From the desk of Will Fowler: Understanding Nineteenth-Century Mexican Insurrectionary Politics

WillFowlerWill Fowler is a professor of Latin American studies at the University of St Andrews where he is the current Head of the School of Modern Languages. He is the author and editor of over fifteen titles including Santa Anna of Mexico; Forceful Negotiations; Malcontents, Rebels and Pronunciados; Celebrating Insurrection, and Independent Mexico (January 2016) all published by the University of Nebraska Press.

The first time it struck me that the literally hundreds of pronunciamientos that were recorded in Mexico following its achievement of independence from Spain in 1821 were not strictly speaking revolts and that their threats of violence were seldom actually carried out was back in 1997. It was whilst preparing an overview of civil conflict in Independent Mexico for the Nineteenth Century History Workshop that Eduardo Posada Carbó organized in London, On the Origins of Civil Wars in Nineteenth-Century Latin America,” that it became evident to me that there was much more to a pronunciamiento than generally thought. Unlike a revolt or a coup d’état the pronunciamiento was a complex form of insurrectionary action that relied, in the first instance, on the proclamation and circulation of a plan that listed the pronunciados’ demands and, thereafter on its endorsement by significant enough a number of copycat pronunciamientos de adhesión or allegiance, to force the authorities, be they national or regional, to the negotiating table.

In my first monograph, Mexico in the Age of Proposals, 1821–1853, I thus started to think of pronunciamientos, with their accompanying plans and petitions, more as political proposals than as simple acts of rebellion. In a book that was about Mexican political thought and the evolution of the different political groups and factions of the early national period, pronunciamientos appeared to be an expression of their ideas, rather than simple acts of rebellion or insubordination. It was a view that became clearer to me as I went on to research the lives and political careers of two particularly adept and persistent Mexican pronunciados: José María Tornel (1795–1853) and Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876). The sophisticated way they used pronunciamientos to influence policy and further their careers, with a disposition to negotiate with both the government and/or other pronunciados depending on how a particular pronunciamiento cycle was unfolding, demonstrated to me the need to research this particular form of insurrectionary action in depth. By understanding this practice, a practice most (not to say all) Mexican politicians and high-ranking officers adopted at some point or another during these years, it became obvious to me that we would be in a far better position to understand the actual politics and political culture of Independent Mexico. After all, despite its reputation for being an “age of chaos,” this was a period in which, notwithstanding the more than 1500 pronunciamientos that were recorded between 1821 and 1876, or arguably because of them, Mexico did not disintegrate like other early Spanish American republics such as Gran Colombia, the United Provinces of Central America, or the Peru-Bolivian Confederation.

Therefore, having completed my biography of Santa Anna I decided to dedicate myself entirely to researching the Mexican pronunciamiento. I was extremely lucky to be awarded an incredibly generous UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant in 2007 that enabled me to set up the University of St Andrews “Pronunciamiento in Independent Mexico” project. With a dedicated research team focused on collating and analyzing pronunciamientos, we built a relational web-based database of pronunciamiento texts and, on the back of three particularly stimulating conferences, I edited three volumes with Nebraska on different aspects of the pronunciamiento phenomenon: Forceful Negotiations, Malcontents, Rebels, and Pronunciados, and Celebrating Insurrection.

The culmination of nearly twenty years reflecting on the nature of insurrectionary politics in Independent Mexico is this book: one that is obviously about pronunciamientos but also a phenomenon I have chosen to term “mimetic insurrectionism.” I have set out to provide a comprehensive overview of the pronunciamiento practice in Independent Mexico, with the emphasis being on national pronunciamientos. It is a book that is therefore concerned with the dynamics of the pronunciamiento, and in turn, with how a given form of insurrectionary action can spread and become adopted by growing numbers of groups and individuals. It was certainly striking, whilst writing Independent Mexico, as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement came and went, how many of the findings about the dynamics of the Mexican pronunciamiento, with its need for mimetic copycat constellations of mirror acts of disobedience, still resonate with present-day forms of contestation and forceful negotiation.

It is a study that highlights the extent to which this given insurrectionary form of lobbying and protestation evolved between 1821 and 1858, in terms of who pronounced, why and how they did so, whilst paying attention to the shift that was also experienced in the kind of demands pronunciamientos set out to address. Given the frequency and importance of the pronunciamiento, how most, not to say all, of the main events and changes of this period were the result of pronunciamiento pressure, this book is also, almost by default, a concise political history of Independent Mexico.

-Will Fowler