Mexican War of Independence

Mexico’s war of independence ultimately achieved an end to Spanish rule in New Spain; in the process, it also brought about the ascendancy of the military in Mexican politics for the next century.

Summary of Event

The beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence is generally dated to El Grito Grito de Dolores, El
Mexico;El Grito de Dolores[Grito de Dolores] de Dolores, the proclamation of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the town of Dolores on September 16, 1810. Certain criollos (Spaniards born in the New World) of the intellectual class had been agitating for some time against the Crown in favor of an independent Mexico. When the royal authorities uncovered a plot by Father Hidalgo and his cohorts in Querétaro, Father Hidalgo defied the government openly and headed an insurrection composed of criollo liberals, mestizos (Mexican residents of mixed European and African or American Indian descent), and various American Indian groups. His army, which resembled a mob more than a proper military force, won stunning victories initially. Father Hidalgo committed a strategic error, however, by not capitalizing on his momentum to seize the capital, Mexico City Mexico City;and war of independence[War of independence] . As a result, he was eventually captured, tried by the Inquisition Inquisition
Roman Catholic Church;Inquisition , and executed in 1811. Mexico;War of Independence
Mexico;and Spain[Spain]
Spain;and Mexico[Mexico]
Ferdinand VII
[p]Ferdinand VII[Ferdinand 07];and Mexico[Mexico]
Morelos, José María
[kw]Mexican War of Independence (Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821)
[kw]War of Independence, Mexican (Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821)
[kw]Independence, Mexican War of (Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821)
Mexico;War of Independence
Mexico;and Spain[Spain]
Spain;and Mexico[Mexico]
Ferdinand VII
[p]Ferdinand VII[Ferdinand 07];and Mexico[Mexico]
Morelos, José María
[g]Central America and the Caribbean;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
[g]Mexico;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
[g]Spain;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
[c]Colonization;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Sept. 16, 1810-Sept. 28, 1821: Mexican War of Independence[0480]
Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel
Iturbide, Agustín

Calleja del Rey, Félix María
Guerrero, Vicente
Victoria, Guadalupe

Following Father Hidalgo’s death, leadership of the independence movement fell to another parish priest, the mestizo José María Morelos. The criollos distrusted the insurgency, especially after Father Morelos began to espouse land redistribution and racial equality. Although much more gifted with military acumen than Father Hidalgo, Morelos resorted to guerrilla warfare because of the small size of his army. His tactics worked. By the spring of 1813, his forces encircled Mexico City. Morelos occupied himself with the political issues of the structure of government after independence. Six months later, royalist forces under General Félix María Calleja Calleja del Rey, Félix María del Rey shattered the encircled rebel troops. In the fall of 1815, Morelos was captured. Like Father Hidalgo Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel before him, Morelos was tried, defrocked, and executed.

Mexican Territories Before the Texas Revolution

Only two vestiges of the independence movement remained: the rebel guerrilla forces under chieftain general Guadalupe Victoria Victoria, Guadalupe (who had changed his name from Manuel Félix Fernández), striking from the mountains of Puebla and Veracruz, and a thousand troops in Oaxaca, led by Vicente Guerrero. By 1819, the viceroy of New Spain reported to King Ferdinand VII that the insurrection was effectively finished and offered a pardon to the last renegades. Assistance for independence then came from an unexpected source—the mother country.

When the Spanish monarchy was exiled and imprisoned during the period of Napoleonic control of Spain, the Central Junta in Cádiz instituted a governing body of elected representatives called the Cortes. The Cortes presided in 1812 over the writing of Spain’s first liberal constitution, which included some modest anticlerical clauses. Upon his restoration in 1814, Ferdinand VII immediately revoked the constitution Spain;constitutions , suspended the Cortes, imprisoned or exiled liberal opponents, and prepared an army to crush revolutionary movements in Spanish America. By 1820, Spanish opposition to Ferdinand’s reactionism resulted in Colonel Rafael Riego leading thousands of army troops to force the monarch to accept the Constitution of 1812 and reestablish the Cortes.

The Cortes built upon the foundation of the 1812 constitution to end clerical privileges, reduce the tithe, order the sale of church property, abolish the Inquisition Inquisition
Roman Catholic Church;Inquisition , suppress the monastic order, and expel the Jesuits. The conservative criollos in New Spain violently opposed this liberalization. The clergy of New Spain viewed the Constitution and the Cortes as blasphemous, and the wealthy criollos relied upon the church for their mortgages. The entire social and economic system of New Spain was threatened: Independence would solve their problem. What was needed was a royalist who could be persuaded to betray the Crown.

Born to wealthy criollo parents, Agustín de Iturbide Iturbide, Agustín de entered the royalist army at a young age and gained the reputation as a formidable, if ruthless, commanding officer against the armies of independence. After the defeat of Morelos, Iturbide’s military as well as his financial fortune waned. By 1820, after leading a dissolute life in Mexico City, he was penniless and eager for an opportunity to salvage his future. When the viceroy (perhaps upon the advice of the conspiring clerics) chose him to lead twenty-five hundred royalist forces against Vicente Guerrero, Iturbide promptly opened negotiations with the rebel forces to effect independence. Guerrero, Guerrero, Vicente although suspicious, agreed to Iturbide’s Plan de Iguala, issued on February 12, 1821.

Modern rendering of Mexican insurgents in 1814.

(The Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, Texas)

The Plan de Iguala proposed to unite all classes and races under the “three guarantees” which, in reality, served to benefit the criollos. First, Mexico would be an independent constitutional monarchy. The crown would be offered to Ferdinand VII or another European royal. Second, Roman Catholicism would remain the sole religion, with its clerical privileges left intact. Third, all citizens were to be equal regardless of class or race. The criollos especially meant this to apply to their status compared to that of the peninsulares (residents of New Spain born in Spain), whose privileges the criollos resented. The plan interfered with no property rights. The viceroy, whose replacement from Spain was already en route, resigned after only a few skirmishes.

The new viceroy, Juan O’Donojú O’Donojú, Juan , assessed the situation quickly: New Spain was lost. The Treaty of Córdoba Córdoba, Treaty of (1821) , signed by both Iturbide and O’Donojú on August 24, 1821, provided for the peaceful removal of royalist forces and acceptance of most of the terms of the Plan de Iguala. Iturbide had made one important addition to the plan: If no European prince accepted the throne of Mexico, a Mexican could be designated as emperor. On September 27, 1821, Iturbide, at the head of the Army of the Three Guarantees, made his triumphal entry into Mexico City Mexico City;and war of independence[War of independence] on his thirty-eighth birthday. The next day, September 28, Iturbide Iturbide, Agustín de , as spokesperson for the governing junta, declared Mexico an independent nation.


The independence of Mexico, once the prize possession of the Spanish crown, foreshadowed Spain’s decline as a global empire. The Mexican War of Independence created Mexico’s gallery of historical heroes and villains, but it also ushered in a tradition of military intervention to achieve political goals—a legacy due to which Mexico has spent much of its national period suffering. For the common people, rural and illiterate, life changed very little as a result of independence. The constant bloodshed that followed throughout the next decade and a half reinforced the powerlessness of Mexican peasants to change their fates.

Further Reading

  • Anna, Timothy E. The Mexican Empire of Iturbide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. A political history of Mexico at the time of independence, with special emphasis on the statecraft of Agustín de Iturbide. Attempts to alter the traditional villainous view of the emperor by a more sympathetic and complex one.
  • Archer, Chirston I., ed. The Birth of Modern Mexico, 1780-1824. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2003. Collection of articles by various scholars concentrating on conditions and strategies for Mexican independence, placing the ideas and actions of Hidalgo and others in historical context.
  • Bazant, Jan. A Concise History of Mexico from Hidalgo to Cárdenas, 1805-1940. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. A highly quoted narrative history of the formative years of Mexico. Not highly analytical, especially concerning the war for independence, but includes fascinating anecdotes.
  • Flores Caballero, Romeo. Counterrevolution: The Role of the Spaniards in the Independence of Mexico, 1804-1838. Translated by Jaime E. Rodriguez. Reprint. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974. Presents the role of the Spaniards in Mexico as the principal leaders of the colonial economy and the events that resulted in their replacement by the criollos. Refutes the common assumption that the expulsion of the Spaniards after Independence caused the bankruptcy of the Mexican economy.
  • Meyer, Michael C., William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds. The Course of Mexican History. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. A comprehensive, well-balanced history of Mexico. Discusses the impact of events on society, including repercussions of independence for the common folk.
  • Miller, Robert Ryal. Mexico: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. Highly readable, concise introduction to Mexican history from pre-Columbian times to the 1980’s. Emphasizes the nineteenth century and revolutionary periods.
  • Robertson, William Spence. Iturbide of Mexico. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1952. A standard biography of Iturbide, based on extensive primary sources in Mexico. Reinforces the traditional portrait of Iturbide as a less-than-admirable figure in Mexican independence. Directly refuted by Anna’s study on Iturbide.
  • Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo. Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. A passionate narrative on Mexican history. Often supplies different perspectives from those of the standard surveys.

Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain

Peninsular War in Spain

Hidalgo Issues El Grito de Dolores

Bolívar’s Military Campaigns

San Martín’s Military Campaigns

Brazil Becomes Independent

Texas Revolution

Mexican War

France Occupies Mexico

Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War

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Ferdinand VII
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