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by Timothy J. Henderson

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8090-9509-4
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Henderson (History/Auburn Univ., Montgomery; A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States, 2007, etc.) argues that Mexico’s struggle for liberation from Spain that raged from 1810 to 1821 was not a single conflict but many.

The author notes that the wars for independence created some of the bloodiest episodes in Mexico’s history. The main conflict was between rebel creoles (American-born whites) and the Spanish. But this conflict’s extreme brutality caused dissension among creoles, many of whom became pro-Spain royalists—which led in turn to a civil war. Minorities in the rebel movement, including the native Indian population, fought in smaller skirmishes during the same period. Henderson effectively untangles the independence struggle’s complicated, intertwining strands by focusing on the major figures involved. An early leader of the revolt, 57-year-old parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, was a fascinating and complex man who advocated an end to slavery and societal reforms to help the poor. At the same time, the insurgents he led were particularly brutal and violent; they ransacked and looted villages and executed prisoners of war. Hidalgo was later betrayed by one of his men and executed in 1811. Another of the war’s complex figures, Agustín de Iturbide, was originally a royalist but switched sides late in the conflict. He was able to unite many quarreling factions against Spain and finally helped lead Mexico to independence in 1821. Henderson fashions an accessible narrative with a canny blend of military and political storytelling.

A solid overview of a decidedly difficult time and place, and a lucid introduction for those unfamiliar with Mexican history.