Napoleon’s invasion and occupation of Spain from 1808 to 1813 heightened the revolutionary fervor in Mexico and other Spanish colonies. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a respected Catholic priest (and an unconventional one, given his rejection of celibacy and love of gambling) issued a passionate rallying cry known as the “Grito de Dolores” (“Cry of Dolores”) that amounted to a declaration of war against the colonial government. So named because it was publicly read in the town of Dolores, the Grito called for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico, the redistribution of land and a concept that the criollos’ earlier plans had deliberately omitted: racial equality. Though a criollo himself, Hidalgo extended his call to arms to mestizos and people of indigenous descent; their significant contribution of manpower changed the tenor of the revolt.
Hidalgo led his growing militia from village to village en route to Mexico City, leaving in their wake a bloodbath that he later came to deeply regret. Defeated at Calderón in January 1811, Hidalgo fled north but was captured and executed by firing squad in Chihuahua. Others took the helm of the rebellion, including José María Morelos y Pavón, Mariano Matamoros and Vicente Guerrero, who all led armies of indigenous and racially mixed revolutionaries against the Spanish royalists. Known as the Mexican War Of Independence, the conflict dragged on until 1821, when the Treaty of Córdoba established Mexico as an independent constitutional monarchy under Agustín de Iturbide. Just 18 months later, the republican insurgents Antonio López de Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria ousted the emperor and established the first Mexican Republic.