Friday, August 21, 2015

Mexican Independence - The life And Times Of Hidalgo

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, born in 1753, is regarded today as "Father of his country", a great hero of Mexico and a central figure in the war of independence. Upon further examination it is simple to see why he is regarded as such an important part of Mexico's history; he is recognized as being the first leader in Mexico to lead an insurrection against the Spaniards on Mexican soil. Indeed, he was the catalyst for the legions of poor and oppressed in Mexico to finally revolt against the tyranny of the Spaniards occupying Mexico. While many biographies would paint Hidalgo and his actions in a heroic light, the truth is that his "army" was nothing more than a massive mob of mobilized peasants who'd been pushed to the edge due to Spanish rule. It can be argued that he was simply savvy enough to realize that he only need to push the angry and disenfranchised populace gently to get them to reach the breaking point; no fiery rhetoric or galvanizing speeches were necessary, the anger was already boiling just below the surface. Hidalgo was the one who tapped into it and made it into a physical force.

While his hatred of the Spaniards, or the "gachipines", is well documented and recognized, even he was shocked at just how much anger and venom he had released. His "army" was more like a massive, roaming flash mob of exceptionally angry people - unified by a single cause, but out of control and dangerous. His leadership and practices were regarded as questionable at best, he approved of violence and looting as acceptable forms of rebellion. Because of this, Hidalgo ended up alienating some rather important potential allies to his cause - most of the middle class and wealthier citizens of Mexico wanted nothing to do with him or his cause. Because of their stature and wealth, they could have legitimized Hidalgo's "army" and turned his cause into a legitimate movement. The poor and uneducated masses that comprised his army were not capable of re-asserting Mexico's image or rebuilding the country with a new and established identity, they were hell-bent on decimation and robbery and not much else.

It is often speculated that Hidalgo could have revolutionized Mexico had it not been for a crucial tactical decision, a decision later considered to be his eventual downfall. He mobilized his army rather quickly - the first 600 men were ready within minutes, within two weeks there were 30,000 men assembled - it continued to grow and by the time he was ready to move in on Mexico City itself, the numbers were almost reaching six figures in strength. The Spanish Viceroy, fearing an impending attack, quickly set about mobilizing an attack force - 1000 soldiers, 400 additional soldiers on horses and two large cannons was all that was available on short notice. The Viceroy's forces and Hidalgo's mob army clashed on October 30, 1810 at Monte De La Cruces and the battle was more than lopsided; when Hidalgos men captured the two cannons, the remaining Spanish forces retreated immediately. Hidalgo was now set to take Mexico City back from the Spaniards; but instead his victory at De La Cruces was about to put into motion his undoing.

Hidalgo and his mob could have easily taken back Mexico City; they had the numbers and morale was at an all-time high. However, it was when victory was within reach that Hidalgo made a rather surprising decision - he would not take the army to Mexico City. While there is no historical basis to prove any particular theory as to why he chose not to attack, it is oft speculated that Hidalgo was tiring of the violence and looting and destruction he was leaving in his wake and decided to spare the people of Mexico city from the inevitable collateral damage he knew many would suffer. The other popular theory was that Hidalgo knew that the largest compliment of the Spanish army was nearby and that he feared a confrontation with an organized, heavily armed force (the army was in fact at ready, but even if they had been deployed to stop Hidalgo's army, they would not have succeeded). In any event, not taking Mexico City was Hidalgo's undoing, a tactical error that was large enough to derail all the prior efforts.

Eventually, Hidalgo was captured and was to stand trial with other rebel leaders. Because Hidalgo was also a priest, he was required to stand trial as a civilian and be tried by the inquisition. The civil trial resulted in his being stripped of his priesthood and everything that title entailed. The inquisition deemed execution as suitable punishment. Hidalgo was executed on July 30, 1811. After his death, his head, along with three other heads belonging to revolutionaries, were hung on display at the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato, the scene of Hidalgo's first serious strike against the Spaniards.

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