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The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico

Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962

Benjamin T. Smith

Publication Year: 2012

The Roots of Conservatism is the first attempt to ask why over the past two centuries so many Mexican peasants have opted to ally with conservative groups rather than their radical counterparts. Blending socioeconomic history, cultural analysis, and political narrative, Smith’s study begins with the late Bourbon period and moves through the early republic, the mid-nineteenth-century Reforma, the Porfiriato, and the Revolution, when the Mixtecs rejected Zapatista offers of land distribution, ending with the armed religious uprising known as the “last Cristiada,” a desperate Cold War bid to rid the region of impious “communist” governance. In recounting this long tradition of regional conservatism, Smith emphasizes the influence of religious belief, church ritual, and lay-clerical relations both on social relations and on political affiliation. He posits that many Mexican peasants embraced provincial conservatism, a variant of elite or metropolitan conservatism, which not only comprised ideas on property, hierarchy, and the state, but also the overwhelming import of the church to maintaining this system.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. ix-xi

This book would not have been possible without the kind help of many friends, relations, and acquaintances in Oaxaca and the Mixteca Baja. As befits a book at least in part about the church hierarchy, I shall start at the top...

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pp. 1-18

On the walls of the community museum of Tequixtepec local artists have painted an account of the village’s history from pre- Hispanic times to the present. Despite nearly a century of state attempts to institutionalize a distinct view of Mexico’s past...

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1: The People of the Cross: The Mixteca Baja During the Colonial Period

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pp. 19-74

On April 12, 1703, the Dominican priest of Tonalá, Antonio Guerrero, wrote to the bishop of Puebla to ask permission to reform and expand the constitution of the cofradía of the Holy Cross. He explained that the cult of the Holy Cross possessed special significance for the inhabitants of Tonalá and the surrounding villages...

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2: For “the peace and security of the pueblo”: The Roots of Provincial Conservatism, 1821–1867

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pp. 75-119

During the early 1820s the conservative historian Carlos María de Bustamante wrote his version of Huajuapan’s royalist siege. According to the account, the Independence leader Valerio Trujano arrived in Huajuapan with a small force on April 5, 1812. He was pursued by eleven hundred well-equipped royalist troops led by General Régules, which surrounded and besieged the town...

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3: For a “government of Mexico, which protects our religion, our persons, and our families”: The Counternarrative of Provincial Conservatism, 1821–1867

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pp. 120-158

On August 20, 1859, the villagers of Tequixtepec met in the community’s municipal palace. Here they read out the liberal government’s recent prohibition of cofradía properties. In response, the councilors condemned the decrees, claiming that they sought to “destroy cofradías . . . and brotherhoods and appropriate their capital...

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4: “The spirit of God . . . in the hearts of everybody”: Liberalism Modified and Catholicism Resurgent, 1867–1910

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pp. 159-202

On February 28, 1879, the priest of Zahuatlán, Feliciano Ramírez, visited the village of Amatitlán to hold Mass in honor of the local image of Our Lord of Health. After the service, Ramírez noticed the Christ had started to sweat...

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5: “No leaf of the tree moves without the will of God”: Regional Catholicism During the Revolution, 1910–1940

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pp. 203-245

On August 19, 1919, Tranquilino Pacheco, a former priest of Tequixtepec, wrote to his “beloved friend” and municipal president, Luis Niño Pacheco. After recounting his day-to-day affairs he turned to the fate of the village, suggesting both the cause of and the solution to the Zapatista raids, harvest failures,...

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6: “En el nombre de Dios, adelante”: From Resistance to Revolt, 1940–1962

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pp. 246-293

At 11:00 p.m. on November 17, 1962, three loud explosions followed by the rat-a-tat of gunfire awoke Huajuapan’s residents. A group of young Catholic activists led by the local PAN politician Manuel del Refugio Herrera Ponce and armed with rifles, grenades, and machetes had assaulted the town’s army barracks...

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pp. 294-300

A few kilometers outside Huajuapan on the road back to Oaxaca City there was a piece of political graffiti that read, “Ulises, God knows you are a murderer, you are going to hell.” The sign referred to the last governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruíz, who was almost...


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pp. 301-314


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pp. 315-372


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pp. 373-418


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pp. 419-432

Back Cover

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pp. 433-433

E-ISBN-13: 9780826351739
E-ISBN-10: 0826351735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826351722
Print-ISBN-10: 0826351727

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 19 halftones, 2 maps, 28 charts
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812911826
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Peasants -- Political activity -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History.
  • Peasants -- Religious life -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History.
  • Conservatism -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History.
  • Religion and politics -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History.
  • Catholic Church -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History.
  • Oaxaca (Mexico : State) -- Politics and government.
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