That Mexico is free today is due to two causes, the tyranny of the viceroys of Spain and the cruel treatment of the natives in the mines and on the great estates of the realm won by Hernando Cortes. Also the weakness of Spain during the career of Napoleon Bonaparte had much to do with it. While Spain could not keep its own kings on their throne, it was not in good condition to keep down the spirit of disaffection in Mexico.
The severe taxes and rigorous rule of Spain, the arbitrary character of the laws, the oppression of the lower classes had exasperated the people to the last degree, and when, in the exile of Iturrigaray, they saw how easy it was to overturn an established government they lost no time in putting into practice this new lesson in revolution. Miguel Hidalgo, a curate in the Mexican church service, who had long cherished hopes of independence, was the first of the patriots to move. On the night of September 15, 1810, roused from bed by Ignacio Allende, a captain of dragoons and a fellow plotter, he dressed quietly and, followed by a few armed friends, went to the prison and set free certain patriots confined there. Before nightfall the little band had increased to eighty men. Their cry, or grito, was, "Up with True Religion and Down with False Government." Such was the famous Grito de Dolores, the "Call of Dolores," so named from the place in which the movement started.
It was a fitting time for such a movement. Napoleon had invaded Spain, the king had abdicated, all things seemed at sea. And the country to the north, the United States, had recently won freedom from English rule. Why should not Mexico win its independence from the still more oppressive rule of Spain? The little army grew rapidly, laborers from the field joined it in great numbers, armed with clubs, spades and other crude weapons. Hidalgo was made its general, Allende his lieutenant, and in a brief period it had grown to more than 50,000 men.
Several places were captured, chief among them the great mining city of Guanajuato, a rich and flourishing place. Here Hidalgo established himself, collected supplies and money, and suppressed disorder in his motley crew of followers by severe edicts. The whole mining province declared in his favor and three cavalry squadrons joined his ranks. On October 17th the city of Valladolid was taken, and shortly afterward Hidalgo, followed by a great multitude of enthusiastic but untrained men, took the bold step of advancing on the city of Mexico.
Success had so far attended the movement. Now disaster took its place. The new viceroy, Venegas, a soldier distinguished in the war with Napoleon, had now reached Mexico and took quick and vigorous steps to suppress the revolt. Hidalgo won a victory, but it was quickly followed by a defeat, all the artillery being lost and the huge army scattered in dismay, while the victors advanced to and took Guanajuato, the chief town held by the insurgents.
Hidalgo collected another army, but his undisciplined troops were no match for the trained forces of the viceroy, and though they fought bravely they were again routed and dispersed. The revolution for the present was checked and its leaders retreated rapidly northward, hoping to reach United States soil and there recruit and discipline a new army. They were overtaken in their flight, carried to Chihuahua, and there shot. Thus ended in death the bold struggle of the pioneers in Mexican revolution.
The seed had been sown, however, and the time of its fruitage was soon to come. The thirst for independence kept alive, and a new leader appeared in Jose M. Morelos, one of Hidalgo's lieutenants. Though the main army had been dispersed, Morelos kept the field with a small but well trained following, and from February to May, 1812, defended the little town of Cuautla against all the efforts of the viceroy's army. Lack of food and water in the end forced him to flee, but his brilliant defense won him widespread fame. He continued in the field, winning victories and increasing his forces, and on the 14th of September, 1813, he called together the first Mexican Congress, whose earliest act was to issue a declaration of independence.
Despite this act of defiance of Spain, the career of Morelos was now on its decline. Calleja, the general to whom Hidalgo owed his overthrow, had been made viceroy, and prosecuted the war with great vigor. This was seen when the insurgent leader advanced on the city of Valladolid and demanded its surrender. By eve of the next day, Christmas Eve, 1813, his army was dispersed and he was a fugitive. He had been attacked and routed by one of the commanders in the city, Augustin de Iturbide, a man whose name became memorable in later years. Iturbide, renowned already for military vigor, pursued the patriot army relentlessly, defeating it wherever met. The congress called together by Morelos continued in existence during the following year, but had a wandering career. In 1815 it decided to hold its sessions at Tehuacan and moved thither escorted by Morelos and what troops he still commanded. Despite the secrecy of the movement, the royalist leader discovered it, intercepted and routed the small army, and captured Morelos. On the 22nd of December, 1815, this second patriot leader was shot, dying with heroic courage. Thus ended the second struggle for Mexican independence. Both the leaders, Hidalgo and Morelos, are now held in high honor by the Mexican people, and one of the last official acts of President Diaz was to celebrate, on the 16th of September, 1910, the anniversary of the "Grito de Dolores," the war cry of Hidalgo, uttered on that day one hundred years before. A marble statue of Morelos, set up September 30, 1865, in the town which bears his name, commemorates the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
The reverses which we have described did not put an end to the struggle for liberty. The patriot forces kept in the field, though frequently beaten and dispersed. Mina, a youthful guerrilla in Spain, sought Mexico and won victories against the royalists, until captured and shot in 1817. Guerrero, a patriot hero, was the most persistent of them all. Many times defeated, often wounded, he refused all offers of clemency from the royalists, set up a new national government in the southern mountains, and maintained himself until 1820, when a new and powerful leader took hold of the cause of the patriots. This was Augustin de Iturbide, the royalist leader who had overthrown Morelos.
Iturbide left Mexico City in November, 1820, as general in command of a large body of troops sent to put an end to Guerrero and his rebel force. But Guerrero was then at the head of 3,000 men, and with these he defended himself with great courage and persistence. In the end Iturbide requested a conference with him. The truth was that the royalist general had lost his enthusiasm for royalty. He had developed patriotic sentiments, and now decided to join hands with Guerrero in the strife for independence. Guerrero, while patriotic, was not ambitious, and willingly turned over to Iturbide the command. On February 24, 1821, they made public the "Plan of Iguala." The chief item in this plan called for the independence of Mexico, as a limited monarchy under a king to be chosen from the royal family of Spain.
The promulgation of the "Plan of Iguala" practically ended the rule of Spain in Mexico. The viceroy sent an army against his renegade general, but Iturbide's proclamation had brought hosts of adherents to his cause, city after city fell into his hands, and finally the garrison of Mexico itself turned against the viceroy, who had just issued a decree for the forcible enlistment of all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty. The whole country was turning in a mass to the patriot cause. The new adherents included most of the royalist chiefs, among them Santa Anna, a personage of whom we shall have more to say. Apodaca, the viceroy, hastened from the capital and took ship for Spain, not knowing that a new viceroy, Juan O'Donoju, had been sent from Spain to replace him, landing at Vera Cruz, July 30, 1821.
O'Donoju found no viceroyalty, but an independent nation, to await him. Iturbide met him, proved to him that the work of independence was complete and final, and signed with him a treaty in which he accepted the "Plan of Iguala." On the 27th of September Iturbide made a triumphant entrance into the city of Mexico, followed by an army of about 16,000 men. He was hailed with vast enthusiasm, the whole people wildly rejoicing at the end of the Spanish dominion, which had held Mexico in its stern grasp for three hundred years.
On the 28th of September, 1821, the "Mexican Empire" was announced as an independent nation. This embraced not only the present area of Mexico, but also Texas, New Mexico and California on the north and the present republic of Guatemala on the south. Mexico, in fact, was at that time the third largest country in the world, coming next after Russia and China. Guatemala remained in the new empire but one year, withdrawing from it in 1822. Later years were vastly to reduce its area. A government, called the Regency, was formed, with Iturbide as its president, a congress was called into existence, and the new nationality swung loose from the shores of Europe and sailed away on a voyage of its own.
Who was to be its commander? A member of the royal family of Spain, as called for in the "Plan of Iguala"? This was quickly settled. On the 18th of May, 1822, a regimental sergeant was the first to proclaim Iturbide as emperor. This proclamation was eagerly accepted by the garrisons and the next day was taken up by Congress, which body, by a large majority, declared Iturbide the emperor of Mexico, under the title of Augustin I.
Thus rapidly had a simple soldier risen to the proud position of holder of the throne of the Montezumas. It was too sudden an elevation to last. Opposition quickly declared itself, even in Congress, which body the new emperor was obliged to dissolve, replacing it by a body of advisers under his immediate control. The next step in opposition was taken on December 6th, at Vera Cruz, by the afterward prominent Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who boldly proclaimed Mexico a republic. His suggestion was well received and spread rapidly. Iturbide found his adherents falling away in favor of the new idea, and not willing to bring on civil war he abdicated on March 19, 1823, nine months after being crowned as emperor. His succeeding career was a brief one. Having sailed to Europe, he heard there of schemes for restoring Mexico to Spain, and returned to Mexico to give his aid against such an effort in case of need. Meanwhile, without his knowledge, Congress had passed a decree declaring him a traitor, and ordering that he should be put to death if he ventured to return to Mexico. No sooner had he landed than he was arrested. His protest that he was ignorant of the decree had no effect. The Congress of Tamaulipas, in which state he landed, decided that he must be shot in accordance with the decree, and shot he was without delay. He shared the fate of most of the leaders in Mexico's struggle for liberty.
Independence had not brought peace and order to Mexico. It seemed to bring endless insurrection and internal strife. For half a century and more ambitious chiefs; rose in rapid succession, many of them attaining to the presidency—each to give way to another after a few months had passed. Within sixty years the list of presidents and dictators averaged about one per annum, many more than this during some years. And as most of these presidents reached their office through anarchy and insurrection instead of legal election, the state of affairs which this indicated can be better imagined than described.
Prominent among the presidents and dictators was Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, whose name occurs nine times in the extended list. Born in 1798, it was he who expelled the royalists from Vera Cruz in 1821, thus aiding Iturbide to gain the throne, and who, in 1822, proclaimed a republic, the step which brought the empire to an end. He was to act a prominent part on many future occasions.
On October 4, 1824, Congress decreed that a federal government should be established, a Constitution of excellent model being adopted. Guadalupe Victoria, a prominent insurgent leader, was the first president. He had the good fortune, not soon repeated, to remain in office for a full term. During his administration a law was passed banishing the Spaniards from Mexico, the result being that many wealthy and useful citizens left the country, taking their wealth with them.
The tide of insurrection began its flow in 1828 as a result of the second presidential election. Pedraza, the conservative candidate, was chosen against Guerrero, the famous patriot leader, who headed the Liberalist ticket, by a majority of two electors. Upon this Santa Anna, the high priest of disorder, at once proclaimed Guerrero elected and soon the country was in the throes of civil war. The worst results were in the capital city, where a mutiny in favor of the Liberals broke out. Pedraza was forced to flee for his life. Flames burst forth all over the city. The Parian, a storehouse of gold, jewels and rich stuffs, was plundered and destroyed. For several days riot and robbery prevailed. Shops and warehouses were broken into and pillaged of their contents. Utter desolation and uproar prevailed, even the palace servants joining in the work of pillage and leaving President Victoria alone in his palatial, halls.
The trouble spread elsewhere. Santa Anna, supported by a horde of the discontented, entrenched himself in the Convent of St. Domingo, Oaxaca, where he was besieged by the Federal army, and defended himself with great courage and skill, holding his own until the besieging army gave up the contest. In the end Pedraza left the country and Congress gave the empty seat of the presidency to Guerrero.
We must deal very briefly with the confusion of political events that followed. Spain, rather late in the day, sent a force from Cuba to try and win back the revolted province. Santa Anna was at once in the field against it and joined the regulars with his irregular troops, the result being that the Spaniards had to leave the country in haste. President Guerrero now appointed the irrepressible Santa Anna Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Federal Army. This service his new War Minister requited by turning against him with the army and putting Vice-President Bustamente in his place. Utter discord in governmental affairs followed. The presidential office was tossed back and forth like a ball between the several candidates, Santa Anna himself holding the office for a brief period in 1833, and several times in the following years. A favorite with the army, he was chosen by it dictator, and there were fears in the country at large that he proposed to overthrow the existing system of government and make himself emperor. As for the patriotic Guerrero, he was disposed of in the arbitrary Mexican fashion. Taking the field against his foes, he was decoyed by a trick on board a Genoese vessel, carried to another port, handed over to his enemies, tried by a handful of officials, condemned to death and shot. His fate resembled that of Iturbide. But unlike the latter he was one of the true patriots of the country and is today regarded as one of its martyrs.
Meanwhile trouble for the new republic was developing in the north. That vast section of the country was very thinly settled, the great bulk of the population residing in the south. This was the status of Texas, the great northeastern province, in which the population of Spanish descent was very small, its most numerous and active inhabitants being immigrants from the United States. These, by virtue of their residence, had become Mexican citizens, but their citizenship did not set heavily upon them, since they held themselves still to be Americans and despised their Mexican fellow citizens.
The advent of Americans into Texas began in 1821, the first year of Mexican independence. Moses Austin, an American frontiersman, had penetrated Texas in 1820 and applied to the Mexican government for permission to found there an American colony of three hundred families. Without waiting for a reply he set out to Missouri for settlers and died there in June, 1821.
His son, Stephen F. Austin, conducted a party of emigrants from New Orleans to Texas in 1821, settling where the city of Austin now stands. Here, during 1822, the permission asked for by his father was confirmed to him. Many other American emigrants sought Texas during the succeeding years, among whom in 1832 came Samuel Houston, or Sam Houston, as he called himself, destined to become the leading spirit in the events that followed.
In 1833 the Texan colonists adopted a constitution and applied for admission as a state to the commonwealth of Mexico. Austin visited the city of Mexico for this purpose, but found only anarchy there, and was detained as a prisoner or hostage until September, 1835. In the month following his release he went to the United States as commissioner to promote the liberation of Texas from the dominion of Mexico and to obtain its recognition as an independent state.
Texas at that time was in open insurrection, its American colonists being indignant at the retention of their agent and the parody upon government which existed in Mexico at that time. Here was an opportunity for Santa Anna, the army leader and dictator, to win new fame. He set out at once for the revolted province, reaching the Rio Grande with an army of six thousand men in February, 1836.
Santa Anna's method was one which has often been repeated in Mexico in later years, that of massacre. Of one party that surrendered to him all were shot down in cold blood. A second party, among whom was the celebrated hunter, Davy Crockett, took refuge in a mission house near San Antonio, known as the Alamo. Here they defended themselves bravely until few of them remained alive. The survivors were instantly killed upon their surrender. This act has become famous as the "Massacre of the Alamo," and the war-cry of the vengeful Texan army became "Remember the Alamo." The final conflict took place at San Jacinto, April 21, 1836, a small Texan army under Sam Houston meeting Santa Anna's much larger force and completely defeating it. Santa Anna was taken prisoner and the captors demanded that he should be treated as he had treated his prisoners. In a craven attempt to save his life and win his freedom he signed a treaty with the Texans acknowledging their independence.
The last assault and fall of the Alamo. This famous siege took place March 6, 1836, during the struggle of Texas for independence. The Alamo, originally a mission building, butlater converted into a fort, was held by 140 Texans against Santa Ana's Mexican army of 4,000. But six men remained to surrender. They were taken before Santa Anna and immediately butchered by his order. Hence the famous war-cry. "Remember the Alamo."
This treaty was not recognized by the Mexicans, as they had suspended the authority of the defeated general. Santa Anna was set free and returned home in the following year. He met with a very cold reception, yet became a candidate in the presidential election of that year. His vote—two out of the sixty-nine electors—showed the feeling in Mexico at that time towards this active but detestable agitator.