Early on the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla summoned the largely Indian and mestizo congregation of his small Dolores parish church and urged them to take up arms and fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. His El Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, which was spoken—not written—is commemorated on September 16 as Mexican Independence Day.
My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.
Cry of Dolores, attributed to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, September 16, 1810.
Father Hidalgo was born into a moderately wealthy family in the city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, in 1753. He attended the Jesuit College of San Francisco Javier, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mexico in 1774, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1778. He soon earned the enmity of the authorities, however, by openly challenging both church doctrine and aspects of Spanish rule by developing Mexican agriculture and industry.
In 1803, Hidalgo accepted the curacy of the small parish of Dolores, not far from his native city of Guanajuato. Between 1803 and 1810, he directed most of his energy to improving the economic prospects of his parishioners. He also joined the Academia Literaria, a committee seeking Mexico’s independence from Spain.
In September 1810, Spanish authorities learned of the group’s plot to incite a rebellion. On September 13, they searched the home of Emeterio González in the city of Queretaro where they found a large supply of weapons and ammunition. Warned of his impending arrest, Hidalgo preempted authorities by issuing the El Grito de Dolores on the morning of September 16. Attracting enthusiastic support from the Indian and mestizo population, he and his band of supporters moved toward the town of San Miguel.
The rebel army encountered its first serious resistance at Guanajuato. After a fierce battle that took the lives of more than 500 Spaniards and 2,200 Indians, the rebels won the city. By October, the rebel army, now 80,000 strong, was close to taking Mexico City. Hidalgo, fearful of unleashing the army on the capital city, hesitated, then retreated to the north. He was captured in Texas, then still a part of the Spanish empire, and executed by firing squad on July 31, 1811. After ten more years of fighting, a weakened and divided Mexico finally won independence from Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba on August 24, 1821.