To the Editor: May 2, 1995
In treating “Guerrero’s Peasants and National Politics” (HAHR 75:2, May 1995), Peter Guardino demonstrates the potential of our new political theory combined with local history, but this is a letter of protest not praise. In that study he reveals the dangers that derive when young scholars fail to develop an adequate command of the relevant data in the wider and even local context. The result is that readers are left with a very misleading picture of the evidence regarding the 1840s peasants’ war. Guardino commits two interrelated errors. The first is the claim that “The rebellions of the 1840s . . . began in Chilapa” (pp. 187-88), and “Until early 1843, peasant . . . unrest was confined to the villages of Chilapa” (p. 200). The second is his assertion that “This region had no export agriculture . . . and private landholdings were fragmented and economically weak” (p. 198, n. 40). Interestingly, Guardino offers no footnote to buttress his claim that Chilapa was the starting point of the rebellion.
Guardino cites my article “The 1840s Southwestern Peasants’ War: Conflict in a Transitional Society,” in Friedrich Katz, ed., Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico, which underscores the multiplicity of issues including land, political reorganization, water, land rents, and taxes, among other disagreements, as the sources of rural conflict in the southwest as an “alternative interpretation of the land disputes” (p. 198, n. 40). He then ridicules it in a reductionist caricature as follows: “Hart attributes the conflicts to an aggressive expansion of large estates fueled by commercial export agriculture” (p. 198, n. 40). At that point Guardino erroneously rejects export agriculture and private landholdings as factors in the upheaval.
The readers have the right to know, and Guardino should have explained, what evidence led him to believe that General José María Tornel, the Secretario de Guerra y Marina, was wrong. General Tornel was responsible for public order and rendered a detailed report on the origins of the insurrection. Guardino has read my article so, if for no other reason, he should be familiar with the Mexican army and government’s understanding of events and should have duly presented and refuted them for the readers. On 11 January 1844, Secretario Tornel issued a six-page memoria to the Mexican congress and nation. He said:
La tranquilidad no fue turbada en aquella demarcación, ni en la que restaba del año de 1841, ni en principios de 1842; pero desgraciadamente a mediados del mes de Marzo, se manifestaron síntomas de un gran desorden in Tecoanapa. El coronel D. Florencio Villareal ofició al juez de paz de aquel pueblo pidiéndole esplicaciones, y amenazándole con la fuerza si no volvía al orden; mas no habiendo producido efecto estas gestiones, el general D. Juan Alvarez promovió y obtuvo por aquel momento el restablecimiento de la paz, en Tecoanapa y en la estancia de S. Márcos, según avisó al Gobierno en 18 de Abril. Sin embargo, aquellas agitaciones fueron la señal de alarma para los pueblos del Sur, reproduciéndose desde entonces varias sublevaciones en ellos. [emphasis mine]
Contradicting Guardino, Tornel places the point of origin at Tecoanapa on the San Marcos Hacienda, not at Chilapa. He continued:
Posteriormente en la prefectura de Acapulco, en la de Chilapa, y en especial el pueblo de Ayahualulco [this pueblo is a mere five miles from the town of Chilapa and is never mentioned by Guardino], se desarrolló el espíritu de rebelión, y el Gobierno dando importancia a estos acontecimientos organizó una sección de trescientos hombres que puso a las órdenes del valiente general graduado D. Teófilo Romero, que se situó en Chilapa para atender a las ocurrencias, [emphasis mine]
Again Guardino is directly contradicted. After pointing out that the unrest near Chilapa took place later and that Chilapa was the center of government strength, not of the rebels, Tornel goes on to say, “cuarenta indios de los pueblos de Ayahualulco y Hueycantenango [the latter pueblo is 14 miles south of the town of Chilapa] saquearon la hacienda de Nantzintla” [the casco is located an additional 10 miles south but the owner’s land claims threatened both towns]. Tornel describes the fighting at Ayahualulco as “sangrienta. De ochenta a noventa muertos tuvieron los revolucionarios, muchos heridos y cuatro prisioneros.” [emphasis mine]
Finally, General Tornel explained:
Sea porque el pretexto de la revolución fue suponer que los propietarios habian usurpado sus tierras a los pueblos, o porque realmente tenían algunas quejas, lo cierto es que Iscatepec, Tosaltepec, Zochicalco, San Miguelito, Zochitepec, Tulantengo, Almoloya y Santo Tomás, en el distrito de Ajuchitlan, fijaron sus mohoneras, revelando así el credo político de la revolución. [emphasis mine]
Again contradicting Guardino, the Secretario de Guerra y Marina points to the issues of moved boundary markers and land usurpations, as the dispute in the area immediately adjacent to the town of Chilapa. Ironically, one of the principals in Guardino’s story, Nicolás Bravo, headed a consortium of agricultural exporters, a practice the author claims did not exist, attempting to ship their goods through Acapulco.
My argument regarding economic and commercial growth has stimulated some debate among historians in light of the growing evidence of that phenomenon in the Costa Chica, Michoacán, Tlaxcala, and the later state of Morelos. That is a deep issue that may force a modification of our notions regarding state autonomy and economic growth, one which will probably end only after more extensive investigation. I should add that, having studied Guerrero for almost ten years in what were then difficult conditions, I would have been happy to share my data with Guardino or offered advice if he had bothered to ask.
john mason hart, University of Houston
To the Editor: May 25, 1995
Dr. Hart takes issue with my characterization of the district of Chilapa as the geographic starting point of the rebellions and my argument that the rebellions were not sparked by the expansion of commercial export agriculture.
Regarding the starting point of the rebellions, Tornel certainly stated that the unrest began in Tecoanapa in March 1842. However the Tecoanapa dispute was, as Tornel pointed out, quickly smoothed over. Moreover, it had no direct relationship with later events a few miles further north. The villagers of Tecoanapa had deserted their village because the military commander of Costa Chica, Florencio Villareal, had attempted to move them into his jurisdiction. (See the Riva Palacio Papers at the University of Texas at Austin, document 1300, Alvarez to Mariano Riva Palacio, May 31, 1842.) Tomel placed the Tecoanapa dispute in his report in an effort to tar Juan Alvarez as an enemy of order by linking him to a series of problems in Guerrero. Hart’s belief that the Tecoanapa dispute was directly related to the rebellions seems to stem from a significant error. In his article Hart confuses the Hacienda of San Marcos, adjacent to Tecoanapa, with that of San Sebastian Buenavista, adjacent to Quechultenango thirty miles north. This leads him to state on p. 256 of his article that San Marcos was burned and its owner killed, when in fact these fates befell San Sebastian Buenavista and its owner. Even if the Tecoanapa incident could be linked to the peasant rebellion further north it still occurred nineteen months after juez Miguel Francisco of Xocutla (in the district of Chilapa) refused to pay rent on the disputed lands in August 1840 (p. 198 of my article), which I had judged to be the beginning of the rebellion.
Regarding Hart’s characterization of Chilapa as the center of government power, I never stated that the town of Chilapa was the center of rebel strength. I consistently argued that the district of Chilapa, surrounding the town, was the focus of the rebellion. The town itself, as I stated clearly on p. 196, was the place of residence of most of the local elite, the enemies of the rebels. Dr. Hart apparently misunderstood me here.
I certainly agree that within the district of Chilapa Ayahualulco and Hueycantenango were two of the villages most heavily involved in the rebellions. I did not feel obligated to mention villages by name in a brief article about a set of rebellions in which, eventually, hundreds of villages took part. Dr. Hart and I both agree on the importance of the district of Chilapa. (See p. 36 of his book, Revolutionary Mexico.)
I regret that Dr. Hart took my brief summary in a footnote to be a caricature of his views. Perhaps I did not sufficiently explain Dr. Hart’s article, which discusses a variety of factors leading to rebellion. Nevertheless, Dr. Hart repeatedly stresses the expansion of large estates driven by commercial export agriculture. For example, on p. 250 Dr. Hart says, “This rebellion, like most others in central Mexico between 1810 and 1910, was ‘modern’ in its economic causation, resulting from economic and social dislocations caused by the development of private estates and commercial land usage that deprived the villages.’’ Moreover, Dr. Hart continues this emphasis on commercial agriculture and exports in his letter as well. Perhaps I summarized Dr. Hart’s argument too quickly, but I did not deliberately caricature it.
I agree with Dr. Hart that land disputes were crucial issues in the rebellions. I never rejected private landholdings as factors in the rebellion, despite Hart’s claim to the contrary. I dedicated pages 196–200 to a detailed discussion of the most prominent land disputes in Chilapa.
Where I strongly differ from Dr. Hart’s article (and his letter) is in the emphasis on the expansion of commercial and export agriculture. Notably, this is precisely where Dr. Hart’s letter stops providing citations. The documents from the Ramo de Tierras of the Archivo General de la Nación and from the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Reforma Agraria which Dr. Hart cited in his article do not support his argument about estate expansion and export agriculture as causes of the 1840s rebellions. None of the documents cited from AGN Tierras refers to any event after 1822. The overwhelming majority of the numerous documents Dr. Hart cited from the AHSRA do not mention any event before i860. The few exceptions, cited in footnote 88 of my article, describe attempts in the 1880s to legalize peasant control of land they had occupied during the 1840s rebellions. If Dr. Hart has somewhere discovered evidence of an expansion of commercial and export agriculture in this period and region, he certainly did not cite it in his article. Moreover, I was unable to find any such evidence in the ten archives where I researched the region. Frankly, interpreting the rebellions would have been easier had I been able to establish the existence of a boom in commercial and export agriculture. Such evidence would have allowed me to make greater use of the theoretical insights provided by much of the general literature on peasant unrest. It certainly would not have weakened my article’s central arguments about the relationship between national politics and peasant resistance.
I did not set out in this article or in the larger project from which it is derived to criticize Dr. Hart or refute his findings. However, I obviously disagree with some of his arguments.
peterguardino, Indiana University