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!

This entry was posted in Events, Key Liberal Thinkers, Project Update, Research Themes by Deborah Toner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Deborah Toner

Deborah worked at the Institute for the Study of the Americas as a postdoctoral research fellow in Latin American history from 2011-12, on the project ‘Liberalism in the Americas’, which is creating a digital library of resources for the study of liberalism in Peru and Argentina in the long nineteenth century. Now a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Leicester, Deborah continues to work with ISA in overseeing the Liberalism in the Americas project as it comes to fruition. She completed her PhD on alcohol and nation-building in nineteenth-century Mexico at the University of Warwick, where she also completed her MA and BA in history.

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