Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor( 8 May 1753 – 30 July 1811), more commonly known as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla or simply Miguel Hidalgo, was a Mexican priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence.
In 1810 Hidalgo led a group of indigenous and mestizo peasants in a revolt against the dominant peninsulares under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. After clashes with the criollos and Mexican townspeople the group disbanded. Hidalgo was captured on 21 March 1811, and executed on 30 July.
Hidalgo's rebellion was the beginning of what would become the Mexican War of Independence. Although he was unsuccessful in his original aim, Hidalgo's efforts were followed by those of José María Morelos and Agustín de Iturbide who brought down the colonial governments of Spain in Mexico. Hidalgo is considered the Father of the Nation of Mexico.
Read historical documents associated with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, in Spanish. Hidalgo was born on May 8, 1753 as the first child of Don Cristobal Hidalgo y Costilla and Dona Ana Maria Gallaga at the estate of San Diego Corralejo in the Penjamo jurisdiction. Hidalgo was born a creole. "In Spanish-American history, the term 'creole' signifies one of pure Spanish blood, born, not in Spain, but in one of the Spanish colonial possessions." Under the system of the day, Hidalgo's rights as a creole were far less than those of someone born in Spain but slightly better than a mestizo, someone with a mixture of Spanish and Amerindian ancestry. Both of Hidalgo's parents were descended from well respected families within the creole community. Eight days after his birth Hidalgo was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith in the parish church of Cuitzeo de los Naranjos. Hidalgo's parents would have three other sons; Jose Joaquin, Manuel Mariano, and Jose Maria.
In 1759 when Hidalgo was 6, Charles III of Spain ascended the throne; he soon sent out a visitor-general with the power to investigate and reform all parts of colonial government. Privileges previously withheld from creoles were granted and "some opportunities were accorded them for self-government, at least in the ayuntamientos or municipal governing boards. …they were for the first time since the Conquest admitted to the colleges and universities, and rendered eligible to careers at the bar, in the Church, or in the Government."
With the new opportunities available Don Cristobal was determined that Hidalgo and Joaquin should both enter the priesthood and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Being of significant means he paid for all of his sons to receive the best education the region had to offer. After receiving private instruction, likely from the priest of the neighboring parish, Hidalgo was ready for more formal education.
Education and Ordination
At the age of twelve Hidalgo was sent to Valladolid (now Morelia), Michoacan to study at the Colegio de San Francisco Javier with the Jesuits, along with his brothers. When the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico in 1767, he entered the Colegio de San Nicolas. There he chose to study for the priesthood. He completed his preparatory education in 1770. After this, he went to the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico in Mexico City for further study, earning his degree in philosophy and theology in 1773. His education for the priesthood was traditional, with subjects in Latin, rhetoric and logic. Like many priests in Mexico, he learned some Indian languages, such as Nahuatl, Otomi and Tarascan. Along with these he also studied Italian and French, which were not commonly studied in Mexico at this time. He was considered cultured and clever, earning the nickname El Zorro (the fox) from those at his school. Hidalgo’s study of French allowed him to read and study the thought and works of the Enlightenment that were current in Europe even though these ideas were forbidden at the time in Mexico.
Hidalgo was ordained as a priest in 1778 when he was 25 years old. From 1779 to 1792, he dedicated himself to teaching at San Nicolas as a professor of Latin grammar and arts, then as a theology professor. Beginning in 1787, he was named treasurer, vice-rector and secretary, working his way up to becoming dean of the school in 1790 when he was thirty-nine. While he was dean, Hidalgo continued study liberal ideas coming from Europe. This, as well as his mismanagement of school funds, put him in conflict with his superiors, leading to his ouster. The Church sent him to work at the parishes of Colima and San Felipe Torres Mochas until he became the parish priest in Dolores, Guanajuato, succeeding his brother Felipe (also a priest), who died in 1802.
Although Hidalgo was educated as a priest in the traditional way, he did not advocate or live the lifestyle expected of 18th-century Mexican priests. Instead, his studies of Enlightenment-era ideas caused him to challenge traditional political and religious views. He questioned the absolute authority of the Spanish king and challenged numerous ideas presented by the Church, including the absolute power of the Pope, the virgin birth, and clerical celibacy. He enjoyed behavior regarded as outside the parameters of priests, including dancing and gambling. He openly lived with a woman named Maria Manuela Herrera, fathering two daughters out of wedlock with her, and later fathered three other children with a woman named Josefa Quintana.
This behavior resulted in his appearance before the Court of the Inquisition, although the court did not find him guilty. Hidalgo was also egalitarian. As parish priest in both San Felipe and Dolores, he opened his house to Indians and mestizos as well as creoles.
As parish priest in Dolores
In 1803, at the age of fifty he arrived in Dolores accompanied by his family that included a younger brother, a cousin, two half sisters, as well as Maria and their two children. He obtained this parish in spite of his hearing before the Inquisition, which did not stop his secular practices.
After Hidalgo settled in Dolores, he turned over most of the clerical duties to one of his vicars, Father Francisco Iglesias, and devoted himself almost exclusively to commerce, intellectual pursuits and humanitarian activity. He spent much of his time studying literature, scientific works, grape cultivation, and the raising of silkworms. He used the knowledge that he gained to promote economic activities for the poor and rural people in his area. He established factories to make bricks and pottery and trained indigenous people in the making of leather. He also promoted beekeeping. He was interested in promoting activities of commercial value to use the natural resources of the area to help the poor. His goal was to make the Indians and mestizos more self-reliant and less dependent on Spanish economic policies. However, these activities violated policies designed to protect Spanish peninsular agriculture and industry, and Hidalgo was ordered to stop them.
These policies as well as exploitation of the lower castes fostered resentment in Hidalgo of the Spain-born in Mexico. In addition to the restriction of economic activities in Mexico, Spanish mercantile practices would cause misery for the native peoples. A drought in 1807-1808 caused a famine in the Dolores area and instead of releasing grain to market, Spanish merchants decide to hold it in storage, speculating on higher prices.
Grito de Dolores
Fearing his arrest, Hidalgo commanded his brother Mauricio, as well as Allende and Abasolo to go with a number of other armed men to make the sheriff release the inmates there on the night of 15 Sept. They managed to set eighty free.
On the morning of the 16th, Hidalgo called Mass, which was attended by about 300, including hacienda owners, local politicians and Spaniards. There he gave what is now known as the Grito de Dolores, calling the people of his parish to leave their homes and join with him to struggle against the vice regal government.
Hidalgo’s Grito did not condemn the notion of monarchy or criticize the current social order in detail, but his opposition to the events in Spain and the current viceregal government was clearly expressed in his reference to bad government. The Grito also emphasized loyalty to the Catholic religion, a sentiment with which both Creoles and Peninsulares could sympathize; however, the strong anti-Spanish cry of “Death to the Gachupines” (Gachupines was a name also given to Peninsulares) probably caused horror among Mexico’s elite.
Hidalgo’s army – from Celaya to Monte de las Cruces
Hidalgo was met with an outpouring of support. Intellectuals, liberal priests and many poor people followed Hidalgo with a great deal of enthusiasm. Hidalgo permitted Indians and mestizos to join his war in such numbers that the original motives of the Querétaro group were obscured. Allende was Hidalgo’s co-conspirator in Querétaro and remained more loyal to the Querétaro group’s original, more creole objectives. However, Hidalgo’s actions and the people’s response, meant that he would lead and not Allende. Allende had acquired military training when Mexico established a colonial militia; Hidalgo had no military training at all. The people who followed Hidalgo also had no military training, experience or equipment. Many of these people were poor who were angry after many years of hunger and oppression. Consequently, Hidalgo was the leader of an undisciplined mob.
Hidalgo’s leadership would also give the insurgent movement a supernatural aspect. Many villagers that joined the insurgent army came to believe that Ferdinand VII himself commanded their loyalty to Hidalgo and the monarch was in New Spain personally directing the rebellion against his own government. They also believed that the king commanded the extermination of all peninsular Spaniards and the division of their property among the masses. Historian Eric Van Young believes that such ideas gave the movement supernatural and religious legitimacy that went as far as messianic expectation.
Hidalgo and Allende left Dolores with about 800 men, half of whom were on horseback. They marched through the Bajío area, through Atotonilco, San Miguel el Grande (now Allende), Chamucuero, Celaya, Salamanca, Irapuato and Silao, to Guanajuato. From Guanajuato, Hidalgo directed his troops to Valladolid, Michoacan. They remained here for a while and then decided to march towards Mexico City. From Valladolid, they marched through the State of Mexico, through the cities of Maravatio, Ixtlahuaca, Toluca coming as close to Mexico City as Monte de las Cruces, between the Valley of Toluca and the Valley of Mexico.
Just through sheer numbers, Hidalgo’s army had some early victories. Hidalgo first went through the economically important and densely populated province of Guanajuato. One of Hidalgo’s first stops was at the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Atotonilco, There, Hidalgo affixed an image of the Virgin to a lance to adopt it as his banner. He then inscribed the following slogans to his troops’ flags: “Long live religion! Long live our most Holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live Ferdinand VII! Long live America and death to bad government!” For the masses of insurgents, this Virgin represented an intense and highly localized religious sensibility. She was invoked to identify allies rather than to create ideological alliances or a sense of nationalism.
The extent and the intensity of the movement took viceregal authorities by surprise. San Miguel and Celaya were captured with little resistance. On 21 September 1810, Hidalgo was proclaimed general and supreme commander after arriving to Celaya. At this point, Hidalgo’s army numbered about 5,000. However, because of the lack of military discipline, the insurgents soon fell into robbing, looting and ransacking the towns they were capturing. They began to execute prisoners as well. This caused friction between Allende and Hidalgo as early as the capture of San Miguel in late September 1810. When a mob ran through this town, Allende tried to break up the violence by striking at the insurgents with the flat of his sword. This brought a rebuke from Hidalgo, accusing Allende of mistreating the people.
On 28 September 1810, Hidalgo arrived to the city of Guanajuato. The town’s Spanish and Creole populations took refuge in the heavily-fortified Alhondiga de Granaditas granary defended by Quartermaster Riaños. The insurgents overwhelmed the defenses in two days and killed an estimated 400 - 600 men, women and children. Allende strongly protested these events and while Hidalgo agreed that they were heinous, he also stated that he understood the historical patterns that shaped such responses. The mass’s violence as well as Hidalgo’s inability or unwillingness to suppress it caused the creoles and peninsulares to ally against the insurgents out of fear. This also caused Hidalgo to lose support from liberal creoles he might have otherwise have had.
From Guanajuato, Hidalgo set off for Valladolid on 10 October 1810 with 15,000 men. When he arrived at Acámbaro, he was promoted to generalissimo and given the title of His Most Serene Highness, with power to legislate. With his new rank he had a blue uniform with a surgical collar and red lapels meticulously embroidered with silver and gold. This uniform also included a black baldric that was also embroidered with gold. There was also a large image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in gold on his chest.
Hildago and his forces took Valladolid with little opposition on 17 October 1810. Here, Hidalgo issued proclamations against the peninsulares whom he accused of arrogance and despotism, as well as enslaving those in the Americas for almost 300 years. Hidalgo argued that the objective of the war was “to send the gachupines back to the motherland” because their greed and tyranny lead to the temporal and spiritual degradation of the Mexicans. Hidalgo forced the bishop of Valladolid, Manuel Abad y Queipo to rescind the excommunication order he had circulated against him on 24 September 1810. Later, the Inquisition issued an excommunication edict on 13 October 1810 condemning Miguel Hidalgo as a seditionary, apostate, and heretic.
The insurgents stayed in the city for some days preparing to march to the capital of New Spain, Mexico City. The canon of the cathedral went unarmed to meet Hidalgo and got him to promise that the atrocities of San Miguel, Celaya and Guanajuato would not be repeated in Valladolid. The canon was partially effective. Wholesale destruction of the city was not repeated. However, Hidalgo was angry when he found the cathedral locked to him. So he jailed all the Spaniards, replaced city officials with his own and looted the city treasury before marching off toward Mexico City. On 19 October Hidalgo left Valladolid for Mexico City after taking 400,000 pesos from the cathedral to pay expenses.
Hidalgo and his troops left the state of Michoacan and marched through the towns of Maravatio, Ixtlahuaca, and Toluca before stopping in the forested mountain area of Monte de las Cruces. Here, insurgent forces engaged Torcuato Trujillo’s royalist forces. Hidalgo’s troops made royalist troops retreat, but the insurgents suffered heavy casualties for their efforts like they did when they engaged trained royalist soldiers in Guanajuato.
Retreat from Mexico City
After the Battle of Monte de las Cruces on 30 October 1810, Hidalgo still had about 100,000 insurgents and was in a strategic position to attack Mexico City Numerically, his forces outnumbered royalist forces.
The royalist government in Mexico City, under the leadership of Viceroy Francisco Venegas prepared psychological and military defenses. An intensive propaganda campaign had advertised the insurgent violence in the Bajío area and stressed the insurgents' threat against social stability. Hidalgo found the sedentary Indians and castes of the Valley of Mexico as much opposed to the insurgents as were the creoles and Spaniards.
Hidalgo’s forces came as close as what is now the Cuajimalpa borough of Mexico City. Allende wanted to press forward and attack the capital, but Hidalgo disagreed. Hidalgo’s reasoning for this decision is unclear and has been debated by historians. One probable factor was that Hidalgo’s men were undisciplined and unruly and also suffered heavy losses whenever they encountered trained troops. As the capital was guarded by some of the best-trained soldiers in New Spain, Hidalgo might have feared a bloodbath. Hidalgo instead decided to turn away from Mexico City and move to the north through Toluca and Ixtlahuaca with a destination of Guadalajara.
After turning back, insurgents began to desert. By the time he got to Aculco, just north of Toluca, his army had shrunk to 40,000. There, General Felix Calleja attacked Hidalgo’s forces, defeating them on 7 November 1810. Allende decided to take the troops under his command to Guanajuato instead of Guadalajara.
Hidalgo arrived in Guadalajara on 26 November with over 7,000 badly-armed men. He initially occupied the city with lower-class support because Hidalgo promised to end slavery, tribute payment and taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. Hidalgo established an alternative government in Guadalajara with himself at the head and then appointed two ministers. On 6 December 1810, Hidalgo issued a decree abolishing slavery, threatening those who did not comply with death. He also abolished tribute payments that the Indians had to pay to their creole and peninsular lords. He also ordered the publication of a newspaper called Despertador Americano (American Wake Up Call). He named Pascacio Ortiz de Letona as representative of the insurgent government and sent him to the United States to seek support there. However, this ambassador was apprehended by the Spanish army while in route to Philadelphia and executed.
During this time, insurgent violence mounted in Guadalajara. Citizens loyal to the viceregal government were seized and executed. While indiscriminate looting was avoided, the insurgents targeted the property of creoles and Spaniards, regardless of political affiliation. In the meantime, the royalist army had retaken Guanajuato, forcing Allende to flee to Guadalajara. After he arrived to the city, Allende again objected to Hidalgo concerning the insurgent violence. However, Hidalgo knew the royalist army was on its way to Guadalajara and wanted to stay on good terms with his own army.
After Guanajuato had been retaken by royalist forces, the bishop there excommunicated Hidalgo and those under him, declaring them to be heretics, perjurers and blasphemers on 24 December 1810. The Inquisition pronounced an edict against him containing a large number of charges including denying that God punishes sins in this world, doubting the authenticity of the Bible, denouncing the popes and Church government, that Jews should not have to convert to Christianity, denying the perpetual virginity of Mary, preaching that there was no hell and adopting Lutheran doctrine with regards to the Eucharist. Fearful of losing support of his army because of these decrees, Hidalgo responded that he had never departed from Church doctrine in the slightest degree.
Royalist forces marched to Guadalajara, arriving in January 1811 with nearly 6,000 men. Allende and Abasolo wanted to concentrate their forces in the city and plan an escape route should they be defeated, but Hidalgo rejected this. Their second choice then was to make a stand at the Calderon Bridge (Puente de Calderon) just outside the city. Hidalgo had between 80,000 and 100,000 men and 95 cannons, but the better trained royalists decisively defeated the insurgent army, forcing Hidalgo to flee towards Aguascalientes. At Hacienda de Pabellon, on 25 January 1811, near Aguascalientes, Allende and other insurgent leaders took military command away from Hidalgo, blaming him for their defeats.
Hidalgo remained as head politically but with military command going to Allende.
What was left of the insurgent Army of the Americas moved north towards Zacatecas and Saltillo with the goal of making connections with those the United States for support. Hidalgo made it to Saltillo, where he publicly resigned his military post and rejected a pardon offered by General José de la Cruz in the name of Venegas in return for Hidalgo’s surrender. A short time later, they were betrayed and captured by royalist Ignacio Elizondo at the Wells of Baján (Norias de Baján) on 21 March 1811 and taken to the city of Chihuahua.
Spot where Hidalgo was executed in the Government Palace of Chihuahua. Mural by Aarón Piña Mora.
Hidalgo was turned over to the bishop of Durango, Francisco Gabriel de Olivares, for an official defrocking and excommunication on 27 July 1811. He was then found guilty of treason by a military court and executed by firing squad on 30 July at 7 in the morning. Before his execution, he thanked his jailers, Private Soldiers Ortega and Melchor, in letters for their humane treatment. At his execution, Hidalgo placed his right hand over his heart to show the riflemen where they should aim. He also refused the use of a blindfold. His body, along with the bodies of Allende, Aldama and José Mariano Jiménez were decapitated, and the heads were put on display on the four corners of the Alhondiga de Granaditas in Guanajuato. The heads remained there for ten years until the end of the Mexican War of Independence to serve as a warning to other insurgents. Hidalgo’s headless body was first displayed outside the prison but then buried in the Church of St Francis in Chihuahua. Those remains would later be transferred in 1824 to Mexico City.
Hidalgo’s death resulted in a political vacuum on the insurgent side until 1812. The royalist military commander, General Felix Calleja, continued to pursue rebel troops. Insurgent fighting evolved into guerrilla warfare, and eventually the next major insurgent leader, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, who had led rebel movements with Hidalgo, became head of the insurgents.
Hidalgo is hailed as the Father of the Nation even though it was Agustin de Iturbide and not Hidalgo who achieved Mexican Independence in 1821. Shortly after gaining independence, the day to celebrate it varied between 15 September, the day of Hidalgo’s Grito and 27 September, the day Iturbide rode into Mexico City to end the war. Later, political movements would favor the more liberal Hidalgo over the conservative Iturbide, so that eventually 15 September 1810 became the officially recognized day of Mexican independence. The reason for this is that Hidalgo is considered to be “precursor and creator of the rest of the heroes of the (Mexican War of) Independence.” Hidalgo has become an icon for Mexicans who resist tyranny in the country. Diego Rivera painted Hidalgo’s image in half a dozen murals. Jose Clemente Orozco depicted him with a flaming torch of liberty and considered the painting among his best work. David Alfaro Siqueiros was commissioned by San Nicolas University in Morelia to paint a mural for a celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of Hidalgo's birth. The town of his parish was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in his honor and the state of Hidalgo was created in 1869. Every year on the night of 15–16 September, the president of Mexico re-enacts the Grito from the balcony of the National Palace. This scene is repeated by the heads of cities and towns all over Mexico.
The remains of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla lie in the column of the Angel of Independence in Mexico City. Next to it is a lamp lit to represent the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for Mexican Independence.