The Mexican War of Independence (Spanish: Guerra de Independencia de México) was an armed conflict, lasting over a decade, which had several distinct phases and took place in different regions of the Spanish colony of New Spain. Events in Spain itself had a direct impact on the outbreak of the insurgency in 1810 and in the alliance of insurgent leader Vicente Guerrero and royalist-officer-turned insurgent Agustín de Iturbide in 1821, which brought about independence. Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain in 1808 touched off a crisis of legitimacy of crown rule, since he had placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne after forcing the abdication of the Spanish monarch Charles IV. In many of Spain's overseas possessions the local response was to set up juntas ruling in the name of the Bourbon monarchy. In New Spain, however, peninsular-born Spaniards overthrew the rule of Viceroy José de Iturrigaray (1803–08). In 1810, a few American-born Spaniards in favor of independence began plotting an uprising against Spanish rule. It occurred when the parish priest of the village of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, issued the Cry of Dolores on September 16, 1810. The Hidalgo Revolt touched off the armed insurgency for independence, lasting until 1821. The colonial regime did not expect the size and duration of the insurgency, which spread from the Bajío region north of Mexico City to the Pacific and Gulf Coasts. In 1820 when Spanish liberals overthrew the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII and arch-conservatives in New Spain saw independence as a way to maintain their position, former royalists and old insurgents formed an alliance under the Plan of Iguala and forged the Army of the Three Guarantees. The momentum of independence saw the collapse of royal government in Mexico and the Treaty of Córdoba ended the conflict.
The movement for independence was inspired by the Age of Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions. By that time the educated elite of New Spain had begun to reflect on the relations between Spain and its colonial kingdoms. Changes in the social and political structure occasioned by Bourbon Reforms and a deep economic crisis in New Spain caused discomfort among the native-born Creole elite.
The dramatic political events in Europe, the French Revolutionary Wars and the conquests by Napoleon deeply influenced events in New Spain. In 1808, Charles IV and Ferdinand VII were forced to abdicate in favor of the French Emperor, who made his elder brother Joseph king of New Spain. The same year, the ayuntamiento (city council) of Mexico City, supported by viceroy José de Iturrigaray, claimed sovereignty in the absence of the legitimate king. That led to a coup against the viceroy; when it was suppressed, the leaders of the movement were jailed.
Despite the defeat in Mexico City, small groups of rebels met in other cities of New Spain to raise movements against colonial rule. In 1810, after being discovered, Querétaro conspirators chose to take up arms on September 16 in the company of peasants and indigenous inhabitants of Dolores (Guanajuato). They were called to action by the secular Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, former rector of the Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo.
After 1810 the independence movement went through several stages, as leaders were imprisoned or executed by forces loyal to Spain. At first the rebels disputed the legitimacy of the French-installed Joseph Bonaparte, while recognizing the sovereignty of Ferdinand VII over Spain and its colonies. Later the leaders took more radical positions, rejecting the Spanish claim and espousing a new social order to include the abolition of slavery. Secular priest José María Morelos called the separatist provinces to form the Congress of Chilpancingo, which became the legal framework for the insurgency. After the defeat of Morelos, the movement survived as a guerrilla war under the leadership of Vicente Guerrero. By 1820, the few rebel groups survived most notably in the Sierra Madre del Sur and Veracruz.
The reinstatement of the liberal Constitution of Cadiz in 1820 resulted in a change of mind among the elite groups who had supported Spanish rule. Monarchist Creoles affected by the constitution decided to support the independence of New Spain; they sought an alliance with the former insurgent resistance. Agustín de Iturbide led the military arm of the conspirators and in early 1821 he met Vicente Guerrero. Both proclaimed the Plan of Iguala, which called for the union of all insurgent factions. It was supported by both the aristocracy and clergy of New Spain. It called for a monarchy in an independent Mexico. Finally, the independence of Mexico was achieved on September 27, 1821.
After that, the mainland of New Spain was organized as the Mexican Empire. This ephemeral Catholic monarchy was changed to a federal republic in 1823, due both to internal conflicts and the separation of Central America from Mexico.
After some Spanish reconquest attempts, including the expedition of Isidro Barradas in 1829, Spain under the rule of Isabella II recognized the independence of Mexico in 1836.
Prior challenges to crown rule
Cristóbal de Villalpando
, 1695. View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City
, showing damage of the viceroy's palace by the 1692 rioters (top right).
There is evidence that from an early period in post-conquest Mexican history that some elites began articulating the idea of a separate Mexican identity. There were relatively few challenges to Spanish imperial power before the insurgency for independence in the early nineteenth century, following the French invasion of the Iberian peninsula in 1808.
One early challenge was by Spanish conquerors whose encomienda grants from the crown, rewards for conquest were to be ended following the deaths of the current grant holders. The encomenderos' conspiracy included Don Martín Cortés (son of Hernán Cortés). The marquis was exiled, other conspirators were executed. Another challenge occurred in 1624 when elites ousted the reformist viceroy who sought to break up rackets from which they profited and curtail opulent displays of clerical power. Viceroy Marqués de Gelves was removed, following an urban riot of Mexico City plebeians in 1624 stirred up fomented by those elites. The crowd was reported to have shouted, "Long live the King! Love live Christ! Death to bad government! Death to the heretic Lutheran [Viceroy Gelves]! Arrest the viceroy!" The attack was against Gelves as a bad representative of the crown and not against the monarchy or colonial rule itself. In 1642, there was also a brief conspiracy in the mid-seventeenth century to unite American-born Spaniards, blacks, Indians and castas against the Spanish crown and proclaim Mexican independence. The man seeking to bring about independendence called himself Don Guillén Lampart y Guzmán, an Irishman born William Lamport. Lamport's conspiracy was discovered, and he was arrested by the Inquisition in 1642, and executed fifteen years later for sedition. There is a statue of Lamport in the mausoleum at the base of the Angel of Independence in Mexico City.
At the end of the seventeenth century, there was a major riot in Mexico City, where a plebeian mob attempted to burn down the viceroy's palace and the archbishop's residence. A painting by Cristóbal de Villalpando shows the damage of the 1692 tumulto. Unlike the earlier riot in 1624 in which elites were involved and the viceroy ousted, with no repercussions against the instigators, the 1692 riot was by plebeians alone and racially charged. The rioters attacked key symbols of Spanish power and shouted political slogans. "Kill the [American-born] Spaniards and the Gachupines [Iberian-born Spaniards] who eat our corn! We go to war happily! God wants us to finish off the Spaniards! We do not care if we die without confession! Is this not our land?" The viceroy attempted to address the apparent cause of the riot, a hike in maize prices that affected the urban poor. But the 1692 riot "represented class warfare that put Spanish authority at risk. Punishment was swift and brutal, and no further riots in the capital challenged the Pax Hispanica." The various indigenous rebellions in the colonial era were often to throw off crown rule, but they were not an independence movement as such. However, during the war of independence, issues at the local level in rural areas constituted what one historian has called "the other rebellion."
American-born Spaniards in New Spain developed a special understanding and ties to their New World homeland, what has been seen the formation of creole patriotism. They did not, however, pursue political independence from Spain until the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian peninsula and defeat of Spain destabilized the monarchy. With the implementation of the mid eighteenth-century Bourbon Reforms, the Spanish crown sought to impose restrictions on American-born Spanish elites, limiting their access to high office in favor of peninsular-born Spanish men.
In the early 19th century, Napoleon's occupation of Spain led to an outbreak of numerous revolts against colonial government across Spanish America. After the abortive Conspiracy of the Machetes in 1799, in 1810 a massive revolt in the Bajío region was led by secular cleric Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. His Grito de Dolores in 1810 was a call to arms answered by many plebeians and marked the first stage of the insurgency for Mexican independence. Before 1810, there was no significant support for independence and once the Hidalgo revolt was underway, it received major support only in the Bajío and southern coastal regions.