1831: Vicente Guerrero, former President of Mexico

2 comments February 14th, 2019 Headsman

Vicente Guerrero, late the president of Mexico, was executed on this date in 1831.

He was once a rebel soldier under Jose Maria Morelos in the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

The Afro-Mestizo Guerrero (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) cinched that conflict by successfully appealing to his royalist opposite number, Agustin de Iturbide, to switch sides. Their combined forces rode into Mexico City together in September 1821 but the conservative Iturbide and the liberal Guerrero soon parted ways.

Iturbide was elevated to emperor of Mexico; Guerrero by 1823 had returned to the field to rebel against the strongman. When Iturbide was deposed (and eventually executed), Guerrero became one of the ruling triumvirs and a national political figure. He contested the 19281828 presidential election which he lost at the ballot box but won in the ensuing street battles — an affair that featured the intervention on Guerrero’s side of Santa Anna.

He was quick about abolishing slavery and he had to be, for this mixed-race populist was deposed by his conservative vice president within months — beginning another round of civil conflict that was dishonorably resolved when an Italian sea captain arranged with the Mexico City government to lure him aboard and arrest him. For this gambit Judas received 50,000 pesos and Guerrero a summary court-martial and a firing squad at Cuilapam.

The cruel treatment of Guerrero requires an explanation. Bravo had been defeated in 1827 but was merely exiled and there were other similar cases. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why in the case of Guerrero the government resorted to the ultimate penalty. The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from the great landowners, generals, clerics and Spaniards resident in Mexico. These people could not forget the war of independence with its threat of social and racial subversion. Despite his revolutionary past, the wealthy creole Bravo belonged to this “gentleman’s club’, as did the cultured creole, Zavala, even with his radicalism. Hence Guerrero’s execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president. (Source)

The southern Mexico state of Guerrero is named for him; its slogan, mi patria es primero (my fatherland is first) is the legendary reply that the young Vicente Guerrero made to his Spain-supporting father when asked to foreswear the independence movement.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1814: Mariano Matamoros, Mexican revolutionary

Add comment February 3rd, 2014 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, the Mexican revolutionary Mariano Matamoros was shot by the Spanish at Valladolid.

A Catholic priest (defrocked for the occasion of his execution) who had previously gone to prison for his nationalist sympathies, Matamoros joined the revolutionary army of fellow-clergyman Jose Maria Morelos as the Mexican War of Independence blossomed.

Matamoros proved to have the knack for martial leadership and was a lieutenant general and Morelos’s second-in-command within months.

The Spanish captured him in early January 1814 after the revolutionaries’ failed attempt to take Valladolid. His foes could not be moved to exchange him on any terms.

Though Morelos too would suffer this fate in time, their cause eventually prevailed. Post-independence, the martyred Matamoros became a Mexican national hero. He’s interred today at Mexico City’s iconic El Angel monumental column.

He’s the namesake of several locations, including the border city of Matamoros. (Longtime readers of this site might recall the 1913 Mexican Revolution execution in Matamoros that we’ve previously profiled.) One of Mexico City’s airports also bears the Matamoros name.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1817: Gertrudis Bocanegra, Mexican independence heroine

1 comment October 11th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1817, Mexican War of Independence heroine Gertrudis Bocanegra was publicly shot in her native town of Pátzcuaro for treason.

Bocanegra (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a literate Enlightenment woman was already 45 years old when the rebellion against the Spanish empire broke out.

Her husband and son joined Hidalgo‘s forces, in which service they would lay down their own lives.

Gertrudis Bocanegra kept a safe house, gathered supplies and money, shuttled messages … until Spanish authorities arrested her in 1817 and tortured her for information. (Need one even ask if the noble Bocanegra informed on her compatriots?)

She’s known as La Heroína de Pátzcuaro and is the namesake for, among other things, a plaza in that city and the striking Biblioteca Gertrudis Bocanegra, where one can find this:


(cc) image from eperales depicts Juan O’Gorman‘s monumental Historia de Michoacan. We’ve seen this monument before, as it depicts the Spanish burning to death the last native Tarasco ruler.

Bocanegra’s own execution is also shown in the mural — in the lower right, obscured by the bookshelves in the photograph above, but captured in detail in this Spanish blog post.

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1815: José María Morelos, Mexican revolutionary

2 comments December 22nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1815, the Catholic priest turned revolutionary leader Jose Maria Morelos was shot for rebellion.

Morelos was born in New Spain — the town of his nativity was posthumously named in his honor — and entered adulthood a humble agricultural laborer* before engaging the career in letters necessary to undertake Holy Orders.

Designated to save his countrymen’s souls, he proposed instead to save their liberties and ungratefully joined up with fellow-priest Miguel Hidalgo when the latter sounded the tocsin for the Mexican War of Independence.

Morelos distinguished himself rapidly in the revolutionary army, and upon Hidalgo’s capture attained its leadership, complete with Generalissimo status.

Upon capture, he was handled first — and rather meticulously — by the Inquisition, which defrocked him in an auto de fe before relaxing him to the secular authority for the inevitable punishment.

Without a dissentient voice it [was] agreed that … [Morelos] be declared guilty of malicious and pertinacious imperfect confession, a formal heretic who denied his guilt, a disturber and persecutor of the hierarchy and a profaner of the sacraments; that he was guilty of high treason, divine and human, pontifical and royal … his property should be confiscated to the king … His three children were declared subject to infamy and the legal disabilities of descendants of heretics.

Source

Nobody said being a national hero was easy.

* “His morals were those of his class,” remarks our source on the Inquisition. “He admitted to having three children, born of different mothers during his priesthood, but he added that his habits, though not edifying, had not been scandalous, and the tribunal seemed to think so, for little attention was paid to this during his trial.”

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1824: Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico

Add comment July 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1824, the Mexican officer who had made himself emperor was shot at the village of Padilla.

Iturbide‘s military acumen saw him through a meteoric rise in the service of what was then New Spain.

Iturbide rejected an early offer of generalship from the pro-independence leader Hidalgo in favor of spending the 1810s ably quashing the insurgency.

In a bizarre twist of fate, however, it would be Iturbide who would himself cement Mexican independence.

En route to try to finish off the last major rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, Iturbide caught wind of the recent del Riego liberal revolt back in the mother country,* which had triggered civil war in Spain.

For the conservative royalist general, heir himself to a Basque noble lineage, the potential collapse of Bourbon authority in Spain raised the frightening specter of social upheaval.

All Iturbide’s work killing guerrillas for the sake of public order could come to naught if the Spanish monarchy collapsed or ceased projecting its power overseas … and then who knew what would emerge from the resulting power vacuum in Mexico?

So Iturbide cut a deal with Guerrero to consummate the Mexican War of Independence by separating from Madrid on an essentially conservative basis — a political breakaway without a social revolution. Independent Mexico would make nice with the Spaniards already living there, keep Catholicism as the official state religion, and get itself a constitutional monarchy of its own to insulate itself from the chance outcomes of continental politics across the ocean.

And when Iturbide marched into Mexico City and encountered a crowd conveniently imploring him to take the throne, well, who was he to deny them?

And so Iturbide transitioned smoothly from scourge of the revolution to its man on horseback,** immediately splintering the coalition that lifted him to power.


Contrary to this allegorical take on Iturbide’s coronation, he crowned himself — Bonaparte-like.

Only months after his July 1822 coronation, Iturbide shuttered Congress and began arresting the opposition. Meanwhile, Ferdinand VII had emerged from the Spanish fray as the (momentary) winner, leaving his upstart former subjects without international support.

A general that the freshly-minted emperor had himself had promoted, one Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — yes, the Alamo guy — declared against Iturbide by the end of 1822, and come the following spring, Agustin I was a European exile, in the paradoxical position of drawing a pension from Mexico while also officially considered a traitor and outlaw.

In Tuscany and then England, Iturbide published an autobiographical justification — Statement of Some of the Principal Events in the Public Life of Agustín de Iturbide — then finally took up a much-asked-for invitation from Mexican conservatives to return and become the savior of his country against internal breakdown and a potential Spanish attack.

Founded on vainglory, this expedition was destined for fiasco; within five days of touching Mexican soil, Iturbide was serenading a firing squad with the last words, “Mexicans! I die with honor, not as a traitor; do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy. I am not a traitor, no.” Apparently they were serious about that injunction never to return.

When in Mexico City, relive happier times for our day’s subject at the Palace of Iturbide where he briefly maintained himself in the purple.


Iturbide’s palace. Creative Commons image from patricio00.

And do think twice about styling yourself Emperor of Mexico, since the only other person to claim that title also ended his reign in front of a firing squad.

* Ironically, it was a body of soldiers assembled for a reconquista of Spain’s independenceminded New World possessions that enabled del Riego to mutiny.

** Iturbide paused in the revolution’s good graces just long enough to design the Mexican flag.

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1811: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, for Mexican independence

2 comments July 30th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1811, Mexican independence icon Miguel Hidalgo was shot for treason at the government palace in Chihuahua.

The subversive priest had set the spark to the Mexican War of Independence in the hours before sunrise of September 16, 1810. There, he rang the parish bell in the small town of Dolores and issued his “Grito de Dolores” — “Cry of Dolores” — summoning native Amerindians and mestizos to throw off the Spanish.

The movement got added juice from the fact that the Spanish jackboot was then being worn by Napoleon, who had installed his brother as king.*

Hidalgo tributes are a mainstay of every Mexican town. This Orozco mural is in a government building in Guadalajara.

Hidalgo’s fired-up downtrodden mob slaughtered the local garrison and gathered numbers on a march towards Mexico City before the professional Spanish soldiery rallied to stop it. But the priest wouldn’t make his father-of-the-country credentials in generalship: he’d been relieved of command after repeated combat debacles by the time the insurrection’s leaders were betrayed in March.**

While his comrades Ignacio Allende, Jose Mariano Jimenez and Juan Aldama were shot on June 26, Hidalgo got an old-school detour through the ecclesiastical arm for defrocking (and a highly suspect alleged retraction).

When he was shot this day, he directed the firing squad to aim for the hand he placed over his heart.

Then, his head was cut off and stuck on a pike as a warning.

The struggle lived on, long past Hidalgo’s execution and Bonaparte’s fall, and finally resulted in Mexican independence in 1820. Today, the padre whose call to action not only started the revolt but made it a mass movement is the face on the 1,000-peso note, and his Grito de Dolores is repeated every Diez y Seis de Septiembre as an independence day tribute by Mexican authorities — as in this from 2006:

* Inspiring this blog’s banner in the process.

** There’s a map of Hidalgo and Allende’s army’s movements — and subsequent campaigns in the war — here.

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