CW-1:

THE FIRST CIVIL WAR, 1830-1842

WHAT THEY CALLED "CIVIL WAR": 
Popular Reaction

 
Overview 
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
As the "Civil War" of the 1830s ground on, communities throughout the continent reacted, sought their own alliances, and counter-attacked.  Their effort questioned the security of the liberal/conservative compromise. 

In New Mexico, in 1837, one detail said it: rebels forced the priest at Santa Cruz de La Cañada to carry out burials within the church building. This flew in the face of one "modern" regulation where the Church agreed with liberals.  Both sides of criollo society would suppress disorderly popular practices that threatened public health. 

A new governor, Albino Pérez, had arrived from central Mexico in 1835, one of the right-wing army officers with whom Santa Anna was establishing new ties.  After Santa Anna's defeat in Texas, the group stayed in power, drafting a constitution that would tighten administration and tax-collecting, and impose severe property qualifications on political participation.  By the spring of 1837, Pérez the administrator was running into resistance from all the informalities and networking of local society.  In July, he adopted a quick, high-pressure time-table for the complete restructuring of the regional political system. 

Against that, the territory now exploded.  In the town of La Cañada, between Santa Fe and Taos, a quarrel over customs debts were already escalating. Some of those involved met, organized what they called a "Canton," and disowned the governor's authority.  Others joined: farmers, men who traded and hunted out to the Plains, Indians from the Pueblos.  They were against new taxes.  They were against paying fees for church ceremonies that were necessary for ordinary life, such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals.  They wanted to have their dead buried within church buildings, not planted in some dirt to satisfy sanitary regulations.  And they wanted local self-rule. 

The governor set off from Santa Fe, with a few soldiers, to confront the rebels.  They met him in force at La Mesilla, defeated him, forced him to flee, caught up with him, and killed him. 

More effective opposition to the revolt came from people who had enjoyed influence in the old New Mexico, people who had also criticized Pérez.  One wealthy trader and sheep-rancher, Manuel Armijo, offered himself as the provisional head of a legitimate government. With support from some soldiers, he moved back in. The rebels were put to flight. Their leaders were beheaded or shot.  The central government then endorssed Armijo, and he became the regular governor. 

In that post, he adapted policies to the needs of the moment.  He adjusted frontier duties in order to promote official income, without blocking necessary imports.  He was accused of selling guns to neighboring Indians.  In 1841 he rejected a demand from General Mariano Arista to join a military campaign against the Comanches -- with whom New Mexicans traded. 

Through it all, Armijo cooperated with a multinational array of  notables to whom he granted broad expanses of land:  some Canadians, several Mexicans, indirectly some U.S. citizens who were married into local society.  He appeared corrupt.  But few of the grantees moved quickly to plant ranches or families on their new lands.  Armijo was a buffer between criollo society and the informal regime of the interior

New Mexico was not the only reaction point.  People were rising in many areas where grounded networks had long been active: 

 The Continuing Core

While it was unlikely that Apaches, Comanches, and Seminoles would win simultaneous, aggressive victories over their settler enemies, their wars gave force to the diffuse network of connections among the peoples of the continent.

Up through the late 1830s, the terms of trade over much of the Plains network were settled by hostile encounters between peoples who were sometimes outright rivals, like the Lakotas and Arikaras, but sometimes actually exchange partners, like the Cheyennes and Comanches.  At the same time, any people needed allies.  The Cheyennes formed close bonds with the Arapahos in their immediate vicinity, and looser arrangements with the large Lakota group to their north.  The Comanches took as allies both the Kiowas and the Plains Apaches.

And the situation was inducing people on both sides to put out feelers for peace.  Both groups traded at Bent's Fort, where they were exposed to alien notions about businesslike trade.  Outside commerce also brought new waves of disease, and smallpox hit the Kiowas in 1839.  Then, early in 1840, the contrast between Texan and Comanche ideas of negotiation came to a bloody head in San Antonio. The subject was captive-taking, which to the Comanches was a normal way to recruit labor.  Just as Seminoles in 1837 resisted giving up runaway slaves, so Comanche leaders in 1840 believed that their captives were a matter for pragmatic social policy. Chiefs from the southern Comanches came in to San Antonio to deal, thinking to bargain.  The Texans assumed that there was no thinkable outcome except returning all captives to their original families.  As the impasse became clear, the Texans took the chiefs hostage, a fight broke out, and much of this southern Comanche leadership was killed.

The Comanches as a whole had two possible responses, neither of which involved retreat from criollo society.  They took both.

One course was to continue and intensity the southward raids by which they accumulated capital and labor.  Some Comanches, who were in a position to retaliate directly for the San Antonio fight, staged raids deep into Texas, all the way to the coast between Corpus Christi and Galveston.  Others raided farther and more heavily than ever before south of the Rio Grande.  Every winter now, as they migrated away from the cold of the high Plains, they reached staging areas from which they struck south into Tamaulipas or Chihuahua or Durango.  When they penetrated south of the Rio Grande, they recruited occasional support from some locals (dismissed in Mexico as bandits).  Moving unobserved through desert areas and mountain valleys, they struck easily at isolated ranches and small settlements, killing herders, taking women and children captive.  The raiders, by attacking horse and cattle herds, drained haciendas of working capital and sent many hacienda workers fleeing to safer areas.  Comanche bands, far from accepting some inevitable defeat by criollo society, were insisting that the labor and movable capital of the area should be tributary to a network of decentralized societies that was growing out of the logic of migratory herding.
 
At the same time, northern Comanche bands took the second course, protecting all Comanches by broadening the range of trade and negotiation with Cheyennes and other peoples of the central Plains. Over 1840, the major alliance groups of the area made their formal peace.
This gathering of energies on the Plains coincided with a sharp increase in local resistance activity in the south --  all down the Gulf Coast of Mexico, and in the upland areas from Michoacán to Guatemala.  Sometimes these were risings by groups on the popular edge of liberal politics.  Sometimes they carried popular hostility against intrusive liberal policies. Criollo leaders feared that "race war" would erode the safe boundaries around the criollo political process.
 

The Course of Popular Reaction

Even as the liberal/conservative Civil War was winding down, the grounded networks of the continent were reacting to it, producing a new, intensified statement of the culture that had long been emerging from their life.
 
Some of these reactions came to operate under a conservative label: Others picked up a liberal label, or accepted support from forces based in the United States: Everywhere, the action on the ground frightened both liberals and conservatives, presenting an autonomous force:  

Strategic Evaluations

The indigenous/popular push failed in some areas:  Florida, Canada.  It succeeded, for a time, in others: Guatemala, parts of the Plains, the British West Indies.  In the areas of its success, it created a strategic potential that was articulated in different ways by John Quincy Adams, by José Antonio Martínez, and by that "non-intellectual" Rafael Carrera. A broadening of these strategic areas would have produced, not an indigenous/popular "state," which would have been a modern abstraction, but a fuller version of the networks that were constantly evolving.  The materials were there, in regions of community life, and in the interlacing between peasant hope and herder communication.  Indigenous leaders, far from limited to village horizons, saw the potential on a regional level:  Mexican army informants reported that "commissions" of Indians were traveling from region to region in the 1840s, trying to coordinate the risings in Tehuantepec, Yucatán, Oaxaca, and Guerrero.

One testing point lay, to the north, with the question of policy toward the Comanches.  These bands were on fair commercial terms both with New Mexicans to the west and Anglo traders to the east.  They conducted increasing raids against other groups to the south, whether Anglo-Texans to the southeast or Chihuahuans and other Mexicans to the southwest; and they might conceivably concentrate those raids in one direction or the other.  They had earlier maintained a protracted alliance with Spanish officials against the Apaches.  These officials had seen the Comanches as a barrier, too, against French or Anglo intrusion.

Mexican-Indian alliance failed to materialize.  For one thing, Mexican criollos then did not have enough, both that they could give to indigenous peoples, and that they were willing to give.  Criollo Mexico was "land-poor," fearful, and ungenerous.  Conservative talk of defending "communal" values, whether indigenous or ecclesiastical, was a sentimental gesture.  To conservatives just as much as to liberals, the raiders were bárbaros to be resisted, not allies to be armed.  Realistically, resistance to liberal expansion would have required that a military colonization policy in northern Mexico work in alliance with a Comanche dynamic, redirecting action eastward, presenting together an expansive force strong enough to counter Anglo settlement.  This never happened.  Mexican failure to support the Comanches was in the same class with the earlier British failure to support Tecumseh.  Intellectually, Mexican conservatives appreciated the logic of the Adams diagnosis.  As an internal political matter, though, they never understood how to work with Indians who were not dutiful peasants.

The successes in Guatemala and New Mexico emerged from the building of networks for trade and protection.  Carrera's raids provided support for Indian actions against liberal policy.  When he took over as ruler, this pattern continued into the way he heard complaints, on which he would (often) compel legislative or judicial action.  New Mexico's markets and churches provided a center from which lines of support and exchange could extend for hundreds or even thousands of miles -- from the Cheyenne country of northern Colorado, out to the coast range between the San Joaquin valley and the Pacific.  Río Arriba, as long as it was free to work out local relationships on its own, was a creative regional capital to which people like the Comanches had access, even as they were mounting raids deeper into other parts of Mexico.
 
The fact of conservative alliance, in some areas, has left a misleading impression for later generations: that the actions of indigenous and popular societies were only a self-defense by backward-looking communities.  This has contributed to the myth that the only "progressive" thing such communities could do would be to give up and become proletarians within an advancing industrial society.

In contrast, these communities had long been generating the links of an alternative political and economic system, with its own centers and its own projects.  The "reactive" popular battles of the late 1830s embodied the strength of that older, autonomous drive.
 



 
 References:
  • Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837 (1985)
  • Peter John Powell, People of the Sacred Mountain (1981)
  • David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: the American Southwest under Mexico (1982)
  • Cecilia Méndez Gastelumendi, "Pactos sin tributo. Caudillos y campesinos en el Perú postindependiente: el caso de Ayacucho," in Leticia Reina, coord., La reindianización de América, siglo XIX (1997)
  • Heraclio Bonilla, "The Indian Peasantry and 'Peru' during the War with Chile," in Steve J. Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18th to 20th Centuries (1987)
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