Modern Mexican history can be and has been viewed as a continuing liberal struggle of epic proportions against the forces of political reaction, social privilege, and economic exploitation. In no Latin American country has ideological conflict, revolutionary fervor, and open civil strife been so intense as in Mexico since 1810. The Mexican experience forms the exception to the common generalization that the independence movements in Latin America were Creole efforts, devoid of social content, and aimed at mere political independence from Spain. The Reforma of mid-century has affected our entire view of liberalism in the rest of Latin America. Similarly, the Mexican experience has provided the basic point of departure for considering the revolutionary changes of the twentieth century.

Yet the very dramatic and heroic quality of this continuing struggle, culminating in the great Revolution, has made a critical analysis and assessment of nineteenth-century liberalism difficult. Besides this entanglement of liberalism with the Mexican revolutionary tradition, there is a tendency to associate the liberal movement with the unfolding of national ideals. The equation liberalismo-patria has distracted us from a dispassionate consideration of the nineteenth century.

If we are to avoid these pitfalls and view liberalism other than as a chronicle of progress toward fulfillment of national and revolutionary ideals, it is necessary to identify Mexican liberal thought and policy within the context of what R. R. Palmer calls Atlantic Civilization. My chief concern is not to trace foreign influences in Mexico, but rather to seek out some affinities of structure between European society, politics, and thought, and those of Mexico.


If we may abstract the composite liberal program at mid-century, we find that it included two conflicting objectives.1 On the one hand there was the basic drive to free the individual from the shackles which bound him under the Spanish system. The liberties of the individual must be guaranteed against irresponsible power : thus, freedom of the press, speech, and even worship were of great significance. Federalism, an irradicable part of the ideology of liberalism, falls in this category, as does municipal liberty, often advocated by liberals. Property rights of the individual (including property qualifications for voting), as well as the freeing of the individual economically through the regime of laissez-faire, both were aimed at the overriding objective of individual freedom.

On the other hand the liberals were concerned with freeing the new nation from the regime of corporate privilege. A modern, secular, progressive nation must be juridically uniform; its citizens’ allegiance to the civil state must not be shared with the Church or army or with any other corporation, for instance the university or the Indian community. This objective included educational reform, the attack upon the fueros, secularization, colonization, and even land reform.

Did these two aims of liberalism really conflict, it might be asked? Let us attack the question obliquely by turning to some of the comparisons which emerge between Europe and Mexico.

In France, as Alexis de Tocqueville showed so clearly, it is impossible to understand the development of a liberal and revolutionary ideology without considering the nature of the Old Regime. The same would be true for Mexico. The fact which emerges from any comparative study of social and political institutions in the Atlantic world is the marked similarity between New Spain and pre-revolutionary France and Spain. In the three areas a pattern of centralized administration under absolute monarchy held sway. The French monarchy in the seventeenth century drew heavily upon Hapsburg practices of the sixteenth, and in turn stimulated Spanish Bourbon administration in the eighteenth century.

New Spain represents from its foundation what developed in France in the seventeenth century, namely a privileged feudal society without the corresponding feudal political institutions. In England after 1688 the landed aristocrats having large private incomes controlled the Parliament and constituted a true governing class within a constitutional monarchy. The French aristocracy, on the other hand, was politically ruined under the Cardinals and Louis XIV, as the Spanish nobility had been under Philip II and earlier. This remained true in the eighteenth century despite the “aristocratic resurgence” which culminated in the events of 1789. Feudal political institutions in France and Spain—Cortes, Estates General, provincial assemblies, municipal governments—had been allowed to wither between 1500 and 1789; in New Spain they were never created. The exception of course was the cabildo, which, it must be added, enjoyed little political potency between 1550 and 1790. Though the Crown prevented political feudalism in the New World, it encouraged the establishment of a highly stratified society, dominated by a landed and mining aristocracy. In short, in New Spain as in France and Spain, the aristocracy retained its social and economic privileges while it lost its political initiative. Royal undermining of the political and military potentialities of the encomienda exemplifies this process. Functional corporations became the institutional focus for much of this privilege and thus epitomized the Old Regime to liberals by 1833.2 Furthermore, like Spain though unlike France, the revolutionary movement did little to alter the position of the strongest corporations. Church and army were stronger in Mexico after 1821 than they were before 1810, at the same time that viceregal government collapsed.

Turning briefly to the development of liberal political ideas, it can be demonstrated that the two aforementioned objectives of Mexican liberalism reflect a more general conflict within liberalism in Europe. Political liberalism in part sprang from the tension between medieval, feudal, contractural traditions on the one hand and absolute monarchy on the other.3 In France, the former involved the “Ancient French Constitution,” made up of Estates General, provincial assemblies, and parlements, all of which the monarch must respect. This “constitution” was defended during the Fronde of the seventeenth century, by Montesquieu, and after him by the lawyers of the parlements during the eighteenth century. Absolute monarchy, on the other hand, was new, irresponsible, and defiant of medieval Natural Law. It strove to attack corporate privilege, to unify, theoretically to reduce society to sovereign and subjects. We know, of course, that in practice seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monarchs made all manner of practical compromises with special privilege.

As it emerged in those critical last years under Louis XIV, liberalism, with its concern for individual rights and legal equality, oscillated between these two conceptions of government, between the unified sovereignty of the monarchy and the limited sovereignty of the “representative” bodies. Liberalism was, as Guido de Ruggiero says, not connected with either party to the conflict between monarchy and the “regime of privilege,” but “with the conflict itself.”

Without the effective resistance of particular privileged classes, the monarchy would have created nothing but a people of slaves; without the levelling effected by royal absolutism, the regime of privilege, however widely extended, would never have bridged the gulf which divides privilege from liberty in the proper sense of the word—that liberty which universalizes privilege to the point of annulling it as such.4

This kinship between privilege and liberty is particularly apparent in England which comes to symbolize one current within liberalism, that view which conceives of liberty as based upon historically acquired rights. These constitute specific limitations on the sovereign in favor of the individual (or at least certain individuals). This is the regime of parliamentary rights and privileges for which John Locke was the spokesman in 1688. They were defended by the aristocratic governing class of eighteenth-century England and even more militantly by Edmund Burke in 1790.

It was France which symbolized the other current within political liberalism. Liberty was conceived of as universal, discoverable through reason, and applicable to all men. Whereas John Locke’s idea of the inalienable rights of the individual had the effect in England of sanctifying traditional liberties, in France his idea was interpreted more theoretically, largely because of the weakness of traditional institutions below the monarchy.5 Thus in France, the abstract conception of liberty, particularly as expressed by Rousseau, led to political equality and to the sovereignty of the people. Yet as Ruggiero points out (in a passage reminiscent of Tocqueville), the new French liberalism was like the monarchy egalitarian, “but its egalitarianism was inspired and ennobled by a broader rationalistic consciousness attributing to all men one identical spiritual and human value.”6 This was the conception which Burke so deplored in 1790 when he saw it being used by the revolutionaries to assault their past.

Thus these two conflicting tendencies within liberalism, the French and the English, reached a climax in the era of the French Revolution. The French pattern not only came to epitomize liberty as an abstract conception, but also the centralized state—with sovereignty lodged in a monarch, in the people, or in a Napoleon—as the vehicle of change. The course of Spanish liberalism, first under Charles III and later under the centralized popular government of the Cortes of Cádiz, was generally parallel to that of France.7

There was much interpenetration of these two tendencies. Montesquieu had brought “English” liberalism to bear upon France, just as later Jeremy Bentham applied continental modes of thought to England. A further pertinent example were the French constitutional liberals of the restoration period. Reacting against the way the abstract conception of liberty had been used to serve the interests of a new centralized despotism under the Convention and Napoleon, Benjamin Constant and his followers found English liberalism particularly attractive. Inspired partly by Montesquieu and even more by a fresh study of English representative government, the constitutional liberals advocated a system which would guarantee the individual against tyranny.8

Returning to Mexico, we can find in the liberal movement of the 1820’s and 1830’s a key to further understanding of the nineteenth century. Though I am fully cognizant of the variety within Mexican liberal thought and of the efforts of Mexican historians to plumb the documents for early indications of social radicalism, it seems to me that José María Luis Mora remains the most significant liberal spokesman. This is true because of the depth of his thought, his influence, and the way he epitomizes the nineteenth-century liberal tradition. Mora’s writing, almost entirely done between 1821 and 1837, demonstrates clearly the tension within Mexican liberalism and its central orientation.

Mora’s thought must be viewed in stages. The first began in 1821 and ended roughly in 1830. The second encompasses the essay on church property of 1831 and the writing emerging from his association with the reform regime of 1833-1834.

There is a striking parallel between Mora’s political ideas of the 1820’s and those of the contemporary French constitutional liberals. Besides the indications of overt intellectual influence, I think it can be suggested that Mora associated the problems of his country with those of post-Napoleonic France. Analogies were present to be seized upon: the revolutionary experience which in both countries had entailed social violence; the apparent break with monarchy and corporate power in the hopes of instituting representative government based on a regime of uniform legislation; the emergence of military dictators as self-styled “emperors.” Mora showed considerable knowledge and understanding of French and Spanish history of the Revolutionary Era, and it is probable that he developed his ideas within the comparative context.

Mora’s writing of the 1820’s, like that of the constitutional liberals in France, centers on the defense of individual liberties against despotic power. He emphasized that despotism could come in many forms, and attacked variously the theories of Rousseau, the politics of Iturbide, and the arbitrary actions of the Mexican congresses of the 1820’s. Mora quite frequently criticized the democratic doctrine of popular sovereignty which he said was introduced into Mexico with the Spanish Constitution of 1812.9 Mora felt that only propertyowners should be citizens. Yet he, like the French constitutional liberals, accepted change (“the revolution of the century” as he called it), and hoped to consolidate the gains of the Revolution for Independence, the gains for individual liberty at the expense of privilege and absolute power.

Specifically, he emphasized freedom of the press, the necessity of an independent judiciary and citizen juries, and federalism. Mora was always a strong advocate of federalism, and despite certain reservations, supported the Constitution of 1824. He became deeply involved in the politics of the State of Mexico and looked upon provincial and even municipal liberties as essential.10 Yet it is significant that he, unlike most of the federalists, made little if any reference to the experience of the United States. Moreover, at one point, Mora cited as a precedent for federalism the French reformer Turgot’s effort in 1774 to establish provincial assemblies based on propertyownership.11 Dr. Mora’s enthusiasm for federalism was advanced in the spirit of the French liberals, seeking a check on the predominant tradition of central power. The example of the United States seems to figure little in Mora’s thought; in fact, it may be a far more superficial element in Mexican liberalism than is generally supposed.

Although most of Mora’s writing of this era is markedly abstract in tone and seldom brought down to the level of Mexican realities,12 he did bring his “constitutional liberalism” to bear upon one vital Mexican issue: the expulsion of the Spaniards in 1827 and 1829. Though Mora was unable to stem the tide of anti-Spanish fanaticism which emanated from Congress and the states, he did defend the civil rights of Spaniards vigorously in a series of articles in the Observador.13 This was a courageous stand in the 1820’s, since the popular liberal position was to reject the Spanish heritage and all that it represented.

After 1830 there was a decided shift of orientation in Mora’s thought, coinciding with the political turmoil which brought Vicente Guerrero and then his vice-president, Anastasio Bustamante, to power. Mora soon rejected the regime in which Lucas Alamán was a prime mover, and during the next four years his discussion of guarantees for the individual gave way to a defense of extraordinary power. This shift reached a climax in 1834 when Mora criticized his friend and collaborator, Vice-President Gómez Farías, for not using the full power of government against Santa Anna and other rebels. Gómez Farias, lamented Mora, would not take an unconstitutional step.14 Mora in four years had abandoned his constitutional liberalism. How do we explain this reversal of position?

Mora probably realized about 1830 that Mexico’s basic problem was not to guarantee individual liberties against irresponsible power, but rather to liquidate the Old Regime so that individualism could have some meaning. Constitutional liberalism was more significant in France than in Mexico during the 1820’s because the regime of corporate privilege had been largely destroyed by the Revolution. In Mexico it was still intact. After 1830 Mora began to complain about the deficiencies of the Constitution of 1824, namely that it said nothing about the fueros of Church and army.15 Particularly eloquent were his famous passages condemning the espíritu de cuerpo which led significant numbers of men to identify themselves with some corporation or other and only vaguely with the nation.16 Under Mora’s intellectual leadership the 1833 reformers sought to root out the espíritu de cuerpo.

It is significant that Mora’s reform writings of these years contained numerous references to the Spanish Bourbons and their policies. While no apologist for the colonial regime, Mora showed obvious admiration for the Bourbon reforms, especially the assertion of royal control over the Church.17 This admiration is evident in his 1831 Disertación on church property, which was probably the point of departure for nineteenth-century anticlericalism.18 In this essay Mora gave an historical account of regalian rights over church property and attacked sharply the claims of the Church that its property was inalienable because it had become “spiritualized.” Mora referred to the decree of 1804 which disentailed some church property in Mexico to back a royal bond issue in Spain. He even claimed that this decree served as a precedent for the reform laws of 1833.19

Was not Mora turning to Bourbon traditions when confronted with the resurgent corporations? Here in Mexico’s own past were the foundations of a policy which could secularize society without encouraging dangerous popular democracy. In his historical writings, Mora singled out the enlightened reformers within Mexico itself, the bishop Abad y Queipo and the intendants Riaño and Flon, all Spaniards who in the years just prior to independence had called for political and economic change.20 Mora even looked more charitably than he had previously upon the radical Spanish Cortes of 1810 and 1820; for though he never accepted their democratic doctrines, he admitted that their work had introduced the seeds of liberty into the colonies.21 Thus José María Luis Mora in this second stage epitomized what was to become the major orientation of Mexican political liberalism: its adherence to continental—i.e. French and Spanish—modes of thought, particularly the reliance upon state power to achieve liberty.

One element remains to be considered—utilitarianism. So great was the impact of the utilitarian idea that at least one student of European liberal thought accords it central importance in his interpretation.22 Let us examine how utilitarianism was grafted on to Hispanic conceptions of reform to give the Mexican liberal tradition its peculiar character.

Although the main influence of utilitarianism in the Hispanic world came through its principal exponent, Jeremy Bentham, it is necessary to say a few words about its earlier history. In very general terms the utilitarian ideal was built upon the secularism of the Renaissance, the scientific spirit of the seventeenth century, and the intense questioning of moral principles derived from revealed religion, that took place in the last years of the reign of Louis XIV.23 For our purposes, however, utilitarianism can most conveniently begin with John Locke, who developed the idea that human understanding was based upon sense perception rather than upon innate ideas, such as the existence of God.

This new psychology of sense experience developed in the eighteenth century, both in England and on the continent, but perhaps most significantly in France. As formulated particularly by Helvetius in his work Essays on the Mind (1758), human behavior was subject to two motive forces, desire for pleasure and dislike of pain. Man was searching happiness and he was not “bad” as traditional moralists had said. Badness among men was merely being subject to their own interests and pleasures. Knowledge was the key to happiness which was now the supreme good. “Ignorance was man’s only limitation and science offered unlimited possibilities.”24 The basic problem in society was to put individual interests into harmony with the general interest, which Helvetius and Bentham after him believed was the proper sphere for legislation. The greatest good for the greatest number (or utility) was the standard by which one could judge the worth of social institutions. The special good of a particular class or of a corporate body impeded the association of individual interests with the general interest.

Actually, the principle of utility was quite distinct from that of self-evident inalienable rights, which also came from Locke and which formed the basis of the abstract or generalized conception of political liberty in France. Rights would logically have to be judged by their utility, and therefore could not be inalienable or self-evident. The problem, however, was avoided because the political reformers in France could attack corporate privilege, class distinction, and archaic legislation in the name of both utility and the natural rights of man.25 Jeremy Bentham, for instance, who rejected the French Declaration of Rights of 1789 as ‘mere bawling on paper,’ ended up justifying on the basis of utility “the very rights which the French were claiming on grounds of nature.”26

Jeremy Bentham went to France in 1770 and absorbed French utilitarianism, especially as formulated by Helvetius. Though in a sense utilitarianism had English roots, Bentham’s approach to political problems at least was decidedly continental in spirit.27 The weight of his criticism always fell upon established institutions. For Bentham as for Adam Smith in the economic sphere, it was the spirit of corporation which was the greatest obstacle to utility, or the harmony of interests in society. According to Halevy, Bentham’s great passion for legal codification was “a continental and not a British idea.”28

His approach to English institutions was the antithesis of that of Edmund Burke. Bentham was a simplifier, Burke sanctified the complications of the British system. It is significant that early in his life, Bentham was a Tory and an admirer of Enlightened Despotism. In fact, Halevy maintains that in his impatience for legal and judicial reforms Bentham was never a liberal in the English sense: “he merely passed from a monarchic authoritarianism to a democratic authoritarianism [after 1815] without pausing at the intermediate position, which is the position of Anglo-Saxon liberalism.”29 It was doubtless because of Bentham’s affinity for the French reformers that he was so influential in the Iberian world. Halevy says he “became a kind of demi-god in Spain,” and his ideas strongly influenced the discussions of a single-chamber system and a new civil code in 1821. He exercised a similar influence in Mexico.

The political and juridical applications of utilitarian doctrine were only part of its significance; it also dominated the economic and social aspects of liberal thought. From the motive force of individual interest, enlightened through knowledge and freed from institutional bonds, would come wealth, prosperity, and the good society. The system of the Physiocrats in France, which promoted the freedom of the individual landowner and attacked manorial customs and internal restrictions on trade, was one variation of utilitarian economic thought. Adam Smith’s expanded view of individual economic liberty and its benefits (which incidentally criticized the Physiocrats for their scorn of manufactures) was undoubtedly the most important and influential.

In Spain, utilitarian doctrine is contained in every paragraph of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos’ Informe de ley agraria (1795), the ideas of which permeate agrarian thinking in nineteenth-century Mexico.30 Jovellanos, having absorbed physiocratic thought, set about to probe the agrarian regime in Spain, concluding that “the laws for aiding agriculture ought to be reduced to protecting the individual interest of its agents.” The “only means of protecting this interest,” he continued, “is by removing the obstacles which hinder the natural tendency and movement of its action.”31 The essay then isolated the various obstacles, physical, moral, and political, which, if removed, would allow the free play of individual interests, the basis of general prosperity.

In Mexico, utilitarianism pervaded the thought of Dr. Mora. We find him speaking in 1827 of “the wise Bentham” and agreeing that “not only is utility the origin of all law, but also the principle of all human actions.”32 Throughout Mora’s anticlerical writing runs the thread of utilitarian ethics. It appears that Mora’s general attack on corporate privilege is carried through in the name of utility rather than from the natural rights position. Mora seems close to the spirit of Bentham on many occasions, especially when he championed the need for a thoroughgoing secular mentality in Mexico. He deplored the confusion by the masses of religious sins with civil crimes; the official intolerance of non-Catholics led people to regard the Protestant foreigner as a political criminal.33 When Mora spoke of progress he did so in utilitarian terms, basing it in the free individual identifying his interests with the general interest of society.

To reconstruct Mexico on a secular basis, it was necessary to do more than tear down the corporate structure of society; positive measures must also be taken. Thus Mora turned to education and as minister in 1833-1834 laid the groundwork for a system which would train an hombre positivo, that is—a progress-minded citizen of the nation. The outcome was the abolition of the university and the brief inauguration of a nationalized system of secular higher education. It is interesting that in the Indicador, a weekly journal Mora was editing at this time, notices of the new educational reforms were interspersed with reprints from the educational proposals of Jovellanos, written in Spain between 1780 and 1800.34 Thus an analysis of the 1833 program reveals that utilitarian philosophy was intertwined with a conception of reform which followed Bourbon regalist traditions.

It was through the general acceptance of the doctrine of economic liberalism that utilitarianism had its greatest impact. Aside from the industrialist Esteban de Antuñano, the editors for a time of El Siglo XIX, and the defenders of artisan industries like Francisco García of Zacatecas, the economic thinking of Mexican political liberals was dominated by laissez-faire. Mining, free commerce, and agriculture were to be the bases of Mexican development. “Forced industry,” and the accompanying tariffs and government investment were attacked violently.35

Continental liberalism, as expressed by the Physiocrats, by a Jovellanos, by the middle-class victors of the French Revolution, projected the new society as being rooted in the property-owning citizen. Tocqueville maintained that the French Revolution abolished all privileges save that of property which to a degree became associated with equality in an agricultural society like France.36 In Mexico Mora, Lorenzo de Zavala, and their colleagues of 1833 sought to create a rural bourgeois society by insisting upon property qualifications for voting and citizenship, and by advocating schemes of rural colonization by European peasants. Even Mora’s constitutional liberalism of the 1820’s follows what Ruggiero calls a “continental” orientation, having “its origin in the economic and legal institution of modern or bourgeois property . . . universalized and codified by the French Revolution.”37 Yet the example of France was misleading, for Mexico was essentially a society of latifundia and depressed Indian peasantry, a structure which was basically undisturbed by the Revolution for Independence. Reluctant to attack private property, the reformers had to base the new society of small proprietors upon the disentailment of Church property, legislated in 1833 and again in 1856.

By 1834 we see an apparent contradiction between the liberal political emphasis upon a strong state to attack corporate privilege and the economic tendency toward unfettered individualism. Here a further consideration of utilitarianism in Europe may point the way. Elie Halevy, the foremost student of the subject, has emphasized a perpetual problem which existed between the “artificial” and the “spontaneous” identification of individual interests. Was the fusion of interests for the general good natural and spontaneous or was it necessary to impose an artificial identification? Jeremy Bentham, concerned primarily with political and juridical questions, came to advocate the artificial identification of interests and the significance of state action.38 The conclusion of the economic theories stemming from utilitarianism, however, was that the identification of interests came about spontaneously, by action of the laws of nature. Adam Smith and the Physiocrats argued this way, as did Bentham in economic matters; yet all advocated a strong state to attack political privilege.39 Jovellanos in Spain likewise supported the regalism of Charles III.

The “double way in which they [the utilitarians] understood the identification of interests” is particularly applicable to Mexico. Economic privilege, still deep-rooted after Independence, found little threat from utilitarian economic theories. Political privilege, on the other hand, was consistently and even effectively attacked. Did not the contradiction within early liberalism (and within the Porfirian system later) between a strong political state and rampant laissez-faire stem partly from the dichotomy within utilitarian doctrine? Does not a similar contradiction exist within industrial Mexico today?


At this point it would be revealing to shift our focus to try to discern the distinctions between conservatism and liberalism by mid-century. If it is true that we tend to generalize about liberalism in Latin America from the experience of Mexico, the reason may be because Mexico was the classic battleground between liberalism and conservatism. What exactly was the conflict?

The traditional view, restated recently by Jesús Reyes Heroles, describes liberalism and conservatism “as the two faces of the political evolution of Mexico. The one is inconceivable without the other.” This interpretation, which essentially perpetuates the progress vs. reaction theme of the liberals themselves, must be questioned critically.40

Any discussion of nineteenth-century conservatism must focus first upon Lucas Alamán, undoubtedly the great figure of independent Mexico until his death in 1853.41 Alamán in many ways epitomizes Mexican conservatism. Consider for example: his wealthy Creole background, intimately tied to Guanajuato mining; his ready predilection for centralism and authoritarian government; his consistent defense of the Spanish heritage, climaxed by his effort to defend the vast property holdings of the Sicilian duke who was the nineteenth-century heir to the patrimony of Cortés;42 his support of the Church, temporal and spiritual, against liberal attacks; finally, his outright advocacy of monarchy in 1846 and his more cautious argument in the years 1848-1853. Still, Alamán remains ambiguous and it is misleading to categorize him, as Reyes Heroles does, an “integral conservative.”43

What confuses the distinctions between liberal and conservative which rely upon Alamán as epitomizing the latter, is the entrepreneurial side of his career. Alamán was the foremost nineteenth-century pioneer of national industry. His entrepreneurial activities, first as mining promoter, then as originator of the government Banco de Avío in 1830 to aid incipient industry, and finally as an active industrialist himself, have been well studied and need no further elaboration.44 In short, Alamán’s vision of economic development for Mexico, while departing from laissez-faire, was dynamic and progressive. The contemporary industrial revolution in Mexico, whether it be called “liberal” or “conservative,” owes a good bit to Lucas Alamán, the nineteenth-century archetype of political conservatism.

Unlike laissez-faire, which attracted the majority of liberals, national industry was not built upon a philosophical argument, but rather upon tradition (the artisan enterprises of the colony) and upon an instinctive realization that a country cannot live completely by importing and exporting. Returning to Alamán, his position is obviously paradoxical and inconsistent, for the Alamán who left church lands untouched, who tolerated the special privileges of the military, who favored authoritarian government, also promoted an industrial development which would undermine the Old Regime. In searching for the analogy which might help understand Alamán, I come back, not as Reyes Heroles does to Edmund Burke (who obviously was an inspiration for Alamán’s political and social views), but to Bourbon Spain.45

Alamán’s early days in Guanajuato under the enlightened intendant Riaño experienced the revival of the mining industry through government loans and encouragement. The Banco de Avío of 1830 was undoubtedly derived from the Banco de Avíos of the 1780’s. This affinity for Bourbon policies raises an interesting question: have we not found that the liberals of 1833, led by Dr. Mora, also turned to Bourbon traditions in their reform policies? The fact is that Bourbon policies inspired both political camps in nineteenth-century Mexico.

Would not a further study of political and economic currents in Spain from 1760 to 1800 help to understand the nature of the liberalconservative conflict in Mexico? For instance, Richard Herr has shown that Charles III’s economic policies were really mercantilist in orientation; physiocratic and laissez-faire ideas had not found their way into policy.46 The influence of Jean Baptiste Colbert was strong, and government-supported commerce and industry flourished, particularly cotton textile manufacturing. By 1792 this latter industry at Barcelona had overtaken the French and rivaled that of England. Following mercantilist ideals, agriculture was distinctly secondary; thus the utilitarian and physiocratic Informe of Jovellanos was a radical departure.

In Mexico, one point which distinguishes Alamán (and perhaps Esteban de Antuñano also) from the liberals is the former’s adherence to mercantilist conceptions as opposed to the economic ideas derived from utilitarianism. In fact, Alamán seems to have been untouched by Benthamite or laissez-faire ideas in any aspect of his thought. In this respect, he was unlike Edmund Burke, who was a close follower of Adam Smith in the economic realm. This interpretation would lend some support to Reyes Heroles’ assertion that by promoting industry, Alamán was trying to develop an industrial class to round out the regime of privilege in Mexico. Alamán’s idea, however, was not drawn from Edmund Burke, as Reyes Heroles maintains, but rather from Bourbon mercantilism. This would suggest that Mexico’s industrial tradition, stemming from Alamán, has developed within a mercantilist framework.

From the above it is clear that one has to be wary in distinguishing between liberals and conservatives on the basis of their attitude toward Mexico’s Spanish heritage. We have been too ready to take liberal pronouncements against things Spanish and colonial at their face value, and to assume that liberalism was therefore primarily an effort to build a new society based on French, English, and American models. Spanish traditions were important for the liberals, just as they were for the conservatives. The difference, of course, was the degree of adherence to Spanish and colonial policies, and which policies were emphasized. Both Alamán and Mora were defenders of Hernán Cortés and of the importance of the Spanish Conquest, but Alamán carried his defense much further and wrote three volumes on the subject.47 Much of Mora’s historical discussion of New Spain focused on the efforts over three centuries to obtain independence.48 Alamán was clearly an apologist for Mexico’s Spanish heritage; Mora was not. What Mora did do was to perpetuate the Spanish tradition of state power and turn it to the uses of reform under the aegis of the new utilitarian philosophy.

How did liberals and conservatives differ in their social attitudes? This immediately raises the question of private land tenure. The search for “social liberalism”—in particular nineteenth-century precedents for the radical agrarianism of the Revolution—has intrigued Mexican historians, most recently Jesús Reyes Heroles who has brought forth a wealth of documents, many heretofore obscure. Scattered through the nineteenth century were spokesmen for agrarian reform who attacked directly large private holdings—Hidalgo and Morelos, a few radicals in the Constituent Congress of 1823-1824, Francisco García, Mariano Otero, and Ponciano Arriaga, to cite the most prominent. Yet the contemporary significance of these radicals can easily be overemphasized, and I find it difficult to agree with Reyes Heroles that “seeing land as a problem is almost equivalent to [consustancial a] our struggle for liberty.”49

Of these spokesmen Ponciano Arriaga delivered the most forth-right attack on the large landed estate. The occasion was a dissenting opinion given on June 23, 1856, as a member of the constitutional committee drawing up Article 17 which made property rights conditional to the right to work.50 Arriaga, along with José Castillo Velasco, dissented because the law did not go far enough. Arriaga could not accept the doctrine of private property. What meaning did such a theory have, he asked, in a country like Mexico where land and thus power were concentrated in few hands? He chided his colleagues: “ideas are proclaimed and facts are forgotten. . . . We digress in the discussion of rights and we set aside positive acts.”51 He then proceeded to detail the abuses of latifundismo—debt peonage, monopoly of unused lands, encroachment with impunity upon defenseless Indian communities, political and juridical power inside the hacienda rivaling that of the state—all the abuses which Andrés Molina Enríquez attacked again in 1909 and which provided the impetus to reform after 1915.

Arriaga had clearly moved beyond doctrinaire individualism; social obligation was his motivating concern. Individual right, he maintained, does not include the right of economic and social oppression which violates the “sanctity of man’s freedom.” He and his fellow dissenter Castillo Velasco accepted the legitimacy of private property, only if subject to social function.52 Arriaga concluded his discourse with ten specific measures for rationally reorganizing the system of land tenure in Mexico, measures which were characteristic of twentieth-century reform programs.53

Proposals such as these, and others can be cited as well, constitute what Reyes Heroles rightly calls a “socialist” current in the Reforma. Yet these views represented only a radical fringe, contrasting sharply with the Ley Lerdo of May, 1856, and its subsequent incorporation into the Constitution. The Ley Lerdo and the laws of 1859, concerned primarily with the disentailment of Church property, did not undertake “the restructuring of social classes nor the de-concentration of lay property.”54 The aim was rather political—further removal of the Church from a position of power—and financial, to increase government resources and to secure foreign loans. Neither Mora, nor Zavala, nor later leaders like Lerdo and Ocampo favored the regime of latifundia. Mora stated on several occasions that he advocated a society of small independent holdings.55 Melchor Ocampo hoped that the nationalization laws of 1859, if properly instituted, could carry out what the Revolution had done in France: produce a landed middle class, tied to the cause of reform.56

Yet we must conclude that there was little tangible difference in reality between liberals and conservatives on the question of the private hacienda. The predominance of utilitarianism and its emphasis upon the sanctity of property prevented them from meeting the problem of land concentration. Conservatives, naturally enough, took the latifundia for granted and had little to say on the matter.57 The role of the hacienda in politics and ideas is a subject which demands further study.

Closely related to the agrarian question is that other great preoccupation of twentieth-century Mexico—the status of the Indian population. Was there a significant difference between liberal and conservative attitudes and policies toward the Indian ? The first problem we encounter in such an inquiry is the absence of concern for the Indians as a group. Liberals were apathetic toward the Indian and toward problems of social integration presented by cultural differences. Dr. Mora expressed a generalized liberal sentiment when he said that the Gómez Farías regime “did not recognize in government acts the distinction of Indians and non-Indians, but it substituted poor and rich, extending to all the benefits of society.”58

Francisco López Cámara, in a recent provocative book on the origins of the liberal idea, argues that concern for the native element was inherent in the Creole use of “America” and “Americans” during the Revolution for Independence. Men such as Hidalgo, Cos, and Morelos conceived of a “national community” of Indians and Creoles, united against the Spaniards and the colonial past. He concludes that a “vindicating nativism [indigenismo reivindicador] becomes fused with the ideals of liberalism, as one of its social elements.”59 Whether or not López Cámara’s thesis holds for the revolutionary years, one thing is clear: after 1821 whatever concern there had been for the Indian subsided. The liberals rejected the notion that the Indians, who made up the majority of the population, might represent the core of Mexican nationality.60 Dr. Mora, though denying a belief in racial superiority, betrayed a deeper conviction that the Indian was inferior and that there was little hope of bettering his status. Guillermo Prieto, writing in 1850, stated categorically that “it is not in it [the Indian race] that nationality resides today.”61 This early nineteenth-century attitude is exemplified further by the dearth of historical or archeological interest in Aztec civilization.

There is little evidence of a clash between liberals and conservatives on the Indian question until the shocking outbreak of the Caste Wars in the years 1847 to 1853. During this period the Indian problem was added to the other major issues which made up the great debate preceding the Reforma. In the wake of the Caste Wars there was a considerable effort, expressed through the vigorous newspapers of the day, to explain the rebellions, their origins, and their implication for future social policy.

Liberal spokesmen, especially in El Siglo XIX and El Monitor Republicano, attributed the upheavals to the accumulation of abuses under the oppressive colonial regime, abuses which the liberal institution of equal rights and opportunity since 1821 had not as yet been able to rectify. On April 1, 1853, El Monitor charged Spanish policy with “systematizing by means more or less hypocritical, the divorce of the races.” Many liberal spokesmen admitted that, despite legal innovation, the basic status of the Indian remained unchanged; nevertheless they insisted that he was better off under the Republic than in colonial times.62El Monitor, reacting to the social violence, presented two alternatives in dealing with the Indian race: “either exterminate it or civilize it, mixing it with the others.” This conclusion is similar to the one reached by Francisco García Pimentel in 1864.63

Extermination or forced removal of Indians following the United States pattern did have some advocates, particularly in the areas directly affected by the rebellions or in the northern regions where incursions of indios bárbaros had been a continual menace. The conservative daily, El Universal, triumphantly reprinted such an extreme statement, taken from a Vera Cruz newspaper.64 The article had praised the Anglo-Saxon policy for at least assuring self-survival “which is the primary law.” Moreover, the article had maintained that conflict between the races was inevitable and that humane measures would merely postpone the day of reckoning. An even balder statement came in 1851 from the frontier state of Coahuila which was regularly menaced by Indian attacks. The writer was a cleric, an overseer on the gigantic Sánchez Navarro hacienda:

If the legislature resolves to decree that 25 pesos be paid for every scalp, I swear I will grant each member of the legislature a plenary indulgence as soon as I am ordained, and it matters little that the legislators be excommunicated by those profound politicians in Mexico City, who, preoccupied with their European theories, know nothing of the necessities which unfortunately, must be adopted by our northern states.65

This frontier attitude, which bore little relation to political affiliation or principles, was undoubtedly quite generalized.

Nevertheless, there was none of this talk among “those profound politicians in Mexico City.” The liberal newspapers spoke of fusing the races, of education, even vaguely of land reform; but one is struck by the mildness of the measures suggested.66 The policy advocated most enthusiastically was colonization, a perennial liberal concern which was reactivated in the post-war years. There were several colonization schemes which were proposed in the legislatures of 1848-1850; but they failed to pass, largely because of the opposition to religious tolerance, a prerequisite to foreign immigration.67

The conservative response to the Caste Wars proved more vigorous and less confused than that of the liberals. Numerous articles appeared in the conservative press, particularly in El Universal, which used the Caste Wars as an opportunity to discredit the Republic and to contrast its failures with colonial peace and stability. More than mere polemic, El Universal presented a forceful and well-reasoned explanation for the Caste Wars, a devastating criticism of the Indian policies of the Republic, and an impassioned defense of colonial paternalism.68 Spanish policy, argued the conservatives, did not need to rely on physical force to control the Indian population; it rather extended, under missionary guidance, a system of “moral force” which depended on the “development of the religious principle” and a “profound respect for authority.”

The system that had proved itself so successful for three centuries broke down, argued El Universal, when the caudillos of the Revolutionary era incited the Indian against his former masters, and later when he was made “free and independent, a citizen of a great Republic.” The Creole leaders of Independence had “denied their own race and condemned it to extermination,” since the Indians, hearing incitements to rebellion, freely associated present-day Creoles with former Spaniards. Thus the Caste Wars were not the delayed reaction to colonial oppression, but rather the direct result of liberal attacks upon the colonial structure and the injection of new doctrines of equality and individualism into Mexican society. The conservatives were advocating a return to Spanish paternalism, the re-establishment of missions, the re-institution of the tribute, and the preservation of the Indian community.

The issue of communal property was one which evoked a particularly spirited debate. In one instance, August, 1853, there was a sharp exchange between El Orden, a conservative daily, and El Siglo XIX. On August 13 El Siglo suggested (the article was probably written by Francisco Zarco, the editor) that the recent Indian rebellions were stimulated by those who presently live, frustrated by the lack of private ownership, under the “cruel yoke of the community.” The “communal vice” was largely responsible for the presence of two societies in Mexico and for the lack of an industriousness which could only be stimulated by individual initiative. The communal system, maintained the writer, citing no less an authority than Jovellanos, was outmoded and must be suppressed. These ideas of 1853 suggest the spirit present in the Constituent Congress, which was responsible for the fact that the Indian community emerged unprotected in the 1857 Constitution.69 It is important in this regard that Ponciano Arriaga and José María Castillo Velasco showed considerable respect for the Laws of the Indies, which had provided for the protection of communal property.70 Here the agrarian radicals seem closer to the conservative than to the dominant liberal position. Have not twentieth-century agrarianism and indigenismo reflected a similar affinity for Spanish colonial paternalism?

The Indian problem clearly revealed differences between conservatives and liberals. The liberal argument was based on individual liberty, legal equality, and, following the utilitarian bent, an antipathy toward protective legislation for any group and even less for a “corporate body” such as the Indian community.71 Mexico was to be a country in which the Indian would gradually disappear, hopefully through European colonization, a country in which small property holders would triumph under a regime of equal rights, individual opportunity, and administrative uniformity.

The conservatives opposed this passion for uniformity and utilitarianism. Their ideal was bound to a tradition which included “privileged” legal entities. It also included a strong religious establishment infusing society with hierarchical principles, presided over by a paternalistic state which could provide justice against exploitation. Neither position showed real concern for the freedom and progress of the indigenous population.

In conclusion, this debate over the Caste Wars suggests that liberals and conservatives, each for different reasons apathetic toward the progress of the indigenous population, were arguing about Indian policy only within the context of greater concerns—the colonial heritage, the Church, and the form of government itself.

Considering the ideological intensity of Mexico’s civil war of the decade 1857 to 1867, it is doubtful that the issues thus far raised could provide grounds for an irreconcilable conflict between liberals and conservatives. The most obvious political question of the Reforma and Intervention period was the form of government, whether Mexico should be monarchy or republic. This issue may be less crucial to the conflict than it appears on the surface, and I will return to it later. There remains one major question to pursue—the Church— which I think provides the key.

Seeing anticlericalism as the chief issue in the Mexican liberalconservative conflict is anything but novel. In fact the traditional place of the Church in Mexican historiography has produced a recent effort to search out other ingredients of nineteenth-century liberalism which may have been slighted. The results, as Daniel Cosío Villegas wrote in 1957, are reinterpretations of Juárez and the Reforma which seek the “enduring” features of the liberal movement as opposed to the “superficial” tendencies such as anticlericalism (superficial because they seem to have receded today).72 Cosío dubs such reinterpretation a kind of historiographical sleight-of-hand. I agree with Jesús Reyes Heroles who argues that we cannot understand the liberal movement “as simply anticlericalism,” and that anticlericalism was part of a broader effort to achieve the secularization of society, and to obtain political and civil liberties.73 Nevertheless, if we are seeking the basic point of division between liberals and conservatives, and incidentally the issue which gave Mexican liberalism its central orientation, we cannot subordinate the traditional question of the Church.

Returning to Dr. Mora, it was the 1831 essay on church property which separated his constitutionalism from his second phase during which he joined battle with the corporate reality of Mexico. It was always the Church question which aroused the strongest passions on both sides. The 1833 government was brought down with the cry, religion y fueros. A genuine conservative-liberal split did not become apparent until after 1830, and became blurred again in the years 1835 to 1846, at a time when anticlericalism subsided.

The struggle to secularize society by weakening the power of the most powerful of the corporations—the Church—was a distinctive feature of continental liberalism. It was the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 in France that led to the irreconcilable divisions between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. The French Revolution aroused a similar division in Spain and provided Spanish liberalism with one of its central issues.74 Later in 1820 and 1823 Spain became a focus of European politics, inspired liberal movements throughout Southern Europe, and incidentally gave us the English word “liberal” as a political term. The role of anticlericalism points up again the affinity between Mexican experience and that of the continent.

The drive to free Mexico from corporate influence was not limited to the Church; the army was also of concern. Dr. Mora and his colleagues attacked military privileges in 1833.75 The reformers even advocated a system of civil militia, organized by the states, a suggestion that was put forth again in the years following the war with the United States. Military fueros were outlawed in the Ley Juárez of 1855, a provision which was written into Article 13 of the Constitution of 1857. Despite the fact that Mora and later reformers deplored the espíritu de cuerpo of the army and the evils of militarism, army reform always carried less conviction than reform of the Church. The need for military support of the liberal cause—repeatedly civilian reformers turned to Santa Anna and other untrustworthy generals for leadership—blunted the edge of the liberal attack.76

Returning to the Church, the Ley Lerdo of 1856, Article 27 of the Constitution of 1857, and the Nationalization Decree of 1859 were clearly derived from the proposals of Lorenzo de Zavala and Dr. Mora in 1833.77 In each measure the same objectives prevailed— secularize society, strip away the political power of the Church, disentail its vast capital for free circulation.78 The conservatives made little reference to the Church except when they were aroused by liberal attacks. Veneration for the Church was inherent in the conservative program. The strength of conservative sentiment, with its focus on the defense of the Church, was greater in the 1850’s than is apparent from the overemphasis on liberal doctrines and on liberalism’s progressive triumph. There had been a conservative resurgence following the war with the United States, which included the appearance of El Universal, the organization of the Conservative Party (which captured the Ayuntamiento of Mexico City in 1849), and the appearance of Alamán’s influential Historia de Méjico between 1849 and 1853.

Edmundo O’Gorman, in one of his independent-minded essays, writes that conservatism, contrary to the “official jacobin view,” was not the work of a few perverse and intelligent leaders who managed to trick the public. Rather, he maintains that popular support for conservatism (in 1854) was stronger than for liberal ideas.79 This sentiment was manifest in the reaction to the debates on projected Article 15 of the Constitution, providing freedom of worship. These debates were the most passionate in the whole convention and the most avidly followed from the galleries.80 Finally, the central place of the Church in the ideological conflict can be demonstrated by comparing the extremist provisions of the conservative Plan of Tacubaya of 1857 with the liberal Reform Laws of 1859.


If we follow the liberal and nationalist interpretation of Mexican history referred to earlier, the Reforma becomes a kind of climax, culminating in 1867 with the defeat of the forces of clericalism, monarchy, and foreign intervention. From this point of view, the period 1867-1910 emerges as an inglorious hiatus between the Reforma and the Revolution. The Cosío Villegas volumes have demonstrated the inadequacy of this interpretation, one which construes liberalism only as ideology.81

In exploring the engaging question of continuity between the Reforma and the Porfiriato, we must ask what elements passed from the scene in 1867. First of all, there was no serious advocacy of monarchy after the death of Maximilian. Following José María Gutiérrez de Estrada’s sensational “letter” to President Bustamante in 1840, which advocated a constitutional monarchy for Mexico, conservatism became increasingly associated with the monarchist idea.82 The newspaper El Tiempo openly called for monarchy in 1846 and El Universal less openly after 1848. Lucas Alamán, likely the editorial spokesman in both newspapers, was clearly an avowed monarchist by the time of his death in 1853. Culminating in the rule of Maximilian in the 1860’s, conservatism and monarchism became inseparable, and both were equally discredited with the fall of the Empire in 1867. The sudden demise of the monarchist idea suggests that despite the actual brief presence of a monarch on a Mexican throne, the issue itself was more ephemeral as a point of division between liberals and conservatives than one might believe from the polemic of the era. The liberals’ attachment to strong central authority, an emphasis they shared with monarchists, implies further that the cause of contention was less the structure of government than the outward form and what it symbolized.

With the passing of monarchy went foreign political tutelage, never a serious issue thereafter. Though national integrity had been vindicated in the political sphere by 1867, it would be difficult to argue that economic and cultural tutelage were absent through the remainder of the century. A still more compelling reason for the apparent break in 1867 is that the Church question was temporarily resolved. The Reform Laws were incorporated into the Constitution in 1873; and, despite the considerable material recovery of the Church during the Díaz regime, anticlericalism became an undercurrent until the Revolution.

With the removal of the Church question, foreign political tutelage, and monarchy, the interesting question arises—what happened to conservatism? To what extent did the spirit of Alamán live on in post-1867 Mexico? What became of prominent conservatives of the Maximilian era? Did they turn to economic activities like those of Alamán earlier? What was their relationship to the regimes of Lerdo and Díaz? Could they reconcile the kind of philosophy represented by Alamán with the reigning positivism of the post-1867 era, philosophies conflicting in so many respects ? Andrés Molina Enriquez in 1909 referred to Alamán as a precursor of the política integral of Díaz.83 Perhaps many elements of the era of Alamán were incorporated into the transformed liberalism of the Porfiriato. There is a wide area of study open to those who would understand the patterns of continuity in nineteenth-century Mexico.

In examining the political liberalism of the Reforma and Restored Republic, I believe there is evidence of the same inner tension noted in the earlier period. The constitutional convention of 1856-1857 was greatly concerned with guaranteeing the liberties of the individual. Federalism triumphed, and its identification with the ideology of liberalism was so close as to be little questioned. Centralism, which had commanded considerable support among liberals in 1824, found little if any in 1857. In fact, the anti-centralist sentiment was particularly strong after the de-facto centralism of the Santa Anna dictatorship (1853-1855). Centralism, said Ponciano Arriaga in presenting the proyecto de constitución, tended clearly to despotism.84 The direction of dissenting opinion, more extreme yet, is revealed by Isidoro Olvera who proposed that the capital of the country be removed from Mexico City. All the elements of “the status quo and reaction,” he said, cluster in Mexico City which in this respect is “like Madrid and all the capitals of the Catholic world.”85

This resurgence of federalism is explained partly by the fact that the strength of the liberal movement had always come from the provinces. This was the case in 1833; it was true again in 1856. Juárez, Degollado, Ocampo, and their like were regional leaders first, who then captured power on the national level. As Justo Sierra put it, the reformist tide flowed back from the provinces to the center. The Three Years War (1858-1861) and the resistance to the French had to be directed from the provinces, since the enemy held Mexico City for most of a decade. Could this regionalist sentiment, which necessarily gave federalism its vitality, remain strong once the Republic had been restored and triumphant liberals had recaptured the capital? According to Cosío Villegas, one of the major political themes of the years 1867-1876 was the increasing effort to suppress regional revolts and bring peace to the country, an effort which might be said to have culminated under Díaz. Federalism as a reality had vanished by 1876.86

The movement to guarantee liberties also included an attempt by the 1857 constitution-makers to introduce a cabinet system of government responsible to a single-chamber assembly. Strong executive power was associated with Spanish monarchy or dictators such as Iturbide and Santa Anna (the constitutional convention in its early phases was obsessed with Santa Anna). Thus, the liberals of 1857 sought in a democratic legislature a guarantee of political liberty. The system worked briefly in a modified fashion in 1861-1862 when various cabinet ministers were more significant than President Juárez. But, according to Frank A. Knapp, parliamentary government was an exotic form that was doomed to failure. The demands of reform, of war, and later of peace, forced the liberals to revert to a strong executive. It is revealing that Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, an early supporter of cabinet responsibility in theory, dealt it a death blow as President, and “provided a precedent for the still stronger rule of Porfirio Díaz.”87

Nevertheless, the post-1867 years reveal that political and civil liberties were not completely overwhelmed by the dictates of a strong state. Cosío Villegas argues that these years represented in a political sense as vitally free and democratic a period as Mexico has known. Freedom of the press, guaranteed by the Constitution of 1857, meant the existence of a great variety of opposition newspapers at the same time that an official press was absent. The Supreme Court was more independent between 1867 and 1884 than at any other time.88

In effect, then, the political drama of these years was the contention between increasing state power on the one hand and constitutional guarantees on the other, the same political problem reflected in Dr. Mora’s thought. Benito Juárez assumed dictatorial powers during the war years. The anticlerical drive gave the state expanded authority. The government now had to administer church property, a civil register, education, and cemeteries. Secularization, as in France during the Revolutionary Era, was an integral part of the expansion of state administrative machinery. The initial triumph of secularization meant also that the work of legal codification was free to proceed. Many of the codes of modern Mexico are the product of the Restored Republic.89 Yet the advance of the administrative state entailed what Cosío terms “constitutional relaxation.” A gradual tightening of state authority, an expansion of extraordinary presidential power, even the restriction of liberties, was the experience of the early 1870’s. In fact, in this respect the Restored Republic

“. . . dovetails perfectly with the Porfiriato. Between the one and the other there is no break in continuity, nor much less is there an historical ‘fault.’”90

The resolution of the Church-State relationship by 1873 further demonstrates the orientation of transformed liberalism. The Reform Laws of 1859 instituted separation of Church and State. But it is “separation” only in a peculiar Mexican sense. It is a system somewhere between the extreme French gallicanism of 1790 (where not only did the property of the Church come under civil jurisdiction but priests became state employees) and extreme separation as has prevailed in the United States. What Mexico achieved in 1873, a solution anticipated by Mora in 1833, was comparable to the Italian Cavour’s formula of a “free Church in a free state.”91 But the “free state” meant vast state power over Church property, the suppression of monastic orders, and severe limitation of church-supported education.

The transformation of liberalism is enmeshed with the entry of positivism which dominated the intellectual scene by the end of the Restored Republic. Positivism provided a philosophical underpinning for the general climate of thought and opinion after 1867. Particularly noticeable was an increasing desire for peace and political order on the one hand, and economic progress on the other. An erstwhile jacobin liberal of 1857, Francisco Zarco, could write in 1868 that “the time for merely abstract questions has already passed and the hour for practical questions has arrived.”92 Symptomatic of the climate of the times was a surge of foreign capitalist promotion and railroad building.

Mexico’s positivist pioneer was Gabino Barreda, Juárez’s minister of education, who had attended Auguste Comte’s lectures in Paris. In his famous Oración cívica of 1867, which included an interpretation of Mexican history in the three familiar positivist stages, Barreda emphasized that social reconstruction was now the order of the day. Mexico was entering the positive stage of her evolution and further constitutional reform by revolutionary means would be “useless and imprudent, not to say criminal.”93 Economic development, a scientifically-based education, and more political order were to replace the anarchical and utopian character of the earlier liberalism. As Justo Sierra put it, Mexico needed a realistic liberalism of order, more “practical liberty,” or a “liberal conservatism.” The mandate for strong government was obvious: Federico Cosmes even called openly for an “honorable tyranny.”94

This continuity of nineteenth-century liberalism can be further demonstrated by considering the relationship between positivism and the earlier utilitarianism. Both were empirical, emphasizing the primacy of experience or sensation as the determinant of ideas. Both were equally hostile in the name of science to inherited dogma, tradition, or custom. The test of utility—producing the greatest good for the greatest number—was akin to the emphasis inherent in positivism upon tangible achievement and material progress. The central change in orientation was the shift from the atomistic to the organic view of society. The individual, whose interests if allowed free play would fuse with the general interest, was no longer the central category. It was now society, which evolved as an organism by interaction with the environment. Thus the Mexican positivists emphasized social reconstruction and regeneration rather than the removing of obstacles which blocked individual freedom.

Leopoldo Zea has justly called Dr. Mora the precursor of positivism in Mexico.95 Mora’s utilitarian liberalism, his vision of a secular society, directed by middle-class property owners who would be the beneficiaries of a state-controlled educational system, foreshadowed the ideas of Gabino Barreda and his followers. Moreover, the influence of Mora’s analysis of Mexican society upon Justo Sierra is apparent in the early pages of the latter’s Juárez. Sierra’s search for a Mexican bourgeoisie which would oversee the material and moral progress of the nation seemed an extension of Mora’s vision and that revealed in the Ley Lerdo.

Our search for continuity within the nineteenth-century liberal tradition must not obscure the vital distinction between the positivists and the earlier liberals. The latter, despite their ultimate reliance upon a strong state to attack corporate power, always kept alive the struggle for liberties, free political institutions, and the basis of political democracy. The positivists, however, despite their ostentatious use of the word libertad, inherited the great political defect of Auguste Comte’s philosophy, its absolute lack of concern for individual liberty. They supported Díaz much the same way that Comte welcomed Napoleon III in France.96

The continuity from utilitarian liberalism to positivism is even more apparent in the economic sphere. Here Comte’s philosophy was inadequate, for his exalting of society left little room for individual initiative. In Mexico, as in Europe and the United States, it was rather the positivism of Herbert Spencer, deceptively appearing to be a mere extension of laissez-faire liberalism, that gave economic enterprise its support. The conflict between Comte and Spencer within Mexican positivism has been pointed to by Leopoldo Zea, but it deserves further study. To both Comte and Spencer, society and not the individual was the highest entity. Where they diverged was in their attitude toward the state. As could be expected from the French tradition, the state was of great importance for Comte, and he made it synonymous with society. For Spencer, the state was merely an obstruction to social evolution, an obstacle to Nature itself, the perfection of which resulted from the free adaptation of individuals. The followers of Barreda had already begun to take up Spencer’s ideas with the founding of the journal La Libertad in 1876. They were to provide the ideological buttress for the economic development, and incidentally, the social exploitation, of the Porfiriato. It is significant to add, however, that Spencer’s Darwinism was considerably modified in Mexican social thought. Concern for the Indian, inherited from Las Casas and Spanish paternalism was not completely subverted, either by doctrinaire liberalism or by Spencerian positivism.97

Thus we can speak of a transformed liberalism with the emergence of the regime of Porfirio Díaz. In the political sphere the struggle within liberalism had ended in favor of the authoritarian state, reminiscent of the Bourbons. Individual guarantees and free political institutions were submerged. The ideology of federalism had given way to the reality of centralization. In Cosío’s words, “only an astute archeologist could discover at the end of the Porfiriato vestiges of a federal organization.”98 The political synthesis may also have included elements of the conservatism of Alamán, thus passed on as a legacy to contemporary Mexico. Yet the autonomy of economic interests remained. The earlier contradiction within utilitarianism cropped up again in the conflict between Comtian and Spencerian positivism. The latifundia remained unchallenged; foreign capital was accorded vast privileges; even the Church revived economically.

In conclusion, we must ask: have not the elements of this structure emerged again in a new guise, despite the social revolution of our century?99


Cf. Felipe Tena Ramírez, “La constitución de 1857 y el pensamiento liberal mexicano,” in El Constituyente de 1856 y el pensamiento liberal mexicano (México, 1960), pp. 111-126. I have been aided in completing this essay by research funds from Lehigh University and by an SSRC-ACLS Latin American Studies Grant. I am indebted for helpful criticisms and suggestions to Joseph A. Dowling, Richard Graham, Hugh M. Hamill, Jr., and James R. Scobie. A condensed version of this essay was read at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, 1963.


See Lyle N. McAlister, “Social Structure and Social Change in New Spain,” HAHR, XLIII (August, 1963), 349-370, a good discussion of the peculiarities of colonial social structure vis-à-vis Spain. McAlister emphasizes the distinctions between the corporate aspect of society and the hierarchical class divisions.


Kingsley Martin, The Rise of French Liberal Thought (New York, 1954), pp. 64-65.


Guido de Ruggiero, History of European Liberalism (Boston, 1959), pp. 3-4.


George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York, 1937), p. 547.


Ruggiero, pp. 81-82. Cf. Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution (Garden City, 1955).


In Spain the reassertion of historic liberties was even weaker than in France, despite the significant efforts of Jovellanos to stimulate a study of Spain’s constitutional history [see Richard Herr, The Eighteenth Century Revolution in Spain (Princeton, 1958, Chap. XII], On the strength and popularity of Spanish regalism under Charles III, see Jean Sarrailh, L’Espagne eclairée de la seconde moitié du xviii siécle (Paris, 1954), pp. 599 ff. Despite the regionalist and decentralizing tendencies of the Juntas of 1808, the outcome of national resistance against Napoleon was a constitution and a regime patterned after Revolutionary France.


Ruggiero, pp. 158-171.


Mora, Obras sueltas (Paris, 1837), II, 281. On Rousseau, see ibid., pp. 25-26. On the Constitution of 1812, see ibid., pp. 277, 299. For specific references to the French constitutional liberals, see ibid., pp. 25-26, 93, 103.


This aspect of Mora’s career needs further study. An important source, both for Mora and for further knowledge of the liberalism of the 1820’s generally, is Actas del congreso constituyente del estado libre de México (10 vols., México and Toluca, 1824-1831).


Mora, Obras sueltas, II, 455.


Further evidence of this tendency can be found in El Amigo del Pueblo (México, 1827-1828), a weekly journal.


See particularly Obras sueltas, II, 140, 148, 490. Mora was editor of the Observador de la República Mexicana (México, 1827-1830), in which most of his writings of the 1820’s appeared.


Mora, Obras sueltas, I, cclxv, ccxxxvii.


Ibid., p. viii. The material of Mora appearing in Vol. I of Obras sueltas was written after 1830. The material in Vol. II was written earlier.


See especially ibid., pp. xcvi ff.


Ibid., pp. xxi, civ-cv. Also Méjico y sus revoluciones (Paris, 1836), I, 85, 233.


“Disertación sobre la naturaleza y aplicación de las rentas y bienes eclesiásticos, y sobre la autoridad a que se hallan sujetos en cuanto a su creación, aumento, subsistencia o supresión,” Obras sueltas, I, 170-250. The essay is dated. December 6, 1831.


Ibid., p. 276.


Mora, Revoluciones, IV, 38 ff.; III, 358-360. Mora reprinted many of the writings of Abad y Queipo in his Obras sueltas, I, 3-170. Mora’s admiration for the bishop warrants further study since the latter was a strong defender of clerical immunities and protested the decree to expropriate church property in 1804.


Ibid., p. 372.


Harold J. Laski, The Rise of Liberalism: the Philosophy of a Business Civilization (New York, 1936).


On the latter see particularly Paul Hazard, The European Mind : the Critical Tears (New Haven, 1953).


Martin, p. 122.


Sabine, pp. 566-567.


Martin, p. 7.


Elie Halevy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism (Boston, 1955), pp.18, 161.


Ibid., p. 86.


Ibid., pp. 375-376.


For example in Mora, in the Ley Lerdo of 1856, and later in Andrés Molina Enríquez, Los grandes problemas nacionales (México, 1909), pp. 81-84.


Biblioteca de autores españoles (Madrid, 1952), L, 83 and passim.


Mora, Obras sueltas, II, 239-240.


Mora, Revoluciones, I, 521 ff. Cf. José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, Conversaciones del payo y el sacristán (México, 1824-1825), I, Nos. 2-5.


See Indicador de la Federación Mejicana (México, 1833-1834), Vols. III-IV.


For these arguments see my “Alamán, Antuñano y la continuidad del liberalismo,” Historia Mexicana, No. 42 (Fall, 1961), 226-228.


Tocqueville, Recollections (New York, 1959), p. 10; Martin, p. 235.


Ruggiero, pp. 417-418.


See Halevy, pp. 36, 264, 498.


Martin, p. 303.


See Stanley J. Stein, “Tasks Ahead for Latin American Historians,” HAHR, XLI (August 1961), 424-433, especially the statement: “we historians have searched so eagerly for the outcrops of change that we have ignored the hard bedrock of Latin American political history, theory, and practice.. . . The Conservative tradition has been far from pathological; it has shown extraordinary vitality . . .. scholarly studies of Conservatism are notable by their absence.”


A critical biography of Alamán would add immeasurably to our understanding of the post-independence years. An uncritical study, which nevertheless shows the use of many obscure documents, exists in José C. Valadés, Alamán, estadista e historiador (México, 1938). Moisés González Navarro has made a perceptive study of Alamán’s thought: El pensamiento político de Lucas Alamán (México, 1952).


The fate of Cortés’ patrimony in the nineteenth century should be studied. We know a good deal about the sixteenth-century history of this feudal domain through the work of Simpson, Chevalier, and others. It is gratifying to see that its colonial history is the subject of a forthcoming doctoral dissertation by G. Michael Riley at the University of New Mexico.


Jesús Reyes Heroles, El liberalismo mexicano (México, 1957-1961), III, 457.


See Robert A. Potash, El banco de avío de México (México, 1959); González Navarro, Pensamiento político; Reyes Heroles, Liberalismo; and Luis Chávez Orozeo, Historia de México, 1808-1836 (México, 1947).


I have discussed the relationship between Alamán and Burke in greater detail in “Alamán, Antuñano,” pp. 228-231.


Herr, Chap. V.


Alamán, Disertaciones sobre la historia de la república mejicana (México, 1844-1849).


Mora, “Méjico en diversas tentativas para establecer su independencia,” Revoluciones, III, 193-376.


Reyes Heroles, III, 541.


In Francisco Zarco, Historia del congreso extraordinario constituyente (México, 1956), pp. 387-404.


Ibid., p. 388.


Reyes Heroles, III, 603.


Zarco, pp. 402 ff.


Reyes Heroles, III, 632.


Mora, Obras sueltas, I, 227, 318, 349-350.


Justo Sierra, Juárez, su obra y su tiempo (México, 1956), p. 168.


The views of Francisco Pimentel, a scholar from an aristocratic landholding family and the owner of several large properties himself, forms an interesting exception to this generalization. In his La economía política aplicada a la propiedad territorial en México (1866) he supports doctrinaire laissez faire, small property holdings, and a moderate program of agrarian reform. His schemes for foreign colonization (which closely paralleled those of Dr. Mora) were legislated by the Maximilian regime. Such a figure as Pimentel, a curious blend of conservative and liberal, points up the need for further study of this general problem. See Joseph A. Ellis, “Francisco Pimentel: His Life and Times,” Ph.D. dissertation (Columbia University, 1961).


Mora, Obras sueltas, I, cclxiii.


López Cámara, La génesis de la conciencia liberal en México (México, 1954), p. 271.


Manuel Gamio commented in 1916 on this nineteenth-century blindness: “Nadie sabía donde quedaba la Patria,” Forjando patria (México, 1960), p. 68.


Mora, Revoluciones, I, 59-73; Prieto, Indicaciones sobre el origen, vicisitudes y estado que guardan actualmente las rentas generales de la federación mexicana (México, 1850), p. 432. Prieto’s remarks on the Indian problem are penetrating.


See for example Lorenzo de Zavala, Ensayo histórico de las revoluciones de Méjico (Paris, 1831-1832), II, 387; Memorial histórico, February 16, 1846; V.C., Ligera reseña de los partidos, facciones, y otros males que agobian a la república mexicana (México, 1851), p. 74.


El Monitor Republicano, November 23, 1848; Pimentel, “Memoria sobre las causas que han originado la situación actual de la raza indígena de México y medios de remediarla,” Obras completas (México, 1903), III, 135-149. Pimentel looked to foreign white immigration as the principal solution of the Indian problem.


El Arco Iris de Vera Cruz in El Universal, December 11, 1848.


Quoted in Charles H. Harris, III, “The Sánchez Navarros: A Socioeconomic Study of a Coahuilan Latifundio, 1846-1853,” M. A. thesis (University of Texas, 1962), p. 118. The relationship between regionalism and the liberal-conservative conflict in Mexico is a topic which warrants further investigation, though it clearly has less significance than in Argentina or Brazil.


See El Monitor, April 19, 1850, and April 1, 1853; El Siglo XIX, September 15, 1850, and June 20, 1851.


See Vicente Riva Palacio, ed., México a través de los siglos (Barcelona, 1888-1889), IV, 721.


See particularly a series of five articles (probably written by Lucas Alamán) entitled “Guerra de Castas,” appearing December 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, 1848. Cf. Howard F. Cline, “Related Studies in Early Nineteenth Century Yucatecan Social History,” Microfilm Collection of MSS on Middle American Cultural Anthropology, XXXII (University of Chicago, 1950) which includes an interesting assessment of the origins of the Caste Wars.


I would echo the suggestion of Charles Gibson that there be further study of the Indian community in the nineteenth century: “The Transformation of the Indian Community in New Spain, 1500-1810,” Cahiers d’histoire mondiale (1955), p. 603.


See Zarco, pp. 400-401; 362-365.


For an excellent assessment of the liberal position see González Navarro, “Instituciones indígenas en México independiente,” Métodos y resultados de la política indigenista en México, "Memorias del Instituto Nacional Indigenista,” VI (México, 1954), 115-119, 165, and passim.


Daniel Cosío Villegas, La constitución de 1857 y sus críticos (México, 1957), pp. 14, 15. As an example see the effort by José C. Valadés to de-emphasize the anticlericalism of Melchor Ocampo and Benito Juárez: Don Melchor Ocampo; Reformador de México (México, 1954), pp. 324 ff.


Reyes Heroles, I, xv.


See Herr. Ignacio Ramírez referred to the work of the convencionales and the Spanish Cortes, implying it was the generally accepted tradition that should be followed in reform: Zarco, pp. 434-435.


Mora, Obras sueltas, I, cxxxix. Cf. Zavala, Memoria de la gestión de gobierno del estado de México durante el año de 1833 (Toluca, 1833), p. 11; Reformador (Toluca), January 25, 1834.


The relationship between the military, liberalism, and the liberal-conservative conflict needs investigation. Mexican historians have shown little interest in this question. The forthcoming work of Lyle N. McAlister on early nineteenth-century militarism will undoubtedly enlighten the matter.


Reyes Heroles, III, 632. Guillermo Prieto in the constitutional convention of 1856 analyzed the writings of Dr. Mora on the subject of disentailment in a way which made clear Mora was an accepted authority. See Zarco, p. 432. The various measures can be conveniently compared in Manuel Payno, La reforma social en España y México (México, 1958), pp. 57-125.


Ignacio Vallarta chided his liberal colleagues for dwelling unduly on the influence of the clergy in their consideration of the Ley Lerdo. He said they should concentrate more on the economic objectives of the measure. See Zarco, p. 435.


O’Gorman, “Precedentes y sentido de la revolución de Ayutla,” Plan de Ayutla (México, 1954), pp. 174-175.


For an extended treatment of the debates over Article 15, including many excerpts, see Reyes Heroles, III, 292-325. For a colorful description of the atmosphere see Génaro García, ed., Documentos inedítos o muy raros para la historia de México, XX (México, 1910), 251; and Victoriano S. Álvarez, De Santa Anna a la Reforma (México, 1903), p. 40.


Daniel Cosío Villegas, ed., Historia moderna de México (5 vols, in 6, México, 1955-1963).


See my “The War With the United States and the Crisis in Mexican Thought,” The Americas, XIV (October, 1957), 169-173.


Molina Enríquez, p. 65. Cosío Villegas refers to the continued vitality of the conservative party: Historia, I, 66.


June 16, 1856 in Zarco, p. 312.


Ibid., p. 347.


The significance of nineteenth-century federalism has been much debated. See for example Nettie Lee Benson, La diputación provincial y el federalismo mexicano (México, 1955); J. Lloyd Mecham, “Mexican Federalism—Fact or Fiction,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, CVIII (March, 1940), 24-38; Reyes Heroles, III, 395; and quite recently Robert A. Potash’s commentary on ‘‘Colonial Institutions and Contemporary Latin America,” HAHR, XLIII (August, 1963), 390-391.


See Frank A. Knapp, “Parliamentary Government and the Constitution of 1857: A Forgotten Phase of Mexican Political History,” HAHR, XXXIII (Feb. 1953), 65-87; also The Life of Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, 1823-1889 (Austin, 1951).


Cosío Villegas, Constitución, pp. 104-112.


Cosío Villegas, Historia, I, 15. We seriously need further administrative histories of the post-independence period. Robert A. Potash’s monograph, Banco de avío, gives an idea of how fruitful such research can be. Administrative history, so intensively studied at various points during the colonial period, comes to an abrupt halt in 1821. For discussion of available material, see Potash, “The Historiography of Mexico Since 1821,” HAHR, XL (August, 1960), 422-423.


Cosío Villegas, Historia, I, 346. He does distinguish between what approached “dictatorship” prior to 1876 and the “tyranny” that followed. See ibid., p. 477.


Reyes Heroles, III, 136-137; 245. Reyes Heroles’s treatment of the subtleties of the Church-State argument is excellent. For a discussion of the question in Italy, see Ruggiero, pp. 333-336.


Cosío Villegas, Historia, I, 377.


Barreda, “Oración cívica,” Estudios, “Biblioteca del Estudiante Universitario” (México, 1941), XXVI, 109.


These ideas were expressed in La Libertad and have been summarized in Leopoldo Zea, Dos etapas del pensamiento en Hispanoamérica (México, 1949), pp. 347-355.


See Zea, El positivismo en México (México, 1943), p. 79.


Ruggiero, p. 202.


See Martin S. Stabb, “Indigenism and Racism in Mexican Thought: 1857-1911,” Journal of Inter-American Studies, I (Oct., 1959), 405-423, a most interesting discussion.


Cosío Villegas, Historia, I, 476.


Cf. Moisés González Navarro, “La ideología de la Revolución Mexicana,” Historia Mexicana, No. 40 (Spring, 1961), 628-636.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at Amherst College.