The First Civil War, 1830-1842
WHAT THEY CALLED "CIVIL WAR":
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Guatemala & Carrera
Huasteca, & North
Outcomes, and Vision
|The people called "liberals" thought that they challenged an old, coercive
order. Their ideas, and the kinds of men they were, came forward in country
after country, appealing to the principle that free individual efforts,
working in the market-place of goods, or of ideas, would automatically
produce good outcomes, without anyone dictating the result.
In fact, liberal programs involved more conflict, and more of "conservative"
coercion, than the theory anticipated.
Take Francisco Morazán, starting out
in Honduras. He was an upstart, but from a local merchant family,
who worked as a government clerk and secretary, besides developing his
own interests in the mahogany trade. Conservatives accused him of
dishonesty. As aide and lieutenant, he then sought individual glory
in the factional wars that the provinces of Central America suffered after
they won their independence from Spain. Though the whole isthmus
was supposed to be a single nation, there were quarrels over the location
of a capital, over the degrees of autonomy to be enjoyed by the separate
states, and increasingly over ideological projects advanced by men who
were fighting for status.
It was not always clear whether the military career came first,
or the liberal ideology. If these young men had read about the French
Revolution, they had also read about Napoleon. They might nod impatient
assent to the notion that Napoleon had betrayed the ideals of the Revolution,
but that seemed not to worry them.
Morazán, after fighting through El Salvador and into Guatemala,
got himself named President of the Federation. From that position,
he sponsored other liberals as governors of the separate states.
In Guatemala, for example, Mariano Gálvez now advanced a typical
"Colonization" would work by giving land grants to foreign companies that
offered to bring people in. The land had to come from what local
people thought their own. In forest areas, the companies would get
the right to harvest valuable timber. Of course, it would be easier
to do a quick job of the harvesting, than a careful job of colonization.
legal reform, such as extending the jury system and written records to
"scientific" health measures, such as burials within regulated public cemeteries
church reform -- transforming convents into public schools and hospitals,
and exiling clerics who led the conservative resistance
civil marriage and divorce
colonization measures, to introduce "enlightened" settlers from Europe.
This program won the enmity of villagers and conservative landholders
alike, leading eventually to the successful rebellion of Rafael
Carrera, and to Morazán's final defeat.
Liberal programs had wide appeal. In many parts of the continent,
mere privilege, and ordinary social mobility within the control
networks, had not been enough --
Naturally, there was competition all along the spectrum of individual operators.
There was supposed to be, even if the ideal was one of "peaceful,"
commercial conflict. In theory,
for men who were rising in the world, and wanted to rise faster
for outsider businessmen, who wanted to push new mills and new banks, to
compete with the old
for militia captains, who resented discipline from army generals
for indigenous nobles within peasant communities, eager to act as if properties
belonged to them as individuals
for ordinary individuals, in communities where peasants had divided up
lands among themselves
for rancheros of whatever race, pushing into "vacant" lands in competition
with both peasants and hacendados
for locals who resented any Europeans who still enjoyed status on the American
side of the Atlantic
nor for some thoughtful conservatives who thought it unsafe to build a
society on the simple authority of property over people.
would be superseded by
the older regime of real war, and of violent conflict between rulers and
The Morazán career was only one example, among many throughout America,
of individuals who had some position within respectable society, who supposedly
owed some "gratitude" to the flexibilities within conservative society,
but who pushed alternative ideas. They included also:
a new age in which competition would produce automatic, non-violent outcomes
-- decisions that would otherwise have had to come from rulers.
Such leaders saw themselves as fighters against the reaction that took
over Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. Calling their opponents
the "servile" lackeys of imperialism, they campaigned to expel Spaniards
and Britons from the New World. When Britain and the United States
were competing for political influence within a country like Mexico, local
liberals tended to side with the United States. Many, who conceded the
aggressive character of U.S. expansionism, would still make an exception
for U.S. political democracy, judging it a sound model for national development..
William Lyon Mackenzie, a young Scottish journalist
who arrived in Canada in 1820, soon to propagandize against British political
Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina, a wealthy
adventurer who combined hostility to "aristocrats" at home with a crusading
drive to spread U.S. interests abroad
Valentín Gómez Farías, whose
social reforms for California carried some of the same idealism -- and
intrusiveness -- as Morazán's for Central America
reformers like Levi Woodbury and Thomas Hart
Benton in the United States, who campaigned against corporate privilege,
but for a "liberal" distribution of Indian land to settlers
José Urrea in northwestern Mexico, fighting to expand opportunities
for himself and other "civilized" Mexicans, against indigenous peoples
like the Yaquis and Mayos.
Liberal ideologists argued that society should become more open, less
coercive, a world where individual operators might acquire new property,
and project new ideas. They were trying to open up a space in which
new operators could fight the established, privileged "aristocrats."
Those liberals with some money could act as if they were the ones persecuted
by the great landowners and capitalists of this world. Talking as
if they were themselves "the people" or "the nation" or "the citizens,"
they could fight for a world in which leadership would go to the winners
in individual competition.
Traders and trappers, of all nationalities, swarmed out from Santa Fe,
St. Louis, New Orleans, and Hudson Bay. Speculators, promoters, ranchers,
and even plain farmers took up free or cheap tracts that were being offered
to settlers and developers, not only by the United States, but also by
British authorities in Canada, by Mexican authorities in Texas, New Mexico,
and California, and by Guatemala in Central America.
On the one hand, some liberals did think of indigenous groups as units
to defend against conservative authority.
On the other, much liberal energy went into the opening-up of "new lands,"
a process with roots back in times when no one had ever heard of liberalism.
At the same time, much "liberal" activity depended on "conservative"
methods. The large trading organizations, such as the Hudson's Bay
Company to the north, or John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, were
part of the international system that connected the criollo and indigenous
worlds back to European commerce. They were pursuing trade under
speculative, dangerous conditions, supposedly accepting the responsibility
for their own protection. Notably during the 1820s and 1830s, when U.S.
Army units had penetrated little into the Upper Missouri region, much of
the interior sheltered a symbiosis between corporate influence and indigenous
culture, independent of any nation-state.
But the companies often avoided risk, resorting to old techniques of
security and military control.
Furthermore, pressure for new policy came from people who said that they
believed in a liberal market-place, but who wanted government to exclude
some "undesirables" from that free competition. They singled out
two opposite groups for hostility: any subjects of the mother
country who lingered on in America, and any indigenous people who denied
the sanctity of individual property rights. In Mexico and Central
America, the connection between the two extremes struck deep into social
philosophy. Both the Catholic church and the indigenous communities
acted as "corporations" when they held land -- in contrast to the ranchers
and merchants who thought that individual property-holding would stimulate
First, much of the profit was funneled back to regions where control was
more reliable. When Astor pulled his profits out of fur, and out of his
ventures in the China trade, he fell back on the real estate that he had
been buying all along in New York, where police systems and sanitary improvements
were now containing the worst dangers from riot and epidemic disease.
Safe urban investment was one fall-back from the romantic disorders of
But second, those traders who did go out into the plains and mountains,
taking responsibility for their own security, were constantly rebuilding
the physical apparatus of control: forts that were perhaps less pretentious
than army presidios, but better adapted to the intersection between the
commercial networks of different cultures. On the one hand, trading
companies and indigenous trappers formed together a vast "liberal," even
anti-national network. On the other, trade produced profits, profits
would be invested in property, and property required legal protection.
The strategy that emerged was simple:
This basic strategy was pursued by Francisco Morazán and Mariano
Gálvez in Central America, by Jean-Pierre Boyer in Haiti, by Lorenzo
Zavala and Valentín Gómez Farías in Mexico, by Stephen
Austin and Mirabeau Lamar in Texas, and by the supporters of Andrew Jackson
and William Henry Harrison in the United States.
confiscate property held by communes, tribes, or church corporations
distribute the land free or cheap to settlers, giving them an interest
against communal title
use the resulting government revenues, if any, to finance wars, and perhaps
even pay off debts left over from earlier wars.
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Charles A. Hale, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821-1853 (1968)
William J. Griffith, Empires in the Wilderness: Foreign Colonization
and Development in Guatemala, 1834-1844 (1965)
William B. Taylor, "Indian Pueblos of Central Jalisco on the Eve
of Independence," in Richard L. Garner & William B. Taylor, eds., Iberian
Colonies, New World Societies (1985)
Brief Statement, . . . of the Important Grants Conceded to the Eastern
Coast of Central America Commercial & Agricultural Company by the State
of Guatemala (1840)
Manuel Montúfar y Coronado, Estado político de Guatemala
Bernard Semmel, The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: Classical Political
Economy and the Empire of Free Trade and Imperialism 1750-1850 (1970)
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