The Cry of Dolores is an expression associated with the 1810 Mexican revolt against the Spanish, a cry of sorrow and anger from a priest credited with beginning Mexico's struggle for independence from colonial rule.
Father Hildalgo's Cry
On the morning of September 16, 1810, the parish priest of the town of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, declared himself in open revolt against Spanish rule from the pulpit of his church, launching the Mexican War of Independence.
Father Hidalgo exhorted his following to take up arms and join him in his fight against the injustices of the Spanish colonial system: within moments he had an army of some 600 men. This action became known as the "Grito de Dolores" or "Cry of Dolores."
The town of Dolores is located in what is today Hidalgo state in Mexico, but the word dolores is the plural of dolor, meaning "sorrow" or "pain" in Spanish, so the expression also means "Cry of Sorrows." Today Mexicans celebrate September 16 as their Independence Day in remembrance of Father Hidalgo's cry.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
In 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo was a 57-year-old Creole who was beloved by his parishioners for his tireless efforts on their behalf. He was considered one of the leading religious minds of Mexico, having served as rector of the San Nicolas Obispo Academy. He had been banished to Dolores for his questionable record in the church, namely fathering children and reading prohibited books.
He had suffered personally under the Spanish system: his family had been ruined when the crown forced the church to call in debts. He was a believer in the Jesuit priest Juan de Mariana's (1536-1924) philosophy that it was lawful to overthrow unjust tyrants.
Hidalgo's Cry of Dolores ignited the tinderbox of long-standing resentment of the Spanish in Mexico. Taxes had been raised to pay for fiascoes like the disastrous (for Spain) 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Worse still, in 1808 Napoleon was able to Spain, depose the king and place his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne.
The combination of this ineptitude from Spain with long-standing abuses and exploitation of the poor was enough to drive tens of thousands of American Indians and peasants to join Hidalgo and his army.
The Querétaro Conspiracy
By 1810, Creole leaders had already failed twice to secure Mexican independence, but discontent was high. The town of Querétaro soon developed its own group of men and women in favor of independence.
The leader at Queretaro was Ignacio Allende, a Creole officer with the local military regiment. The members of this group felt they needed a member with moral authority, a good relationship with the poor, and decent contacts in neighboring towns. Miguel Hidalgo was recruited and joined sometime in early 1810.
The conspirators selected early December 1810 as their time to strike. They ordered weapons made, mostly pikes and swords. They reached out to royal soldiers and officers and persuaded many to join their cause. They scouted nearby royalist barracks and garrisons and spent many hours talking about what a post-Spanish society in Mexico would be like.
El Grito de Dolores
On September 15, 1810, the conspirators received the bad news: their conspiracy had been discovered. Allende was in Dolores at the time and wanted to go into hiding: Hidalgo convinced him that the right option was to take the rebellion forward. On the morning of the 16th, Hidalgo rang the church bells, summoning the workers from the nearby fields.
From the pulpit he announced the revolution: "Know this, my children, that knowing your patriotism, I have put myself at the head of a movement begun some hours ago, to wrest away power from the Europeans and give it to you." The people responded enthusiastically.
Hidalgo battled royalist forces right to the gates of Mexico City itself. Although his “army” was never much more than a poorly-armed and uncontrolled mob, they fought at the siege of Guanajuato, Monte de las Cruces and a few other engagements before being defeated by General Félix Calleja at the Battle of Calderon Bridge in January of 1811. Hidalgo and Allende were captured soon thereafter and executed.
Although Hidalgo's revolution was a short-lived one-his execution came only ten months after the Cry of Dolores-it nevertheless lasted long enough to catch fire. When Hidalgo was executed, there were already many in place to pick up his cause, most notably his former student José María Morelos.
Today, Mexicans celebrate their Independence Day with fireworks, food, flags, and decorations. In the public squares of most cities, towns, and villages, local politicians re-enact the Grito de Dolores, standing in for Hidalgo. In Mexico City, the President traditionally re-enacts the Grito before ringing a bell: the very bell from the town of Dolores rung by Hidalgo in 1810.
Many foreigners mistakenly assume that May fifth, or Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico's Independence Day, but that date actually commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla.
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