Near the close of the 18th century, the people of New Spain began to rebel against their government. The Creoles (Spaniards born in the new world) resented the Spanish control of high offices and monopolies. They also disliked the political and economic reforms initiated by Spain to modernize the colony. Moreover, the Creoles wanted to be the custodians of the Spanish monarchy during the French takeover of Spain and were against the oppression of the Indian population. They were also alarmed by the liberal ideas coming from the United States and France.
In 1810, the Creoles, supported by the Indians and mestizos (people of Indian and Spanish blood), started a revolution for independence similar to America’s a few decades earlier. It would be fought until its successful conclusion in 1821.
A few hours before sunrise on September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Creole who was a Catholic priest in the village of Dolores, Guanajuato, ordered the arrest of the Spaniards who lived in Dolores. He then rang the church bell, which customarily called the townspeople to mass. With the townspeople present, Hidalgo shouted his call to arms against Spain. That famous cry, known as "El Grito," is re-enacted all over present-day Mexico on the night of September 15th. Mexicans celebrate their independence on two consecutive days, the 15th and 16th of September.
The independence movement started in earnest the moment Napoleon III, through political sleight-of-hand, proclaimed his brother Joseph Bonapart King of Spain. Guided by a group of intellectuals opposed to King Joseph’s rule, the Creoles urged their counterparts in the army to renounce their allegiance to the Spaniards. They were warned about the plot by army Creoles who refused to join the insurgents -- Hidalgo among them -- and were on their way to arrest them when Hidalgo called the people to arms, an act which is the subject of some debate among historians.
No one really knows what Hidalgo actually told the people. Many respected historians believe he said, "ˇViva la Virgen de Guadalupe!" "Death to bad government.!" "Death to the gachupines!" (Gachupines is a derisive term for Spaniards.) Because the term "Mexico" at the time meant Mexico City, Hidalgo probably did not say "ˇViva Mexico!"
The involvement of the Indians and the mestizos in the war of independence turned what had been a political maneuver into a class struggle. Hidalgo was captured and executed by the Spaniards before Mexico gained its independence.
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