Chapter 1 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

The Grito of Hidalgo.

The great revolutionary war of 1790 was not confined to France, nor yet to Europe. Crossing the Atlantic, it equally affected the nations of the New World—especially those who for three centuries had submitted to the yoke of Spain. These, profiting by the example set them by the English colonies in the north, had taken advantage of the confusion of affairs in Europe, and declared their independence of the mother country.

Of the Spanish-American vice-kingdoms, New Spain—or Mexico more properly called—was the last to raise the standard of independence; and perhaps had the wise measures of her viceroy, Iturrigaray, been endorsed by the court of Madrid, the revolution might have been still further delayed, if not altogether prevented.

Don José Iturrigaray, then vice-king of New Spain, on the eve of the insurrection had deemed it wise policy to grant large political concessions to the Creoles, or native white population of the country, and confer upon them certain rights of citizenship hitherto withheld from them.

These concessions might have satisfied the Creoles with the government of the mother country, and perhaps rendered their loyalty permanent. Mexico, like Cuba, might still have been a “precious jewel” in the Spanish crown, had it not been that the decrees of Iturrigaray produced dissatisfaction in another quarter—that is, among the pure Spaniards themselves—the Gachupinos, or colonists from Old Spain, established in Mexico; and who had up to this time managed the government of the country, to the complete exclusion of the Creoles from every office of honour or emolument.

These egoists, considering the acts of the viceroy ruinous to their selfish interests, and the privileges they had hitherto enjoyed, seized upon his person, and sent him to Spain to give an account of his conduct.

Tyrannous counsels prevailed; the prudent plans of Iturrigaray were rejected, and Mexico fell back into the same political bondage under which she had groaned since the conquest of Cortez.

The dismissal of Iturrigaray took place in 1808. The Gachupinos were not without apprehensions of an outbreak; but as two years passed over in tranquillity, their doubts became dissipated, and they ceased to believe in the possibility of such an event.

Theirs was but fancied security, and lasted only two years. In 1810 it was abruptly terminated by the rising of Hidalgo in one of the northern provinces, the news of which event descended upon the Gachupinos like a thunderbolt.

Strange enough that a priest should be the leader of this movement in favour of liberty: since it was through priestly influence that Mexico had all along been governed and oppressed! But in truth Hidalgo, and the other priests who figured in this insurrection, were a very different class of men from the great metropolitan ecclesiastics of the capital and the larger cities, who conducted the affairs of state. Hidalgo was but a simple village cura—a child of the people—and so, too, were most of the other patriot priests who espoused the popular cause.

In October 1810, Hidalgo had nearly one hundred thousand men in the ranks of his army. They were badly armed and equipped, but still formidable from their very numbers. This immense host, which consisted principally of native Indians, overspreading the country like a torrent, could not fail to produce consternation in the minds of the Gachupinos.

Even among the Creoles themselves it created a certain confusion of ideas. All these were the sons or descendants of Spaniards, and of course connected with the latter by ties of consanguinity. It was but natural, therefore, that some of them should believe it to be their duty to take the part of the government against the insurrection, while others should sacrifice the ties of family relationship to the more noble idea of liberating their country from a foreign yoke.

This difference of opinion among the Creoles existed only in families of the higher and wealthier classes. Among the poorer Mexicans—the people—whether white or half caste, there existed only one sentiment, and that was in favour of independence from Spain. The Indians of pure blood had their own ideas. They had been more enslaved than the Creoles, and of course readily united with them for the expulsion of the Spaniard—their common oppressor. Some of them also indulged in the idle dream that circumstances might restore the ancient splendour of the Aztec race.