Monday, 16 September 2013

Tale of Two Days: Mexico's Independence Day, 16 September and America's Constitution and Citizenship Day 17 September

     So much has been written, studied, and said about the movement for independence from Spain on the part of the  various races, classes, types, and conditions of people in the Colonial area, that little, if anything, is left that would not be repetition.
     The Revolucion de la Independencia sparked up in a relatively unlikely place, a parish by the name of Nuestra Sen~ora de los Dolores, in a provincial, poor, and rustic Indian area named, un-romantically, Guajajuato, which in the Purepecha and upper Tarascan Indian language means Place of the Frogs or Mountainous Place of Frogs.  It is good that at least it was not named Mountains of Frogs or Place of Mountainous Frogs.
   The little community and its surroundings is famous for mediocre semblance of the famous Talavera work more commonly associated with the ceramic and porcelain pieces and sets made in the Puebla area.  But do not think that the present folks who live in Dolores Hidalgo would be offended that you might think that the Puebla stuff is "better"....because the Dolores people, 300 miles to the northwest of Puebla make utilitarian Talavera.  It is good, well made, sturdy, and ready for daily use or for deployment at a better quality highway stop, downtown dinette,  or a truckers' stop.   It is made to be used, not to decorate a knick-knack shelf.

     If a fellow hangs around on the plaza, right in front of where Father Miquel Hidalgo y Costilla pronounced the "Grito (cry, or call)" to Independence, at 23:00 hours, during the night of the 15th of September 1810, he will certainly see five-ton trucks fully loaded with '' juegos (sets)" of service for six, service for eight and selections of plates, coffee and saucer, etc.  passing by every five to seven minutes, delivering already purchased loads of their family-based production.   The trucks go to all the big cities in Mexico, and to the border towns, even now, where wholesalers and tourists alike.

    The people making the utilitarian talavera are a conservative sort.   The bulk of them are still very much Indian by blood and proud of that fact.  They are people who have been of one solid faith since the arrival of the missionary fathers, and they have, by-in-large lived that faith for the last 500 years.  They are why the Mexican Revolution for Independence almost could have, would have, and should have been more like the American Revolution against the Brits.   Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was a priest, it is true.   But he was also quite a studied man...a form of Renaissance Man in many ways.   He was also a pompous sort, who during the beginning of the revolution Hidalgo would lead in 1810 - 1811, spent considerably time writing out a fitting title for himself;  it would have difficulty to-day, fitting onto a double-spaced eleven pages of letter-sized paper.

     Hidalgo was a large man, about 6' - 5" and approximately 260 pounds or so.   He was a well-studied man, with many published treatises on topics as varied as histories of the Holy Lands and the proper and scientific manner to establish a vineyard, complete with step-by-step instructions all the way to the vat, bottle, and cuerca (cork).  He had many diplomas, and apparently all were earned.  He was a member of the nearly Athenian discussion groups around his homeland of Penjamo in what is now the State of Michoacán. 

     The Penjamo discussion groups might be something akin to the beatnik coffee shops of the very late 1950s and early 1960s (little did we know what that would lead to) and the thinkers both Orthodox and Radical were numerous, rich, and at times disposed to action.   Much influence came from the Jeffersonian notions about the construct of society and the position of government in relation to the governed.   The ardour of the French Revolution pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of both the traditional authoritarian structure of aristocracies and Religious rigidity with the "pharisees'' running the show, and the rush of anarchic freedom that dispelled fairly quickly the notion that Robespierre, through imposition of Fraternite', Egalite', et  Liberte', had built anything of importance save for a defective mouse-trap.

     Those discussions have never ended in Mexico, or anywhere in Latin America,  and they certainly have not ended in the United States of America. What was actually happening in Mexico during the 1790s and early 1800s was the final formulation of an attitude among the entire populace that Spain had had its moment, and had begun to fail on every front in terms of its relationship with its colonies.

     Oddly enough, morality and pro-Spanishism, led to a collapse of Spain's control over Mexico...and then, one by two, all of the acreage that made up a place known as The  Spanish American Colonies from Argentina and Chile all the way, essentially to Alaska.  The Spanish Court had entered into a moral decay that found the King's Chancellor essentially taking the Queen to himself during the turbulent first decade of the 19th Century....while Napoleon was taking possession of all of Louisiana, that supposedly Bourbon Spain had held in trust...perhaps, one perpetuity....but such was not to be.  Napoleon I, after taking possession of the massive territory (everything drained by the Mississippi River), promptly sold the property to the United States.   While the Americans would have to fight and/or cajole to gain absolute control of the Ohio drainage area against Indian Nations, the French, and the British, the Louisiana Purchase was quite a bargain at 3,000,000 dollars.   Then, the imposition of Napoleon's brother Joseph onto the throne of Spain produced the final shrug of the colonials' shoulders.   The attitude of "If not now, when?"  became pervasive throughout the intellectual classes of Spanish America.
María Josefa Ortiz.png
Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez
1773  -  1829
(she married at 17 and
birthed 14 children, all of
whom apparently survived) 
     Father Hidalgo went ahead with the rest of it after learning that one of their "discussion groups" situated in the elegant and sophisticated city of Queretaro, about 80 miles east-southeast of  the Parish of Nuestra Sen~ora de los Dolores had been "discovered" by Spanish authorities.   Enough evidence existed to arrest all involved, and for them to be executed, in spite of their high position as property owning, white, Criollo (pure-blooded Spaniards, not born in Spain), and at least nominally good Roman Catholics.
     Hidalgo knew from his own experiences with the Roman Catholic authorities in charge of the Inquisition that both the Church authorities and the Spanish Viceroyalty were essentially thoroughly corrupt and brutal.  So immediately upon learning about the compromise of the "discussion group" Hidalgo decided his little place would be the answer to the other question, "If not here, then where?".  These events began to unfold suddenly, about four or five days before the 15th of September, 1810.

    So, in order to divert the Spanish military response to the 'discussion groups' in Queratato, and Valladolid (Morelia), Penjamo, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, and even Mexico City, Father Miquel Hidalgo y Costilla gave the cry that was heard throughout Spanish America...and after a few weeks, throughout Europe.
     Suddenly, the sullen, expressionless Tarascan/Purepechas who had received patient, if paternalistic, instruction about everything from how to live to how to grow tomatoes and raise grapes to wine began to coalesce around the Church.    Over the years, Hidalgo had demanded of them that all their children would have three grades of school, that they be at least slightly temperate.  Farming diversification, ceramic, and other artisan industry, now commonplace in large swaths of Michoacán and Guanajuato States of Mexico, personal hygiene, religiosity, self-sufficiency, and a score of other positive characteristics....all started with a strong-willed self-assured personality named Miguel Hidalgo because he, a white intellectual, believed in these inscrutable Indians and their native goodness and intelligence.   When his call went out from the belfry of his Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, on the edge of nowhere in the Mexican Altiplano,  this writer is certain that Hidalgo was not aware that to-night 1,000 would arrive with clubs, rocks, and pitchforks, and that by three days, competent military talent in the form of Ignacio Allende  from Valladolid (now Morelia), would lead a group of 20,000 towards the citadel of Spanish authority in the area...Guanajuato City, in the district of Guanajuato....still to this day...some joke, but seriously....the most Spanish city in the world.
   Spanish tourists are astounded by the quality of the archaic Spanish of the street performers who put scenes from the Man of La Mancha and other works of Cervantes, before the tourists while strolling in pantaloons and feathered caps.   It is a mystical experience for national and foreigner alike, when visiting during the "Fiestas Cervantinas".  The recitations and "rondalla" musical groups, they say, are much more in correct dress of the epoch of Cervantes than what they have in Spain, and that Guanajuato City is "more like Spain than Spain.''

     On the second day after the "Grito", there was a massive turnout finally totalling over 10,000 from just the area around Dolores.   This huge force, ill-trained and equipped, flooded towards Guanajuato, where Allende with his 20,000 would begin to put them into their best order of attack against a small but extremely well-fortified and trained defensive force of about 700 fusiliers and artillerists under the command of competent officers.

     The fusiliers and mosqueteros  made fairly easy work of picking off the indiscrete volunteer Indians and Mestizo ranks of Hidalgo.   Allende's people were trained enough to not uselessly sacrifice themselves.   But during the siege of the Alhondiga de Granaditas ...the great granary where up to seven years of stores were kept it was known that the Independence people would have to neutralise the Alhondiga, completely.   The stores, munitions, powder, medicines, and perhaps even papers and communications were too necessary to the effort to just pass up.   But time was of the essence.   Squadrons of Lancers could be in Guanajuato from two or three sources within  three or four days of  being notified of their plight by a stealthy messenger.  The Revolutionaries were already on borrowed time.
File:El Pípila.jpg
The monument to El Pipila;, or "Speckled
Turkey" in Tarascan,  This is a favoured
place for spooners and tourists and
vendors who frequently have really
nice seconds from the artisans of
the area...many different crafts
are represented.

  On the 28th of September, well beyond the reasonable time limit for action, an Indian by the Spanish name of Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez Amayo decided to take matters into his own hands.   He  tied a large, elongated flat piece of stone...probably an iron and ore bearing 'laja de mina' (flat rock from a mining operation)....and stumbled as quickly and as upright as possible, as the Spanish poured lead down upon him.    But he made the door of the Alhondiga no real worse  for the wear.   His task was not so much to break down the door, as is frequently stated, but rather to oil and burn the door from the outside, hopefully opening the door, and also setting afire the beautiful tropical red oak plank floor that covered the entirety of the granary's  Planta Baja (ground floor).   It is said he knew of the floor because he had been among the woodworkers who had so carefully crafted it and installed it for the Command.

     After considerable effort, the plan worked and thousands of rough, ardent "soldiers" poured through the opening and slew every soul inside, Spanish and Criollo royalist sympathisers, soldiers, Indian employees and servants and Indians business people who might have been buying grain before the hostilities, women, children...everyone.

     Blooded and victorious, Father Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende moved their flock together, and at every opportunity the Indians lost their discipline and simply destroyed whole families and peons who would defend them.  Shopkeepers in the small towns, and their families were sent to the hereafter if there was the slightest thought that they might have Royalist sympathies. Shops and businesses were  erased from existence, it was the true Occupy Wall Street revenge trip from Hell.

     Hidalgo shepherded this rabble to the very edge of Mexico City.   Ignacio Allende exhorted Hidalgo to storm the city with the imperfect but apparently effective "Army", now equipped with a few arms and banners proclaiming the Virgin of Guadalupe (what Episcopalians of old would consider the Apparition of the BVM (Saint Mary) at the Hill of Tepayac as the patron of the Army, and the spiritual guide of their victories.

     Hidalgo fretted and stewed for a bit, not really wanting to allow his ragtags into the main urban area in the entirety of Spanish America.   He had been disappointed that his "children" seemed to "forget" at every skirmish that they had to "love their enemies" ...leading to the old joke that the Indian, hat in hands, after his group had been scolded for  killing and robbing at a very elegant and productive hacienda...the family was dead, along with many loyal peons and vaqueros....livestock slaughtered, roasted, somewhat eaten, the rest wasted....and when they had been sternly scolded, the one spokesman said, "Yes, Padre, but it is so much easier to love our enemies when they are dead."

     Ignacio Allende, a Spanish officer and trained in the realities of both combat and the making of war, knew that however imperfect the army they had was, it was the army at hand.   He also knew that this was the best and only time for a quick and total victory....setting up an inertia that the populace would embrace and help.   With such a citizenry, agents of the Spanish could be weeded out, the Viceroy found along with his coterie, and they could be arrested and banished after first divulging the stores of gold, silver, and copper coinage and  bullion.
     Allende however only seemed to have total control of the "troops" during a actual fighting.  Once the fighting was over....they seemed to revert to primordial instincts.   And Hidalgo was too arrogant to be directed by a person who was not of perfect motive ....or something.  It is known that Allende and Hidalgo did not "click"...and their personalities were among those famous "conflicted" types.   This delay allowed for the Spanish professional army and mediocre to excellent officers to come up and confront the "army of locusts" and a battle ensued on the western side of Mexico City.

Battle of Monte de las Cruces
Part of the Mexican War of Independence
Batalla del Monte de las Cruces-30 oct 1810-México.jpg
Monuments to the insurgents
DateOctober 30, 1810
LocationOcoyoacac, Mexico State, Mexico
ResultVictory for insurgents
Flag of the Mexican Insurgents (commerce variant).svg Mexican InsurgentsFlag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Royal Spanish Army
Commanders and leaders
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
Ignacio Allende
Gen. Torcuato Trujillo
Casualties and losses
     This was the beginning of the end for the Mexican Insurgents.   Bravado, bravery, foolhardiness, not taking the enemy's abilities and assets seriously, and the failure to do the favour to their troops on the part of Hidalgo and Allende both, to disciplined them into a true phalanx for Independence.   One can see the results by the tolls.   There were 80,000 estimated troops under the command of Hidalgo and Allende.  They rendered a terrible blow against the Spanish.  Five of every seven Spanish effectives had been killed or wounded, but after winning the battle, two things blunted the advance into the centre of Mexico City.   One, Hidalgo was depressed and disappointed with the carnage and unjustifiable destruction of life and property.   The other was the recognition by the Independence fighters that even with overwhelming numbers the Spanish had destroyed whole companies of armed infantry and they had never backed down.  A cold hand ran over the souls of the troops a well as the will of Hidalgo.

Then with the next pivotal battle, after
a long retreat, fighting as they went, the forces of Hidalgo met with a force under the command of General with an aristocratic background, an excellent military and general education, and an officer who had been fighting Indians and small insurrections for a good while.   It would be a different story in Jalisco, not far from Guadalajara at a place called Zapotlanejo  (Land of the Kiwi fruit trees in Tarascan)  
Battle of Calderón Bridge
Part of the Mexican War of Independence
Batalla Calderón.jpg
Plan of the Battle of Calderón Bridge
Date17 January 1811
LocationCalderón Bridge, Zapotlanejo, Jalisco, Mexico
ResultSpanish victory
 MexicoSpain Monarchy of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Miguel HidalgoFélix María Calleja del Rey, 1st Count of Calderón
Casualties and losses
When all was said and done, the "locusts" had learned the value of discipline.   Their problem was that it was not at the hands of the good priest or his was at the hands of the Spanish defenders.  Outnumbered  by about 20 to 1, Calleja used his better understanding of the task at hand, and encircled the passage of the rebel army and then employed very effective artillery fusillades that served especially to confuse and demoralise the once ardent seekers of Mexican Independence.

     One can see on the map and in the chart provided the number of casualties that Hidalgo's "children" suffered.   From this point on, Hidalgo's fortunes went downhill.  He determined to try to make an escape to the United States, whereever that was, (actually into the Louisiana Territory) re-arm, make better plans, and return to the field.

Monument - Angel of the Independence
Mexico City at Sunset
Beneath the column are invested the remains
of the Great Insurgents of the Revolution for
    That seemed perfectly foolhardy, but for whatever reasoning that could be provided,  it did not really matter, because during his flight to the north he was captured by Spanish cavalry in Coahuila, far to the north, and taken to  Chihuahua City, where he was held until completion of his trials (civil and ecclesiastic) and sentenced to death.  He was executed without priestly vesture or sign that he was anything beyond a bandit or a brigand, then decapitated.
    His head was cured up and taken to be put at one corner of the high wall at the Alhondiga de Granaditas along with three other insurgents' heads.  All the mortal remains that could be collected are interred in the Monument of the Independence in a glorietta on the elegant Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City.   And there is a brief story about the beginning of the end for Spain as the landlord of Mexico.  It was a messy business, nothing like a 2 hour movie or even a detailed book.

     The best that can be said, and it is something of value on behalf of both Allende and Hidalgo, of course, is that they did a great deal with a force of little military or diplomatic value.   The Spanish officers in the field knew that if Spain did not act astutely and quickly with massive resources and will to win....that the social sectors, as racially and economically divergent as they were, would organise and grind Victory out of a master they had ceased wanting to serve for two hundred years.  Madrid never really did wake up, preferring to entrap itself in hopeless and expensive entanglements in Europe.

More later about the 16th of September, 1810....the day it all began....but did not end.   To-morrow, a brief word about  the Constitution of the United States of America.
El Gringo Viejo