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Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led the Mexican independence movement against Spanish rule in 1810 and unleashed a torrent of political passions that rocked Mexico for the first sixty years of its history as a nation. Born in May 1753 in Guanajuato, Hidalgo entered the priesthood in 1779, eventually pasturing a parish in Dolores. For the next quarter of a century, he performed his duties as a spiritual shepherd, but also read texts on political theory.

In 1808 Hidalgo became a leader of an underground independence movement centered around literary clubs where the talk centered on emerging ideas on nationalism and political liberty. When authorities moved to arrest him, he gathered together his followers and his parishioners and issued the “Grito de Delores” on September 16, 1810, a de facto declaration of independence. He quickly gathered an insurgent army that rampaged through central Mexico. Almost immediately the violence turned on issues of race, and his high-minded revolution turned bloody and excessive.

Spanish troops checked Hidalgo’s forces near Mexico City ending two months of lurid battles and massacres. For the next nine weeks Royalist forces hounded the Mexican insurgents and eventually scattered the rebels. Hidalgo became a fugitive and headed for the northern frontera, apparently hoping to escape into the United States or to stage a counter-attack from a remote base. Spanish troops intercepted him and Catholic authorities happily stripped him of his ecclesiastical protections.

Hidalgo died before a firing squad in Chihuahua in the summer of 1811 but the forces he had released would ravage Mexico for decades to come. Mexico gained its independence in 1821.