Mexico's wars for independence were not fought to achieve political independence. Unlike their neighbors to the north, Mexico's revolutionaries aimed to overhaul their society. Intending profound social reform, the rebellion's leaders declared from the onset that their struggle would be incomplete, even meaningless, if it were merely a political event.
Easily navigating through nineteenth-century Mexico's complex and volatile political environment, Timothy J. Henderson offers a well-rounded treatment of the entire period, but pays particular attention to the early phases of the revolt under the priests Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos. Hidalgo promised an immediate end to slavery and tailored his appeals to the poor, but also sanctioned pillage and shocking acts of violence. This savagery would ultimately cost Hidalgo, Morelos, and the entire country dearly, leading to the revolution's failure in pursuit of both meaningful social and political reform. While Mexico eventually gained independence from Spain, severe social injustices remained and would fester for another century. Henderson deftly traces the major leaders and conflicts, forcing us to reconsider what "independence" meant and means for Mexico today.
This perceptive history paints Mexico's 1810 1821 struggle for independence as a dark, dejected affair, tainted by massacres, famine and crippling contradictions. Auburn University historian Henderson (A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States) explores the difficulties facing successive Mexican insurrections against Spain's heavy-handed, parasitic rule, including ill-equipped and untrained armies and a fractious, brutal, often incompetent leadership. But the main problem, he contends, was the social chasm between the white Creole elite who led the rebellion and the harshly exploited Indian and mixed-race masses who manned their armies. Revolutionaries envisioned a new liberal order, Henderson argues, but feared to stir up the social resentments of their troops, whose attachment to king and church trumped nationalist sentiment. The result was an incoherent revolution torn between progressive and reactionary impulses that bequeathed a tendency toward unstable or authoritarian government. Henderson's concise, lucid narrative skillfully guides readers through these confused political currents while sketching vivid portraits of leaders like the rebel priests Hidalgo and Morelos. Henderson illuminates the fault lines in the Mexican nation through this trenchant study of its founding.