Legion are the historians who not only pack their prefaces with a potpourri of gratuities to critical friends, superhuman typists, and martyred wives but also include sober claims upon Jovian detachment and objectivity. It is refreshing, therefore, to read a polemical historian who states bluntly that “mi pluma se ha guiado por el amor que profeso a la nación” (p. 650). Indeed, Carlos María de Bustamante (1774-1848) has made his mark in part by the unabashed vigor of his applause for Mexico’s heroes in the war for independence. His purpose when he began the first edition of the Cuadro histórico in 1823 was frankly patriotic. Fearful that the venture of the Duke of Angoulême into Spain might be attempted in the New World as well, Bustamante recorded the Revolution’s history “para que aleccionados por la esperiencia [los mexicanos] pudieran hacer una defensa vigorosa, y obtener un triunfo completo.” (p. 6) Small wonder that the chiaroscuro of his character sketches reveals the gachupines Venegas and Calleja in deep shadow and Hidalgo and Morelos in dazzling light. Events are likewise interpreted with nationalist intent. The Guanajuato massacre of September 28, 1810, for instance, was the fault of the Spanish defenders who should have realized their impotence before the battle. By their futile resistance to “el curso ràpido de una nación que reclamaba con tanta justicia su libertad” the royalists only prolonged and intensified the bitterness of the struggle (p. 38).
Although the account of Morelos’ escape from Cuautla in 1812 is overdrawn (the author includes his own 106 line ode of praise) and although some readers will be jarred by Bustamante’s pompous Latin epitaphs for fallen freedom fighters, the Cuadro histórico cannot be lightly dismissed. As both the perceptive memoir of an important insurgente and a skillfully edited collection of documents the work deserves republication. A literate criollo lawyer and journalist (he founded the Diario de México in 1805), Bustamante was well equipped to write a narrative history. After he joined Morelos in 1812, Bustamante was no mere cipher in the revolution. He edited briefly two rebel journals, served as Inspector General of Cavalry, and was one of the most active members of the Congress of Chilpancingo. Such proximity to events helped to make Bustamante’s account an historical canvas of major importance. That the anti-insurgent Lucas Alamán should have felt sufficient confidence in the Cuadro histórico to use it as a primary source for his own monumental Historia de México is a strong indication of its value. Futhermore, Bustamante skillfully interlarded his narrative with a multitude of original documents ranging from Michelena’s account of the 1809 Valladolid conspiracy to the official act of the installation of the Chilpancingo Congress in September, 1813.
This first volume of the new edition (which ends in January, 1814), is based on Bustamante’s revised second edition of 1843-1844 into which he incorporated his 1828 volume entitled Las campañas del General. . . Calleja. . .. It is clearly printed except for the reproduction of battle maps. Although an annotated edition with a preliminary study would have been even more welcome, Mexicanists will be pleased to have the Cuadro histórico’s first volume in print again and will anticipate the publication of the remainder.