A Life and Times of The Insurgent Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Guerrero was an insurgent who was under the orders of José María Morelos y Pavón before he was shot in 1815. He was part of the national army that managed to overcome the war and consummate independence and is recognized in history for his military and political skills.

A Life and Times of The Insurgent Vicente Guerrero
The death of Vicente Guerrero has become a mystery since some specialists who analyzed his remains that they have no signs of having been pierced by bullets. Image: Government of Mexico

One of the most important historical figures of the Mexican Independence period was Vicente Guerrero; his participation as an insurgent leader in the southern zone of the viceroyalty of New Spain and his adhesion to the Plan of Iguala, called by Agustín de Iturbide in February 1824, was decisive for the colony to be able to separate itself definitively from the metropolis.

Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña was born on August 10, 1783, in the town of Tixtla, located in the political demarcation that today bears his last name: Guerrero. His parents María Guadalupe Saldaña and Juan Pedro Guerrero were the objects of marginalization for racial reasons; they were of Afro-descendant blood, mixed with Spanish and indigenous.

Due to this situation, the insurgent, during his childhood, had no access to education and had to work as a laborer in the haciendas of Tierra Caliente; he also learned the trade of muleteer, which allowed him to get to know the most remote roads and places of the region.

Vicente Guerrero entered military life in 1811, at the invitation of the brothers Hermenegildo and Pablo Galeana. His participation in the insurgent movement allowed him to rise to the rank of captain and later to lieutenant colonel, under José María Morelos, who granted him this last rank after he successfully took the city of Oaxaca in 1812. At the beginning of 1814, Guerrero was in charge of escorting the Congress of Anahuac, after the insurgency suffered important defeats in Valladolid and Peruarán.

Vicente Guerrero as insurgent

At the end of 1815, after the execution of Morelos, the insurgent movement suffered a notable decline due to the death of the latter, the imprisonment of López Rayón, the dissolution of the Congress of Anáhuac, and the fateful defeat Guerrero suffered at the hands of the royalists in Cañada de los Naranjos.

The latter provoked some of the insurgent leaders to lay down their arms and accept the pardon offered by the then viceroy Juan Ruíz de Apodaca. However, figures such as Guerrero, Juan Álvarez, and Juan Pedro Alquisiras continued to fight against royalism through a strategy of guerrilla warfare.

Between 1816 and 1818, Vicente Guerrero kept the insurgent struggle going in the territories of his natural domain, on which he focused; the constant stalking of royalism prevented him from establishing contact with Francisco Xavier Mina's expedition, which succumbed in November 1817.

In 1820, Guerrero remained practically the last active insurgent leader after the defeat of Guadalupe Victoria; the viceregal government offered him a pardon, sending his father as an emissary. It is said that Guerrero's response to the proposal was: "Comrades, this old man is my father. He has come to offer me rewards in the name of the Spaniards. I have always respected my father, but the homeland comes first".

Vicente Guerrero and politics

The attempts of the royalist forces to definitively liquidate the insurgency coincided with the liberal movement that succeeded in forcing Ferdinand VII of Spain to swear the Constitution of Cadiz, which gave rise to the establishment of the first moderate constitutional monarchy in the peninsula.

This event provoked new convulsions, such as the Conspiracy of the Professed, plotted to try to preserve the privileges of certain sectors, such as the clergy and the militia, which the peninsular constitutionalism had threatened, compromising their status in the Crown's overseas possessions.

The irruption of Agustín de Iturbide in the political scenario and his eventual contact with Vicente Guerrero to achieve the union of realism with what was left of the insurgency and thus conquer the independence of New Spain, had a strong echo throughout the viceregal territory. The embrace of Acatempan, as well as the appearance of the Plan of Iguala and the conformation of the army of the Three Guarantees, allowed to give a definitive course to the consummation of the Independence on September 27, 1821.

Vicente Guerrero, faithful to the liberal ideals of the insurgents that had formed him politically, after accepting to collaborate with the Regency, being named general and chief of the Southern Captaincy, as well as receiving the Grand Cross of the Order of Guadalupe, manifested himself against the coronation of Iturbide and the imposition of the First Mexican Empire.

This triggered strong reactions through a republican movement, which was championed with the Plan de Casa Mata; the first pronouncement of the already Mexican troops to which Guerrero immediately adhered and through which he fought against the ephemeral empire of Agustín Primero de México.

With the fading of the empire and the triumph of the Republic, in 1824, Vicente Guerrero contended with Guadalupe Victoria and Nicolás Bravo for the presidency of the nascent republic, but the electoral results did not favor him in the elections of that year.

Vicente Guerrero, the president of Mexico

In 1828, already as an active member of the York Masonic Lodge and after fighting against Nicolás Bravo, who tried to overthrow Guadalupe Victoria -which led to the disappearance of the Scottish Masonic Lodge-, Guerrero was nominated for the presidential election of 1828, which he lost, not without giving rise to accusations of fraud committed to his detriment by Manuel Gómez Pedraza, who was unknown by Antonio López de Santa Anna and later by the Congress itself, which gave Guerrero the possibility of receiving the office of president from Guadalupe Victoria on April 1, 1829.

However, his government was overshadowed by an attempt of reconquest by Fernando VII; in July 1829, Spanish expeditionary forces under the command of General Isidro Barradas disembarked in the port of Tampico but were subdued after a few months by Santa Anna.

Likewise, President Vicente Guerrero, with extraordinary powers he had arrogated to himself in the face of the invasion, tried to undertake liberal reforms, such as a new decree for the abolition of slavery, the suppression of the death penalty, and the establishment of taxes on the wealthy classes for the benefit and aid of the poor.

The great political agitation urged his opponents to declare the unconstitutionality of the extraordinary powers assumed by Vicente Guerrero and, on November 6, 1829, a centralist rebellion began in Yucatan, which gave rise to the promulgation of the Plan de Jalapa, which disavowed the previous elections and, therefore, the presidency of Guerrero, naming his vice president Anastasio Bustamante as the new head of the Executive.

Vicente Guerrero asked Congress for a license to go out to fight Bustamante's rebellion, on December 17, 1829, but due to the seriousness of the situation and the advance of the latter, the Congress declared him "unable to govern the Republic" on February 4, 1830. Faced with this, Guerrero returned to the region of Tierra Caliente to defend the legality that the Congress had violated, an undertaking in which he was not very successful.

He was arrested, for treason, aboard the ship "el Colombo", on January 15, 1831, off the coast of Acapulco. Sentenced to the maximum penalty for several accusations against him before a court-martial, Vicente Guerrero was shot on February 14 of the same year.