Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel (1753–1811)

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Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel (1753–1811)

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (b. 8 May 1753; d. 30 July 1811), leader of the Mexican Independence movement (1810–1811). Born near Pénjamo, Guanajuato, the son of a hacienda administrator, Hidalgo distinguished himself as a philosophy and theology student at the Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo in Valladolid, Morelia, and at the Royal and Pontifical University in Mexico City. In 1778 he was ordained a priest. He gained recognition for his innovative thought and in 1791 became rector of the Colegio de San Nicolás. In 1792, however, his fortunes changed and he was appointed curate of the distant provincial town of Colima. Although the causes of Hidalgo's removal are not known, historians speculate that financial mismanagement, gambling, heterodox thinking, or his well-known affairs with women were responsible. He is known to have fathered several children.

Hidalgo was transferred to San Felipe near Guanajuato, and in 1803 to the prosperous town of Dolores. A landowner, educator, and restless reformer, Hidalgo devoted much of his time to stimulating industrial development at Dolores, introducing a pottery works, a brick factory, mulberry trees for silkworms, a tannery, an olive grove, apiaries, and vineyards. He knew the French language, which was unusual for a Mexican cleric, read modern philosophy, learned Indian languages, and loved music. He spent much of his time in the nearby city of Guanajuato, where he was highly respected in intellectual circles. Some of Hidalgo's activities brought him into conflict with colonial administrators, and he was investigated on several occasions by the Inquisition.

Although it is not known exactly where Hidalgo began to support the idea of independence, he knew Ignacio Allende before 1810, had many contacts with the 1809 conspirators of Valladolid, and probably attended secret meetings of disgruntled creoles at Guanajuato and Querétaro. Many creoles in the Bajío region would not forgive the Spaniards for the 1808 overthrow of Viceroy José de Iturrigaray. As with the 1809 conspiracy in Valladolid and other plots, the creole leaders planned to achieve their goals by mobilizing the Indian and mestizo populations. The denunciation of the Querétaro conspiracy by some of its participants caught Hidalgo, Allende, and the other leaders by surprise. Although Hidalgo had manufactured some lances at Dolores and developed ties with members of the local provincial militia units, the exposure of the plot forced him to initiate the revolt prematurely.

The revolt commenced on 16 September 1810 with Hidalgo leading his brother Mariano, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, and a few others to free prisoners held at the local jail and to arrest the district subdelegate and seventeen Spanish residents. After gathering some militiamen and others who possessed arms, Hidalgo marched on San Miguel el Grande and Celaya, arresting European Spaniards and threatening to execute them if there was armed resistance. Under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the rebellion recruited large numbers of Indian and mestizo villagers and residents of haciendas armed with lances, machetes, slings, bows, agricultural implements, sticks, or stones. They joined what became a triumphant if anarchic progress from town to town.

Hidalgo's revolutionary program remained unclear, but he sanctioned the confiscation of Spanish wealth at the same time he claimed to support King Ferdinand VII. The ayuntamiento of Celaya and the rebel chiefs named Hidalgo supreme commander. At Guanajuato on 28 September 1810, armed resistance by Intendant Juan Antonio Riaño at the fortified Alhóndiga led to the massacre of royalists and looting of the city by Hidalgo's followers and local plebeian elements. After taking some preliminary steps toward creating a new government, an organized army, a cannon foundry, and a mint, Hidalgo and his enormous force—estimated to be 60,000 strong—moved to the city of Valladolid, Morelia, which was occupied without resistance.

Declared generalíssimo, Hidalgo marched toward Mexico City by way of Toluca. On 30 October 1810, the inchoate rebel masses confronted a fairly well-disciplined royalist force commanded by Torcuato Trujillo. Following the battle of Monte de las Cruces, the royalists withdrew, granting a theoretical victory to the insurgents, but the green rebel troops had suffered such heavy casualties that many deserted. Hidalgo hesitated until 2 November before abandoning his plan to occupy the capital, realizing that his forces needed better military discipline, munitions, and weaponry. From this point, Hidalgo and Allende led a peripatetic march to disastrous rebel defeats by the royalist Army of the Center, commanded by Félix Calleja, at Aculco (7 November), Guanajuato (25 November), and Puente de Calderón, near Guadalajara (17 January 1811). After each battlefield defeat, the rebel forces dispersed, abandoning artillery, equipment, and transport.

Hidalgo did not fully formulate his ideas about independence or the form of government that was to replace the colonial regime, and he failed to develop a strategic plan to fight the war. At Guadalajara, however, he appointed ministers of justice and state, and he named a plenipotentiary to the United States. He abolished slavery, ended the unpopular tribute tax for Indians, and suspended the state monopolies of paper and gunpowder. The availability of a press at Guadalajara permitted the insurgents to publish a paper, El Despertador Americano, in which they disseminated their ideas and responded to royalist propaganda. Despite these advances, Hidalgo's dependence upon the lower classes and willingness to condone the cold-blooded slaughter of Spanish prisoners polarized the population and compelled the great majority of creoles to espouse the royalist cause.

Notwithstanding the continued popularity of Hidalgo and the rebellion, by the beginning of 1811 it was obvious that the military advantage rested with the royalist armies of Calleja and José de la Cruz. At Guadalajara, Allende opposed a definitive battlefield confrontation and proposed the division of the poorly armed and inexperienced rebel forces into several groups. This proposal was quite logical, but Hidalgo believed that the enormous numbers in the rebel force at Guadalajara—estimated by some historians at over 100,000 men—would overrun the royalists. However, in the six-hour battle at Puente de Calderón, the royalists annihilated the main force of the rebel army, freeing Calleja and other royalist commanders to pursue remaining rebel concentrations.

The senior insurgent leaders fled north with Hidalgo to Zacatecas. Differences between Hidalgo and the more moderate Allende had broken out previously, but even stronger denunciations followed in the wake of the disastrous military defeats. At the hacienda of Pabellón, near Aguascalientes, Allende replaced Hidalgo as the senior political and military chief of the rebellion. In the march across Coahuila to seek assistance in the United States, Hidalgo and his senior commanders were surprised and captured. Sent to Chihuahua for trial, Hidalgo was defrocked and executed by firing squad. His head was sent with those of Allende, Aldama, and Mariano Jiménez to be displayed in iron cages at the four corners of the Alhóndiga of Guanajuato. Following independence, Hidalgo's remains were reinterred in Mexico City.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples; Mexico: The Colonial Period.


Lucas Alamán, Historia de México desde los primeros movimientos que prepararon su independencia en el año de 1808 hasta la época presente, 5 vols. (1849–1852; repr. 1942).

David A Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León, 1700–1860 (1978).

Carlos María De Bustamante, Cuadro histórico de la Revolución Mexicana, 3 vols. (1961).

Nancy M. Farriss, Crown and Clergy in Colonial Mexico, 1759–1821: The Crisis of Ecclesiastical Privilege (1968).

Hugh M. Hamill, The Hidalgo Revolt: Prelude to Mexican Independence (1966).

Brian R. Hamnett, Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750–1824 (1986).

José María Luis Mora, Mexico y sus revoluciones, 2d ed., 3 vols. (1965).

John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940 (1986).

Eric Van Young, "Moving Toward Revolt: Agrarian Origins of the Hidalgo Rebellion in the Guadalajara Region," in Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico, edited by Friedrich Katz (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Guzmán Pérez, Moisés. Miguel Hidalgo y el gobierno insurgente en Valladolid. Morelia: Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, 1996.

Ibarra Palafox, Francisco A. Miguel Hidalgo: Entre la libertad y la tradición. Mexico City: Porrúa: Facultad de Derecho, U.N.A.M., 2003.

                                    Christon I. Archer