Ignacio Allende, 245 years ago
By Jesús Ibarra
Part 2 of 2
On July 14, 1808, alarming news came to New Spain: Not only had King Carlos IV of Spain abdicated, but his son, Ferdinand VII, had also renounced the throne in favor of Napoleon, who had invaded Spain and eventually appointed his brother, Joseph, as king of Spain. Upon learning the news, Ignacio Allende became determined to fight for independence. He gathered a group of friends, to whom he commented that if the French defeated Spain, New Spain would have to establish an independent government but would retain Fernando VII as king. Soon a secret meeting was organized by Allende to plan an insurrection that would lead to the emancipation of New Spain. The meeting involved several lay and ecclesiastical sanmiguelenses, including the brothers Ignacio and Juan Aldama, who lived in the building now known as Cine Hermanos Aldama, the current venue of the Guanajuato Film Festival. Ignacio Aldama, born in 1765, was a lawyer and member of the town council; he had been married since 1793 to María Josefa Marmolejo, a native of León. His brother, Juan, was a soldier, like Allende in the Queen’s Dragoons regiment, and had been married to María Luisa Vallejo since 1794, according to the Handbook of San Miguel’s Prominent Families, written by Roberto Lámbarri de la Canal. At the start of the independence movement, Juan Aldama had 14 children.
Among the conspirators were also Father Manuel Castilblanque, chaplain of the Holy House of Loreto, located inside El Oratorio, and Luis Malo, married to a niece of Colonel Narciso de la Canal, who lived in what is now the Posada Carmina hotel. The Malo family administered the Hacienda de la Erre, near the town of Dolores. Others were the priests Fernando Zamarripa, Vicente Casas and Francisco Primo de Terán and laypersons Juan de Umarán, Miguel Vallejo and Felipe González, among others. According to Benito Abad Arteaga, Allende’s biographer, the latter, Felipe González, a personal friend of Allende, said that Mexicans in general, because of their profound ignorance, thought that the power of kings came directly from God and to rise against them was the same as rebelling against religion, so the independence movement should include a clergyman “with knowledge, experience and prestige” who could persuade people to follow him with enthusiasm and confidence. Allende thought that don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the parish priest of the nearby town of Dolores, met all of González’s requirements. The next day, Allende went to Dolores and invited Hidalgo to participate in the plan. Under the pretext of parties and dances, secret meetings were held in the mezzanine of Allende’s brother house. It is generally accepted the house belonged to Domingo de Allende, but he died in 1809, so it is probable that the property belonged to the older brother, José María, who died in 1811. This house is on the corner of Plaza Principal and Relox and it’s currently known as “Casa de las Conspiraciones”. The San Miguel secret meeting was the largest and most important meeting in the area, with about 70 participants, including members of the military and priesthood as well as civilians. Other plotters in nearby cities such as Querétaro were in contact with them through Ignacio Allende.
According to historian Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach, authors mention two probable dates for which the conspirators of San Miguel and other related groups were preparing the uprising: September 29, the day of St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of the village, or December 8, 1810, at the beginning of the San Juan de los Lagos fair. However, the Querétaro conspirators were found out on September 13 and arrested two days later, so the date of the rebellion was moved up.
On the evening of September 15, Allende and Hidalgo, who were both in Dolores, learned that the Querétaro conspirators had been apprehended and decided to initiate the uprising. After capturing the Spaniards living in Dolores, Father Hidalgo urged people who had gathered in the front esplanade of the parish church to join him in defending the kingdom against those who wanted to surrender to the French, and to end oppression and taxes. According to Jiménez, at about 11am the rebels left for San Miguel, with 31 Spanish prisoners. After a stop at the Hacienda de la Erre, they reached Atotonilco. The historian notes that according to the testimony of the chaplain of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, Don Remigio González, he and his sister, Juliana, received the insurgent leaders in the chaplain’s house. One of the campesinos who accompanied them requested a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe from one of the pious women attending the shrine, known as doña Ramona, who gave it to him. The campesino placed it on a clothesline pole he had found in the yard and started shouting, “Long live our Lady of Guadalupe and death to the Spaniards!” Hearing the shouts, Allende and Hidalgo went outside and and tried to retrieve the image, but seeing the enthusiasm of the crowd, they let them keep it.
By noon on September 16, people in San Miguel already knew what had happened in Dolores. Biographer Barajas mentions that a Spaniard named Elizondo, manager of the Hacienda de Santa Catalina, had gone to Mass in Dolores and, realizing what was happening, returned immediately to San Miguel to tell his boss, Don Manuel Marcelino de las Fuentes, a royal lieutenant. De las Fuentes went to his brother-in-law, Colonel Narciso de la Canal, to ask what the Spaniards living in the village should do. But de la Canal, being a supporter of the rebel movement, had resigned his command of the Dragoons, “from the time that the voice of independence had risen,” leaving the command to a Spaniard named Francisco Camuñez. He offered his brother-in-law his home as a shelter, but not the regiment. Jiménez stated that Allende must have been aware of de la Canal’s intentions to resign his command, because while leaving La Erre he sent a message to Camuñez, not to
de la Canal, warning him not to offer resistance to the insurgent forces. The San Miguel Spaniards, led by Domingo de Berrio, who had been the executor of Allende’s father’s will, took refuge in the Casas Reales, the building that housed the city council (known now as the former Presidencia building, across from the Jardín), “closing the doors and opening the balconies.”
When Allende arrived in San Miguel, he ordered the Spanish prisoners brought from Dolores be locked up in the College of San Francisco de Sales (now the University of León). Then, he went to the Casas Reales (the city council building), where Father Francisco Uraga, Ignacio Aldama and Juan de Umarán, supporters of the insurgency, were expecting him. He demanded that the Spaniards surrender, promising not to kill them. They demanded the presence of Colonel de la Canal, who appeared and convinced them to surrender. They were sent with other prisoners to San Francisco de Sales.
The mob following the insurgents looted stores owned by Don Francisco de Landeta (now the cantina La Coronela and Intercam, at the corner of San Francisco and Relox) and Don Pedro de Lámbarri (at the corner of San Francisco and Corregidora, now the restaurant San Augustín). When Allende saw what was happening he broke up the mob by brandishing his whip. Shortly after 10pm, everything was calm. On the morning of Monday, September 17, the insurgent leaders met at the Casas Reales. According to Jiménez Codinach, Allende believed that they could not count on the populace to support the movement but rather needed disciplined troops; Hidalgo, however, did not agree, although he too was opposed to the looting but thought the mob should not be severely punished. The historian concludes that Hidalgo and Allende had contradictory points of view, which made the fight for independence difficult from the beginning. Hidalgo acted with more spontaneity and improvisation, and Allende was ordered and disciplined. Hitherto Allende had made important decisions, but from that day on he gave the command to Hidalgo, warning that he would withdraw from the movement if the insurgents disagreed with the priest. From September 17, Hidalgo seemed to be the head of the movement, leading to the erroneous idea that he was its first promoter. Later that day, it was decided that an independent city council would be formed in San Miguel. Ignacio Aldama became chairman, and the other members were Father Manuel Castilblanque, Felipe González , Miguel Vallejo, Domingo de Unzaga and Vicente Umarán.