Ignacio Allende: A Key Figure in the Mexican War of Independence

Find out about Ignacio Allende's life and legacy. He was a key figure in the Mexican War of Independence and the main leader of the revolutionary plot in San Miguel.

Ignacio Allende: A Key Figure in the Mexican War of Independence
Ignacio Allende y Unzaga was trained to be a soldier. He took part in the conspiracy in Querétaro and led the 1810 uprising along with Miguel Hidalgo, Mariano Abasolo, and Mariano Jiménez. Credit: El Sol del Bajio

Ignacio José de Jesús Pedro Regalado de Allende y Unzaga was born on January 21, 1769, in San Miguel el Grande as the fifth of seven children to Domingo Narciso de Allende and María Ana Josefa de Unzaga y Menchaca. Both of Ignacio's parents came from prominent families - his father was a successful merchant from Biscay, while his mother was a Creole from San Miguel. Sadly, Ignacio became an orphan at a young age, losing his mother in 1772 and his father in 1787.

Ignacio, like his brothers, attended the Colegio de San Francisco de Sales in San Miguel el Grande. This school offered its students the opportunity to further their studies at the Royal and the Pontifical University of Mexico. José María and Domingo Allende both pursued this path and received a Bachelor's degree from the University. However, Ignacio chose a different path for himself.

Ignacio is remembered as a charming young man with a determined spirit and resolute character. He was described as tall, with a fair complexion and blond, curly hair, lively eyes, an aquiline nose, a smiling mouth, and an athletic build. He had three children: Indalecio, who participated in the insurgency and died in Acatita de Baján, José Guadalupe, who rose to the rank of captain in the First Company of the Independence Squadron, and Juana María, who became a nun in the Santa Catalina de Siena convent in Mexico City. Ignacio was married only once, to María de la Luz Petra Agustina Regalada de Santa Bárbara de las Fuentes y Vallejo, a Creole from San Miguel el Grande, on April 10, 1802. Unfortunately, she passed away just a few months after the wedding.

The Life and Career of Ignacio Allende

Ignacio Allende was deeply involved in his life as a member of the New Spain provincial militia. Like his brothers, he joined the Provincial Regiment of Dragoons of the Queen of San Miguel el Grande in 1795 and was given the rank of lieutenant. By 1809, just before the insurgency, he had risen to the rank of captain. Some of his notable accomplishments during his time in the provincial militias include being sent to San Luis Potosí in late 1800 to work under Félix María Calleja del Rey, where he was put in command of the grenadier company.

In 1806, Viceroy Iturrigaray placed a unit of troops in Xalapa, Perote, and other locations as a precaution against the war declared by Napoleon against the British, which Spain was drawn into, putting its territories at risk. The viceroy managed to gather nearly 14,000 men at these locations. This gathering of troops was significant as it fostered a sense of camaraderie among the American militiamen and allowed them to form lasting relationships. They also gained knowledge of the news both in the metropolis and viceroyalty and shared perspectives and opinions.

After the overthrow of Viceroy Iturrigaray in September 1808, Field Marshal Pedro Garibay, the newly appointed viceroy, decided to dissolve the canton in Xalapa, among other military changes. This move was highly controversial as the militiamen in the canton had worked under Iturrigaray's leadership and were displeased with the overthrow and subsequent actions taken by the government. The militiamen returned to their hometowns feeling discontent, particularly towards their superiors whom they perceived as having conspired with those responsible for the coup against the viceroy.

Ignacio Allende y Unzaga was there when Celaya and Guanajuato were taken over.
Ignacio Allende y Unzaga was there when Celaya and Guanajuato were taken over, as well as when the battles of Monte de las Cruces and Aculco were fought. Credit: Fermín Téllez

Ignacio Allende in the Mexican War of Independence

Ignacio Allende's actions may have been influenced by the turmoil caused by the Napoleonic invasion and the power vacuum left by the absence of Ferdinand VII. One of the factors that motivated him was the opportunity to capitalize on the king's absence and expand the viceroyalty's autonomy in governance and provide Creoles with more political involvement.

Many Creoles, including Ignacio Allende, were worried about the potential French invasion of New Spain and the possibility of peninsulars surrendering the kingdom to Napoleon. With the overthrow of Viceroy Iturrigaray and the dissolution of the canton of Xalapa, their limited trust in peninsulars holding high positions in the viceregal government disappeared.

Amidst these tumultuous events, Ignacio Allende became a central figure in promoting a conspiracy in San Miguel, which soon spread to other towns such as Queretaro and Dolores. Despite being overlooked by some historians, Allende's significant role was recognized by prosecutor Rafael Bracho. After interviewing the key insurgent leaders in Chihuahua in 1811, Bracho declared that Allende was "the first one to think of such a collusion" and the "main leader" of the revolution. He was the one who invited priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla to join and even lead the movement.

The Plans and Justifications of Ignacio Allende

In December 1810, Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama planned to initiate the uprising at the San Juan de los Lagos fair. On December 1st, they aimed to gather all the officers and soldiers they trusted, and convince them to go in groups to the designated location. Once the movement had started at the fair, it was to be carried out in all the towns involved in the conspiracy network.

However, in the trial that followed in Chihuahua, Allende admitted that their plan was not clearly defined. Instead, they followed a proposal made by Captain Joaquín Arias, which was to gather a diverse group of individuals to represent their grievances to the viceroy and request the formation of a board of advisors. The board would include representatives from various professions, including aldermen, lawyers, clergy, and some disgruntled Spaniards, and would be informed on all matters of government.

To ensure transparency, a commission of Americans was to be established in Veracruz to receive correspondence from Spain, as there was concern that the public faith might be intercepted and not handled properly. However, when the conspiracy was uncovered, the urgency to act quickly overshadowed any prior plans.

At his trial, when asked about why he continued with the uprising even after it was discovered, Allende made it clear that he was not willing to surrender. He stated that he preferred death over surrender. Despite knowing that rebellion against the legitimate authorities was considered high treason, Allende felt that he had justifications for his actions. He argued that the conspiracy was against an illegitimate government, established after the events of 1808, and thus, he did not commit the crime of lèse majesté.

He explained it this way: "The declarant has always been in that intelligence that every vassal who makes arms against the legitimate authorities incurs the crime of high treason, but that having failed the king Don Fernando Septimo by the treason of his first count; and being convinced that this second in the space of eighteen and eight or more years of his rule had raised the authorities, for whose cause he distrusted the most [...]. Allende then emphasized that "far from considering that he fell into a crime of high treason, he considered it a crime of high loyalty, and even more so when he saw the impunity in which those who attempted against the person of Mr. Yturrigaray remained [...]".

    Ignacio Allende y Unzaga was shot to death in Chihuahua on June 26, 1811.
Ignacio Allende y Unzaga was shot to death in Chihuahua on June 26, 1811. Cultura Colectiva

The Division between Ignacio Allende and Miguel Hidalgo

The initial rebels probably thought they had substantial support, which led to the start of the insurrection. Sadly, the divisions among the leaders were evident from the outset. Hidalgo's tolerance of theft and pillaging caused the first rift between the Dolores parish priest and Ignacio Allende. Allende believed that the uprising needed to be a well-organized military operation and that the lower classes should be included, but the extent to which it became a social revolution was beyond his imagination. The movement had taken a completely different path than he had anticipated.

On September 28, 1810, the rebels arrived in Burras with 50,000 men, intimidating the intendant Juan Antonio Riaño. Hidalgo conquered Guanajuato with violence and, after the brutal capture of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, much of the expected support from the Creole elite dissipated. The initial supporters of the movement were horrified by the extent of Hidalgo's forces.

Despite this, the rebel army greatly expanded in the early months and, under Allende's leadership, managed to defeat Colonel Torcuato Trujillo's troops at Monte de las Cruces on October 29, 1810. However, this victory came at a steep cost, with over two thousand of his men losing their lives. This battle marked a major turning point in the relationship between Ignacio Allende and Miguel Hidalgo, as Allende proposed capitalizing on the victory by taking Mexico City, but Hidalgo declined to do so, a decision that would ultimately prove crucial for the fate of the movement.

On November 6, 1810, the rebels suffered a major defeat at the hands of Calleja's forces in Aculco. Following the battle, Allende separated from Hidalgo, who marched towards Valladolid and then Guadalajara, while Allende headed to Guanajuato to try and defend it, but failed to prevent Calleja from taking it. He then joined Hidalgo in Guadalajara, where their differences only grew. For instance, Hidalgo stopped mentioning King Ferdinand VII as part of his cause, and the killings of those from the Spanish Peninsula increased, with his full approval.

The Fall of Ignacio Allende and The Tragic Conclusion

The final battle that Allende fought alongside Hidalgo took place on January 16, 1810, at Puente de Calderón, against the army led by Félix María Calleja del Rey. The defeat was devastating, forcing the rebels to abandon the city they had captured in December and retreat north. In Pabellón, the rebel leaders forced Hidalgo to resign as commander and hand over leadership to Allende, although this agreement was kept secret to maintain the illusion that Hidalgo was still in command. Allende planned to march to the United States and utilize the support they believed they had in the northern provinces.

On March 21, 1811, the insurgent leaders were captured in Las Norias de Baján due to the treachery of Lieutenant Colonel Ignacio Elizondo. Despite Allende's resistance, his son Indalecio was fatally shot. The captured leaders, including Allende, were taken to Chihuahua and sentenced to death. On June 26, 1811, Allende, Captain General Mariano Jiménez, Marshal Manuel Santa María, and Lieutenant General Juan Aldama were executed by the sword.


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