High Lights of the Mexican Revolution - J. L. McLeish

Don Miguel de Hidalgo

The following and succeeding papers by Brother McLeish will be regarded as timely and good, revealing something of conditions in that trouble-torn country. A knowledge of the past is necessary to understand the present. Our contributor gained his information at first hand, having lived in Mexico and there being interested in the history of the land, and especially during the period of revolution and the throwing off of Spanish authority.—Editor Freemason.

There are some chapters of Mexican history as yet unwritten. Among these is the patriotic part played by Mexican Masons during different crucial epochs in the struggle of a people against great odds for more light and emergence from the mediaevalism of many centuries.

The story of the Mexican people is a strangely pathetic one, and presents the vacillating, fickle history of all Latin races. It is read for three hundred years in the life stories of the sixty-two Spanish Viceroys. And then at the time when the power of Spain was tottering to its downfall, after the breaking of the Catholic coalition dealt a vital blow to the Spanish monarchy's old world resources, the Spanish Bourbons sought to recuperate their depleted treasury by taking a strangle-hold upon the as yet undeveloped riches of New Spain—Mexico.

Viceroy rule was a sore trial for the people of Mexico. The masses were practically slaves, due to their ignorance, a reign of terror maintained by Spanish mercenaries, the despotism of the Viceroys ever increasing, above all due to the dominance of the Inquisition which had behind it such supports as a vast military force, and the almost superstitious reverence accorded the clergy by the masses.

Such schools as there were depended solely upon the Jesuits, the Black Brotherhood, whose axiom "the end justifies the means," was not calculated to engender the spread of inspiring maxims and useful truths, among a people they designed to use, for the glory and enrichment of Holy Church, and its subservient tools the ruling Spaniards.

Three-fifths of the native Mexicans were landless, occupationless.

The vast tracts of land and haciendas of fabulous richness were in the absolute possession of two numerically small classes, the Spanish aristocrats and the clergy. The richest of the lands of Mexico were owned by the black-robed members of Third Sex, the Clergy. Over the humblest peon family they wielded supreme sway through their fat itinerant friars.

Of course there was no middle class. During the three hundred years of Viceroy rule, the blanketed hoi polloi had degenerated into the pitiable state of merely existing. They were even grateful to their feudal masters for a place to eat and sleep. Then as now, they were quite content to face the exigencies of a day, nor worry ever at all as to the possible requirements of a morrow they might never live to see. Upon the superstitions of a simple people like this, the priests could readily plan.

An acquisition of tremendous fortunes in the hands of a very few accentuated the line of demarcation between master and man. And so, each year, the lot of the blanketed hoi polloi became more difficult to bear.

It was in the year of Grace 1810 that Mexico showed signs of an awakening. A close observer could have appreciated the fact that the people had been reading, thinking and talking among themselves, that they were cherishing new and indefinable ambitions. For the first time native Mexicans dared to openly criticize the government, the Viceroy and the Church.

In the public prints, native writers expressed their dangerous doctrines. The subjects of which they wrote had hitherto been taboo. They proved of much greater interest to the masses, than the effete mental pabulum until now furnished them by their priests.

The Spanish Viceroy at this period was Don Francisco de Venegas, a stern, an intolerant martinet. He had come to the capital in September of 1810, just a few days prior to the revolt inaugurated by Don Miguel Hidalgo, a priest and a Freemason. Only recently Hidalgo had been attracted to the Universal Brotherhood. As a Master Mason he quickly imbibed the gentle philosophy of our order, and with it dreamed a dream of national independence.

The Mexico of that day was in upheaval. Everyone appreciated the vital need of a change. No one seemed to know just what would be best for the public weal. A lack of general confidence had paralyzed the business of the country. Speculative ventures were held in abeyance. Mexicans attributed financial depression to the annual exportation of large sums of money to Spain without adequate returns. Spaniards and Clergy were equally fixed in a belief that the panic was solely due to the liberal doctrines disseminated by the literati and especially the Freemasons. They failed to see that they themselves had forced the condition. Accordingly Venegas sought to muzzle press and pamphleteers. In this of course he failed.

The lodges had not been idle. Their membership was made up of native professional men and the better element of the common people. From the inchoation of their activities they had worked under insurmountable handicaps. Nowhere was to be found an audience bold enough to openly hearken to their propaganda of independence.

No household of consequence was free from Spanish spies. No man in the capital was brave enough to assume the leadership of the proximate revolt. It therefore became necessary to seek a competent general in a district less infested with secret agents of the government.

Don Miguel Hidalgo in his distant parish of Dolores heard the low mutterings of the awakened people. He realized that the Mexican masses were at last prepared to raise the standard of revolution. The hour had come and found him ready, duly and truly prepared, worthy and well qualified.

For many months he had been making advances to various men of influence. He was on especially friendly terms with the military authorities of his own district. Many of them were brother Masons.

Quite too late Viceroy Venegas, informed of Hidalgo's plotting, issued orders to the mayor of Queretaro, Senor Dominguez, to arrest Hidalgo, Allende, Abasolo, Jimenez, and other leaders of the new movement. Before ever this man could carry out his instructions, Hidalgo and his supporters sounded their cry. It happened on September 15th, 1810.

The response was immediate. Upon reading the pronunciamiento of Don Miguel Hidalgo, Mexicans from every district dared to declare themselves openly. The blanketed hoi polloi had aroused themselves to action after a long, long slumber. Everywhere the revolutionary chieftain was made welcome.

Hidalgo's first move was against the city of Guanajuato. The revolutionists had for weapons pikes, machetes, palings, and primitive mining implements. The Spanish garrison fortified themselves in private houses and the public granary. This latter was an edifice well adapted to have withstood a long siege had its defenders but taken the necessary precautions. Hidalgo's undisciplined mob of natives assailed the granary with dogged determination. The butchery on both sides was appalling. "Death to all Spaniards," was the battle cry of the patriots as they forced their opponents back to the very outskirts of the city. Guanajuato was a veritable shambles. Following its fall, Hidalgo invested Acambaro, Celaya and Valladolid. His rapid headway fairly stupefied the authorities in the Mexican capital.

The Church was the first to hurl itself into the breach and the Inquisition launched its anathemas against Hidalgo and those who in any way assisted him. The Holy Office denounced the movement for independence as rankest heresy. Next Viceroy Venegas showed his hand. Equipping a formidable body of troops, he sent them forth to battle under the command of General Trujillo, a pampered drawing-room knight; one after his own heart, vain, loud-mouthed, overbearing, cruel and self-assertive. Indeed, this Trujillo was an aristocrat of the aristocrats. His departure from the capitol was made the occasion for great pomp and display.

Viceroy Venegas, debonair, fat and well-groomed, galloped into the plaza at the side of Trujillo, to review the veteran regulars of Spain. Many of these latter had been seasoned in battling against the legions of Napoleon. And a splendid showing they made in their brilliant panoply of blue and gold and azure, their Toledo blades shining brightly in the rays of the tropic sun.

An advance guard of 2000 men under General Calleja had already preceded them along the Queretare highway. Adding these, the Spaniards who were to oppose Hidalgo's heterogeneous crowd numbered more than ten thousand of the flower of the Spanish chivalry. Opposed to them the revolutionists had an ever-growing army daily recruited by bands of fierce guerilla fighters pouring out of the mountains into the fertile valley until they soon ran up to a hundred thousand. Hidalgo and Colonel Allende led these by forced marches with intent to take the capitol even as they had taken fair Guanajuato.

More quickly marched the Spaniards along the Toluca road which led southeast from Mexico City. In consequence they arrived at their destination in ample season to take possession of the defiles and advantageous coignes adjutting upon the highway. Trujillo, over-confident, led them on into a level plain, exposed on all sides to the fire of an enemy. He had merely repeated a mistake common and fatal to generals of the classes. He despised the rabble, made light of the masses. Now there began a battle worthwhile. The insurrectos, wild-eyed and naked, mobs-men who had never before faced artillery fire, rushed upon the great guns of the Spanish, waving their sombreros, and shouting their battle cry with that same sort of fanaticism with which their ancestors in the long ago had hurled themselves upon the mail-clad men of Hernan Cortez. Even such hardened veterans as the legionaries of old Spain could not long withstand an onslaught in vastly superior numbers, from an enemy actuated by the fires of a rage which had lain dormant for many centuries.

After a scene of indescribable carnage, the patriots won the day. This battle of Monte las Cruces took place October 30, 1810. With the remnant of a brigade, Trujillo fled to the capitol.

One would expect the insurrecto chiefs buoyed up by their magnificent victory, to have advanced forthwith upon Mexico City to enjoy the fruits of a hard-won victory over the trained veterans of the Asturias. Within easy marching distance of the hated Viceroy's stronghold, and their foes in full flight, in the capitol too, their friends and the Masonic Lodges were anticipating with feverish eagerness the oncoming of that army whose success meant "more light" for Mexico. Most unfortunately, Hidalgo's entire campaign had been formulated without military training or system. The call had come to find the Mexican masses not yet materially prepared. In the confusion following upon his victory, poor Hidalgo was quite at a loss to know just what to do. The very magnitude of his recent successes overwhelmed him. He was a tremble with the joy of a great fear. His chief of staff, Colonel Allende, possessed more resolution in the crisis. He strongly advocated an immediate following up of their great victory. To his pleas no attention were accorded. Hidalgo's gentle spirit revolted as he gazed out over the battlefield to behold the battered bodies of his patriots locked in the stiffened embrace of the bronzed veterans of Spain.

You see, Hidalgo had not been reared in the school of war. The calm quiescence of his little home in Dolores, was not an atmosphere at all calculated to develop in so sensitive a soul complete indifference to loss of human life nor, was the symbolic philosophy imbibed in Valle de Mexico Lodge Number One of a character to approve of this carnival of blood. The grim silence prevailing over the bivouac of the dead, brought tears to Hidalgo's eyes. Again and again he asked himself, if after all, Liberty was worth the price demanded? At his feet he could see outstretched the friends and companions of his happier days in Dolores. Before him lay the village notary, the old sexton, the jovial innkeeper, the gruff Jefe Politico—alas, all martyrs to the quest for more light in Mexico. What gloomy tidings must he now send back to their patiently biding mothers, widows and orphans. And so, pity cost Hidalgo the fruits of all his victories. The First Chief lost some very vital moments while his soldiers were digging trenches for the dead. A golden opportunity had come. As quickly it was gone.

From the capitol came couriers. They reported that Viceroy Venegas had assembled another army to crush out the insurrection. A council was hastily held. Another grave mistake was made. It was voted to advance east to Aculco. This meant a wearisome march over a barren, alkali plain. Aculco was twenty leagues distant. Mexico City was but eight leagues away.

On the long retreat, for it was nothing else, the revolutionists afforded Venegas an opportunity to bring his splendidly trained cavalry into action. Repeated and vengeful assaults were made by the Spanish. In this crisis, even Allende's martial training availed but little, since of the many thousands of savages included in Hidalgo's army but few had a knowledge of Spanish. Hidalgo, Allende, and their lieutenants knew nothing of the several dialects. An army like theirs was but ill prepared to enter upon another engagement like that of Aculco. They lacked munitions of war, provisions, and clothing. They were utterly exhausted from the forced march through the desert. Discord everywhere prevailed. None the less, orders were misunderstood, or openly and indifferently disobeyed. The inevitable happened. This time, the patriots proved an easy prey to the trained veterans of the Spanish commander, General Callejo. Everywhere the insurrectos were mowed down by artillery, or cut to pieces by the cavalry. Annihilation was almost complete. A few surviving bands sought refuge in flight, leaving their leaders prisoners in the hands of the enemy with the exception of Don Miguel Hidalgo, Colonel Allende and a small remnant of the general staff.

It seemed as though the whole cause of Mexican Independence had been dealt a mortal hurt. When the news of the atrocities perpetrated at Aculco by the Spaniards reached the native Mexicans in the capitol, they hid their faces in shame and grief. The Spaniards celebrated the supposed end of the revolution with a solemn Te Deum in the cathedral. Viceroy Venegas inaugurated a veritable reign of terror in the capitol. It was forbidden natives and creoles even to mention the name of Miguel Hidalgo. Any refusal to participate in the fiestas of the Spanish resulted in instant death as a suspect. The capacity of the city prisons was tested to their utmost. Everywhere gallows were groaning under countless bodies of political offenders.

The families who were made victims of these punitive measures of the Spaniards, might awhile dissemble their righteous resentment. But they could never forget. And by these very means whereby Venegas was hoping forever to crush the Spirit of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, was brought into being the nucleus of an active revolutionary junta. The Viceroy prohibited the printing of newspapers, and abolished the circulation of pamphlets. In everything he was a Dictator.

Hidalgo and his brother Masons fled into the east. Nor did they find asylum at every stopping place. Many there were who believed that the men who through poor judgment had sacrificed a glorious opportunity to attain Mexican Independence, must merit the consequence of defeat, however dire. Beyond Guadalajara the fugitives found a more kindly reception. Ever hot upon their trail traveled Calleja and the Spaniards. On his way, the Spanish commander added to his forces all such natives as might be in anywise depended upon. These were followers and dependents of the rich Spanish landholders, who from sheer ignorance and discouragement, had become quite indifferent as to who should control the destinies of Mexico.

A crafty method resorted to by Calleja to draw to his standard native support, was an attempt to engender universal horror of the insurrecto leaders as excommunicates and traitors to God, to the Church and to the King. Priests well suited for the purpose were scattered through the army, exhorting the superstitious natives to exterminate the outlaws if they hoped to be saved.

The final stand of Hidalgo and his companions was made at the bridge of the Calderon on the night of January 16th, 1811. Halting at the river banks, they erected their defenses against the oncoming Spaniards. It was almost grey dawn when the enemy appeared, crossed the river and fell upon the Mexican troops. Long, sanguine and fiercely fought was the ensuing engagement. Into the thick of the fray rushed Hidalgo, now here, now there, his long, grey hair waving in the wind, his face lighted by the noble fire of firm determination, to do or to die. Alas, it was not fated that victory crown his standard. After losing eighteen hundred men, Hidalgo realized that the battle had gone against him.

In front of the Mint, at Chihuahua City, there once stood an adobe monument. It may be there yet, unless recent revolutionists have destroyed or obliterated it. It marks the spot where fell the first four martyrs to the cause of Mexican Liberty—Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jimenez.