The First Civil War, 1830-1842

Valentín Gómez Farías

Real War 
    Grounded Networks 
    Control Networks 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
      J.R. Poinsett  
      Levi Woodbury  
      Francisco Morazán  
      V. Gómez Farías   
      Wm. Lyon Mackenzie  
   Conservative Demagogues 
      Andrew Jackson  
      A. L. de Santa Anna 
   Fight Scenes  
      El Gallinero  
      Puebla & Charleston   
      Guanajuato & Bravo  
      Loot & development  
      Texas & Florida  
  Grounded Reaction 
      Guatemala & Carrera  
      Lower Canada  
      The Huasteca, & North  
      The Costa Grande   
Outcomes, and Vision 
All aspects of the War -- the fight between liberals and conservatives, the deeper efforts of people for themselves, the continent-wide extension of the struggle -- were involved in 1833, already well into the struggle, when the acting President of Mexico decided to solve the problem of control over California Indians.  He was Valentín Gómez Farías, a liberal. 
  • The problem:  Franciscan missionaries, up and down California, had built missions, gathering Indians to live within them, and hoping to shelter these converts from the influence of both Hispanic ranchers and "savage" Indians. The intended converts were not thriving in the missions, often fleeing into the hills to set up their own society as horse-traders (and rustlers).  Meanwhile, the ranchers were expanding their own power in that frontier society, while Russian power threatened from the north.
  • The Gómez Farías solution:  Abolish the missions. Turn the churches over to ordinary parish priests.  Divide lands among colonists, who might include Indians. Bring in new commercial interests, plus teachers and skilled workers, to prepare California for the modern world -- and to establish a buffer colony on the northern frontier.
While soldiers were off fighting the liberal/conservative struggle in central Mexico, the Congress of the Republic passed the California legislation that Gómez Farías wanted -- along with other "modernizing" laws offensive to the Church.  Within a year after that, Gómez Farías had his team headed for California. 

But Antonio López de Santa Anna turned politics around, expelled Gómez Farías from power, and ended the War on conservative terms.  There was treachery all around, and compromise under the surface.  In California, not much came of the Gómez Farías program.  No social work.  Nothing to keep ranchers from moving in on mission lands. 

Gómez Farías -- physician, civilian, rationalist -- was a member of the Congress that met while Agustín Iturbide was still emperor of Mexico.  Iturbide was making grants to colonizers in far provinces like Texas, and Farías was proposing a grand colonization policy in the same vein.  It was full of hope that new settlers from abroad or from within Mexico might help to develop the Mexican north. While the Catholic religion would be established in all the projected new communities, welcome would be extended to Indians who sought asylum from the United States, and any slaves brought into Mexico would be automatically freed.  A member of the "enlightened middle classes," Farías had no difficulty projecting great plans under the regime of a man who proposed to be an enlightened monarch.

Farías was closer to another rationalist politician, his fellow-senator from Zacatecas, Francisco García Salinas.  He had no ties to the rough, non-intellectual insurgents from the south of Mexico, such as Vicente Guerrero.  After Iturbide was deposed, and new political factions developed within the Republic, Farías aligned himself with the moderates and propertied men who supported Manuel Gómez Pedraza.  In 1829, when Congress ruled Pedraza's election invalid, bringing in Guerrero instead, Farías hung on as senator.  He kept his peace, hardly daring to say anything political for months at a time.  Then the Guerrero administration recruited him to serve on committees as a loyal opposition member. That was his role, still committed in principle to the hope for a "legal" government, when Guerrero's vice-president Anastasio Bustamante seized power. Bustamante, supported by many old-line generals, did not restore the legal presidency of Pedraza.  Instead, he held on to the office himself, bringing in as his Secretary of Foreign and Interior Relations the conservative ideologue Lucas Alamán.

The new administration executed Guerrero, and made Mexico City dangerous for anyone who had supported him.  But Gómez Farías had one refuge, in a place where Alamán's whims would not be taken as law.  Since 1829, García Salinas was governor of Zacatecas.


García Salinas appointed Farías to be secretary-general to the government of Zacatecas.  He himself was already fully committed to a rationalist program of order and reform.

When he became governor, the state was suffering from large-scale "bandit" raids that had sacked the mining towns of Fresnillo and Sombrerete.  The "populace," supporting the raiders, smacked of the same elements that had attacked the Parián in Mexico City, or that Santa Anna might mobilize in Veracruz.  Like other silver-mining areas, Zacatecas was struggling to recover from the dilapidations of the Insurgency years.  García shared with many (including Alamán) the belief that new technology was necessary for the mines.  He shared with other liberals a belief that the efficiency of agriculture was hampered by the concentration of land in the hands of church corporations or collective peasant villages.

But García was no "free-market" liberal. His main complaint against the churches and communities was that they left land undeveloped, forcing workers into idleness, vagrancy, or crime, detached from the very values that communities were supposed to promote.  Society needed some modern program that would produce the same results as the old policy of congregación.
García pushed for government planning.  He organized a substantial state militia to put down riots.  He organized corporations to promote mining improvements, making some attempt to distribute shares among people who were not part of the old mining interest.  He created a land bank that was supposed to take over church-owned land (paying for it), along with lands held collectively by peasant villages.  But the bank would hold these lands in perpetuity, renting them to landless and indigenous families, who would not have the right to sell.  The bank could use any extra funds to buy up haciendas, renting them off in small parcels like its other holdings.  Life was already forcing workers off the land, and the distribution of family plots would  bring them back.
Results were thin. There was not much time, and the Church mobilized political resistance.  The bank did buy up five haciendas and two ranches, distributing them among campesinos -- on the expectation that renters would serve, with the new militias, "to fight vagrancy and banditry."  But the Zacatecas countryside was denser, with thousands of small farms, hundreds of ranches and haciendas.  Whether or not particular communities were legal communes, people lived in communities of some kind -- of which the vagrants were still a part.  Right to the end of his term, García was complaining that he couldn't get people to turn in bandits.
On the national level García and Farías threw their support to Gómez Pedraza, against the forces of "disorder," but also against the extreme conservatives headed by Bustamante.  They depended on alliance with Santa Anna, who showed more interest in military exploit than in governing. Where García had imagined a militia articulated with economic programs, Santa Anna's recruiting style depended more on the old devices of charisma, emergency appeals, and improvised drafts.

The (Vice-)Presidential Phase

After the defeat of Bustamante, Gómez Farías became finance minister in the brief administration of Gómez Pedraza.  He was then elected Vice President at the same time Santa Anna was elected President.
Santa Anna, who did not yet have a reliable cadre of supporters within the national government, stayed home for long intervals and let Farías take charge as acting president.  On one thing the two men agreed -- the tactic of  mounting severe prosecutions against enemies of the new government.

On much else, disagreement grew.  For 10 months of the 13 from March 1833 to April 1834, Farías appointed his own cabinets.  The new Congress, radical, passed most of what Farías asked.  The result, even without much time to implement the whole, laid out in detail one version of the program that liberals were pushing in many countries:

Gómez Farías wanted to use the landed properties owned and rented out by monasteries, in order to pay the national debt.  To block speculators or state governments from gobbling up monastery lands for themselves, he planned something like the Zacatecas idea, of leaving properties intact while turning the rents into a permanent government revenue.

Many of the administration's supporters called for abolishing the "Fueros" -- the exemption enjoyed by clergymen and army officers, from being tried in civilian courts.  Farías did not do this, nor did he move toward any religious toleration for non-Catholics.  Nevertheless, "Religión y Fueros" became the conservative slogan against him.

The California Project

While moderate liberals were friendly to the Church, and radical liberals unfriendly, almost all groups were willing to confiscate some church property rather than pay taxes themselves.  Much of the laity thought that the California missions were out of step with modern 19th-century standards.  Local authorities, and officials sent out from Mexico City, sought to "secularize" the missions, giving the religious function over to ordinary priests, and finding something to do with the Indian workers.  Uncertainty about this "something," plus political confusion, the remoteness of California, and the reluctance of the Franciscans, slowed the whole process.

While conservatives and liberals agreed on secularization as such, and were in this sense all "liberal," they disagreed on what should happen next. Conservatives wanted to transform the Indian congregations into something like Mexican indigenous communities, recognize their formal title to the mission land, but keep them under the guidance of local white leaders.  Liberals wanted to transform the mission Indians into individual Mexican citizens, and establish colonies on the northern frontier against Russian expansion.

Finally, Farías cut short the old process by which clergy and laity alike had kept saying that the California missions would be secularized, but sometime in the future.  A new law said:  Now.

Not only that, but Farías gathered a whole assemblage of teachers and artisans to go out to California, to establish a new colony. The Director of the colony would have authority over mission lands, and would also become Governor of the state.  A "Peace Corps"-ish group, it left for California about the same time that Santa Anna finally ejected Gómez Farías from office.

Santa Anna, not surprisingly, sent a hurried message to the sitting Governor of California, telling him not to turn over his office to the new arrival.  But the President may not have realized that the Director of the colony was still an appointed official, independent of the governorship.  He did nothing to relieve the Director of any powers over colony and company. As a result, the Governor and the Director wrangled for months over the mission Indians and the mission lands.

That Governor, General José Figueroa, was in fact well qualified to act out the Santa Anna role on a provincial level.  At first, he had seemed more the radical -- a lieutenant to Vicente Guerrero during the insurgency, at a time when Santa Anna was still a hard royalist.  He served as secretary to Guerrero when Guerrero was negotiating with Iturbide the terms of the Plan de Iguala.  He managed not to offend Iturbide, when Guerrero later rebelled against the new Mexican Empire, then got back in Guerrero's favor, then later managed to win appointments from the government that killed Guerrero.  In California, he quickly acquired property without having to pay much for it.  He adopted the landowner stance of defending the property of mission Indians against both Franciscans and reformers -- but not against his new landowner friends.

-- and After

In both California  and central Mexico, elements of the Gómez Farías program survived for a time, even after Santa Anna drove Farías into exile.  Zacatecas held on to its militia until May of 1835, when President Santa Anna marched up to defeat the state forces.  Members of the Farías colony held on in California, while Figueroa accused them of conspiring with Indian rebels.  By summer he dispersed them, some back to central Mexico, others off into whatever they could find for themselves locally.

In later years, Farías kept imagining that he could use practical politicians to serve his own unrealistic ends.  He thought that he could manipulate the Texas rebels of 1836 into regenerating a federalist Mexico.  He thought that he could work with the federalist frontier general José Urrea in 1840, to fight Bustamante.  He thought that in 1847 he could play again the part of Santa Anna's Vice-President, mounting a program to confiscate church property for the war against the United States.  For his pains that time, he found himself again deposed by Santa Anna.

Some part of the Farías colonization plans had always operated in the same world as Frances Wright's Nashoba, the colony founded near Memphis in 1826, to train ex-slaves for colonization back in Africa.  Like García Salinas renting land to some peasants in Zacatecas, Farías was not so much fighting for people, as fitting them into a plan. A Santa Anna or a Jackson -- or a Figueroa -- could push people and exploit them, but rarely tried to change them.


 Site Map | About

Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, All rights reserved.