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Morelos y Pavón, José María

by Kenneth Lacey

José María Morelos y Pavón was a Mexican patriot. He was born in Valladolid, Mexico on September 30, 1765. It is now called Morelia in his honor. Morelos was ultimately shot at San Cristobal Ecatepec on December 22 1815. His father died while he was still a youth, having to care for himself he worked for some time as a muleteer, until he finally gained admission, as an extern, to the College of San Nicolás at Valladolid, the head director at that time was Father Miguel Hidalgo.

Having been ordained priest, he was appointed parish priest of Caracuaro and Nucupetaro in Michoacán. When Hidalgo left Valladolid for Mexico City, Morelos offered himself to Hidalgo at Charo, and Hidalgo assigned him to gather troops for the cause of Independence on the southern coast, and to get possession of the port of Acapulco.

Returning to his parish, he collected a few poorly armed men, marched towards Zacatula, and reached Acapulco with some 3,000 men whom he had recruited on the way and supplied with arms taken from the royalists. After defeating Paris, who had come from Oaxaca with the object of relieving Acapulco, he left part of his forces to continue the capture and seize of Acapulco and made for Chilpancingo. Forming an alliance there with the brothers Galiana and Bravo, he marched to Chilapa and captured that town. The victor, Venegas, was keeping all the colonial troops occupied with the siege of Zitacuaro.

The surrender of Zitacuaro to Calleja was easy. Morelos was left with some 4,000 men to go up against Cuautla and his 8,000 men. With indomitable courage, fighting day after day, Morelos held out for seventy-three days, until at last he succeeded in breaking away with all that remained of his army. He then passed over to Huajuapan, from there he moved on to Orizaba and without stopping to Oaxaca, capturing all those places, and defeating every army of troops that encountered him.

On September 14, 1813, the first Independence Congress assembled at Chilpancingo and passed the decree: "That dependence upon the Spanish Throne has ceased forever and been dissolved. That the said Congress neither professes nor recognizes any religion but the Catholic, nor will it permit or tolerate the practice, public or private, of any other; that it will protect with all its power, and will watch over, the purity of the Faith and its dogmas and the maintenance of the regular bodies".

From Chilpancingo, Morelos turned towards his native town Valladolid, which was then held by the royalist leaders Iturbide and Llano. At Puruarán his partner, Matamoros, was captured and shot. These reverses were followed by the recapture of Oaxaca by the royalist troops. The independent Congress of Chilpancingo had removed to Apatzingán, where it promulgated the Constitution of October 22, 1814. Then it determined to remove again from Apatzingán to Tehuacan, Morelos accompanied it to protect it, and engaged in the Battle of Tesmalaca, where he was made prisoner.

After being taken into custody on November 22, 1815, both the military and the ecclesiastical tribunal instituted proceedings against him, and an advocate was appointed for him. The principal charges against him was first having committed the crime of treason, failing in his fealty to the king, by promoting independence and causing it to be proclaimed in the Congress assembled at Chilpancingo. Morelos' answer to this was, there was no king in Spain so therefore he could not have been false to the king. The second charge was having a number of prisoners to be executed. He declared that he had done this in obedience to orders sent first by the Junta at Zitacuaro and then by the congress at Chilpancingo. The third charge was having ignored excommunication fulminated against him and the Independents by the bishops and the Inquisition. He declared that he had not considered these excommunications valid, believing that they could not be imposed upon an independent nation. The fourth charge against him was having celebrated Mass during the time of the Revolution. He denied this, since he had regarded himself as under irregularity time of mass from the war being shed in the territory under his command.

Though there were numerous arguments, the tribunal ultimately decided "that the priest Don José Morelos was a formal negative heretic, a favorer of heretics, a persecutor and disturber of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a profaner of the holy sacraments, a traitor to God, the king, and the pope, and as such was declared forever irregular, deposed from all offices and benefices, and condemned to be present at his auto in the garb of a penitent, with collarless cassock and a green candle, to make a general confession and a spiritual retreat; and that, in the unexpected and very remote case of his life being spared, he was condemned for the remainder of it to confinement in Africa at the disposition of the inquisitor general, with the obligation of reciting every Friday in the year the penitential psalms and the rosary of the Blessed Virgin and to have his sambenito placed in the cathedral church of Mexico as that of a reconciled formal heretic".

Many people found mistakes in the laws against Morelos. It was one of the decrees of the Inquisition, which did most of the damage to the reputation of that tribunal in New Spain. The proceedings lacked the legality and judicial correctness, which should have marked them. Morelos was out his jurisdiction of the Inquisition both as an Indian and as having been already tried and condemned by another, competent, tribunal. People also believe that Morelos made great replies to his charges and should have been set free. It may be that the tribunal, re-established in New Spain only a little more than one year before this and was unwilling to miss the opportunity presented by so famous a case to the Government and call attention to its tribunal. Morelos was degraded in pursuance of his sentence. On December 22, 1815, he was taken from the city to San Cristobal Ecatepec where he was shot.

As a patriotic leader, Morelos will occupy a prominent place among those who struggled and died for Mexican independence. He appeared at the moment when the first great army of the Independence had been routed at the Bridge of Calderón, and when its first leaders were being executed at Chihuahua, and he achieved his first successes in the rugged mountains of the south. He began his campaigns with no weapons of war, expecting to take what he needed from the enemy, and no one ever used the resources of war better than he did, for the extension of the national territory.