From "Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture"
Copyright © 1997 by FITZROY DEARBORN PUBLISHERS
Almost at the end of his life Lucas Alamán, the most organized intelligence behind Conservatism in Mexico,said of himself: “I am a dry leaf that the wind of adversity has driven to and fro.” Alamán never imagined thatthese same words he borrowed from the Book of Job would presage the oblivion into which his political workwould fall in the long term, as his “party,” the Conservatives, became labeled as reactionary. This was amisleading label, however, because in its origin, Conservatism was created in reaction to the destructive andwide-ranging effects of the French Revolution, whose Mexican variant was the War of Independence.Conservatism was not, as is commonly conceived, a negation of the idea of change or progress, nor did itdecry political freedom, republicanism, or the bases of elective representation. Conservative thought inMexico, as in other countries, was just another branch on the flourishing tree of modernity, taking the Englishversion and the writings of Edmund Burke as the best exemplar. The ancien régime (the political system inFrance before the Revolution) and Conservatism were terms that ended up being linked together, but theynever shared the same meaning.In Mexico a false dichotomy was soon established, with the Liberals as “the party of progress” and theConservatives as the “reactionary party.” Furthermore, a Manichean historiography soon predominated,which saw Liberalism as synonymous with federalism and Conservatism as synonymous with centralism.Nothing could have been further from reality of the Mexican historical process. Both Liberalism andfederalism and Conservatism and centralism have very different doctrinal and historical backgrounds. In thepost-Revolutionary France of 1789, for example, Liberalism was frequently compatible with centralism. InMexico at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a definite pragmatism distinguished the leaders of politicalgroups rather than a clear difference between the groups per se. Lucas Alamán was an enthusiastic Liberalin the Cortes de Cádiz (regent parliamentary council of the Spanish Empire) and secretary of foreign andstate affairs in the federalist administration of the 1820s. Valentín Goméz Farías, the radical Liberal vicepresident (1833-34) and president (1846), was one of the 46 deputies who initially encouraged theproclamation of Agustín de Iturbide’s First Mexican Empire (July 1822-March 1823). Servando Teresa deMier was the main leader of the American group of the Constitución de Cádiz and an unimpeachable Liberaland republican in the first independent Mexican Congresses; at the same time he never stopped beingeither doctrinally or in practice a fierce defender of centralism. Carlos María Bustamante, a zealous defenderof the heterogeneous insurgent movement and author of
was pro-Iturbide and Liberal inthe 1820s, but by the next decade had become a partisan of centralist government and member of theSupremo Poder Conservador (Conservative Supreme Authority) of the centralist republic of 1836.Francisco Manuel Sánchez de Tagle, who along with José María Luis Mora was one of the founders of
ElObservador de la República Mexicana,
had read the works of Jeremy Bentham, the baron ofMontesquieu, and Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos from an early age. Despite this record, he later was theprincipal coauthor of the centralist Constitution of 1836 and secretary of the Supremo Poder Conservador ofthe same government. José María Gutíerrez Estrada was a republican and a Liberal in the 1820s; twodecades later he had become the most obvious sponsor of a foreign constitutional monarchy. José JoaquínPesado, author of the novel
that criticized the Inquisition, a poet and government man, was alsocofounder of the federalist Liberal periodical
(1833-34) and keen partisan of the suppressionof the monasteries and confiscation of possessions belonging to religious communities in Veracruz (1833-