The First Civil War, 1830-1842
The Grounded Networks
& the Ports
Turner, & Others
War of the South
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
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 Tixtla: less 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
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 mountain areas between Mexico City and either coast
the Maya regions
the Great Plains
the African-American areas of the U.S. Atlantic
the proto-peasant populations of the Antilles
the Florida overlap, between continental
populations and the West Indies
the up-country between the Atlantic and the rivers that flowed into the
St. Lawrence or the Mississippi
the Métis region, west of the Great Lakes
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:
One network consisted of all those legally free people -- indigenous, mestizo,
and African -- who worked as farmers, peasants, and craftsmen, in the former
Spanish colonies. Their religious syncretism was now the model for
a turbulent convergence between village tradition and liberal politics.
A second network, overlapping in coastal areas with the first, and displaying
often a complex religious syncretism of its own, embraced all the black
slaves in that "greater Caribbean" that reached from Trinidad to Missouri,
together with the many black and mulatto ex-slaves who provided slaves
with links to the commercial world. Partly through that commerce,
slaves throughout the system received information about military and political
actions affecting slavery, and shared a more responsive consciousness than
their masters realized.
The third network, much smaller in population than either of the first
two, had not yet lost its political independence. It consisted of
those indigenous and métis peoples who maintained lines of commerce
and personal movement across the interior of the continent. The homes
of this third group extended from Louisiana to the northern Rockies and
the Pacific, from Hudson Bay to Sonora and California. Some, like
many in northern California, lived within narrow territories. But
others, like the Comanches and Utes, conducted their trade and military
operations over long distances. And there were few local groups who
did not have some dealings with these others who reached out farther.
This last, though neither densely populated, nor technologically advanced,
was the core of the whole.
the indigenous and mulatto "peasants" of the former Spanish colonies
the slave and ex-slave communities that extended from Virginia and Florida
to Jamaica and Veracruz
the horse-trading arc, from California through New Mexico and the Plains,
to the Great Lakes
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
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.
producing larger populations
claiming lands that they had lost in earlier generations, or that they
needed to support families
pushing for whatever autonomy they could get, when they were held to agricultural
taking in outside labor, when they needed it
elaborating their own systems of trade and transportation
carrying out newly "old" religious demonstrations
conducting military operations.
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
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
a continent-wide system of juncture points between autonomous regional
a system of trans-shipment from local route to local route, with continuing
renegotiation of transit rights
governmental power fluctuating between the production role of extended
families and the police role of "outlaw" families
the fluctuating reconstitution of police families as productive families
naturalization and migration regulated through conscription into families,
or emancipation from some families into others.
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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