The U.S.-Mexican War and
    the Peoples of the Year 2000

Inputs from History:

        Population and Rebellion


Inputs from the Politics of Today  

Inputs from History 

  • Population & Rebellion 

  • Deluded White Chieftains 

  • Conflicts of 1846-48:  
  • Opening Attack on Indigenous Life
  • A Border World Rebels
  • Officers Capitulate: Ampudia and Taylor
  • A Note on Strategy
  • A Note on Severed Heads
  • Leader within Walls:  Santa Anna
  • Generals for Social Order
  • The Sorting of Identities
  • The Future of New/Old Nations
    The roots of the migration question are woven deep through the soil of history: 
    • The major force behind U.S. expansion across the continent was the unrestrained reproduction of large families, with one of the highest net reproduction rates of any large population in history.
    • The indigenous population of the continent as a whole was regaining growth rates by the early decades of the 19th century, moving into a general recovery that became visible in northern parts of the continent only during the 20th century 
    • Along with this demographic recovery, indigenous-American and African-American groups, over much of the continent and the West Indies, undertook social and military initiatives that challenged the pretensions of the European-American nation-states 
    • U.S. purposes in the period, and in the U.S.-Mexican War, were a compound of the aggressive settler expansion with a conservative determination to resist any indigenous or African initiatives
    • The ranchero population of Mexico shared some traits with aggressive U.S. settlers, just as hacendados did with conservative planters 
    • The network of local conflicts, complex as it was in detail, involved three simple continent-wide struggles:


    Popular Initiatives

    The initiatives, and rumors of initiative, coming from peasant, indigenous, and African-American groups, included the following and more: Leaders in the nation-states kept reacting as if these initiatives might be linked.  They feared a guerra de castas -- race war -- not just in particular places where it was obviously real, but as a widespread conspiracy fed by agitators moving from one area to another.  Thinking in this easy conspiratorial vein, observers often missed:

    How Details Became Network

    And how could these many initiatives amount to any kind of network? After all, the times at which different populations began to recover from the "Great Dying" of the colonial period were staggered over several generations, all the way from the early 18th century for some Mesoamerican groups, to 1920 which is the conventional nadir cited for indigenous groups within the borders of the United States.

    The indigenous-mestizo population stream gained force only gradually, what with the spotty growth of immunity to "non-American" disease, and the slow recovery of the Mexican economy after the break from Spain.  The time when any particular Indian group began to recover depended partly on when whites slacked off in direct military attacks, but also on medical factors:  only if a group was partly integrated into the European disease pool would its children grow up with some immunity.  If these shifts had appeared in many Spanish colonies in the 18th century; they were not to happen in the Plains and Rockies until the late 19th or even 20th century -- too late for the survival of a small interior group like the Mandans, too late for any but scattered individuals in some California populations.

    Once population began to grow again in a community, people often discovered that it had reproduced beyond what their farming could get from its land. They might see that some of its old lands had long since slipped into the control of a neighbor hacienda, or that a neighbor community (also indigenous) still had "surplus" land.  Locals would go to court to claim the needed land, or in some cases would just move in. Through separate episodes, then not so separate, it became clear that many communities faced the same shortage.

    Indians and mestizos, living in country communities, were beginning to recover population after centuries of disastrous loss, caused largely by exposure to European diseases.  Constrained within the resources available to them, they were pushing to reclaim lands and water rights that they had lost in earlier generations.

    While all mixed-race populations had, in the nature of the case, been exposed to the European disease pool, some acted as part of the "white" growth stream, some as part of the indigenous.  Some mestizo or African American groups took up residence within what had been indigenous communities.  Others moved into a ranchero population in Mexico, or a ladino population in Guatemala, both of which became identified as part of expanding European society.  Some Indians took up individual landholdings that made them hardly distinguishable from rancheros.  When civil wars broke out, the allegiance of these transitional groups was not always predictable.

    The differences in when population began to recover were partly a matter of difference between sedentary groups to the south, and nomadic to the north. This difference between southern and interior demographic patterns had paralleled a difference in the character of Hispanic and Anglo expansion movements. When observers failed to detect the broader resurgence of indigenous peoples as a whole, they were accepting the doctrine that Indians were a "vanishing" race.  They were taking the continuing losses of the Plains Indians as their sole model, accepting a silent version of divide-and-conquer thought, acting as if there existed no connection between the northern and southern parts of the indigenous population.

    Pro-Indian observers within Anglo-American society, anxious to defend the moral rights of the tribes they confronted, paid little attention to the fact that indigenous populations north of the Río Grande were much smaller than those to the south.  This oversight, ignoring the real center of gravity of indigenous population,  has been reinforced since then by an over-emphasis on the idea that Anglo-America and Latin America have distinct histories.  In that way "virtuous" white intellectuals have "virtually" torpedoed any vision of a wider indigenous movement.


    Between Nation-States and Nonlocal Peoples

    Competition among neighboring communities gave leverage to colonial and later nation-state authorities,  who could offer their legal systems as a way to mediate among rivals.  But not all groups acknowledged this authority and this leverage.
    The confrontation of the 1840s erupted at a time when conditions had come to a turning point.  The devastation of the Mandans by smallpox in 1837 was the kind of collapse that had been even more common in earlier generations and earlier centuries.  The Lakotas of the Upper Missouri area were able to move into the vacated territorial niche because they had already participated enough, in interchange with the outside world, that they were not likely to be destroyed by a single epidemic.  A more explicitly "mixed" group of the region, the Métis, had once furnished many trappers and provisioners to the Hudson's Bay Company, but had now grown to such numbers that the Hudson's Bay Company could not employ them all, and were beginning to disperse into varied places and economic roles within the area. The Métis were literally mestizos of the north, rooted partly in traditional communities, but generating new ways of life that more complex than anything envisioned by the "modernizers" of that period.

    Over much of the continent, migratory and sedentary societies presented alternative ways of organizing life.  Outside units like the Hudson's Bay Company offered their kind of "transnational" approach to these problems.  The Métis were partly linked to that Company, partly tied to the more migratory peoples of the interior.  In contrast, strong nomadic groups like the Lakotas, Cheyennes, or Comanches made their own effort to impose decisions on sedentary indigenous peoples, seeking to articulate the sedentary and the migratory on terms that would be autonomous of outside control.  These leader groups sometimes fought each other, sometimes achieved some kind of understanding.  They were "rival firms" within a general situation understood by all of them.

    In areas where no nation-state had effective power, working relations among all groups were a matter for the exercise of autonomous authority, or for day-to-day negotiation  This situation, a fertile ground for the emergence of new ethnic or national groups, offers even now a model for non-authoritarian (not necessarily pacific) negotiation among mobile, changing groups.

    For nearly two centuries, nationalities of all kinds have been evolving in the Western Hemisphere, sometimes channeled into the standard identities provided by the new nation-states, but often independent of any such cultural monopoly.  The populations that have regrown after earlier loss are just as potential of nationality as they ever were.

    The nation-states of the 19th century saw themselves as the champions of sedentary, civilized life.  They presumed to act as "virtual representatives" of the non-white parts of the sedentary population -- that is, of much of the whole population of agricultural labor.  These dependent populations had a choice -- more real than many people understood at the time -- between accepting the nation-state and looking for more open roads.  They might some day choose to move out from their local roots into a profoundly nonlocal existence.  This is now coming to fruition, at the end of the 20th century.

    The time lapse between 1800 and 2000 is a short gap in human history.  Except for the fact that the whole world population has increased tremendously over the 200 years, the white expansionist movement of 1800 and the mestizo expansionist movement of 2000 are simply different emphases, within time, for rival phenomena that are really simultaneous.  In the jargon of 1998, what we have long seen is the struggle between a command-oriented transnationalism on the one hand, and a popular or cooperative transnationalism on the other.


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