- Malcontents, Rebels & Pronunciados: The Politics of Insurrection in Nineteenth-Century Mexico ed. by Will Fowler
This is the second of a planned four volumes that analyze pronunciamientos in Mexico during the nineteenth century. In the preface to the first volume in the series, Forceful Negotiations (2010), Will Fowler defines a pronunciamiento as “a written protest or petition, often drafted as a list of grievances or demands and signed by a group of individuals and/or a corporate body (high-ranking officers, town council officials, villagers, etc.), that could result in an armed rebellion if the government did not attend to the demands” (viii). Given the large number of pronunciamientos, estimated by Fowler to exceed 1,500, issued between 1821 and 1876, there is ample material for study.
These volumes have grown out of a cycle of three conferences held at St. Andrews University in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Whereas the first book examined the origins of the pronunciamiento as a practice initiated among the military ranks, this volume aims to observe why it became commonplace as a political tool of a much broader public sphere that included indigenous communities, priests, politicians, and other civilians. Essays by Anne Staples, Raymond Buve, Guy Thomson, and Eduardo Flores Clair clearly pursue this goal. Despite the fact that military [End Page 102] types remain prominent in many of the other chapters, the twelve contributions here generally expand upon the contributions of the first volume, illustrating how pronunciamientos shaped political culture by providing “a bureaucratic revolutionary alternative to Mexico’s first constitutions” (xxxiv). In the context of weak national governments, this kind of forceful lobbying gained widespread acceptance across social and political classes.
Chapters by Terry Rugeley, Catherine Andrews, Guy Thomson, Will Fowler, and Erika Pani stand out for their lucid writing and conceptual consistency. For instance, Rugeley surveys rebellions in the Yucatán and categorizes them by their geographic and social points of origin. He finds that remote, popular pronunciamientos with links to national political events proved to be the most enduring. Pani’s essay points to an intriguing explanation for why the pronunciamiento lost its political currency over the course of the 1860s. Due to the creation of the 1857 Constitution, she argues, political legitimacy became grounded in law rather than popular voice: “The Constitution, in the heat of war, was transformed from a controversial, often unpopular document into the flag of Liberalism and patriotic resistance” (251). Henceforth, rebels like Porfirio Díaz in 1876 would have to invoke the Constitution openly if they hoped to find broad support. Not that every essay marches in conceptual lockstep. Sergio Cañoa Gamboa’s emphasis on ideology and Josefina Zoraida Vázquez’s depiction of individual power motives as keys to understanding rebellion do not mesh easily with the pragmatic coalition-building process displayed elsewhere, especially the chapters by Linda Arnold and Will Fowler. Nevertheless, the collection conveys the normative political effect of such frequent rebellion.
Texas does not feature prominently in the volume, but the region’s secession and eventual annexation by the United States informs several of the pronunciamientos involving Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga and Antonio López de Santa Anna that are discussed in consecutive chapters by Vázquez and Fowler. The volume does include a chronology of major events from 1821 to 1876, which also charts specific pronunciamientos and their corresponding book chapters. This feature, along with the bibliography, serves as a useful reference while enhancing the cohesiveness of the tome. Even if it does not succeed on all fronts, Fowler’s second foray into Mexico’s nineteenth-century malcontents is a welcome addition to the literature and should find an audience both in the undergraduate classroom and scholarly community.