Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña
August 10, 1782 – February 14, 1831
Notable: General & Politician
Vicente Guerrero was born in Tixtla, New Spain, in what is now the state of Guerrero to Guadalupe Saldaña and Juan Pedro Guerrero. His mother was native Mexican while his father was African-Mexican. Coming from a family of humble means, Guerrero was unable to obtain a formal education as a child. Instead, he helped his father on the family farm and later transported goods across Mexico as a mule driver.
Guerrero’s parents were supporters of Spanish rule but in the course of his travels, Guerrero was exposed to rebels and their ideas of independence from Spain. During one of his transport trips, Guerrero met the rebel General Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon and in 1810 decided to join the rebel. As a member of the rebel military, Guerrero was an active participant in several battles fighting under the leadership of Morelos and Hermenegildo Galeana.
When Morelos was executed by the Spanish in 1815, Guerrero took command of the rebel army. The rebels had lost some of their vigor and resources when Morelos died as a substantial portion of the army had been defeated. But despite those setbacks and his father’s appeals on behalf of the Spanish for Guerrero to surrender, he continued the fight. Utilizing guerrilla tactics, Guerrero was able to win battles in some cities replenishing resources and morale along the way.
The rebels suffered losses but over the years also inflicted serious damage on the Spanish. In 1821, the commander of the Spanish military, General Agustin de Iturbide, proposed an end to the war. The two formerly warring factions met and Iturbide ended up joining the independence movement. Together the pair worked out the Plan of Iguala (Plan de Iguala), an agreement outlining the transition to independence and the creation of the new nation, “Mexico”.
An early version of the plan granted civil rights to natives but not mulattos or those of African descent. When Guerrero refused to sign that version a clause was added granting freedom and equal rights to all without regard to their racial or ethnic origins. Sealed with what came to be known as “The Acatempan Hug” (Abrazo de Acatempan), the two armies were united under Guerrero serving as general and Iturbide as Constitutional Emperor of the new nation.
Economic inequality under Spain followed by ten years of war had created multiple problems. Thus the early days of establishing Mexico were plagued by political and economic instability. Iturbide planned to structure Mexico as an empire with him at the top but did not have the vision or skills to deal with the new nation’s issues as it adjusted to independence, especially with regards to the needs of the poor. This immediately put him at odds with Guerrero and other generals and politicians which led to him being forced out of office after a mere ten months. It would set a bad precedent.
A three-person executive tribunal of which Guerrero was a member, governed the country until a new constitution was finalized. Elections were held in 1824 and a general, Guadalupe Victoria, became the first president, serving until his term ended in 1829. In the second election, Manuel Gomez Pedraza, a conservative, was declared the winner in the close election when he campaigned against Guerrero, the liberal candidate. Not finding the election results to their liking, Guerrero’s supporters forced Gomez out of office and Guerrero became president with the third-place candidate, Anastasio Bustamante, becoming his vice president.
While Guerrero was in office, the Spanish launched an attack aimed at re-colonizing Mexico. Guerrero successfully repelled the attack but depleted the country’s financial reserves to do so, much to the chagrin of the wealthy class. He had also been granted dictatorial powers for use during the siege which he refused to return once the threat was neutralized.
He implemented various programs aimed at helping the poor and working-class which comprised much of the nation’s population. This included free public schools, land reforms, and Mexicans buying products produced in Mexico. On September 16, 1829, Guerrero introduced a major policy that abolished slavery in Mexico excluding a specific area in its southern region.
While aligned with his push against racial and economic oppression, this decree was not welcomed by the wealthy or those who were involved in the slave trade. Due to the terms of previous agreements, Euro-American settlers who were primarily concentrated in Texas where they kept an estimated 5000 Black people enslaved were exempt. But they still bristled at the decree and it played a role in Texas seceding from Mexico to join the United States.
A coup began to take shape with some of Guerrero’s former officers and allies betraying him. They began to publicly question his ability to lead pointing to his lack of formal education. Just three months after the abolition decree, Guerrero was forced out of office. He fled to the South after handing over power to the Minister of the Interior but he too was overthrown in a matter of days. Bustamante was installed as president and gave orders for Guerrero to be hunted down and killed. Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña was captured in January 1831 and assassinated by a firing squad in Cuilapam, Oaxaca on February 14, 1831.
- “#Blackhistory: On September 15, 1829, Afro-Mestizo Mexican President Vicente Ramon Guerrero Issued the Guerrero Decree, Prohibiting Slavery in Most of Mexico.” 2019. CAAM. California African American Museum. September 15, 2019. https://caamuseum.org/learn/600state/black-history/blackhistory-on-september-15-1829-afro-mestizo-mexican-president-vicente-ramon-guerrero-issued-the-guerrero-decree-which-prohibited-slavery-in-most-of-mexico.
- Rivera, Alicia. 2007. “Vicente Guerrero (1783-1831).” Blackpast.org. January 22, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/guerrero-vicente-1783-1831/.
- “Vicente Guerrero, Soldier, and Politician Born.” 2021. Aaregistry.org. African American Registry. August 10, 2021. https://aaregistry.org/story/vicente-guerrero-born/.
- “Vicente Guerrero, ‘Mexico’s Greatest Man of Color.’” 2019. Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture. Prairie View A&M University. December 15, 2019. https://www.pvamu.edu/tiphc/research-projects/vicente-guerrero-mexicos-greatest-man-of-color/.
- Weltman-Cisneros, Talia. 2021. “Afromexican Vicente Guerrero – a Leader of Liberty, Independence and Peace!” Imagine-Mexico. November 30, 2021. https://imagine-mexico.com/afromexican-vicente-guerrero-a-leader-of-liberty-independence-and-peace/.
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