The First Civil War, 1830-1842

The Grounded Networks

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
The networks that people were building for themselves took many forms.  They could be systems of fighting, of preaching, of political negotiation. 

Most visibly, they could be systems of transportation. 

Young Vicente Guerrero, starting out from Tixtla, ran mule trains. The main route for the trains ran from Acapulco, on the coast, up through Chilpancingo in the first range of hills, then up to the capital, in Mexico City.  Lesser routes fanned out through the area.  Over the years, of peace and war, of prosperity and hard times, Guerrero built up operations in the area.  He acquired larger herds of mules, and herds of mares to breed more.  He acquired lands to graze them, and knew which pastures would turn the mares into happy breeders.  He put other lands into sugar-cane.  He knew the territory. 

But there was a difference between just accepting that world and building a network rooted in the ground -- sometimes as chancy as the difference between obeying your father and pushing him aside.  Sometimes the gap was as short as from Chilpancingo to Tixtlaless than ten miles, as the crow flies, even if the road did wind up over the hills.  Chilpancingo was the home of the Bravo family: a revered father martyred in the war of independence from Spain, a whole series of fighting sons, hacienda lands to keep them going, a sense for decency in dealing with enemies.  Tixtla amounted to much less -- a back pasture for the larger town. 

Guerrero, when the war against Spain broke out, put his own capacities at the service of the insurgents.  Then the early revolutionary momentum faltered.  Insurgent leaders suffered defeats. Guerrero plugged on, supported by some of his old drivers and overseers, and his ease with his own network.   In communications with his lieutenants, they would be talking about brood mares one moment, mountain artillery the next.  He helped protect the rebel Congress, when it met in Chilpancingo and then had to flee across country. 

Royal officers built up their own system, mixing cavalry strikes with careful doses of amnesty toward faltering rebels.  Nicolás Bravo accepted amnesty.  So did Guerrero's father, who appealed to Vicente to give up the fight.  The son replied (according to the story he gave later), "No, the patria comes first."  

But what was that patria?  Almost all peoples in the Americas then were less conscious of some grand nation than of their own state or province -- the patria chica.  That local patriotism did not keep local families from accepting terms from royal authority, when they had to.  But there was a difference for Vicente Guerrero, still in his thirties.  He was putting down his mature roots, not so much into safe local property, as into the very process of extending his own, local connections outward.  This was action.  It was the very stuff of a new kind of patria.  And it was happening over wide ranges of the continent.

It was happening among refugee Indians in California.  It was happening in the plains north of Texas. It  was happening along the coasts of Florida.

And it was happening over the roads and pastures of the spirit, too, where preachers and local priests were extending networks of symbolic cover.

This process was always vulnerable to the possibility that its opponents, those who were building up control networks, would gather greater technological means.  It was susceptible also to a moral danger, that the sophisticated "managers" of control might draw off and assimilate pieces of the grounded networks.  In the case of a Kit Carson, they turned a young wanderer into an agent of the control networks.

In the case of Vicente Guerrero, they did come close to making him a figure-head for their own liberal faction.  He could certainly be the casual paternalist, who knew what it was to describe the workers on his lands as inditos ("little Indians")Even late in his life, the state of Veracruz was giving him lands on the Gulf coast, in reward for his services in the revolution. He was not the only young man, from off the beaten path, who parlayed his mule trains into advantageous marriage and business connections.  But Guerrero turned out to be more than the politicians could stomach.

In any case, it was his earlier route-building and mule-breeding that show best what he stood for.  This social and tactical role, as distinct from his later involvement in party politics, was something he shared with other managers of pack-trains and flat-boats, throughout the Americas.  They were the outreaching and physical expression, of an internal and communal energy. They offered ways to keep that outreach grounded in the interchange between communities.

"The people" in the Americas were pushing their own strategic agenda.  This agenda was not sentimental.  It was not passive.  It was not unselfish.  Communities were no way indifferent to goods from the outside world, or to intrusions from the outside world.  But they were out to build their own life, from their own center outward, not as any "periphery" or "outside edge" to some European center.  The networks that they elaborated were "grounded" in the soil from which they started.

The Regional Networks

The centers of action included:

The Mega-Networks

These made up three broad "mega-networks," which lapped over national boundaries, and overlapped with each other, all acting in ways unlike anything coming in from Europe: In short: This last, though neither densely populated, nor technologically advanced, was the core of the whole.

The whole system that these networks were producing did not have formal boundaries, either internal or external.  Readily accepting movement from one group to another, it had an integrity that was extraordinarily fluid in character.  European strategy, whether Hispano or Anglo, could work by building lines of forts, or drawing restrictive boundaries on a map.  Indigenous strategy would respond by trying to swarm its own traders and women around these forts, absorbing them into the tissue of its own life.

Within many areas, indigenous strategy could work by a flexibility between concentration and dispersal.  On the one hand were the people in settled communities, able to organize policy and accumulate resources, but visible to outside control.  On the other were these people's kin -- often the younger members of the community -- who could withdraw into the back-country, seceding from stability but not from kinship, undertaking military actions, sometimes forming new settlements of their own.  While criollo conservatives might exploit the settled communities as captive, pious labor forces, criollos had little access to the bond between indigenous communities and their "bandit" kin.

Over the whole system of grounded networks, and depending on local circumstances, peoples were --

Sometimes, these efforts produced hero-martyrs as famous leaders:  a Nat Turner or an Anastasio Aquino.  But the communities as such were the main thing, whether or not anyone was "planning"  to connect them into networks.

Often enough, these communities competed against each other (much as European nations and merchants also competed among themselves).  This competition mobilized energies that might converge into an American world of their own.

Fragments of activity reached out from separate local conflicts, as if to consolidate some strength that would be independent of landholders and merchants.  This was not network-"building," as in the conscious operations of a modern political organizer.  It was popular network-"growing," and inherently opposed to the pretensions of the "new nations."

The Possible Future

Because these networks were growing against  the counter-pressures of the "control networks" based in criollo society, it is dangerously easy to evaluate them simply by asking what chances they had of resisting the manipulative control from the outside.  But interaction within the whole set of "grounded networks" was converging toward its own kind of larger system, different from what was being fed in by outside controls.  To visualize the grounded-network system, we can bracket out, for a moment, the intrusions of the criollo control system.  People in the control networks were already using special lenses to visualize their own potential: words like "civilization."  What about the other side?

We cannot rely on answers to easy questions about some imaginary history, such as, "What would the Americas have been like if the Aztec and Inca empires had fought off conquest?"  Rather, we are asking, "What social potential was emerging from the American ground, as that ground existed at the beginning of the 19th century?"  Even if that potential was "defeated" over the course of the century,. it embodied large-scale possibilities.

The likely emergent features, from the ways those societies were actually working, were:

This was not an adolescent Utopia waiting in the wings.  It had coercive features of its own, as well as its own freedoms.  It could not have stayed still, any more than criollo society was going to stay frozen in "the stage of early industrial capitalism."  Conceivably, a system of grounded networks might eventually evolve "control" networks of its own

But it was different.

Its internal momentum was flowing toward something that criollos preferred to see disappear.

That is what the Real War was about.


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