Miguel Hidalgo (1753 – 1811) is considered the founding father of modern-day Mexico for his leadership in the revolution against Spain in the early 19th Century. He commanded an army of untrained and poorly armed peasants and intellectuals across Mexico to gain independence for his people.
Memorial to Hidalgo, displayed on the first floor of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas in Guanajuato.
Hidalgo and the seal of Mexico
During his service as a Catholic priest, which began in 1792, Hidalgo promoted the arts such as French literature, orchestra, dance and theatre and promoted social and economic justice for the natives.
Although he was a priest, he studied Enlightenment thinkers, whose writings were banned by the Mexican Catholic Church, and he asked difficult questions of the Church and its most fundamental tenets such as the why the pope held so much power, the veracity of the virgin birth and whether or not priests should have to be celibate. He also questioned the power of the King of Spain. He was not afraid to speak truth to power, like some of the other heroes we’ve seen in our travels.
In 1808, Hidalgo became a leader of a underground society that fomented the Mexican Revolution. In a great example of the power of literature, this revolutionary group came out of literary clubs.
Hidalgo’s most famous speech is called the “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores”, which he gave on September 15, 1810. Dolores is the city in the state of Guanajuato where Hidalgo gave the speech. While the exact words of the speech are unknown, historians seem to agree that it went something like this: “My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today . . . Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.”
On September 28, 1810 Hidalgo and thousands of his poorly armed followers marched into Guanajuato and eventually took the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, killing the hundreds of Spanish troops who had barricaded themselves inside. This was the first major victory for Mexican independence.
By late October, Hidalgo’s forces numbered around 100,000 men and were prepared to take over the royal capital of New Spain — Mexico City. However, Hidalgo chose to not attack and instead retreated to Guadalajara where he set up an alternative government with himself as the head. He quickly abolished both slavery and the payments that natives had to pay to their landlords (the people who stole their land!). Interestingly, he did not force Jews to convert to Catholicism, and this was one of the reasons for which the Church excommunicated him.
Hidalgo was eventually captured and then on July 27, 1811, executed (we’re not sure how). He was decapitated and his head was hung on a hook outside of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas in Guanajuato for ten years as a warning to anyone else who wanted to start a revolution. After winning independence, his remains were moved to Mexico City in 1824.
portrait of Hidalgo, artist unknown
Interior courtyard of the Alhóndiga de Gradaditas