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Mexico’s Independence heroes: a top-ten primer

Mexico has many heroes from the Independence era, some well-known, other less so.

  All played their part in liberating an oppressed people from their Spanish masters. Here’s a top-ten run-down of the leading players who helped forge Mexico as an independent nation two centuries ago.

1. Miguel Hidalgoy Costilla

The George Washington of Mexico got the independence movement started in September 1810 with his famous “grito” (call-to-arms) challenging Spanish rule. Gathering an army of 90,000 campesinos, the parish priest marched across Mexico, enjoying some early military success. His downfall came at the Battle of Calderón Bridge outside Guadalajara, when 6,000 elite Spanish troops routed his ragtag army. Hidalgo fled north but was eventually  captured, excommunicated and executed.  Even though he never lived to see an independent Mexico, he is regarded as the “Father” of the nation and is the focus of the annual celebration each year on September 15/16.

2. José María Morelosy Pavón

A priest and rebel leader who assumed the leadership of the independence movement after the execution of Hidalgo.  He was instrumental in drafting the October 22, 1814 constitution – Decreto Constitucional para la Libertad de la América Mexicana – declaring Mexico a republic. Captured by the Spanish, he was tried by the Inquisition, defrocked and executed for treason in 1815.

3. Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez

A sympathizer of the independence cause, who hosted secret meetings with conspirators in her Queretero house, is feted for warning Hidalgo and Allende that the insurgency had been betrayed.  Thanks to this information, the leaders of the movement decided to bring forward the start of the revolution from October to September 1810. Known as “La Corregidora,” Ortiz de Domínguez spent three years in prison before being released. She opposed the establishment of a Mexican Empire instead of a republic and, during the latter years of her life, became involved with several radical political groups. She died in 1829.

4. Ignacio Allende

The lieutenant general of the Revolutionary Army who fought alongside Hidalgo to the bitter end. Born to a wealthy Spanish criollo family in San Miguel el Grande, Guanajuato, Allende served in the Spanish Army before rallying to the independence cause. Far better versed in military matters than Hidalgo, he took control of the rebel movement after the debacle of Calderon Bridge. He was arrested along with Hidalgo, tried and executed.

5. Leona Vicario

Dedicated to informing insurgents of movements in Mexico City, she was a member of Los Guadalupes, one of the earliest independence movements in New Spain and financed the rebellion with her large fortune. Vicario was one of the first female journalists in Mexico. Driven by strong feminist beliefs, she took many risks and sacrificed much of her fortune in the name of liberation.

6. Vicente Guerrero

One of the leading revolutionary generals of the independence war who first fought with Morelos, later joining forces with Guadalupe Victoria becoming the commander-in-chief of the rebel troops. For a time he was the only major rebel leader keeping the rebellion alive through guerrilla warfare in the south of the country. Eventually, he joined forces with former foe Agustín de Iturbide, who assumed the title of Constitutional Emperor of Mexico when independence was consummated in 1821. Elected the second president of Mexico in April 1829, he was ousted by conservatives within eight months. He began a new insurgency and was captured and executed in 1831.

8. Mariano Matamoros

A priest who became a rebel leader in Morelos’ army. He won some important battles against the Spanish and is credited with breaking the Siege of Cuautla between February 9 to May 2, 1812.  Matamoros was captured in the aftermath of the rebels’ defeat in the Battle of Valladolid on January 5, 1814. He was expelled from the priesthood, tried for treason and executed by firing squad.

7. Guadalupe Victoria

Insurgent commander of the independence war who was elected the first president of the “United Mexican States” after the adoption of the Constitution of 1824. A conciliatory president, he tried to apply policies that maintained the peace and formed his cabinet with prominent members from the divergent factions of the time. Although his government was hampered by severe financial problems and several coup attempts, he managed to serve out his term. He died of natural causes in 1843.

9. El Pipila

The nickname of a local hero of the city of Guanajuato, who on September 28, 1810 tied a long, flat stone on his back to protect himself from musket fire, before setting fire to the wooden door of a grain warehouse known as the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, where Spanish troops had barricaded themselves, along with silver and other treasures.  The insurgents then stormed the building, killing all the soldiers and the civil Spanish refugees.

10. Martín Javier Mina

A law student born in Spain who joined the Spanish Army but became disillusioned with the monarchy after the king abolished the democratic government. He joined New Spain’s revolutionary struggle in April 1817 after emigrating to the Americas. Leading a brave group of rebels, he fought alongside feted Jalisco-born insurgents Pedro Moreno and Jose Antonio Torres before his capture and execution in December 1817 at the age of 27.

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