Chiapas is composed of the former Mexican provinces of Guadalajara, Valladolid, Mexico, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Merida, and the former Guatemalan province of Chiapas. Chiapas became the State of Chiapas after the State of Jefferson united with the Republic of Mexico as the United States of Mexico in 1820.
The first Governor of Chiapas under the Mexico City Constitution was Victoriano Carranza. After taking office in 1821, Carranza attempted to create an independent power base, raising his own militia and collecting Chiapan state taxes. This was contrary to the wishes of newly-elected President Andrew Jackson, who intended that the U.S.M. be a centralized state, with all armed forces under the control of the national government, and all taxes collected by the national government and then distributed to the state governments. In 1822, Carranza was summoned to Mexico City to meet with Jackson, who delivered a blistering lecture on the respective roles of the national and state governments. Carranza returned to Chiapas a cowed man, and never again attempted to play an independent role.
At the time the U.S.M. was founded, Chiapas was critically lacking in physical infrastructure and plagued by persistent problems of poverty and starvation, especially in its southern regions. President Jackson visited Chiapas in 1823 during his Grand Tour of the country, and, in an address before the State Assembly in Palenque, outlined a plan to better integrate Chiapan society with a campaign of internal improvements and public works. Upon his return to Mexico City, Jackson gave a speech to Congress in which he emphasized the state's agricultural potential and encouraged Jeffersonians to migrate there. The subsequent passage of the Hagen Bill, which gave land grants to agricultural settlers in Chiapas and Durango, led to a stream of migrants from Jefferson who settled in Chiapas to farm cash crops like indigo and hemp. Meanwhile, French investors opened textile mills in the state that attracted many Mexicano and Hispano farmers, increasing the Chiapan voting population of free men and winning it greater representation in the Assembly in the 1830s.
This new form of economic activity drew wealth into the state, virtually eliminating the problem of starvation. However, this progress came at a price: Anglo Jeffersonian farmers frequently brought Negro slaves to the region and reinstituted the racial dichotomy that existed in their home state. Chiapas's majority population of Hispanos and Mexicanos—not wanting to be drawn into a racial hierarchy in which they would almost certainly be subordinate to whites—tended not to associate with the new settlers, and two distinct societies formed in the state that rarely intermingled.
One of the Anglos who emigrated from Jefferson to Chiapas was Douglas Watson, a wealthy planter who won one of Chiapas' four seats in the Mexican Senate in 1821. By 1833, Watson had become one of the leading figures in the Liberty Party, and when the Libertarian caucus met to choose a presidential candidate for the 1833 Mexican elections, Watson joined with Henry Morris of Jefferson in an attempt to deny the nomination to Senator Miguel Huddleston of Durango. The attempt failed, and Huddleston gained the nomination, although he failed to lead the Libertarians to victory against Jackson.
The 1839 Mexican elections were a different story, the first to produce a Liberty Party majority in the Senate. In that election the Libertarians won all four of Chiapas' Senate seats, contributing to the 17-7 Libertarian majority. Six years later, however, with the Continentalist Party led by nominee Pedro Hermión, the Continentalists succeeded in flipping one of the seats. In 1851, despite the growing popular discontent with the Rocky Mountain War and the poor showing made by Continentalist candidate Raphael Blaine, the Continentalists succeeded in holding on to their lone Senate seat. In the Assembly, which now had nine members from Chiapas, the Continentalists managed to win election to four seats. Six years later, despite the victory by Continentalist candidate Arthur Conroy, the Libertarians held their three Senate seats and won a sixth Assembly seat.
The 1869 Mexican elections were the first to take place after passage of the Presidential Election Amendment promoted by President Arthur Conroy. By then, Senator Carlos Concepción of Chiapas had become the leader of the radical wing of the Liberty Party. Concepción had denounced the amendment, saying that under the guise of reformism, Conroy had "managed to solidify his class's control over the nation. We are doomed to many more years of Conroyism, unless the people wake up to what this Machiavelli has done to deceive them." In fact, Conroy's reforms had alienated the leading members of his own Continentalist Party, particularly the wealthy businessmen such as Bernard Kramer and Monte Benedict who held the party's purse-strings. In 1869, Kramer and Benedict were able to deny Conroy the party's nomination, which went to Kramer's own man, Senator Omar Kinkaid of California.
Although he had denounced Conroy's reforms, Concepción believed that their passage meant that a Mexicano politician such as himself could gain enough popular support to win the presidency. When the Libertarian caucus met to choose a presidential nominee, Concepción worked to gain it. However, the Anglo and Hispano members of the caucus were not ready to support a radical Mexicano, and they ultimately choose Henry Colbert, the Governor of Mexico del Norte. Despite the overwhelming cash advantage Kinkaid enjoyed thanks to Kramer and Benedict, the election was much closer than the Continentalists had expected. Colbert won 46% of the vote, including 62% of Chiapas' 1,197,954 votes cast.
Concepción was ready to seek the Libertarian nomination again in 1875, forming alliances with Indian leaders in Mexico del Norte and Arizona. He also had a backup plan, laying the groundwork for an independent run if he failed to win the nomination. When the Libertarian convention chose Thomas Rogers, the Governor of Arizona, Concepción walked out, announcing the next day the formation of a new party, the Workers' Coalition, that would oppose both Kinkaid and Rogers. On election day, Concepción won only 11% of the national vote, and only 21% of his home state's 1,012,275 votes cast. When the results became known, Concepción claimed to have won a moral victory, and announced that he and his supporters would form a revolutionary movement called the Moralistas.
Concepción continued organizing his guerrilla movement in secret, initially carrying out few raids. By 1877, though, he had completed his preparations, and the frequency of his raids grew sharply, targeting banks, mines, and railroads, as well as members of the government and the upper management of Kramer's company Kramer Associates, and of Benedict's Petroleum of Mexico consortium. Kramer and Benedict both responded to the guerrilla raids by forming their own private armies, the Kramer Guard and the Jefferson Brigade.
On 7 December 1879, President Kinkaid was killed by a bomb thrown in his direction during a parade. The thrower was never found, and Kramer, Concepción, and Rogers all blamed each other. The Senate chose Senator George Vining of Jefferson to serve the remainder of Kinkaid's term. Vining responded to the Moralistas by creating a secret police force called the Constabulary, led by Benito Hermión, the son of former President Pedro Hermión and a business partner of Kramer and Benedict. Hermión proved to have a talent for counterterrorist work, and under his command the Constabulary was able to drive the Moralistas back into its strongholds in the western Sierra Madre mountains.
The retreat of the Moralistas was abruptly reversed on 15 July 1881 by the Massacre of the Innocents, when a force of Constabulary agents raided the national convention of the Workers' Coalition and arrested its leader, José Godoy. A riot broke out among the delegates, and a gun battle erupted between the Coalitionists and the Constabulary, leaving twenty-three people dead and seventy-five severely injured. As word of the massacre spread, Mexicanos rose up throughout the Chiapan countryside. The uprising spread from there to Durango, and to parts of California, Arizona, and Mexico del Norte. In Jefferson, Benedict's private army clamped down on the Mexicano population.
Rumors swept the country of a plot to slaughter the Mexicanos, and of another to dynamite Mexico City. By late July, most of the people of Mexico were either in hiding or had taken to the streets. Benito Hermión responded to the uprisings by rounding up thousands of Mexicanos and imprisoning them in internment camps, while his agents roamed the countryside holding drumhead courts where suspected Moralistas were arrested, tried, and summarily executed. When rumors arose of slave rebellions in Jefferson and Chiapas, Constabulary agents entered slave quarters and killed over 4,000 Negro slaves. Internal passports were instituted on 10 August, and eleven days later curfews were established in the ten largest Mexican cities. By the end of August, Mexico had become a police state, and the Moralistas were staging attacks on major cities in Chiapas and Durango. Concepción himself led a raid on Mexico City. However, all of the attacks were repulsed by the army, and Concepción was badly wounded.
President Vining suffered a fatal heart attack on 12 September, nine days before the rescheduled 1881 Mexican elections. Hermión, acting on orders from Kramer and Benedict, was able to seize power in a coup d'etat on the night of 16 September, and the next morning was able to cow the Senate into ratifying his elevation to Chief of State and suspension of the upcoming elections.
Hermión continued his brutal tactics against the Mexicanos, and the Moralistas were largely eliminated as a movement. Concepción died of natural causes in 1887, and within two years the Moralistas were no longer a threat to Mexico City. By 1898, only vestiges remained of the movement.
In the 1870s, Benedict became convinced that petroleum deposits were located along the Gulf Coast of Chiapas. Early in 1880, his suspicions were borne out when oil was discovered in Minatitlán. Many Mexicano peasants became instantly wealthy from the oil concessions they received for their land. Despite the arrival of the petroleum industry in the state, however, Chiapas remained the poorest Mexican state.
Hermión's overthrow in October 1901 brought a resumption of something like normal politics to the U.S.M., though always under the not-very-benevolent shadow of Kramer Associates. A presidential election the following year led to a three-way runoff between exiled former Senator Anthony Flores, exiled former newspaper editor Pedro Sanchez, and Secretary for Postal Affairs George Craig. Flores won 62% of Chiapas' 2,492,487 votes on his way to winning a 45% plurality of the national vote.
Under the guidance of K.A. Presidents Diego Cortez y Catalán and Douglas Benedict, Flores directed government funds to social relief in Chiapas and Durango, and encouraged the rise of a generation of Mexicano politicians in those states. These included his Secretary of State, Victoriano Consalus, who succeeded Flores in the 1914 Mexican elections with 61% of Chiapas' 2,550,401 votes. The most prominent Mexicano politician to appear in Chiapas was Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes, who rose to the the leadership of the United Mexican Party in the 1920s in opposition to President Emiliano Calles' antislavery campaign. Calles had risen to power on the strength of his defense of Mexico City against an invading French army in 1914, although as the Liberty Party candidate in the 1920 Mexican elections he won only 33% of Chiapas' 2,886,653 votes against Consalus.
Fuentes' fervent denunciation of abolition allowed him to beat Calles in the 1926 Mexican elections, winning 59% of Chiapas' 3,045,933 votes. However, once in office, he directed his ire against Kramer Associates, whom he blamed for the success of Calles' antislavery initiative. However, Fuentes' attempt to bring K.A. under the government's control was a failure, and he was defeated for re-election in 1932 by Alvin Silva of Durango, who won 55% of Chiapas' 3,493,474 votes.
The 1938 Mexican elections took place during rising international tensions between Great Britain and the Germanic Confederation. After the C.N.A. elected the isolationist Bruce Hogg in Februay, it seemed certain that war would break out soon, which favored Silva over his U.M.P. opponent Richard Brace. Chiapas cast 56% of its 3,991,035 votes for Silva.
When war finally broke out between the British and the Germans in October 1939, Mexico remained at peace until Silva launched a surprise attack on Japan on 1 January 1942. In spite of early victories, by 1944 Mexican forces were facing growing resistance from the Japanese, Australians, and Chinese. This prompted Silva to cancel the 1944 Mexican elections and seize control of the Mexican press. The result was a national uprising called the Rainbow War led by Causa de Justicia and the Black Justice Party. The two groups clashed in Chiapas, and other groups followed their example, leading to widespread anarchy.
Silva was forced to garrison troops in Mexico to deal with the uprisings, which accelerated Mexico's military defeat. By December 1948 Mexico was fighting off Japanese invasion attempts in Alaska and Hawaii, and Silva was forced to accept a de facto truce with the Japanese and Australians. In desperation, Silva held elections in 1950, but when his opponent, Admiral Paul Suarez, won a narrow victory (including 56% of Chiapas' 4,291,191 votes) Silva refused to accept the result, bringing the country to the brink of civil war. The commander of Guadalajara's garrison, Colonel Vincent Mercator, carried out a coup d'etat the day before Suarez's inauguration, arresting Silva and placing Suarez under protective custody. Under Mercator's junta the Rainbow War rebellion was put down, and social reforms eliminated poverty and raised living standards and life expectancy in Chiapas.
Sobel's sources for Chiapas include William Berry's The Dead Are Unburied in the Plaza: The Mexican Repression of 1881 (Mexico City, 1956); Robert Kerr's Carlos Conceptión and the Birth of the New Radicalism (New York, 1960); Orrin Macon's The Palenque Convention in Mexican History (Mexico City, 1960); and Charles Winslow's Peasants in Brocade: The Oil Millionaires of Chiapas and Durango (New York, 1962).
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