Streets of Mexico – July 2023

José María Morelos y Pavón

Morelos was the most successful of all the Mexican revolutionaries, both militarily and politically.

A Mestizo priest (mixed Spanish and Native), he studied under Father Miguel Hidalgo at the College of Saint Nicolas. After the revolution began, he joined Hidalgo, who sent him to foment an uprising in the south with the goal of eventually capturing the port of Acapulco. When Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende were executed, it fell to him and Ignacio López Rayón to keep the struggle alive.

Morelos was a brilliant military leader. Following Allende’s advice, he recruited a relatively small but well trained and equipped force of about 6,000 soldiers. During its first nine months, it annihilated three Spanish armies.

But then Morelos made a huge tactical error, similar to Hidalgo’s: rather than target Mexico City next, he laid siege to Acapulco, believing he first needed to establish a rebel port to receive foreign aid. He eventually succeeded, but the long delay allowed the Spanish forces in the north to recover and regroup.

At this time, Morelos also focused on the political side of the struggle, intending to finally clarify the revolution’s goals. For example, the other insurgent commander, López Rayón, sought only to defend the Spanish king’s claim to New Spain, while Morelos hoped to win real independence and real social reform.

Morelos convened a national congress and proposed his “Sentimientos de la Nación” (“Feelings of the Nation”) which called for, among other things, independence, three branches of government, and end to slavery as well as the entire caste system. “The only distinction between one American and another shall be that between vice and virtue,” he said.

The congress accepted Morelos’ proposals and formally declared Mexican independence on November 6, 1813. The next year it ratified a Mexican constitution, too. It bestowed upon Morelos the title of “Generalíssimo” (“Supreme Commander” or “your Highness”), but he insisted everyone call him merely “Servant of the Nation.”

Then, everything fell apart. The Spanish military, now reinforced, dealt Morelos a series of disastrous defeats. It finally captured Morelos, put him on trial, and executed him. With no one to defend them, the congress and its constitution disappeared, as did Morelos’ vision of equality.

Today, in addition to streets everywhere in Mexico, the city and state of Morelia honor Morelos; and his image appears on a postage stamp and the 50 peso bill.

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David Ellison
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