Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was born on May 8th, 1753 to Cristobal Hidalgo y Costilla and Ana Maria Gallaga near Penjamo, Guanajuato. He was considered a Criollo or Mexican of Spanish descent that had been born in the New World.
He was a very intelligent man who knew several languages, read French literature and wrote texts in Aztec. In 1773 Hidalgo y Castillo received his bachelor’s degree in theology from the Colegia San Nicolas in Valltolid. He was ordained in 1778 and became the priest for the village of Dolores, Guanajuato in 1803.
Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was an unusual priest. Contrary to Church doctrine, Hidalgo y Costilla was known to gamble, dance, challenge the papacy of Rome and keep a mistress. He was also known to speak out against the king of Spain.
In 1803, when Hidalgo y Costilla was the priest of Dolores, his house was a well known gathering place. It was the equality in the house that drew people, with poor Indians and castes socializing with Spanish and criollos. Current events and literary topics were frequently debated, but Hidalgo’s orientation grew more scientific as time passed. He was not so interested in literary cultural enlightenment, and was more concerned with the development of social consciousness and economic awareness. (Hamill 82)
Hidalgo y Costilla was very interested in developing Dolores’s ability to be economically self sufficient. Colonists were prohibited from producing many different types of commodities and this made its difficult, if not impossible, for the colonists to become self supporting. Two of these were wine and silkworms, both of which Hidalgo y Costilla encouraged.
With the French seizure of Spain in 1808, the imposition of Joseph Bonaparte on the throne, and the creation of the Cádiz junta, Mexico exploded into crisis. The instability revealed acute social divisions within Mexico. The upper classes sought to establish an autonomous government that would represent their interests, and the lower classes struggled against the dominance of the local elites.” (Kirkwood 75)
There were many groups and each had their own list of grievances but they did have a few issues in common. One major criticism was Spain’s inability to govern Mexico properly. Another was the social identity change going on with the Mexicans. They were becoming proud of themselves as a people and changing the attitude that anything European was possibly superior.
In 1810, the audiencia in Mexico City took power from Francisco Javier de Lizana y Beaumont. The audiencia was not any better at maintaing stability than any of the others and fearful of weak government leadership, semi-secret groups began meeting to discuss the nations future. To avoid detection, they disguised themselves as debate clubs or literary discussion groups. One such group was the Literary and Social Club of Querétaro, of which Father Hidalgo y Costilla was a member. “Noted as a defender of the downtrodden, well read, and with a capacity to forcibly express his ideas, he emerged as an important participant in the literary club in Querétaro.” (Kirkwood 79)
It was due to these qualities and the encouragement he had shown the people regarding the creation of their own industries that Hidalgo y Costilla had become the leader of a revolution.
Tired of the oppression of Spanish rule, he began planning for Mexico to gain its independence. “By 1810 Hidalgo’s main energies were devoted to conspiring for an uprising that he hoped would lead to Mexican independence.
The center of the conspiracy was the city of Querétaro, some fifty miles southeast of Dolores on the road to Mexico City. His fellow conspirators, also criollos, planned to organize an insurrection and seize power from the peninsulares and their al lies. Initially, as a ruse, they would declare their fealty to King Ferdinand VII, but their clear final purpose was independence” (Smith 12,13)
The government got word of the uprising and start arresting people who were suspected of participating. Hidalgo y Costilla was informed that this was happening and decided to take action. Racing to the church, he used the bells to call all the parishioners to him and proceeded to make a stirring speech against bad government known as the Grito de Dolores (Shout from Dolores).
This speech described the situation and feeling in Mexico so aptly that it is considered the beginning moment of Mexico’s independence and made Hidalgo y Costilla a historical icon.
Inspired by the Grito de Dolores, an army of 700 followed Hidalgo y Costilla on a march towards Guanajuato, by the time they were nearly there, the army had grown to almost 20,000 men.
Despite his stirring speeches and large crowd of followers, Hidalgo y Costilla soon found he was in charge of an unruly mob rather than a trained army. They overtook the granary at Guanajuato and defeated the royalist soldiers but soon after Hidalgo y Costilla’s mob began destroying property, burning and pillaging and killing landowners and their families. “These excesses redoubled the resolve of the viceroy in Mexico City to put down the rebellion. Hidalgo and his military commanders were excommunicated, and royalist forces were raised to march north and engage Hidalgo’s troops (Smith 13)
It was at this point that Hidalgo y Costilla made his biggest military mistake. He did not realize the forces guarding Mexico City were weak and unprepared. If he had marched on Mexico City and taken it, the war for independence would have been over at that point.
Instead he and his mob headed to Queretaro, but when they were defeated, they retreated back to Guanajuato. Hidalgo y Costilla and his army tried to escape to the United States when a large, well trained royalist army appeared outside of Guanajuato, but they were captured before they could cross the border.
Hidalgo was arrested, charged and found guilt of heresy and treason. He was also excommunicated by an ecclesiastical court. Now he was no longer considered a priest and was a traitor to the Spanish. “On the morning of July 30, 1811, the day after his degradation from th priesthood, Hidalgo went before a firing squad in the courtyard of the former Jesuit College which had been his prison since April.” (Hamill 216)
Despite the charges and his execution, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla remains a hero to the people of Mexico. In Dolores, the Casa de Don Miguel Hidalgo, where he lived from 1804 to 1810, is full of furniture and document exhibits from that time. The Museo de la Independencia, or Independence Museum, has been converted from the old prison into a historical arts center.
A larger than life bronze statue of Miguel Hidalgo graces the center of the park and all around Dolores are opportunities to purchase Talavera, a type of porcelain introduced by Father Hidalgo.
Matamoros, Mexico boasts a main square featuring monuments to Hidalgo and others who lost their lives in the Mexican War of Independence.
More tributes and monuments are found throughout Mexico, Texas and surrounding areas. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla may not have been a war savvy general but his genuine concern for the plight of his people and his encouragement to fight for an independent Mexico has truly made him the “Father of Mexican Independence.”
Anderson, Geri. Dolores Hidalgo: Mexico’s Cradle of Independence. 2007. 7 Mar. 2007
Hamill, Hugh M. The Hidalgo Revolt: Prelude to Mexican Independence. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1966. Questia. 5 Mar. 2007 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=54502033>.
Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Questia. 5 Mar. 2007 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=15456726>.
Smith, Clint E. Inevitable Partnership: Understanding Mexico-U.S. Relations. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000. Questia. 6 Mar. 2007 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=105958503>