The Americas 61.2 (2004) 286-287
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In the last few years one of the most significant developments in Mexican historical studies has been the rejuvenation of research on the origins and purposes of Mexican federalism. Since Mexican federalism in the first republic was radical, proclaiming the sovereignty of the states, these studies must be based at the state and regional level as well as at the level of the central government in Mexico City. Judging by this outstanding collection of articles, the discourse is advancing. Many of this volume's twenty-one papers would not have been written a few years ago. As an example of scholarly collaboration on a large scale, the volume constitutes a timely and noteworthy achievement.
When the Acta Constitutiva created the Mexican federal republic in January 1824, it recognized the existence of nineteen states. Of that number, seventeen are treated here in individual papers, along with four general papers. There is no explanation why Durango, Chihuahua, and New Mexico (briefly bundled together in 1824) and Querétaro are not dealt with here. This makes the most complete one-volume treatment we have of the history of the individual states in the transition from the empire of Iturbide to the federal republic, and all students of early Mexican nationhood and federalism will welcome it. The articles cover only the years from 1823 to about 1827, concluding with the writing of each state constitution. It is the key moment in the creation of the Mexican republic and therefore enormously complex. As usual, editor Josefina Zoraida Vázquez has an unerring eye for what the historiography needs, and the editorial influence to bring together so many authors in a well-planned volume in which each article is approximately the same length and considers more or less the same issues. All except two of the authors are Mexicans, seven are women, and half are affiliated with institutions not in Mexico City.
One of the many fundamental challenges facing the first federal republic in Mexico, like most other federal systems, was the disparity in population, territorial size, and economic power among the states. Some states (Mexico with 1.3 million people and a third of all national resources; or Puebla with 650,000 people) could stand virtually alone. Others (Tlaxcala with 60,000; Coahuila and Tejas with roughly 65,000) were clearly not viable at that date. Since each of the articles is of roughly equal length, the effect is that some chapters, especially those relating to the less-populated states, are richly detailed and genuinely new narrations; while others, especially those treating Mexico, Puebla, and Veracruz simply are not able to cover [End Page 286] all the enormous complications accompanying the creation of federalism. Each paper is a careful empirical political narrative, but none is very theoretical or methodologically innovative. All the chapters employ original documents, notably from state archives. All use recent secondary sources, although there are a few omissions, including my Forging Mexico 1821-1835 (1998). Except where an author cites his or her own more recent publication, most secondary sources date to about 1997 or before. Since all articles use short citations, it is an annoying oversight that some frequently cited sources do not appear in the extensive bibliography.
The great advantage of a book that treats each state separately is that certain common themes are clear amid the diversity of responses. It is striking, for example, that there was little real urge to secession, even if the interim government in Mexico City saw separatism in the demand for federalism. There was an as yet unspecified urge to nationhood; almost all participants, even in the peripheral areas, assumed a Mexican nation would emerge, or already existed, and as Vázquez points out, the real miracle is that New Spain was the only Spanish viceroyalty in America that did not fragment following independence. Even more...