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Mariano Arizcorreta’s circular

Abuses on haciendas such as the establishment of the tienda de raya and the use of fichas for payment are widely documented but very occasionally there are reference to the use of paper.

On 18 July 1849, Mariano Arizcorreta, governor of the Estado de México, signed a noteComunicacion dirigida a los propietarios de fincas rusticas del estado de Mexico y acta de celebrada en 6 de agosto con motivo de la circular de 18 de julio del gobierno de dicho, Imprenta de Ignacio Cumplido, Mexico. 1849 to his state legislator, Domingo Pérez Fernández, with copies to the governor of the Federal District and to his district officer at Cuernavaca. Arizcorreta wrote that, in his opinion, agitators had been able so easily to provoke the rural villages into rebellion because almost the entire Indian population of the state resented the treatment they were receiving from neighbouring landowners. Their hostility towards the hacendados was because some of the latter had illegally seized, either by deception or by force, all or part of their communal lands. Furthermore, on some haciendas, particularly in the Cuernavaca and Tierra Caliente areas, the workforce was being paid its already meagre wage in vouchers which could be redeemed only in shops owned by the estate. The poor were thus forced to take goods which were generally over-priced and of poor quality as there was nowhere else they could exchange their vouchers. That method of payment had been prohibited repeatedly, but to no avail, and it was his duty to see that it was stopped, as well as to ensure that the continued illegal seizure of village lands ended. Instead of issuing new legislation and enforcing it, Arizcorreta had decided, in the interests of the law, the hacendados and the villages, that Pérez Fernández should convene a meeting with the local hacendados in Mexico City where most of them resided. Pérez Fernández was to persuade them to make voluntary concessions of land to the villages and to urge that firm action taken against their own employees who abused the Indians. The hacendados were to be made to understand that these measures would stop the spread of the caste war which was so harmful to the nation and to themselves.

Arizcorreta's circular, which he later said was never intended for publication, soon leaked out and it brought an immediate and vehement protest from hacendados in the Estado de México. They were summoned by their leaders to a meeting in Mexico City. The proceedings began with a formal reading of Arizcorreta's circular and then various hacendados recounted their complaints. After this discussion and the total rejection of making any concessions to the Indians, the hacendados agreed to form a steering committee of three to prepare an answer to Arizcorreta and to begin arrangements for the armed defence of their properties. The record of this meeting was duly written by the steering committee and published on 14 August.

Arizcorreta's ideas were already public knowledge and, on 4 August, El Universal published a letter from Leonardo Zuloaga. He was prompted to write, he said, because of the recent suggestions that hacendados should improve the treatment of their workers. Hacendados were being told that they should pay them in cash but nobody had indicated where they were to get the ready money. The workers were paid three reales a day, one for maize which was distributed every eight days, and two reales in cash and goods. If the workers were all paid in cash, he maintained, gambling and drunkenness would increase, as happened in the mining communities. The tiendas de raya gave good value, providing quality clothes and other essentialsEl Universal, 4 August 1849. Two weeks later, on 22 August, two days after publishing the landowners' document, El Universal devoted a front-page editorial to the Arizcorreta circular which, it said, had generated widespread interest and concern. Ignoring the horrors of Yucatan and the spread of racial unrest, Arizcorreta had sanctioned 'the ferocious caste war' in the state of Mexico. His motive had been to attract mass support for electoral purposes and he had deliberately sought to appeal to 'the most ignorant and backward classes, encouraging their prejudices and making them believe that if he were re-elected, they would be able to count on his certain protection'. Indians would now seize property, owners would resist, and a war of extermination like that in Yucatan would followEl Universal, 22 August 1849.

The editor of El Globo was even more vehement in his condemnation of ArizcorretaEl Globo, 6 August 1849. The usually moderate El Siglo XIX adopted a similar position. Given the background of the caste war in Yucatan and its spread to so many other places, Arizcorreta's circular was an act of madness which had terrified all social classes and especially the landowners. His circular was extremely dangerous, 'impolitic and exceedingly subversive'. The Indians now believed what agitators had been telling them, that all the land rightly belonged to them. The only reason that a mass uprising had not taken place already was because the authorities had been vigilant and had moved quickly to suppress local disorder. Arizcorreta perhaps did not intend to start a caste war but his action had been a grave errorEl Siglo XIX, 18 August 1849; 8 September 1849.

The only paper to defend Arizcorreta was the generally pro-government El Monitor Republicano. Three days before the circular, it had made exactly the same points as Arizcorreta concerning the abuse of the tienda de raya, the non-payment of wages in cash, and the theft of village lands by the hacendadosEl Monitor Replublicano, . On 30 August, the editor again agreed with most of what the governor had alleged. Despite this support in El Monitor Republicano, the overwhelming response to Arizcorreta was hostile and it was soon obvious that he could not remain in office. His resignation was accepted by the legislature on 22 August and he was replaced as governor by one of the biggest landowners in the state, Mariano Riva Palacio. Arizcorreta, however, was not willing to allow all the charges made against him to go unanswered and spent his time preparing a manifesto in his own defence Manifestacion que hace al publico el ciudadano licenciado Mariano Arizcorreta contra la comunicacion dirigida a los propietarios de fincas rusticas del estado de Mexico con motivo de la llamada circular de 18 de julio del gobierno del mismo, no publisher (Toluca?), 1849. His first point concerned the tiendas de raya. Since 1846, he wrote, the state government had received many complaints about 'rayar'. In response, the government had issued some instructions but these had been ignored and the complaints had continued. The national President had subsequently ordered[text needed] that payment in credit and goods must end because the daily wage of the workers was being reduced by as much as a quarter of its value by that method of payment. In view of the presidential order, he could have banned the practice altogether but he had not done so, preferring instead to instruct his officials to prevent further abuses. He remained convinced, however, that ending the raya system would remove the causes of unrest in the rural areas.

Arizcorreta's manifesto did not silence his critics. Some of the hacendados, signing themselves 'Several landowners' (Varios propietarios), chose to publish their own replyRespuesta de algunos propietarios de fincas rusticas a la manifestacion que ha hecho el Sr. Lic. Don Mariano Arizcorreta, gobernador que fue del estado de Mexico, Ignacio Cumplido, Mexico City, 1849. This introduced a number of novel points into the polemic. They claimed that the practice of 'rayar' was not common and that they themselves always paid their workers in cash. Furthermore, nobody obliged the peasants to work for an estate which operated a tienda de raya and it was noticeable that those who did 'go about better dressed'.

We can only speculate about Arizcorreta's role and motives in writing what, as El Siglo XIXEl Siglo XIX, 18 August 1849 pointed out, he must have known would cause such controversy. There appear to be two possible motives. First, that he genuinely believed that the solution to rural unrest was to persuade the hacendados to make concessions on the raya and to give up some land to the villages. Secondly, as most of his critics alleged, it was an attempt, for electoral purposes, to rouse popular support or even to foment a revolt which would bring down the government.

(based on Michael P. Costeloe, “Mariano Arizcorreta and Peasant Unrest in the State of Mexico, 1849” in Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 15, No. 1, Special Issue: Mexican Politics in the Nineteenth Century, 1996, pp. 63-79)