The late 18th and early 19th centuries were turbulent times in Latin America, marked by the oppressive rule of colonial powers. In Mexico, a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years, discontent grew among the population, fuelled by social, economic, and political disparities. The imposition of heavier taxes, intended to fund Spain's military campaigns, had further exacerbated this resentment. Moreover, in 1808 Napoleon seized control of Spain, dethroned the reigning monarch, and installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as the new ruler. This combination of Spanish incompetence, coupled with a history of exploiting and oppressing the impoverished population, became the last straw that prompted the Mexicans, particularly the criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards), to claim independence. It was during this time that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest from the town of Dolores, took a stand to advocate for a change.
In the year 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo, belonging to the Creole community, had garnered immense affection from his parishioners due to his dedication to them. He had endured personal hardships under the Spanish colonial system and firmly believed that it was morally lawful to overthrow unjust rulers. In the meanwhile, in the town of Querétaro, a group of men and women who advocated for independence began to emerge. One of their leaders was Ignacio Allende, a Creole officer holding a prominent position within the local military regiment. Recognizing the need for a figure of moral authority, someone with a strong rapport with the underprivileged, and extensive networks in neighbouring communities, the conspirators reached out to Miguel Hidalgo, recruiting him for their cause.
The conspirators meticulously planned their course of action, setting their sights on early December 1810 as the opportune moment to strike. They made efforts to sway royalist soldiers and officers to their side, successfully enlisting many of them. They also scouted the nearby royalist barracks and garrisons, devoting countless hours to envisioning what a post-Spanish society in Mexico could be like.
The Cry of Dolores
On the evening of September 15, 1810, the conspirators received the alarming news that their plot had been uncovered. At that moment, Ignacio Allende found himself in the town of Dolores and contemplated going into hiding to evade capture. However, it was Miguel Hidalgo who urged him to stand resolute and continue pushing forward with their cause.
As dawn broke on the 16th of September, Hidalgo took to the pulpit of his parish and sounded the church bells. Then, he delivered a stirring speech that would come to be known as the "Grito de Dolores" or the Cry of Dolores. In his impassioned address, he called upon Mexicans to rise against Spanish oppression, demanding an end to tyranny and exploitation. Hidalgo cried out for the "death" of Spanish rule and the "life" of Mexican sovereignty. In response to his words, a fervent wave of enthusiasm swept through the congregation and their collective spirit was ignited by the call to liberation. Mexicans from all social classes, including mestizos, indigenous people, and criollos, rallied behind Hidalgo's call for independence. The movement spread like wildfire, gathering momentum and support as it surged through the country.
The Cry of Dolores set in motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to Mexico's independence. Miguel Hidalgo led his forces in a relentless campaign against the royalist armies, pushing them to the very gates of Mexico City itself. Even though his "army" was poorly equipped and lacking in training, they valiantly engaged in confrontations such as the siege of Guanajuato and the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. However, they were defeated at the Battle of Calderon Bridge in January of 1811. It was then that Hidalgo and Allende were captured, leading to their eventual execution.
Although Hidalgo's revolutionary fervour had a relatively brief lifespan, it ignited the spirits of many. Even after his execution, there were already fervent advocates ready to take up the mantle of his cause, with his former pupil, José María Morelos, emerging as a notable figure among them. Mexico's war for independence eventually wore down the Spanish forces and on September 27, 1821, the Spanish Crown finally recognized Mexican independence, ending centuries of colonial domination.
Nowadays in Mexico, during Independence Day local dignitaries pay homage to Hidalgo by reenacting the Grito de Dolores in public squares of cities, towns, and villages alike. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, the President upholds tradition by reenacting the cry before ceremoniously ringing a bell—the very same bell from the town of Dolores that Hidalgo himself rang in 1810.
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