The invasion of Puerto Rico by North American troops in July 1898 and the consequent transfer of the island to the United States brought changes of such crucial importance that other previous and decisive events of that year have remained rather obscure. One of these almost forgotten events was the introduction of universal male suffrage. This change first became a factor in the political life of Puerto Rico during the March 1898 elections for the House of Representatives, elections mandated by the Autonomic Charter that Spain had recently granted to the island. Colonial liberals had struggled for many years to obtain this reform, which was finally granted in the midst of the profound political crisis that resulted from the Cuban war of independence. In bargaining for peace and in responding to United States diplomatic pressure, Spain modernized the political regime of her Antillean possessions. Along with the charter came the new electoral law that changed the basis of male suffrage.

In Puerto Rico, where there was no widespread armed insurrection for independence, the March 1898 elections offered a unique opportunity for political mobilization. More than 100,000 votes were cast—11 percent of the island’s total population and 71 percent of all men age 25 and above who had been included in an electoral census. The Liberal party obtained an overwhelming majority, with 81 percent of the votes cast.1 By introducing the dynamics of mass politics that gave rise to new symbols and practices, the March 1898 elections added significant elements to the popular and elite political culture of the Spanish colony.2

I define political culture as a body of discourses and practices. The concept embraces what is written and said about society and the political system as well as each person’s role in this system.3 It takes shape through the participation of individuals in practices that make the political system possible, and results in shared notions that contribute to the legitimacy of the political regime. In the face of institutional change (such as a law establishing universal male suffrage), a political culture can become consolidated out of preexisting values and practices.4 It provides for an instant of shared signs and symbols and, possibly, for long-lasting political and social alliances.

Since not all social groups interpret the political system in the same manner, it seems advisable to broadly distinguish between elite and popular cultures, as well as to explore a more refined and nuanced unraveling of multiple perceptions.5 Applied to politics, the concept of “popular culture” helps one differentiate between the perceptions of the elite, such as those that are manifested in their writings and discussions about politics, and those of the rest of society that consumes, interprets, and reproduces the elite message. The political elite, mostly made up of professionals, descendants of the landowning, merchant, and bureaucratic power groups of the mid-nineteenth century, took the lead in directing not only the poor classes, but also the economically powerful and other middle-class literate groups, toward a democratic mass party modeled on bourgeois liberalism.6 Although I examine the formation of the elite’s perception of politics and the campaigns they undertook to spread their ideas, I am also interested in the common people’s reaction to the messages received. This approach facilitates an understanding of the specific terms in which a new political culture, with active participants and multiple perceptions from all facets of society, was taking shape.

This article does not simply affirm that the level of political modernization as it existed in late-nineteenth-century Puerto Rico was relatively advanced, though I will argue for the authenticity of the democratic experience as it was felt by the participants. The concept of political modernization is problematic, as students of social and political change well know; reversals are frequent and an ascending track toward authentic democracy is nonexistent. Political historians tend to shy away from positing the progression of political hierarchies as contemplated by modernization theory.7 The principal aim here is to study perceptions about democracy among the creole political elite in the decades preceding the massive mobilization of March 1898, and to relate these perceptions to the electoral process itself. To do this I will explore the democratic discourse of the creole elite and will ponder the practices, shared meanings, and agglutinating experiences that linked the elite and the people, who had the potential to turn the liberal mobilization into a party of mass participation.

However, my effort to decode the creole elite’s democratic ideas as discourse is not meant simply to imply that this discourse should be read as the conscious political strategy of a class seeking power. The strategy of a calculated and manipulative defense of male suffrage in order to target specific and sympathetic popular sectors was undoubtedly present. But interpretations based on the express manipulation of the masses are insufficient. At times it is more useful to abandon the effort to decode, and instead accept the creole political elite’s democratic discourse as a cultural event with its own logic.8 What I find most interesting is precisely the exploration of how mass-party politics based on democratic convictions and the ideas of equality, freedom, and genuine representation were consolidated in a colonial setting. The creole political elite considered colonial domination utterly depressing. The colonial condition itself, or the manner in which it was perceived, became a factor that facilitated the creole-led construction of the negotiating, politically active, and presumably powerful male citizen.9

The theme of this article, however, is not only elite discourse, but its effect, though I will consider this to a lesser extent, given the difficulties of such an inquiry. Ultimately, the most interesting issue is the one brought to the fore in March 1898 by evidence of popular support for creoles—the people seemed to accept the role invented for them. In creole analyses of colonialism, disenfranchised peasants and laborers had become highly appreciated (while at the same time despised and seen more as a future project). Devoid of any other significant and attainable goal apart from the effort to establish the rule of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, and despite the absence of chentelist structures already in place, creoles were able to quickly mobilize the support of thousands of peasants and laborers. This seems to be one of those instances in which the cultural dimension of politics becomes evident.

This story did not conclude in March 1898. Less than four months later the United States established military rule in Puerto Rico. Surprisingly, inhabitants of the island did not consider this a frustrating end to the mass mobilization of the March elections, even when the military regime abolished universal male suffrage along with the Autonomic Charter. Certainly these events were beyond the control of the elite as well as the populace. However, the new regime received ample creole and popular support. This situation suggests yet other ways of seeing politics as culture. Creoles could not but accept the judgement of the new rulers about the deficiencies of prior forms of democracy. The invaders considered the spread of North American-led education and direct contact with United States functionaries a necessary condition for a more perfect democracy. Many creoles who had participated in the 1898 political campaigns shared this view; and they positively valued, or at least hesitantly accepted, the draconian decision of the military regime (backed up by the administration in Washington) to eliminate the illiterate population’s right to vote. They considered this measure to be grounded on solid principles of good government. More than 100,000 men remained disenfranchised until 1904, when the new United States-led colonial government reestablished universal male suffrage.10 This unexpected disregard of the 1898 elections, based on the idea they did not meet the standards of democracy according to the United States model, makes them even more deserving of careful study.

Toward a Democratic Elite Political Culture

The 1868 September Revolution in Spain overthrew the administration of Isabel II and abolished the absolutist regime of Puerto Rico, where two parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, were subsequently formed. Before the revolution one faction of the creole political elite had been driven into exile, where it adhered to a confrontational, revolutionary model similar to that adopted in 1868 by many creole leaders in eastern Cuba, where a prolonged armed struggle for independence developed. A larger faction of Puerto Rican creoles, the object of this study, chose to remain within the legal framework; consequently, its members elaborated a peculiar model of political struggle for freedom that avoided severing ties to Spain. This faction adopted liberalism, which it combined with the rhetoric of harmonious negotiation. It consciously and unconsciously attempted to integrate the native-born inhabitants of the colony by constructing a single ethnic identity for the island, apparently in the hope of presenting a cohesive front in the complex and contradictory arena of Spanish politics.11

European political language and cultural practices (such as participation in associations to pursue specific reforms) were acquired mostly through the Spanish metropolitan filter. Many of those who constituted the creole political elite in Puerto Rico had pursued their studies in the universities of Madrid or Barcelona. It could be argued that the metropolis had led the process of elite formation in the colony.

However, it seems clear that the offering of ideas in Spain was varied, and creoles selected, combined, and processed liberal European doctrines to fit their needs. And as had occurred with liberals in Spain, the creole elite in Puerto Rico had been influenced by the democratic models of the United States and other northern European countries. By the late colonial period, creoles were a modernizing group, interested in bringing progress to a colony that they felt had been degraded by the institution of slavery and by the despotic political forms that the previous creole generation had chosen or was forced to accept. As Alejandro Tapia y Rivera recalled in 1880, Puerto Rico, with its tropical climate and its degraded people, was a deformed Quasimodo that he despised and deeply loved at the same time.12

Lettered creoles felt a responsibility to transform the masses into free citizens and guide them toward European (and North American) patterns of development. Some, like José Julián Acosta, inspired by his teacher in San Juan, a Spanish liberal exile, were particularly interested in acquiring an education in Spain “in order to help educate the people of Puerto Rico.”13 Many creoles (such as Acosta, Baldorioty de Castro, and Elzaburu Vizcarrondo) passed through the Universidad Central de Madrid, where different variants of the notion of social consensus were taught, some deriving from French postrevolutionary schools of thought and others, after the 1850s, from the harmonious rationalism” of the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832), which had been successfully introduced into Spain by Sanz del Río.14

As active colonial subjects who had been educated in metropolitan institutions, creoles chose many aspects of krausismo that they found appealing. It was a movement for a change in the attitudes deemed crucial to the incorporation of fully modern liberal institutions and scientific rationality, without losing the sense of religion and harmony among men. Creoles were fascinated by this type of language, which allowed both for a mystical sense of equality and union among all human beings as well as for materialist liberalism based on the teachings of Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment.15 Catalan liberal economists, such as Laureano Figuerola, mentor of creole lawyer Manuel Elzaburu Vizcarrondo, were greatly influential.16 Those studying in Barcelona were able to absorb federalist currents and incorporate their own reflections on ethnicity, thus combining modernity and tradition in ways that reflected currents of thought then evolving in Catalonia.17 Manuel Alonso’s El jíbaro, published in Barcelona in 1849, constructed and legitimized popular culture, and constituted a major anchor for the creole integrationist project.18

One specific facet of this diverse body of arguments captured the creole imagination. Change through violence and conflict was dangerous; it would lead to the fragmentation of society and a departure from the route of progress. Negotiation, education, and indoctrination were the only possible means of struggle. With this attitude, in 1868 Manuel Corchado y Juarbe, then a young Puerto Rican lawyer, published several works in Barcelona. As a collaborator in a collection of writings about exemplary statesmen of humble origins that was directed to a working-class public, he was in charge of writing Abraham Lincoln’s biography. Corchado emphasized Lincoln the worker, a man who never refused even the most humble of tasks, but nevertheless was able to rise to the role of liberator of the slaves. Corchado’s discourse was evidently abolitionist. The emancipation of slaves was an indispensable prerequisite for the politics of social integration and equality.19 But he also offered a strong statement for a new work ethic (“Unfortunate is the country where work is hated or considered infamous”) and for the idea of betterment through individual effort and talent (“Energetic and unshakable wills . . . attain the triumph reserved for the good”). The only problem troubling Corchado was that Lincoln had waged war to propagate his ideas: “We deplore that he had to resort to war, always odious and always harmful.” Corchado repeatedly returned to this argument.20

In 1870, with a more radical but strictly liberal tone, and in the immediate aftermath of the triumphant September Revolution of 1868 that offered a justification for revolutionary action, Corchado published a pamphlet entitled Las barricadas.21 Barricades, or popular rebellions, were a natural event that resulted from the people’s demand for justice. It was also, for Corchado, natural that conservatives and the wealthy, in attempting to preserve the public peace (a requisite for the accumulation of wealth), would recur to the state in its role as the depositary of military force. The bloody repression that would ensue never produced solutions that would prevent further rebellions. Thus the recourse to violence was, for Corchado, irrational. Instead he proposed two solutions. Since the key factor in all uprisings was “ignorance,” people had to be continually taught that, as Tocqueville stated in his Democracy in America, “war is the fastest and most certain way to destroy liberty.” At the same time, people should be given what they asked for, if their requests were fair. Accordingly, people had to be persuaded through education in schools:

No real progress toward civilization has ever emerged from the barricades. The history of all peoples is written down; we should make sure that it is read by all those who are governed. Precisely for this reason education should be popularized; in order that men so instructed will learn to be men; to create schools, many schools where this fundamental truth will be continually repeated: if duty is not discharged, rights cannot justly be claimed; life is truly free when based on strict morality.22

The second solution was democracy. Conservatives had to accept that the rational goal of humanity was democracy, as social science had proved.23 For Corchado, democracy constituted the future of mankind. Barricades were the people’s message that “the government of the people by the people” was inevitable. The rational approach was to avoid destruction, change those institutions that blocked the way toward democracy, and lead the people to freedom through work, fulfillment of duty, and love among men.24 Interestingly, Corchado addressed the problem of the specific institutional structure that was most conducive to democracy. He rejected centralized government (a path mistakenly adopted by many European countries) and proposed federalism.25 The municipality and the province administrated the people’s will. His model was evidently the United States and his references were inspired by the ideal and prosperous democracy that Tocqueville had described, though Corchado also quoted the Catalan thinker Jaume Balmes in justifying the right to resist oppressive centralization.

The politics of creole intellectuals clearly remained within the framework of bourgeois politics. Free markets for labor and merchandize, popular education, and political decentralization would solve all the problems created by the profound class inequalities and color divisions of colonial society. In the colonies, many entrepreneurial businessmen shared the views of creole intellectuals: applied science and technological transformation instead of forced labor, especially in the sugar industry, were deemed the key to success.26 Creole thinkers surely lacked the perspective that would enable them to perceive the contradictions emerging from, for example, the model of growth based on a cheap labor supply and the intervention of international capital; nor did they fully understand the problems of international competition and cost reduction strategies, all of which were indispensable aspects of their export-oriented scheme of progress.

Despite this, their quest for decentralized politics contained a radical impulse and a potential to communicate with middle-class town dwellers as well as the urban and rural poor. Thus, creole thinkers shared with subaltern groups a sense of colonial oppression. However, they always gave priority to the ideals of “public peace” and “social order,” and in this sense reproduced the discourse of “counterinsurgency” and imperialism, advising adaptation in view of the Spanish government’s refusal to grant political reforms.27

By 1870 the creole elite’s commitment to social order and its concern with economic development, seen as equivalent to the growth of an export economy, provided crucial points of convergence with the landowning class. The sugar industry was the symbol of progress. The industry’s technological backwardness and, consequently, its inability to compete in international markets was being exposed. In the 1850s and 1860s the per capita value of exports dropped, from 28.7 pesos in 1844, to 21.5 in 1854, and then to an average of 20 in the 1860s.28 Productivity was decreasing in the older sugar regions, though sugarcane cultivation was expanding onto new lands. Sugar soon experienced a second period of expansion in the 1870s, though the inability of Puerto Rican sugar to effectively compete on the international market would eventually lead to the contraction of this sector. By the early 1870s, creole liberal leaders started to blame the absolutist regime of privilege and the economic policies imposed by the Spanish government, especially obstacles to free trade, for the colony’s economic woes. This approach induced landowners to make common cause with these leaders and to promote the latter’s participation in the decision-making process. But at the same time, the coffee export economy was being developed by Spanish and foreign immigrant entrepreneurs, a move that some liberal creoles could not but consider positively.29

In the minds of the creole elite, Spanish sovereignty over the island played several essential roles. From a utilitarian perspective, José Pablo Morales, a local journalist and self-educated teacher, synthesized the creole master plan in 1865. Continued Spanish rule provided a bulwark against the chaos that would result from a war of independence and against absorption by the United States (which if allowed to occur, according to Morales, who borrowed the line from José Antonio Saco,30 would be equivalent to suicide). Creoles had to behave like sincere Spaniards and proceed with caution and good judgement to avoid any “sudden overturn of the social order.” They had to obtain the desired administrative and political reforms. Slaves had to be integrated into the free working class. Morales’s discourse was spontaneously integrative: “The white creole who today requests justice from his peninsular brother must be prepared to give it to his black brother in a not-so-distant future, or they will obtain it with their own blood-tainted hands.” The fear of black rebellion was also at the foundation of creole democratic discourse and sense of brotherhood.31

In 1873, following the brief upsurge of liberalism in Spain, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico. Creole leaders had played a leading role in the campaign for abolition, and they portrayed this social reform as their most laudable achievement. The memory of these events, expressly recalled by subaltern colored and working-class groups thereafter,32 provided an important icon that creoles attempted to use to promote their integrative project.33

As far as party politics is concerned, the liberal impulse of 1873 culminated with the extension of suffrage to taxpayers and the literate population, giving them the right to elect deputies to the Spanish Cortes. The events of this year constituted a brief but significant experience through which ample sectors of the population came to know the leading liberal figures well. Late-nineteenth-century liberals would frequently recall the struggles of that time in a heroic tone.34 In 1873 liberals were able to gain the support of an electorate of diverse social and racial origins: wealthy sugar planters, landowners, merchants, artisans, the common native taxpayers in general, and literate middle-class professionals. Román Baldorioty de Castro, for example, disseminated a discourse of harmony in urging the liberal rank and file to unite “in the spirit of high accord, abnegation, and authentic brotherhood.”35

The experience of integration was fraught with fissures. For example, relations among sugar planters had ceased to be cordial as planters increasingly competed for freed slave laborers. Solidarity among artisans led to the emergence of a strong and independent movement, as they organized their own mutual-benefit associations and working-class social clubs.36 Liberals also split. Those to the left followed the federalist movements that were then gaining strength among Spanish republicans, while moderate, reformist liberals were shocked by the rapid radicalization of politics in Spain and the Antilles. Thereafter, the regime of the restored Bourbon monarchy in Spain reimposed censorship on radical liberal propaganda. In general, there was disappointment with party politics and the spontaneous surge of unwanted pluralism that, according to a conservative journal, “divided society and the family, breaking the bonds that bound old and respectable friendships.”37

Politics in Puerto Rico came to be dominated by conservative Spanish immigrant bureaucrats and merchants, who were able to organize a relatively large electorate. Those who paid more than 5 pesos in taxes (a total of nearly 30,000 adult males) could vote in elections for the Diputación Provincial and the municipal governments; only those paying more than 25 pesos, however, could elect deputies to the Spanish Cortes. Uninterested in democracy, native property owners and professionals severed their ties to the creole political elite that had previously represented them. In doing this, native groups turned their backs on the creole leaders who, basing their liberal politics on ethnic integrationist strategies, considered themselves the country’s natural leaders. Conservatives organized themselves into the Partido Español Incondicional (whose members were called incondicionales) and gradually constructed a solid structure of patronage. Their clientelist networks were based on the concession of local favors and public office, and most likely were built up on previously existing practices of male sociability. In warehouse offices, public buildings, and the homes of wealthy merchants and landowners, a new political culture of native property owners was being forged.38

In certain spheres creole democratic discourse was able to develop relatively unimpaired. Patriotic and ethnically integrationist language was a pertinent and safe form of resistance. In 1876 José Pablo Morales rescued the image of the jíbaro: “What is a jíbaro? I am one, but I have not succeeded in precisely defining this word.” For Morales the jíbaro was the product of the fusion of the white, Indian, and black races, a type of statement that entailed a notable shift in the semantics of ethnicity. Creole identification with this rural character of diverse ethnic traits was felt to be intensely democratic in that it symbolically brought the creole elite, then feeling marginalized from power, to the level of peasants and day laborers.39 Creole intellectuals were feeling the need to bring smallholders, trapped in conservative patron-client relations, and disenfranchised landless laborers into their project of political power by constructing an ethnic and racial cultural type within which all, and exclusively, the native population could fit. By the early 1880s, when Manuel Alonso published the second augmented edition of El jíbaro and Corchado Juarbe reedited Las barricadas, social tensions were beginning to reemerge.

At this time sugar prices were continuing their downward trend. Technological development had made a few plantations competitive, but in the remainder, planters began to reduce the amount of land devoted to sugarcane. As sugar production decreased, the specter of unemployment and underemployment began to appear along the coast. Coffee plantations were developing in the interior. As enterprising immigrants and local landowners turned land devoted to subsistence crops into fields of coffee, peasants were gradually turned into a mass of day laborers. Liberal preaching of the need for the poor to follow a strict work discipline (a position presented in Corchado’s Las barricadas), while at the same time extending to them an invitation to solidarity, cannot be considered in isolation from this socioeconomic context. If intellectuals were not simply the passive instruments of a creole landowning class, their quest for power, their reproduction of the bourgeois conceptual network, and their scheme of progress nevertheless directly led them to share perspectives with a large number of local landowners. Creole intellectuals thus addressed the landed class by holding out the possibility of consolidating the practice of mass politics in the countryside through a new patriotic symbolic structure, facilitating the continuation of paternalist social relations then prevailing on estates of the interior despite the rapid pace of social change. The intellectuals themselves had been exposed or were accustomed to these relations and viewed them as natural.40

An Attempt to Forge a New Culture of Party Politics

The creole political elite was able to use the economic crisis of the mid-1880s, when income from the sugar sector shrunk and coffee did not yet provide an adequate substitute, to forge an alliance with propertied groups. Progressive sugar planters interested in reforms that would improve market conditions (such as a commercial treaty with the United States), or entrepreneurs and professionals alarmed by the lack of economic alternatives, constituted an attentive and much desired audience for proselytizing discourse.41 Creole journalistic activity flourished.

Efforts were concentrated on one subject: the need for a decentralized administration that would develop and implement a reform program that would reduce public spending while actively providing some kind of subsidy and markets for sugar. However, if a significant electoral base was to be forged, artisans and urban workers had to be mobilized. In part perhaps because they had previously been exposed to political rhetoric, these disenfranchised groups were eager to participate, for they constituted the sector most vulnerable to the crisis. Another important target group was the rural population: owners of small and medium-sized properties, mostly coffee growers, as well as day laborers. Thus, creoles included the demand for universal male suffrage in their program. Optimistic and convinced of the possibility of democracy in Puerto Rico, Baldorioty de Castro led the transformation of the liberals.42

The culmination of the 1887 liberal revival was the founding of the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (PAP). Salvador Brau succinctly offered a model of the party he perceived would be the key to success:

The fray of the written word is not sufficient. The sense of brotherhood that comes from being present at the same meeting place is also indispensable; . . . modern political groups [are formed] . . . with the conservative right representing the old tradition, a moderate center between extreme tendencies, and the vehement left that prepares the way for future evolution. It is from the equilibrium among these three tendencies that variety and harmony are born.43

According to Brau, party structure had to be decentralized and able to incorporate the opinions that would emerge from the many gathering places, or círculos autonomistas, throughout the island, where all partisans would exchange views. This idea was not easily accepted. In the debate in which Brau offered the opinion just quoted, the San Juan committee of the PAP disdained Brau’s opinion, perhaps reflecting the views of creole leaders unaccustomed to being on equal footing with artisans and other popular groups.44 Brau envisioned a party in which conservatives, moderates, and radicals could fraternize, breaking down the traditional social barriers of class and color. Meeting places were to be created in every town or rural barrio, and direct contact had to be established. Because the majority of the population was illiterate, oral propaganda, spread through party meetings, would be an indispensable tool for disseminating the message of the creole elite.

Events did not favor Brau’s proposal. Social tensions were intense in the mid-1880s. Spanish merchants who headed the Partido Español Incondicional felt threatened by the secret campaign organized by less prominent autonomist leaders and creole merchants that aimed to convince native-born agriculturalists not to patronize the stores of wealthy Spaniards. This mobilization of native-born subaltern leaders who led small rural and urban popular groups resulted in violent confrontations, especially in the south. The politics of resistance (such as the beating of the mayor of one southern municipality who had participated in the persecution and interrogation through torture of suspected rebels) continued even after the colonial state, fearing a separatist conspiracy, mobilized military force to repress those suspected of insurgent activity.45

The 1887 conflicts evidenced the difficulties of a party that tried to bridge class divisions and that was cemented on patriotic and ethnic feelings. Moderate autonomists rejected the spontaneous anti-Spanish character the movement had acquired and rushed to the right. Most of them fell back upon the clientelist networks of the incondicionales. All sorts of frightful rumors shocked the upper class. The well-known and dangerous bandit Pérez Lucía was thought to be threatening Spaniards in the countryside in the name of the Partido Autonomista.46

As a result, the Partido Autonomista was left in disarray and suffered a significant loss of membership. To obtain economic reforms, under the leadership of the lawyer Julián Blanco the PAP was often reduced to supporting certain candidates of the incondicionales.47 The economic conditions of the urban poor continued to deteriorate, and autonomists were accused by a working-class newspaper of being a group of power seekers who supported the exploitation of laborers. This newspaper bitterly argued that former slaves would no longer be bound by feeling of gratitude to the creole liberators, since it was evident that the latter were only interested in obtaining jobs in the public sphere.48

Creole Democratic Discourse and Spanish Nationality

By the mid-1890s some autonomists were discussing solutions and alternatives to playing the role of a powerless opposition. They felt that the purpose of a political party was to achieve power.49 Democratic principles prevailed (the commitment to universal male suffrage remained unchanged) but the discussion among creole intellectuals took a markedly utilitarian character. Ever since early in the decade, on the grounds of political expediency Luis Muñoz Rivera had advocated integrating the autonomist movement into Spanish Restoration politics by proposing that autonomists join the Spanish Liberal party. Such a move would legitimize the party in the eyes of property owners and professionals who feared radical politics and an anti-Spanish mobilization; at the same time it would allow creole leaders to share power with the incondicionales.50 Politics in Spain had evolved into a continual alternation of power between liberals and conservatives. The monarch would choose a liberal or conservative prime minister, who in turn would choose a cabinet and then, from his own party (liberal or conservative, as the case might be) candidates for deputies to the Cortes. Elections were controlled by a network of caciques, or local bosses, thus assuring that a majority of the deputies belonged to the same party as the prime minister. This strategy had permitted Spanish liberals to introduce a formal structure of democratic institutions, although it was widely known that the central government, by manipulating electoral results, and the monarchy, by choosing prime ministers, retained strict control over the pace of political reform.51 For colonial democrats involved in this discussion over democratic principles, the priority was to bring into the party property owners and professionals who, fearful of radical politics, would be willing to accept the creole liberal program. In 1897 this strategy resulted in the conversion of the Partido Autonomista into what was at least formally, if not effectively, a provincial committee of the Spanish Liberal party.

Colonial intellectuals stressed the concept of the patria chica within the Spanish nation. This theme, which had always been present in creole texts, dominated the discourse of the political and economic elites, catering to their class and racist fears while at the same time allowing them to affirm a separate identity.52 In 1889 this same argument had been pointedly argued by Manuel Elzaburu Vizcarrondo.53 He wrote that the passion and intensity with which the patria chica was loved as an extension of a person’s own self-esteem was more sublimely realized in affection for the more all-encompassing Spanish nation, a feeling that was “the stimulus to transcend, the legitimate ambition to form part of a larger body, and the honor of preserving the glory of that entity.” Spanish nationality also led to sentiments of affinity among those of the Latin race: “We, children of the Latin race . . . are proud of our destiny as it has been consummated in history . . . and we dream, like other races, to realize heroic deeds.” But Elzaburu also argued that nations were forged through constitutional agreements founded on the principles of equality and consolidated through the education of the masses.54

Two aspects of Elzaburu’s discourse, shared by many members of the political elite and expressed in a variety of ways, deserve attention. First, the racist ideal of “cultural whitening” was undoubtedly present. The word “we,” as employed by Elzaburu, included the totality of the Puerto Rican population. Creoles believed it was necessary to “regenerate” the colonial people by transforming them into Spaniards, with whom the elite felt akin.55 Spaniards were considered to be an impetus for betterment. However, creoles allowed space for the concept of mixed races; several years after Elzaburu’s lecture, historian Cayetano Coll y Toste would argue that Spaniards were a “strong race,” formed by the blending of many races throughout history, especially Arabs coming from the south and Goths coming from the north.56 This favorable and somewhat ambiguous attitude toward the idea of racial blending (ambiguous in the sense that it is in contradiction with other statements tending to stereotype the black population as a threatening group), is noteworthy. It can also be seen in Morales’s construction of the essentially Puerto Rican type of the jíbaro. Racism was the hegemonic ideology of the time, utilized in Europe to propose white supremacy.57 By proclaiming the strength of the Spanish “race” on account of its mixed character, creoles were dying to utilize European racial determinism then in vogue on their own behalf, while at the same time subverting this ideology in order to allow for a more integrative politics that would facilitate their struggle for power. Attachment to Spain began to acquire a racist justification. The “Latin race” implied institutions such as the patriarchal model of the family and practices that were part of the culture and society of the creole elite, but not of all the inhabitants of the island.

A second aspect of Elzaburu’s lecture deserving attention is that in addition to integration into Hispanic culture, he insisted on the idea of “constitutional agreement.” He envisioned an enlightened creole elite, crafting a homogeneous Puerto Rico along the lines of Hispanic cultural patterns. But in order to overthrow the wealthy, mostly peninsular, elite from power, Elzaburu had to recur to the principle of popular sovereignty. This implied that policies would presumably be designed at the social base, which was diverse. The ambiguities in his position are evident.

Ever since the beginning of the Cuban War of Independence in 1895, a sense of urgency had begun to spread among the creole population of Puerto Rico, who feared the increasing threat of a separatist movement led by revolutionaries who were collaborating with the Cubans in New York. This fear of separation is the feeling projected by the creole liberal Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón’s statements in favor of the “hispanization” of Puerto Rico, a process that he perceived would ensure continuing stability. Matienzo Cintrón believed that separatist feelings were on the rise and that creoles should be mainly concerned with avoiding war, [while] strengthening the ties of mutual interest that should join us to the metropole.” Thus, he used the word hispanization as part of a conscious strategy by which the creoles could attain power and promote stability in Puerto Rico.58

The autonomists who joined the Spanish liberals in 1897 (including the majority of the delegates who had attended the PAP assembly of February 1897 in San Juan, where the party’s name was officially changed to that of the Liberal party) hoped that Spain would consider colonial subjects in terms of equality. Once the local liberals assumed power, they hoped that Spain would remain, at least in administrative matters, simply a distant and innocuous symbol, present on the island solely through the ubiquitous display of the red and yellow flag. However, the more radical autonomist faction that opposed fusion with the Spanish Liberal party feared the centralizing tendencies then prevailing in Spain. Members of this faction felt that the submission of autonomists to Liberal party discipline as dictated by its president, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, would not allow the Puerto Ricans to develop their program.

The Fabrication of a Creole Leader

Creoles were also concerned with organizing an effective and unified party. They attempted this by the “fabrication” of a leader. It was a rather unconscious process.59 In March 1897 a group of leading creoles who were participating in the intense political campaign began to magnify the figure of Luis Muñoz Rivera, who had protagonized the fusion of the autonomists with the Spanish liberals. Less than one year later, he was being projected as the indisputable leader of the country’s popular rural and small-town groups.

Muñoz Rivera played an important role in constructing his own identity as savior of the people.60 He projected an attractive image: without a formal university career (though coming from a well-to-do family of the interior), he had become a young autonomist poet in the 1880s and then had brilliantly undertaken a journalistic defense of creole demands for the autonomy of Puerto Rico. Like Rosendo Matienzo and many others, Muñoz Rivera had forsaken an opportunity to become a prosperous entrepreneur in the family business to fully devote himself to the political struggle. He himself explained how during the campaigns of the Partido Autonomista during the 1890s his political career had developed: “One afternoon during that time, people followed me to my house and made me speak; I addressed them from the balcony, without having prepared my thoughts; and the fact is, they flowed with ease and I was able to say what I wished.”61

Muñoz Rivera shared the creoles’ regenerationist social views that combined compassion for and fear of what he straightforwardly called “the unconscious masses.”62 In advocating the “hispanization” of the popular classes as a means to attain social stability, he stood squarely within the tradition of José Pablo Morales. In 1895 the immediate concern of Muñoz Rivera was to avoid popular “extremist behavior out of desperation.”63

By 1893 he had designed a model of the type of political party he thought most advisable. In an article entitled “Democratic Doctrine,” he defended the need of any nation, party, or group to have a leader, whom he characterized as “a man elected by all, carrier of the words of all.” This leader should follow the “inspirations” of the majority, “which is the supreme power,” and in this way he would interpret and obey the general opinion, taking upon himself “the representation of the masses.” This leader would remain in power as long as he “deserved the universal trust,” but should step down when his character weakened and he ceased to defend the general interest. Without hesitation both the press and public opinion should test the integrity of the leader and censure him when necessary.64 These ideas represented an important shift from all previous perceptions of democracy. Within the Partido Autonomista, Muñoz Rivera’s enemies would accuse him of trying to destroy it; in a satirical tone he was falsely quoted as saying “el partido soy yo,” in obvious allusion to Louis XIV’s famous phrase “l’État c’est moi.”65

As a journalist, Muñoz Rivera cultivated a poignant style, which earned him a reputation as an implacable enemy of the oligarchical structure of the incondicionales. He affirmed everything Puerto Rican and spoke a radical language in favor of the people. This represented a break with the “harmonious rationalism” preached by older liberals who had been influenced by krausismo. But in many ways, Muñoz Rivera’s message was the logical culmination of the ideals of social harmony; it conveyed all the misgiving that creoles felt for subaltern politics as well as the need they felt to develop a symbolic structure (locally patriotic and Spanish nationalist) capable of keeping the “masses” under control. Muñoz Rivera was grasping an undercurrent of the creole discursive tradition, which was leading him straight to the politics of vertical integration through a centralized party structure.66 He made a decided turn toward conservatism. Of course, his choice was not the only possible alternative, as the radical stance adopted by the faction opposing him within the Partido Autonomista demonstrates. But only his position suggested that the route to power required the backing of propertied groups and the prioritizing of the interests of “young Puerto Rican” professionals who at that time “lacked support and a future.”67

After February 1897, having first built up and then presided over the new branch of the Spanish Liberal party in Puerto Rico, Muñoz Rivera began an active campaign in the press. His first goal was to win over professionals and agriculturalists who had previously been enmeshed in patron-client relationships with incondicionales. Muñoz Rivera’s newspaper, La Democracia, pointedly publicized the conversion of former incondicionales to the autonomist cause, thus encouraging further defections. He addressed literate audiences in his writings and urged them to organize committees throughout the island “in small towns, in small villages, in country districts of scattered settlements; it matters not where . . . [I]t is the duty of large and small to join together in the struggle.”68 But discipline was the highest priority. “From the president of the provincial committee; what is more, from Mr. Sagasta on down to the last liberal in the last village, there is a link that will not be broken, one that constitutes party solidarity for unity and discipline.”69 Puerto Rico would be like “the Canary Islands, or the Balearic, which are true Spanish provinces, where no one speaks of separatism, nor are secret societies invented.”70

In a short time there were 45 newly constituted committees, while liberals in another 26 towns had already started a campaign to establish others. Sixty letters attested to collective enrollment of groups of new members. The opposing faction was thus forced to argue against the will of the majority and against universal male suffrage.71

The Campaign

In order to reach illiterate groups, liberal leaders organized meetings and prepared speeches. Puerto Rico was a densely populated island and its numerous small towns and rural barrios were perfect bases of operation from which to reach out to an ample audience. In the western area, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón took responsibility for speaking at town meetings. No appealing promises were made, at least not in material terms. Matienzo Cintrón expressly addressed the jíbaros and asked them to turn a deaf ear to propaganda that called for rebellion because this would only lead them down dangerous and uncertain paths. Instead, he offered “social and political regeneration.” The true love for patria was shown not through rebellion nor “the sacrifice of our blood,” but by “fighting within our own selves to try to dominate and overcome our passions, our vices, in one hundred small daily battles.” To love one’s patria, Matienzo continued, “one has to start by loving one’s family, and to love one’s family, one has to love the economy, sobriety, order, and the simplicity of healthy habits that make men strong and independent.”72 He was offering a new “religion” of freedom; freedom lived in a mystical sense, very much in the krausista tradition that had dominated Matienzo’s education in Madrid.

The campaigns of Muñoz Rivera on the eastern side of the island differed in style, though not in content, from those of Matienzo Cintrón. An outstanding reception was prepared for the arrival of Muñoz Rivera in the town of Fajardo. A parade of 11 carriages transported local notables and members of the local committee of the Liberal party, who led Muñoz Rivera to the town plaza, where he was acclaimed by a multitude of townspeople shouting hurrahs to Spain, Puerto Rico, Governor-General Marin, and Muñoz Rivera. Not unlike the speeches of Matienzo, those of Muñoz Rivera focused on describing the party’s program and defining the concept of freedom it represented. The following day, before a group of artisans and workers who had gathered together with orchestra and banners, Muñoz Rivera issued a call for perseverance in hard work and study, for this was the only way to “redemption.” “It is through work that you will achieve ennobling personal independence that will liberate you from depressing economic difficulties that prevent the free exercise of your will. It is through study that you will learn to put your rights into practice.”73 Primary and elementary schools would be built in every rural barrio and town; high schools would be constructed in the district capitals, and the university would be created in the capital city. Muñoz Rivera continued with more campaign promises that apparently were specifically addressed to the artisans and workers gathered in Fajardo, who were particularly affected by underemployment and the high cost of living. Railroads would be constructed and prosperity would be ensured by a large government loan, something the previous administration of incondicionales had always refused to undertake.

Meetings similar to those presided over by Matienzo Cintrón and Muñoz Rivera were held all over the island. When the Spanish government granted universal male suffrage at the end of 1897, the Partido Liberal had already carried out a campaign of unprecedented scope and intensity. But as Roger Chartier has argued, the transmission of ideas in books (and, it should be added, through speeches) does not necessarily imply their acceptance by readers (or audiences): “Reading [or listening] does not necessarily lead to believing.”74 Muñoz Rivera stated that “if our men govern, it is clear that the Puerto Rican people govern.”75 The “people,” as those who forged the general will, were being invented by liberal discourse. Many among the male rural and urban population came to believe that they could use this invention of “the popular will” to their own advantage.76

Toward a Mass Political Culture

In the March 1898 elections, the Liberal party obtained a total of 82,627 votes. These must have included the votes of at least a few thousand recently enfranchised landless workers (at least 15% of the total 133,281 landless workers of voting age), an estimate I obtained by considering the total number of all landed properties (39,021), and the percentages of the population engaged in other occupations registered in the 1899 census. A large number of electors were newly enfranchised; until 1897 only 38,129 men, or 4 percent of the total population of men and women of all ages, could vote in local elections. The figure rose to 16 percent of the total population after the new law granting universal male suffrage went into effect.

Between 1897 and 1898, the political perception of many poor people from rural areas and small towns was transformed as a result of their support for the Liberal party. These people surely did not completely share a single “collective representation” of the words and symbols that creoles used to transmit their political message.77 A kaleidoscopic perception would seem a more accurate image.

A study of political events in a regional setting might help reveal how popular images of liberalism could vary among different rural groups. For some peasants liberals represented continuity. A creole-led separatist conspiracy in the south (centered in Yauco, but with collaborators in many other municipalities) had been competing against advocates of party politics for peasant support. During the night of March 24, 1897, a group of more than 50 rebels sustained an armed confrontation with the Civil Guard before disbanding and fleeing into the countryside. The authorities and newspapers were in agreement in arguing that the peasants, far from being part of a separatist conspiracy, instead supported Spain, as evidenced by the red and yellow Spanish flag that waved prominently throughout the countryside over most peasant houses.78 Puerto Rican liberals, legitimized by their alliance with their Spanish counterparts, by their widespread use of the Spanish flag, and by the Autonomic Charter of 1897, in many ways not only continued pro-Spanish political practices previously championed by the incondicionales but extended these practices among an ever increasing number of rural men.

However, in the same southern regions, the radical autonomists who had been the object of state-led repressions in 1887 had earned a reputation of heroic leaders in the struggle against the authoritarian incondicionales. The Yauco conspirators of March 1897 were attempting to recapture this anti-Spanish impulse and to mobilize peasants for armed rebellion.79 Peasants were actually able to choose between armed rebellion and the new electoral struggle against the incondicionales that would shortly become possible through the extension of suffrage.

A more general interpretation of peasant violence might be attempted. It should not be assumed that poor people are naturally driven to armed rebellion. Making a free adaptation of an argument suggested by Ranajit Guha and using it in a different sense, it could be argued that peasant insurrections are not “purely spontaneous and unpremeditated affairs.”80 In late-nineteenth-century Puerto Rico other means of protest were available and had to be tried. There was a tradition of passive resistance among the real jíbaros, who avoided direct confrontation with power while projecting an image of docility.81 There was a customary code of behavior, a very subtle set of norms that for more than a century had proved effective in dealing with power and attaining specific goals. The sight of local leaders, who were trying to identify with the poor while asking them for their allegiance to party politics, offered jíbaros an opportunity to play the role that had been designed for them of “apprentices of citizenship” in order to press for change and, in the process, perhaps manipulate the manipulators who needed their vote.

It is possible to further explore the choices of the rural poor. The persuasiveness of ethical issues should not be underestimated. It was the “religion” of freedom, lived through education and a new work ethic, the illusion of being represented by those who claimed to be “brothers” sharing the same adhesion to the patria.82 In discussing people’s sensitivity to this new network of meanings, certain social and economic conditions should be considered. In a relatively overpopulated island, where people depended on agricultural crops cultivated with a low level of technology, the rural poor were certainly aware of land scarcity and soil exhaustion, an awareness that was often derived from daily experience and that could influence the nature of expectations.83 Small landholders were heads of family who informally employed women and children and probably hired young landless laborers. This created a point of encounter, of shared meanings, with creoles proffering a new work ethic to subaltern populations. Furthermore, small landowners who cultivated coffee might have followed medium-scale producers as they rushed into liberal politics in response to dropping prices on the international market (1897-98). Concomitantly, as Spanish merchants demanded payment of debts, several client networks of the incondicionales in the northern interior region crumbled.84

Social relations in the countryside provided the set of practices upon which the new political alliances were built. For example, holders of small and medium-sized properties gathered with day laborers in pulperías (small shops) where they gambled with cards and drank local rum, thus sharing male rituals that helped cement relations at the political level.85 Many other male cultural practices, such as cockfights and duels, shared by rich and poor alike, created ties of mutual sympathy and admiration without blurring social barriers nor affecting basic power relations. Although the creole elite’s moralizing discourse condemned most of these customs, many well-known politicians participated in this culture (by recurring to duels to solve personal conflicts, for example) and acted within that aggressive male sphere that was being integrated into political party practices. In this context, the frequent use of the word virility as the preferred quality needed to promote the politics of the Liberal party acquires a new meaning.86

Low-income male heads of household in small towns and cities might have shared the creole “hispanization” project and their general outlook on family and social life.87 The work of Eileen Findlay shows how in Ponce, in the 1890s, the aims of male artisans and workers converged with those of the creole elite in the intense campaign to register nonmonogamous women as prostitutes, submitting them to health controls and restricting them to specific urban areas. Male heads of household felt threatened by the independent way of life and the increase in prostitution among female urban poor, as these women tried to compensate for the increasingly harsh economic conditions of the 1890s. She accurately points to the relevance of this campaign to the consolidation of the hierarchical political project of male liberals.88

Most likely, general perceptions of the liberal program varied immensely according to sectoral interests and color. And among these perceptions, views on family and social life undoubtedly played a considerable role in mobilizing the male population that voted for the liberals in March 1898. This variety of goals is by no means an anomaly but, I would argue, the norm of subalternity; it did not necessarily constitute a problem to the mobilization of voters. Rather, the problem was created by the centralized structure in which voters were letting themselves be trapped. The creole modern mass political party that popular groups joined implied the homogenization of goals defined from the top in the name of the general well-being, a condition that was also defined from above. It meant that along with creole-led “hispanization” as a means to assure social stability, creole “claims of cultural supremacy” were coming in through the back door.89

At the same time, the creole elite promoted a modernizing work and study ethic that would lead to individual betterment. But the indispensable alliances that the creoles had to form with the landowning upper and middle class, and the fact that this class was inserted in a global system with predefined goals of its own, created important contradictions between the social aspects of the creole political discourse and die pragmatic aspect of their political alliances. This makes reading creole democratic writings as a “discourse” worthwhile. Many problems in these writings remained unarticulated and the meanings of many texts have to be forcefully extracted. In any case, swayed by their own emotional and material needs, the mass of male voters consumed the liberal message of social equality, political unity, and material progress among politically conscious citizens. The dynamics of mass politics had begun while Puerto Rico was still a colony under Spanish rule.

Evidently not all the mobilized popular groups chose to accept the liberal discourse. Since the early 1890s, urban artisans and workers in several port cities had considered the liberal creole’s ascent to power an insufficient solution. Pressed by rising prices, many workers gradually sought other forms of identity and participated in strikes.90 A radical autonomist faction led by medical doctor José Celso Barbosa also opposed liberal politics. Disturbed by the rapid growth of popular support for the liberal movement, the radicals sought alliances with organized workers groups, while denouncing Muñoz Rivera as a new caudillo.91


In the classic late-nineteenth-century naturalist novel La charca, creole writer and medical doctor Manuel Zeno Gandía described paternalist relations in rural Puerto Rico. He bluntly portrayed the rural population as a mass of weak people without goals, a mindless herd that had resulted from racial degeneration caused by decades of poverty and malnutrition. He considered contact with Western civilizing values as these people’s only hope of salvation.92 His view of paternalist relations in the countryside conveyed all the prejudices of the creole political elite’s concept of the “unconscious masses.”

In this article I have tried to contest that view by pondering the specific goals of the people who identified with the Liberal party. The political elite occasionally recurred to the concept of “la gran familia puertorriqueña,” which recent analysts have interpreted as the symbolic language of the creole hegemonic project in the making.93 It is important to push the argument further on the specific points of encounter that turn “hegemony” into a concept capable of containing a more fluid view of social power in late-nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. The patriarchal implications of the symbolic “social-political family” were actively appreciated by the male population being addressed. The poor did not overlook the potential in the idea of a powerful enfranchised citizen. The elections of March 1898 were a mobilization of active male citizens celebrating their incorporation into a select political group.

Accounting for mass political parties has been one of the great riddles of contemporary political theory. The present article will not solve this dilemma. I have tried to add certain nuances to the discussion by adopting the concept of a political culture founded on existing practices, and by admitting distinctions between popular perspectives and the elite power project. I see points of convergence that created consensus (by no means fixed, but changeable, as subsequent events would demonstrate), but I also see the construction of a vertical and hierarchical structure.

In my use of the concept of political culture, I have tried to think of a variety of cultural practices (evidently not exhausting the possibilities available) that include elements of material life that influence action. Margaret Somers has advised against establishing an “epistemological hierarchy” that separates the material from the ideal by stressing one of the two, denying the role of culture in the constitution of the material realm or the role of the material in the cultural.94 Thus, as discussed here, political culture includes a wide range of perceptions, resulting in a way of making politics that was incorporated into contemporary male practices.

The liberal political elite had mixed feelings about the abolition of universal male suffrage by the United States military regime that was established after the 1898 invasion. As rising exchange rates and food prices led to a rapidly deteriorating economy during the summer of 1898, many popular groups mobilized to attack not the military occupants, but local property owners.95 The general mood seemed to support a change of government, which, it was hoped, would lead to prosperity. Muñoz Rivera, in accord with his view of the mass of electors as an unconscious herd (a view shared by most of the new military officials and supported by the Washington administration), admitted that “experience has shown us that it would be extremely dangerous to hand over our future to the masses, who are entirely without civic education and who might be wrongly directed by the audacity of agitators who would make them their tools.”96 Read in its proper context, this phrase suggests that he felt momentarily insecure in his capacity to direct electors toward the creole-led politics he had previously designed. Furthermore, many creole leaders identified the new regime with progress in economic and political matters. The United States represented the model of democracy that had inspired their discourse. This progressive rationality was so deeply ingrained in creole discourse that nothing but adaptation, with hopes for achieving a more stable political system, could be advised. Seven years later, with the extension of the franchise, Muñoz Rivera (along with Matienzo and several others) reemerged as leaders of a political party that was, I would suspect, built along similar terms of alignment as those tested in the political experience of March 1898.

The author would like to thank Francisco A. Scarano and Barbara Southard for their valuable comments on the first draft of this article.


Percentages were obtained from United States, War Department, Puerto Rican Census Office, Informe sobre el censo de Puerto Rico, 1899 (Washington: Impr. de Gobierno, 1900); and Lidio Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, 3 vols., 2d ed. (Río Piedras: Ed. Universitaria, 1970), vol. 3, pt. 3:195.


For the distinction between popular and elite political culture, see Larry Diamond, “Introduction: Political Culture and Democracy,” in Political Culture and Democracy in Developing Countries (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994).


I have found useful ideas to clarify the themes discussed in this article mainly in Diamond, Introduction: Political Culture and Democracy,” 7; and Margaret R. Somers, “What’s Political or Cultural about Political Culture and the Public Sphere? Toward an Historical Sociology of Concept Formation,” Sociological Theory 13 (1995).


Roger Chartier gives a similar meaning to the concept of political culture in Espacio público, crítica y desacralización en el siglo XVIII (Barcelona: Gedisa, 1995).


The difficulty of strictly defining the frontiers of the concept of “popular culture” has been recognized by scholars who have repeatedly employed the term. This is the case with Peter Burke, who refers to it simply as the culture of the “common people,” or the people without power. See Peter Burke, “Overture: The New History, Its Past and Its Future,” in New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge, Eng.: Polity Press, 1991), 10.


I will be using the word creole more as a conceptual category than as a social category (the wealthy and middle class among the native population). I am focusing on “creoles” as the elite who aspired to political power and perceived themselves as the natural leaders of the colonial population. They attempted to develop politics based on what Clifford Geertz has called “primordial ties.” See Clifford Geertz, “Primordial Ties,” in Ethnicity, eds. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 40-45.


See Raffaele Romanelli, “Sistemas electorales y estructuras sociales: el siglo XIX europeo,” in Democracia, elecciones y modernización en Europa, siglos XIX y XX, coord. Salvador Fornes (Madrid: Cátedra, 1997), 26; and Hilda Sabato, “Citizenship, Political Participation and the Formation of the Public Sphere in Buenos Aires, 1850s-1880s,” Past and Present 136 (1992). For an interpretation that intertwines the concept of political culture with modernization theory, see Henry Wells, The Modernization of Puerto Rico: A Political Study of Changing Values and Institutions (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969).


For a discussion of the problem of finding codes, see Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1981), 58; see also the comments in Lynn Hunt, “Introduction,” in The New Cultural History: Essays (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), 15-16. For Jameson, an analysis of culture must not only not cease to practice the “negative hermeneutic function,” but must also “seek, through and beyond this demonstration of the instrumental function of a given cultural object, to project its simultaneously Utopian power as the symbolic affirmation of a specific historical and class form of collective unity.” See Jameson, Political Unconscious, 291.


Somers’s study of what she calls the “metanarrative of the Anglo-American theory of citizenship” can be usefully applied to highlight the significance of creole appropriation of this European conceptual network. See Margaret R. Somers, “Narrating and Naturalizing Civil Society and Citizenship Theory: The Place of Political Culture and the Public Sphere,” Sociological Theory 13 (1995).


In 1906 the colonial government, with creole support, was still refusing to enfranchise new illiterate voters. See Bolívar Pagán, Historia de los partidos políticos puertorriqueños (1898-1956), 2 vols. (San Juan: Librería Campos, 1959), 1:116, 123.


For the construction of ethnicity, see the section entitled “Theories of Ethnicity,” particularly the essays of Max Weber and Clifford Geertz, in Hutchinson and Smith, Ethnicity.


Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, Mis memorias: o, Puerto Rico como lo encontré y como lo dejo, 3d ed. (Río Piedras: Ed. Edil, 1979), 5-6.


Angel Acosta Quintero, José Julián Acosta y su tiempo (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1965), 35-64.


On the doctrines dominating the Universidad Central de Madrid and Spanish krausismo, see Juan López-Morillas, El krausismo español: perfil de una aventura intelectual, 2d rev. ed. (Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1980).


For an overview on the Scottish school of thought, see Josep Fontana, Historia: análisis del pasado y proyecto social (Barcelona: Ed. Crítica, 1982), 78-97.


See Luis Hernández Aquino, “Personalidad y obra de Manuel Elzaburu Vizcarrondo,” in Prosas, poemas y conferencias, by Manuel Elzaburu Vizcarrondo (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1971), 5-6.


For ethnic and federalist discussions in Catalonia, see Pere Anguera, “Els orígens del catalanisme: notes per a una reflexió,” in IIIes. Jornades de debat: orígens i formació dels nacionalismes a Espanya (Reus: Centre de Lectura de Reus, 1994); see also Horst Hina, Castilla y Cataluña en el debate cultural, 1714-1939: historia de las relaciones ideológicas catalano-castellanos (Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 1986), 86-101.


Manuel A. Alonso, El jíbaro (Río Piedras: Ed. Edil, 1974). Since the early nineteenth century, the jíbaro, or Puerto Rican peasant, had been part of the creole discourse of resistance to imperial subjection and of the creole project of local domination. See Francisco A. Scarano, “The Jíbaro Masquerade and Subaltern Politics of Creole Identity Formation in Puerto Rico, 1745-1823,” American Historical Review 101 (1996).


There was a long tradition of rejection of slavery among Puerto Rican writers, though these ideas were not properly disseminated, presumably because of state censorship. Fears were based, in part, on racist considerations. As in Cuba, integration by mixing and, hopefully, a gradual “whitening” of the population was sought. In 1865 Puerto Ricans in Madrid had established an abolitionist society. For a recent work on the subject, see Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, “The Problem of Slavery’ in the Age of Capital: Abolitionism, Liberalism, and Counter-Hegemony in Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1886” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Michigan, 1995), 116-35.


Manuel Corchado y Juarbe, Abraham Lincoln (Barcelona: Impr. de los Hijos de Domenech, 1868).


Manuel Corchado y Juarbe, Las banicadas, 2d ed. (Puerto-Rico: Impr. “El Agente,” 1882).


Ibid., 12; emphasis in original.


See Somers, “Narrating and Naturalizing,” for the insertion of social naturalist justifications in the narrative of the Anglo-American historical experience.


See Corchado yjuarbe, Las barricadas, 17, 24, 27.


Ibid., 26.


After midcentury, day laborers were quickly replacing African slaves in the Puerto Rican sugar industry. See Luis M. Díaz Soler, Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (Río Piedras: Ed. Universitaria, 1981). On technological change, see Andres Ramos Mattel, La sociedad del azúcar en Puerto Rico, 1870-1910 (Río Piedras: Univ. de Puerto Rico, 1988).


See Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency,” in Selected Subaltern Studies, eds. Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1988).


See the table in James L. Dietz, Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986) 18.


On the virtues of immigrant entrepreneurs, see Manuel A. Alonso, “Agapito Avellaneda,” in El jíbaro, 178; as well as Cayetano Coll y Tosté, “Historia de Puerto Rico conferencia núm. 27,” Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico 13 (1926): 315; and “La Cédula de Gracias,” Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico 1 (1914): 297.


José Antonio Saco, Ideas sobre la incorporación de Cuba en los Estados Unidos (Paris: Impr. de Panckoucke, 1848).


José Pablo Morales, “Ideas de un jíbaro sobre la reforma,” (ms. dated 1865), Univ. de Puerto Rico, Centro de Investigaciones Históricas, Colección Acosta.


See, for example, the allusion to the writings of a workers newspaper in Boletín Mercantil (Puerto-Rico), 22 June 1890. In this passage the working-class journalist is attempting to compete with the creole elite for the support of former slaves by telling them there was no need to be grateful, for creoles were the masters and their goal was to become “modern mandarines” of the public sphere.


On 22 Mar. 1893, the creole newspaper La Democracia (Ponce) commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Abolition was remembered as an enlightened concession of Spain and as the result of the struggle of local liberals. But the newspaper regretted that former slaves were indifferent and did not celebrate this event. Rather, some were voting for the conservatives, who in 1873 had been the ones who were attempting to keep them in bondage. Thus, by 1893 the icon had proven vulnerable, which prompted the liberal newspaper to bitterly argue that “those negros who are coward or servile enough to deposit in the ballot box the names of their own executioners, deserve the barbaric punishment to be applied upon them.”


See Francisco Mariano Quiñones, Historia de los partidos Reformista y Conservador de Puerto Rico (Mayagüez: Tip. Comercial, 1889).


Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 2, pt. 1:14.


See Gervasio L. García and Angel G. Quintero Pavera, Desafío y solidaridad: breve historia del movimiento obrero puertorriqueño (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1982), 18-21.


Quoted by Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 2, pt. 2:420.


Patronage refers to “the ways in which party politicians distribute public jobs or special favors in exchange for electoral support.” The relations of patronage rest on the unequal power between the influential patron and the dependent client, though it is a reciprocal and cordial relation. See Alex Weingrod, “Patrons, Patronage, and Political Parties,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 10 (1968), esp. 379; see more recent contributions on the subject in Luis Roniger and Ayse Günes-Ayata, eds., Democracy, Clientelism, and Civil Society (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994). Elsewhere I have studied the patron-client relationships established by the incondicionles, which were the key to their electoral success. It is important to clarify that the enfranchised native population was generally not a victim of coercion, as some liberal historians chose to claim in order to account for their defeat, but were instead collaborators in the construction of the clientalist political party based on credit concessions and public office assignments. See Astrid Cubano-Iguina, “Reformas electorales y práctica política en Puerto Rico,” paper presented at the seminar Reformas Electorales en España y América Latina, 1870-1930, Universidad de Cantabria, Santander, Spain, 2-3 May 1996. For the liberal historians’ version, see José G. del Valle, A través de diez años (1897-1907) (Barcelona: Tip. de Feliu y Susanna, 1907), 10.


José Pablo Morales Miranda, “El jíbaro,” in Misceláneas históricas (San Juan: Tip. la Correspondencia, 1924).


See the sharp criticism of Manuel Corchado and the liberal political elite in general offered by Luis Bonafoux, a creole conservative journalist residing in Madrid: “They let people call them wisemen while the negritas rock them in the hammocks.” In Luis Bonafoux y Quintero, Literatura de Bonafoux, 2d ed. (San Juan; Río Piedras: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña; Univ. de Puerto Rico, 1989), 82.


The crisis of the mid-1880s and its political effects have been extensively studied. See Félix Mejías, De la crisis económica del 86 al año terrible del 87 (Río Piedras: Ediciones Puerto, 1972); Fernando Picó, S.J., “Perspectivas de la investigación histórica sobre el autonomismo en Puerto Rico a fines del siglo 19,” Revista Jurídica de la Universidad de Puerto Rico 56 (1987); and Astrid Cubano-Iguina, “Política radical y autonomismo en Puerto Rico: conflictos de intereses en la formación del Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (1887),” Anuario de Estudios Americanos 51 (1994).


For many autonomists Baldorioty, the illegitimate son of a working-class woman, was too radical. His rise represented an exceptional case of social mobility, one that was facilitated by his mentor, a liberal Spanish priest who the absolutist regime of Ferdinand VII had exiled in the colony. While studying, Baldorioty was inculcated with the idea of bringing progress to his native land through education. He pursued a scientific career in Madrid with dedication and was quickly attracted to the most radical liberalism, though throughout he maintained his creole commitment to party politics. See José Gautier Dapena, Baldorioty, apóstol (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1970).


Quoted by Lidio Cruz Monclova, Baldorioty de Castro: su vida, sus ideas (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1973), 339.


The norm of social relations was the rather marked preservation of stratification at most public gatherings. During popular fiestas in Ponce during the 1870s, for example, artisans danced in the upper level of the theater while die creoles occupied the main ballroom, to which only those holding an invitation were allowed access. See Angel G. Quintero Rivera, Patricios y plebeyos: burgueses, hacendados, artesanos y obreros: las relaciones de clase en el Puerto Rico de cambio de siglo (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1988), 78.


The beating of Policarpo Echevarría, mayor of the southern municipality of Juana Díaz, was a response to an equally brutal beating of autonomist leader Ramón Marín Solá by several incondicionales. See Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 3, pt. 1: 204-5,273.


Cruz Monclova, Baldorioty de Castro, 335.


The importance of economic reforms should not be underestimated. The seemingly poor productivity of the island’s export economy led to the continual devaluation of the Puerto Rican peso in international markets and, consequently, rising prices for imported foodstuffs. The effects of an unfavorable exchange rate multiplied through the island’s economy. Until the end of Spanish domination, there were almost uninterrupted complaints about the continuous rise in the general cost of living. Although coffee exports showed a sustained upward trend, the rising value of foreign currency suggests that this was not enough to compensate for the decline in sugar production. The insufficiency of earnings and scarcity of jobs were a matter of frequent complaint. Wealthy Spanish merchants generally controlled colonial policy and were accumulating vast amounts of capital in the coffee business. Agriculturalists received a share of the coffee boom, but the urban population (a minority group), especially artisans and workers, suffered the consequences. This would mark the main lines of internal fissure within Autonomist party leadership and would eventually lead to the separation of a small, radical, urban-oriented faction from the liberal mainstream, which is the focus of this article. See Astrid Cubano Iguina, El hilo en el laberinto: claves de la lucha política en Puerto Rico (siglo XIX) (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1990).


See Boletín Mercantil, 22 June 1890.


See Mariano Abril’s arguments quoted by Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 3, pt. 2: 236-44; see also the opinions of Antonio Cortón Toro and José de Jesús Domínguez, ibid., 246 and 252, respectively.


La Democracia, 26 Aug. 1893.


See José Varela Ortega, Los amigos políticos: partidos, elecciones y caciquismo en la Restauración (1875-1900) (Madrid: Alianza, 1977).


See Scarano, “Jíbaro Masquerade,” 1430; cf. the arguments of José Pablo Morales, discussed above.


Elzaburu Vizcarrondo, “El sentimiento de nacionalidad” (1889), in Prosas, poemas y conferencias, 285-98, 302-3.


Elzaburu Vizcarrondo, “El sentimiento de nacionalidad,” 290.


On cultural racism, Thomas E. Skidmore’s observations about Brazil in the 1880s are useful: “Virtually no one believed in the simple theory of biological inferiority. . . . Having rejected the straightforward theory of absolute biological differences, the abolitionists nonetheless believed in racial influences. Those relative influences were hardly a matter of indifference. The abolitionists, like most of the elite, hoped to maximize the influence of the ‘higher’ or ‘more advanced’ civilization—meaning the white European. Ergo: the whiter the better. Occasionally this concept could be read in cultural, not physiological, terms. Yet, even this interpretation meant that the darker people had to whiten culturally.” Thomas E. Skidmore, “Racial Ideas and Social Policy in Brazil, 1870-1940,” in The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940, ed. Richard Graham (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1990), 8-9. On the defense of the “Latin race,” see María Teresa Martínez Blanco, Identidad cultural de Hispanoamérica: europeismo y originalidad americana (Madrid: Univ. Complutense, 1988), 51-59.


Edna Coll, Cayetano Colly Toste: síntesis de estímulos humanos (Río Piedras: Ed. Universitaria, 1970), 51.


On racism as the hegemonic ideology, see Richard Graham, “Introduction,” in Graham, Idea of Race, 1-4.


Quoted by Pilar Barbosa de Rosario, De Baldorioty a Barbosa: historia del autonomismo puertomqueño, 1887-1896 (San Juan: Model Offset Printing, 1974), 310-11.


The word fabrication to express the process through which the image of a leader is constructed and displayed, and the idea of this being a partly unconscious process among the elite groups participating in that process, is brought out by Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1992). Burke makes clear that “the term ‘fabrication’ is not intended to imply that Louis was artificial while other people are natural. . . . Louis was unusual only in the assistance he received in the work of construction” (p. 10). Burke uses Marc Bloch and Maurice Godelier to support his reflections on “the importance of the effects of the media on the world” and “the symbolic construction of authority” (p. 11).


See Burke, Fabrication of Louis XIV: “Louis might usefully be viewed as representing himself, in the sense that he consciously played the part of the king” (p. 9).


Quoted by Quintín Negrón Sanjurjo, Los primeros treinta años de la vida de Luis Muñoz Rivera (San Juan: Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín, 1993).


La Democracia, 26 Aug. 1893. For the rhetoric of “regeneration” under the Spanish flag, see ibid., 12 Feb. 1897.


La Democracia, 17 Jan. 1895. On Muñoz Rivera’s concern about social discontent and “agitation” in small towns of the interior, see ibid., 20 Feb. 1897.


La Democracia, 22 May 1893. This article was not written by Muñoz Rivera to promote himself as leader of the Autonomist party. He wrote it in the middle of a debate opposing the decision of the Spanish autonomist Rafael María de Labra to occupy a seat in the Spanish Cortes in representation of a Puerto Rican district, despite a recent Assembly resolution advocating absolute abstention to protest a recent unwanted reform. Labra was considered the leading advocate of Antillean autonomism and he was a figure respected by old and new autonomists alike. However, I am convinced that this article by Muñoz Rivera is an unintended projection of his perceptions about political parties and an unconscious step forward in his self-construction as leader.


Quoted in La Democracia, 9 Apr. 1896.


On the “vertical” politics of the elite, see Ranajit Guha, “On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India,” in Guha and Spivak, Selected Subaltern Studies, 37-40.


La Democracia, 3 Feb. 1897.


Ibid., 11 Mar. 1897.


Ibid., 13 Mar. 1897.


Ibid., 15 Mar. 1897.


Ibid., 17 and 18 Mar. 1897.


Quoted by Luis Manuel Díaz Soler, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón: orientador y guardián de una cultura, 2 vols. (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1960), 1:123-25.


La Democracia, 24 May 1897.


Chartier, Espacio público, 97.


La Democracia, 13 Mar. 1897.


This was, after all, the illusion fostered by the theory of citizenship in the English and North American tradition. This idea is behind a statement by Edmund S. Morgan that “the sovereignty of the people had been filled with surprises for those who invoked it. It was a more dynamic fiction than the one it replaced, more capable of serving as a goal to be sought, never attainable, always receding, but approachable and worth approaching. It has continually challenged the governing few to reform the facts of political and social existence to fit the aspirations it fosters.” See Edmund S. Morgan, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), 306.


The word “representation” refers to the image received in the collective imagination. As Peter Burke argues, “the disadvantage of the phrase ‘collective representations’ ... is that they may be taken to imply that everyone had an identical image of the king.” See Burke, Fabrication of Louis XIV, 10.


See Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 3, pt. 3:42-45.


See the appendix in Carmelo Rosario Natal, Puerto Rico y la crisis de la Guerra Hispanoamericana (1895-1898) (Hato Rey: Ramallo Bros. Printing Co., 1975), 319.


In arguing against colonial authority’s views of peasant rebellion as unpremeditated events, Guha, “Prose of Counter-Insurgency,” 45, states that “to rebel was indeed to destroy many of those familiar signs which he [the peasant] had learned to read and manipulate in order to extract meaning out of the harsh world around him and live with it. . . . It would be difficult to cite an uprising on any significant scale that was not in fact preceded either by less militant types of mobilization when other means had been tried and found wanting or by parley among its principals seriously to weigh the pros and cons of any recourse to arms.”


See Scarano, “Jíbaro Masquerade,” 1424.


This argument brings to mind what Marc Bloch has called “religious psychology.” “Ce qui créa la foi au miracle, ce fut l’idée qu’il devait y avoir un miracle.” (It was the expectation of a miracle that created the faith in the miracle.) Quoted by Peter Burke, La revolución historiográfica francesa (Barcelona: Gedisa, 1993), 25.


On the convenience of incorporating structural circumstances, see Ann Swidler, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986). This specific angle of the analysis is important because in admitting the gradual forging of a negotiating culture among peasants and day laborers, there is a risk of reproducing the “myth of Puerto Rican docility,” an interpretation dating from the nineteenth century and recycled in our times.


I have argued more extensively on this subject in “La política de la élite mercantil y el establecimiento del régimen autonómico en Puerto Rico, 1890-1898, Op. Cit.: Boletín del Centro de Investigaciones Históricas (Río Piedras) 3 (1987-88).


See the descriptions in Salvador Brau, “Las clases jornaleras de Puerto Rico,” in Ensayos (Disquisiciones sociológicas) (Río Piedras: Ed. Edil, 1972).


See La Democracia, 20 Feb. 1897.


Angel Quintero Rivera has studied social relations in Ponce, advancing the thesis of a national culture that was being forged out of the combination of creole and black cultural elements. I think the practices he describes (such as the general sympathy shown for popular public spaces, or for music composers) fit within the creole “hispanization” project (applying the concept of the patria chica and the veneration of its culture). Through these practices, symbols were shared by artisans and creoles alike. However, it seems to me that perhaps Ponce was not as exceptional as Quintero Rivera chose to portray it. Like in other urban centers, in Ponce the distribution of public spaces reflected strict social hierarchies. See Quintero Rivera, Patricios y plebeyos, 23-98.


Eileen Findlay, “Domination, Decency, and Desire. The Politics of Sexuality in Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1870-1920” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995), 168-97.


Homi Bhabha’s proposed method for contesting “claims of cultural supremacy” and justifications of modernity . . . that rationalize the authoritarian ‘normalizing’ tendencies within cultures in the name of the national interest or the ethnic prerogative,” is pertinent. See Homi K. Bhabha, Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990), 4.


See García and Quintero Rivera, Desafío y solidaridad.


See Cruz Monclova, Historia de Puerto Rico, siglo XIX, vol. 3, pt. 3:202-9.


Manuel Zeno Gandía, La charca (Río Piedras: Edil, 1997), 19-21.


See Angel G. Quintero Rivera, Conflictos de clase y política en Puerto Rico (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1976).


Somers, “¿Qué hay de político?” 65.


Fernando Picó, 1898: la guara después de la guerra (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1987); and “Transgresiones populares de los espacios públicos urbanos en el 1898 puertorriqueño,” in 1898: enfoques y perspectivas, ed. Luis E. González Vales (San Juan: Academia Puertorriqueña de la Historiadores, 1997).


See the report submitted to President William McKinley in October 1899, in Henry K. Carroll, Report on the Island of Porto Rico: Its Population, Civil Government, Commerce, Industries, Production, Roads, Tariff and Currency, with recommendations (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899), 236.