In the Pursuit of Balance. Lucas Alamán's Proposals for Constitutional Reform (1830-1835)

AutorCatherine Andrews
CargoDoctora en Historia de México por la Universidad de St. Andrews, Escocia

In the Pursuit of Balance. Lucas Alamán's Proposals for Constitutional Reform (1830-1835)1

    Catherine Andrews: Doctora en Historia de México por la Universidad de St. Andrews, Escocia. Su línea principal de investigación es la construcción del Estado mexicano en el siglo XIX. Ha publicado varios artículos sobre este tema; el más reciente es "Discusiones en torno a la reforma de la Constitución Federal de 1824 durante el primer gobierno de Anastasio Bustamante (1830-1832)", en Historia Mexicana, vol. 56: no. 3, 2006. Su libro Entre la constitución y la pared. La carrera política y militar del general Anastasio Bustamante (1780-1853) verá la luz próximamente bajo el sello de la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas. Actualmente es investigadora Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas de la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas, y profesora en la Unidad Académica Multidisciplinaria de Ciencias, Educación y Humanidades de la misma institución.

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I Introduction
  1. Lucas Alamán (Guanajuato, 1792 - Mexico City, 1853) played a leading role in Independent Mexico's political life. Like many of his contemporaries he passed a number of years in Europe (1814-1820) and was able to read many of the most important Enlightenment authors. His writing make it clear he was familiar with the work of French thinkers such as Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau and Voltaire, Spanish thinkers such as Jovellanos, and British writer, Edmund Burke. While in Europe he served in the reconstituted Spanish Courts (1820-1821) and so had first hand experience of Spain's first attempts at constitutional government. As Secretary of Page 14 Interior and Exterior Relations (1823-1825) he oversaw the drawing up of the 1824 constitution. He returned to this ministry on two further occasions (1830-1832 and 1853) and, between times, served frequently as a representative in the General Congress. Following the disastrous war with the United States (1846-1847), he edited the newspaper El Universal (1848-1850) and founded Republican Mexico's first political party: the Conservative Party in 1849. At the same time he dedicated himself to writing the monumental multivolume works, Disertaciones sobre la historia de la República Mexicana (published in three volumes between 1844 and 1849);2and, Historia de México (published in five volumes between 1849 and 1852).3

  2. Despite his prominence in the political life of the early national period, Lucas Alamán's political ideas have been much misunderstood and misrepresented in Mexican historiography. This is partly because his thought has generally been interpreted almost exclusively with reference to the opinions he expressed in his historical works and as editor of El Universal, while his political career has usually been judged in relation to his collaboration in the last dictatorship of that favourite Mexican antihero, Antonio López de Santa Anna (1853-1855). As a result, the image presented to us by the traditional historiography is of a man who constantly espoused the same ideology throughout his thirty-one year career. He is forever a reactionary conservative, a decided enemy of representative government and democracy, and a keen autocrat with monarchical sympathies.4

  3. Although historians such as Charles Hale, Josefina Zoraida Vázquez and Will Fowler have done much to question this picture of Alamán by pointing out the evolution of his opinions over time,5 most recent scholarship into his Page 15 political thought has continued to focus upon the latter period of his life.6The writing he published before the 1840s has still to be investigated in any real detail. This paper seeks to offer the first step towards remedying this neglect. It will study the political ideas Alamán expressed in two essays published in 1830 and 1835. The first originally appeared in stages in the newspaper Registro Oficial between September and October 1830 and was later republished in 1835 under the title Reflexiones sobre algunas reformas a la Constitución Federal de la República Mexicana.7 The second was one of two essays that Alamán wrote to defend his participation in the government of Anastasio Bustamante (1830-1832). He had served as Bustamante's minister of Relations and, in 1833, was impeached by the General Congress for his part in the execution of the former president, Vicente Guerrero. This pamphlet was also published in 1835 with the title, Examen imparcial de la administración del general vicepresidente D. Anastasio Bustamante. Con observaciones generales sobre el estado presente de la República y consecuencias que éste debe producir.8

  4. Both texts are primarily concerned with the question of constitutional reform. During the first half of the 1830s this was probably the most important theme in political debates. It was generally considered that the 1824 Constitution had not been capable of establishing strong, stable governmental institutions for the Republic. Between 1827 and 1833 the Presidency changed hands three times as a result of direct rebellion. These years also witnessed numerous other unsuccessful insurrections that jeopardised the integrity of the governments in Mexico City. During the administration of Anastasio Bustamante, many projects for reform were presented and discussed in the General Congress, however no changes could be made to the constitution before the government was overthrown at the end of 1832. After 1834 the topic returned to centre stage and dominated political discussion until 1835, when the General Congress decided to establish itself as a constitutive power, abolish the Federal Constitution, and begin work on a second charter. This came into force in 1836 and is generally known as the Siete Leyes, as it was set out in the form of seven fundamental laws.9

  5. Alamán's two essays represent his contribution to this debate. Both pieces include an extensive examination of the problems he considered inherent to Page 16 the Federal Constitution and a series of suggestions for its improvement. However, only the Reflexiones includes a detailed list of possible modifications to various articles of the constitution. As a result, this paper will debate both his general ideas and his specific proposals for reform. In the discussion, the following it will become evident that Alamán espoused the principal tenants of liberal constitutionalist philosophy: the separation of the powers and representative government. He was wary of democracy and wanted to limit political participation to those who had some kind of stake in society. However, it will be clear that his command of constitutionalist knowledge was somewhat patchy. He was unaware of the "checks and balances" theory that underpinned the US Constitution, for example. As a result, although he wrote admiringly of the work of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in the Federalist Papers, many of his arguments are more similar to those presented by their adversaries, the AntiFederalists. In fact, his understanding of constitutionalist theory appears to be gleaned by way of the works of French anglophiles like Charles Secondat de Montesquieu and Jean Louis de Lolme, and, possibly, also from the English jurist, William Blackstone. Perhaps as a result, he disliked the French and Spanish attempts at introducing a pure separation between the branches of government in their constitutions of 1791 and 1812, believing that these constitutions gave too much weight to the legislative power and, therefore, allowed it to govern despotically.

  6. This paper is divided into two parts. The first will undertake a discussion of the criticisms Alamán levelled at the Federal Constitution while the second will examine the comparison he makes between it and the US charter. Finally, the third will analyse the specific proposals for reform made by Alamán in 1830, and will demonstrate how he tried to reform the Mexican constitution so that it would better follow the principles of constitutionalism set forth by Montesquieu, Blackstone and De Lolme.

II Alamán's Criticisms of the 1824 Constitution
  1. In the 1830s Alamán appeared to have little doubt that the principal causes of the Mexican Republic's chronic instability could be found in the 1824 Federal Constitution. Both the Reflexiones and the Examen imparcial set forth a two-fold theory to explain this. In the first place, he suggested that Independent Mexico's difficulty in establishing an orderly government was due to the fact that it had not founded its new institutions upon the practices and customs of government during the colonial period. Alluding directly to Edmund Burke's indictment of the actions of the French National Assembly in his Reflections on the French Revolution, he contended in the Examen imparcial that Mexico found itself in "anarchy" because, by establishing the Federal Republic, it had elected to destroy "all that had previously existed" Page 17 in order to build a system "absolutely different from, and even entirely contrary to, everything that we had known [...] until now".10

  2. To further demonstrate his point he went on to compare Mexico's experience with that of the neighbouring United States. For him, the success of the latter in creating a stable political environment was not the result of the innate superiority of federal system, as had often been argued by his contemporaries. Rather he considered that the United States had achieved stability because its present form of government "left completely intact the essence of its primordial constitution".11 He pointed out that the thirteen colonies had always been independent of one another. Each had their own local government and their own particular statues, based upon the...

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