William Lyon Mackenzie
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
V. Gómez Farías
Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Texas & Florida
Guatemala & Carrera
The Huasteca, & North
The Costa Grande
Outcomes, and Vision
|William Lyon Mackenzie, as Canadian, was of an age with Mexico as a
republic. He arrived from Scotland in 1820. He began work as a newspaper
editor in 1824. Benjamin Franklin served him for example -- as a
prudent printer and editor, whose work Mackenzie read, and re-read, and
as a canny manager of political controversy between colony and mother country.
Once started on his career, Mackenzie did not stop to be polite. Contemplating one family prominent in the government of Upper Canada, but with ancestors back in colonial Virginia, he stated that their "blood had been vitiated and syphilized by the accursed slavery of centuries."Year in and year out, he campaigned against executive domination in government, against special privilege in land grants and banking, against "slavish dependence" on English leadership. Elected to the House of Assembly in Upper Canada, he was repeatedly expelled for lack of deference to government. Just as repeatedly, he was re-elected by his constituents.
In 1837, he tried to lead a brief rising in Upper Canada. When it failed, he fled to the United States, to the land where Jacksonians and their local supporters had worked against "monopoly" -- as had Mackenzie in Canada.
He thought that he had sympathizers or fellow conspirators in the United States. He found that he had disorderly parasites.In all this Mackenzie had a parallel in the Mexican Lorenzo Zavala -- he who came up from Yucatán to build himself a political machine in Mexico State, patronized Vicente Guerrero, connived with Santa Anna, got himself sent off to a polite exile as Mexican minister in Paris, was forced out of that position by Santa Anna's conservative turn in 1834, and found himself finally with no place to go except the Texas that was rebelling against Mexico. There, briefly vice-president of the new republic, he played the part of tame Mexican in a largely Anglo movement
Mackenzie, with little less arrogance, just as much commitment to a liberal program, but far less political power, incurred less of a downfall. His real failure lay not in any military defeat, but in the fact that he tried to construct a popular liberalism, at a time when the greatest "liberal" strength belonged to groups who were financing migration and development in the Atlantic world.
Scotland, and its islands, had long been one of those areas where landowners were turning peasants out, in order to put more land into grazing. The migration outward had fed, among other things, the middling ranks of the Hudson's Bay Company. It also formed part of a general British migration toward Canada and the United States. Promoters got the British government to create land companies that, receiving grants in the Canadas, were supposed depend for their profits on building roads and attracting colonists. As in Central America, such companies could profit more quickly by cutting trees.
The political side of this process was the maintenance of British influence in Canada, with enough representation for local people to make the settlement process look both peaceful and attractive, but with a sufficient British veto to keep the locals from blocking policy. There was a House of Assembly in each province, along with the governor's appointed Legislative Council, which served as upper house.
This system was unstable. Besides encountering resistance from existing
rural communities, hostile to the expansionism, it was itself introducing
many individuals who were part of the expansion but who disliked monarchy
and monopoly. When rebellion came in Lower Canada, liberal leaders
found themselves frightened by their own peasant allies. When it
came in Upper Canada, it was a conflict among factions or levels, within
the world of liberal expansionism.
In the Canadas, both Lower and Upper, anti-establishment editors stepped up demands for voter control over government policy. Some condemned monopolistic land privileges, such as the large grant to the British American Land Company. Mackenzie called for the "secularization of the Clergy Reserves" -- that is, for throwing open the parts of each new township that had been set aside to support the Anglican church.
[This was not what "secularization" meant in California, where it was the transformation of the missions from control by "regular clergy" (friars) to "secular clergy" (parish priests), but the term was used in both settings for a kind of modernization that would free up properties for lay exploitation.]Others challenged the appointed legislative councils, which were heavy with merchants and the absentee owners of large land-rights. The French in Lower Canada, while hardly anti-Catholic, questioned the support that their upper clergy gave to British rule. And liberals in both Canadas opposed any trade regulations that favored British over Canadian manufactures.
Mackenzie won support among recent immigrants, not only from Britain, but also from a United States imbued with Jacksonian ideas about white-settler democracy.
He tried to promote social unity within the Canadian movements, by opposing
crude hostility against the French. This effort was futile, and possibly
not quite sincere. The energies of his movement pitted recent English-speaking
migrants against older settlers -- which at its crudest did mean setting
U.S. border ruffians against the descendants of Loyalists who had migrated
in after the U.S. Revolution. His version of the "Texas game" met opposition
from Indians who had fled to Canada, and of course from the black settlers
who found in Canada their only refuge from U.S. slave-catchers.
As military action, the rebellion depended on quickly converting small knots of townspeople and farmers into armed combatants. Upwards of 1000 marched toward Toronto, aiming for the government's store of arms there. They failed. Continued action by other small groups led the government to mobilize larger groups of loyal volunteers, with some regulars.
Mackenzie soon abandoned the fight, fled to the United States, and began reconstructing his life there (including some jail time for violating U.S. neutrality laws). From then on, the rebellion was a matter of conspiracies and raids, involving small groups on the Canadian side, but mobilizing a larger floating population of adventurers and agitators who gathered on the U.S. side.
Cross-border alliances turned sour. The rebels in Upper Canada got "support" from one group across Lake Erie, in Ohio, which made noises about raising money and backing a provisional government. But Mackenzie, in exile and struggling to keep his movement alive, realized that the Ohio supporters were raising little cash, even while they expected to pick up land grants of their own from the "abolition" of land monopolies in Canada. Many U.S. border types, when they talked against British imperialism to the north or Mexican centralism to the south, were looking to pry loose land for themselves.