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Carlos Concepción.

The Moralistas were a Mexicano-based guerrilla movement active in the United States of Mexico in the late 19th century, particularly in the period from 1877 to 1882. The most prominent leader of the Moralistas was former Senator Carlos Concepción of Chiapas. Although Sobel does not specifically say so, it is likely that the Moralistas were named after Mexican President José María Morelos.

Origins[]

The Moralistas had their origins in the radical wing of the Liberty Party in the late 1860s. The growth of the Libertarian radicals was the result of two trends: the growing number of Mexicanos leaving the haciendas to become paid workers in the cities, and thus gaining the vote; and the growing influence of wealthy business owners such as Bernard Kramer and Monte Benedict in the Continentalist Party. Concepción was inspired by the class-based socialist political philosophy of Karl Marx, whose On the Coming Revolution in Mexico predicted that Mexicano intellectuals would bring about the overthrow of the Anglo-Hispano ruling class established by Andrew Jackson in the 1820s.

Concepción first sought the Libertarian presidential nomination at the party's 1869 caucus, arguing that the electoral reforms passed by President Arthur Conroy would allow a Mexicano from Chiapas to gain enough votes to win the election. However, the party's Anglo and Hispano leaders were not prepared to support a Mexicano candidate, and the nomination went to Governor Henry Colbert of Mexico del Norte.

Colbert's campaign was overwhelmed by the monetary advantage enjoyed by that of Continentalist candidate Omar Kinkaid, who was the beneficiary of large campaign donations from Kramer and Benedict. The perception that Mexico's government had fallen under the control of a handful of wealthy men was strengthened when Kramer financed a coup d'etat in Guatemala in March 1870 which was quickly recognized by Kinkaid's government. Concepción denounced the relationship between Mexico City and Guatemala as being one between "thief and assassin."

The Election of 1875[]

Thomas Rogers.

As the campaign for the 1875 Mexican elections approached, Concepción formed alliances with radical Indian tribes in Mexico del Norte and Arizona, and took up the cause of small farmers in California who felt victimized by Kramer's San Francisco-based consortium, Kramer Associates. At the Libertarian caucus in April 1875, Concepción said, "If I am defeated at this caucus, it will be because of my race and the opposition of powerful interests opposed to the well-being of all Mexicans," and spoke of "Mexico's wealth having fallen to a few, while the rest of the nation remains in chains."

The Liberty Party caucus rejected Concepción, choosing Governor Thomas Rogers of Arizona as its presidential candidate. Concepción and his followers walked out of the caucus in disgust, and the next day he announced the formation of a breakaway party called the Workers' Coalition that would challenge both Kinkaid and Rogers at the polls.

As he campaigned, it became clear to Concepción that he lacked the support to win a majority of the votes, and he began laying the groundwork for the Moralista movement. He refused to campaign in Anglo areas of Mexico, called for a "union of Mexicanos against our oppressors," and demanded the nationalization of Kramer Associates. By late July, he was giving most of his speeches in Spanish, and on one occasion called for the "removal of those who stole our country from us," meaning the expulsion of the Anglos.

On election day, Concepción won only 11% of the vote, with his highest margins in Mexicano areas of Chiapas and Durango. After the votes had been counted, he announced, "We have shown the plutocrats of Mexico City and Paris that we are united. We have been heard. We will be heard in the future. Mexico will shake to the sound of our voices, united in the cause of justice. God is speaking to us today, just as he spoke to Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, to Revillagigedo and to José Morelos when he first dared defy the might of the white devils of Jefferson. The Workers' Coalition is dead, killed by the cynics of the north. Long live the Moralistas!" After delivering this address, Concepción and his chief lieutenants disappeared into the western Sierra Madre, to begin a guerrilla campaign aimed at the overthrow of the government.

The Kinkaid Assassination[]

Benito Hermión.

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 K.A. 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 Concepción disclaimed responsibility for the attack. Through a spokesman, he claimed to know for certain that Kinkaid had been the victim of a plot by Kramer and Benedict, who had opposed the social reforms he had taken up. Meanwhile, Kramer privately stated his belief that Rogers had been behind the assassination, while Rogers himself blamed Concepción. Twenty-six years after the assassination, a Mexicano peasant named Carlos Feliz told a reporter for the Mexico City Herald that he had thrown the bomb as part of a Moralista attack. However, Feliz had no evidence to support his claim.

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 Palenque Convention[]

José Godoy.

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.

The Hermión Dictatorship[]

Diego Cortez y Catalán.

President Vining suffered a fatal heart attack on 12 September, nine days before the scheduled 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.

Diego Cortez y Catalán, who succeeded Kramer in 1882, was initially content to allow Hermión's dictatorship to continue. However, Hermión's pursuit of an invasion of Siberia in 1899 during the Great Northern War with the Russian Empire led Cortez to turn against him. On 1 August 1901, Cortez held a secret meeting of the anti-Hermión opposition, including Moralista leader Carlos Lincoln. When Lincoln refused to participate in any plot that would leave Cortez in control of Mexico, Cortez denied any interest in establishing a second dictatorship, and promised to restore constitutional government.

The Cortez Coup[]

Cortez was able to oust Hermión on 16 October, establishing a provisional government led by the commander of the Kramer Guard, Martin Cole. Acting on orders from Cortez, Cole declared a full amnesty for Hermión's opponents on 15 November, promising the Moralistas "a role in the new Mexico if you want one." Sobel does not say whether Lincoln agreed to give up the armed struggle and participate in the upcoming elections.

By 1913, when French President Henri Fanchon was planning his invasion of Mexico, the Moralistas were no longer powerful even in the Sierra Madres. Fanchon's plan to sponsor a Moralista revival proved fruitless, and his war against Mexico the following year turned into a disaster for France.


Sobel's sources for the Moralistas are Felix Lombardi's The Three-Cornered Hat: Conceptión, Kinkaid, Rogers, and the Election of 1875 (Mexico City, 1955); 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 Herbert Brinkerhoff's Mexico's Political Revolution (New York, 1964).


This was the Featured Article for the week of 22 June 2014.

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