The Story of Mexico/Chapter 26

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XXVI.

MORELOS.

The Independents were not all destroyed. Before the end of the year which witnessed the execution of the three chiefs, the name of Morelos began to be noised abroad.

The father of Morelos was a carpenter living in Valladolid with his wife Juana Pavon. They were of low birth and poor. On the 30th of September Juana Pavon, on her way to the market-place, was obliged to enter a house on the corner of the street where she chanced to be, in order that her son should be born immediately. This house now has a stone inserted over the doorway thus inscribed:

The immortal
José M. Morelos was born in this house
on the 30th of September 1765.
16th of September 1881.

In 1801, this son, then a curate in the neighborhood, bought another house in the town, which he rebuilt and made comfortable. This house remains in the hands of the relatives of the hero, who also possess his portrait and a piece of the cloth with which his eyes were bandaged on the 22d of December, 1815. Over the door is inscribed:

Morelos the illustrious!
Immortal Hero.
In this house, honored by thy presence,
Salute you the-grateful people of Morelia.

For the grateful people of his birth-place changed the time-honored name of their city to Morelia in honor of their patriotic citizen, thus paying a worthy tribute to his memory, although slighting that of the good viceroy who established its foundations.

The parents of Morelos dedicated him to the career of a muleteer, as the local history expresses it, and a muleteer he remained until he was thirty years old. At that advanced age he had the courage to enter the Colegio de San Nicholas, where Hidalgo was then superintendent. It is easy to see that other lessons were taught there besides those of the school curriculum; Morelos made rapid progress in all branches of education, was ordained to the church, and obtained several successive curacies. Thus employed, when the Grito de Dolores sounded over Anahuac, he offered his services to the Generalissimo Hidalgo on the side of independence. He was sent to raise the standard of liberty on the Pacific coast, and starting from his village with twenty-five men, arrived at Acapulco with a thousand.

In various encounters with the royalists, Morelos and his men were successful. He showed great perception in the management of troops, and marched from one triumph to another as far as Cuautla, a picturesque town eighty-five miles southeast of the city of Mexico. Its lower level makes it tropical and picturesque, with lanes winding about among the adobe huts of the Indians, hedged with banana and orange trees, and hung with all manner of wandering vines and brilliant blossoms. Water trickles everywhere, and across the broad valley rises toward the north the peak of Popocatepetl.

Here Morelos sustained a siege against the well trained army of Calleja, still in the field, and ripe with the honors of victory in the campaigns at Hidalgo. The Independents held out from the 19th of February to the 2d of May, with great valor and endurance, repulsing three assaults, and sustaining daily attacks, while their sufferings were great from lack of food and water. The fame of Morelos, heroic defender of Cuautla, spread far and wide. After sixty-two days of steady resistance, Morelos, recognizing that he must abandon the place, succeeded in coming out at night without molestation, retiring in order towards the north.

Until the end of the year 1812, Morelos was engaged in leading his army from one victory to another, and gathering everywhere additions to his forces. The next year he ventured as far as Acapulco, scene of his first expedition. The garrison there capitulated, and he took possession of the fortress of San Diego in August, 1813.

On the 14th of September, Morelos called together the first Mexican Congress, at Chilpantzingo, not very far from the Pacific coast. Among its members were many whose names have since been repeatedly before the Mexicans as liberals. The first act of this Congress was to nominate Morelos Captain-General of the Independent forces. It was thought significant that on the same date, September 15th, three years before, Hidalgo had placed himself in the same post of honor and difficulty.

The declaration of independence issued by this Congress was as follows:

"The Congress of Anahuac, lawfully installed in the city of Chilpantzingo, of North America, solemnly declares, in the presence of God, arbitrator of, kingdoms and author of society, who gives and takes away according to the inscrutable designs of his providence, that, through the present circumstances of Europe, it has recovered the exercise of its sovereignty, hitherto usurped, its dependence upon the throne of Spain being thus forever disrupted and dissolved."

During this year the viceroy, Venegas, was recalled by the regency, and the office conferred upon Calleja, who had so valiantly defended the royalist cause.

The plan of Morelos was to take Valladolid, and establish there the seat of Congress. Bringing together all his forces, he approached the capital of Michoacan on the 23d December, and demanded its surrender. But the city was now occupied by the royalist forces of two commanders, one of whom was Agustin de Yturbide, already renowned for his repeated victories over the insurgents and the unrelenting vigor with which he pursued them. These forces attacked the army of Morelos, and completely routed it on Christmas eve.

Morelos escaped, and with a few soldiers returned to Acapulco. The prestige of his army was lost; apparently his star was declining. One mishap after another followed, and the royal forces pursued him with unrelenting vigilance, which he evaded several times with very narrow escapes. The campaign of Yturbide was vigorous; several of the best captains of the Independents were captured, and paid with their lives for their devotion to the cause of liberty. Among them was Matamoras. Meanwhile the first Mexican Congress, like many another, was not harmonious; divisions arose between its deputies and its general. The patriot was learning that it is harder to keep a government well in hand than it is to seize it by force.

In 1815 this Congress decided it would like to move to Tehuacan, and assigned to Morelos the task of escorting it thither with all the troops he held at his disposition. This strange march set forth in mystery and concealment on the 29th of September; but in spite of the stratagems of Morelos, the royalist forces discovered its route, and intercepted it. Morelos gave front to the enemy, that the honorable deputies and members of his Congress might have a chance to escape. His force was routed, he himself betrayed by a deserter.

Morelos was taken to Mexico; the ecclesiastical tribunes covered him with ignominy, and he was handed over to the military authorities. By them he was at once sentenced to death, and on the 22d of December, 1815, he was shot in the small town San Cristobal Ecatepec, dying with the bravery of a hero.

This was the end of the dark period, called the second, of Mexican independence. Its life was in its chief, the daring, patriotic Morelos.

There is no doubt that Morelos had many of the great qualities for a successful leader of men. He was born in poverty, with no antecedents of greatness; untaught, even in the rudiments of learning, until he was thirty; up to that time patiently driving mules along the steep paths of his native state. Whoever has watched the slow, though sure, progress of these animals, and the enforced loitering in the pace of him who accompanies them, must be impressed with the idea that patience is a virtue likely to be developed in such training.

Great ideas then pervaded society. It is probable that Morelos was more than dazzled by the brilliancy of Napoleon's career. Military success inflamed many hearts and turned many heads in those days. There was the making of a military commander in the stuff of which Morelos was compounded. With the opportunities of Napoleon for creating large armies, well equipped with all the appurtenances of warfare developed by the skill and science of the time, Morelos might have arrived at his object, the liberty of his country.

There is no reason to suppose that a personal ambition animated him. He made himself general-in-chief of his army, but that was a necessary step for the furtherance of his designs. His fixed idea was that of an independent Mexico. So little was he tempted by the trials of prosperity, it is impossible to say whether success, the sparkling foam of flattery, would have turned his head, as they did so many others, in the supreme hours of attainment. As it was, he died the death of a hero, leaving behind him a reputation pure and unsullied by the taint of personal ambition.

His career was in no sense a failure. The object of his sacrifice was achieved in effect; the independence of Mexico, although not within his own grasp, was sure. Another idea of great importance was impressed upon the Spanish in Mexico, the Spaniards in the mother country and the world looking on: that the blood of the native Mexican was capable of great deeds, that the descendants of the Aztecs were something better than peones, slaves without the name. The lower class of the population of Anahuac raised their heads and listened. Low murmurs, as of a distant ocean, told them that the tide of their destiny was turned, that the day was coming when it would break with force against the bulwarks built up against it.

Morelos could die content. He had achieved for himself no proud seat on the throne of the Montezumas; he asked no such reward.

He had forcibly impressed upon his country the ideas first given to him and them by the Curate Hidalgo. The impression was not washed out, but made fast by the blood he caused to be shed, and his own.

If glory was his aim, that he has attained. The Mexicans adore Morelos. His native town is baptized anew with his name, and the state bears the name of Morelos, which contains Cuautla, the town he defended for sixty-two days with the patience of the muleteer and the obstinacy of his animals.

If the subsequent leaders of Mexican independence have not been always true to the example he gave them, of unselfish devotion to his cause, the great population has never wavered in its devotion to his memory.

In the public square of Morelos, capital of the state which also bears his name, is a marble statue of the hero, set up during the French occupation, on September 30, 1865, the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Morelos. The Emperor Maximilian presided on the occasion.

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