The Congress of Chilpancingo

Mexico declared its independence from Spanish rule on 13 September 1813.

Declaration of independence: the Congress of Chilpancingo, 1813

The wars that secured Mexican independence from Spain began in 1810 when a Roman Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo, in danger of arrest for conspiring against the authorities, rang the church bell at Dolores in north-western Mexico to summon his parishioners to rise in rebellion. Gaining enthusiastic support across the whole area, he led an army of Indians and mixed-race mestizos said to have grown to 80,000 men under his banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe as he seized various cities on the way east to Mexico City. The rising had seriously alarmed the upper classes, however, and Hidalgo failed to take the capital, either because he was driven off or perhaps because he feared what his army would do to the inhabitants if they won and so withdrew. Captured early in 1811, he was defrocked and executed by firing squad.

Hidalgo was succeeded as leader by another radical priest, José Maria Morelos, who led campaigns which took control of much of the country southwest of Mexico City. In 1813 he summoned delegates from the area to an assembly at Chilpancingo, in the Sierra Madre north of Acapulco, which declared Mexican independence and went on to formulate a new constitution and set up a revolutionary government, though it had to move about under the protection of the rebel army. In 1815 Morelos was also captured, defrocked and executed.

More years of civil war went by between, broadly speaking, the lower and upper rungs of the country’s social ladder as revolutionary guerrillas continued the struggle. Ironically a key factor was conservative alarm in Mexico over the liberal movement that took control in Spain in 1820 bent on reining back both the Roman Catholic Church and the army. Independence came to seem the preferable option, government troops joined the revolutionary side and in 1821 the Spanish regime formally accepted independence. One of the revolutionary leaders, Agustin de Iturbide, was crowned Emperor of Mexico in 1822.