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Thanks to the acquisition of the collection of Peter Force, the Manuscript Division holds interesting documents about the early career of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the initial leader of the Mexican struggle for independence from Spain. This section highlights important legal documents – the Constitutions of Apatzingán, the Plan of Iguala, and the Constitutions of 1824, 1836, and 1857. It also features key materials showing how Mexico lost 55% of its territory thanks to its war with the United States.

Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753–1811)

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla is generally regarded as the “Father of Mexican Independence.” He was born in a rural area of Guanajuato where his father managed a hacienda. He was an excellent student in both theology and philosophy at the then Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo in present-day Morelia. In 1778 he took clerical orders and in 1791 was named rector of his alma mater. However, shortly thereafter, he was removed from that position and sent into semi-exile to be a curate in the town of Colima. No one knows for sure why he endured this fate, but perhaps his willingness to espouse positions not sanctioned by the Church, might have been a factor.

Finally he made his way back and in 1803 he became the priest for Dolores, a well-to-do town in the silver-rich Bajío area to the north of Mexico City. Dolores was close to the much larger and wealthier town of Guanajuato, which Hidalgo knew well. In Dolores, he started a pottery complex and a brick making plant, grew trees for silkworms, set up a tannery, and cultivated bees, olives, and grapes. He spent whatever additional time he had learning Indian languages, and reading.

Historians cannot pinpoint exactly when Hidalgo accepted the idea that Mexico must become independent from Spain, but they do know he was part of what has become known as the “Querétaro conspiracy” along with his brother Mariano, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama and several others. According to legend, at midnight on September 16, Hidalgo waved a banner bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and proclaimed, “Viva la Independencia; Mueran los Gachupines.” ("Long live Independence. Death to the Spaniards.”). After taking silver-rich Guanajuato, his army, reckoned to be some 60,000 strong, marched to Valladolid, Morelia. Next Hidalgo’s forces went to Toluca in preparation for an assault on the capital itself. On the way, they met the royalists headed by Torcuato Trujillo at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. The rebels seemingly won that battle, but they took severe casualties, and many deserted. By November 2, Hidalgo gave up on conquering Mexico City and suffered several defeats at Aculco (7 November), Guanajuato (25 November), and Puente de Calderón (17 January). Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, and others were captured on March 21, 1811 in Coahuila. Hidalgo was sent to Chihuahua where he was stripped of his clerical profession, and executed.

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Testimony to the Inquisition concerning Father Hidalgo (1800)

In 1800, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla spent the Easter holidays at the home of his friend and former student Antonio Lecuona, also a priest, and the latter’s two sisters. Other guests included Mercedarian priests Joaquin Huesca and Manuel de Estrada, the vicar of Itimbo Juan Antonio Romero, and Hidalgo’s old friend José Martín García Carrasquedo, now sacristan of Zitácuaro. Hidalgo and García Carrasquedo had great fun teasing the Mercedarians by articulating all sorts of wild theological positions. But, the others took him very seriously and reported his ideas to the Inquisition. Hidalgo was accused of supporting the French Revolution, and of saying things that put him at odds with standard Catholic theological principles and beliefs.

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  • Testimony to the Inquisition concerning Father Hidalgo I. Peter Force Collection, Box 8c, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Testimony to the Inquisition concerning Father Hidalgo II. Peter Force Collection, Box 8c, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Testimony to the Inquisition concerning Father Hidalgo III. Peter Force Collection, Box 8c, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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Inquisition Charges against Father Hidalgo (1800)

This is the published bill of twelve charges against Hidalgo brought by the Court of the Inquisition in 1810. Because Hidalgo was a priest, he had to be stripped of his clerical orders before he could be tried in a secular court for insurrection against the Crown. So, the Inquisition had to meet and hear testimony against him and then make him an ordinary citizen, known as “relaxing him into the secular arm.” Some of the charges included his saying that “God doesn’t punish (people) with short-lived pains in this world like plagues and locusts; and his questioning the infallibility of some popes.” Many of these charges first appeared in the 1800 document.

Inquisition Charges against Father Hidalgo. Peter Force Collection, Box 8c, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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José María Morelos y Pavón (1765–1815)

Morelos was born in Valladolid (now Morelia) in Michoacan. He enrolled in the College of San Nicolás to begin his studies for the priesthood in 1790 and met Father Miguel Hidalgo, who was teaching there. By 1796 he was serving in nearby Uruapan as an auxiliary priest. From 1799 following his ordination he became the priest of numerous small towns in the same area. However, after September 16, 1810 when Hidalgo declared his revolt, Morelos was quick to join the insurgents.

Hidalgo dispatched Morelos to the south to form a fighting force there and various patriots joined up including many who would become familiar in Mexican history: the Galeana brothers, the Bravo brothers, including Nicolás, who would become a major figure in Mexican politics, Juan Alvarez and Vicente Guerrero, future presidents; Ignacio Rayón and Mariano Matamoros. Morelos quickly sought to improve the lives of the common people by abolishing slavery, the hierarchy of races, and community treasuries. As he won battle after battle (the siege of Acapulco being the exception), he dispatched two representatives to solicit aid from the United States. After taking both Chilpancingo (May 24) and Tixtla, he decreed the minting of a copper currency and asked Rayón to set up a governing committee (junta). By August 1811, he had delivered the entire South except for Acapulco to the insurgents.

By October 1812, he was able to take Orizaba in the state of Veracruz and Oaxaca the next month. Once there, he set up a mint, and printed “El Correo Americano del Sur.” In April 1813 he finally took Acapulco. Then he convened the Congress of Chilpancingo (Supremo Congreso Americano) on September 14 in Chilpancingo. Out of that came the Constitution of Apatzingan (proclaimed on October 22, 1814) which declared him Generalísimo in charge of the executive. But, his movement began to suffer a series of defeats, and he was stripped of that rank in February 1815. He was finally captured on November 5, 1815 by Manuel Concha and taken to Mexico City where he lost his priestly status and was condemned to death. On December 22, 1815 he was executed in San Cristóbal Ecatepec. The organized insurgency died with him.

Joseé Maria Teclo Morelos y Pavón, 1765-1815. Illus. taken from Historia militar del General Don Jose Maria Morelos... Mexico, 1825. Call Number: Illus. in F 1232.B956 [General Collections] Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ61-1611 (b&w film copy neg.)

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Constitution of Apatzingán: Mexico’s First Constitution (October 22, 1814)

This is the published version of the Constitution of Apatzingán, the first constitution written in Mexico. This version was printed and distributed in 1821, after Mexico had achieved its independence, but the original version came out of the Congress of Chilpancingo, Guerrero, and was issued on October 22, 1814 under the leadership of the insurgent army of José María Morelos.

Its 242 articles can be viewed as having two parts. In the first, the document accepts the Catholic religion, the authority of the will of the people, equality before the law, general right to citizenship, and respect for civil rights and liberty. The second deals with the more mundane issues of establishing provinces, Congressional sovereignty, the existence of a tri-partite government and a three-man executive, and three separate governmental departments for war, finance, and administration. It was never implemented due to the defeat of Morelos’ forces in 1815.

Mexico. Uniform Title: Constitución de Apatzingán. Decreto constitucional para la libertad de la America mexicana, México, Reimpreso en la oficina de D. M. de Zuñiga y Ontiveros, 1821. LC Call No.: JL1215.1814.A32 Rare Books - Law Library Reading Room

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Agustín de Iturbide (1783–1824)

Born in Valladolid (now known as Morelia), Iturbide joined the militia at 16 in 1799. When Miguel Hidalgo revolted, Iturbide fought steadfastly for the royalists. In 1816 he was cashiered from the military amid corruption charges about which he went to Spain to argue his case.

After he was restored to the army in 1821, Iturbide spent his time profitably in discussions with friends and foes calling for them all to accept the Plan of Iguala, which promised a constitutional monarchy with the Spanish monarch in charge, under the provisions of the Constitution of 1812, and equality of all groups. When the Spanish Jefe Político Superior Juan O’Donojú signed the Treaty of Córdoba (24 August 1821), these ideas were included. When Spain refused to accept these terms, Iturbide, supported by the army and a vast majority of the people, declared himself Emperor Agustín I.

Iturbide’s undoing came from his refusal to accept Congressional authority and the lack of funds to put a reliable army at his disposal. Once the Plan of Casa Mata was proclaimed, calling for his ouster and provincial autonomy, he was finished. He went into exile with his family, but returned ill-advisedly in July 1824, was captured, found guilty and executed.

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  • Agustín de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico, 1783-1824, bust portrait, facing slightly right. Illus. taken from Century Magazine, 1897, v. 33, p. 115. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52558 (b&w film copy neg.)

  • Representación que los generales y gefes del Ejército, reunidos la noche del 11 del corriente en junta presidida por el capitán general de la provincia, dirigieron al serenísimo señor generalísimo almirante, para que S.A. tomase las providencias oportunas, á fin de proceder legalmente contra al autor del papel intitulado Consejo prudente sobre una de las garantías, y evitar los males que pudiese producir la circulación de tan escandaloso folleto. México : Impr. imperial de D. Alejandro Valdes, 1821. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5. Law Library, Library of Congress

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Plan of Iguala (February 24, 1821)

The Plan of Iguala issued on February 24, 1821 marked the alliance between two adversarial groups – the insurrectionists led by Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria and the military led by former Spanish Lieutenant Agustín de Iturbide. This reconciliation was facilitated when a large army assembled in Spain for the reconquest of its colonies suddenly revolted under the leadership of Sergeant Rafael Riego. Riego demanded that King Fernando VII swear allegiance to the liberal constitución of 1812 with its tepid anti-clericalism, and its stress on popular sovereignty and its bill of rights.

Mexican Conservatives, seeking to distance themselves from an unexpectedly liberal Spain, thought of ways to preserve the benefits of colonialism under a constitutional monarchy. Iturbide, now a colonel, was put in charge of 2,500 troops to be sent south to fight Guerrero, but he was convinced to arrange a coalition with him instead. Naturally, Guerrero was somewhat suspicious of this royalist officer and it took several meetings before the two could issue their Plan of Iguala jointly.

As appropriate to a conservative independence document, the Plan of Iguala praises Spain’s effort in the Americas, but argues that Mexico was ready, at last, for self-government in a constitutional monarchy. Catholicism would become the religion of the nation, American-born whites and those born in Spain would be treated equally, and a new army formed to guarantee these promises.

Plan de Iguala, KGF7503.3 1821. Law Library, Library of Congress

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Letter from Vicente Guerrero to Agustín de Iturbide (November 2, 1821)

In this letter, found in the papers of Agustín de Iturbide, Vicente Guerrero, insurgent leader and partner in the making of Mexican independence, makes known to Iturbide, now Emperor of Mexico, that he needs the sum of 21,000 pesos which his friends advanced him for the independence movement. His distress is evident in the words he uses, and it is clear that he doesn’t want to press the point. It is as if Guerrero knows that Iturbide will need all the support he can find, for on that very day, the Emperor had purged Congress of any and all opposition to his rule. Guerrero would eventually oppose Iturbide, and then became President himself, then was deposed and assassinated in 1831.

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  • First page, letter from Vicente Guerrero to Agustín de Iturbide (November 2, 1821). Agustín de Iturbide Papers, 1799-1880. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • End page, letter from Vicente Guerrero to Agustín de Iturbide (November 2, 1821). Agustín de Iturbide Papers, 1799-1880. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Page 3

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Emperor Agustín I (Agustín de Iturbide) Writes a Proclamation to His Troops (February 11, 1823)

Emperor Agustín I wrote this proclamation to his troops less than two weeks after Antonio López de Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria had joined forces to declare the Plan of Casa Mata, a declaration of opposition to the empire and a determination to return to a republican and democratic governing system. In this proclamation, Iturbide first emphasizes his respect for his troops, who made Mexico independent from Spain, before any of the other countries (in Latin America) had done so. And that he well knew the privations they had suffered because he had suffered them too. Finally, he reminds them of their oaths to preserve the independence of their nation, the equality of all, the Catholic faith, and the establishment of a moderate constitutional monarchy. This version of the proclamation does not contain the signature -- a simple “Agustín”--, although other versions do.

The transcription of this proclamation appears in several sources which have been digitized and are on the web in often incomplete snippits. The Mexican Government has made the entire transcription available online (external link) (PDF, 4.63 MB) starting at page 426, or PDF page 10. At the Library of Congress, the transcription is also found on pages 312-314 of this work.

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1824 Federal Constitution of the United States of Mexico

This is the first Constitution to be enacted in Mexico. After Emperor Agustín I fell in 1823, Mexicans were divided about whether they wanted a strong central government or a union of strong states. The federalists won out and elected a Constitutional Congress that reflected their concerns. States and the national government shared sovereignty, but they also shared tax revenues, making for a weak central state. Further, the Constitution gave more power to the legislative branch than to the executive. It would take until the second half of the century before presidencialismo or strong national leadership would be implemented.

The Constitution of 1824 was overthrown twice in 1836 and in 1844, but it would also be reinstated several times as well. It would ultimately by supplanted by the Constitution of 1857.

Constitucion federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos sancionada por el Congreso general constituyente el 4. de octubre de 1824. Published: [Mexico] Impr. del supremo gobierno [1824?]. Rare Book and Special Collections, Library of Congress. LC Call No.: JL1215.1824.A52

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Map of Mexico in 1825

When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, it included most of the viceroyalty of New Spain, minus the Caribbean and the Philippines. It stretched from California and the present-day U.S. Southwest and encompassed all of Central America except Panama. The area known as Central America split from Mexico in 1823 as a result of the fall of the empire of Agustín de Iturbide. However, Mexico did keep the southern state of Chiapas. It lost another 55% of its territory as a result of Texas independence and its war with the United States (1846-1848) and then sold a much smaller southern slice of Arizona and New Mexico in 1854 (Gadsden Purchase/La Mesilla). Consequently, Mexico in 1855 was less than half of the nation it had been in 1821.

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Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876)

Described as the “quintessential caudillo,” Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, Veracruz and maintained a strong base in that region until forced into permanent exile in 1855. Fortunately for him, Veracruz was the largest port in the country and thus received the most tariff revenue. He began his career as a soldier in the royal army, but he joined Iturbide’s cause in March 1821 after the proclamation of the Plan de Iguala. He rose to national prominence in the 1829 war against Spain, and became president for the first time in 1833 as a liberal. He would become increasingly conservative as he aged and his health declined. In 1836 he was captured in the Battle of San Jacinto, agreed to the independence of Texas, and slithered away supposedly dressed as a woman.

His career was reborn when in the battle of Tampico against a French invasion in 1838, he lost his leg and became a hero once more. He served as president on more separate occasions between 1839 and 1844. He led Mexican forces against the United States in 1846-1848 only to experience defeat and exile once more. In 1853, a conservative coalition brought him back again, but he was unable to hold the warring factions together and they overthrew him for the final time in 1855. He spent the rest of his life in exile.

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Bases y leyes constitucionales of the Mexican Republic (1836)

After what seemed to be an unending series of revolts, those favoring a centralized republic gained control of the government in 1835. This constitution, known colloquially as the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws), placed governmental authority in the central state, set limits on who could vote, and eliminated the states, replacing them with departments. By then, however, the central government was hopelessly in debt both to internal and foreign creditors and faced a series of relentless revolts. This constitution would be superceded by an even more centralized government in the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1844.

Bases y leyes constitucionales de la Republica Mexicana, decretadas por el Congreso general de la nacion en el año de 1836. Mexico, Impr. del Aguila, dirigida por J. Ximeno, 1837. Rare Books - Law Library, Library of Congress. Call Number: KGF2914 1824 .A6 1837

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Nicholas Philip Trist (1800–1874)

Nicholas P. Trist was born in Charlottesville, Virginia and had decided upon a military career, but quit West Point in 1822 to marry Virginia Randolph, the granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson. This astute marriage brought him into Jefferson’s orbit; he studied law with the former President, acted as his private secretary in 1825-1826, and then helped settle his estate following his death.

He then entered the State Department as a clerk under Henry Clay, and worked as a private secretary to Andrew Jackson off and on from 1828 to 1833. He served as Consul in Havana (1833-1841) and in 1845 became chief clerk at the Department of State. In April 1847 President James Knox Polk named him to be peace commissioner to end the Mexican War. Trist quarreled with both Gen. Winfield Scott and the Mexican negotiators before President Polk rescinded his commission in November 1847 and demanded that he return to Washington.

Trist decided to stay and finish negotiating the treaty. Some historians believe that his closeness to British diplomats influenced his decision. He signed the treaty in February 1848 and returned to the United States without a job. Subsequently, he devoted the rest of his life to practicing law.

View presentations about the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, (including selected pages from the Trist's draft):

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Benito Juárez (1806–1872)

Born in a small village in the state of Oaxaca and orphaned before the age of 4, Benito Juárez is often viewed as the archetypical Mexican. He spoke mostly Zapotec, an Indian language, until his teens. He finally finished his high school training in 1827, when he was 21, and received his law degree in 1834. He entered politics as a liberal in 1831. By 1846 he was elected to the national Congress, but went back to Oaxaca and was elected governor in 1847. When Santa Anna returned to the presidency in 1853, Juárez was exiled to New Orleans where he joined forces with other liberals there.

When the liberals regained power in 1855, Juárez became the Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs and wrote the Ley Juárez which eliminated special rights for the military and the clergy. In 1857 Juárez became Minister of Government (Gobernación), and then was elected president of the Supreme Court, first in line for succession to the presidency. When President Comonfort was overthrown by Félix Zuloaga, Juárez was sworn in as President, giving Mexico two presidents and a civil war. Ulimately he ended up in Veracruz where other radical liberals supported him in issuing the reform laws separating the church and state, establishing civil marriage, civil registration of births and deaths, and expropriating the property of the Catholic Church. By the end of 1860, the liberals were back in power with Juárez as President.

Upon taking power, Juárez suspended payment on the foreign debt, leading to the intervention of Spain, Great Britain, and France. While the first two nations returned home, but French forces succeeded in putting Austrian archduke Maximilian von Habsburg on the Mexican throne. During this intervention, Juárez gained a reputation for steadfastness and ultimately outlasted both the French army and Maximilian. He was reelected President in December 1867 and again in 1871. He died on July 18, 1872.

Benito Juarez, Pres. Mexico, bust, facing slightly left. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-44545 (b&w film copy neg.) Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Call Number: LOT 6562 [item] [P&P]

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Federal Constitution of the United States of Mexico, Sanctioned and Sworn in by the General Constitutional Congress (February 5, 1857)

This constitution has much in common with that of 1824, but reflects the over three decades that had passed since then. It included statutes providing for the rights of individuals, national sovereignty, separation of powers, and the responsibilities for government officials. It also made room for free and compulsory education, freedom of religion, speech, and press. As would be expected, two cornerstones were the Ley Juárez which outlawed special justice for the clergy and the military, and the Ley Lerdo sanctioning private as opposed to communal property. It created a unicameral legislature and a president who must be 35 years old and Mexican by birth. Each would serve four year terms. The Church’s insistence that anyone who swore allegiance to the Constitution would be excommunicated and the national government’s demand that all employees swear such an oath culminated in the War of the Reform (1858-1860).

Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Mexico. 1857. Rare Books - Law Library Reading Room, Library of Congress.

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