Monday, November 14, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Mexican Civil War (revised)

José María Morelos

Scorpions in a Bottle resumes with the second half of Chapter 8, in which the state of Jefferson becomes drawn into the Mexican Civil War. (Now revised to reflect Noel Maurer's concerns about anachronistic disestablishmentarianism.)

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Despite the general indignation in the C.N.A. over Major Jackson’s high-handedness, Jefferson continued to receive a steady stream of white settlers and Negro slaves from the Southern Confederation. Jefferson was also a popular destination for Frenchmen seeking to escape their economically depressed homeland. Although most French immigrants settled in the Francophone areas around Lafayette, a sizeable minority, many of them Jewish, chose to make their homes in Henrytown’s growing seaport. Trade between Jefferson and France helped to revive the economies of both countries, and led to the renewal of ties dating back to the Rebellion. [1]

A third source of settlers for Jefferson was the Spanish Caribbean, particularly Cuba. The anti-Hohenzollern uprisings there had touched off bloody revolts by the islands’ Negro slaves, and Jefferson was the popular destination for panicked plantation owners and shopkeepers fleeing the slaughter. The white ruling classes in the Spanish Caribbean were eventually able to put down the slave revolts and regain control of the islands, but many of the refugees chose to remain in Jefferson, mainly settling in the old Spanish towns of San Antonio, Espiritu Santo, and Nacogdoches. Jefferson was also the destination of choice for many French and Spanish residents of Louisiana and West Florida who left to avoid British rule. Jefferson had always been a multilingual society with significant French and Spanish minorities, and this remained true after the Trans-Oceanic War. [2]

The Mexican War of Independence ended in 1805 with the departure of the last Royalist army. However, six years of war had left the new Republic of Mexico divided and bankrupt. Initially, Güemes Padilla’s prestige allowed him to hold the country together while it slowly recovered from the conflict. Unfortunately, the rigors of the war had taken their toll on the former viceroy, and he died in January 1806.

Güemes Padilla’s death brought a long-simmering conflict between his two chief supporters, José María Morelos and Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, into the open. Morelos had been Güemes Padilla’s chief military strategist, while Hidalgo was a charismatic former priest known as the “conscience of the revolution.” Morelos was able to use his control of the Mexican Army and support from Mexico City’s criollo elite to succeed Güemes Padilla as provisional president of the republic. This did not sit well with Hidalgo, who regarded himself as better fitted to lead Mexico than Morelos. A clash between the two was inevitable.

Güemes Padilla had been strongly influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, and during and after the War of Independence he had spoken in favor of “freedom of conscience.” Whether he intended to establish complete freedom of religion, or even the disestablishment of the Catholic Church, is a question that divided his contemporaries, and has vexed historians ever since. [3] Regardless, when Morelos pledged himself to continue his predecessor’s reforms, Hidalgo accused him of seeking to eliminate the Catholic Church and transform Mexico into a “Godless nation.” Although Morelos denied this, Hidalgo was able to use the accusation to whip up popular opposition to his rule.

Morelos was determined to maintain himself in power, and he cracked down on Hidalgo’s followers in Mexico City. Hidalgo, fearing for his life, fled the capital. A company of soldiers sent to Cuautla to arrest Hidalgo were ambushed there by his supporters on April 14, an event that marked the start of the Mexican Civil War. [4]

In Jefferson City, the Hamilton-Monroe-Gaillard government followed events in Mexico closely. Hamilton was particularly concerned by a proclamation issued by Revillagigedo in June 1805 calling on the Jeffersonians to renounce the uprising of 1796 and submit to his government’s rule. Hamilton began preparing for war with Mexico, but fears of a Mexican attack diminished when news came of the outbreak of the civil war.

As well as diminishing the threat of war, the outbreak of the civil war in Mexico led to the end of Jefferson’s international isolation. As the civil war continued, several areas of the former Viceroyalty of New Spain broke away to form their own states, including Guatemala and Yucatan. Secretary of State Adams was able to establish diplomatic relations with the other breakaway Mexican states, and soon did the same with the newly-established republican governments in the Spanish Caribbean. [5]

A second event that helped end Jefferson’s diplomatic and financial isolation was the death of King Louis XVII of France in 1807. To most Frenchmen, Louis was nothing more than a puppet of the country’s British and German enemies. He was widely and derisively known as “the king on a string.” Since suffering a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis in 1789, Louis had been in poor health, and it was widely believed that his impotence kept him from consummating his marriage to Maria Luisa of Spain.

Upon Louis’ death, the French throne passed to his younger brother Louis Charles, Duke of Normany, who reigned as Louis XVIII. The new king was determined to free the country from Anglo-German domination. He extended diplomatic recognition to Jefferson, and encouraged French bankers to offer loans to the Jeffersonian government. He also encouraged the development of the French textile industry, which provided a steady market for Jeffersonian cotton crops. Hamilton chose Albert Gallatin, the Geneva-born Representative from Lafayette, as Jeffeson’s first minister to the Court of Louis XVIII. [6]

In Mexico, the civil war ground on. Hidalgo’s supporters, who became known as the Clericalists, were too weak to contest control of Mexico City, and contented themselves with conducting hit-and-run attacks on government targets. President Morelos’s supporters, known as the Federalists, remained secure in the capital, but were unable to maintain control of Mexico’s hinterland. Atrocities became common on both sides, and a steady flow of Mexican refugees fleeing the violence crossed the Rio Grande into Jefferson. Most of the refugees were Clericalists who had seen their homes and property destroyed and their friends and relatives killed by Federalist troops. As their fortunes improved in the prosperous, fast-growing new state, and they gained the franchise, they gravitated towards the Continentalist Party, which came to favor the Clericalist side in the civil war. [7]

Jefferson’s prosperity and growing international recognition redounded to the credit of the Continentalist government. In the 1807 elections, the Continentalists won 50 out of 66 seats in the Chamber of Representatives, ensuring that the Hamilton-Monroe-Gaillard ticket would be returned to office fourteen months later.

The second phase of the Mexican Civil War began in August 1809 when Hidalgo was captured by the Federalists and executed. Control of Hidalgo’s “army of clerics” fell to Simón Figueroa, who lacked his former commander’s ability as a tactician, but who turned out to be a skilled propagandist. Assisted by sympathizers in Jefferson, Figueroa’s anti-Federalist broadsides circulated throughout Mexico, turning popular opinion against Morelos’ government. Figueroa was also skilled at concealing his forces from government troops; the Clericalists were seemingly able to strike at will, albeit without inflicting much harm, and there seemed nothing the Federalists could do to stop them.

Hamilton was able to turn the erosion of Morelos’ authority to good effect. Covert assistance from the Jeffersonian government allowed the Clericalists to seize control of the provincial capitals of Nuevo Mexico and California, and both provinces were soon home to well-armed Anglophone settlers with close ties to the Clericalist army.

Although, Morelos publicly described the Clericalist attacks as being “like the stings of mosquitos which, though troublesome, could be born by a patient man,” privately he feared that his government’s authority was on the verge of collapse. Determined to end the Clericalist threat once and for all, in the spring of 1815 he issued a proclamation declaring that anyone found aiding the rebels would be subject to summary execution. Federalist troops then spread out to every urban area in Mexico, rounding up and executing suspected Clericalist sympathizers. [8]

The result was a pitched battle between Morelos’ troops and a mixed force of Clericalists and Anglo settlers led by Horatio Conyers in the hills outside Albuquerque, Nuevo Mexico in October 1815. The government army was forced to withdraw, and Nuevo Mexico was spared the horrors of the Federalist inquisition. Conyers became a hero to Anglophone and Hispanophone alike in Santa Fe.

When news of the Battle of Albuquerque reached Jefferson City, it became clear to Hamilton and his supporters that the Clericalists would be unable to resist the latest Federalist onslaught on their own. The time had come for the Jeffersonians to openly intervene in the Mexican Civil War.

1. Henri de Amory. The Ghost of Lafayette: The Franco-Mexican Alliance (Mexico City, 1959), pp 38-41.

2. Mitchell Carr. “Patterns of Immigration in Old Jefferson,” Journal of Jeffersonian History, CIV (November, 2009), pp. 288-302.

3. See Dolores Santiago. Revillagigedo and the Historians (Jefferson City, 2013).

4. Ortez. The Birth of Mexico, pp. 53-55.

5. Gregory Pomerantz. The Life of John Quincy Adams (Mexico City, 1975), pp. 207-21.

6. Charles Agassiz. Louis XVIII and the Rebirth of France (London, 1972), pp. 166-81.

7. Valentina Cabral. A History of the Continentalist Party (Jefferson City, 1996), pp. 44-47.

8. Ortez. The Birth of Mexico, pp. 91-96.