Sept. 27, 2022

The End of the Mexican War of Independence

The End of the Mexican War of Independence

September 27th 1821. After a long and bitter war, Mexican revolutionary Agustin de Iturbide leads his army into Mexico City, setting the stage for Mexican Independence.


Cold Open

It’s the early hours of the morning of September 15th, 1808.

A force of three hundred cavalry soldiers rides through Mexico City, the capital of the Spanish colony of New Spain. At the vanguard is a Spanish landowner named Gabriel de Yermo. Gabriel sits upright in his saddle as he peers toward the imposing Viceregal palace - the home of New Spain’s governor, or viceroy.

Gabriel, like many in New Spain, is suspicious of the colony’s current viceroy, Jose de Iturrigaray. In Gabriel’s view, Iturrigaray is far too sympathetic toward the various independence movements that are brewing throughout the colony. So tonight, Gabriel and his troops intend to depose Iturrigaray and restore order to New Spain.

When they come within a hundred feet of his palace, Gabriel cracks his horse’s reins and leads the charge toward the gates.

The two guards on duty snap to attention. They wrench open the palace gates, dart inside, and try to slam the entryway shut behind them… But before they can… Gabriel and his mounted soldiers swarm the threshold, flooding inside the compound.

Gabriel jumps down from his horse. Then he and several of his men march across the courtyard, heading for the viceroy’s residential quarters. As Gabriel and his men approach, a unit of palace guards spills into the courtyard and races forward to confront the intruders. Without breaking their stride… Gabriel’s troops draw their swords… and overcome the guards with swift brutality.

Inside the hallways of the viceroy’s residential quarters, Gabriel leads his band of intruders up a marble staircase.

He grabs a cowering maidservant by the scruff of the neck and tells her to show him to the viceroy’s bedroom. Terrified, she guides Gabriel and his men through a labyrinth of corridors until they reach a large wooden door. Gabriel shoves the maidservant aside… kicks open the door, where he discovers the viceroy sitting up in bed, a look of panicked confusion on his face. Gabriel unsheathes his sword and places the viceroy under arrest.

Following the ouster of viceroy Jose de Iturrigaray, Gabriel and his fellow Spaniards hope the calls for independence throughout New Spain will die down, and the status quo of power will be preserved. But their plan backfires. When a new viceroy is installed, many in the colony refuse to acknowledge his legitimacy. And soon, the calls for revolution grow louder than ever, sparking more than a decade of war in Mexico, culminating in a victory for those who fought for Mexican independence on this day, September 27th, 1821.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is September 27th, 1821: The End of the Mexican War of Independence.

Act One: The Cry of Dolores

It’s late at night on September 15th, 1810; eleven years before the Mexican War of Independence comes to an end.

In the town of Dolores in central Mexico, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo sits at his kitchen table, deep in thought. The 57-year-old has dedicated his life to the teachings of the Bible. But recently, Miguel has become passionate about a different cause: Mexican independence from Spain.

Tall but slightly stooped, and with a domed forehead encircled by gray hair, Miguel looks every bit the traditional Catholic cleric. But beneath his unassuming exterior dwells the fiery conviction of a revolutionary. For many years, Miguel has longed for change.

In recent years, Spain was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army, and the Spanish King was forced from his throne. Eventually, the deposed King’s son will come back into power. But in 1810, the Spanish monarchy is powerless. Still, here in New Spain, the hierarchy of the Spanish regal class system remains.

At the top are the peninsulares - people born in Europe, who hold all the top positions in the colonial government and military. Below them are the criollos - people of European ancestry but who were born in the Americas. Criollos occupy middling roles in the army and government, but they cannot ascend to the upper echelons. And finally, at the bottom of the social order and with no political rights at all, are the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

Miguel is a criollo, but he is a firm believer that all people are created equal. He’s spent much of his life promoting the rights of his indigenous parishioners. And now, with the Spanish monarchy in tatters, he feels the time for revolution has come.

So recently, Miguel has planned an armed revolt against the Spanish governor of his province, Don Antonio Riaño. Miguel has been joined in his efforts by a local army captain, Ignacio Allende. Like Miguel, Ignacio is a criollo who hates the Spanish. For most of his life, Ignacio longed to reach the top ranks of the military, but his social status always prevented him. So he joined Miguel’s revolt in hopes of achieving his dream of advancement in a new and more just society.

Tonight, the two men have convened here in Miguel’s home to go over the plans for their rebellion, which they intend to launch in a few months' time. Miguel glances up as Ignacio paces the room, his eyes flashing with revolutionary zeal.

But suddenly, there’s a hammering on the front door. Alarmed, Miguel opens it, finding a young messenger on the doorstep. Before Miguel can open his mouth, the messenger explains in a flurry of agitation that news of their rebellion has leaked. One of their co-conspirators lost his nerve and divulged everything to the Governor.

Miguel pales. He knows that now, they have only two options. Either they surrender tonight and throw themselves on the mercy of the Spanish courts. Or they launch their revolution earlier than planned - and trust in God. For Miguel, the choice is easy.

The next morning, Miguel officiates Sunday Mass. And as always, the congregation is filled with indigenous farmers and workers. Miguel stands behind the pulpit. But rather than reciting the liturgy, delivers a rousing call-to-arms, crying: “My children, I ask you to join my Reconquista, to recover the lands stolen from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards.” Miguel continues crying out, “Death to bad government! Death to the Spanish!” And with these words, the Mexican War of Independence has begun.

Miguel’s address will come to be known as the ‘Cry of Dolores’. News of his call-to-arms tears through the countryside. Soon, hordes of indigenous people flood into the town from the surrounding area, ready to take up arms against their Spanish oppressors. Meanwhile, Ignacio drums up support from the local army regiment, causing hundreds of soldiers to defect.

Before long, Miguel and Ignacio have assembled an army of 100,000 rebels. They begin marching across the province, going from town to town and arresting any Spaniard on sight.

The rebels muster outside Guanajuato - the largest settlement in the province, and the home of the Governor, Don Antonio Riaño. Miguel sends a message to the Governor: surrender or die. And when no word of surrender comes, Miguel orders the charge. The rebel army descends on the town, swiftly overpowering its Spanish defenders and executing Governor Riaño with a bullet to the head.

After the fall of Guanajuato, the rebels continue south, claiming another resounding victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. But Miguel makes a fateful decision. Rather than push on and conquer Mexico City, the priest-turned-rebel decides to lead his forces west, toward the city of Guadalajara.

It will prove a costly mistake. Miguel's decision gives the Spanish Army a chance to recover and regroup. Soon, they set off in pursuit of Miguel’s army. And in January 1811, the two sides meet again at the Battle of Calderon Bridge. This time, the highly-trained Spanish troops defeat the larger, but less organized rebel army. Miguel and Ignacio will be taken prisoner. They will be declared guilty of treason and executed by firing squad.

With the death of its leaders, the Viceroyalty of New Spain hopes the independence movement is finished once and for all. But an unlikely alliance will soon be struck between the leader of the remaining rebel forces and a commander in the Spanish Army. This fateful union will spell the end of European domination in Latin America and pave the way for an independent Mexico.

Act Two: Rise of an Empire

It’s December 1820; ten months before the Mexican War of Independence ends.

A contingent of the Spanish Army marches through the mountains of southern Mexico. Leading from the front is a man with rust-colored sideburns and keen, intelligent eyes. Colonel Agustin de Iturbide tips his bicorne hat to protect his face from the sun and spurs his horse onward through the luscious terrain.

For the last decade, Agustin has been fighting on behalf of the Spanish monarchy against the rebel army. He is a criollo born in Mexico and has no love for the peninsulares. But he fights on the side of the monarchy because he wants to preserve what power he has.

The war has been long and bloody; but after more than ten years of conflict, the insurgents are finally wavering. Now, as he leads his troops through the mountains in search of the enemy, Agustin intends to finish off this independence movement once and for all.

But on this warm December afternoon, a messenger brings Agustin some troubling news from Europe: a liberal revolution has taken place in Spain, turning the country into a constitutional monarchy - a system of government in which the king’s authority is curtailed by parliament. Agustin is worried that liberal reforms such as these could also sweep through Mexico, damaging the status of elites like him.

So, Agustin makes a radical decision. He decides to become the leader of a new independence movement with a view to turning Mexico into an independent monarchy, thus safeguarding the prestige of the upper classes. To achieve this lofty ambition, he will need to unite three powerful factions within the colony: the rebel insurgents, the elites, and the always influential Catholic church.

Agustin sends messengers to request a meeting with the leader of the rebel army, a military general named Vicente Guerrero. And to his relief, Vicente agrees. On February 20th, 1821, the royalist commander and the rebel leader meet in the town of Acatempan. The two men are ideologically opposed: Agustin wants an independent monarchy, while Vicente wants an independent Republic modeled after the United States.

But despite their differences, Vicente and Agustin share a common enemy: the peninsulares - those Spanish-born elites who monopolize the colony’s top positions. And after four days of negotiating, the two leaders announce their vision for an independent Mexico.

The so-called Plan of Iguala makes three fundamental guarantees: first, Mexico will become a monarchy under a “to be determined” European royal who’s willing to take the throne. Second, the caste system will be abolished, with all Mexicans to be counted as equal. And last, the Catholic church will become the sole religion of Mexico. The plan has broad appeal to all three factions assuring independence without threatening the privileges of the church or the landed gentry.

Agustin and Vicente combine their supporters to form the Army of the Three Guarantees. With Agustin leading the way, this powerful new force sweeps through the colony, drawing more supporters from rural towns and villages.

By now, the only opposition to Agustin are the remaining Spanish troops loyal to the Viceroy - the Spanish King’s representative in the colony. But as Agustin leads his army toward Mexico City, it becomes clear that this opposition force is no match for the united forces of Mexican independence, and the Spaniards soon abandon the city and flee back to Europe.

On September 27th, Agustin rides into Mexico City leading 15,000 men. Citizens line the street waving and shouting his name. It’s a momentous occasion, bringing an end to more than a decade of war.

And soon, Agustin’s chief advisors draft the Declaration of Mexican Independence, and Mexico is proclaimed an independent Empire. Agustin is appointed President and a new Mexican Congress is created to govern Mexico until a suitable European royal is found to rule as monarch.

But soon, developments back in Europe complicate matters even further for Agustin. The year prior, a liberal revolution turned Spain into a constitutional monarchy. But by September 1821, King Ferdinand VII of Spain has defeated that revolution and re-established control over his kingdom. He makes it clear that if any European noble accepts the Mexican throne, they will face the wrath of the Spanish military.

For Agustin ideally, it would be the same King Ferdinand who would be king of Spain and Mexico, but both countries would be governed by separate laws and through separate legislative bodies.

But when Agustin sends emissaries to Spain with his plan, the Spanish King refuses to accept Mexican independence. Instead, he threatens to re-conquer the new country - and punish those who ever doubted his sovereignty.

Lacking a suitable European noble to crown as monarch, the Mexican Congress turns instead to its own nobility. And among Mexican nobles, there is one man more famous and universally beloved than anyone else: Agustin de Iturbide.

Soon, Agustin is crowned Emperor of Mexico. And although Agustin claims he never wanted the crown - he finds he likes his new role. He moves into a lavish mansion and adopts an extravagant lifestyle.

Vicente Guerrero, the former rebel leader, watches with disapproval as Agustin assumes the trappings of monarchy. To Vicente, this independent Mexico is beginning to look and feel indistinguishable from the old New Spain, with its rigid caste system and oppressive ruling elite. But Augustin will hear no descent. When Vicente and other members of Congress criticize his new regime, Agustin dissolves the Congress, arrests his opponents, and replaces his government with a military junta.

Agustin has completed his transformation from liberator to tyrant. But he will soon find himself punished by the revolutionary spirit he helped create, as opposition forces rally against him, and force Agustin toward abdication, exile, and death.

Act Three: Death of a Liberator

It’s March 1823; in Mexico City, two years after the end of the Mexican War of Independence.

Agustin de Iturbide paces the halls of his palatial mansion, throwing furtive glances through the window toward the street outside.

Agustin has aged dramatically over the last two years. Though not yet even forty, he has acquired crow’s feet around his bloodshot eyes, and his red hair is now streaked with gray. Today, as he peers out the window of his mansion, he fears for his life.

Despite the pomp and splendor of Agustin’s coronation, his kingship has been fraught with uncertainty. When Agustin struck his alliance with Vicente Guerrero and the rebel insurgents, both sides made compromises.

Vicente wanted a republic, but he accepted the monarchy as long as it guaranteed Mexico’s independence and the abolition of the caste system. Agustin wanted a monarchy and to preserve the prestige of the upper classes; he agreed to abolish the caste system so long as conservative elites remained in charge.

This uneasy compromise was shattered when Agustin took power, proving himself to be an ineffective and unpopular ruler. He behaved like a tyrant, dissolving the Mexican Congress and appointing his friends to positions of power.

Soon, a force of pro-Republican rebels united against him, led by the former insurgent leader Vicente Guerrero. Before long, they rode out to challenge his authority. And days ago, Agustin sent his own troops to cut the rebels off. Now, he anxiously awaits news of the outcome.

Agustin’s gaze out the window is broken when he hears the doors to his chamber fling open. He turns to see one of his advisors, wide-eyed with panic. When he asks what’s wrong, the advisor tells him that his troops have switched sides and joined up with the rebels. Realizing that most of the country - including his own soldiers - have turned against him, Agustin accepts defeat. On March 19th, 1823, Agustin abdicates the throne before fleeing the country.

The next year, lured back to Mexico by the prospect of again leading the country, Agustin will be apprehended and sentenced to death by firing squad. Before the commanding officer gives the order to shoot, Agustin will acclaim “Mexicans! I die with honor, not as a traitor; I do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy.”

Shortly after the removal of Agustin de Iturbide, Mexico will be proclaimed a constitutional republic. Former insurgency leader Vicente Guerrero will be elected President. But Vicente will also fail to bring stability to Mexico. The next 100 years will be characterized by conflict and upheaval, as Mexicans go back and forth between monarchies, dictatorships, and republics - a period of turbulence that began following the Mexican War of Independence, which ended when Agustin de Iturbide rode into Mexico City on September 27th, 1821.


Next on History Daily. September 28th, 1066: William, the Duke of Normandy, lands with his fleet on the English coast, marking the start of the Norman Invasion of Britain.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Sound design by Mischa Stanton

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Joe Viner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.