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American Literary History 18.3 (2006) 427-445

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"A Complete Though Bloody Victory":

Lorenzo de Zavala and the Transnational Paradoxes of Sovereignty

A little over a year after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the National Security Council instituted the foreign policy that would become widely known as the Bush Doctrine. Attempting to counter domestic and foreign terrorism, the Bush Doctrine established the contradictory terms for the US's preemptive actions against what Bush defined as "evil empires" in hopes of spreading democracy and establishing popular sovereignty within "rogue" nations (National). By the time Mike Peters created the above cartoon representing the paradoxes of the Bush Doctrine, the US had preemptively declared war with both the "evil" nations Afghanistan and Iraq. In Peters's syndicated cartoon, Bush—evoking the memory of Sam Bowie—stands atop the Alamo and declares, with rifle in hand, "as soon as they stop attacking, we can turn sovereignty over to them." Given that some in the American media (and even Aljazeera) had already termed Fullaja "the Iraqi Alamo," what I find so intriguing about this cartoon is how nicely it captures the contemporary public's fascination with the US–Mexican past, namely the Alamo, to explain the US's vexed attempts at establishing Iraqi sovereignty.

As the cartoon suggests (Fig. 1), sovereignty is not an organic political norm that finds its emergence in the body of the demos. Here, sovereignty finds its power through the transnational relation between the sovereign colonial power and its newly subjugated national subjects. It is important to point out that the cartoon's representation of the historical Mexican past is in fact rooted in a long history of debate about US sovereignty that was reinvigorated by the battle of the Alamo. That the Anglo fighters at the Alamo wished to separate both from the US and from Mexico raised all kinds of questions concerning US sovereignty in the hemisphere after the Monroe Doctrine became central to America's emerging transnational imaginary.1 White Americans, [End Page 427] however, were not the only citizens to debate the colonial logic of sovereignty. With the recent archival work undertaken by the Recovering the US Hispanic Heritage Project, we are finding that Latinos had also been debating questions about the nation and hemisphere for generations before Santa Anna's army marched on the Alamo. One of the most important historical figures to take part in the debates over US and Mexican sovereignty and the battle of the Alamo is the little known but highly important politician and writer Lorenzo de Zavala (1788–1836). I will be arguing in this essay that Zavala's life and writings capture the transnational and geopolitical paradoxes of sovereignty in the Americas. Indeed, as one of the authors of both the Mexican and the Texas Constitutions (the only person in history to participate in the writing of two national constitutions), Zavala was able to develop a unique perspective on US–Mexican–Spanish geopolitics, even as he came to be regarded by some in Mexico as a traitor responsible in part for facilitating the battle of the Alamo and the US–Mexico War through his work on the Texas Colonization Acts of 1824.

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Figure 1
Mike Peters. Syndicated Cartoon, "Alamo" published on 04-09-2004. © Grimmy Inc. King Features Syndicate.

Born in 1788 under Spanish colonial rule, Lorenzo de Zavala founded some of the first political newspapers in New Spain and helped lead the revolution of Mexican independence from 1814–21. He then served as the governor of Yucatan and was elected to Mexico's first Congress and played a large part in writing the 1824 Mexican Constitution and adapting federalism and native rights in the country. Despite his founding work on Mexico's democratic institutions, Zavala was exiled from his country in 1829 when the Centralists gained power. After living in Europe, he served as Vice President of the newly founded Texas Republic and helped to frame the Texas Constitution [End Page 428...


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