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
|Words kept saying what clerks knew how to write. Words never
It worked that way in Michoacán in 1829, when Juan José Codallos issued his pronunciamiento in favor of a federalist political system. But what did "federalism" mean in the defense of indigenous people?But there were other ways to say what people meant. In 1837, when communities throughout Lower Canada were holding "anti-coercion" meetings, to support the Patriot leaders, the government demanded that all officials support moves to ban these "seditious" meetings. Many officials refused. Some did not. Local people insisted that all in the community stand with them -- not just in formal meetings, but as part of daily life. The some who did not were often English-speaking.
French-speaking locals then used country techniques of shame and boycott going back to peasant communities on the other side of the Atlantic. A stubborn farmer would discover one morning that night visitors had clipped the manes and tails of his horses. Others found that no one would perform, for them, the jobs that were part of neighborly exchange. Threats came, to burn barns and houses, and the burnings sometimes happened.Conflict escalated beyond the picturesque. Within a year, communities in Lower Canada were generating militant resistance groups -- the Chasseurs or Hunters' lodges. These extensions from the community were in a position to make, or refuse, connections to the outside world.
That outside was sometimes close at hand. At Kahnawake there was an Iroquois settlement, known to have a small store of arms, including cannon. A delegation of Hunters went to ask that the settlement remain neutral during the struggle between Crown and Patriots. When they also asked the Iroquois turn over the arms to them, they seemed unaware that the request would cause alarm. Instead, the Kahnawake leaders arranged a bloodless ambush, and turned the whole delegation over to British authorities.Peasant resistance there was, and a reaching toward something beyond. But what would that reaching connect to?
Outside these groups, a growing movement of business men and landowners was demanding wider controls over government. The cause was popular. Leaders were recruiting support for their political demands, among the peasants of French Canada and the small farmers of English Canada.
But the government had support, too:
--within Lower Canada, especially from the clergy, who opposed all revolution, and from non-French groups who feared the empowering of a French majorityUp to a point, economic divisions ran along similar lines. Politicians in Britain were sponsoring the British American Land Company, giving it large grants to colonize immigrants in Canada -- much like the grants that liberal governments in Central America were offering to outside companies. Even if liberal leaders in Canada saw those grants as an act of aristocratic privilege, they were themselves landowners and investors, who would hardly fight private property titles, once granted. Some of them in French Canada held "seigneuries" -- the right to collect perpetual dues and rents from land that their predecessors had "sold" to peasants. Some were trying to transform the seigneuries into modern private property, on which they could increase the rents.
-- within Upper Canada, from all those groups who saw British power as a protection against the U.S. presence looming from the south.
These outside or antique privileges were an obstacle at a time when rural populations in eastern Canada were outgrowing the land they could give to their children.
In Lower Canada, peasants wanted more than just freedom from Crown political
control. They wanted to block rent increases, or restrict their economic
obligations to the Church, or keep outsiders from coming in and taking
up land. Some of the local tradesmen who supported the peasants were
English-speaking, but more and more, when peasants threatened to harass
people who did not support their cause, these threats set French-speaking
against English-speaking. Those threatened sought protection, the
government began to mobilize militia units to provide it, the dissidents
organized their own units in response, and the class polarization, now
increasingly "racial," took on military form. As conflict became
harsh and dangerous, some of the wealthier, more cautious French leaders,
such as Papineau, pulled away from the movement.
In the United States, along the northern border, sympathizing adventurers were joined by opportunistic thugs to stage raids over the line. As individuals, they resembled nothing quite so much as the poorly disciplined adventurers, based in New Orleans and then within the Texas Republic, who fed the aggressiveness of Texas policies against Mexicans and Comanches. They showed little interest in the differences between peasant rebellion in Lower Canada and petty liberal demonstrations in Upper Canada.
While the Hunters could rouse verbal grandstanding from politicians in New York and other border states, they never got any help from the U.S. Army or from mainstream politicians in the United States. Washington adhered to its own neutrality laws, and more seriously than it did on the Mexican border. This non-coercive liberal stance worked in silent alliance with the conservative, coercive policies of Canadian authority.
British and Canadian authorities met the rebellions on a broad scale.
Along the border, they struck back at the raiders from the United States,
captured them when they could, and subjected them to the same military
courts as they did domestic rebels. They recruited new loyal militia
units in both Canadas, brought in regular army units from distant posts,
and concentrated the regulars against the resistance in Lower Canada.
By the time the fighting was over, and for some years thereafter, the regular
army presence in Canada was far and away the largest organized military
force anywhere on the continent. (In this it foreshadowed the large
force that Spain was to build up in Cuba in the early 1890s.)
They could signal to neighbors. There were also times when signals could scare people off, which happened when the Chasseurs tried to neutralize the Iroquois at Kahnawake. Loyalist forces in Canada had little difficulty in recruiting companies from among the communities of fugitive slaves who had found a refuge north of border, or from Iroquois bands who had settled there.
Intellectually, the rebels of Lower Canada appealed to the examples of the U.S. and French Revolutions, and even to the possibility getting help from other Indians and other peoples in resistance. In practice, they were more isolated. They had little to do with the Native American population in Canada -- either with the tribes in their own area, or with those in the West, into whose society French voyageurs had married in the earlier years of the fur-trade. They had little contact with the white English-speaking farmers of Upper Canada, or with the communities of fugitive slaves who had begun to migrate into Canada from the United States.
If the habitants had maintained a subsistence, non-market economy on the lands for which they still paid the seigneurs, they would count as an innocent pre-capitalist community. But they were commercial farmers. They raised wheat. They could be hurt by fluctuations in the grain markets. The economic grievances of peasants everywhere gave them a common identity when wider markets exerted pressure on land-titles or on commodity prices. This was a common commitment to reacting against evils.
The habitants had far less share in the community identities that extended over the continent, bound together at the patches between one network and another. Such isolation marked also many of the marginal whites of the United States, so cut off in their racial identity that they had to accept service in the control networks of their day, if they wanted to connect up with the larger world at all.
It is not that such groups were defeated because they struggled in isolation.
They might have been defeated anyway. Their isolation was itself
the great defeat.