it was not long before the Mexicans overthrew Iturbide and Guadalpe Victoria took power. In 1823, Spain attempted once more to take control of Mexico but when Fernando VII died in 1836, it was decided that Mexico would be independent indefinitely.
Although it took eleven years and caused the loss of many lives, the Mexicans continued their long and bloody battle to gain back what had once been theirs by right of birth. September 16 is an important date in Mexico and one which is much celebrated because it was on this day that Hidalgo summoned his supporters and began the War of Independence. Every year at midnight on 15 September, Mexicans shout the ‘Cry of Dolores’ in honour of the people who fought to achieve freedom for their country.
This article was researched and written by Vanessa Alexander and Charlotte Alexander.
-Green, D. Faces of Latin America. (2005). Latin America Bureau.
-Bingham, J & Chandler, F & Taplin, S. (2000) The Usborne Encyclopaedia of World History. London: Usborne Publishing Ltd.
-Kartha, D. ‘Mexican War of Independence’. (2009)
-‘The History of Mexican Independence’. (April 2009)
-Palfrey, D. ‘The Spanish Conquest 1519-1521’. (August 29th 2007)
-Mckeehan, W. ‘Mexican Independence’. (2009)