- Popular Politics and Rebellion in Mexico: Manuel Lozada and La Reforma, 1855–1876 by Zachary Brittsan
Zachary Brittsan's work is a thorough and carefully written monograph about Manuel Lozada that places the mid nineteenth-century peasant leader in his political, cultural, and social context. Between 1856 and 1873, Lozada sustained an intermittent struggle against the state governments of Jalisco and the federal governments of Benito Juárez and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. His defiance of liberal governance was based in the region of today's Nayarit, a small state on Mexico's west coast, which in the nineteenth century was appended to Jalisco as the seventh canton. Its topography is partly mountainous. With the port of San Blas, the region was of strategic importance, and foreign merchants, principally Barron y Forbes Company, were active there.
At one time largely forgotten, Lozada has been resurrected in Mexico, either as precursor to Emiliano Zapata and other agrarian leaders of the 1910 revolution, or as a heroic native son of his small state. While historians in Mexico have written about Lozada, Brittsan offers the first full-length study in English of this elusive figure. In recounting his life and political trajectory, Brittsan focuses on the region where the rebel was most active, while relating his rise and fall to the national politics of the period. As he does so, he also addresses the relevant historiography on Mexico's nineteenth century, which, as one prominent historian has noted, is understudied and largely misrepresented. [End Page 444]
Brittsan's monograph is therefore welcome, as it considers "the multifaceted yet converging histories of Manuel Lozada's life, peasant rebellion, political boundaries, contraband trade, property disputes, and religion in order to disinter the story of how residents in Jalisco's seventh canton engaged the national political process on their own terms" (12). This is an altogether challenging task. Lozada himself was not formally educated, and his recorded statements and those of his followers are few. And although Brittsan has mined archives in Guadalajara and Mexico City, along with a few other sources, to recreate the political culture of Lozada and his peasant supporters, they remain distant to the twenty-first century reader. Once a hacienda worker, then an outlaw and bandit, by late 1855 Lozada had begun to assert a stronger and more politicized presence in his native region. He was as an opponent of Liberals and a champion of local interests, including, at times, those of Barron y Forbes (26–34).
As the three-year civil war between Conservatives and Liberals broke out (La Reforma), Lozada identified with the conservative cause, even allying himself with French forces. Although he recognized the restoration of the Liberal republic in 1867, Brittsan contends that he continued to embody a political culture that was distinctively conservative, as ultimately expressed in his call for insurrection in January 1873 (the Plan Libertador). Despite popular support for Lozada's uprising, Lerdo de Tejada's liberal government quickly defeated the rebel, and in July 1873 he was executed. This "popular conservatism" of Lozada merits further attention. For Brittsan, it is constituted by "defense of the Catholic Church, the integrity of communal landholdings, and local political autonomy" (4). Acknowledging that this ideology was "rarely articulated," Brittsan is able nonetheless to describe its implementation. In this connection, he traces Lozada's advocacy for a greater Church presence in his home territory through his occasional statements of religious faith. Land conflicts between indigenous communities and haciendas, along with Lozada's varying position towards them, are discussed at length, too.
This book is thus a full account of one important, regional aspect of Mexico's nineteenth-century politics (both formal and informal), although there is room for further research. That research might help us to better comprehend the dynamics of the commercial interests and the legal processes surrounding land disputes, which Brittsan's study references and which have been of significance for the trajectory of the country's political...