The First Civil War, 1830-1842

Joel Roberts Poinsett

Real War 
    Grounded Networks 
    Control Networks 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
      J.R. Poinsett  
      Levi Woodbury  
      Francisco Morazán  
      V. Gómez Farías   
      Wm. Lyon Mackenzie  
   Conservative Demagogues 
      Andrew Jackson  
      A. L. de Santa Anna 
   Fight Scenes  
      El Gallinero  
      Puebla & Charleston   
      Guanajuato & Bravo  
      Loot & development  
      Texas & Florida  
  Grounded Reaction 
      Guatemala & Carrera  
      Lower Canada  
      The Huasteca, & North  
      The Costa Grande   
Outcomes, and Vision
They accused Poinsett of organizing a party to interfere in Mexican domestic politics.  Of course he did.  That was his object, wherever he went in the New World:  to throw his weight on the side of what he considered to be popular government, against the forces of "aristocracy," against any English and Spanish influence that would block U.S. interests.  When he went to Mexico in 1825, as U.S. minister, he found democratic elements on the scene, but they seemed to be fragmented and badly organized, struggling to use lodge organization as a means of mutual support.  He lent them an ear, gave them advice, helped them connect up their organizations to the York-rite lodges out of Pennsylvania, and told himself that he was helping people who would make Mexico more like the United States.  To explain this goal, he listed the causes of U.S. prosperity, centering on the essentials of political and economic liberalism: 
  • liberal Institutions ably and faithfully administered
  • the liberty every man enjoys, to employ his time and his means, to the improvement of his own fortune, without the intervention of Government.
  • But then he elaborated with formulas that were designed to make equality and democracy safe for society: 

  • a rigid adherence to the Constitution
  • a perfect devotion to the will of the people, constitutionally expressed
  • a strict and impartial administration of justice
  • the equality of all in the eye of the law
  • the universal elective franchise, which elevates the character of the mass of the people
  • and last not least, the abundant and cheap means of education which render the people capable of self Government.
Democracy yes, freedom yes, but also law, strictness, and education for character.  Good "administration," but no "Government."
Poinsett's Mexican associates were people like Vicente Guerrero, and the politician Lorenzo Zavala (who tried to act as an intellectual power in the Guerrero camp).  His enemies, those who accused him of interfering in ways improper for a foreigner, ran to the likes of Nicolás Bravo, Manuel Gómez Pedraza, and a host of patriot journalists.  They accused him of some things that were completely true, other things that were somewhat true but not in the demonic way they pictured, and other things that were the complete opposite of his real intentions.  They did not hit the point on which he was most guilty: that he was a conservative slaveowner.  Many of them, after all, were conservatives, of a kind common in Mexican society.
The true: The somewhat true: But the false: The opposition between "organic society" and "competitive society" was real.  It was also oversimplified in the debates of the day.  Many conservative leaders -- hacendados, planters, or authoritarian generals -- were greedy, ruthless competitors within the economy as they knew it.    Many liberals, such as independent merchants and farmers, were quite ready to impose authority on labor.  Individuals moved between the two extremes, within Mexico, as also within the United States.  The flux included, among other things, the competition among British, French, and U.S. merchant interests in Mexico.  Movement away from the "organic" was already at work, before Poinsett arrived, and separate from anything he did.

A potential new "class" was growing up, across national lines:  a network of middling editors, professionals,
tradesmen, small landowners, and city workers, together with larger-scale operators who thought that they could benefit from a new party.  Some individuals within this network gave genuine allegiance to an ideal of political democracy.

This network opened further possibilities.

Here the Cuba question revealed the deepest flaw in Poinsett's liberalism.  He knew that Mexico and Colombia, in themselves, had hardly the forces to defeat Spanish arms in the island.  The forces that they did command might have little means for organizing internal resistance there.  Still, that is what Poinsett feared:  "What I most dread is that the blacks may be armed and used as auxiliaries by one or both parties." In 1822, just before he left for a first visit to Mexico, he served on a special court in Charleston, which sat on the cases of people taken up in the Denmark Vesey slave plot. It put 37 to death.
This limit on liberalism is also a limit on any "liberal" interpretation of the events in Poinsett's later life:


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