Los Insurgentes

Los Insurgentes

By David Ellison

Los Insurgentes

 

“Insurgentes” means insurgents, or revolutionaries. 

Like everything else in Mexican history, the War for Independence (not to be confused with the Mexican Revolution against Porfirio Diaz) was, as the historian Lesley Bryd Simpson quipped, “as complicated as chaos.”

Was it truly a war for separation from Spain, or just against the current, local government? Did the insurgentes fight for a democratic republic, or merely for an independent, Mexican monarchy? Was the struggle for real social and political reform, or just to replace the old Spanish oligarchy with a new, Mexican one? Well, it depends when and whom you asked. About the only thing the insurgentes agreed on was that Mexico would remain an exclusively Catholic country. 

At the time, Mexico (New Spain) was divided into strict racial/social castes: At the top ruled a few Peninsulares (Spanish blood, born on the Iberian Peninsula of Spain) who held most positions of power in both the government and the church; chafing beneath them were the Criollos (Spanish blood, American born); next came the Mestizos (mixed Spanish and Native blood—comprising most Mexicans today); and exploited horrifically at the bottom suffered the Natives and African slaves. Fierce frustration had long simmered just beneath the surface of Mexican society. 

Meanwhile, Napoleon had invaded Spain and forced the Spanish king to abdicate; but many Spanish resistance groups called juntas had formed to fight for the king’s return. 

So, who ruled the Spanish colonies—the exiled king, the newly-installed French puppet, or the juntas?

Political chaos ensued in New Spain, pregnant with exciting, dangerous possibilities. When Peninsulares suspected that the Viceroy with Criollo leanings might declare independence, they overthrew him. Criollos were furious, and many of them began to plot an uprising of their own. Thus, ironically, by attempting to thwart an uprising, the peninsulares inadvertently ensured it. 

The most famous insurgente, now considered the Father of Mexico, was a Criollo priest named Miguel Hidalgo, who began the struggle with his famous Grito de Dolores on Dieciséis de Septiembre (September 16th), 1810. But, perhaps because he’d been forced to begin months ahead of schedule, he proclaimed only vague goals: “Long live religion! Long live Our Most Holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live [Spanish King] Fernando VII! Long live America and down with bad government!” Defying co-conspirator Ignacio Allende who hoped only to overthrow the Peninsulares, Hidalgo later expanded his objectives to include land reform as well as an end to the castes and slavery (radical propositions that turned most Criollos against the revolution). When Hidalgo and Allende were captured and executed, however, Hidalgo’s bold goals died with them. 

Ignacio López Rayón and José María Morelos (a mestizo priest) succeeded Hidalgo as leaders of the revolution. The former, like Hidalgo, wanted to remain loyal to the Spanish king. The latter, however, was a better military leader, and far more radical with his many objectives, which included independence, the establishment of a republic, and equality for all. Morelos succeeded in formally declaring independence and in ratifying a constitution; but he, too, was finally captured and executed; and his inspiring political proclamations perished as well. 

Vincente Gerrero of predominantly Native descent kept the revolution alive, resorting to very effective guerrilla warfare against the Criollo general Augustín de Iturbide, fighting him to a statemate. 

When Spain, having expelled the French, reinstated a liberal constitution that threatened the privilege and wealth of the church, even Iturbide decided it was time for New Spain to go its own way. He proposed the The Plan of Iguala, the cornerstones of which were three guarantees: Mexico would remain a Catholic country, it would establish its own constitutional monarchy, and every Mexican would enjoy equal rights. (Afterward, Mestizos and especially Natives still wallowed in oppression.) Guerrero agreed. 

After eleven years of bloodshed, Mexico had finally won its independence—but little else. 

 

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