Mexican patriot, b. at Valladolid (now called Morelia in his honour), Mexico, on 30 September, 1765; shot at San Cristóbal Ecatepec on 22 December, 1815. His father died while he was still a youth, and, being left destitute, he worked for some time as a muleteer, until he succeeded in obtaining admission, as an extern, to the College of San Nicolas at Valladolid, the rector of which institution was at that time the reverend Don Miguel Hidalgo. Having been ordained priest, he was appointed parish priest of Carácuaro and Nucupétaro in Michoacan. When Hidalgo left Valladolid for Mexico City, after uttering his Grito de Dolores, Morelos offered himself to him at Charo, and Hidalgo commissioned him to raise 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 ill-armed men, marched towards Zacatula, and, following the coast, reached Acapulco with some 3000 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 siege and made for Chilpancingo. Forming a junction there with the brothers Galiana and Bravo, he marched to Chilapa and captured that town. As the viceroy, Venegas, was keeping all the colonial troops occupied with the siege of Zitacuaro, Morelos, who had been joined at Jantetelco by his fellow-priest Mariano Matamoros-thenceforward his right hand in almost every enterprise-organized four armies, which he distributed in various parts of Mexico. But the easy surrender of Zitacuaro to Calleja, and the approach of that commander with all his forces, placed Morelos, with some 4000 men, in the situation of being besieged at Cuautla by 8000 of the best troops of the viceroyalty. 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 thence to Orizaba and so on to Oaxaca, capturing all those places, and defeating every body of troops that encountered him.
On 14 September, 1813, the first Independent Congress assembled at Chilpancingo and there 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 he turned towards his native Valladolid, which was then held by the royalist leaders Iturbide and Llano; driven back there he moved on Chupio. At Puruarán his brave companion Matamoros was captured, and was shot at Valladolid, 3 February, 1814. These reverses were followed by the recapture of Oaxaca by the royalist troops. The independent Congress of Chilpancingo had removed to Apatzingan, where it promulgated the Constitution of 22 October, 1814. Then it determined to remove again from Apatzingan to Tehuacán, Morelos accompanied it to protect it, and engaged in the Battle of Tesmalaca, where he was made prisoner.
Having been taken to Mexico City, on 22 November, 1815, proceedings were instituted against him by both the military and the ecclesiastical tribunal, and an advocate was appointed for him. The principal charges against him were: (1) 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 answered to this that, as there was no king in Spain (Ferdinand VII having been taken to France, a prisoner), he could not have been false to the king; and that, as to the declaration of independence, of the said Congress, he had concurred in it by his vote because he believed that the king would not return from France and that, even if he should return, he had rendered himself unworthy of fealty by handing over Spain and its colonies to France like a flock of sheep. (2) Having ordered a number of prisoners to be shot. 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, by way of reprisals, moreover, because the viceregal Government had not accepted the exchange of prisoners proposed instead of General Matamoros. (3) 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, such as the insurgents must be considered to constitute, so long as they (the sentences) were not those of a pope or an oecumenical council. (4) Having celebrated Mass during the time of the Revolution. He denied this, since he had regarded himself as under irregularity from the time when blood began to be shed in the territory under his command.
The case having been concluded in the military tribunal that court requested of the ecclesiastical tribunal the degradation and surrender of the condemned priest, in accordance with the formalities prescribed by the canons; the ecclesiastical tribunal granted both requests, and communicated its decision to the viceroy. It was at this point that the tribunal of the Inquisition intervened, requesting the viceroy, Calleja (who had succeeded Venegas) to delay execution of the sentence four days, and citing Morelos to a public auto de fe on 27 November. On that occasion, with all the formalities proper to such proceedings, twenty-three charges were preferred against him: the Inquisitors added to the charges brought at the former trial others which they believed themselves competent to try, as implying, according to them, suspicions of heresy. These were: (1) Having received Communion in spite of the excommunications which he had incurred. Morelos answered that he had communicated because he did not believe the excommunications valid. (2) Not reciting the Divine Office while he was in prison. He declared that he could not recite it in the dungeon for want of light. (3) Having been lax in his conduct. This he granted, but denied that scandal had been given, since it was not publicly known that he had begotten children. (4) Having sent his son to the United States to be educated in Protestant principles. He declared that, so far from wishing the son whom he had sent to the United States—as he could not place him in any institution within the kingdom—to be brought up in the doctrines of the Reformation, he had directed him to be placed in a college where he would not run that risk. In spite of these arguments, the tribunal decided: "that the priest Don José Morelos was a formal negative heretic, a favourer 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 (penitential inscription) placed in the cathedral church of Mexico as that of a reconciled formal heretic".
It was one of the decrees of the Inquisition which have done most to damage the reputation of that tribunal in New Spain. The proceedings lacked the legality and judicial correctness which should have marked them. Morelos was out of the jurisdiction of the Inquisition both as an Indian and as having been already tried and condemned by another, competent, tribunal; nor was there any reason in condemning him for charges to which he had made satisfactory replies. It may be that the tribunal, re-established in New Spain only a little more than one year before this, and carried away by an indiscreet zeal, was unwilling to miss the opportunity presented by so famous a case to ingratiate itself with the Government and call attention to its activity.
Morelos, degraded in pursuance of his sentence, according to the ritual provided by the Church in such cases, was transferred from the prison of the Inquisition to the citadel of Mexico and put in irons. On 22 December he was taken from the city to San Cristobal Ecatepec, where he was shot. As a guerilla leader, Morelos must 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 Independents had been routed at the Bridge of Calderon, 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 without materials of war of any kind, 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. Profoundly astute and reserved, he confided his plans not even to those of his lieutenants for whom he felt the most affectionate regard. The stamps of genius is discernible in the astonishing sagacity with which he handled the most difficult problems of government, and in multiplied instances of his rapid and unerring insight into actual conditions. When, after the ill-starred campaign of Valladolid, the hour of adversity came upon him, he faced disaster as serenely as he had previously accepted good fortune, and, in that famous retreat upon Tehuacan, deliberately gave his own life to save the lives of his associates in the Independent Government.
Mexico a traves de los siglos, III (Barcelona); Alaman, Historia de Mexico, I, II, III, IV (Mexico, 1851); Zamacois, Historia de Mexico, VIII, IX (Mexico, 1879); Verdia, Compendio de la Historia de Mexico (Mexico, 1906); Leon, Compendio de la Historia de Mexico (Mexico, 1902).
APA citation. (1911). José María Morelos. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10565b.htm
MLA citation. "José María Morelos." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10565b.htm>.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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