Patriotism, Politics, and Popular Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Juan Francisco Lucas and the Puebla Sierra.
This political history of the Sierra Norte region of the Mexican state of Puebla is written on several levels. Principal author Guy Thomson offers a clearly and concisely written narrative history of the politics of Puebla during a critical period in the history of the country (1855-1910), focusing on the involvement of the Sierra Norte region in state and national politics. Thomson uses the nahuatl speaking indigenous leader Juan Francisco Lucas (1834-1917) to show not only the vital role played by the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Norte in the politics of the period, but also the ability of an indigenous leader to emerge as a regional liberal cacique that national leaders from Benito Juarez to Venustiano Carranza had to take into account as a major player in regional and state politics. David LaFrance authored the concluding chapter dealing with Lucas during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920.
This book is well researched and written, and discusses in detail several episodes in Mexican history that have not received much attention in the recent literature: the War of the Reforms (1858-1861); and the French Intervention (1861-1867) that led to the creation of the short-lived Mexican Empire headed by the ill-fated Maximilian. Author Thomson capably describes the conflicts as they developed in Pueblo and the Sierra Notre, and the role played by Lucas and other liberal leaders during both wars. Lucas proved to be a capable military leader, and successfully recruited indigenous troops from throughout the Sierra in support of the patriotic causes. Thomson goes on to discuss political instability in the Sierra Notre in the two decades following the expulsion of the French, as the victorious liberal leaders Benito Juarez, Porfirio Diaz, and Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada fought several civil wars for control of the presidency. There also was political instability at the level of the state as contending regional coalitions vied for control of the state government.
Thomson places his study within the context of the society and environment of the Sierra Notre. An introductory chapter outlines the demography and social structure, economy, and ecology of the Sierra Norte. A second chapter explores a number of the issues raised by liberals such as civil registration, secular education, and division of community commons, and how the implementation of these reforms played out within the Sierra Notre region. One issue, the division of community commons, led to some disputes, and the outbreak of localized rebellions. Thomson provides a satisfactory overview to the liberal agenda as implemented in the Sierra Norte, but his book would have been stronger had he included more derails such as more specific information on the division of the commons. More of a discussion of social and economic changes during the Porfiriato would also have been helpful.
Thomson is most effective in showing the complexity of liberal politics during the period of La Reforma and leading into the Porfiriato (1876-1880, 1884-1911). Many of the conflicts that Thomson writes about were not ideological, but rather examples of personalistic factionalism. During the War of the Reforms (1858-1861), for example, the task of reasserting liberal control was more difficult because of factional fighting among several of the liberal leaders in Puebla. Thomson also identifies and fleshes out issues important to indigenous peasants in the Sierra Norte who were active players in the events described, and does so without use of academic terminology that fails to explain the motivations of common people. This book clearly explains what the indigenous peasants fought for. Lucas proved himself quite capable of preserving his position in the complex politics of the era.
On balance, this book is well worth reading to better understand the often convoluted politics of mid and late nineteenth-century Mexico. It is clearly and engagingly written, and deftly avoids pedantic post-modernist ego-jargon. Tables, maps, and photographs are a plus. Thomson and LaFrance have written a book that should stand the test of time.
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|Author:||Jackson, Robert H.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2001|
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