The First Civil War, 1830-1842

Puebla & Charleston

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 
While Bustamante and Santa Anna fought one bloody battle after another, President Andrew Jackson was engaged in an equally passionate conflict with the state of South Carolina, over the tariff.  At the height of the U.S. crisis, though, Jackson went out of his way to avoid unnecessary armed conflict. 
There had been some federal troops stationed at The Citadel, in Charleston, which was South Carolina state property.  These he withdrew to federal property -- that is, to island or coast positions around the harbor which were physically secure.  He was relying on a physical situation like that in Santa Anna's Veracruz, where Spanish forces had once clung to the harbor fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, for four years after all other Spanish forces withdrew from the newly-independent Mexico. 
In Washington and in Mexico City, votes were counted early in 1833.  In each case, and as understood on all sides, the results had been arranged ahead of time, in conferences designed to head off the danger of deep conflict.  The result, in both countries: 
Conservatives, who feared popular unrest, backed off from their own political initiatives, accepting by default the leadership of a politician general who would exercise authority, even if he seemed open to liberal modernization.
The two cases did have a different look -- 
  • in Mexico, a transition from armed battle to new presidential elections, through the Convention of Zavaleta;
  • in the United States, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which permitted Jackson and South Carolina to back down from armed confrontation.
In substance, there was less difference.  In each, a coalition of business and "frontier" interests was agreeing not to push its advantage to an extreme, instead leaving conservatives with some scope to exercise social discipline. 

This was a single, continental process of compromise, since the interests confronting each other were largely alike in the two countries, whatever the differences of language, religion, or legal system.  Almost every feature of one society had its parallel in the other.  The greatest imbalance was the lack of any aggressive new industry in Mexico. 

For the time being, it actually looked as if that Civil War was over.  It was not -- not even for that decade.  

For the time, too, it looked as if both countries were open to liberal modernization.  Mexico was not.  The United States might not be.


To Puebla and Zavaleta: Politics by Other Means

The people who backed Vicente Guerrero for President, and supported counting him in against Gómez Pedraza, seemed to form a ready-made coalition after Guerrero was deposed and executed.  Some of them fought under Santa Anna, after he declared against Bustamante in January of 1833..  Soon, many were fighting less for Guerrero's memory than simply against Bustamante.  Others, like the rising silver interests of Zacatecas, were fighting more to present their own claims to be new-style political leaders.  Many, to build a moderate cause, called to reinstate Manuel Gómez Pedraza in the presidential term that he had never begun.  Gómez Pedraza, in exile off in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, would be willing.

What was required, after the defeats the rebels suffered at Tolomé and El Gallinero, was enough in the way of victories to force a bargain with Bustamante.  These Santa Anna provided.

After Tolomé, he retired into Veracruz, where he proceeded to recruit an entirely new force -- acting on his personal popularity in his home country, and in any case by emptying the jails, mobilizing the dock-workers and the foreign adventurers of the port, and decreeing a draft out of all men between 18 and 70.

The line to Veracruz was vital to the revenues and survival of any government in Mexico City.  But there were and are two main routes from Veracruz to the capital:  one through Jalapa, which Facio held for Bustamante, and a more southern route through Orizaba.  Both met near Puebla before heading toward the capital.

Santa Anna moved his new forces to Orizaba, where he had a further choice between two local passes that led up to the plateau and the main road to Puebla.

Santa Anna took Puebla, moved on toward Mexico City, and laid a loose siege around the forces that Bustamante had left there.  Bustamante's only chance now was to repeat what he had accomplished at San Miguel Allende.  He brought his forces back from the north, skirmished with Santa Anna's forces near Mexico City, then by-passed the capital and moved to attack the rebel guard units left in Puebla.  He aimed to break Santa Anna's lines back to Veracruz.

Gómez Pedraza, back in the country from his exile in Pennsylvania, had charge of the rebel force in Puebla, but with too little strength to be sure of defending the position.  The result was a race between Santa Anna's army and Bustamante's, to see which could get back to Puebla first.  Santa Anna made it, barely, and a bloody battle developed.  Bustamante, though he held his ground, suffered heavy casualties and was pinned on the outskirts of Puebla at a time when Moctezuma was bringing in new rebel troops from the north.

 Bustamante had "lost," but both armies were still in being.  This situation determined the political settlement, the Convention signed in December at the hacienda of Zavaleta, near Puebla:

The result:  a renovated "liberal" government, resting on an Army that was half liberal and half conservative.


From Charleston to Washington:  War by Other Means

While Mexico was fighting its Civil War, the United States engaged in brinksmanship over the same struggle between conservatives and liberals.  In the U.S. conflict, each of the opposing forces was a regional alliance: Andrew Jackson's Southwest belonged to both camps.

While neither force could state all of its concerns in terms of any one government program, the immediate struggle was acted out in the language of tariff legislation.

The serious bargain here was less that between Jackson and South Carolina, than between liberal and managerial ideas on economic policy.  The manufacturing interests of the Northeast, who had earlier wanted high tariffs to protect their "infant" industries, were growing strong enough that many no longer needed much protection; they simply wanted an expanding, prosperous market in which to sell goods.  Slaveowners wanted federal soldiers in reserve, either to discipline rebellious slaves, or to clear Indians from lands to which surplus slaves might be sold.  Lower duties in some future, especially when combined with Jackson's interest in opening up new lands, gave neither side any difficulty.

With this exchange of moves, the crisis passed. The new tariff was carried out in Charleston, as in all other ports, without force.  South Carolina's ordinance to nullify  the Force Act did not come into play.

 War and Politics in Parallel

As realistic prophecy, the pacific outcome in South Carolina said less about the future than did Jackson's violent words. Arrogant violence, natural enough in a slaveowner, would come to the fore after 1860.  Now it was displayed more openly in Mexico's Civil War than in the dance around Nullification.  The criollo factional stance at the beginning of the 1830s had two aspects:  the legalistic, claimed by Jackson, the supposed man of action; and the forceful, represented by Santa Anna, the supposed opportunist.  The crisis was a single one, across national lines.
Mexico Social interest type United States
Hacendados, at their core those of the central plateau Landed interest Planters, at their conservative core those of South Carolina
Indigenous & mulatto campesinos Rural workers Slaves; poorest whites without land
New rancheros; "rich Indians"; city intellectuals Upwardly mobile Farmers able to take up western land; new businesses & factories
Veracruz; western ports Import interests Older New York & Boston
Older textile workshops Industry, vulnerable Smaller & "family"-style mills
Industry, stronger Expanding factories of New England & Middle States
Church & hacendados as credit source Traditional credit interests Planters & local merchants as credit source
Guanajuato & silver interests badly damaged in Wars of Independence Establishment money Bank of the United States; older state-chartered banks
Zacatecas & smaller silver mines, recovering from earlier damage New money Newer state banks; silver importers; "Wall Street"
Both Jackson and Santa Anna, though large-scale landowners, championed rising, "new" men in the society.  These "new men" included pushy new military officers in Mexico, out to profit from government patronage, as well as those U.S. factory-owners who needed government tariff support to get the profit level they wanted from their "infant industries."  When Jackson defended the tariff of 1832 against the Nullifiers of South Carolina, he was not interested in industry as such, and certainly not in "big government," but rather in the kind of national government that helped conquer Indian lands for his own political clients, the farmers of the Southwest.  To his enemies, those clients were the same kinds of people who hogged at the political trough to get other government favors -- that is, like the new officers who tagged after Santa Anna, in a distressing  "empleomania,"  garnering promotions and higher salaries after every revolution. The 1833 political compromise in each country made concessions to both the old-line conservatives and the new-style opportunity-seekers.  But the directions of compromise took different directions in the two countries when it came to the economic question. There was little on the Mexican scene comparable to the rising industrial interests with whom Jackson could act in tacit alliance.  Some of the stronger interests of the Northeast, while they might accept tariff benefits, did not really need the tariff in order to survive, and would even benefit if their weaker competitors failed for lack of tariff aid.   

The crises in the two countries followed the same general timing because pressures from the world economy were subjecting conservatives everywhere to problems about control over trade and communications, as well as over labor..  Landholder forces, even when they enjoyed a seaport capital, as at Charleston, were everywhere pushed to demonstrate that they could break the liberal, commercial hold over communication lines to the outside world.  South Carolina Nullifiers mounted an aggressive attack in the realm of intellectual, legal communication, just as Bustamante mounted aggressive military campaigns against physical lines of communication.

The crises  were the "same," too, because pressures to compromise these problems were drawing military leaders everywhere to line up on the side of consensus & "order."  Santa Anna simply took a little longer to clarify his shift from a liberal to a conservative position.

Both Jackson and Santa Anna found ways to signal conservative landowners their support for keeping control over non-whites.  Jackson did it by saying publicly that South Carolina should not attack a national government whose help they might need in putting down slaves.  Santa Anna had made the point in 1829, by backing down on his promise to defend Vicente Guerrero.  Earlier, of course, each of them had fought against Indian resisters and "rebels." The neutralization of the Álvarez-Bravo tension in Mexico, after the War of the South, played the same role as Jackson's warning to South Carolinians:  neither liberals nor conservatives, at this stage in their fight against each other, were eager to mobilize the "outsider" populations of their countries as participants in civil war.

Through all this civil war of 1832, the manner of the fighting -- whether in tactics or in personal relations -- never contradicted the underlying strategic structure of the conflict.  The operational goals of the landholder block depended on being able to circumvent and lop off, one by one, the efforts that enemy expeditions made to penetrate from periphery to interior.  Because of the rashness, inexperience, and poor coordination of the peripheral forces, the interior almost won.  But Santa Anna showed that he could learn, not only from the battles of the War of Independence, and from his own failure at Tolomé, but also from Moctezuma's at El Gallinero.  After his victory at Palmar, his army became the strategically central, even "conservative" force, leaving Bustamante's hapless units to operate on exterior lines.  Bustamante had dealt successfully with Moctezuma's rather callow "middle-class" horde at El Gallinero.  To cut Santa Anna's communications, he would have needed to recruit village-based guerrilla forces -- that is, achieve something of the conservative-indigenous alliance that was one of the potential social groupings in the shifting conflicts of the continent.  For this Bustamante could not offer -- or at least did not -- the plausible paternalism that other forces were to achieve over the next few years, in both Mexico and Guatemala.

[Detail map, as note to map (2) above]


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