Liberalism in Mexico

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Liberalism in Mexico was part of a broader nineteenth-century political trend affecting Western Europe and the Americas, including the United States, that challenged entrenched power.[1]

Nineteenth-century liberalism[edit]

Alegoría de la Constitución de 1857 shows a dark complected Mexican woman clutching the liberal constitution of 1857. The 1869 painting by Petronilo Monroy was completed after the expulsion of the French in 1867.

Most Mexican liberals looked to European thinkers in their formulation of their ideology, which has led to a debate about whether those ideas were merely "Mexicanized" versions.[2] In Mexico, the most salient aspects of nineteenth-century liberalism were to create a secular state separated from the Roman Catholic Church, establish equality before the law by abolishing corporate privileges (fueros) of the church, the military, and indigenous communities. Liberals' aim was to transform Mexico into a modern secular state with a dynamic economy. Corporate privilege and the conservative elite defenders were considered stumbling blocks to the nation’s political, social, and economic progress.[3] Secular, public education was a key element in opening paths to achievement for all Mexican citizens. Schooling historically had been the domain of the Roman Catholic Church and limited to elite men, so that broadening educational access and having a secular curriculum was seen as a way to transform Mexican society.[4] The breakup of land owned by corporations, specifically the Roman Catholic Church and indigenous communities, was a crucial policy element in diminishing the power of the church and integrating Mexico’s Indians into the republic as citizens and transforming them into yeoman farmers. Unlike many liberals elsewhere, Mexican liberals did not call for limitations on executive power.[5]

José María Luis Mora (1794–1850), first major liberal intellectual of independent Mexico.

The term "liberal" became the name of a political faction, which previously had called itself "the Party of Progress" in contrast to the Conservative Party, which they called "the Party of Regression." Conservatives characterized themselves as those that defended Mexican tradition. Following Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, the first Mexican liberals became important on the national scene. The most prominent was secular priest and intellectual, José María Luis Mora (1794–1850), who was influenced by Montesquieu, Benjamin Constant, and Jeremy Bentham.[6] Mora attacked corporate privilege, especially the fueros of the Roman Catholic Church; considered the role of utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number) in Mexico; examined the so-called "Indian Question," of how to modernize Mexico when the majority of the population was indigenous living in rural communities; and considered the role of liberalism in economic development.[7] The early post-independence era was dominated by General Antonio López de Santa Anna and Mexican conservatives, so that Mexican liberals were rarely able to exercise political power nationally.

With Mexico's defeat in the Mexican–American War (1846–48), a new generation of what historian Enrique Krauze calls "romantic liberals" emerged. They were rooted in literature, and read and translated European writers such as Lamartine, Michelet, Byron, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Outstanding among these Mexican liberals were Ignacio Ramírez (1818–1879); Guillermo Prieto (1818–1897); and Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834–1893), who was of indigenous Nahua origin and rose to be a major literary figure and journalist.[8]

These intellectuals lived through and tried to shape political thought in the War of the Reform between conservatives and liberals, and the French invasion, a foreign intervention supported by Mexican conservatives. However, pragmatic politicians, preeminently Benito Juárez, born in a Zapotec village in Oaxaca, as well as Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, and Melchor Ocampo implemented liberal reforms and defended them during civil war and foreign invasion. None of these men were great thinkers, but they were all guided by liberal principles. With the ouster of the French in 1867 and the discrediting of Mexican conservatives who had supported the regime of foreign monarch Maximilian I of Mexico, Juárez, and his successor following his death of natural causes in 1872, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada could implement the Reform laws passed in the 1850s. With religious toleration mandated, the Roman Catholic Church was no longer the sole spiritual institution in Mexico; it was excluded from its former role as educators of the nation; and its economic power was diminished.

With that major liberal victory won, a third generation of liberals emerged during the presidency of liberal general and military hero of the French intervention in Mexico, Porfirio Díaz (r. 1876–1911). During the Porfiriato, a new group of liberals in name only, the "científicos," were influenced by the Positivism of French philosopher Auguste Comte, and Saint-Simon, scientist Charles Darwin, and Herbert Spencer, known for social Darwinism. Historian and educator Justo Sierra was the most prolific and influential of this group surrounding Díaz.[9] A group of Mexican politicians supporting the increasingly dictatorial Díaz regime characterized themselves as the Cientificos, "scientists". Díaz’s supporters became comfortable with a strong executive, traditionally associated with conservative ideology, as a pragmatic means to achieve stability and ensure economic growth.[10] Under Díaz, a modus vivendi with the Roman Catholic Church emerged whereby it regained a portion of its power and influence, but the anticlerical articles of the Constitution of 1857 remained theoretically enforced.

Liberalism in the 20th century[edit]

Political button for the Mexican Liberal Party, which sought the end of the Díaz regime.

As the Díaz regime became increasingly dictatorial and trampled on the rights and liberties of Mexicans, a group of Mexican oppositionists led by Camilo Arriaga and Ricardo Flores Magón formed the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM). It called for the overthrow of Díaz and agitated for the rights of workers and peasants and for economic nationalism favoring Mexicans rather than foreigners. The PLM had two basic factions, one was reformist and was supported by elite, urban intellectuals and the other was anarcho-communist and advocated revolution. As the opposition to Díaz grew, Liberal clubs met secretly in Mexican cities to discuss politics, which led to the First Liberal Congress that met in San Luis Potosí in 1901. Radicals, such as Flores Magón, were exiled to the United States and drafted the Liberal Party program in 1905. A reformist liberal, rich hacienda owner Francisco I. Madero founded the Anti-Reelectionist Party and ran against Díaz in the 1910 presidential elections. He garnered support from PLM members in the campaign. The fraudulent 1910 elections sparked revolts throughout many parts of the country, considered the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, and Díaz was forced to resign.[11]

Major liberal leaders[edit]

Gallery of liberal leaders[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bazant, Jan. Alienation of Church Wealth in Mexico: Social and Economic Aspects of Liberal Revolution, 1856-1875. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1971.
  • Berry, Charles R. The Reform in Oaxaca, 1856-1876: A Microhistory of the Liberal Revolution. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1981.
  • Britton, John. "Liberalism" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997, pp. 738–742.
  • Caplan, Karen D. Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca and Yucatán. Stanford: Stanford University Press 2010.
  • Chevalier, François. "Conservateurs et libéraux au Mexique. Essai de sociologie et géographie politiques de l'indepéndence a l'intervention françcaise," Cahiers d'histoire mondiale, 8(1964).
  • Coatsworth, John. Growth Against Development: The Economic Impact of Railroads in Porfirian Mexico. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press 1980.
  • Hale, Charles A. Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821-53. Yale University Press (1968)
  • Hale, Charles A. The Transformation of Liberalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Mexico. Princeton University Press (1989)
  • Jackson, Robert L. Liberals, the Church, and Indian peasants: Corporate lands and the challenge of reform in nineteenth-century Spanish America. Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, 1997.
  • Katz, Friedrich, "The Liberal Republic and the Porfiriato, 1867-76" in Mexico Since Independence, Leslie Bethell, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press 1991, pp. 49-124.
  • Knight, Alan. "El Liberalismo mexicano desde la reforma hasta la revolución (una interpretación)." Historia Mexicana 35(1985):59-91.
  • Knowlton, Robert J. Church Property and the Mexican Reform, 1856-1910. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press 1976.
  • Olliff, Donathan C. Reforma Mexico and the United States: A Search for Alternatives to Annexation, 1854-1861. University of Alabama Press 1981.
  • Powell, T.G. El Liberalismo y el campesinado en el centro de México, 1850-1876'. Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública 1974.
  • Powell, T.G. "Mexican Intellectuals and the Indian Question, 1876-1911." Hispanic American Historical Review 40(1968): 19-36.
  • Reyes Heroles, Jesús. El Liberalismo mexicano. 3 vols. Mexico City: UNAM 1957-61.
  • Richmond, Douglas W. Conflict and carnage in Yucatán: Liberals, the Second Empire, and Maya revolutionaries, 1855-1876. Tuscaloosa, Alabama : The University of Alabama Press, 2015
  • Rodríguez, Jaime. The Divine Charter: Constitutionalism and Liberalism in Nineteenth-century Mexico. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
  • Schoonover, Thomas David, Dollars over dominion: The triumph of liberalism in Mexican-United States relations, 1861-1867. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
  • Sinkin, Richard. The Mexican Reform, 1855-1876: A study in Liberal Nation-Building. Austin: University of Texas Press 1979.
  • Tenenbaum, Barbara. The Politics of Penury: Debt and Taxes in Mexico, 1821-1856. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1986.
  • Topik, Steven. "the Economic Role of the State in Liberal Regimes: Brazil and Mexico Compared, 1888–1910," in Guiding the Invisible Hand: Economic Liberalism and the State in Latin American History, Joseph L. Love and Nils Jacobsen, eds. New York 1988, 117–44.
  • Thomson, Guy P. C., Patriotism, politics, and popular liberalism in nineteenth-century Mexico: Juan Francisco Lucas and the Puebla Sierra. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1999.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Britton, “Liberalism” in Encyclopedia of Mexico, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997, 738.
  2. ^ Charles A. Hale, The Transformation of Mexican Liberalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Mexico. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1989, p. 19.
  3. ^ Charles A. Hale, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora. New Haven: Yale University Press 1968, pp. 39.
  4. ^ Charles A. Hale, The Transformation of Liberalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Mexico. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1989.
  5. ^ Britton, "Liberalism" p. 738.
  6. ^ Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power. New York: HarperCollins 1997, p. 13.
  7. ^ Charles A. Hale, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821–1853. New Haven: Yale University Press 1968.
  8. ^ Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power, p. 14.
  9. ^ Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power, p. 14.
  10. ^ Britton, "Liberalism" pp. 742.
  11. ^ James A. Sandos, "Patrido Liberal Mexicano (PLM)" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 1055–1057. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.


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