Craig White's Literature Courses

Historical Backgrounds

Mexican War of Independence


The Mexican War for Independence (1810-21) is not the same event as the Mexican Revolution (1910-1929).

One way for Anglo students to learn the Mexican War for Independence, though, is through comparison and contrast with the American Revolutionary War.

Analogies b/w Mexican War of Independence and USA's Revolutionary War:

Mexico's War for Independence from Spain: 1810-21

North American colonies' Revolutionary War against England: 1775-1781

Attitudes in both countries were divided.

Conflicts in both countries were resolved via cooperation b/w colonial leaders & farmers / workers.

In seeking national unity, both Wars for Independence left unresolved issues that led to later wars or revolutions:

  • Mexican Independence failed to deal with the land reform promised in the 1812 Constitution, leading to the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1929.

  • The American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution failed to deal with slavery, leading to the Civil War of 1861-65.


Though New Spain had been influenced by the Enlightenment, Mexican Independence was motivated largely by religious concerns from the start, largely from fear of religious oppression by the French, who after their Revolution were seen as "godless."

The new Mexican Empire (formerly New Spain) preserved Roman Catholicism as its official religion, while the first words of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution are, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ."

The American War for Independence and the American Revolution are overlapping or identical concepts that occur at the same period in history. The Mexican War for Independence occurs a century before the Mexican Revolution.


1518-21 Cortes conquers Mexico in name of Spanish King Charles I

1701-13 War of Spanish Succession establishes Bourbon family from France as monarchy. Bourbon administration spreads Enlightenment principles of increased economic productivity (particularly in mining and agriculture), development of the arts and sciences, and improvements in education and social conditions.

Following American Revolution (1775-1789) and French Revolution (1789-99?), ideas of political liberalism (human rights, disestablishment of religion, equality) circulate.

International pressures from England, Russia, and France increase militarization of Mexican society.

1808 Napoleon Bonaparte occupies Spain, imprisons King Frederick VII, imposes brother Joseph Bonaparte as monarch.

Spaniards & Creoles in New Spain revive popular assembly (called Cortes) to govern in King's absence.

1812 Cortes promulgates liberal constitution in King's name with some elements from French & American constitutions.

  • constitutional monarch

  • popular suffrage

  • representative government

In Mexico a number of local revolts rose and were repressed during the same time-frame.


The most important local revolt took place in Dolores, where Priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issue the Grito de Dolores or El Grito de la Independencia ("Cry of Independence"), which called for

end of rule by Spain

equality of races

land reform

Hidalgo was motivated partly by fear of French secularism, and urged Mexicans to fight and  die for Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

In honor of El Grito, Mexicans celebrate 16 September as Independence Day.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
appealing to religious nationalism
via the Virgin of Guadalupe

Hidalgo led a march to nearby Guanajuato, a major colonial mining center populated by Spaniards and Creoles.

After initial successes, Hidalgo lost control of his marchers, who massacred the Creoles and pillaged the town.

The atrocitities at Guanajuato swung support to the Royalists, who defeated Hidalgo, and captured and executed him, in 1811.

Hidalgo's cause was carried by another parish priest, Jose Maria Morelos y Paron.



statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo in Dolores,
South Central Mexico (near Guanajuato)

In 1814 the Mexican congress issues a formal declaration of independence.

Meanwhile Napoleonic troops are withdrawing and Ferdinand VII is restored to the Spanish throne.

Ferdinand VII nullifies 1812 Constituion.

Spanish troops crush the revolution led by Morelos, who is executed in 1815, but scattered resistance continues. . . .


The push for Mexican Independence was renewed through an unusual combination of outside pressures and conservative reaction.

Liberalization in Spanish politics forces King Ferdinand VII to reinstate Mexico's liberal 1812 constitution.

In reaction, Mexican conservatives came to see independence as a way to preserve their power.

The Mexican conservatives' leader, Agustin de Iturbide, a first-generation Creole, negotiated with the Guerrilla leader Guerrero to generate the Plan de Iguala, which established "the Three Guarantees":

Independence for the Mexican nation

Union of all Mexican inhabitants without distinction between native, European, and Creole

Roman Catholicism as official state religion

Spanish General Juan O'Donoju signs Treaty of Cordoba turning New Spain into the Mexican Empire.


The Conservative push behind Independence meant that land reform, equality, and human rights were not developed (except for a few brief interludes), leading to the Mexican Revolution a century later.

Like the Mexican War for Independence (1810-21), the Mexican Revolution (1910-29) was made up of several local rebellions--for instance, forces led by Emiliano Zapata in central Mexico, and forces led by Pancho Villa in northern Mexico.


Heritage History site on War of Mexican Independence