The Americas’ First Black President: Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, the first black and indigenous president of Mexico. Known as the George Washington and the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico, Guerrero was a leading general in the Mexican War for Independence, and abolished slavery in 1829, forty years before Lincoln would do the same. Not only that, but he came from the “las clases populares” aka the working classes of Mexico, and rose from there to become one of the most influential leaders in Mexican history.

Vicente Guerrero was born in 1782 in the village of Tixtla in the region of Acapulco to Pedro Guerrero, an African Mexican and Guadalupe Saldaña, an Indian. His family was devout supporters of Spanish rule, but Guerrero expressed anti‑colonialist sentiment from early on. In November 1810, when the revolution broke out for Mexican independence, he was working as a gunsmith and joined the Revolution in November 1810. Within two years he rose to lieutenant colonel organizing forces in southern Mexico, leading successful campaigns in the regions of Ajuchitán, Santa Fe, Tetela del Río, Huetamo, Tlalchapa and Cuautlotitlán.

Between 1810 and 1821, Guerrero won a total of 491 battles, using guerrilla tactics against the Spanish army. He always credited the victories to his fellow soldiers, however: “It wasn’t me, but the people who fought and triumphed.” During his term as President, Guerrero made sweeping changes to help the working classes and the rights of indigenous peoples. Several policies he instigated including taxes for the rich, protection for small businesses, abolition of the death penalty, and advocacy for villages to elect their own councils of representatives. He was a strong advocate for social equality.

Most significantly, however, was Guerrero’s abolition of slavery on September 16th, 1829. Shortly thereafter, he was betrayed by a group of reactionaries who drove him out of his house, captured and ultimately executed him. Guerrero’s political discourse was one of civil rights for all, but especially for African Mexicans. Mexicans with hearts full of pride call him the “greatest man of color.”

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