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Mexico: The Wars of Independence, 1810-21
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > History and Traditions of the Armed Forces > The Wars of Independence, 1810-21


According to one historical account, the struggle for independence involved four phases of military operations. In the first phase, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a parish priest, formed the precursor of the first independent Mexican military force when he issued the now-famous Grito de Dolores on September 16, 1810, calling for an end to Spanish rule Victoria and Vicente Guerrero, both of whom later became presidents. Their operations further undermined Spanish control.

The final phase of the independence struggle began in 1821, when a loyalist officer, Augustín de Iturbide, revolted against his superiors and formed a tenuous military alliance with Guerrero. The temporary establishment of a liberal monarchy in Spain had provoked many Mexican conservatives like Iturbide to switch their sympathies to the revolutionaries. Iturbide's Army of the Three Guarantees, composed of approximately 16,000 men, quickly succeeded in routing those of the regular Spanish forces who resisted. Full independence in 1821 was followed by the 1822 coronation of Iturbide as the "constitutional emperor" of Mexico. The revolutionary force became the first standing Mexican military body. Known as the Mexican Imperial Army, it was almost an exact copy of the Spanish colonial militia. Its officers were of direct Spanish descent, but the rank and file were mainly peasants recruited by raids on villages in the mountains and brought down in chains to the cities. The desertion rate was high among these "recruits," who remained ill-trained and poorly equipped for military action.

For the first thirty years following independence, military officers dominated the country's chaotic political life denouncing the government and promising reform and rewards for those who would join their revolt. One of the most vilified and cunning of the military caudillos was General Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón, who led the first revolt against Iturbide and, between 1833 and 1855, served as president on eleven different occasions.

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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