TULUM, Mexico – In contrast to some other countries, the majority of Latin American nations focus their independence celebrations on the inception rather than the culmination of the process. It’s that moment of heroism passionately revered by Mexicans on September 15 and 16, the days in 1810 when natives and criollos rose in arms to break free, after over three centuries of occupation, from Spanish oppression.
Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the inhabitants of what was then called the Viceroyalty of New Spain – stretching from what is now Costa Rica to the current border between the United States and Canada, though not covering all the territory – became imbued with the ideas of European Enlightenment, promoting freedom, equality, and individual rights. This is why, years before the symbolic Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), criollo intellectuals began to question the colonial system and request reforms from the Crown.
With this, in the early 1800s, a clandestine and conspiratorial movement began in the city of Querétaro, imagining new forms of government and ultimately shedding the long colonial oppression by Spain’s King Ferdinand VII.
Independence processes are neither simple nor immediate. In Mexico’s case, the fourth American country to achieve independence, the consummation didn’t come until a little over a decade later, with plenty of time for numerous events as important, if not more so, than the September 28, 1821, signing of the Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire by Agustín de Iturbide.
By the end of the 18th century, the Spanish Empire extended over 20 million square kilometers and was a major player in European geopolitics, with trade in products from America and Asia as its primary pillar of success. However, in 1808, an ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking to unify Europe under his authority, invaded Spanish territory and placed his brother Joseph I Bonaparte on the throne, exiling Ferdinand VII to Bayonne as a prisoner.
It was then that the Spanish Empire began to lose territories and, with it, weaken. In fact, most Spanish colonies gained their independence during the 19th century. This, combined with the Mexicans’ desire for emancipation, who had been waiting for this moment for years, led New Spain to reach a breaking point that exploded completely on September 16, 1810.
What happened on September 16, 1810, in Mexico?
The priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla – later known as the Father of the Nation – had been involved in the clandestine discussions in Querétaro since 1809, alongside other great heroic figures who would later hold a special place in the Mexican imagination: “La Corregidora” Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, her husband Miguel Domínguez, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, the brothers Epigmenio and Emeterio González, among others. In these meetings, he recruited supporters and built weaponry to prepare for an insurrection.
On the morning of September 16, 1810, their aspirations seemed closer to reality when Hidalgo, upon learning of the Viceroyal Government’s awareness of the conspiracies against it, rang the bell of Dolores and uttered the famous Cry of Independence. In his speech, he declared “vivas” to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Catholic Church, independence, and America, and “muertes” (deaths) to bad governance, injustice, and the “gachupines” – Spaniards born in Spain, according to the version of the speech endorsed by the Mexican government.
From this landmark moment, the uprising for Mexican Independence began in Dolores, but it quickly spread to other regions of the country, with leaders like José María Morelos, who later conquered most of the southern and central parts of the country, and the aforementioned Juan Aldama, who participated in the Guanajuato and Monte de la Cruces campaigns, as well as the defeat at Puente de Calderón in 1811, where priest Hidalgo was tried and executed.
Two years later, with Morelos leading the independence movement, one of the most important events of the process occurred: the Congress of Chilpancingo in 1813, where the first constitution of the country was drafted, known as the Constitution of Apatzingán. It established the division of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches, mandatory and free education, and granted voting rights to all Mexican men. But this manifestation of emancipation would not last long for Morelos, as on December 22, 1815, he faced the same fate as his fellow revolutionary, Miguel Hidalgo.
Throughout the independence process, correspondence between the leaders of the Mexican troops and those of the Spanish army, also known as royalists, was common. This is where Agustín de Iturbide enters the picture, a royalist military leader who joined the Mexican cause through contact with Vicente Guerrero, one of the leaders of the insurgent movement.
He proposed maintaining the constitution, the church’s privileges, and the army’s rights while convening a congress with representatives from all provinces. These conditions were accepted by the groups seeking independence, leading to the creation of the Plan of Iguala in 1821. It was enforced with the formation of the Army of the Three Guarantees, which other insurgent leaders joined to ensure the fulfillment of the document’s three pillars: Religion, Independence, and Union.
Thus, after the triumphant entry of the Army of the Three Guarantees into Mexico City on September 27, 1821, and the signing of the first Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire the following day – there was another one after Iturbide’s execution in 1824 where the term “Republic” was first used to refer to Mexico – the country achieved what it had yearned for decades: independence from the Spanish Empire.
El Grito de Independencia or “The Cry of Independence”
Mexico’s path to independence stands as a beacon of courage and resilience, a journey that began with a cry that echoed through history – El Grito de Independencia. This momentous event celebrated every 15th of September, marks the inception of Mexico’s relentless struggle for freedom.
The genesis of the independence movement unfolded when the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, later hailed as the Father of the Nation, rallied the people of Dolores to rise against the oppressive yoke of the Viceroyalty. He summoned them with the resounding toll of the church bells and delivered a stirring speech, eloquently articulating the reasons why they could not stand idly by without joining the battle. It is this very event that earned the moniker “El Grito” or “The Cry.”
To commemorate this historic occasion, a ceremony is held, presided over by the President of the Republic. The bells of the National Palace ring out, paying homage to Hidalgo’s call. Simultaneously, the Mexican flag is proudly waved, and tributes are paid to the nation’s heroes.
As the president utters the name of each of these heroes, the assembled crowd in the Zócalo square of Mexico City erupts in enthusiastic chants of “¡Viva! ¡Viva!” – expressions of respect and admiration for these revered figures.
According to protocol, El Grito de Independencia unfolds as follows:
Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
Viva Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Viva la independencia Nacional!
Viva México!, ¡Viva México!, ¡Viva México!”
This tradition extends beyond the national level, with states and municipalities across Mexico participating in their respective venues, led by local authorities.
Such is the significance of this event that it finds a place in the curriculum of Mexican elementary schools. It forms a crucial part of civic ceremonies, ensuring that young minds grow up with an understanding of their country’s history, a profound appreciation for the heroes of the past, and a vivid recollection of the moment when the battle for national liberty ignited.