When Obama won the presidency in 2009, he was hailed as America’s first black president. However, the reality is that America has already had a black president, 200 years earlier in fact. In 1829 Mexico elected its first black president. Vicente Guerreros was also a leading revolutionary in Mexico War of Independence.
Vicente Guerrero was born in South Mexico, in a town called Tixtla. His parents were María de Guadalupe Saldaña, of African descent and Pedro Guerrero, a Mestizo(mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage). Guerrero was brought up in a well-off family with some family members being landlords and rich farmers. However, he grew up with a large number of indigenous groups that influenced him and was more familiar with the local languages than Spanish.
His father supported Spanish rule whilst he himself wanted Mexico’s independence. When asked by his father to give him his sword to present it to the viceroy of New Spain, he refused saying the famous words “The will of my father is for me sacred, but my Fatherland is first”. “Mi patria es primero” meaning “My country comes/is first” is now the motto of the Guerrero, the southern province he was born in.
Guerrero joined in the revolt against Spain. He was described by the rebel priest José María Morelos as being tall and strong with bronze colored skin. He distinguished himself in battles and became a lieutenant colonel. However, Morelos forces started to lose their battles and Morelos himself was captured and executed. He joined forces with other rebels and took the position of “Commander in Chief” of the rebel troops. The royal government wanted to end the rebellion and offered amnesty. Guerrero made on final last appeal to his son but it was in vain. He was the only rebel commander left and his guerilla campaign was a success and won victories in areas familiar to him.
Due to changes in the political scene in Spain, Mexico’s loyalists to Spanish rule began to switch sides and soon Mexico was on its way to Independence. First Spain was an Empire ruled by Agustín de Iturbide who was a former colonial rule supporter but switched sides during the war. His rule was not too popular with some of the leading revolutionaries and his government collapsed.
Guadalupe Victoria was elected as the first president of Mexico soon after. Vicente Guerrero became his successor and was the first black president of Mexico. His presidency alarmed some of the Creole elites (American-born whites of Spanish heritage) due to fear of losing their status and the lower classes gaining in power.
Guerrero called for many changes including; public schools, land title reforms, industry and trade development, and the abolition of slavery. Mexico had few black slaves and so the last change was largely symbolic, however, Mexico at this time ruled Texas which had many black slaves and the change of law would affect many slave owners. Needless to say, this move was not popular with the slave owners.
Guerrero was deposed by his vice president, Anastasio Bustamante. The ruling elite feared that Guerrero would get too much support from the lower classes that were native Indians and start a war that would overthrow them. Fighting between Guerrero and Bustamante was fierce.
During the war between the two, Guerrero was captured by an Italian ship captain. The captain invited Guerrero on board his ship for a meal. However, Guerrero and his aids were taken captive and given to federal troops. His capture was welcomed by conservatives and some legislatures, however, his execution was opposed by legislatures. He was executed by firing squad on 14 February 1831. His death end the Southern rebellion but shocked the nation and those responsible for his death were hated by much of the population. Guerrero was seen as a martyr by the people.
Guerrero is a Mexican national hero. The state of Guerrero is named in his honour as well as several towns.