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Benito Juárez was born on March 21, 1806, in San Pablo Guelatao, a Zapotec-speaking hamlet in Sierra de Ixtlán (renamed the Sierra de Juárez on July 30, 1857) in Mexico’s southeastern state of Oaxaca. He died in the National Palace on July 18, 1872, as President of the Republic, an office he had occupied since January 1858, when, as President of the Supreme Court, he had succeeded the moderate Liberal Ignacio Comonfort, who had been driven into exile by a Conservative military revolt. During his fifteen years as president, a younger generation of Liberals, few of whom could remember the revolution of Independence (1808–1821), radically transformed Mexico’s laws and institutions. In October 1855, when Juárez was the minister of justice in the newly formed Liberal government, he implemented the “Law of Restriction of Corporate Privileges,” which is credited with setting in motion the wider Reform movement. Between 1855 and 1860, in what was at the time called La Revolución but soon became known as La Reforma (the Reformation), Mexico moved from being a “Catholic Nation,” in which many of the social and racial hierarchies and corporate privileges of colonial rule still held sway, to becoming a secular federal republic regulated by a liberal constitution based on the sovereignty of the people and equality before the law, reducing the legal immunities and special privileges of the army and the Catholic Church and establishing a single system of civil law that guaranteed a wide range of freedoms and social rights. In the face of a Conservative uprising in January 1858, which broadened into the Three Years’ War (1858–1861), Liberals pressed ahead with an ambitious project of religious and civil disentailment (desamortización) that abolished corporate or communal property in favor of individual private ownership. The Liberal revolution was further strengthened in 1859 by the “Laws of Reform,” which ordered the wholesale nationalization of Church wealth and the closure of nunneries and monasteries; barred Roman Catholicism, the national religion until 1857, along with any other religion, from external manifestations of the cult; and established a civil registry and a strict separation of church and state. Conservatives, undeterred by their defeat in the Battle of Calpulalpan, in December 1860, and in spite of Juárez receiving his first full popular mandate in the elections of March 1861, redoubled their resistance to the Reform by encouraging Napoleon III’s colonial ambitions, efforts that culminated in January 1862 in the occupation of Veracruz by forces from France, Britain, and Spain and the imposition of Maximilian Habsburg as emperor in April 1864. Juárez now led the defense of the Liberal republic on two fronts, and he retreated to northern Mexico, from where he coordinated resistance to the Empire. Following the defeat of the Second Empire, which culminated in the execution of Maximilian alongside the principal Conservative generals at Querétaro on June 19, 1867, Juárez returned to the national capital wearing the twin laurels of Liberal law giver and savior of the nation. Although at his death, in 1872, he faced many enemies, especially in the Liberal camp, Juárez soon became enshrined as Liberal Mexico’s undisputed founding father and moral guide, much in the mold of his contemporaries Giuseppe Garibaldi and Abraham Lincoln. Under his leadership, liberalism had become insolubly fused with patriotism in the republican victory over European monarchy—Mexico’s second revolution of independence. La Reforma is recognized as a major watershed in Mexico’s history on a par with the revolution of Independence from Spain and the Revolution of 1910–1917.

Article

Ecuador’s Gabriel García Moreno was one of the preeminent South American conservative politicians of the early national period. His historical notoriety rests in large measure on two seemingly contradictory elements of his administration. First, despite his fervid defense of the prerogatives of the Catholic Church, he embraced a modernization project inspired by liberal notions of progress. Second, his embrace of the Catholic faith flew in the face of the 19th century’s liberal anticlerical tendencies. Hence, nearly all biographies of García Moreno paint him as a villain or a saint. His state formation project transformed the historic relationship between the state and the Catholic Church, making the Catholic faith and the Church an instrument of state formation. Simultaneously, he sought to modernize the country by promoting the construction of roads, a railroad, and telegraph lines that would overcome the topography of the Andes Mountains and unify the country physically. Within Ecuador, debate about his ideas and actions continues to ignite storms of controversy and passionate rhetoric even today.

Article

Monica Duarte Dantas and Roberto Saba

The Sabinada took place between November 1837 and March 1838 in the city of Salvador, province of Bahia, Empire of Brazil. It was a separatist rebellion organized by men of federalist and republican ideals who opposed the conservative turn of the Regency government, which ruled Brazil from the abdication of Dom Pedro I until 1840, when Dom Pedro II—three and a half years before the legal age of 18—was crowned Emperor. The Sabinada, however, was more than a separatist movement organized by a rogue political group. It brought together a myriad of social tensions that had been brewing in Salvador since colonial times. Members of the military, who had seen their standing in Brazilian society rapidly deteriorate since the war of independence, found in the Sabinada an opportunity to reclaim a leading position. Middling sectors of Salvador’s society joined in, with hopes that the movement would give them some voice in a political system otherwise dominated by wealthy planters and merchants. The free poor nurtured similar political hopes and, more importantly, rebelled against a highly unequal economic system that left them in dire straits, facing the constant threat of homelessness and starvation. The slaves did not hesitate to jump into the fray, running away from their masters to join the rebel forces and forcing its leaders to break their initial promise that slavery would not be jeopardized. People of color—slave and free—embraced the Sabinada to exterminate some blatant racial inequality existing in 19th-century Bahia. Brazilians of all colors and social ranks took advantage of the situation to carry out vengeance against foreign nationals, especially the Portuguese, who controlled retail commerce in Salvador. Rebel leaders had to deal with all these different demands at once, and they did so with much improvisation and unexpected turns. Simultaneously, they had to fend off a brutal repression from loyalist authorities and combatants. When the Sabinada exploded, the powerful and rich fled Salvador to Bahia’s sugar-producing region, known as the Recôncavo. There, they received reinforcements from the National Guard and Army battalions from other provinces. Salvador was under siege for most of the rebellion. The rebels had a hard time acquiring the necessary means to wage war and nearly starved to death. When the loyalists finally attacked, they made sure to shed as much rebel blood as possible to make an example. The loyalists killed indiscriminately, burned buildings, suspended civil rights, executed prisoners, and deported rebels. Through this bloodbath, they succeeded in reestablishing the unequal political and social order that had existed in Salvador before.

Article

Barbara Weinstein

A major aspect of Brazilian history is the ongoing significance of regionalism and regional identities. To explore this history, one needs to consider how a particular space becomes a region in the first place, and how certain attributes, human and natural, become associated with that space. Regionalism emerged as a major feature of the political sphere in Brazil during the immediate postcolonial decades as liberal and conservative elites struggled over the degree of provincial autonomy under the empire. This was followed by a period of republican-federalist rule that in some ways increased political autonomy for the individual states, but also allowed certain regions to consolidate their political and economic dominance, which led to an entrenched pattern of highly uneven development. Regionalism becomes the basis for competition over political and material resources, and regional identities were increasingly implicated in debates about tradition and modernity. Regional disparities also become racialized, as prosperity in the southern states became linked with European immigration and whiteness. And even as internal migration accelerated in the period following World War II, migrants continued to bear the “attributes” of the originating region, and in some cases, such as the northeasterners in São Paulo, the experience of migration intensifies the connection with the Nordeste. These disparities produce regional resentments that have fueled regionally based political divisions in national elections in the early 21st century.

Article

Paul Vanderwood and Robert Weis

By revealing the weaknesses of its political system and the fragmentation of its social fabric, Mexico’s devastating loss to the United States in 1848 forced a reexamination of the nation’s very foundation. It also emboldened leaders to redouble efforts to either refashion Mexico into a modern, democratic republic or strengthen colonial-era institutions that had ensured unity and stability despite cultural and regional heterogeneity. Those who hoped to modernize Mexico were the liberals. Their ideas regarding the depth and pace of change varied considerably. But they coalesced around broad principles—democracy, secularism, and capitalism—that, they insisted, would help Mexico overcome the vestiges of colonialism. In pursuit of equality under the law, liberals proposed to dismantle legal privileges for nobles, ecclesiastics, and the military. In order to stimulate the economy, they wanted to force corporate entities, especially the church, to sell their lands to individual owners. Finally, liberals sought to establish the primacy of the state by granting civil leaders authority over the church. Conservatives countered that the liberal program and its exotic ideas constituted an attack on Mexico’s Hispanic Catholic legacy and would only further weaken the nation. It was a chimera, if not demagoguery, to declare the equality of citizens in a society where the masses were illiterate, isolated hamlets who barely spoke Spanish, and residents in the far-flung regions regarded national rule with deep suspicion. Conservatives feared that the liberal program would foster more of the peasant revolts, threats of regional succession, and racial antagonism that had roiled the nation since independence. They wanted to conserve the pillars of order—the military and the Catholic Church—reinstate monarchism, and curtail political participation. Liberals and conservatives vociferously debated these divergent visions in the public forum. But ultimately their differences plunged the country into civil war.

Article

The effort of searching the effects of the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay on the building up of Brazilian national identity challenges the historian with a paradox: why the military victory promotes the fall of the political regime instead of strengthening it. The article tries to deal with some dimensions of this paradox underlining the distinctive characteristics of this war in the ongoing warmongering in the Platine region—the huge numbers of conscripted soldiers (“the Total War”), the hybrid political character of the alliance (Brazilian monarchy and Argentinian Republic), the opposition of most of the conservative classes, and the unveiling of slavery as a strategic weakness for the country—are some of the themes treated in order to explain how the empire lost both the battle of worldwide moral support and the battle of legitimacy inside the country. The massive recruitment coming from all parts of the country could bring the empowerment of ordinary people in the postwar decades, but the monarchical elites took careful steps to ensure that these sectors were quickly demobilized and also not to receive medals and other military honors. The postwar era was one of unfolding of an endemic crisis leading to contest of monarchical institutions. They came from military sectors, but also from regional elites, besides bitter criticism from middle-class intellectuals. Racial arguments filled an outstanding part in this period, leading to the giving prestige of “scientific” racism and the negative diagnosis for the future of a modern nation founded in a racially mixed society.

Article

Will Fowler

Antonio López de Santa Anna (b. Xalapa, February 21, 1794; d. Mexico City, June 21, 1876) was one of the most notorious military caudillos of 19th-century Mexico. He was involved in just about every major event of the early national period and served as president on six different occasions (1833–1835, 1839, 1841–1843, 1843–1844, 1846–1847, and 1853–1855). U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary Waddy Thompson during the 1840s would come to the conclusion that: “No history of his country for that period can be written without constant mention of his name.”1 For much of the 1820s to 1850s he proved immensely popular; the public celebrated him as “Liberator of Veracruz,” the “Founder of the Republic,” and the “Hero of Tampico” who repulsed a Spanish attempt to reconquer Mexico in 1829. Even though he lost his leg defending Veracruz from a French incursion in 1838, many still regarded him as the only general who would be able to save Mexico from the U.S. intervention of 1846–1848. However, Mexicans, eventually, would remember him more for his defeats than his victories. Having won the battle of the Alamo, he lost the battle of San Jacinto which resulted in Texas becoming independent from Mexico in 1836. Although he recovered from this setback, many subsequently blamed him for Mexico’s traumatic defeat in the U.S.-Mexican War, which ended with Mexico ceding half of its territory to the United States. His corruption paired with the fact that he aligned himself with competing factions at different junctures contributed to the accusation that he was an unprincipled opportunist. Moreover, because he authorized the sale of La Mesilla Valley to the United States (in present-day southern Arizona) in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, he was labeled a vendepatrias (“fatherland-seller”). The repressive dictatorship he led donning the title of “His Serene Highness” in 1853–1855, also gave way to him being presented thereafter as a bloodthirsty tyrant, even though his previous terms in office were not dictatorial. Albeit feted as a national hero during much of his lifetime, historians have since depicted Santa Anna as a cynical turncoat, a ruthless dictator, and the traitor who lost the U.S.-Mexican War on purpose. However, recent scholarship has led to a significant revision of this interpretation. The aim of this article is to recast our understanding of Santa Anna and his legacy bearing in mind the latest findings. In the process it demonstrates how important it is to engage with the complexities of the multilayered regional and national contexts of the time in order to understand the politics of Independent Mexico.

Article

Christon I. Archer and Stephen B. Neufeld

By 1821, a decade of bloody warfare had fragmented the viceroyalty of New Spain, divided the population into hostile factions of patriots and royalists, and intensified old hatreds among peninsular, or European-born, Spaniards (gachupines), American-born criollos, the complex racially mixed groups, and the indigenous population. In many regions, the native villagers were angry, resentful, and politically mobilized. The war had taught different segments of the population that mobilization and the effective use of political action—even violence—could address their political demands, their interminable grievances concerning landholding, and their chronic disputes over taxation. These campesino insurgent and guerrilla fighters, many of whom knew little Spanish, fought tenaciously and often successfully for different factions and regions. Although some sought to escape combat and brutal suppression by fleeing into rugged mountains or posing as neutral noncombatants, guerrilla warfare, endemic banditry, and pervasive violence changed the lives of ordinary people. In the cities, large floating populations of vagabonds, gamblers, and petty criminals frequented cockfights, bullfights, and other popular entertainments; loitering in parks and public markets, they made the night extremely dangerous for respectable urban residents. Nevertheless, even as indigenous and mestizo people suffered from the dislocations of war, arbitrary conscription, heavy taxation, and narrow paternalism, some also developed feelings of pride and empowerment that would find new expression in the post-independence decades. By the outbreak of the war with the United States twenty-five years later, Mexico was ill-equipped and unprepared to defend its territory. Its economy was in ruins, its army lacked modern weapons and training, and many of its citizens were unwilling to engage in the defense of a nation that they did not fully comprehend. Others rose to lead the republic in its heroic, but impossible, defense.