The Hidalgo revolt of 1810 marked the commencement of conflicts that brought independence to Mexico in 1821 and then led to a series of revolutionary changes that endured for decades into the national era. As colonial rule ended the contested processes of nation-building began. Mexicans faced new links to the Atlantic economy: silver mining collapsed and struggled to recuperate; textile production foundered in the face of industrial imports, then began to revive with early industrialization in Mexico. A colonial state that was oriented to mediate conflicts gave way to a national polity in which diverse Mexicans saw the state as an agent of their interests in conflict. Elites and popular groups struggled, and at times fought, to determine who would control the state and participate in national, regional, and local politics. Many villagers saw the postindependence era of conflict as a time to renegotiate production and labor relations. And beginning with insurgency in 1810, rural families forced radical transformations in agrarian production and social relations in the region that had been the engine of commercial development in late colonial Mexico: the Bajío, a fertile basin that lay north and west of Mexico City and the central highlands.

The interpretation just given challenges an entrenched vision of Mexican history: that for all their popular participation, the conflicts that began in 1810 and led to independence constituted a social revolution that failed, while the conflicts that began in 1910, with greater mobilization of the populace and radicalization of the elites, became a transforming national revolution. In accord with this vision, only in the twentieth century did landed elites face expropriation, while peasant communities found new life with massive redistribution of land through agrarian reform. Only after 1910 did a self-proclaimed revolutionary state take power, with peasant villagers an essential political base. If Mexico’s revolutionary tradition began in 1810, it was a tradition that was defeated and denied until the great mobilizations of 1910.1

This essay argues for a different interpretation. At least in the Bajío, it was the insurgency that began with the Hidalgo revolt that initiated an enduring agrarian and social transformation. During a decade of revolt, insurgents challenged property rights and the organization of production and forced a shift from large-scale commercial production to family-based agriculture, a new agrarian system that they sustained long into the national era. For one major estate, detailed evidence reveals a transformation of rural society that included challenges to patriarchy. Did insurgency change family relations across the Bajío? This question is asked, but only partially answered. Analysis of the conflicts that remade agrarian society in the Bajío add a key element to a rapidly emerging vision of popular participation in the struggle for independence and nation-building across Mexico. The result is a new understanding of Mexico from 1810 to 1855 that emphasizes popular power and contested transformations. In popular mobilization, state transformation, and socioeconomic change, the conflictive nineteenth-century decades of insurgency, independence, and nation-building appear at least as revolutionary as the self-consciously revolutionary era of 1910 to 1940.

Popular Power in Mexico, 1810-1880

It has long been recognized that popular insurgents were key participants in Mexico’s war for independence.2 But recent studies have added a new dimension to understanding the decades after independence, revealing that urban popular groups and rural communities also participated in the contested politics of nation-building.3 The processes that created the Mexican nation were not reserved to elites and closed to the majority. Popular groups played essential roles as insurgents during the wars for independence; as mobilized political bases during decades of nation-building; and as guerrilla fighters, political actors, and agrarian rebels during midcentury conflicts over liberal reforms and foreign interventions. Popular groups joined these conflicts to press popular agendas—a more agrarian independence, a more participatory national politics, and a greater respect for community traditions.

Studies of popular insurgencies and postindependence politics, however, have generally concluded that while popular forces joined key nineteenth-century conflicts over nation-building, outcomes repeatedly favored the elites. Popular insurgents fought for independence from 1810 to 1821, but it was a coalition of the former royalist army and established elites that was at the core of the alliance that Agustín Iturbide forged in founding the nation. Although popular guerrillas proved essential to liberal victories over Mexican conservatives and French troops in the 1850s and 1860s—and in the process promoted a more popular liberalism—with the liberal triumph came the consolidation of the Díaz regime, the privatization of community lands, and a capitalist development project that undermined the communitarian culture that popular liberals had fought to promote.4

On the surface, popular forces appear to have participated in the contests that created Mexico, yet they failed to achieve their principal aims. These popular forces offered alternative visions and fought to attain them; they joined key battles, only to be swept aside and confirmed as subordinates once conflicts ended and elites again consolidated power. Alternative visions might persist among communities of veterans, along with memories of power, or even glory, during times of mobilization. But in the end elites ruled—regionally at first, nationally in time—with their projects but slightly modified. No wonder popular forces appear most visibly in Mexico’s first century of national life as insurgents—protesting assaults on community lands and autonomy, resisting challenges to the security of life on landed estates, and fighting to limit their losses.5

New studies, however, suggest a much more persistent and successful participation of popular forces in Mexican independence and nation-building. As contests emerged over the creation and control of an imagined national regime, fundamental conflicts could not be contained beneath elite presumptions of power. The Mexico that emerged from 1810 to the midcentury era of liberal reforms was marked by endemic conflicts protagonized by divided and often frustrated elites and by popular groups who insisted that they too were agents in the creation of an emerging national society. The latter fully expected to participate in designing the state, shaping production, organizing social relations, and contesting cultural constructions.

Yucatán often serves as a model of independence that began as an elitist process but culminated in massive insurrectionary resistance—the Caste War that began in 1847. Yet a recent analysis by Terry Rugeley reveals that Maya notables and peasants actively participated in early national developments in Yucatán. During the experiment with Spanish liberal constitutionalism in 1813 and 1814, batabs, the traditional Maya governors, repeatedly led communities in demanding rights to self-government. Thus began a long regional process of contested nation-building. Yucatecan elites sought to dominate the state. Simultaneously, batabs and Maya communities pursued their own visions of independence. The result was a conflictive history in which central Mexican elites, Yucatecan factions, and Maya communities negotiated state powers and taxes, the role of the church, and property rights. Yucatecan leaders repeatedly legislated assaults on Mayan resources and autonomy. Implementation, however, required the cooperation of the batabs, who could sustain their powers only by maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the peasant majority. And Yucatecan political factions could fight each other, or the Mexican nation, only by arming Maya villagers—mobilizations that required concessions on taxes, land, and local autonomy. Conflict escalated. Assaults on Mayan ancestral lands continued. Batabs became alienated from regional elites. Peasants faced the disillusion of promises broken.

The Caste War emerged from decades of conflicts in which the Maya had participated. The 1847 uprising was not a sudden explosion of resistance to an elitist regional regime. It was the violent culmination of a long-contested process of Yucatecan national development that the Maya had joined in 1813. The Caste War appears as a Mayan war for independence from creole Yucatán, following the model of Yucatecan creole’s war for independence from Mexico, which in turn followed the model of Mexico’s war for independence from Spain. Maya participated throughout all these struggles. It was, therefore, decades of political participation, with repeated frustrations, that led to the Maya’s war for independence. Elite power was not consolidated on the peninsula until the henequen export boom of the late nineteenth century. From 1810 to 1870, Maya power was an active, unavoidable, and effective (though never dominant) presence in Yucatecan history.6

Peter Guardino’s innovative analysis of insurgency, independence, and nation-building in the regions that at midcentury became the state of Guerrero also brings new understandings of popular participation in the creation of Mexico.7 He details a popular insurgency for independence that became a force for popular federalism up to the consolidation of the liberal state in the 1850s. Regional leaders depended upon and negotiated with diverse, active popular bases. From 1810 to 1821 they pressured for independence. They forced themselves into Agustín Iturbide’s coalition for independence in 1821 and promoted a national polity of broad participation and local autonomy during the 1820s, culminating in Vicente Guerrero’s ascent to the presidency in 1829.

Guardino goes on to demonstrate that popular forces provoked the elite reactions that first produced centralism, and then conservatism, from the 1830s into the 1850s. And the popular federalists of Guerrero, mobilized by Juan Alvarez, led the national liberal coalition to triumph in 1855. Popular federalist issues—broad political participation, local and regional autonomy, land rights for the rural majority—challenged the liberal constitutional convention of 1856-57. The Constitution of 1857, and the beleaguered national liberal regime, however, turned against the popular liberals’ agenda. After 1857 the national regime centralized state power, legislated the abolition of community landholding, and challenged popular Catholicism. We await an analysis of the national triumph of liberalism that recognizes the popular roots of the movement, as detailed by Guardino, and explains the eventual marginalization of the popular program in the national regime.

Guardino demonstrates that while popular forces based in Guerrero did not design and control the independence movement and the creation of the national state, they participated powerfully in these developments. In the 1820s and 1850s, movements of broad participation brought men from Guerrero to the presidency—if only briefly. More importantly, political federalism, opposition to free trade (which constituted an assault on both urban artisans and Guerrero cotton growers), and the defense of community lands remained contested issues through the early decades of the national period, precisely because they were insistently pressed forward by popular political forces.8 The federalists of Guerrero did not simply fail, even if they were marginalized within the national liberal regime after 1856. They defined key elements of the first half-century of national development, and they championed popular issues that would persist into the twentieth century.

A pattern begins to emerge from new studies of nation-building in Yucatán and Guerrero. Regional economies, social organizations, and political issues differed. Yet insistent popular participation in the contested politics of nation-building marked both regions from 1810 through the 1850s and beyond. Yucatán and Guerrero had experienced limited colonial development. Neither offered the mix of silver deposits and good agricultural lands that drove colonial concentrations in the Mexican central highlands, the Bajío, and the near north. The colonial presence in Yucatán was limited and led by the Church. The colonial order in Guerrero was limited and defined by links between the state and favored merchants. Neither region developed entrenched landed elites prior to independence, a situation that facilitated popular political mobilization in the early national era, however different the regional manifestations of these mobilizations became.9

In contrast, in the core regions of central Mexico colonial elites had accumulated wealth through commerce and mining and had secured it in vast and valuable landed estates. In the Bajío, as well as in the Mezquital and adjacent zones northeast of Mexico City, regions with entrenched landed elites, popular mobilizations after 1810 become deeply agrarian conflicts.10 In the face of such threats, landed elites joined Iturbide’s limited movement for independence, aiming to rule national institutions and limit popular political power. In Morelos, the sugar basin just south of Mexico City, a persistent tradition of agrarian resistance was constrained during the early nineteenth century by dominant landed elites.11

Yet where political assertions of popular power in the new nation were blocked by entrenched elites, peasant villagers found other ways to press their interests. Chalco was Mexico City’s historic granary, a region of early colonial estate development and long interactions between haciendas and landed communities. Estates and villages disputed lands while villagers labored in estate fields. After independence, first Emperor Iturbide, then President Vicente Guerrero, and later Guerrero’s son-in-law, Mariano Riva Palacio, operated Chalco estates. By the 1840s, Riva Palacio dominated hacienda operations and regional politics at Chalco. This base sustained him in prominent roles in regional and national politics. He was several times governor of the state of Mexico, often a national cabinet minister, and a key participant in the liberal constitutional convention of 1856-57. His ability to organize regional politics in the interests of struggling landed elites blocked any development at Chalco of a popular political movement such as that led by his liberal ally Juan Alvarez in Guerrero.

Yet Chalco villagers, stymied in the political arena by the power of elites who usurped the postindependence domain of “popular politics,” still found ways to assert their interests in the conflictive decades of nation-building. As elites faced persistent financial difficulties, villagers pressed issues of land rights and labor relations. They won increased wages for their seasonal labors in estate fields. They fought encroachments on village land and water rights. They protested and delayed implementation of liberal programs that privatized community land. Villagers made estate operations so difficult that during the middle decades of the century Chalco elites concluded that the only way to continue estate operations was to turn increasing areas of land over to villagers through diverse sharecropping arrangements. From 1810 to 1870, Chalco villagers proved that politics was not the only means to assert popular power within the contests that created the Mexican nation.12

Margaret Chowning details another variant of regional development in early national Michoacán. There, during the 1820s, insurgencies brought the collapse of estate production, a decline in estate values, and substantial turnover in ownership. The weak hacienda economy persisted into the 1830s. The limited information available on the organization of production indicates a shift away from estate cropping and toward multiple tenancies. The role of popular mobilization in these transformations awaits exploration. Chowning, however, does indicate a return to estate profitability and renewed elite power in Michoacán beginning in the late 1830s, as estates and elites profited from supplying markets in Mexico City, the Bajío, and elsewhere.13

The early revival of estate profitability and elite power in Michoacán is another reminder that dominant trends in Mexican history proceed through regional variants. Yet there were important parallel’s between agrarian patterns in early national Michoacán and Chalco: a decline in commercial production and estate profitability in the 1820s and 1830s followed by investment and innovation in the 1840s. The key difference appears to be that whereas at Chalco those innovations failed to invigorate the hacienda economy (which only occurred after 1880), in Michoacán the 1840s witnessed the beginning of a sustained reconsolidation of elite power and the estate economy. The reasons for the early success of Michoacán elites and for the more enduring resistance of Chalco villagers remain unclear.

No region was more pivotal to the colonial economy in Mexico, especially in the eighteenth century, than the Bajío, a region with a small indigenous presence and few villages. During the colonial era commercial agriculture developed rapidly on the fertile, often irrigable lands of the Bajío in response to market demand from Mexico City to the south and the Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosí mines to the north. By most accounts, during the late colonial era the Bajío enjoyed the most commercially prosperous economy of any Mexican region. Booming silver mines at Guanajuato, the textile industry of Querétaro and surrounding towns, and the expanding cereal agriculture on the basin’s most fertile bottomlands combined to drive a vibrant economy.

In 1810 the Hidalgo revolt exploded in the Bajío. During the next decade the region was the site of persistent insurrection and intense counterinsurgency. With pacification in 1820 and independence in 1821, elite rule seemed assured. Yet the commercial economy failed to redevelop for decades. An examination of rural production and social relations from 1810 to the 1850s reveals that behind a facade of elite politics, insurgency had brought an enduring agrarian social revolution to the Bajío.

Puerto de Nieto: Production and Patriarchy before the Insurgency

During the final decades of the colonial period, the hacienda Puerto de Nieto belonged to don José Sánchez Espinosa, one of Mexico’s most powerful hacendados. A resident of Mexico City, his vast and valuable estates extended from the outskirts of the capital, through the pulque zone to the northeast, across the wheat and maize fields of the fertile Bajío, and north to the arid grazing lands around San Luis Potosí. He managed an integrated agricultural enterprise that supplied wheat and pulque to Mexico City; maize, wheat, and livestock to Bajío mines, cities, and towns; and wool to Bajío textile workshops.14

Puerto de Nieto was one of Sánchez Espinosa’s two Bajío estates. Located in the region’s northeast uplands, it included extensive pastures and nonirrigated croplands, the latter sown mostly in maize. After 1770 population growth intersected with a commercial boom to stimulate rapidly expanding cereal production across the Bajío. Increasingly profitable wheat, fruits, and vegetables took over irrigated estate bottomlands. At Puerto de Nieto and similar estates, maize shifted to expanding production on marginal former pastures across the upland fringe. The area devoted to grains expanded, but maize yields often declined as marginal lands rapidly lost their fertility.15

During this period Puerto de Nieto was operated as a typical large commercial estate. Annual maize harvests, measured in the thousands of fanegas, were stored in estate granaries to await sale during the recurrent years of scarcity, when prices peaked. Then, to maximize profits, stocks were slowly released on the market. For estate operators like Sánchez Espinosa, with sufficient capital to fund cultivation during years of ample rains, good harvests, and low prices, the profits of scarcity and hunger were irregular but ample.

The resident population of about 150 families at Puerto de Nieto was a mix of Spaniards (mostly creoles), mestizos, mulattos, and a minority of Indians. Bajío estates were in the forefront of the creation of mestizo Mexico. In the 1790s most resident men were year-round employees, annually earning 30 to 40 pesos in cash and goods, along with a ration of just under 10 fanegas of maize. A minority eked out a living as tenants, cultivating small rented plots on marginal lands and providing seasonal labor to the estate.

Patriarchy was pivotal to the structure of hacienda operations at Puerto de Nieto. Only men gained permanent, year-round employment with regular earnings, guaranteed maize rations, and access to goods on credit at the estate store. Only men—and boys—earned cash for seasonal labor on estate lands. Men also predominated among those allowed to rent lands, though in most years a few widows also held rentals.

Women rarely appear in late colonial hacienda accounts—yet they were essential to the sustenance of their families. They kept gardens and raised small livestock, and they “helped” work estate fields, with their labor credited to their fathers’, husbands’, or sons’ accounts. Many women earned cash by taking in wool from merchant clothiers based in nearby textile towns and spinning it into yarn for weavers in urban workshops. More generally, women turned crops into food, wool into yarn, cloth into family clothing—all while raising the next generation. The economic activities of men and women combined to sustain their families. Yet the estate only paid men. The work of women and children, essential to struggling households, subsidized estate profits. Puerto de Nieto and similar haciendas kept dependent families without providing its workers and tenants with income that would meet the full costs of sustaining them.

The patriarchal hierarchy of estate operations encouraged men to acquiesce in roles of subordination, even exploitation. Despite limited pay and marginal tenancies, men were guaranteed secure access to employment, maize rations, and land rentals. They thus sustained claims to patriarchal preeminence within their households. Steve Stem has shown that the culture of gender relations in late colonial Mexico revolved around a key contest: men asserted that they were owed deference, service, and sexual relations by their wives because they provided sustenance; women repeatedly responded that they owed deference, service, and sexual relations only if their husbands provided that sustenance.16

If a key to male power in contested family relations was the provision of sustenance, then a social structure in which haciendas such as Puerto de Nieto offered access to key elements of family sustenance only to men clearly favored men within struggling agrarian families. Such structural patriarchy bought men’s acquiescence to social relations that exploited them and their families. Social relations that provided security yet created dependency enabled estates to consolidate power in late colonial Bajío. Estate-sanctioned patriarchy—guaranteeing and controlling the monopoly of men’s access to work, wages, rations, and land—confirmed men’s economic power within their families and secured their acquiescence to dependence.

After 1780, however, both secure dependence and estate-sanctioned patriarchy came under assault across the Bajío. Population growth and immigration ended regional labor shortages. Estates limited wages while prices rose. They cut back or eliminated maize and other rations. They raised rents. And resident employees and tenants who resisted, or could not survive under the new conditions, faced eviction—often from the only community they had ever known. As men lost secure employment and long-established tenancies, some found opportunities to rent and to clear for cultivation former pastures and woodlands. The repeated result was rapid soil exhaustion, declining yields, and increasingly marginal subsistence. As the nineteenth century began, insecurity proliferated among families on Bajío estates. Entire households suffered—and men’s claims to patriarchy were challenged by their inability to provide secure sustenance to their wives and children. New negotiations of family relations—invisible in the available sources—surely brought new tensions to estate communities.

Insecurity reached deadly peaks in the famine crises of 1785-86 and 1809-10. It was just as the effects of the latter period of scarcity were waning, in September 1810, that Hidalgo raised the cry of revolt. The rebel priest was outraged by Mexico’s—and Mexican creole’s—insecurity in a Spanish empire besieged by Napoleonic France. Among the thousands who joined him were many men likewise outraged by decades of deepening insecurity, an insecurity that for them threatened claims to patriarchy while estate operators like Sánchez Espinosa visibly profiteered from their labor and their families’ hunger. With the security of subsistence and patriarchy simultaneously under siege, many men of Puerto de Nieto joined their neighbors among the first insurgents.

Insurgency and Agrarian Independence: Puerto de Nieto, 1810-1820

Soon after the insurgent movement began at Dolores, just to their north, the families of Puerto de Nieto faced difficult decisions. In early October 1810, skirmishes occurred nearby. Royalist troops camped at the hacienda in an effort to contain the uprising.17 Later that month the royalist commander Manuel de Flon reported that his attempts to pacify San Miguel, Dolores, and the surrounding countryside were stymied by near total support for the insurgency among local landowners, clergy, bakers, shopkeepers, and estate residents.18 Insurgents attacked Puerto de Nieto in early November and captured the administrator, don José Toribio Rico.19 They later departed and released him—worried, but unharmed. Then, on January 30, 1811, as the Hidalgo revolt collapsed as a widespread political insurrection, local insurgents returned to attack the hacienda. Again they abducted the manager, carried him off to a highland camp, and sacked the estate.20

The second assault and abduction convinced Rico that he could not safely remain at Puerto de Nieto. He packed his belongings and moved his family to Querétaro, the nearest royalist stronghold. Nevertheless, estate operations continued; an assistant and the sacristan oversaw day-to-day operations. Rico kept the keys to the hacienda store and granaries and visited monthly to check operations, complete financial transactions, and distribute wages and rations.

Through 1811 conflicts escalated. Royalist forces learned that the defeat and execution of leaders such as Father Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende had not pacified the insurgent heartland. Besieged commanders reported the continued presence of “thieves, murderers, and delinquents,” including a rebel band that recruited men of the “lower strata” across the region from San Miguel to San Luis de la Paz.21 Puerto de Nieto lay at the center of this zone of insurgency.

During the spring of 1811, hacienda operations proved difficult and conflictive. Insurgents, including many estate residents, emptied the store of goods and cash. They took 66 horses, 10 mules, and 11 oxen, as well as 15 mules owned by a priest who rented pasture from the hacienda. Losses to rebels were compounded by Manuel de Flon’s requisition of 20 horses for his royalist dragoons. With some surprise Rico reported that the insurgents had not broken into the granaries at Puerto de Nieto. He suspected that an assault on the estate’s economic core was deterred by news of a Puerto de Nieto resident shot while leading a raid on the granary of a neighboring hacienda. Rico reveled in the fate of the rebel who had been his subordinate.

In May 1811, Rico counted 75 employees, tenants, and residents of Puerto de Nieto who had joined in one or both assaults on the hacienda, a figure that reveals considerable support for the insurgents among the approximately 150 estate families. The rebels had destroyed the hacienda’s ledgers, an act that impugned the legitimacy of their economic dependence on the hacienda. Throughout 1811 rebels camped near Puerto de Nieto, in regular contact with the estate community.

Yet estate production continued. In May the granaries still held large stores of maize. Local prices were high, around 20 pesos per fanega, and Rico suggested to Sánchez Espinosa that he begin selling and taking the profits of scarcity, even amidst insurgency. Through the spring of 1811, the hacienda retained enough livestock and found enough workers to begin another agricultural cycle. Rico paid wages and distributed rations to men who once again worked the land for the estate. Yet the insurgency was a daily threat and the manager pleaded for troops.22

Through the summer and fall, rains were bountiful and workers received their wages and rations. Once the crops were in and pay collected, however, residents committed themselves to insurgency, taking control of Puerto de Nieto in December 1811 and emptying the granaries of maize. After the estate had organized and paid for a season of production under difficult circumstances, the residents turned fully to insurgency and claimed the fruits of their labors.

Soon after, royalist forces fought a pitched battle against over two thousand insurgents gathered at the border of Puerto de Nieto and the hacienda of San Sebastián. Rico reported over four hundred rebels killed, including several former employees and tenants of Puerto de Nieto. After the battle the royalist army camped overnight at the estate. Rico returned with the troops, only to find that none of the remaining residents would speak to him. He understood that the old regime had ended. In the middle of the night, Rico and his assistant slipped into the estate chapel, gathered the caja de ornamentos (chest of religious ornaments) and the image of the Santísima Virgen de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows), and fled before daybreak.23

Royalist troops could win battles, but José Toribio Rico knew that he could not maintain estate operations without the loyalty of at least a core of resident workers. During the 1811 agricultural cycle, he believed that the estate community was divided between insurgents and loyalists, the latter still willing to work for wages. After the harvest, however, loyalists joined insurgents in claiming the crop that the former had been paid to cultivate. Expropriation led to battle, which the royalists easily won. The bloody triumph, however, pushed the remaining loyalists to sympathize with the rebels. The colonial hacienda ceased to exist, commercial production ended, and the manager fled by night.

Rico’s stealthy departure, absconding with valuables and images from the estate chapel, is revealing. For Rico—and surely for Sánchez Espinosa in Mexico City—the chapel ornaments and the image of the Virgin sanctified the estate as a privileged property within the colonial order. If property rights could not be maintained, if commercial production could not continue, then the symbols of sanctification would be removed and placed for safekeeping in a convent in Querétaro. That these valuable objects of veneration had not been claimed in insurgent assaults is also revealing. The religious images, especially the Virgin, surely were of profound significance to estate residents. The hacienda chapel was their community church. In removing the images, Rico took from the resident community important symbols of unity and links with the divine. Rico aimed to punish, both militarily and culturally, subordinates who had chosen the path of insurgency.

Through the rest of the decade, many families remained at Puerto de Nieto. However, the estate disappeared from Sánchez Espinosa’s correspondence from early 1812 until late 1816—five years in which he exercised no proprietorship. During this time Rico lived as a refugee in the royalist stronghold of Querétaro, maintained by a small stipend from Sánchez Espinosa. Beginning in 1816, Rico began to write sporadically to the owner, proposing various attempts to retake the estate and reporting repeated failures. Troops were not able to reclaim the hacienda until 1820, when the manager returned to find a family-based ranchero economy in place.24 Insurgent residents had claimed the lands to sustain their families and community, to support the insurgent movement, and to supply local markets.

In 1813, Agustín Iturbide led royalist counterinsurgency efforts in the Bajío, fortifying towns with regular troops while leaving hacienda owners to garrison their own estates. He justified this strategy by complaining that the funds landowners provided were insufficient to both sustain his troops and defend their estates. The hacendados blamed rebels for their insolvency. In April 1814, eight hundred insurgents attacked San Miguel. Two months later Iturbide completed the fortification of that key town. Yet through 1815 rebel forces continued to threaten San Miguel with bands camped in the mountains across northern Guanajuato, just northwest of San Miguel. The rebel forces included 1,500 men permanently at arms, with another 1,200 available from insurgent rancherías such as those at Puerto de Nieto.25

Persistent insurgency ended large-scale mining at nearby Guanajuato. Small operators, essentially scavengers, did produce silver during the years of insurrection, fueling a contraband economy that helped to sustain the insurgency and establishing links with royalists desperate for silver to fund the war against insurgency.26 Royalist commanders lamented that the insurgency had devastated the economy while promoting corruption. The inevitable conclusion is that production and trade persisted—at reduced levels and outside the rules defined by the colonial state. Neither proprietorship nor taxation were respected in the Bajío during the decade of insurgency. Royalists had to compete with insurgents for diminished produce and revenues.27

In 1816 there was a significant shift in royalist policy. The strategy of fortifying towns while expecting landowners to defend their estates had failed. Landlords could not protect property they did not control. Facing increasing complaints about his record of failure, Iturbide began a program of rural pacification. Soon, however, repeated though unproven charges of corruption led to his removal from command. In October 1816, Colonel Francisco de Orrantía took charge in the Bajío, committed to pressing rural pacification forward.28

In November, José Toribio Rico reported to Sánchez Espinosa on negotiations with Orrantía. The manager had proposed that 60 to 70 troops be stationed at Puerto de Nieto under his command. Such a garrison, Rico argued, was the only way to ensure the coming harvest.29 The manager, of course, had not paid the residents of Puerto de Nieto to plant and cultivate the maize waiting to be harvested. Insurgent families had once again planted and cultivated their own fields. Rico hoped to use troops to force insurgent residents to harvest “estate” crops, reversing and avenging the events of 1811. In the process he would reestablish the property rights of the estate. The plan failed. No troops arrived in time for the harvest of 1816. The crops harvested at Puerto de Nieto again belonged to insurgent families. Effective property remained theirs.

In March 1817 the viceroy approved a plan to station troops at haciendas in the insurgent-held region around San Miguel in time to enforce the planting of “estate crops.” Rico hired workers to repair the casa grande of the hacienda. The goal was to house the troops, though Rico surely did not announce his plan.30 During the colonial years, the casa grande had been the central symbol of the power and property of the estate and its owner: it was the manager’s residence and it provided lodging for the owner and his family during their periodic visits. In sacking the imposing casa grande, insurgents had denied the legitimacy of colonial property. Now, in 1817, Rico began to rebuild it to house the troops that were essential to reasserting the beleaguered regime of colonial power and property.

In May 1817 two hundred royalist troops were garrisoned at estates around San Miguel. Only 30 were stationed at Puerto de Nieto. Rico had troops, but he did not obtain the command he coveted. He had hoped for the “complete extermination of the rebels,” especially the several bands still camped just south of the hacienda.31 The troops—less than half the number he had originally requested—proved insufficient for the task at hand, and Rico soon faced disappointment. By late September 1817, the troops were gone—well before the harvest. Fortifications built by the royalists were “destroyed by the rebels” and, for a second time, crops planted on estate account were harvested by insurgent residents. Sánchez Espinosa, lamenting that he was “worse for the effort,” complained that the attempt to use force to reclaim estate property had only polarized the situation at Puerto de Nieto. After several months of facing royalist troops on a daily basis, the residents had become “insolent in the extreme.”32

After troops had failed to reestablish property rights at Puerto de Nieto and the other haciendas around San Miguel in 1817, conflict intensified and resistance to estate power deepened. The insurgent families of Puerto de Nieto and neighboring estates had lived as independent cultivators for five years. In defeating the troops stationed in their midst, with the help of guerrillas encamped in highland redoubts, the insurgents occupying Puerto de Nieto and other estates gained three more years of agrarian independence.33

With the failure of pacification around San Miguel in 1817, royalist commanders realized that they could reassert the elite’s right to its colonial property in the Bajío only one subregion at a time. In 1818 they began by concentrating troops in the central basin lowlands that stretched from Apaseo to León. This exceptionally fertile and open country extended along a major road that allowed the rapid deployment of troops and an unencumbered revival of trade.34 Yet it still took the royalists two years to reassert control, during which time the families of Puerto de Nieto and their neighbors around San Miguel continued to enjoy independence. Only in 1820 did troops return to reassert colonial power and reclaim the property rights of the landed elite in the heartland of agrarian insurgency.

Negotiating Agrarian Independence: Ranchero Tenants at Puerto de Nieto, 1820-1825

In the spring of 1820, after a decade of conflict and eight years of insurgent control, don José Sánchez Espinosa reclaimed Puerto de Nieto, aided by royalist troops stationed at, and in part maintained by, the hacienda. It was the last year of colonial rule in Mexico.35 Despite regaining control of Puerto de Nieto, however, Sánchez Espinosa was not able to renew commercial production. Cultivation on a large scale, the employment of dependent laborers, and the marketing of stored grains in years of dearth to maximize profits—the essence of colonial hacienda operations in the Bajío—did not reemerge in the 1820s. Instead, ranchero production instituted by insurgent families between 1811 and 1820 persisted into the national era. The property rights that the estate had reestablished only allowed it to collect rents from the families who had established ranchos during the insurgency and from others who had settled at Puerto de Nieto after pacification.

Detailed estate accounts for the years from 1820 through 1825 reveal the nature of postinsurgency negotiations of property, production, and social relations at Puerto de Nieto. They demonstrate that at no time during the six years immediately following pacification did the estate plant or harvest a commercial crop. Production belonged to tenants. They decided what to plant and, after meeting family needs, what to market. The more prosperous tenants surely owned plow teams, perhaps renting them to their poorer neighbors.

When Rico resumed oversight of operations in 1820, he divided estate tenants into two categories. One group (hereafter called ranchero tenants), were listed by name and operated ranchos that included a residence, croplands, and pastures. They paid varying rents, as summarized in table 1.

The second group of tenants (hereafter called maize tenants) were not individualized in the accounts; only a single total was given for this group. They paid small rents for a season’s use of marginal croplands at a standard rate of 10 pesos per fanega de sembradura (about 3.6 hectares, or just under 9 acres), land on which one fanega of maize could be planted. Rentals for maize tenants are summarized in table 2.

In 1820, the first year of postinsurgency accounts, 82 tenants operated ranchos. They shared 54 patronymics. Half of these family names appear in the 1792 militia census of Puerto de Nieto.36 After three decades of evictions, famine, and insurgency, this continuity is remarkable. Many of the ranchero tenants in 1820 had long family histories at the hacienda. They had taken control of that history during the decade of insurgency to claim the land and build ranchos—farmsteads that as tenants they maintained into the national era.

The 60 maize tenants of 1820 were less established. Some were newcomers who had arrived with pacification. Others were perhaps former residents who had fled and only much later returned, thereby missing the chance to establish ranchos during the years of insurgency. The hacienda accounts note a scramble to find tenants during the first year of postinsurgency operation; families ready to rent estate lands were not available in numbers sufficient to bring the land back to full production. Several years of recruiting tenants and negotiating rents would come before production peaked.

In 1820 ranchero and maize tenants totaled 140 households at Puerto de Nieto. To begin to understand their production capacity and household welfare, we need a measure of the value of their rents. The estate collected 10 pesos for each fanega de sembradura rented to maize tenants. In the late eighteenth century, maize yields of 100 to 1 were considered good at Mexican haciendas. Tenants, perhaps on marginal lands, might obtain an average yield of 50 to 1 for maize. Planting one fanega, therefore, might provide a tenant family with 50 fanegas of maize. Ten to fifteen fanegas were consumed for subsistence. The rest would be sold to address other needs. The ledgers indicate an average price of one peso (8 reales) per fanega of maize at Puerto de Nieto between 1820 and 1825. A tenant selling fanegas would earn about 35 pesos, 10 would go to pay the rent and 25 would be retained as profit. Interspersed with maize, cultivators also planted beans, chiles, and other crops, which supplemented subsistence and provided some extra income. Tenants paying 10 pesos rent for a small rancho or a maize plot remained poor—but not desperately destitute. Their material life approximated that of the majority of estate employees before insurgency. But as tenants they had more control of production and marketing. Nearly every tenant family produced the maize it consumed as the core of its own subsistence. They claimed the autonomy cherished by peasants in Mexico and in many other agrarian societies. These same families participated in local and regional markets. Even the poorest produced some surplus maize—and sold it to obtain other required goods. The tenant farmers of Puerto de Nieto mixed subsistence and commercial production during the insurgency and into the contested decades of nation-building.

How comfortable, or perhaps even prosperous, were these ranchero and maize tenant families during the years after insurgency? Apparently those paying to pesos or less lived at a level where sustenance and scarcity were in a precarious balance. Families paying from 11 to 50 pesos enjoyed a modest to comfortable existence. Tenants paying over 50 pesos were commercial growers of some prosperity. Finally, a few tenants rented extensive properties for over 100 pesos and were heavily oriented to commercial production. With these general categories—poor, modest, prosperous, and commercial—we can outline the evolution of the tenant community at Puerto de Nieto during the years after independence (see table 3).

The majority of tenant ranchero families at Puerto de Nieto in 1820 had already established production during the insurgency. The distribution of rents they paid in 1820, listed in table 1, reflects the society they had created while in control of hacienda land. One or more of the three commercial ranchero tenants paying over 100 pesos for extensive properties in 1820 were most likely outsiders whom Rico had recently brought in to boost the hacienda’s rental income. Most other ranchero tenants during this first year were exinsurgents. Among them were six prosperous rancheros who paid between 50 and 100 pesos in rent. The great majority of rancheros paid from 11 to 50 pesos. Half of these paid 11 to 30 pesos and lived comfortably above the margins of subsistence; another quarter paid 31 to 50 pesos and, besides their subsistence needs, were probably able to turn a small profit and live in modest comfort. In 1820 only 14 rancheros, less that 20 percent of the tenant rancheros who remained after insurgency ended, paid 10 pesos or less. This minority struggled at the margins of subsistence.

During their decade of agrarian independence, the insurgent residents of Puerto de Nieto had built a community of rancheros that was hierarchical, yet without extreme inequalities. The great majority were able to secure a solid base of subsistence—and a bit more. Most enjoyed material conditions substantially better than those they had faced as estate employees during late colonial times. Many of the poorest tenants of 1820, the minority apparently surviving near the margins of subsistence, were young householders whose links to extended families often protected them from becoming completely destitute.

Rico had little choice but to recognize the ranchos built by ex-insurgents. He charged rents by the size and expected productivity of their holdings. To increase the estate’s rental income he brought in the large commercial operators. He also recruited—perhaps as part of the pacification program—the 60 poor tenants who paid 10 pesos each to plant one fanega of maize in 1820, as listed in table 2. These poor cultivators struggled to establish family production after the insurgency.

The arrival of maize tenants altered the social profile of the ranchero tenant community rooted in insurgency (see table 3). The combination of maize tenants with the few rancheros paying 10 pesos or less brought poor tenants to over 50 percent of the resident community in 1820. By recruiting poor families to cultivate land in the aftermath of insurrection, the estate increased its earnings. But the arrival of maize tenants created a postinsurgency community that was poorer and more differentiated than the one created during the decade of insurgency.

The community of tenants established in 1820 changed in complex ways during the following years. In 1821 half of the maize tenants who had settled on hacienda land the previous year began to rent ranchos. Many took on larger holdings and paid higher rents. Many original rancheros also expanded their holdings and paid increased rents. As a result, in 1821 the poorest segment of the community fell to just under 40 percent, while modest rancheros, those who paid rents between 11 and 50 pesos, again become a majority of just over 50 percent. Prosperous and commercial growers rose to 10 percent. In 1822 seven new tenants arrived. The poor remained under 40 percent; the modest rancheros still constituted half the community; and the proportion of prosperous and commercial growers increased to 12 percent. Thus, during the first three years of postinsurgency operations, the estate manager searched for higher rental earnings while tenant families took on larger ranchos. The result, in 1822, was a tenant community more stratified than that created during the decade of insurgency, but less impoverished than that left after pacification.

The transformation of the community of tenants continued from 1822 to 1825, when the accounts end. During this time the manager accelerated the recruitment of new tenants. The 149 renters of 1822 increased to 197 by 1825. Most of the newcomers were poor, renting only maize plots or the smallest ranchos—and after 1822 most newcomers remained poor. The number of maize tenants and poorest rancheros increased from 56 households in 1822 to 92 in 1825, expanding from under 40 percent to nearly 50 percent of the growing estate community. The number of modest ranchero families increased slightly from 75 to 87 during the same period, yet declined from 50 to only 44 percent of the larger community. Prosperous and commercial growers held at 18 from 1822 to 1825, shrinking to under 10 percent of the enlarged community. Therefore, the new tenants who arrived at Puerto de Nieto between 1823 and 1825 were mostly poor and remained so. By 1825 the community of ranchero and maize tenants had become poorer and more stratified—nearly half were poor cultivators. A substantial 44 percent were modest rancheros. Nine percent were prosperous and commercial tenants.

In 1825, six years after the end of insurgency and five years into the national era, Puerto de Nieto remained a community of ranchero families. The model of production established by insurgent residents persisted into the postindependence era. Many former rebels retained ranchos that gave them a comfortable, if not highly prosperous, existence. Other families, dislocated by insurgency, settled at the estate beginning in 1820. Many of these early migrants began in poverty before moving on to more prosperous holdings. After 1822, however, most new tenants remained poor. The abundance of families searching for subsistence during the postinsurgency years allowed the estate to build a ranchero community of greater inequality and greater poverty than that established by the insurgents from 1812 to 1820. Yet in 1825 most families at Puerto de Nieto lived more independently and more prosperously than had their predecessors before 1810.

Relations between the estate and its resident tenants can be further explored by turning from an analysis based simply on the numbers of tenants and the rents they were charged—good indicators of the economic potential of the landholdings—to an examination of the rents actually paid. Rents were not always paid on time; in fact, they were not always paid. The pattern of payments from 1820 to 1825, outlined in table 4, suggests complex negotiations between tenants and landlord.

In 1820, as Sánchez Espinosa reclaimed his property at Puerto de Nieto, troops remained at the hacienda, former insurgents retained their ranchos, and the first group of newcomers arrived as maize tenants. In this first year, the residents of Puerto de Nieto paid 97 percent of the rents that were due. The next year, with troops gone, talk of independence and liberation everywhere, and many maize tenants taking on larger ranchos with higher rents, compliance fell to 92 percent—still a substantial recognition of estate proprietorship.

Then 1822 brought an increase in nonpayment of rents, up to 21 percent, from 8 percent in 1821. Apparently reluctant to report this development, Rico wrote to Sánchez Espinosa in March stating only that most rents had been paid.37 Minimizing the issue proved no solution. The following year 37 percent of rents went unpaid, yet in September Rico wrote that there was nothing notable or unusual to report.38 As the number of tenants increased, many—both old and new—challenged the right to collect rents. Rico mentioned little of this to the owner; he also refrained from evicting those who did not pay.39

During the four years from 1820 through 1823, full payment gave way to increasing nonpayment. Ranchero families again challenged estate property rights. Apparently, tenants were so completely entrenched on the land that Rico could consider neither evictions nor a return to estate-controlled production with paid labor. Instead, in response to the tenants’ escalating nonpayment, in 1823 the manager began to recruit large numbers of new tenants who were offered only very small holdings. The newly expanding population of struggling cultivators posed an implicit challenge to the security of established tenants who were delinquent in their rents. If they did not pay, surely some among the newcomers would welcome the opportunity to rent larger holdings. The implicit conflict peaked in 1823; the estate recruited the largest number of new tenants since 1820, while nearly 40 percent of rents due went unpaid.

The standoff broke in 1824. The estate brought in another group of new tenants—mostly poor rancheros. Established families apparently felt the threat, paid in full, and covered part of their outstanding debts. In his understated manner, Rico reported what the accounts record: “I have no particular news; I am demanding that the tenants pay their rents for this year and what they still owe from the past.”40

Despite Rico’s success in 1824, rental payments could still be negotiated in 1825. José Lázaro Arreaga, a muleteer, wrote to Sánchez Espinosa in June asking to rent a particular rancho at Puerto de Nieto. The property was occupied, but Arreaga had heard that the current tenant was “very insolvent,” owed two years of back rent, and had neither the cash nor the goods to pay. Arreaga emphasized that he had not raised the question with Rico—who, he implied, was too ready to negotiate with tenants—and instead chose to deal directly with the owner.41 The outcome of the petition is not known. Three months later, in early October, Rico’s last report to Sánchez Espinosa stated that “the tenants are slowly paying their rents, mostly in partial installments.”42

In the end, the accounts record that Puerto de Nieto’s tenants paid 99 percent of the rents for 1825—essentially full compliance. But no past debts were paid. As the accounts ended, the estate had again established its ability to collect rent, the limited, postinsurgency definition of property. Yet six years of negotiation ended with nearly 10 percent of total rents unpaid—a substantial gain for many tenants, and a reminder to the owner and manager of the limits of estate power during the years after the insurgency.

In summary, ranchero families controlled production at Puerto de Nieto during and after insurgency. After the reassertion of estate property rights in 1820, tenant production was the rule and rent collection proved a long negotiation. The manager mediated between the owner and recalcitrant tenants, communicating little about his negotiations in his reports to Sánchez Espinosa. Rico’s refusal to evict tenants, his willingness to accept payment in installments, and his recognition of the necessity of tenant production all indicate that he had learned the limits of imposition and the necessity of flexibility in the new agrarian world of the Bajío after the insurgency.

In 1825, after a decade of insurgency and six years of negotiated tenancy, the rancheros of Puerto de Nieto paid their rents in full while living in a community less egalitarian than that which had been created by local insurgents. Yet they still lived in a society of ranchero families that controlled estate production while paying affordable rents. They had fought for—and negotiated the survival of—an agrarian society fundamentally different from the world of estate production, dependent labor, and profiteering from hunger that had dominated at Puerto de Nieto and across the Bajío before insurgency.

Renegotiating Patriarchy: Women and Production at Puerto de Nieto, 1820-1825

The men who turned to insurgency in 1810 responded, at least in part, to their increasing inability to assert patriarchal rights by providing secure sustenance to their families. They denied the property rights of the estate for nearly a decade, ended large-scale commercial cultivation, and forced the shift to ranchero production. Surely they expected to control production in the emerging ranchero community and thus to reassert patriarchy within their families.

They discovered, however, that there were limits to their ability to reestablish patriarchy. Insurgency had denied estate property and ended estate production. The estate could not continue to impose a male monopoly of agricultural production. No longer could the manager require that only men be paid as laborers, and that only men (and a very few widows) rent estate lands. The 1792 census listed barely 4 percent of households (6 of 146) headed by women—all widows.43 The structural patriarchy imposed by late colonial estate organization all but guaranteed men’s economic dominance within estate families. The insurgency radically transformed estate organization, opening the way for a renegotiation of family relations that continued into the early national years.

Women emerged from the decade of insurgency already established as a significant minority among ranchero tenants. Eleven of the eighty-two tenants (over 13 percent) named in 1820 were women (see table 5). Women remained a minority among heads of households, but they had become a much larger minority during the decade of insurgency. They were especially prominent among the more prosperous tenants at Puerto de Nieto, forming nearly one-third of tenants who paid over 30 pesos in annual rent. How women had claimed and held such newly prominent roles as heads of ranchero households during the decade of insurgency is not evident in the estate documents. Had men’s commitment to armed struggle left women to take greater control of production in the ranchero community? Had men’s deaths in battle, or departures for other regions, left a community short of men? Most likely both developments contributed to women’s newly prominent economic roles at Puerto de Nieto. But the fact that the poorest of tenants in 1820 were almost exclusively men, while women were prominent among the more prosperous rancheros, suggests that more than just a shortage of men contributed to women’s new economic participation. As men relinquished their roles as producers and providers to take arms, did women expand the scope of their roles as sustainers of their families to take greater control of production? Did an expanding minority of these women have such success in overseeing crop production, stock rearing, and other ranchero activities that they sustained their roles even with pacification and the return of men to agrarian pursuits?

Further indication that women’s economic participation was not merely the result of default during the insurgency is the continued expansion of their activity after 1820. As the total number of ranchero tenants increased between 1820 and 1825, the numbers of women also grew. They remained underrepresented among the poorest tenants, more prominent among modest rancheros, while a small but significant number became prosperous cultivators. (They remained excluded from the small group of commercial tenants who paid over 100 pesos in rent.) Women not only claimed positions as heads of ranchero households during the decade of insurgency; they continued to claim and expand these roles during the postindependence years.

That women continued to become tenant rancheros and heads of economic households after pacification is revealing. It suggests some legitimacy within agrarian families—and the estate community—for this new role for women. They sustained families, paid rents, and at times generated some prosperity. Other questions can be asked, but not answered. Did pacification raise debates within families about the efficacy of men’s insurgency, perhaps limiting their claims to patriarchy in the “pacified” estate community? Did the manager understand that men’s insurgency responded in part to the loss of estate backing for their patriarchy before 1810, and respond to this insubordination by offering prosperous tenancies to women—feminizing the head-of-household role as well as challenging the masculinity of men who had become insurgents and allowed women to take over production. The cultural dynamics linked to the new roles of women in the ranchero economy of Puerto de Nieto during and after the insurgency were surely complex. But they remain invisible in the estate accounts that document their development.

The fundamental irony is clear. Men at Puerto de Nieto risked insurrection beginning in 1810 in part because late colonial developments undermined their ability to provide secure sustenance for their families—the foundation of their claims to patriarchy. Between 1812 and 1820, they fought to end estate power and forced the development of a ranchero economy. But as men fought to destroy estate property rights—the core of the colonial agrarian order in the Bajío—women began to renegotiate patriarchy. Patriarchal preferences remained. But insurgency broke the structural implementation of patriarchy embedded in colonial estate operations. Relations between men and women became more open and more negotiated in the insurgent agrarian society of 1810 to 1820. Women became an important minority among the modest rancheros, first as insurgents and then, after 1820, as tenants. Insurgency and independence brought new dynamics to agrarian family relations.

After insurgency and the shift to tenant family production, estate employment—the dominant, patriarchal social relation of production during the late colonial years—was reduced to insignificance. In 1820 only Rico and two assistants received salaries. By 1825 employment had expanded to only seven positions, including managers, woodsmen, and herders. The estate maintained the male monopoly of paid labor after insurgency—but few men sought employment and few remained employees for long. In 1823 and 1824, seventeen men worked for brief periods, the equivalent of five permanent workers the first year and six the second. During the 1820s the estate offered little employment, and few men sought or accepted dependency as estate labor. The insurgent-forced shift to ranchero family production created new economic roles for women and undermined the estate-structured patriarchal monopoly of labor.

While estate employment was insignificant at Puerto de Nieto in the 1820s, labor relations persisted—restructured by the new organization of production. The few prosperous and commercial tenants and many of the modest ranchero families, including many headed by women, raised crops that required more labor than a single household could provide. The expanding postinsurgency population of poor tenants surely provided much of this labor. The recently arrived and often struggling tenants recruited by the manager in 1823 and 1824 not only implicitly threatened established rancheros who were delinquent in their rents, they also provided the more prosperous tenants with a growing estate population available for seasonal labor. Recruitment appears to be part of a complex process of negotiation between the manager and the rancheros who had taken over production during the period of insurgency. These rancheros would agree to pay rents; the estate would settle enough poor tenants to provide a labor pool sufficient to support the modest prosperity of the more fortunate rancheros.

Estate accounts, of course, detail little of this. But as commercial, prosperous, and modest tenant rancheros increased production after 1820, they inevitably recruited seasonal field hands from among their poorer neighbors. In turn, the newly settled tenants, struggling near the margins of subsistence, undoubtedly performed wage labor to supplement subsistence agriculture. Labor relations persisted at Puerto de Nieto after the insurgency. But labor no longer simply linked the estate to its dependents. Instead, labor relations redeveloped within an increasingly stratified population of tenant families. Details are scarce. But labor relations with multiple, and competing, tenant employers were undoubtedly less dominant, and less implicitly patriarchal, than those that had existed before insurgency, when the estate had monopolized employment. With nearly equal numbers of ranchero employers and tenant-laborers, and with many individuals holding both roles, postinsurgency labor relations were surely more negotiated and less imposed.

Given the importance of women among the more comfortable tenant rancheros, during the 1820s poor men at Puerto de Nieto inevitably earned wages paid by women. Did poor women also work for wages on the lands of their more prosperous neighbors? The rental records do not say, but such developments seem likely within the new, less patriarchal community of tenant ranchero families. Much remains unclear, but the insurgency and early independence years brought a new system of production and altered social relations within the agrarian community at Puerto de Nieto. Undoubtedly, the cultural contests that accompanied these developments were intense.

Insurgency and the restructuring of production and social relations at Puerto de Nieto suggest new perspectives for our understanding of independence in the Bajío. Insurgent families were active agents in the shift to ranchero production during the eight years they took over estate property, and they successfully negotiated the survival of this new organization of agrarian society—at the price of modest rents—into the national era. And while insurgents forced the shift to ranchero production and to agrarian independence, they simultaneously undermined the structure of imposed patriarchy embedded in colonial hacienda operations. Rancheras also maintained their new roles into the postinsurgency world at Puerto de Nieto.

Insurgency and Agrarian Transformation: The Bajío, 1810-1840

From 1810 to 1820, insurgency and counterinsurgency defined the nature of agrarian society in the Bajío. Did agrarian insurgency, a shift to ranchero family production, and challenges to patriarchy—all of which endured into the national era at Puerto de Nieto—characterize developments across the region? In some zones of the Bajío, such as around San Miguel and in the bottomlands of Valle de Santiago, insurrection began with the Hidalgo revolt of 1810 and lasted until military pacification late in the decade. Around Irapuato, Silao, and León, participation in the Hidalgo revolt gave way to a period of calm around 1813, followed by renewed insurgency in 1815. No region of the Bajío was left unscathed by the insurrection. And while royalist military records focus on guerrilla bands, it is clear that active rebels could only survive with broad support in agrarian communities across the region.44 The Puerto de Nieto accounts reveal that the insurgency there always extended to encompass neighboring hacienda communities.

Viewed in the light of developments at Puerto de Nieto, studies of counterinsurgency and pacification across the Bajío by Brian Hamnett and Christon Archer, plus analyses of estate records from León during and after the insurgency by David Brading, offer revealing insights. They demonstrate that insurgents did force a general regional shift to ranchero production that was confirmed by royalist pacification programs. But they do not provide sufficient detail to perceive changes in patriarchy and family relations. On these issues, developments at Puerto de Nieto remain suggestive of broader developments that await further investigation.

The accounts of operations at two haciendas near León during the decade of insurgency reveal that colonial commercial operations continued through 1813. But by 1815 insurgency dominated the countryside and estate production and work relations came to parallel those documented in greater detail at Puerto de Nieto. Before insurgency, both León haciendas employed a permanent core of male laborers who along with wages received maize rations—assuring their power within patriarchal households. Other men rented marginal lands and worked seasonally as paid agricultural laborers. As rebellion spread after 1815, however, plow teams and other livestock belonging to the estate were lost to insurgents; estate production of commercial crops shrank to insignificance, and tenant families took over production on estate lands.45

Were the insurgents who took control of estate livestock the same resident families who forced the shift to ranchero production? Such developments would parallel those documented at Puerto de Nieto. Royalist reports from 1815 and 1816 describe the León region as the heartland of an insurgent contraband economy. A rebel chief, Pedro Moreno, taxed commerce and collected six pesos for every fanega de sembradura cultivated in the region.46 Political rebels at León built upon the shift to ranchero production forced by agrarian insurgents. But the six pesos collected by the rebel leader was less than traditional rents, which landlords could not collect during the years of insurgency.

At León, as across the countryside around San Miguel, agrarian insurgency forced a shift away from estate production and toward cultivation by ranchero families. Armed pacification began at León in 1818 and succeeded in 1819.47 Pacification was part of the larger effort to reassert state power and reestablish colonial property rights across the Bajío. Nevertheless, the counterinsurgency program recognized the agrarian base of resistance and only “succeeded” by accepting, and even helping to consolidate, the control of production by ranchero families. To royalists, pacification was a long, contested military victory. Among agrarian families it was a compromise that gave them much of what they had fought for—family control of production.

In 1818, as pacification began in earnest, Colonel Antonio de Linares, a Spaniard, took command of royalist forces in Guanajuato. He saw what his predecessor Iturbide had not: that insurgency had taken hold among rural families across the Bajío. Insurgency would only be defeated, Linares felt, when estate property rights had been restored and the colonial state again recognized. Linares described his goal as the promotion of agriculture. He aimed to establish independent cultivators (labradores) on haciendas lands. Royalist troops would oversee the process and enforce the payment of rents. Those who refused payment were to be removed by force. Such was the fate of five hundred tenants who were taken off an estate named Zurumuato in March 1818. Most of them were resettled along the main highway traversing the Bajío, where they were forced to work the land and pay rents. Resettlement and pacification thus conceived did recognize estate property rights; but it also conceded to insurgent families the continued predominance of ranchero production.

The royalist commander envisioned an agricultural society with large-scale tenants, each renting up to 100 fanegas de sembradura while paying landlords rents of only 4 pesos per fanega planted. Two reales of each four pesos would be passed on to the royalists. The proposed rents were low by Bajío standards, and the tax to fund the troops amounted to only 6.25 percent of rental income. Yet landlords pressed for higher rents, demanding 12 pesos per fanega de sembradura. And they insisted that in addition to their rents the tenants pay the two-real tax. The landlords also knew that pacification required tenancies smaller than the 100-fanega holdings envisioned by Linares. The communities of cultivators established by insurgent estate residents during the uprising demonstrated that. With royalist forces, landlords, rebel bands, and insurgent families all jockeying for position, conflict persisted and delayed the process of pacification and resettlement for two years.

The agrarian society that emerged under pacification is revealed by the list of tenants and rents paid at 20 estates located primarily in the western Bajío, around Irapuato and nearby regions of Michoacán. These properties were owned by the marqués de San Juan de Rayas; they were embargoed in retaliation for the young nobleman’s collusion in the insurgent cause. In 1818, a total of 371 rural tenants paid 2,785 pesos in rent (see table 6).

There were only three large-scale commercial tenants at the pacified Rayas estates, but they provided a full 25% of the total rental income. Twelve prosperous rancheros accounted for another 15 percent. Production was dominated, however, by the 264 families who on the average planted only a fanega. They lived as rancheros of very limited means, but provided 60 percent of the estates’ income under pacification. The insurgent-controlled reconstruction at Puerto de Nieto had created a community in which more families cultivated larger ranchos. Even after pacification and the settlement of numerous poorer tenants, the community at Puerto de Nieto remained dominated by modest rancheros—with no more than half the community cultivating one fanega de sembradura (as maize tenants) or the equivalent (as poor ranchero tenants). In contrast, over 90 percent of tenants at the Rayas estates in 1818 rented holdings this poor. There were advantages to insurgent-ruled reconstruction. Yet even under royalist pacification, as insurgency ended tenants at the Rayas estates controlled production. Most families there were poor; but few were destitute.

The pacification led by Colonel Anastasio de Bustamante at Valle de Santiago reveals the difficulties of establishing royalist control. To dominate this long-contested zone, in the summer of 1820 he maintained 62 fortified positions. Four towns, seven haciendas, and three ranchos were held by royalist troops; eighteen haciendas and thirty rancherías were patrolled by “patriot” guards. Many settlements built by insurgent cultivators during the previous decade were destroyed and their residents relocated. Such pacification required the widespread presence of troops, along with the creation of local armed guards that were commanded by royalist proprietors and manned by their dependents.48

Sustained efforts from 1818 through the summer of 1820 finally pacified rural regions of the Bajío. Repeated demonstrations of force, offers of amnesty to those who would lay down arms, and the recruitment of former insurgents to command royalist guards were all part of the pacification strategy. Underlying this military effort was a concession: production would be ceded to ranchero families. They would be required to pay rent in recognition of the property rights of landlords. But in these newly established ranchero communities it would be the families working the land who would control production. Finally, in the summer of 1820, the viceroy could announce that insurgency in the Bajío had ended. At the same time, he asserted that the regional economy was in crisis.49 In essence, then, property rights had been recognized, but former insurgents and many other agrarian families were now in control of rural production.

With pacification, life after 1820 in the Bajío did not return to the conditions of 1810. Christon Archer and Brian Hamnett have emphasized that the conflicts between 1810 and 1820 militarized Mexican politics before the attainment of independence in 1821.50 The evidence from Puerto de Nieto, the León haciendas, and the regional pacification programs demonstrate that more than politics was militarized during these years of conflict. The most basic issues of agrarian life—property, production, work, and family relations—became subject to conflictive, and often violent, renegotiations. The era of colonial mediation and the accommodation of social conflicts had ended.51

Between 1810 and 1820, insurgents took arms to dispute state power, estate property rights, and the colonial organization of production. The state responded with violence against insurgents, and their wives and families. Women suspected of insurgent sympathies were imprisoned for years; the wives of suspected rebel leaders faced the threat of execution.52 While agrarian insurgents used violence to challenge colonial property rights and the organization of production, royalists responded by inserting violence into the family relations of insurgents. Beyond the boundaries of Puerto de Nieto, did women caught in such conflicts work to find more independent roles in the emerging ranchero economy? Again, the question remains unanswered.

In 1821 royalists who had led the pacification of the Bajío rushed to join the movement for national independence led by their former commander, Agustín Iturbide. Colonel Anastasio Bustamante and Lt. Colonel Luis de Cortázar Rábago, royalist heir to colonial nobility and important Bajío estates, deposed Linares, a Spaniard, and declared independence. Linares reported popular indifference to the proclamation of national sovereignty; the majority just kept tilling the soil.53 There was little popular enthusiasm for a movement led by the ex-commander of the pacification program. Nor was there popular resistance. Despite their “defeat,” former insurgents retained control of cultivation across the Bajío, paying modest rents. They retained the essence of agrarian independence.

Brading’s analysis of León estates confirms that the domination of rural production across the Bajío by tenant families continued through the 1830s. At one estate reorganized in the face of insurgency, records show that in 1827 all crops were raised by tenants. They paid rents of only 8 pesos per fanega de sembradura. Accounts of operations at another León hacienda, Sauz de Armenio, also document tenant control over production decades into the national era. In 1822, Sauz de Armento had 115 households and 525 residents. Yet the estate employed only 9 permanent workers. From 1827 to 1838, 70 percent of estate income came from rents, which increased from a total of about 1,000 pesos to over 1,400 pesos yearly. Among forty tenants listed for 1831, only six paid 8 pesos or less while one paid 116 pesos; the majority paid an average of 30 pesos to operate ranchos. Numerous unlisted sharecroppers also tilled fields at Sauz de Armento, where the characteristics of the postinsurgency ranchero community paralleled those negotiated by the insurgents at Puerto de Nieto. Both estates emerged with a majority of relatively prosperous rancheros. Tenants and sharecroppers controlled production, while labor relations redeveloped within the community of tenants. The Sauz de Armento accounts document the persistent dominance of ranchero family production through the late 1830s.54 We can only ask whether there too women found newly independent roles in tenant family communities.

The insurgent-driven transformations at Puerto de Nieto and surrounding estates near San Miguel, combined with the records of counterinsurgency across the Bajío and of estate operations around León, document a regional agrarian social revolution. Insurgents denied estate property rights for the better part of a decade, reconstructed the rural economy, and transformed agrarian social relations. The ranchero economy they created between 1810 and 1820 survived pacification and independence—and persisted for decades into the national era.

The domination of early national politics in the state of Guanajuato by the military caudillo Luis de Cortázar Rábago must be understood in this context. The former pacification commander, an ally of Bustamante and Iturbide in bringing independence to the Bajío, ruled as a representative of regional landed elites. He used the military to maintain a closed state political system in the 1820s and 1830s.55 Yet the agrarian economic and social transformations forced by insurgents remained in place. Bajío landed elites were economically weak; former insurgents, now their tenants, ruled rural production. In this context elites would not allow—they surely believed that they could not allow—open electoral politics. Those who ruled production might then claim the state. As in the pacification of 1818 to 1820, and as in the proclamation of independence of 1821, Luis de Cortázar’s charge as the agent of regional elites was to use state power to contain popular mobilization. He succeeded in controlling the provincial government. Meanwhile, ranchero tenants ruled the agrarian economy across the Bajío through the 1830s. Early national history in the Bajío emerged as a negotiation between struggling elites who used traditions of military force forged in the face of insurgency to rule regional politics, and agrarian families who controlled production on ranchos they had claimed through insurgency.

Insurgency, Tenant Production, and the Agrarian Economy: Querétaro, 1810-1855

The countryside around Querétaro is located in an eastern extension of the Bajío. During the decade of 1810, the city remained a royalist stronghold; as a result insurgency in the region was limited and few estates were held by rebels for any extended period of time. Yet even so, insurrection provoked transformations in production and rural social relations that paralleled developments in other areas of the Bajío. Tenant families controlled production in the fields around Querétaro through the 1840s and 1850s. Long into the national era, ranchero families produced both for their own subsistence and for regional markets. They made staple foods available throughout the region, ending the cycles of profit and dearth that had marked the colonial economy in the Bajío.

During the colonial era, large estates developed in the fertile, often irrigated bottomlands around Querétaro and San Juan del Río. Haciendas in this area profited from the late colonial mining and commercial boom and by supplying expanding markets in Mexico City to the south, Guanajuato to the west, and San Luis Potosí to the north. Often with financing from ecclesiastical credit, they expanded production, invested in irrigation, and shifted cultivation from maize to wheat. Yet while this brought profits to landed elites and steady earnings to ecclesiastical lenders, the late colonial boom forced difficulties upon tenants and workers. The former faced escalating rents and frequent evictions and the latter suffered as managers lowered wages and cut rations. The hacendado’s efforts to maximize profits created increasing insecurity for those who worked the land.56

The conspiracy that led to the Hidalgo rebellion originated in the city of Querétaro. But after the plot was discovered, revolt began in Dolores while Querétaro became a bastion of royalist forces. Yet despite this, estates around the city were not spared from the ravages of insurgency. Properties to the west, north, and east were repeatedly attacked by rebels based in the Sierra Gorda to the north and around San Miguel to the northwest. Beginning in October 1810, and continuing at least through the end of 1818, crops, livestock, and other valuables were lost in the assaults. In 1818 royalist commanders still reported that bands of two to three hundred insurgents attacked Querétaro haciendas daily. To survive, many estates maintained militias, while paying taxes to royalists and protection money to rebels. The cost of resisting insurgency proved devastating. Although property rights to land were maintained, profit vanished.57

With pacification in 1820, profits continued to elude hacendados. Estate operators blamed insurgent depredations for their inability to pay mortgages they had taken out to finance agricultural investment during the prosperous final decades of the colonial period.58 It was a Querétaro hacienda owner who at the end of the decade of insurgency wrote a classic plea for credit relief for estate operators.59 In the 1820s, Querétaro elites lost an increasing number of rural properties to debt. Other properties were fragmented as owners sold portions of their estates to salvage the rest. Market values plummeted.60 Without financing for commercial production and unable to hoard crops until drought brought prices to profitable peaks, estate operators around Querétaro were quick to turn production over to tenants. The economic consequences of insurgency accomplished at Querétaro what insurgents had directly forced at San Miguel and across the Bajío basin: the end of estate production and the shift to an economy of ranchero tenants.

Tenant production dominated estates in rural Querétaro into the 1850s. Writing for the state government in 1845, José Antonio del Raso, a local estate owner, offered a description and an explanation of the situation: “Because of the lack of capital to effectively finance production, they [hacendados] have adopted the system of distributing their lands in small rented parcels; they have divided the greater part of their lands between colonos (rancheros by another name) and terrazgueros [maize tenants]. In 1841 they rented to 2,610 small farmers who could barely maintain themselves because in order to meet expenses they had to sell their grain at whatever price was offered. The situation then [1841] persists today [1845].”61 Del Raso confirmed the predominance of tenant production 25 years after the end of the insurgency. He attributed the situation to a shortage of capital. And he saw no social benefits. He lamented how poverty forced most tenants to sell crops at low prices and thus remain poor.

A decade later, in 1855, Juan María Balbontín surveyed rural Querétaro.62 He documented the persistence of ranchero tenant production up to the triumph of the liberal revolution. A comparison of del Raso’s and Balbontín’s figures shows that in the basin regions of Querétaro haciendas declined in number from 95 in 1841 to 79 in 1855, while the number of smaller ranchos increased from 43 to 63.63 Both surveys report 30 percent of rural producers as tenant rancheros, with another 60 percent classed as herdsmen (primarily in highland grazing estates), permanent employees, and seasonal laborers.64

Yet both observers undercounted small cultivators. Many men listed as seasonal laborers were also maize tenants, renting small plots of estate lands.

Others retained access to community lands, notably at La Cañada, near Querétaro, and at San Juan del Río. Separate from his occupational summaries, del Raso reported two thousand smallholders at La Cañada alone— a number almost identical to those he counted as seasonal workers.65 Balbontín, in turn, described the importance of smallholders to the regional economy. He noted how they had irrigated a considerable number of fruit orchards and vegetable gardens and how they sold produce in the city markets of Querétaro, San Juan del Río, and Cadereita; in Esperanza and other nearby haciendas; as well as in various markets in the state of Guanajuato.66 Many of Querétaro’s poor were small-scale tenants or independent cultivators, active in regional markets while also laboring seasonally for more prosperous tenant rancheros at large estates. Del Raso’s and Balbontín’s surveys reveal a complex agrarian society, with tenant rancheros entrenched as a rural middle sector, while many smallholders combined subsistence and commercial production with seasonal wage labor. Tenants and small-scale cultivators dominated crop production and marketing at Querétaro from the 1820s to the 1850s.

Did women find new roles in the postindependence economy of tenant family production around Querétaro? Possibly. The two surveys, like so many other sources, do not address the issue. But it must be remembered that at Puerto de Nieto women claimed roles as prosperous rancheros during the decade of insurgency. Parallel openings for women seem more likely in the central Bajío, where insurgents directly forced the shift to ranchero production. Around Querétaro, insurgency forced bankruptcies and the shift to tenant production—but elites retained property throughout this period. Landlords and their managers oversaw the shift to tenancies. Did they offer valuable rentals to women? Or did they maintain the colonial practice of using patriarchy to consolidate estate power over dependent families?

Ranchero and smallholder control of agriculture did bring fundamental economic changes with important social consequences to Querétaro. During the late colonial decades, irrigated estates across the Bajío basin shifted much of their best land to wheat, relegating maize to marginal, rain-fed fields.67 In contrast, during the 1840s and 1850s irrigated fields at Querétaro were primarily given over to the cultivation of maize. Both surveys report maize harvests fifteen times larger than wheat. After independence, wheat became a marginal crop in the region.68 The ranchero tenants who controlled production on estate lands during the early national decades shifted production back to maize, the staple of the majority.

The profit-driven shift from maize to wheat during the late colonial period brought rising prices and two devastating famines, helping to provoke the revolt that began in 1810. The postinsurgency return to a maize economy, with innumerable small-scale cultivators, brought tangible benefits to all who depended on maize for subsistence. During the late colonial shift to wheat production, drought years repeatedly drove up the price of increasingly scarce maize from one peso per fanega to levels two to four times higher. Such scarcities, high prices, and periodic famines are not reported for the early decades of the independence period. A 1851 report by the Querétaro state government noted fears of “generalized hunger” after several years of drought, poor harvests, and exports of grain to less-favored districts. The same report noted that current harvests “had not been bad” and that such modest results had averted scarcity and high prices.69 Simon Miller reports that during the “drought-ridden period” of 1857-64 the average price of maize at the San Juanico hacienda near Querétaro was 1.33 pesos per fanega.70 In the late colonial era such a low price would occur only in years of abundance. The postinsurgency agrarian reconstruction at Querétaro and across the Bajío ended—or at least reduced—the cycles of scarcity, famine, and death that had accompanied the commercial success of haciendas and landed elites during the late colonial era.

Colonial haciendas had generated profit by storing maize until prices peaked with scarcity. The insurgent-forced transformation of the Bajío estate economy made such profiteering from hunger impossible. Tenant rancheros focused on maximizing maize production. They fed their families and flooded regional markets at low prices soon after each harvest. They limited their own earnings (as del Raso noted). They also made the essential staple of Mexican life available at low to moderate prices. Insurgency, the destruction of commercial hacienda production, and the shift to ranchero tenant production thus brought real and enduring benefits to both rural producers and urban consumers of maize across the Bajío during the first half-century of national life.

Del Raso, the estate owner who wrote for the state government, described these developments clearly. Yet he focused explanation away from insurgency and toward the scarcity of capital. He insisted that lack of financing prevented profitable operations and led to tenant ranchero production. Del Raso recognized that insurgency had interrupted profitable mining at Guanajuato and disrupted networks of trade and transportation, making textile production untenable.71 But he refused to recognize—at least in print—the historical cause of the financial problems that were then plaguing landed elites: regional insurgency, the insurgent-forced transformation of estate organization, and the consequent increase of maize production that kept prices down and limited the potential for profit. Insurgents in the Bajío forced the reorientation of rural production, transforming markets from the domains of the few to the arenas of the many. Their success created the financial crisis among elites. In the mid-1840s, when del Raso wrote, the mining and textile industries of the Bajío were enjoying a profitable period of recovery. The agrarian economy, however, remained productive but unprofitable. During the 1820s, British capital and technology had little success reviving the mines at Guanajuato, while British-promoted policies of free trade blocked the revival of textile production in the Bajío. By the 1840s, however, Guanajuato mines were again producing silver at rates approaching those of the late colonial boom.72 The textile industry at Querétaro also revived, as mechanized mills drove artisans from the market.73 In the Bajío, concentrated, capital-intensive production was generating profits in the mining and textile sectors. For these industries the insurgency could be portrayed as a destructive force, having undermined activity for a time, which then gave way to elite-ruled, profit-oriented production by the 1840s.

In agriculture, insurgency had destroyed profit, but not production. It created an agrarian economy ruled by ranchero families paying limited rents to beleaguered landowners while effectively and affordably feeding both producers and consumers across the Bajío. The revolutionary transformation of agricultural production and agrarian social relations not only endured through the 1840s—when del Raso so lamented its persistence—but into the 1850s and beyond. Only railroads, an authoritarian regime, and the national commercial boom of the 1880s would bring a revival of profitable commercial production to Querétaro estates.74

Did del Raso’s refusal to recognize the agency of popular insurgents in forcing the radical and enduring transformation of the rural Bajío reflect the frustrated landlord’s displeasure with the persistence of an unprofitable (for landed elites) system of production? His emphasis on the scarcity of capital and on unproductive labor confuses consequence with cause. Labor was inevitably “unproductive” after the rural majority took control of production and reoriented it to emphasize family subsistence and local marketing. Most laborers were also producers, available only for seasonal work and not seeking to maximize cash earnings. Such laborers, available on their own terms, were not sufficiently dependent to be counted as “productive” by landed elites desperate for profit. Del Raso’s frustration—even desperation—is further evidence of the transforming success of the insurgents’ agrarian social revolution in the Bajío.75

Independence, Revolution, and National Development

Insurgency brought social revolution to the Bajío beginning in 1810, forcing radical reorientations of rural production, regional marketing, and agrarian social relations (even gender relations) during the first half-century of national life. In the Bajío—the most commercial of colonial regions—the hacienda-based agricultural economy that brought profit to the few and misery to the majority during the late colonial era was replaced by an economy of family production, open markets, and limited profit. Through insurgency, agrarian families across the Bajío constructed an agrarian economy and society oriented to produce sustenance for rural cultivators and urban consumers. The power and profits of the elite were clearly limited by this reconstruction.

Traditional economic analysts might conclude, however, that whatever the immediate benefits of insurgency and agrarian transformation among the rural majority, the long-term consequences of limited capital accumulation and market development inhibited the more comprehensive economic transformation toward capitalism, presumed essential for enduring gains in production and welfare. Recent studies emphasize that Mexico “fell behind” North Atlantic nations in economic development (defined by per capita increases in production) early in the nineteenth century, just as agrarian insurgents transformed the Bajío.76

Such conclusions demand careful consideration. In analyzing nineteenth-century Mexican economic developments, Enrique Cárdenas emphasizes that the available sources only allow analysis of the commercial economy. Mexico’s historically large subsistence sector remains outside the scope of economic analysis.77 This is a pivotal recognition. Production by small growers for family consumption, village markets, and even regional towns regularly escaped accounts based on taxes, employment, and urban markets. And postindependence Mexico was defined by agrarian decompression—a shift of production away from large commercial estates and toward peasant villagers and ranchero families (a shift confirmed and shown as more complete by the present analysis of the Bajío).78

The shift away from large-scale estate production toward an economy of family producers, who reserved much for consumption and local markets, raises hard questions for prevailing economic interpretations. Was the decline in early national production assumed by most analysts no decline at all? Was statistical decline only the result of a shift of production away from the hacienda economy, easily taxable and accountable, toward family economies focused on meeting basic needs, and exceptionally difficult to tax and quantify?

In his re-examination of estimates of Mexican national production during the first half of the nineteenth century, Richard Salvucci argues that three trajectories appear plausible for the period from 1810 to 1845: a modest decline of 3 to 4 percent (calculated by John Coatsworth); a steady state (suggested by Salvucci); and modest growth, as indicated by Lucas Alamán, a very knowledgeable contemporary observer.79 The radical shift from an estate economy to family production—moving much activity beyond the scope of economic accounting—suggests a different appraisal of Mexico’s possible trajectories: a steady state as the worst scenario, modest growth as probable, and substantial growth as a real—yet immeasurable—possibility.

Estimates of early national production that document a commercial economy in decline, but miss family and village economies in growth, sustain assertions of general decline during the era of nation-building—precisely while popular forces contested the national state and forced the reorientation of production in key regions. The implication, often latent in emphases of “instability” as the cause of economic decline, is that popular power and the reorientation of production toward families, sustenance, and broader market participation, however beneficial to the agrarian majority in the short term, was destructive of the potential for “economic development” in Mexico.

Such conclusions are supported, again often indirectly, by analysts of Mexican and Latin American underdevelopment who focus on limits to capital accumulation as the ultimate brake on economic growth. Dependency theorists may blame structures of external exploitation; others emphasize internal institutional constraints, with political or cultural causes. Such analyses emphasizing limits to accumulation, and thus investment, share basic assumptions with Querétaro hacendado José del Raso: capital accumulation is presumed the key to economic growth; structural changes that limit accumulation must be destructive. From the 1840s to the present, such presumptions have justified policies that emphasize profit and accumulation. Redistribution and general welfare are envisioned for a distant future which seems never to come.

Is the concentration of capital the essential recipe for economic growth? The comparative analysis of long-term economic patterns across the New World by Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff suggests otherwise. Highly concentrated systems of production with sharp limits on benefits to laborers and other direct producers have generated profits for elites. In the long run, however, they have inhibited economic growth and popular welfare. Engerman and Sokoloff conclude that it was precisely where many small producers controlled agricultural production and generated expanding markets with many participants, in the northern United States and Canada, that nineteenth-century economic growth—measured as per capita production—most accelerated.80

If markets composed of many producers and many consumers were the best route to economic growth in the nineteenth-century New World, then the insurgents who forced the agrarian reconstruction of the Bajío (along with villagers at Chalco and elsewhere who pressed production and income away from estates and toward families) did more than generate short-term benefits for themselves. They also pushed Mexico away from elite-ruled patterns of production, historically the pattern most likely to slow economic growth, and toward more participatory patterns of production, marketing, and consumption—developments that bought the potential for accelerated and more equitable growth.

Much new research is needed, yet there are signs of economic expansion in postindependence Mexico, especially in the 1840s. Silver mining revived in Guanajuato and elsewhere. As the textile industry became mechanized, it challenged the artisan production that had suffered under the flood of British imports during the 1820s. Both industries underwent a rapid process of mechanization, which enabled them to increase production and led to a greater concentration of profit. Estate agriculturists in core regions like Chalco and Morelos attempted to invest, innovate, and revive profitable production—with limited success. Estate operators in Michoacán did increase production and claim steady profits. And in the Bajío, while landlords lamented scarce profits and unproductive workers, thousands of tenant families flooded markets with sufficient foodstuffs to keep prices low and scarcities scarce—at least by late colonial standards. The laments of elite estate operators did not indicate economic collapse; rather they reflected a new pattern of production in which many small cultivators increasingly dominated a prosperous, perhaps expanding, agricultural sector. We should begin to take Alamán’s suggestion of postindependence growth seriously. Few knew the Mexican economy of the time as well. Descended from colonial landed elites, he administered the Morelos sugar estates then still held by the heirs of Cortés. He founded the Banco de Avío, Latin America’s first industrial development bank, the key institution financing the emergent Mexican textile industry.81

Insurgency and independence, followed by popular participation in early national politics and rural production, led toward a new economic structure in which mining and textiles generated profit and capital, while a restructured agricultural sector brought broad participation (including new opportunities for women) in production, exchange, and consumption. Such developments moved Mexico toward the conditions that Engerman and Sokoloff define as essential to economic growth in the nineteenth century.

Yet neither rapid growth nor equitable social development characterized Mexico’s long nineteenth century. The argument that the postindependence decades brought a real opportunity for equitable growth requires at least the beginnings of an explanation of how that opportunity was blocked and lost.

Economic historians emphasize two additional factors essential to growth. First, Engerman and Sokoloff point to factor endowments—the mix of resources, labor, and capital available to each New World nation. For Mexico, just as the 1840s began to consolidate an economic structure that might promote sustained, participatory growth, defeat in war led to the loss of vast and valuable resources to the United States. The potential for Mexican economic growth was suddenly retarded; that of the United States accelerated.82 Second, analysts of Latin American economic history emphasize the necessity of railroads to surmount geographic limits to market integration—a key problem in Mexico, with its mountainous terrain and lack of navigable rivers. Yet railroads came late to Mexico, bringing market integration only in the 1880s. The delay is usually attributed to political instability and limited capital accumulation. War, defeat, and loss of territory to the United States in the 1840s, followed by French occupation in the 1860s, contributed powerfully to both instability and the scarcity of capital.

When railroads finally integrated Mexican markets in the 1880s, both internal commerce and the export economy enjoyed a period of rapid acceleration. Developments during the Porfiriato, however, brought more than railroads and accelerated commercial production. The late-nineteenth-century era of “liberal” development combined authoritarian political stabilization; foreign and immigrant investment that increasingly dominated railroads, mining, and industrialization; and a shift in the focus of agriculture toward supplying expanding United States and European markets. Mexican elites, unable to compete with foreign and immigrant capitalists in key sectors of the expanding economy, used access to the authoritarian state and the retention of property rights in land to reassert, for the first time since 1810, the dominance of large-scale agricultural production for internal markets and for export. Thus, just when railroads brought about the market integration so essential to growth, elites reclaimed dominance of agricultural production across Mexico. Production by tenant families gave way to commercial cropping. Rural families lost control of production. They participated in markets less as producers and more as struggling, destitute consumers. Many faced lives based on seasonal and migratory field labor. Such conditions funneled profits to entrepreneurial landlords and limited the potential for sustained, equitable growth. The result was an agrarian economy in which production for export soared, while profit obtained from supplying urban consumers was concentrated among the few. As a result, the welfare of the agrarian majority declined. One kind of economy boomed; the nation suffered.

To summarize the present hypothesis: the revolutionary transformation of politics and production in early postindependence Mexico began to create an opportunity for accelerated and equitable economic growth. The simultaneous loss of invaluable resources to the United States stifled this opportunity. Persistent political instability, fueled by international conflicts and by enduring contests between elites and popular forces, delayed railroad construction. When railroads finally brought commercial acceleration in the 1880s, it was accompanied by the reconsolidation of elite control of agriculture. The gains from market integration profited only a few. The chance for broad-based, sustainable, and equitable growth was lost.

If insurgency and independence promoted popular political mobilizations and a broadening of economic participation, then the later preponderance of elite power was not inevitable. Once we recognize the revolutionary reality and developmental potential of popular participation in Mexican independence, the return of elite dominance to Mexican politics and production becomes a key to understanding the course of Mexican national history.

Conclusion: Independence, Revolution, and Popular Power in Mexican History

The history of Mexico can no longer be constructed as a history of elite power, with sporadic but ineffectual popular resistance. Popular insurgents were active and effective participants in the conflicts that created Mexico. Popular groups joined in the political and cultural construction of the nation. In many regions they forced or negotiated transformations of production and social relations. Diverse rural peoples, including women, made real gains; elites lamented their intrusions. The nation was contested at birth.

The Hidalgo revolt was a massive, brief uprising that announced fundamental political and agrarian grievances. It shook the colonial order and set off an agrarian revolution in its Bajío homeland. As a political insurrection that revealed fundamental fractures in the colonial order, it collapsed. Yet it opened up a more basic, more popular revolution that transformed production and social relations in Mexico’s most fertile and most commercial agricultural region.

The agrarian revolution in the Bajío was but one aspect of popular participation in the formation of the Mexican nation. Regionally diverse popular groups were essential to everyday politics and the civil wars that disputed and defined the Mexican state during the conflictive half-century after 1821. From 1810 to 1880, when local communities and regional alliances faced defeat and disillusion, they often turned to insurrection. Even during the Porfiriato—with newly consolidated state powers based on a balance of interests between international actors, the national regime, and regional elites—popular participation persisted, although within new constraints. Ricardo Rendón demonstrates that Tlaxcalan politics were an ongoing negotiation between political power holders and diverse local groups over issues ranging from land rights to taxation.83 Allen Wells and Gilbert Joseph reveal that even amidst Yucatán’s gilded age of henequen, politics remained a domain characterized by elite factionalism and popular mobilizations.84

Future studies will address additional variants of popular power in nineteenth-century Mexico. We may encounter other areas like Michoacán, where popular participation and postindependence transformations appear limited and brief. Yet the presumption that from 1821 until the revolution in 1910 elites dominated national development—only contested by occasional insurrectionary outbursts—has become untenable. Popular participation—in politics, in civil wars, in conflicts over production and labor relations, in cultural contests—appears the norm, not the exception, in the conflictive creation of the Mexican nation.85

The confluence of insurgencies, popular political movements, popular renegotiations of agrarian social relations, and the Bajío’s agrarian revolution produced an early postindependence historical conjuncture that was revolutionary in participation and outcome. In different ways in different regions, popular groups mobilized, engaged in offen-violent conflicts, and transformed their own lives and the course of national history. Insurgency in the Bajío and elsewhere set off a revolution that defined the contested creation of Mexico from 1810 to 1855. It brought an opportunity for more equitable economic growth.

Contemporary ideologues, however, rarely constructed these often violent and fundamentally transforming developments as a revolution. Was the image of the French Revolution in Mexico too radical for elites, yet too anticlerical for the majority, to serve as a template for understanding the conflicts and changes they faced? Were the few leaders who briefly attained national prominence at the head of popular movements—Hidalgo, Morelos, Guerrero, Alvarez—too threatening to the elite ideologues of the era to allow revolutionary self-definitions among political elites? The limits of revolutionary consciousness among elites and ideologues, whatever the reasons, must not blind us to revolutionary realities. If insurgency brought revolution to the first half-century of national life in Mexico, the century of national history that followed must be seen in a new light. The era that began with the liberal regime of the 1850s brought persistent, diverse attempts by elites to reassert dominance, to limit popular participation in politics and production, and to deny a place in national cultural constructions to the broad-based mobilizations that were a founding tradition of the nation.

In this context, the liberal era of 1855 to 1876 emerges as a pivotal time of contested transition. Elites asserted power with increasing yet still limited success. Liberals claimed national power in 1855 thanks to popular mobilization—then consolidated rule while turning against the demands of popular groups. Liberal resistance to the French in the 1860s required popular mobilization and a negotiation of policies and programs—but after the liberal triumph elites turned against their popular bases.86 Agrarian production and social relations during the liberal era also provoked elites to assert their power, with limited success. The response was often insurrection.87

Political stability and the consolidation of elite power in politics and production only emerged in the 1880s. The years from 1880 to 1910 were the only ones of effective elite rule during the century after independence. Even then, the power of the powerful was not uncontested. Porfirian elites had to negotiate power locally—though they negotiated from a position of unprecedented strength. Their railroads integrated internal markets and promoted export development. They ended the participatory agrarian economy created during the insurgent and postindependence years. In assuring their own profits, elites ended Mexico’s nineteenth-century opportunity for sustainable growth with equity. With a stability based on an authoritarian regime they were able, for a time, to limit popular participation in politics and production and block insurrectionary challenges to their rule. But escalating conflicts plagued local communities and struggling families, as a new model of development turned against popular agrarian welfare.88 Festering violence exploded into widespread insurrections when a succession crisis broke the Díaz regime in 1910. Two decades of popular participation in another violent reconstruction of national society followed. This time, reformist elites championed “The Revolution,” while fighting to contain popular forces and programs. Was it because elites more quickly reconsolidated the state, which more fully controlled postinsurrectionary national developments, that ideologues have found it easier to label the early-twentieth-century mobilization revolutionary? Was the public construction of the new state as the essence of “The Revolution” a key element of elite attempts to impose cultural constructions that might contain the most radical consequences of that revolution?89

The state that was consolidated in the 1930s was built upon the irony of Mexico’s contested history: land redistribution and labor reforms responded to popular forces precisely to demobilize them.90 Since then, popular groups have had a limited impact on national politics and economic policies. This progressive exclusion has helped them resist the notion that a state ever more authoritarian, ever less revolutionary, might define Mexico and its culture. They remain active in regional societies and local communities—in Mexico City barrios and in Juchitán, in border shantytowns and in Chiapas. When economic crises or political contests present opportunities, Mexicans still remind those who presume to rule that they intend to participate in the construction of their nation—even as that nation faces a difficult incorporation into a transnational North American domain of unfathomable power and uncertain social and cultural complexity.

Mexican national history began with insurgency and mass participation—with revolutionary consequences. Its subsequent trajectory has brought persistent and increasingly successful assertions of elite power over politics and production. Yet the populace has never conceded the national arena to the few. The continuing participation of Mexican peoples, their sporadic resistance, their continuing insurrections, remain active legacies of the revolution in Mexican independence.


This essay was first presented to a seminar organized by Eric Van Young at the University of California, San Diego. Discussion there helped to clarify the importance and the uncertainties of the issues explored here. More recently, several HAHR readers asked that I make the larger significance of the Puerto de Nieto case study more explicit; a final reader suggested that my interpretations appear controversial. I thank all for their assistance and encouragement. If placing popular participation at the center of independence and nation-building is debatable, it is a debate worth having.


In my study of the social conditions that led to agrarian insurrections in Mexico, I accepted the prevailing view of the consequences of the major rural uprisings: insurgencies that failed in 1810 and a revolution that brought radical change in 1910. See John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750-1940 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986). The view that the revolutionary potential in the independence era insurgencies was blocked, leading to elite-ruled national developments, continues to mark syntheses ranging from John Lynch’s classic The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808-1826, 2d ed. (New York: Norton, 1986) to Lester D. Langley’s recent and innovative The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1996).


See Hugh M. Hamill Jr., The Hidalgo Revolt: Prelude to Mexican Independence (Gainesville: Univ. of Florida Press, 1966); Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution; and Brian R. Hamnett, Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750-1824 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986).


See Torcuato di Tella, Política nacional y popular en México, 1820-1847 (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994), on urban mobilization after independence; and Florencia E. Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995), on Morelos and the Sierra de Puebla during the contested era of liberal reform, French occupation, and liberal consolidation.


Such emphases are evident not only in the studies of popular participation in national politics cited in note 3, but also in my From Insurrection to Revolution.


See Leticia Reina, Las rebeliones campesinas en México, 1819-1906 (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1980); Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution; and the studies in Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Uprisings in Mexico, ed. Friedrich Katz (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988).


This reinterpretation reflects Terry Rugeley, Yucatán’s Maya Peasantry and the Origins of the Caste War (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1996). The best narrative of the Caste War remains Nelson Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1964).


Peter F. Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico’s National State: Guerrero, 1800-1857 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996).


For the larger national debates on free trade and industrial development, see Walther Bernecker, De agiotistas y empresarios: en tomo de la temprana industrialización mexicana (siglo XIX) (Mexico City: Universidad Iberoamericana, 1992).


Guardino details the limits of colonialism in Guerrero in Peasants, Politics, and Formation, 15-43. The classic analysis of the limits of colonialism in Yucatán is Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984). Recent emphases on the development of a late colonial commercial economy and estate system in Robert Patch, Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 1648-1812 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1993); and in Rugeley, Yucatán’s Maya Peasantry, 1-32, offer important modifications that do not undermine the emphasis on regionally weak landed elites—when viewed in the context of the wealth and landed power of those in Mexico City and the Bajío.

A parallel situation of limited colonial development and weak landed elites also characterized the Sierra Norte de Puebla, another region noted for persistent popular political mobilizations during the nineteenth century; see Mallon, Peasant and Nation; and Guy Thomson, “Popular Aspects of Liberalism in Mexico, 1848-1888,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 10 (1991). On colonial developments there, see Bernardo García Martínez, Los pueblos de la sierra: el poder y el espacio entre los indios del norte de Puebla hasta 1700 (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1987).

Recently, in Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700-1850 (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1997), Cynthia Radding documents another region characterized by limited colonialism that was followed by a long period of contested national development, with assertive popular participation in political processes.


Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution, 99-137, 202-9.


See Mallon, Peasant and Nation; and “Peasants and State Formation in Nineteenth-Century Mexico, 1848-1858,” Political Power and Social Theory 7 (1988).


John Tutino, “Hacienda Social Relations in Mexico: The Chalco Region in the Era of Independence,” HAHR 55 (1975); and “Agrarian Social Change and Peasant Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: The Example of Chalco,” in Katz, Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution.

The emergence of parallel, though locally distinct, patterns of popular participation in nation-building in regions of intense colonial development is suggested for Peru by Mark Thumer, From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions of Postcolonial Nationmaking in Andean Peru (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1997).


Margaret Chowning, “Reassessing the Prospects for Profit in Nineteenth-Century Mexican Agriculture from a Regional Perspective: Michoacán, 1810-1860,” in How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays in the Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico, 1800-1914, ed. Stephen Haber (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1997).


For Sánchez Espinosa’s role in the late colonial landed elite and agrarian economy, see John Tutino, “Creole Mexico: Spanish Elites, Haciendas, and Indian Towns, 1750-1810,” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Texas at Austin, 1976), 86-95. This work is based on an analysis of landowners’ correspondence during the late colonial decades.


This analysis of developments at Puerto de Nieto and other Bajío estates before the insurgency summarizes and reinterprets materials presented in John Tutino, “Life and Labor on North Mexican Haciendas: The Querétaro-San Luis Potosí Region, 1775-1810,” in El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México: ponencias y comentarios presentados en la V reunión de historiadores mexicanos y norteamericanos, Pátzcuaro, 12 al 15 de octubre de 1977, eds. Elsa Cecilia Frost et al. (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1979); and From Insurrection to Revolution, 41-137.


Steve Stern, The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995). For a parallel analysis of how patriarchy consolidated estate power over resident families in Porfirian Yucatán, see Piedad Peniche Rivera, “Gender, Bridewealth, and Marriage: Social Reproduction of Peons on Henequen Haciendas in Yucatán, 1870-1901,” in Women of the Mexican Countryside, 1850-1990: Creating Spaces, Shaping Transitions, eds. Heather Fowler-Salamini and Mary Kay Vaughan (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1994).


José Sánchez Espinosa papers, Benson Latin American Collection Library, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter JSE), 10 Oct. 1810. The collection is now reorganized by date along with the papers of the conde de Peñasco, Sánchez Espinosa’s son.


Christon Archer, “Bite of the Hydra: The Rebellion of Cura Miguel Hidalgo, 1810-1811,” in Patterns of Contention in Mexican History, ed. Jaime E. Rodríguez O. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1992), 87-88.


JSE, 18 Nov. 1810.


JSE, 3 Feb. 1811.


Brian Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency and the Continuity of Rebellion: Guanajuato and Michoacán, 1813-20,” HAHR 62 (1982): 22.


JSE, 4 May 1811.


JSE, 3 Feb. 1811.


I use ranchero in the broad sense common to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Mexico.


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 35-39.


See Cuauhtémoc Velasco Avila et al., Estado y minería en México (1760—1910) (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988), 89-92; and Hira de Gortari Rabiela, “La minería durante la guerra de independencia y los primeros años de México independiente,” in The Independence of Mexico and the Creation of the New Nation, ed. Jaime E. Rodríguez O. (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1989).


Christon Archer, “The Militarization of Mexican Politics: The Role of the Army, 1815-1821,” in Five Centuries of Mexican History: Papers of the VIII Conference of Mexican and North American Historians, eds. Virginia Guedea and Jaime E. Rodríguez O. (Mexico City: Instituto Mora, 1992), 287; and Archer, “Politicization of the Army of New Spain during the War for Independence, 1810-1821,” in The Evolution of the Mexican Political System, ed. Jaime E. Rodríguez O. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1993), 28—29, 32.


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 31-42.


JSE, 23 Nov. 1816.


JSE, 25 Mar. 1817.


JSE, 8 May 1817.


Conde de Peñasco papers, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin, (hereafter CPP), 28 Sept. 1817.


In 1818 royalist commanders reported that rebels still controlled the sierra of Guanajuato. The eight hundred experienced troops required to root them out were not available; see Archer, “Militarization of Mexican Politics,” 294 n. 30.


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 31-42.


This section is based on my analysis of the estate accounts of Puerto de Nieto preserved in the Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico (hereafter AGN), Ramo de Bienes Nacionales, vol. 558. Payments to the troops are recorded in the accounts for 1820-21.


AGN, Padrones, vol. 36, fols. 137-58, year 1792.


JSE, 18 Mar. 1822.


JSE, 23 Sept. 1823.


No tenants left Puerto de Nieto in 1822 and 1823 (one died—with no rents unpaid). In 1824 three tenants left the hacienda (two owed no rent and one owed ten pesos).


JSE, 10 Dec. 1824.


JSE, 23 June 1825.


JSE, 4 Oct. 1825.


AGN, Padrones, vol. 36, fols. 137-158, year 1792.


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency.”


These estate accounts are summarized and analyzed in D. A. Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León, 1700-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978), 95-114.


Archer, “Politicization of the Army,” 28-29.


In 1819, as part of pacification, 59 men in rural settlements in the region were amnestied. See Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 27; and “Anastasio Bustamante y la guerra de independencia, 1810-1821,” Historia Mexicana 28 (1979): 528-29.


Hamnett, “Anastasio Bustamante,” 526-31, 541-42.


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 45-46; and “Anastasio Bustamante,” 531-32.


Archer, “Militarization of Mexican Politics,” 284-302; and Hamnett, “Anastasio Bustamante,” 515-45.


The classic accounts of colonial rule by judicial mediation are William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1979); and Woodrow Borah, Justice by Insurance: The General Indian Court of Colonial Mexico and the Legal Aides of the Half-Real (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1983).


Hamnett, “Royalist Counterinsurgency,” 29-30.


Hamnett, “Anastasio Bustamante,” 534-35.


Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos, 95-114.


Jose Antonio Serrano, “El ascenso de un caudillo: Luis de Cortázar, 1827—1832,” Historia Mexicana 43 (1993).


Tutano, “Life and Labor”; and Marta Eugenia García Ugarte, Hacendados y rancheros quémanos, 1780-1920 (México City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1992), 29-92.


García Ugarte, Hacendados y rancheros, 71-72; Christon Archer, “La Causa Buena: The Counterinsurgent Army of New Spain and the Ten Years’ War,” in Rodríguez O., Independence of Mexico, 97-99, 105.


García Ugarte, Hacendados y rancheros, 67, 71-72.


José María de Jáuregut, Discurso en que se manifiesta que deben bajarse los réditos a proporción del quebranto que hayan sufrido en la insurrección los bienes y giros de los deudores … (Mexico City: A. Valdés, 1820).


García Ugarte, Hacendados y rancheros, 91-123. A parallel escalation of sales of debt-ridden estafes occurred at Valle de Santiago. See Hector Díaz Polanco, Formación regional y burguesía agraria en México: Valle de Santiago, El Bajío (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1982), 40-41.


José Antonio del Raso, Notas estadísticas del departamento de Querétaro … año de 1845 (Mexico City: Impr. de José Mariano Lara, 1848), 43.


Juan María Balbontín, Estadísticas del estado de Querétaro … años de 1854 y 1855 (Mexico City: Impr. de Vicente G. Torres, 1867).


Del Raso, Notas estadísticas, 34; and Balbontín, Estadísticas, 37


Del Raso, Notas estadísticas, 86, reports 20,747 men working in agriculture. Eliminating 4,000 muchachos, boys living in their parents’ households, leaves 16,747 rural households. The 2,610 tenants added to 2,170 vivanderos, or provisioners, yields 4,780 producer households, 28.5 percent of the total. Balbontín, Estadísticas, 147-54, reports 18,286 men engaged in agriculture, including 5,408, or 29.6 percent, classed as labradores.


Del Raso, Notas estadísticas, 11-12.


Balbontín, Estadísticas, 13.


See Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution, 64-66.


Del Raso, Notas estadísticas, 38, reports that harvests in 1840 yielded 624,880 fanegas of maize and 43,720 fanegas of wheat; Balbontín, Estadísticas, 163-166, reports that harvests in 1855 yielded 701,066 fanegas of maize and 45,572 fanegas of wheat.


[Memoria] presentada por el secretario del despacho de gobierno de Querétaro … 1851 ([Querétaro]: Impr. de Francisco Frías, [1851?]), 18.


Simon Miller, Landlords and Haciendas in Modernizing Mexico: Essays in Radical Reappraisal (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1995), 38.


Del Raso reports both his views and those of the Querétaro city council in Notas estadísticas, 61-62.


Octaviano Muñoz Ledo, Memoria de gobierno del estado de Guanajuato … 1852 (Mexico City: Impr. de Lara, [1852?]), table 16.


Del Raso, Notas estadísticas, 63; and [Memoria] … de Querétaro … 1851, 18-19.


See Miller, Landlords and Haciendas; and García Ugarte, Hacendados y rancheros, 153-228.


Del Raso’s analysis is not without influence. It is adopted to explain postindependence uncertainties in the Bajío estate economy by Simon Miller in Landlords and Haciendas, a work usefully focused on attempts to return haciendas to profitable production from the 1850s to the end of the century.


This is the emphasis of John H. Coatsworth, Los orígenes del atraso: nueve ensayos de historia económica de México en los siglos XVIIIy XIX (Mexico City: Alianza Editorial Mexicana, 1990); and of the majority of the essays in Haber, How Latin America Fell Behind.


Enrique Cárdenas, “A Macroeconomic Interpretation of Nineteenth-Century Mexico,” in Haber, How Latin America Fell Behind, 64.


See also Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution, 215-41.


Richard Salvucci, “Mexican National Income in the Era of Independence, 1800-1840,” in Haber, How Latin America Fell Behind.


Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, “Factor Endowments, Institutions, and Differential Paths of Growth among New World Economies: A View from Economic Historians of the United States,” in Haber, How Latin America Fell Behind. Of course, the general point that a market of many competing rural producers was key to capitalist development goes back to R. H. Tawney, whose emphasis, argues Immanuel Wallerstein, has attained the status of consensus. See Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 1: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974), 236.


Alamán’s reports are discussed in Salvucci, “Mexican National Income.”


Coatsworth, Orígenes del atraso, 114-15, does recognize the importance of the loss of Mexico’s northern territories; the essays in Haber, How Latin America Fell Behind, do not.


Ricardo Rendón Garcini, El Prospéralo: el juego de equilibrios de un gobierno estatal (Tlaxcala de 1885 a 1911) (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1993).


Alien Wells and Gilbert M. Joseph, Summer of Discontent, Seasons of Upheaval: Elite Politics and Rural Insurgency in Yucatán, 1876-1915 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996).


Guardino, in Peasants, Politics, and Formation, shows how Guerrero villagers and sharecroppers developed their own meanings of federalism and pressed them upon their leaders. Mallon, in Peasant and Nation, argues that peasants pressed a more popular, more communitarian vision of liberalism within the national movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

In “Conflicto cultural en el Valle de México: liberalismo y religión popular después de la independencia,” in Indio y nación en América Latina: siglo XIX, eds. Antonio Escobar, Leticia Reina, and Cuauhtémoc Velasco Avila (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1997), I argue that in the countryside surrounding Mexico City liberal elites provoked cultural conflict by defining villagers’ religion as “superstition,” legislating to limit its public expressions, and demanding “education” to force cultural change on the peasant majority.

Clearly, the popular political and agrarian mobilizations of the nineteenth century were accompanied by important cultural negotiations. Much remains to be done to understand the complex relations among political contests, agrarian negotiations, and cultural conversations and conflicts.


Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and Formation; and Mallon, Peasant and Nation.


Miller, Landlords and Haciendas; Tutino, “Agrarian Social Change”; and Ricardo Rendón Garcini, Dos haciendas pulqueras en Tlaxcala, 1857-1884 (Mexico City: Universidad Iberoamericana, 1990).


I develop this argument in “Liberal Development and the Involution of Social Violence in Porfirian Mexico: Crime and Infant Death in the Central Highlands,” in El porfiriato, eds. Ricardo Rendón Garcini, Romana Falcón, and Raymond Buve (Mexico City: Universidad Iberoamericana, 1998).


Alan Knight’s already classic The Mexican Revolution, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), establishes, again, the central role of popular mobilizations in the revolutionary process. For state cultural assertions and the persistence of popular participation in the postinsurrectionary period, see Mary Kay Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930—1940 (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1997).


See Arnaldo Córdova, La política de masas del cardenismo (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1974); and Nora Hamilton, The Limits of State Autonomy: Post-Revolutionary Mexico (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1982).