The First Civil War, 1830-1842


Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
The U.S. Indian "Frontier" represented well the second of the two boundary conditions of the control system:  the drawing of lines, so that people could be expelled beyond, or confined within. 

Back of any frontier process worked the force that criollo society exerted, to take land or labor away from other people.  Whites moved into Indian country, and established farms where they lived year-round.  This produced fighting.  The drawing of the property line, or the settlement line, was then designed to make this process less costly in lives for the whites.  Non-whites would then be removed to the other side of the line.  The actual moving could cost many lives for those subjected to it. 

The removal and exclusion, which recurred in many times and places, came to a head toward 1830 as a specific historical event.  Marking one turning-point in the real war, that between popular societies and the control networks,  it cleared the way for the narrower "Civil War" of the 1830s, that between liberal and conservative insiders. 

The parts of this event included: 

This process of concentrating non-whites within restricted boundaries was old.  It went back at least as far as the Spanish policy of reduction (reducción) -- gathering Indians from their scattered settlements, into compact towns where they could be supervised and converted.  It took another form in any plantation-slavery region where blacks had to have passes to move outside the owner's land. As late as the 1890s, it would take the form of concentration camps in Cuba:  campos de reconcentración, where Spanish forces rounded up large parts of the island population, to keep them from helping rebels. 
Antonio López de Santa Anna, himself, demonstrated the continuity of this process when, still a young officer, he was fighting on the royalist side against the Mexican War of Independence.  Part of the time, he operated in his home province of Veracruz, trying to keep Indian settlements in the backcountry from helping the rebels.  Boasting of his success (if such it was), he saw it in grand historical terms: 
"In the year and seven months that I have been working with these people, who were once unyielding enemies to all subordination, I have succeeded in reducing them to a state of living settled together, subjected completely to the society of more civilized people." 
(. . . en el año y siete meses que llevo de estar trabajando con esta gente, antes indómita y enemiga de la sujeción, la haya podido reducir a que viva reunida en poblado y sujeta enteramente a la sociedad de la más civilizada. . .

A Planned Frontier

As of 1821, Mexico had staked out  its independence from Spain, and the United States had won its "2nd War of Independence" from Britain.  On the U.S. side, these conflicts presented politicians with a supposed ethical conflict.  Many people on the frontier, often followers of Andrew Jackson, believed in  expanding their opportunities by any means available, including undeclared war against Indians or neighboring powers.  Respectable politicians -- the people who in Mexico were called hombres de bien -- would pursue the same goals through formal, legalistic measures.  One was the young secretary of war under President Monroe, John C. Calhoun.  While privately censuring Jackson's high-handedness, he bothered more about questions of personal authority than he did about the methods of raid and confiscation.  For his own part, he set about constructing a line of frontier forts along the western border of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.  The land west of Louisiana was Texas, and Mexican.  That just west of Arkansas, the future Oklahoma, was set aside as "Indian Territory."  Everything north and west of that was simply "unorganized" territory, with no legal programs in place for promoting white settlement.  The line of forts came to symbolize a formal division between white and Indian areas.  While some conservative politicians thought that troublesome white settlers should stay east of the line, many indigenous communities north of the Ohio River moved out beyond the line to escape settler pressure.  Jackson and Calhoun alike expected that the remaining indigenous nations southeast of the Ohio would, somehow or other, fall into this movement.

Indian Removal

 The conflict between white-settler energies and "respectable" moderation gathered force at the end of the 1820s.  Cherokees, Creeks, and Choctaws, most of them, were not moving west.  While they retained "tribal" forms, they were becoming a complex of mestizo, indigenous, and black communities, like many in the coastal areas of Mexico.  Some individuals were planters, and owned slaves.  They insisted on regulating economic life within their own communities, even when this conflicted with laws passed by white state legislatures, like that of Georgia.  White missionaries, operating on a paternalistic basis like that of some missionaries in Jamaica, tried to represent the Indian interest by appealing to federal courts, but a favorable Supreme Court decision had no effect on the ground.

Congress decided the question, in a two-part move in 1830.

Implementation of the new law took most of the decade.  The administration in Washington, and settler forces in the southeastern states applied mounting pressure through negotiation and intrusion.  The Choctaws left Mississippi by 1833, while the Chickasaws and the bulk of the remaining Cherokees left the East in 1837 and 1838.  In these moves, which produced little actual fighting then, the U.S. Army acted as a police force to evict and escort.  A bureaucratic organization, with many anti-Jacksonians among higher officers, it acted cautiously than settlers like, but did obey orders.  In any case, local harassment and the sufferings of the trek were also a major military pressure -- just as had been, in California, the mission living conditions that corroded the survival of indigenous families.  Aside from the thousands who died of disease or exposure, population was hit hard by household disruption and infant mortality.  Among the Cherokees alone, the numbers lost would have made a major army in any North American war of the period.

Deposing Guerrero

The southern part of the State of Mexico, embracing the hills and valleys back of Acapulco and the Costa Grande, would not be set off as a separate state, called Guerrero, for another 20 years.  During the closing years of the war for Mexican independence, it stood out as the source of indigenous and mulatto guerrilla fighters, with whom hombres de bien had to reach some kind of understanding in order to consolidate a national movement.  Chief among these regional fighters was Vicente Guerrero.  In one way, he and Juan Álvarez resembled Andrew Jackson:  they were derided, for their crudity and poor education, by proper politicians like Lucas Alamán and John Quincy Adams, and by the kinds of people, in any society, who would scorn Indians for imitating white cultural traits.  If such a figure resisted advice, he was labeled stubborn.  If he accepted advice, he was considered weak and dependent.

In the early years of the Mexican independence, when the Republic was led by a three-man executive, instead of a President, Guerrero was sometimes included as the required radical or Indian in the triad.  In 1827, when the old guerrilla fighter Guadalupe Victoria was President, and the conservative Nicolás Bravo was vice-president, leading a revolt against Victoria, Guerrero took the field to suppress the revolt.

Guerrero became the populist candidate for President in 1828.  His opponent, Manuel Gómez Pedraza, had strong support among conservatives, among the moderate liberals who called themselves imparciales, and among the many generals who had fought on the royal side during the war of independence. .  Each state had one vote for President, cast by the legislature.  Guerrero lost, by 11 states to 9. Conservatives like Alamán thought that direct election, with popular participation, was disorderly and corrupt, but they were ready to insist that indirect election expressed the will of the people.

But the forces friendly to Guerrero were strong in Congress, and Gómez Pedraza had personal enemies dating to rivalries within the army.  One of these was Santa Anna, in Veracruz. In the capital, Lorenzo Zavala led rebel soldiers seizing the garrison and ammunition depot known as the Acordada. With that, rioting crowds turned out to sack the Parián, the commercial center where many Spanish merchants had their stores.  Destruction was massive. Some people were killed. Frightened and under pressure, the Congress recounted the votes, and declared Guerrero elected.

He took office in an atmosphere dominated by fear.  His administration had little of the social consensus that would vote the taxes needed just to support the army and pay creditors.  Its strongest military support came from provincial leaders, like Santa Anna and Álvarez, who had not demonstrated any reliable energy in the capital.

The mix of conservatives and moderate liberals, who together had defeated Guerrero in the 1828 election, was still strong in Congress, and in "respectable" public opinion.  Stories circulated about the president's naive or immoral behavior. Resistance grew against those cabinet members who had supported the revolution in favor of Guerrero, and especially against the liberal Lorenzo Zavala.  But Zavala, at the same time, was busy conducting a conspiratorial correspondence with Santa Anna, in which they derided Guerrero's failings, and flattered each other.

The most dangerous among Guerrero's friends was his vice president, Anastasio Bustamante, one of the most conservative of supposed liberals.  He had not only fought in the royal armies against independence, until the last moment and the Plan de Iguala; he had also defended Iturbide as emperor, long after the republican victory was certain.  Now, while Santa Anna was fighting a short-lived Spanish invasion force at Tampico, Bustamante had command of a reserve army, stationed in the upcountry back of Veracruz.  In December of 1829, the commanders of this army went into opposition against Guerrero.  Most of the army units in the capital joined the rebellion, and attacked the presidential palace at a time when Guerrero was away.  While the ladies of the capital watched the attack from their balconies, a few people were killed, and the palace surrendered.  Santa Anna protested, briefly, that he would defend Guerrero's claim. Then, seeing that almost all other Army leaders were lining up behind Bustamante, he found excuses to back down.   Guerrero, insisting then that he had no desire to spill Mexican blood on his personal account, simply folded camp and went home to Tixtla in the south.

The removal of Guerrero seemed to have been settled cleanly and efficiently, like the voting in the U.S. Congress for the Indian Removal Act.  But victims, everywhere, refused to play dead quickly. The result in Mexico was the next, bloody stage in the removal strategy: the War of the South. The decisive act in the whole removal event would take place as part of this War, on February 14, 1831.

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