Morelia – cradle of Mexican Independence

A Roman Catholic priest and rebel leader born in the Mexican city of Valladolid, now Morelia, led the War of Independence against Spain. He also wrote his country’s first charter of democratic principles.

José María Morelos y Pavón (1765-1815) was born into a humble family of indigenous and Spanish descent. His father was José Manuel Morelos y Robles, a carpenter originally from Zindurio, a predominantly indigenous village. On his father’s side, Morelos was related to his later comrade-in-arms, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, and both insurgents shared a common ancestor in Diego Ruiz de Cortés. It is one of the ironies of Mexican history that a descendant of the conquistador Hernán Cortés helped to overthrow the country that held Mexico in thrall.

During Mexico’s struggle for Independence from Spain Morelos became one of the great revolutionary military commanders. In the first nine months he won 22 victories, annihilating the armies of three royalist leaders and eventually capturing most of the Spanish possessions on the coasts of what are now Michoacán and Guerrero. In a second campaign, Morelos divided his army into three groups and by the end of 1812 had secured the surrender of several small cities.

In 1813, Morelos called the National Constituent Congress of Chilpancingo, composed of representatives of the provinces under his control, to endorse far-reaching political and social changes outlined in a document entitled “Sentimientos de la Nación” (Sentiments of the Nation). A facsimile can be seen in Morelia’s Regional Museum of Michoacán.

The document declared Mexican independence from Spain and created legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. It declared respect for property while confiscating what was previously owned by the Spanish colonial government. It abolished slavery and racial distinctions in favour of the title “American” for all native-born individuals. Torture, monopolies and tributes were also abolished. On 6 November 1813 the Congress declared formal independence, and Morelos refused the title proffered title of “Generalissimo” asking to be known instead as “Siervo de la Nación” (Servant of the Nation).

Shortly afterwards, Morelos began a fourth military campaign which, unfortunately for him, ended in a series of disasters. In November 1815, while escorting the insurgent Congress, he was captured and taken to Mexico City in chains. Tried for treason, he was executed by firing squad on 22 December 1815. Mexico recognized Morelos as a national hero and named the State of Morelos and the city of Morelia in his honour.

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