Catharsis, by Sarah Backhouse

Early July saw the Liberalism in the Americas conference, organised as the highlight of the project by Dr Deborah Toner at the University of Leicester. I went along as a sort of interested (read: ‘nosey’) colleague rather than as a delegate with something insightful to contribute. The conference ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable two days, despite the heat, which we now know was the lead up to the most prolonged UK heat wave in 7 years. I think this could be contributed to a) the high quality of papers presented, b) the intrinsically fascinating subject of the conference, and c) the enthusiasm of all the speakers, delegates and conference organisers. Thank you for inviting me!

Reflecting on this project, I hardly need say how much I enjoyed immersing myself in a new subject and learning a little of the history of Latin America (better late than never). I did however still get rather over excited when the occasional art-history-related document cropped up. I am referring to the documents which give evidence of a penchant for erecting semi-colossal bronze statues of national figures and symbols, for example the statue of Miguel de Cervantes raised in Montevideo in 1835. The sculptor of this marvellous feat was Antonio Sola… cue a mad dash to Google to see who this was… and behold, a renowned Spanish artist! Joy!

I feel extremely privileged to have been part of this project. It has been a revelation to me that interesting history did occur outside of fourteenth-century Italy and that, yes, primary sources that don’t contain lovely images can also be fascinating. As for the digital archive itself, as an academic and a museum professional, I strongly feel that web-searchable collections databases are the way to go. Just think, you can do your thesis research from your laptop without having to drag yourself to an archive. A shame, perhaps, as there really is nothing like burying your nose in a historical document and inhaling the aroma of centuries of history and dust. But, ultimately, any means of making history accessible no matter where you live or where you have the means to travel to, is an end thoroughly worth pursuing.

 To find out more about the author, Dr Sarah Backhouse, visit her website.

A Few Thoughts, by Sarah Backhouse

There were times during the project when I encountered individual documents or recurring themes that have forced me to stop and have a good, hard think.

One particular document stands out, a government proclamation published in Montevideo on 20 July 1812. Article number 4 of this ‘Bando’ states that (my translation): ‘all persons who speak favourably of the revolutionary government [of Buenos Aires], or of its unworthy cause, whether in public or in private, if they are discovered will within 24 hours be sentenced to death, regardless of class, dignity or sex.’

Obviously we know that historically such injustices were not uncommon, and that legislation such as this was unremarkable within oppressed communities. But to see a government-issued proclamation condemning to death those who voice a controversial opinion, in black and white on my laptop screen, was chilling. This document was the actual piece of paper that the citizens of Montevideo would have seen (according to the publication details of the document, which instructs for it to be exhibited in a public Plaza for all to see), and perhaps understood as a personal death sentence in many cases.

In addition to a wealth of documents relating to the big important things happening in Latin America in the nineteenth century (wars of independence, changing political regimes, the establishment of constitutions and industrial reform, to name just a few), I was delighted to discover that the documents in the digital archive also provide extraordinary glimpses of everyday life.

One police notice from Argentina dated 1799 instructs citizens to keep the streets of Buenos Aires clear of rubbish and in good repair. Do we conclude, therefore, that the streets were neither clean nor in good repair? In Peru in 1808, a pamphlet announced a charity collection for the widows and orphans of Zaragoza, Spain, during the Napoleonic wars. I wondered, what was the reaction to international aid in the early nineteenth century, when life at home was hardly easy? A touching document describing an 1837 prize-giving ceremony at a public school in Argentina, rewarding children who had distinguished themselves, provides proof that concern for the well-being of children is universal and encouraged, regardless of the current political situation. Perhaps this helps to answer my question.

I have been pondering one particularly influential theme that crops up repeatedly in the documents: the freedom of the press. Something so easy to take for granted in today’s overly-saturated media culture, this constitutional law greatly influenced Latin American culture and politics when it was first introduced and was vociferously defended in times of censorship. Furthermore, this law has greatly shaped the content of the digital archive, which reflects the trend of an overwhelming increase in published documents in Latin America in the early decades of the nineteenth century, as writers eager to express their thoughts regarding the government of their newly-liberated countries are given the green light. In this case, the fact of the existence of these documents tells a story, and is evidence in itself of the political developments of the time.

The writers of nineteenth-century Latin America were so keenly aware of their place in history and of their role as witnesses to the enormous upheavals and historical developments that occurred in their countries. I was particularly interested to read a short historical novel, La Huerfana de Pago-Largo, by Francisco López Torres, about a young orphan girl who represents nineteenth-century civilisation and humanity, by rejecting tyranny, embracing liberty, practicing virtue and combating church abuse.

The church is one institution in particular that suffered considerable upheavals. Living in the UK, it is difficult to imagine life in a society so heavily dominated by the church. The documents in the digital library give an idea of the extent to which the church influenced many aspects of everyday life. In one such document, a dialogue of the Bishop of Cadiz, inhabitants of the city are urged to reform their behaviour, in accordance with that required by the local junta. I tried to imagine how I would feel, especially as a child, if my behaviour was so explicitly monitored by not only my parents and school teachers, but also by the government and the church. I couldn’t.

The nineteenth century was a period when the nations of Latin America were struggling to define themselves, to clearly establish their territories and declare themselves to the world. I was particularly fascinated by the series of documents in the digital library concerning the border disputes in the Patagonian region of Chile and Argentina. Travelling through the region myself a few years ago, and crossing the border from one country to the other every few days for several weeks, I was completely oblivious to the fact that the border had only been defined following a laborious process of long drawn-out disputes and negotiations. I wish I had worked on this project before my South American travels; I might have understood a little more about what I witnessed.

To find out more about the author, Dr Sarah Backhouse, see her website.

The Honorary Latin Americanist, by Sarah Backhouse

With the Liberalism in the Americas project now coming to a close, and the digital library  complete and looking marvellous… I thought it high time that I contribute some thoughts about the project and my part in it.

I have been working on the digital library for the past year, primarily creating metadata, assigning keywords to and writing abstracts for the 1000 or so documents that are searchable, browse-able and readable from the web. How remarkable! I wish such things existed during my PhD.

As a medieval art historian, I am used to significant shortages of historical documentation, and at times a complete absence of surviving contemporary textual evidence. It was rather refreshing for me, therefore, to get stuck into a subject that is comparatively saturated with surviving primary records. Unfortunately the digital library can only hold a fraction of the documents out there; for historians this is a disappointment, for me this is simply phenomenal! It makes me wonder – do historians ever have time to do anything but read?

Not being a subject specialist for this project has been challenging at times, and on many occasions I had to make a mad dash for (ahem) Google (definitely not Wikipedia) to do a little ‘research’. There can be no doubt that the turbulent nineteenth century is an immensely fascinating period in Latin American history; yet the political complexities of the numerous wars of independence, especially concerning Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, left me completely baffled. How to write an abstract for an obscure, undated pamphlet concerning a war in a country which had many over the period in question? I was somewhat relieved, therefore, to move on from the wars and begin cataloguing the numerous constitutions of said countries that were published in the following decades.

At times equally confusing was the rapidly changing public opinion of various rulers and politicians. Some rulers of course were universally deplored (Argentine dictator Juan Manuel José Doming Ortiz de Rosas, for example, was the subject of numerous documents accusing him of heinous atrocities), yet others fell in and out of favour repeatedly, causing me much consternation and frantic googling. Antonio López de Santa Anna, for example, was applauded for his part in bringing about the independence of Mexico, but later attacked because of his unpopular federal constitution. Similarly, King Ferdinand VII of Spain was ridiculed during the Napoleonic Wars, but later revered after he was forced to sign the Spanish Constitution.

Such nuances are part of what makes studying history so compelling and endlessly stimulating of course; for my part, they have made this project rather more challenging than anticipated, but ever so much more rewarding.

To find out more about Dr Sarah Backhouse, see her website.

Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive – Now Live!

Drum roll please………………

And the day has come at last, when I can proudly announce the arrival of the Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive! Head straight over to the online repository of primary documents at http://liberalism-in-americas.org/ to explore what the archive has on offer. Political pamphlets, essays, political ephemera, books, and periodicals from nineteenth-century Latin America have been included to facilitate research on the development and impact of liberal ideas and political practices across the continent, with a particular focus on Mexico, Argentina, and Peru.

The archive has several key features that we hope researchers will find useful. First, there are a range of browsing options, where the documents can be surveyed according to the country or region they relate to, the year in which they were published, the author, and the key themes that we identified as particularly important to current investigations into Latin American liberalisms: Church and State; Economic Development, Policy and Ideas; Political Culture; Race and Ethnicity; and Women and Gender. Secondly, each document has been catalogued with a range of additional keywords – citizenship, elections, freedom of the press, secularisation, constitutionalism, suffrage, education, industry, taxation, tribute, property, freemasonry, currency, republicanism, imperialism, immigration, and many, many more. In addition to keywords that help to provide researchers with further information about the content and context of archived materials, each document has been catalogued with a short abstract that goes into a little more detail.

In addition to browsing the collection, you can simply search for key terms that interest you. Bear in mind that much of the catalogue information – keywords, abstract, and so on – are entered in English, but that the vast majority of the document titles and content is in Spanish, so it will be necessary to alternate between English and Spanish words in the search function to locate sources of interest.

Once an interesting document has been located, you can access the material in a variety of ways: image files will appear one at a time on the screen, or you can download the entire document as a pdf or text-only format. In the text option, which you can also view alongside the image files, there are numerous errors in transcription, which are the result of imperfect OCR (optical character recognition) technology that sometimes struggles with non-English language text and older fonts. It is this OCR technology that makes the documents fully searchable, which is obviously a bonus, even in imperfect form, but unfortunately we didn’t have the man/woman-power to manually correct the mistakes made by the software in this transcription process.

But you can get involved, and help us to improve the search and text-only functions by correcting any mistakes that you notice in the transcriptions. To do this, you will need to create an account and log-in – this is purely so that we can verify changes are being made by actual people, and not some evil spamming machine; there is no charge, and creating an account will result in no undesired emailing etc. Once you’ve logged in, you can check the original image against the text and make any changes to the text transcription that you can. Your changes will then get sent to me for approval.This will make the text-only option of viewing documents more accurate for subsequent users and will also make the search function more reliable, so it’s very valuable work! If everyone who uses the database edited a single document that they used or downloaded, together we will make an enormous difference!

Well, I hope everyone will find the archive useful for their research. Feel free to get in touch if you notice any errors that can’t be corrected from your own account and I’ll endeavor to correct them.

Over the next couple of weeks, in celebration of the archive’s birth, we’re going to be hearing from Sarah Backhouse, the Liberalism in the Americas’ tireless research assistant who catalogued the archive material, about her experiences working on the archive. As you all get familiar with the resources, we’d love to hear any stories about your encounter with unexpected documents and how you’re using them, so do get in touch!

Liberalism in the Americas: Plenary Lecture by Gabriel Paquette

All good things must come to an end, so they say. Although the conference did come to an end, the enormous plate of food for thought that was provided during the concluding plenary lecture made it abundantly clear that historical research into liberalism across the Americas still has much fascinating work to do. Gabriel Paquette, Assistant Professor in the History Department at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, provided a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion to the conference, in his discussion of the historiography of liberals and liberalism in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.

As Paquette reminded us, the historiography of early nineteenth-century liberalism has been going through a rich vein of revision and change in the last couple of decades, particularly in the move away from an understanding of Iberian and Latin American liberalisms as derivative, imperfect imitations of European and North American liberalisms. The focus on the ‘Age of Revolutions’, for instance, had created a situation where Latin America’s revolutions for independence and the revolutionary wars in the Peninsula were seen as knock-on results of, or unoriginal hangers-on of the American and/or French Revolutions. A similar framework had been used to discuss Latin American and Iberian political culture as backward and derivative, either because European liberal philosophy had been imperfectly understood by liberal elites, or because liberalism wasn’t suited to prevailing social conditions in these countries. Essentially, these older historiographical paradigms created an image of Latin American and Iberian liberalism as something that was introduced from an external source and was imperfectly applied.

Numerous scholars have more recently overturned many of these assumptions and interpretations, in particular emphasising the alternative modernities experienced in Latin America and Iberia, the dynamic engagement of politicians and thinkers with a whole host of domestic and international political ideas, practices, and traditions, and the creativity and contingency involved in the course of political developments in these regions. In particular, Paquette singled out the recent work of Javier Fernández Sebastián, Christopher Bayly, and Maurizio Isabella in pushing these interpretations further, but the majority of participants in the Liberalism in the Americas project and network are also embracing these approaches too, as can be discovered through our recorded lectures and SAS-Space collection of working papers.

After framing his discussion against this historiographical background, Paquette then explored several core problems that he suggested need to be addressed more thoroughly. Firstly, the connection between Enlightenment thought and liberalism needs to be more comprehensively problematised. Paquette suggested that the connections and continuities between enlightened economic principles and liberal economic principles was less conflicted, but the political continuities (or lack thereof) needed  to be examined more closely. He made the important point that although there were similarities in the political language and policies of enlightened and liberal figures, similarities are not the same as continuities. Moreover, there were more pronounced divergences, as Roberto Breña’s work on the concept of national sovereignty has demonstrated.

Similarly, Paquette pointed to the complicated relationship between liberalism and republicanism as a further area on which to concentrate investigation. Indeed, several of our lectures and workshops have sought to tackle this question and it was clear from those discussions that much research still needs to be done to clarify and unpick this murky question. While an older vein of scholarship treated liberalism and republicanism in North America and parts of Europe as oppositional rivals, in the Latin American and Iberian context, they have sometimes become overly intermeshed in scholarly analyses. Perhaps, as the 2008 book by Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson suggested, it is more appropriate to conceive of the relationship as different, but organically linked: ‘Political liberalism burst from the shell of a republican chrysalis.’ [1] Paquette suggested that another productive way forward might be to conceive of liberalism as an idiom, as much as, or perhaps more than, an ideology, and to abandon a conception of liberalism as an immutable ideology. In this way, it is possible to study how republic and liberal languages coexisted and overlapped in Latin American and Iberian political cultures.

Thirdly, on a related point, Paquette raised the question of how we talk about liberalism or liberalisms? While new research – and the Liberalism in the Americas project itself – is obviously concerned with recognising and analysing a multiplicity of liberalisms, we must be careful to avoid a situation where anything and everything can be called a form of liberalism. Paquette proffered two important principles necessary to bear in mind when navigating this problem:

  • what we call liberalism is complicated by the demarcation of political liberalism and economic liberalism during the nineteenth century
  • we must start with a clear outline of the common traits and principles that define liberalism (for political liberalism, Paquette suggested: avoidance of arbitrary power; support for written constitutions and the rule of law to guard against arbitrary power; preventing the concentration of power; some model of national or popular sovereignty)

This was a very welcome reminder, as these were also the two clear principles that the opening workshop of the Liberalism in the Americas events series outlined, back in October 2011 (‘Liberalism in the Americas: What is to be Done?’) And indeed seeking to examine how different liberalisms were formulated and experienced across transnational, regional, popular and gendered perspectives was at the forefront of our minds when planning this conference, so it seems as though these are important principles to follow in navigating the liberalism/liberalisms problem as we move forward.

Paquette also encouraged the project to continue with its transnational perspectives, particularly continuing to incorporate an Atlantic dimension together with the hemispheric approach. Indeed, although the “Liberalism in the Americas” moniker suggests a continental restriction on our coverage, we have had numerous participants contribute their Atlantic world expertise: for instance, Linda Colley’s lecture on constitutions and Gregorio Alonso’s contribution to our ‘Liberalism and Religion’ workshop. Moreover, a sizeable chunk of material included in the digital library will relate to the Peninsular wars, the Cadiz constitution, and other significant events, developments, and ideas on the European side of the Atlantic.

Although the conference came to an end, therefore, it was with a strong bridge of ideas for future research and future developments in the project. The focus over the next couple of months will be on bringing the digital library to light, in support of some of those future research ideas. More digital news will be coming soon!

And thanks to one and all for a wonderful conference!


[1] Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson, Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 5.

Liberalism in the Americas Day 2: Breastfeeding, Civic Maternalism, Political Careers, Pronunciamientos and Popular Liberalism

Day 2 of the Liberalism in the Americas conference was kicked off by me, as part of a panel on Liberalism and Gender. My presentation discussed the work of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, an important intellectual in the independence era and in the development of early Mexican liberalism. The paper focused on Lizardi’s exploration of educational philosophy and the social utility of educating women in two of his novels, El Periquillo Sarniento (1816) and La Quijotita y su prima (1818-9). In these novels, Lizardi engaged in a critical examination of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s educational treatise Emile (1762), and outlined a much more important and defined role for the education of women in developing Mexican citizens, than Rousseau had assigned to women, through his description of Emile’s ideal partner Sophie. Also intriguing are Lizardi’s ruminations on the importance of maternal breastfeeding among Creole women in developing virtuous citizens, which add considerations of race to Enlightenment-era criticisms of the use of lower-class, unhealthy, and potentially immoral wet-nurses.

Although continuing with the theme of how citizenship was gendered, Mark Petersen’s paper examined a very different range of issues, and hardly mentioned breastfeeding (perish the thought!). Drawing inspiration from Maxine Molyneux‘s work on civic maternalism, Petersen highlighted how Latin American women in the early twentieth century were involved in alternative forms of diplomacy – through academic and cultural exchanges, international exhibitions, and through international conferences, particularly those dealing with social issues and peace campaigns, such as the Panamerican Women’s Conference in Lima in 1924. He also dwelt on the irony of interpreting these activities as women practicing “citizen diplomacy” in the international arena, considering that they were denied citizenship at the national level, and were therefore prevented from being actual diplomats.

The final panel of the conference then moved on to discuss the ways in which liberal ideas and practices traveled across the Spanish Atlantic (and even beyond, as we shall see). In tracing the political career of Spaniard Ramón Ceruti back and forth across the Atlantic ocean, Juan Luis Simal also traced his politics that moved from radical liberal – as part of the radical comunería interpretation of the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz and as part of the yorkino masonic society and political faction in 1820s Mexico – to itinerant exile in the United States and in France, to conservative liberal, as Ceruti became a member of the moderado party in Spain, which favoured a political system of authoritarian monarchy. Rather than interpreting this changing political affiliation to an unthinking opportunism, as previous scholarship has been wont to do, Simal suggested that this political transition in Ceruti owed a lot to his network of political contacts, and, not least, to the Spanish political world as a whole becoming more conservative across the same time period.

Rosie Doyle, in the second paper of this panel, discussed her work as part of the AHRC-funded project at St Andrew’s University on Mexican Pronunciamientos. During the early nineteenth century, which Doyle described as a period of constitutional experimentation, echoing Jeremy Adelman’s recent talk on Republicans, Liberals and Constitutions, pronunciamientos became integral to the functioning of Mexican politics. As a kind of controlled revolution, which was pioneered by Rafael de Riego in Spain in 1820, pronunciamientos were often the mechanism through which governments or government figures deemed to be tyrannical or abusing their office could be deposed, with pronunciados forming political pacts against them, publicising their failings, and threatening revolt if they refused to leave office. Since pronunciamientos were often followed by elections, and justified on the basis of the target having violated the constitution in some way, this political practice boils down to a transfer of political legitimacy, and was very important to the functioning of Mexican politics in this era of constitutional experimentation.

From two papers that highlighted the movement of liberals and liberal practices between Spain and Mexico, the final paper in this panel, by Guy Thomson, compared the varying fortunes of popular liberalism not only in Spain and Mexico, but also in Colombia and Sicily. Inspired by a connection between two revolts of the early 1860s in Spain and Sicily, which themselves drew inspiration from the Italian liberal Giuseppe Garibaldi, Thomson’s paper outlined the origins of “eruptions” of mass politics in four case studies and assessed the relative success of these popular liberal movements in terms of how well sustained were the more inclusive visions of liberal rights and the cross-class alliances forged during the popular eruptions were in Mexico, Colombia, Sicily and Spain. Overall, through this comparative analysis, Thomson was able to conclude that popular liberalism had a more sustained legacy on the Spanish American side of the Spanish Atlantic (and Mediterranean).

The comparative and transnational focus of the last panel was particularly pleasing, as this kind of analysis has been central to the objectives of the Liberalism project from the outset. It was also the perfect prelude to an extremely thought-provoking plenary lecture, given by Gabriel Paquette, that proved to be a apposite way to round off the conference and look back on the project as a whole.

Details of Paquette’s talk will appear here soon!

Liberalism in the Americas: Plenary Lecture by Nicholas Guyatt

Rounding off Day 1 of the conference was an expansive and fascinating talk by Nicholas Guyatt, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York. As the author of Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1877 (2007) and an in-progress book on ideas about racial equality and programmes of racial separation in the nineteenth century, Guyatt addressed a range of themes that the Liberalism in the Americas project has been investigating. Although primarily a historian of the US, Guyatt also works on the Atlantic world and is embarking on research that is taking him to archives in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, and his plenary lecture fully embraced the transnational and comparative ethos of the Liberalism project.

His lecture began with a fascinating exploration of a plan devised by Bernardo O’Higgins, a major figure in the Chilean independence process, to establish a homeland in the west coast of America to which all indigenous peoples could be relocated. There, they would be guided in the process of setting up government institutions and systems of economic development along a more “civilised” model (to use the common nineteenth century trope of positioning western civilisation against indigenous barbarism). In 1838, this plan was apparently sent to the American president, Martin van Buren, who was at that time enforcing Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal, enlisting the military to assist in the forced relocation of southeastern indigenous peoples, including the Cherokee and Choctaw. Guyatt used the O’Higgins’ plan as a means of highlighting that the disastrous, devastating policy that brought about this Trail of Tears was not the only form of Indian Removal that had been considered in the Americas, and that, in fact, a range of proposals had been made, which were shaped by liberalism as part of a long-term intellectual and political debate that also included ideas and plans for black “colonisation” projects in various parts of the Americas. [1]

In fact, one of the alternative models for Indian removal, proposed by Isaac McCoy, explicitly referred to the process as a “colonisation”, where Indians and the western wilderness would effectively work to “civilise” one another in a new Indian State. All these debates were fuelled by the assumption that indigenous societies would be better off if they acquired core tenets of white American civilisation, such as private property and Christianity. The prevailing wisdom during much of the colonial period was that the best way to achieve this “improvement” of the Indians was for them to live in proximity to white society. However, by the early nineteenth century, there was a growing acknowledgement that the process of civilisation-by-proximity wasn’t working in the desired fashion, and it was concluded that this was because Indians were mainly in contact with the wrong kind of white people – rapacious liquor traders, for instance. The alternative plans, therefore, proposed that in order to become more civilised, various indigenous groups ought to be relocated to beyond the frontier, where, segregated from the corrupting influence of white society, and under the tutelage of an enlightened delegation, Indian society could develop in the desired direction.

Guyatt outlined several features that aligned these proposals with eighteenth and nineteenth century liberalism: the overall motivation was philanthropic; the debate was informed by enlightenment philosophies, aiming to formulate ideas through reasoned, rational, non-prejudiced thinking; and the underlying principle was that governments could and should effect social reform and improvement. A key difference between the proposals put forth by McCoy and similar figures, like Jedidiah Morse and Thomas McKenney, and the Indian Removal enacted by Jackson and Van Buren, was that the latter used military force to implement the relocation, whereas McCoy’s “colonisation” plan was to be encouraged through incentives and rewards. Even more significantly, the Jackson and Van Buren plan was applied to indigenous peoples of the southeast, who were seen as already having been “civilised” through missionary contact and trade, whereas the McCoy plans were directed towards indigenous peoples of the north and west. Guyatt suggested, therefore, that these key differences reflected a significant change in thinking about Indian Removal, away from the more liberal principles informing proposals made by McCoy, Morse, and McKenney.

A second intriguing line of analysis came from Guyatt’s examination of schemes for the removal of black people in the early American republic. Like McCoy’s proposal for Indian removal, these were generally described as “colonisation” projects and were also similar to the Indian removal proposals in that they were rationalised in terms of black people having been degraded by their contact with poor whites, and hostile, racist whites in the northern cities. Historians of the black Atlantic have studied in some depth the establishment of Liberia on the west coast of Africa in 1820, under the auspices of the American Colonisation Society. But, as Guyatt explained, much less is known about a whole host of colonisation projects that focused on the Caribbean and Latin America as destinations where freed former slaves might prosper. The Gulf of Mexico was a particular hotspot for colonisation proposals emanating from free blacks and whites in the United States, which seem to be based on the notion that the Latin American nations were “coloured” countries and would therefore be less racist that the US, and would offer more opportunities for social mobility for black people. Guyatt gave us a few fascinating snippets of the exchanges conducted between Montgomery Blair, an abolitionist member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, and Matías Romero Avendaño, a leading Mexican diplomat, about various black colonisation projects, in which the economic, imperial, and political dynamics of these proposals were also indicated.

The impressive scope of Guyatt’s talk left us all wanting more, revealing the stimulating nature of such transnational and comparative research: the questions went on for some time, continuing into the evening as we had some well-earned drinks and dinner. My experience of two-day conferences is that they can sometimes flag after the first day, as people get a little tired, but the plenary session did a lot to keep our enthusiasm and interest sky-high for Day 2. We’ll all be looking forward to his book on this subject when it emerges!

Stay tuned for details of the papers and plenary session on Day 2…


[1] I will repeat Guyatt’s disclaimer here for the sake of clarity: in no way was Guyatt suggesting that the alternative plans for Indian removal (ie those plans for Indian removal shaped by liberalism) were more acceptable or less racist than the Jacksonian-Van Buren Indian Removal Policy. They simply had a different rationale, and were still premised on the racist idea that indigenous peoples needed to be “civilised”.

Liberalism in the Americas Day 1: Religion, Church and State, Suffrage, and Citizenship

Both of our panels on Day 1 of the conference featured presentations from US and Latin American perspectives, which meant that a key conference goal to approach the history of liberalism in the Americas from a hemispherical perspective got off to a great start.

The first panel, dealing with Liberalism and the Church, began with Iñigo Fernández Fernández’s paper on Catholic Liberalism in the Mexican press during the early to mid nineteenth century. Fernández discussed issues that featured prominently in our earlier workshop on “Liberalism and Religion”, particularly pointing to the lack of a dichotomy or opposition between Catholicism and liberal politics in Mexican political culture at this time. Focusing on several prominent newspapers, including El Monitor Republicano, El Democrata, and El Siglo XIX, Fernández demonstrated that articles were often anti-clerical, but never anti-religious. Moreover, these newspapers often featured articles that sought to reconcile key liberal tenets, like reason and liberty, with Catholic faith and devotion to God. Another intriguing issue that Fernández addressed was the increasing activity of liberal presses in importing religious texts for sale and distribution to their subscribers. The ensuing discussion raised an intriguing point that would be worthy of further investigation, regarding how liberal discourse at the more local, parish level might have echoed or differed in terms of their critique of the church, from the debates going on in the national press. Given Matthew Butler’s work on popular Catholicism and anti-clericalism in the post-revolutionary era of Mexican history, this line of enquiry would surely increase our understanding of Catholic liberalism greatly.

Elizabeth Clapp’s fascinating paper about Anne Royall – a vocal opponent of evangelical revivalism – also connected very well with our previous discussions about liberalism’s role in shaping Church-State relations. In particular, Clapp explored Royall’s participation in the debate about the relationship between Church and State in Jacksonian America that emerged from the Sabbatarian and Anti-Sabbatarian movements, which had several interesting points of comparison with liberal debates in parts of Latin America, such as the questions of  freemasonry, freedom of worship, and the great wealth of the Church as its source of inordinate influence over the populace.

As Clapp explained, following the death of her husband, Royall supported herself through her work as a writer and editor and produced a series of travel commentaries during the 1820s and 1830s in which she often dwelt on how religion and revivalism were shaping public life. She was vehemently opposed to the evangelical Sabbatarians, who demanded the federal state should act to enforce the observance of Sunday Sabbath in the United States, which would directly conflict with the religious freedom of other denominations. Royall also singled out as a cause for alarm the growing financial power of the evangelicals and their concomitant growth of public influence, particular over women. Through this discussion, Clapp’s paper also intersected with another key interest of the conference, liberalism and gender, as one of Royall’s primary objections to the evangelicals was that they were diverting women – and their fundraising zeal – from what she understood to be their civic duty: undertaking charitable activities in support of widows and the poor.

The afternoon session moved on to consider different ways in which the rights and obligations of citizenship were being defined through debates about suffrage in Peru and the United States during the nineteenth century. Stuart Galloway focused on the contribution of the American Equal Rights Association to debates about suffrage and citizenship in the post-civil war United States, explaining how AERA tried to reframe these debates using core principles of liberalism and republicanism. Various rationales were made after the Civil War in support of enfranchising the black male population – in return for their service as soldiers during the war itself; in order to consolidate the Union and Republican victory in the war; and to raise the condition of black people as a class.

However, AERA’s arguments differed markedly, drawing on the principle that suffrage was a natural right fundamental to the social contract inherent to the republican political system, as opposed to treating suffrage as a bestowed right (i.e. one that African American men had “earned” through their service as soldiers). Moreover, they argued that suffrage was a natural right of individuals who are equal under the law, and should not be defined in terms of racial or class groups. Galloway highlighted that AERA also supported suffrage for women, which strongly shaped these dual aspects of the concept of suffrage they endorsed. In other words, according to the idea of the social contract, if it was the government’s duty to protect individual rights, all those represented by the government ought to have a say in their election. Therefore, the only way to justify suffrage for women and black men, they argued, was to define suffrage as a natural right of individuals without which the social contract was meaningless.

Meanwhile, in nineteenth-century Peru, a range of different constitutional definitions of suffrage emerged to deal with similar questions of representation, citizenship, and the relationship between government and the governed. Alicia del Aguila, speaking direct from Peru via a Skype connection, outlined the experimentation with forms of ‘corporate citizenship’ across the 1800s. As outlined in del Aguila’s paper, corporate citizenship was a way of defining suffrage to include a broad range of social groups, and especially indigenous communities, based on their different characteristics as corporate entities (for instance, Indian villages), rather than qualifying access to suffrage in terms of individual requirements, such as literacy or property ownership. This strategy emerged in the 1830s as a means of preserving the principle of representation in government without recourse to the potential anarchy, or mob rule, that governing elites feared would come with universal male suffrage.

For instance, a law of 1834 was formulated to restrict the suffrage in the interests of creating a more orderly political culture, but it included several distinct alternatives through which the right to vote was obtained in an effort to include a representative presence in the electoral process for all social sectors, including the indigenous population. While all enfranchised citizens would have to complete military service and fulfil residency requirements, the third article of the law provided several options: “Pay some contribution to the state or be legally exempt from paying it, or hold a public job, a scientific position or profession, or job as mechanic subject to an industrial tax, or belong to a secular clergy”.[1] Clearly, the concept of suffrage outlined by Peru’s constitutional congresses in the 19th century was very different to the idea of suffrage as the natural right of individuals advocated by AERA in the US.

The themes of how particular sectors of society were understood as citizens, potential citizens, and non-citizens by different liberal states in the Americas would be taken up by Nicholas Guyatt’s plenary talk on Day 1, which you’ll be able to read about here soon. Watch this space!



[1] Archivo Digital de la Legislación en el Perú, Congreso de la República del Perú, Ley orgánica de elecciones, 29 de agosto de 1834. Cited in, and translated by, Alicia del Aguila, ‘Conference Paper: Peruvian Liberalism, Indigenous Suffrage and Corporative Inclusion in the Nineteenth Century,’ Liberalism in the Americas: Popular, Gendered and Global Perspectives, 4-5 July 2013.

Liberalism has Landed: Liberalism in the Americas Conference, July 4-5, 2013.

Endless amounts of caffeine, interesting papers, expansive plenary talks, ropey technological facilities, a virtual speaker from Lima, several hot fork buffets, a trip to the pub, and a lengthy discussion of historical ideas about breastfeeding… this conference had it all! Well, apart from an ether-tasting, which happened at my second favourite conference of the year

Many thanks to all of you who participated in the Liberalism in the Americas conference on 4-5 July, and to those of you who have played a part in the Liberalism project from the outset. The conference was in some ways a chance to reflect on the work of the project as a whole to date, and to showcase its major output – our digital library of liberalism-related primary source documents – so a large debt of thanks is due to all friends of the project, as well as everyone who came to the conference.

A series of blog posts will be featured over the next couple of weeks, providing a round-up of all the conference action to all those who couldn’t be there, although I suspect for some elements of the discussion (cf. breastfeeding), you probably had to be there.

Well, on to the Day 1 roundup!

Countdown to Conference: Liberalism minus 3 days

What have I forgotten? What have I forgotten??? Just as that question rumbles persistently around a holiday-goer’s head on the way to the airport, or halfway down the motorway, so too does it tend to plague conference organisers in the last days before an event takes place. Catering, tick; AVS support, tick; info to delegates on getting here, tick; name badges, tick; welcome packs, tick; conference paper and presentation, er, well, as ticked as it will ever be…

Most excitingly: access to the test site of the Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive for demonstration at the conference, TICK! Although some of the snazziest search and presentation features have yet to be added to the database, it was still with an enormous sense of excitement that I browsed page after page of document images and looked forward to using the database in my research when it is completed. Those attending the Liberalism in the Americas conference on 4-5 July, will get a sneak preview of the digital archive, as I’ll be talking briefly about the research materials that it holds and the features of the database that will be available freely to researchers in the near future.

My other major non-organisational appearance at the conference will be to talk about José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, a Mexican intellectual with whose work I have had something of a love-hate relationship for the last 7 odd years of research. He was a major figure in the burgeoning free press in Mexico City during the early nineteenth century, and in the debates about Mexico’s social and political development that took place therein – a considerable selection of his pamphlet writings will be available in the digital library, due to their exploration of key issues in Latin American liberalisms, like Church-State relations, freedom of the press, political representation and office-holding, education, citizenship, and free trade. Lizardi is also famous for several works of fiction, especially El Periquillo Sarniento (1816), widely (if not quite correctly) identified as Latin America’s first novel.

In both his fictional and non-fictional writings, Lizardi frequently referenced and discussed the work of various other intellectuals, many from Europe, and engaged in transnational debates within political philosophy, social reform, and economic policy: the kind of transnational debates that Jeremy Adelman talked so eruditely about in his lecture delivered in May. This is one of the key issues that my paper at the conference will focus on, as I’ll be examining the relationship between Lizardi’s two major novels – El Periquillo Sarniento and La Quijotita y su prima (1818-19) – and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s treatise on education, Emile (1762). More specifically, I want to think about the critical dialogue that Lizardi enters into with Emile, and what this reveals about debates ongoing in the rapidly changing political environment in Mexico in the 1810s, focusing particularly on Lizardi’s explorations of liberal citizenship, meritocratic political representation, and the social utility of education – especially for women.

And, just as I finish writing that sentence, I’ve remembered what I’ve forgotten: mental note, print out paper!

I’ll be back to report on what other people are talking about at the conference in a few days. Fingers crossed I haven’t forgotten anything else!