Through several centuries the Mexican peasantry has utilized a variety of approaches, including appeals to the king, court actions, political participation, and violence, to defend its landholdings. During the nineteenth century, the campesinos and free villages lost the king and rarely found the courts (which reflected contemporary liberal land legislation in their decisions) sympathetic. The ever-growing demands for sugar, henequen, and similar export products in the urban and world markets, and the related rise of Mexican capitalism and liberalism, combined with technological innovation to create a steadily growing network of privately owned large estates carved out of former peasant holdings.
This study, based upon extensive research in the Archivo Histórico de la Defensa Nacional, presents narrative descriptions of the countless individual village uprisings that occurred between 1819 and 1906. In lieu of detailed sociological or anthropological interpretation, or economic data related to changing land-tenure patterns, the author provides useful descriptions and brief overviews, 151 pages of military documents, and extensive quotes in the text from the holdings of the Defensa. Other archives used include the Hemeroteca, that of INAH, and two private collections.
This work’s principal contribution lies precisely in the publication of documents that are difficult, if not impossible, for other scholars to obtain. The book’s major weakness is its presentation of widespread peasant unrest on a state-by-state basis. Hence, turmoil during a given era is presented in geographic fragments. More understandable, but equally problematic, is the faithful adherence to military reports, which often announce the end of a rebellion, but are actually campaign reports against rebels who simply “pop up” again somewhere else. As a result, the waves of unrest that swept across several states and were rejuvenated periodically are presented in bits and pieces.
For those scholars interested in Mexican agrarian history this study will provide an important starting point. As the author wished, it provides invaluable reference “materiales para otras investigaciones” (p. 13).