WHAT THEY CALLED "CIVIL WAR"
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
|The "Civil War" of the 1830s, fought in Mexico, and feared
in the United States, was a clash between liberal and conservative factions.
Both sides had the capability to field militias and even European-style armies.
The very similarity between the "opposing" sides, within each region, led
them into bitterness and blood. It also showed them a way out, into
compromise and hypocrisy. In all that, this First Civil War was not
too different from the second round of Civil Wars, those of the 1860s.
A single tactical detail can point up the unity over time. Early in 1863, after the U.S. Army in Virginia met disaster in the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Ambrose Burnside tried to retrieve its honor by sending it off on a midwinter attack toward Confederate lines. This operation turned into the humiliating, much-lampooned "Mud March." It revealed, not just the folly of one commander, but the limits of modern, sophisticated military technique. It would be necessary to study brilliancy less, and reality more. Ideals suffered, too, since the Mud March coincided with the first steps in the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation.
So it was also, thirty years earlier, when Antonio López de Santa Anna undertook the military campaign that coincided with his vice-president's political campaign to secularize the California missions. In this1833 case, the weather challenge came from mid-summer rain, not mid-winter. But it still meant mud up to the hip, and a hundred miles from Querétaro to Guanajuato, where conservative rebels thought they had a strong defensive position.
And more: cholera , which had hit European cities the year before, and had hit Winfield Scott's little force near the Great Lakes, now struck both Santa Anna's army (4000) and the conservative rebel forces (3000). In the first wave of disease, Santa Anna lost half his men. He had to fall back on Querétaro to regroup. Much then depended on who had the power to summon up new men, and new morale.
This was the confrontation fought out through that campaign, and other campaigns to follow. Many of the battles were brutally serious. Others were so much armed negotiation at the expense of soldier lives. At times it all began to look phony, because --
Through mud and disease, and factional squabbling, the forces in this First
Civil War moved toward some resolution. Because they were acting out
pressure from deep within the social forces around them then, they were already
the balance of forces that would emerge after the wars of the 1860s.
Santa Anna's Guanajuato March of 1833 was a model for the problems of Reconstruction
in the United States of 1873.
Up to a point, this was little more than what sane conservatives admitted as part of keeping their system flexible. Beyond some point, though, the liberal program threatened to put new people into control, with new economic interests and new ideas. Many conservatives feared that the program was a threat to all social order.The criollo class had achieved independence for its component nations, as against the mother countries. It then had to confront the spirit of centralism within itself: the Federalists and later Whigs in the United States; the Iturbide party and later anti-"federalists" in Mexico. These believers in strong government were trying to channel strength from the "backward" core of the continent toward its "civilized" rim. The economic network on which they relied existed without distinctions of party, and without politicians taking much trouble to strengthen and service its connections.
Atlantic society could survive on the strength of its somewhat free trade, whether in ideas or commodities. Serious centralists feared that such trade would leave power in the hands of local caudillos and landholders, without enough concentration of capital to promote investment and culture. To block this social dispersion, conservatives wanted to strengthen religion, the military, central government, and any concentrations of wealth. In all parts of the continent, conflict emerged, between policies of dispersion and policies of concentration.
Conflicts between "old" property and "new" property, combined with
differences of political creed, made it look as if the continent would spiral
downward into a great transnational war between liberals and conservatives.
Newspapers and mainstream histories long took this widespread conflict as
the struggle they should talk about: the Santa-Anna wars in Mexico,
the Nullification Controversy in the United States, Mackenzie's rebellion
in Canada, the Morazán movement in Central America. Subscribers wanted
to hear about conflicts within their own class.
The conflict was being turned into a three-way fight, between old property, new property, and outsiders -- roughly, between conservatives, liberals, and non-whites. This made possible three different kinds of alliance, depending on which party was left out as the enemy. All three patterns did appear, at one time or another, and the choices of alliance partner were unstable:
- Conservatives might ally with indigenous protest, against the upwardly mobile -- as in Guatemala.
- Conservatives might reconcile themselves to cooperating with the upwardly mobile, as in the racial solidarity of the U.S. South.
- Indigenous communities, interested in local autonomy, could make common cause with upwardly-mobile white and mestizo groups -- which happened for a time in the popular political liberalism of Mexico.
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