Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Rashomon in the Zocalo: Writing the History of Popular Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Mexico

Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Rashomon in the Zocalo: Writing the History of Popular Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Mexico

Article excerpt


Those of us who study the political culture of nineenth century Mexico often lament the absence of archival documentation and the elusiveness of that which we know must exist somewhere, but just cannot find ... yet. Further frustration arises in the study of the popular classes, who were much less likely than elites to engage in the kinds of activities that leave traces in the archives. Indeed, the urban poor were even less likely than their rural counterparts to engage in the kinds of activities that leave traces of their presence in the archives (lawsuits over communal lands, for example). The words of Jules Michelet, the mid-nineteenth century French romantic historian, form an appropriate epigraph for these frustrations. Michelet, perhaps most well known for his 1846 work, titled simply The People, despaired, "I had the people in my heart ... but I found their language inaccessible. I was unable to make it speak." (1)

Recent literature in history and cultural studies, however, suggests that a dearth of archival materials in fact is not the primary obstacle to the study of the popular, or subaltern, classes in Mexico, or anywhere else. Rather, the real challenges are theoretical and methodological. A crucial experience several years ago forced me to clarify my position regarding these challenges by providing the archival equivalent of viewing "Rashomon," the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film that contemplates the nature of truth and memory by recreating four different versions of the same rape-murder in medieval Japan. Rashomon arrived in Mexico City's Zocalo when I came across two diametrically opposed "eyewitness" accounts in private diaries of the same popular protest.

The first version of this upheaval noted that on March 11, 1837, a mob of leperos attacked the Mexican congress. While the "pretext" for the upheaval was a recent devaluation of copper currency and a food shortage, the real cause was "the infamous machinations of anarchists." The events were carefully planned and executed by radical federalists who yet again manipulated small numbers of the city's malleable masses for their political ends. (2) The second version of these events asserted that a "truly popular" cross-section of the city's residents gathered in Mexico City's main square to protest the congress' misguided decision to devalue copper coin dramatically. The participants included "many persons of distinct opinions," whose frustration was directed by "persons of no [specific political] category." (3) While temporarily frustrating my romantic quest for the Holy Grail of nineteenth century Mexican politics, finding these documents was of course a great stroke of luck, since it forced me to question again the way in which I was using all of my sources, and to refine my criteria for their evaluation. It put into sharp focus many of the theoretical and methodological problems that face the researcher who presumes to investigate popular political culture, and the pitfalls that await. First, these documents, written by members of the elite, remind us that popular political culture cannot be isolated from the broader political culture. Just as studies of popular culture in general challenge the traditional division between high and popular culture, the same must be done for the distinction between popular and elite political culture. (4) Though we may try to use archival documents to explore the actions and motivations of non-elite actors, the documentary record was written and collected by and for elites, and we must always be cognizant of the changing ways in which "the masses" were used as a trope in competing elite discourses. However, to end our analysis at the level of elite discourse would in some ways deny both the ability of historians to contextualize and evaluate sources and the agency of non-elites, as far removed as they may be from having direct input into the documentary record.

In my work, I follow Lynn Hunt's approach to political culture, as I try to analyze the way the urban masses enter into the full array of "principles, formulae, and ground rules of political interaction," rather than simply as a discursive category. (5) To do so requires a careful accounting of what Charles Tilly calls the "opportunity structure" and the "repertoire of contention," those times when the complex interplay between elite machinations, the actions of intermediaries, and popular aspirations, yield mass action. (6) Further, it is important to understand the relationship between this repertoire of contention and the broader and deeper crisis of Mexican politics during the first half of the nineteenth century, which was undoubtedly characterized by a crisis of political legitimacy. In the midst of economic stagnation and the fragmentation of elite politics, rural and urban masses became engaged in the struggle over the construction of a new political order. Much of the historiography on this era focuses on the peasantry, but the urban masses became engaged in this struggle in countless ways as well. As Silvia Arrom has pointed out, the mechanisms--both "positive" and "negative" factors--by which the relative quiescence of the urban space during the colonial period was maintained proved less viable in the post-colonial world.

The War of Independence and its aftermath introduced new levels of confrontation to political relationships and altered the 'repertoire of contention.' We see, for example, new political rituals draped in the symbols of popular sovereignty, which provided the opportunity for, or indeed required a certain degree of, popular mobilization to meet their designers' goals. In this volatile climate, elite actions are essential to understanding urban unrest, but are an insufficient locus of study for the emerging political culture, since ideas and actions often moved beyond the control of elites. (7) Even through the filters of elite accounts and the anonymous status of participants in these activities, we can derive some conclusions about their words and actions, like the connection between elite discourse and the language of mass action. In discussing this language, we should keep in mind Arlette Farge's observation that, "people's opinions related to a plurality of phenomena which invited participation and encouraged reflection: phenomena on many different levels." (8)

The archives provide numerous clues about the raw material from which popular political opinion and language were formed: handbills, pasquines, poems, skits, songs and jokes were all important sources of ideas and slogans. Some are particularly memorable, capable of summarizing complex trends succinctly, and appeal to the historian's desire to entertain as well as enlighten. Most reports on the language of crowds, though, noted the use of boilerplate sloganeering of the "viva" and "muera" variety. These reports often concluded with derisive reference to the poor masses having traded their voice and vote for lucre. I would not dismiss out of hand the political savvy of the popular classes, however. We should not lose sight of the fact that very sophisticated political ideas were communicated orally and symbolically in public rituals.

The allegorical dances and allocutions that accompanied public ceremonies may not have been completely "transparent" but the symbols were explained and the "rules of the game" (including the entire constitution at times) were recited over and over. Anyone who has ever been in a crowd, whether at a sports event, a political march, or a riot, would recognize the difference between common ritual forms ("el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido," "the wave") and the spontaneous artistry of inspired improvisation. When these moments are recorded (rarely, alas), we may gain additional insight into the nature of popular politics as understood by individuals. Finally, I would emphasize that, even with rote sloganeering, it is less than fruitful to ponder for too long whether or not slogans expressed the "true sentiments" of the masses, since this is impossible to measure, and sincerity would be a standard placed on the tropes of the masses that is not imposed on elite discourse.

My research on popular political culture focuses on those tense moments when crowds may form, either to confirm order or as avatars of upheaval. Investigations of political culture have been drawn for decades to the study of rituals and ceremonies as sites for the investigation of power relationships. As Sean Wilentz notes, "by exploring how these fictions, and the rhetoric that sustains them, are invented and perpetuated, historians of political ritual look for the ideological lineaments of authority and consent in a particular historical context." (9) One of the assumptions that guides these investigations of political rituals is that they "can be read as statements because they are less cluttered and more focused in purpose than daily life." (10) These rituals were not constructed primarily to be read by historians, however, but by a more immediate audience, and the successful transfer of the lessons of these "rituals of rule" depended on a string of unpredictable variables, including the response of the "crowd." Crowds are a necessary component of most public political rituals, but crowds are potentially unruly and dangerous, and efforts to transform active participants into passive spectators often fail, as the masses use these opportunities to make "contentious claims in public arenas." (11) The members of a crowd bring expectations and the potential to alter the nature of the lesson by their response.

An important key to understanding popular political culture then is understanding when crowds were a required component of successful political rituals, how crowds responded to politics, and finally, how events were analyzed after the fact. A "successful" political ritual is not defined simply as the completion of the event itself without major problems or incidents, but how the event is recorded for posterity and perhaps reproduced across space and time, repeating the dynamic relationship among preparation, expectation, and execution, and providing opportunities for communication within elite factions, and between elites and masses, forming a key component of the "competing narratives" about the new nation. (12)

Many different kinds of crowd actions characterize the first half of the nineteenth century. When studied together, they offer rich data on popular political culture. The two essential foundation rituals that emerged during the era--the implementation of constitutions and Independence Days--marked a public acknowledgment of the place of popular sovereignty in the emerging political culture. Elections, the direct cyclical expression of popular sovereignty, provided another command performance of "the people," and have their own complex history, as does the more "informal" political ritual of the riot or rally, and the less "political" ritual of the feast day. Competing elite factions and the masses intermittently employed these opportunities to intervene in politics, to attempt to alter policy, to protest against incumbents, or to express dissatisfaction with the entire state of public affairs. Yet, each of these rituals is related in very complex ways to the others, and it is difficult to limn their meaning without placing each within a broader repertorial and chronological context. In the pages that follow, I highlight the way in which this methodological approach can illuminate the study of nineteenth century Mexico's two key foundation rituals. In the conclusion, I return to the "Rashomon dilemma" and the riot of 1837.

Foundation Myth I: The Constitution

A great variety of civic and religious celebrations developed over centuries of colonial rule formed the context within which nineteenth century political rituals--including celebrations of the "new," like Constitution or Independence Day--were assessed. Some aspects of the colonial vocabulary of celebration were incorporated into new rituals, while those rejected were often done so consciously, and the decisions publicly explained and justified. The celebrations surrounding the introduction of constitutions in 1812, 1820, 1824, and 1836 provide fascinating examples of the ways in which tensions between tradition and innovation, precedent and expectation, played out. The Spanish Constitution was introduced in Mexico City with a series of celebrations in the fall of 1812. As preparations for these festivities began, the cabildo wrote the Viceroy suggesting that the celebration should resemble the juras del rey "because these are the most analogous" events, but that the new event should incorporate "the differences that the distinct nature of this act demands." The cabildo estimated that it would need nine or ten thousand pesos for the ceremonies, and asserted that during more prosperous times they had spent two or three times as much on such events. Funds were approved and the cabildo and Viceroy set about their work, organizing an elaborate ceremony and ordering residents of the city's center to decorate the facades of their homes for the festivities. (13)

According to the Gaceta del Gobierno de Mexico, the Constitution was received in the capital with "the most energetic enthusiasm" on September 30, 1812. (14) After royal officials swore their allegiance, cannon blasts resounded in the Zocalo and all the city's church bells pealed in unison. Military bands played, troops marched through the city and orators praised "this glorious day that has signaled the epoch of our desired liberty." (15) In addition to the Viceroy and the municipal council, seats of honor were assigned to members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the nobility, and the governors of the parcialidades de indios. (16) The ceremonies included a mass of Thanksgiving and Te Deum in the metropolitan cathedral, and music and theatrical performances at various sites in the evening.

The way in which the "public" was incorporated into this spectacle provides numerous clues to the tensions present in this "transitional Mexico." For the ceremonies of 30 September, three stages were constructed, one in front of the viceregal palace, one in front of the archbishop's palace, and one in front of the municipal council building. As the procession passed to each stage, the entire constitution was read. Prior to the festivities, the cabildo expressed concern about the length of the day's festivities if the constitution were really read three times in its entirety, but the viceroy insisted it was a necessary part of the proceedings, and would only concede that perhaps it could be read quickly to speed things up a bit.

In keeping with long-standing tradition, coins were tossed to the crowd at these key moments in the celebration. (17) Such displays of state largesse occurred at public celebrations like the jura del rey throughout the colonial period as well. (18) In contrast, other gestures articulated a new, more active role for the masses in Mexican political life. As the constitution was read over and over that fall, explanatory presentations often accompanied the act, making completely explicit the didactic nature of these exercises. Still, these ceremonies repeated symbolically the ambiguous messages encoded in the Constitution itself. As Antonio Annino has pointed out, these early rituals of the constitutional regime remained tied up in traditional, corporate structures, with roles to be played by the Catholic Church and the indigenous communities. (19) The church and its officers played an official, important and continuing role in political activities throughout the era.

On October 4, 1812, each of the city's parishes celebrated a mass of Thanksgiving for the new constitution. Prior to the offertory, the entire constitution was read, after which a priest offered a "brief exhortation" to the faithful, and then the entire congregation joined in an oath of allegiance. (20) These rituals of allegiance were repeated in other venues over the following days, with similar mixed messages. On October 6, the students and faculty of the Colegio de San Gregorio, dedicated to indigenous education, took their oath and listened to a royal official inform the audience that they were now Spanish citizens, with all the rights and opportunities afforded to them as such, and that "no one is more than you are, and whoever is equal to you has arrived at the highest [state]." (21)

The constitutional celebrations of 1812 set a precedent by which others were organized and judged in 1820, 1824, and 1836. The return of the Spanish constitution in 1820 was greeted "with the same formalities as in the year 1812," and almost 16,000 pesos were spent on the festivities. (22) The federal Constitution of 1824 was introduced with "the solemnity that has been customary in acts of this type," including parish masses. During the processional, acolytes met representatives of the government bearing the constitution at the back of the church and escorted them to a place of honor. After the homily, the pastor or his designated spokesperson delivered "a brief discourse expressing to the public the advantage that the nation will enjoy from the constitution and the obligation to obey it." At the end of mass, the new constitution was read and those in attendance stood and swore their allegiance. (23) The centralist constitution of 1836 was sworn in with some of the same activities.

While the continuities of these ceremonies are obvious, their very repetition altered the way they were "read" by their audience. As Mona Ozouf notes, rituals take place in historical space and time, and history and memory disrupt the utopian symbolism of festivals. (24) The elimination of corporate groups (particularly the indigenous community) from the vocabulary of political rituals is noteworthy, given the continued survival of the parcialidades of Mexico City well into the independence era. (25) The ceremonies surrounding the implementation of the centralist constitution at the beginning of 1837 provide additional examples of the messages contained in elision. The new constitution's promoters hoped that some ritual flash might start the New Year off on the right foot, after a depressing year of war in Texas and an ongoing economic crisis. Elaborate ceremonies took place in the congressional chambers and other public buildings, as elected and appointed officials in turn swore to uphold the new order. A choir sang the Te Deum in the Metropolitan Cathedral on New Year's Day. On January 4, a mixed procession of civil, military, and clerical authorities marched through the streets, carrying a copy of the constitution. But, in 1837, no one recruited people of all classes and ages to pledge allegiance to the new order. No priests delivered homilies about the rights of individuals. No one announced to Mexico City's masses the dawn of an age of equality, as in previous celebrations. Was it any surprise that these ceremonies, inaugurating the third constitution in as many decades, generated little excitement? (26)

These celebrations were never meant to be cyclical. The ceremonial introduction (and re-introduction) of three different constitutions in three decades communicated a message of instability, and provided crowds (and their organizers) the opportunity to develop a vocabulary of contention, to incorporate cries of "restore constitution X" into their repertoire, which they did on a regular basis.

Foundation Myth II." Independence Day

Other celebrations were designed for repetition across time. The most enduring political celebration to emerge from this period was the commemoration of Independence. However, very few national celebrations ever emerge with unanimous consent and remain beyond dispute. (27) Mexico's Independence Day was no exception, in large part because of fears among Mexico's pre-Reform elite about the message that celebrations of September 16 (Father Miguel Hidalgo's appeal to a popular uprising) would convey about the relationship between the masses and political power. The struggle over which day to celebrate as Independence Day and the way to "spin" the lessons of the celebration are therefore worth exploring, as are the popular responses to these celebrations.

After the abdication of Agustin de Iturbide in 1823, September 16 and the grito de Dolores emerged as the most important holiday commemorating the War of Independence. Its transformation into a raucous and potentially dangerous celebration of popular sovereignty can be directly attributed to the partisan politics of the mid-1820s. As York-rite masonic lodges promoted popular mobilization around their efforts to secure political power, they focused among other things on tapping popular anti-Spanish sentiment. In 1825, the yorkino mouthpiece, El Aguila mexicana actively promoted a major public celebration to reflect the importance of Hidalgo and the Grito. (28) The event's organizing committee, with several yorkinos among its members, took great pains to follow through on this suggestion. They envisioned and carried out for the first time a large scale public display--a procession, patriotic orations, a slave emancipation, orchestral music and dancing were all incorporated into the day's agenda. Secretary of State Lucas Alaman, fully aware of the organizers' intentions to use the day to attract mass support for their political goals, attempted to limit the scale of the event as much as possible, and requested that extra troops be deployed to maintain order during the festivities. (29) While no major conflicts erupted on the 16th, the York papers reported that "the people ... manifested anew the sincerity of their patriotic sentiments" in their enthusiastic embrace of the holiday, and September 16 became the anchor of the national political calendar. (30)

Struggles over the appropriate messages and manifestations of Independence Day remained part and parcel of partisan conflicts through the Reform. Just as radical federalists pushed their popular appeals through the iconography of Hidalgo's message to the masses, moderates and conservatives increasingly promoted the image and message of Iturbide (mature, creole, saavy) in contrast to Hidalgo (immature, indigenous, naive) and moved to add an appropriate coda to the fiestas patrias. Beginning in the 1830s, conservative-centralist and moderate governments remolded the festivities, adding September 27 to the calendar and conjuring the imagery of the Army of Three Guarantees and the creole ingenuity of Iturbide as the necessary ingredient for consummating independence, after the raw urges of the peasants of 1810 failed to achieve that goal. The first clear evidence of an official public celebration of September 27, in addition to the 16th, comes after the promulgation of the centralist constitution in 1836. (31) In 1837, the patriotic committee decided that the same activities that were held on the 16th should be repeated on the 27th, and in 1838, the remains of Iturbide himself were transferred to Mexico City and reinterred in a lavish ceremony. (32)

Conservative centralists, and many moderates, adopted Iturbide as the standard bearer of the three guarantees, with its emphasis on religion and continuity. In 1844, the patriotic committee organized festivities for both the 16th and the 27th that would include all the standard diversiones--fireworks, hotair balloons, music. The junta also organized a procession to retrace the path taken by the Army of the Three Guarantees in 1821. For the editors of the moderate Siglo XIX, this was the correct construction of the national origin myth for the times. (33) In the context of the peasant uprisings of the 1840s and the near disintegration of the nation during and after the war with the United States, the idea of constructing a national origin myth based on unity, one that downplayed the role of peasant uprising and mass mobilization, only grew in appeal.

This construction of the festividades nacionales lasted, with few exceptions, through the early 1860s, although Santa Anna's periodic passages through the executive office resulted in an additional variation on the Independence theme. The celebration of either the 16th or 27th of September presented dilemmas for Santa Anna. While his opposition attempted to "de-nationalize" him, arguing that he had fought against the insurgents of 1810 and that he was responsible for the overthrow of Iturbide, (34) santanistas performed an interesting, and in many ways brilliant, reconstruction of the origin myth. They added a third day in September to the fiestas patrioticas: September 11, the day in 1829 on which Santa Anna defeated the Spanish invasion force at Tampico. This construction placed Santa Anna in the center of the origin myth, as an indispensable figure in the master fiction of Mexican history: Hidalgo, the impulsive priest who set fire to the mass impulse to independence; Iturbide, the brilliant designer of the three guarantees who succumbed to his own inflated ambitions; and Santa Anna, upon whom it fell to guarantee independence finally at the battle of Tampico. As one might imagine, this construction of the origin myth did not survive the Revolution of Ayutla.

Struggles over the meaning of Independence were not simply a matter of symbols. They could be moments of upheaval and danger, since they were explicitly public lessons about political power that required the presence of crowds to affirm their success. As a result, September 16 became one of the days on which this tension between state needs for popular rituals to affirm authority and the dangers inherent in the gathering of crowds was most obvious, particularly at times when elite politics was at its most fragmented. For example, within days of the popular Vicente Guerrero's defeat in the presidential election of August 1828, Santa Anna proclaimed against Manuel Gomez Pedraza's victory. Santa Anna's rebellion was slow to spread, but the first post-election disturbance of the peace in Mexico City looked like it might occur on Independence Day. On September 15, the municipal council moved into secret session to discuss the trouble they saw brewing. Although fighting had not spread to the capital yet, the council requested extra troops to keep order because a rumor had reached them that Guerrero's supporters were distributing money in the barrio of San Pablo, organizing a mob to run through the city shouting, "death to Guerrero and long live viceroy Pedraza of Mexico and Ferdinand VII." (35) Extra troops ensured a tranquil Independence Day, but their presence only delayed the turmoil, which peaked in December with the Revolt of the Acordada and the Parian riot.

Popular enthusiams could move beyond their usefulness even to populist elites, however. In 1829, the ill-conceived Spanish attempt at reconquest captured the attention of the nation and provided additional fuel for patriotic fires. As Independence Day approached, the fate of Santa Anna's expedition against the invaders was still unknown. Anti-Spanish violence had broken out in the city sporadically since the Acordada Rebellion, and more was inevitable after the invasion, but Guerrero and his advisers wished to secure social peace now that they controlled the presidency. (36) On September 13, Federal District governor Jose Maria Tornel published an announcement about the upcoming Independence Day festivities, noting that a great display of patriotism was necessary, given that "the execrable Spaniards have returned to profane the sacred ground of the republic." Yet, at the same time, with the upheavals of the last twelve months in mind, security precautions were emphasized. Tornel's public pronouncements warned that the police would accept no alterations of public order under any pretext during the celebrations. (37)

Tensions of this type emerged periodically into the Reform era. In 1836, subversive posters plastered around the city greeted Independence Day (38) reverse following year, rumors circulated that the festivities commemorating September 27 would be leveraged into the establishment of a dictatorship. (39) In 1858, fear of unrest outweighed the desire to create ritually the national community. That year, the most popular public aspects of the Independence Day festivities were canceled, and only the religious service and civic discourse remained. (40)

Conclusion: Solving Rashomon's Dilemma

To conclude, then, we return to the incident that opened the essay. Using the same methods employed above allows us to assess judiciously the competing claims of different witnesses by placing them in a broad framework of actions and understandings. In the spring of 1837, a dramatic copper currency devaluation was undertaken by Mexico's newly formed centralist government, facing an extreme fiscal crisis. A chronic shortage of government revenue with deep roots was exacerbated by the demands of the war in Texas, and an apparent increase in the circulation of counterfeit coin. The constituent congress responsible for forming the new constitution spent long hours debating potential solutions to the revenue crisis during the summer of 1836, but a decision was delayed until after the new founding document was completed. (41) Finally, in January 1837, within days of the ceremonies introducing the new constitution, the congress ceased minting copper currency and established a means to amortize at its nominal value the copper currency already in circulation. (42) However, even after the bill's passage, de facto discounting of copper currency continued to plague the provinces, and speculators began flooding Mexico City with copper coin, both legitimate and counterfeit, since the currency appeared to hold more of its value in the capital. This only increased disparities between the nominal and market values of copper coin in the city. (43)

In an attempt to stop the inflationary spiral and secure a stable value for copper coin, the congress passed additional legislation on March 8, establishing that copper coin would now trade at its accepted market value, which at the time was about half its nominal value. (44) Rumors of such a move had been reported in the press for days, and the opposition ominously warned that "lesser causes produced the bloody scenes" of the French Revolution. (45) Although denounced immediately by the editors of La Lima as a death warrant for the poor, the day the decree was issued, relative quiet reigned in the city, due in part to a generous deployment of troops and the canon situated at the entrances to the national palace. (46) Several sources note rising tensions in the city the following day, as some stores closed their doors early, while others ran out of staple goods, refused to accept copper currency, or demanded dramatic markups for payments received in copper. Minor skirmishes also appear to have taken place, but the greatest confrontations occurred on Saturday, March 11. (47) That morning, large crowds took to the streets of the capital. One group descended on the main plaza, gathered outside the palace where the national congress was meeting, and demanded to be let in to the chambers. Others ran through the streets, shouting slogans and trading insults with the military, throwing rocks, and threatening local businesses. Popular disturbances were also reported in Orizaba, Acambaro, Queretaro, and Morelia. (48)

An uneasy calm was restored to the city by Sunday morning, though the repercussions of events of the 11th lasted well beyond the time it took to repair the damaged facades of several homes and businesses. While neither the property damage nor the political fallout that ensued equaled the Parian riot of December 1828, the specter of mobs roaming the streets, the potential anarchy of renewed lepero politics, and the precarious nature of urban political and social relations sparked rancorous debate, and vituperative accusations of indifference or incompetence were traded among the capital's political authorities.

Reviewing the incidents of the day, numerous sources reported attacks on commercial establishments, which we would expect given the context of rising prices and food shortages, though no general or sustained attack on property resulted. This fits in the larger pattern of limited attacks on property that characterized much of the political upheaval in Mexico City during the era. (49) The crowds that gathered chose several political targets: some individuals gathered to force their way into the national palace to confront the congress; others stoned the home of former president Corro; still others engaged in altercations with military detachments, and casualties resulted. The antagonisms ranged from the exchange of insults to physical altercations resulting in injuries and several deaths. This raises interesting questions about civil-military relations in these years, which may have been strained due to the ever increasing use of the leva for troops of the line during the Texas war, or even a backlash against the army's performance in Texas in general. Though this is speculation, we do know that the national government was disappointed in the municipal council's efforts to enlist sufficient troops through the Tribunal de Vagos, suspended the court in August 1836, and stepped up other efforts to round up "recruits," creating great friction between the council members and the central government, and increasing tensions on the street. (50)

Shouts of "death to the congress, death to the government," were reported by multiple sources. Denunciations of foreigners joined a chorus of, "viva la federacion, muera el centralismo, viva la libertad," and demands outside the palace that the government "return our cuartillas." In the midst of all this excitement, one person reportedly added the anomalous, "No queremos tratados con el Papa." (51)

What can these actions tell us about the participants in this uprising? The crowd, a melange of actors with mixed motives and objectives, joined in their disdain for current policy. One would assume that, given the generally recognized crisis of the marketplace, hostility towards the current government was real, as was the desire for a stable currency ("death to the government;" "bring back our cuartillas"). The labels placed on culprits, and solutions to the crisis, appear to be mostly pre-packaged opposition discourse--"viva la federacion, muera el congreso, mueran los agiotistas (money lenders)"--perhaps garnered from the "seditious pasquines and public speeches" delivered by the "apostles of disorder." (52)

However, these were mixed with visceral, long-standing, popular political sentiment against merchants and foreigners whose vehemence surely frightened even the most radical of the opposition's leaders, who spent enough time dealing with foreigners in their own intermittent exiles, family affairs, and business dealings. Even those publications frequent in their criticisms of foreign bankers attempted to downplay the general anti-foreign sentiment of the crowds, labeling it the work of a few "perversos." (53) Finally, even the seemingly bizarre improvisation from the iconoclast in the crowd who wanted no treaties with the Pope can be revealing. While this individual was ridiculed in the newspaper that reported his outburst, it reveals an individual who was offering up a potential political addendum to the day's goals, and demonstrates an awareness that Mexico's rift with the Vatican was healing. (54) It was, after all, only a few short weeks before the riot that there had been public celebrations of the papal recognition of Mexico's independence. (55)

To understand the dissipation of Saturday's energies into Sunday's quiescence, we must turn our attention to one final component of the crowd: the individuals charged with controlling, dispersing or destroying it. To ignore the role that the military played at any given moment in nineteenth century Mexico would be to miss much of the story. The most important aspect of the city's military regiment's behavior in 1837 was that it remained loyal to the government, despite the fact that the troops were paid in the same copper currency as the rebellious groups in the streets. While at least one unit was accused of aiding a crowd intent on sacking a business, the timely arrival of other troops thwarted even this collaboration. (56) In fact, the comandante general of the capital's battalion published a thank you note to his troops for remaining loyal during the crisis. (57) The troops who held firm in March were rewarded for their loyalty in other ways. The national government awarded a special bonus to the capital's regiments for their performance during the crisis. (58) It recognized the obvious: the military held the key to the regime's survival.

Historians should recognize this as well. In political conflicts, words are indeed weapons and rituals matter, but so do bullets. To focus on one without the other would be a misguided practice for state makers, and for historians. There has been far too little study of the institutions and actors, like the military, that shaped the nineteenth century. Although that problem presents great opportunity to those of us who study the era, and recent historiography has begun to rectify the situation, we still must recognize that much of the ground work remains to be done. We must therefore resist the temptation to think of the era as having one character or to assume that specific manifestations of popular political culture are emblematic of the period as a whole. In other words, the historian who presumes to study popular political culture for this era cannot simply limn texts in isolation, or tack on as a framework a preconceived "broader context." We must also take on the burden of redefining our understanding of the context itself. Indeed, Michelet himself, romantic champion of the heroic peuple, wrote The People as part of a broad revisionist history of France.


(1) Quoted in Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York, 1988), 2.

(2) Carlos Maria de Bustamante, "Diario Historico," manuscript microfilm, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropolgia e Historia, Mexico City, entry for March 11, 1837.

(3) Anonymous, "Diario Politico y Militar, 1836-37," manuscript, Genaro Garcia Collection, Document G441, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, University of Texas at Austin, entry for March 11, 1837.

(4) See, for example, the essays in Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds., Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies (Berkeley, Calif., 1991).

(5) Lynn Hunt, Politics, Class and Culture in the French Revolution (Berkeley, Calif., 1984), 13.

(6) Charles Tilley, "Conclusion: Contention and the Urban Poor in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Latin America," in Silvia M. Arrom and Servando Otoll, eds., Riots in the Cities: Popular Politics and the Urban Poor in Latin America, 1765-1910 (Wilmington, Del., 1996), 228.

(7) Silvia M. Arrom, "Introduction: Rethinking Urban Politics in Latin America before the Populist Era," in Ibid., 4, 7.

(8) Arlette Farge, Subversive Words: Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century France (University Park, Pa., 1995), 35.

(9) Sean Wilentz, "Introduction: Teufelsdrockh's Dilemma: On Symbolism, Politics, and History," in Sean Wilentz, ed., Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual, and Politics Since the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 1984), 4.

(10) William H. Beezley, Cheryl English Martin, and William E. French, "Introduction," in William H. Beezley, Cheryl English Martin, and William E. French, eds., Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance: Public Celebrations and Popular Culture in Mexico (Wilmington, Del., 1994), xv, 3-4.

(11) Ibid., xxii; Tilly, "Conclusion," 228.

(12) David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1997), 142.

(13) Archivo del Ex-Ayuntamiento de la Ciudad de Mexico (hereafter AACM), Volume 2253, Expediente 4, September 22, 1812; Rafael de Alba, ed., La constitucion de 1812 en la Nueva Espana (Mexico City, 1912-1913), 1: 16-20. Steven Flinchpaugh, "Economic Aspects of the Viceregal Entrance in Mexico City," The Americas 52:3 (January 1996): 354, reports that between 1585 and 1700, the average viceregal entrada cost 25, 961 pesos.

(14) Timothy E. Anna, The Fall of the Royal Government in Mexico City, (Lincoln, Neb., 1978), 108.

(15) Gaceta del Gobierno de Mexico 3: 296, October 3, 1812.

(16) AACM, Vol. 2253, Exp. 4, September 24, 1812.

(17) Ibid.; Gaceta del Gobierno de Mexico 3: 296, October 3, 1812.

(18) Luis Gonzalez Obregon, Mexico viejo [1895] (Mexico City, 1988), 585-591.

(19) Antonio Annino, "The Ballot, Land and Sovereignty: Cadiz and the Origins of Mexican Local Government, 1812-1820," in Eduardo Posada-Carbo, ed. Elections Before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America (New York, 1996), 61-86. Cf. Mona Ozouf's discussion of French revolutionary efforts to "transfer sacrality" from Church to state in Festivals and the French Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1988).

(20) AACM, Vol. 2253, Exp. 4, September 26, 1812.

(21) Gaceta del Gobierno de Mexico 3: 301, October 13, 1812.

(22) AACM, Vol. 2253, Exp. 9 and 12.

(23) AACM, vol. 2253, exp. 20.

(24) Ozouf, Festivals, 150.

(25) Andres Lira, Comunidades indigenas frente a la ciudad de Mexico: Tenochtitlan y Tlatelolco, sus pueblos y barrios, 1812-1919 (2nd ed, Mexico City, 1995).

(26) AACM, vol. 2253, exp. 23.

(27) Ozouf, Festivals, 174.

(28) El Aguila Mexicana, August 27, 1825.

(29) AACM, Vol 1067, Exp. 2.

(30) El Aguila Mexicana, September 18, 1825.

(31) Francisco de Paula de Arrangoiz, Mexico desde 1808 hasta 1867 [1871-72] (Mexico City, 1985), 355.

(32) AACM, Vol. 1067, Exp. 13.

(33) El Siglo XIX, segunda epoca, September 27, 1844.

(34) See, for example, "Unos Liberales," Manifiesto a la nacion o sea contestacion al que con igual titulo se haya inserto en los numeros 146 y 147 del periodico titulado El Orden (Puebla, Mexico, 1853).

(35) AACM, Vol. 148a, September 15, 1828; AACM, Vol. 290a, September 15, 1828.

(36) Harold Sims, The Expulsion of Mexico's Spaniards (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1990): 143.

(37) AACM, Vol. 1067, Exp. 6, September 13, 1829.

(38) Diario de Gobierno, September 22, 1836.

(39) Ibid., October 9, 1837.

(40) Archivo General de la Nacion (hereafter AGN), Mexico City, Ramo Gobernacion, Caja 461, Exp. 31, September 15, 1858.

(41) Reynaldo Sordo Cedeno, El congreso en la primera republica centralista (Mexico City, 1993), 249.

(42) AACM, Vol. 3284, Exp. 10.

(43) Sordo, El congreso, 250-51; El Cosmopolita, February 18, 1837.

(44) Diario del Gobierno, March 9, 1837.

(45) La Lima del Vulcano, March 4, 1837.

(46) La Lima del Vulcano, March 9, 1837; El Mosquito Mexicano, March 14, 1837.

(47) "Diario Politico y Militar, 1836-37," entry for March 9, 1837; El Mosquito, March 10, 1837.

(48) "Diario Politico y Militar," entry for March 14, 1837.

(49) Arrom, "Introduction," 2-3.

(50) Jose Antonio Serrano, "Levas, Tribunal de Vagos y Ayuntamiento: la ciudad de Mexico, 1825-1836," in Carlos Illades and Ariel Rodriguez, eds., Ciudad de Mexico: Instituciones, Actores Sociales y Conflicto Politico (Mexico City, 1996), 144; Richard Warren, "Desafio y trastorno en el gobierno municipal: el ayuntamiento de Mexico y la dinamica nacional, 1821-1855," in Illades and Rodriguez, Ciudad de Mexico, 127.

(51) The cuartilla, one-quarter of a real, (there are eight reales to a peso) was common copper currency. El Mosquito Mexicano, March 17, 1837.

(52) Diario del Gobiemo, March 14, 1837.

(53) El Mosquito Mexicano, March 17, 1837.

(54) Ibid.

(55) El Cosmopolita, February 25, 1837.

(56) El Mosquito Mexicano, March 17, 1837.

(57) Diario del Gobierno, March 12, 1837.

(58) El Mosquito Mexicano, March 17, 1837.

Richard Warren Saint Joseph's University

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