The Americas 59.3 (2003) 325-345
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Politics By Peaceful Means:
Artisan Mutual Aid Societies In Mid-nineteenth-century Lima, 1860-1879 *
In July 1866, Lima conducted its independence celebrations with great fanfare. The festivities began at the main portal of the walled city, where the members of various patriotic associations gathered to celebrate Independence Day. 1 The participants included the Sociedad de Fundadores de la Independencia, the veteran corps from both the Independence Wars and from the recent war with Spain, the national fire brigades, and the members of an artisan society named the Sociedad de Artesanos de Auxilios Mutuos. Together they sang the national anthem while standing at the foot of a Tree of Liberty, a republican symbol dating back to the French Revolution. 2 They subsequently marched into the city, thus initiating two days of celebrations that included fireworks displays and an intricate reenactment, in Lima's central plaza, of the recent naval combat with Spain. In the course of the ceremonies, two artisans were presented with prizes, one for the most outstanding piece of craftsmanship (in the 1866 celebration the prize was won by Vicente Pedraza for making an organ) and the other for the artisan who had shown the most bravery during the recent military encounter with Spain. The prizes were in the amount of 200 soles. 3 At another point in the celebrations the Chief of the Artisan Fire Brigade gave a patriotic speech and following the speech a young girl offered the President Mariano Ignacio Prado a laurel wreath in the name of the artisans. 4
The public presence of artisans through the Sociedad de Artesanos marked a new chapter in artisan politics. The peaceful public participation [End Page 325] of the Sociedad de Artesanos stood in stark contrast to the earlier combative stance taken by the city's artisan guilds. Only eight years earlier, artisans had directly clashed with then president General Ramón Castilla over the issue of commercial policy. In December, 1858 the carpenters' guild and other artisans had participated in a violent protest against the importation of foreign goods by dumping imported door and window frames into the Pacific Ocean. In the ensuing struggles to assert government authority, President Castilla himself led troops to help subdue the protesters. One person was killed and five injured in the encounters in late December of that year. 5
The conflict closed a long cycle of artisan protest against liberal economic reforms. During the first decades of national life following independence from Spain in 1821, protectionist caudillos had embraced artisans as part of their patronage networks. 6 The guilds had actively supported protectionist commercial policy and attempted to maintain tariffs to protect artisan production from foreign competition. Favored by caudillos, artisan guilds in turn proved particularly useful to the early national state in fulfilling functions such as tax collection and military recruitment. Yet, over the course of the 1840s, the state came to rely less on internal taxation and grew more dependent on the increasingly lucrative guano trade. As liberal economic ideas gained strength, the guilds gradually faded in importance. Despite valiant efforts by artisans to defend protectionism, the year 1851 brought the lowering of various tariffs, and by the early 1850s the tide had definitely begun to turn toward policies of economic liberalism. With the triumph of liberalism, Lima's artisans saw their guilds attacked and eventually abolished in the year 1862. 7
In this article, I argue that mutual aid societies such as the Sociedad de Artesanos allowed artisans to reconstitute their political position during the age of liberalism. Through such societies, artisans embraced liberal practices of citizenship and thus established a political presence in relation to the [End Page 326] emerging liberal state. While defeated on the issue of commercial policy, artisans sought to incorporate themselves into the liberal polity in new ways. Mutual aid societies enabled artisans to distance themselves from the combative politics of the guilds and to refashion themselves as productive republican citizens. Yet these societies...