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The REAL end to slavery was… Mexican

25 March 2007

The English — who understandably are hard-pressed to find things in their imperialist past to celebrate — are making a big to-do over their 1807 anti-slavery bill.  That bill forbade the TRANSPORTATION of African slaves after 1825.  That’s nice.  They didn’t get around to freeing their own slaves until 1838, and even so, they still kept to their beliefs in racial segregation

The British get better press, and certainly they should celebrate the 1807 Act, but I don’t know why we didn’t throw the party back in 2003.  After all, the first steps towards abolition were in the  Danish West Indies in 1803.  The Brits were a few years late. 

But who first freed the slaves?  Mexico in 1828.  And, even more importantly, what was the first country to recognize all persons as equal, regardless of race?  Mexico… 1814, under the Chilpancingo Constitution. 

Ending slavery in Mexico was relatively painless (outside of Texas, where most slaves were emancipated, but left as peones, or re-enslaved after 1836), in part because there weren’t a lot of slaves, and in part because the “Rational” Spanish confused the heck out of everyone a few years earlier. 

Scholar Juan Pedro Viqueira Albán claims the 18th century Bourbon rulers of Mexico were philosophical control freaks . The best way to control the world, for the Bourbons, was to make “rational” distinctions.  “Race” being an irrational thing, sort of made them a little nuts, and they did their best to rationalize it — and control the “races”.

Oh, they could figure out Criollo, Indio, Negro easily enough.  But who was Zambo, who Mestizo, who Mulatto, and who something else — or some or all of the above… (assuming anybody cared or knew what their great-granny’s “race” was)? 

It got a little complicated back there in the 1750s.  And in the Spanish and Portugese colonies, where there was never much hangup about “miscegenation” anyway, it got very, very complicated.  Slaves themselves, being in the eyes of the Church human beings with souls and free will, had some basic human rights.  They could marry whomever they wanted and if they married a free person, the children weren’t slaves.  It was, to the 18th centry rationalists, irrational. 

The Mexicans just said the hell with it, and decided back in 1814, when they wrote the Chilpancingo Constitution to do something radical and just say all men are equal with no if’s and or buts… or 2/3rds counts, or “except for Indians”. 

The United States didn’t get around to freeing its slaves until 1865 (and it took a war to do that), and we still hang on to the British concepts of segregation.  The Mexicans are SOOOO over it.  Where we think someone like Barack Obama is a novelty, here are three important Mexican leaders, at least two of whom weren’t afraid to count slaves among their ancestors:   

Cowboy, priest, guerilla-leader and father of the racial equality before the law, José Maria Morelos y Pavon (1765-1815)

“We should do away with the picturesque jargon of black, mulatto, mestizo… and etc., and instead view ourselves geographically, calling ourselves Americans for where we are from, as do the English, and the French and that other European country that is oppressing us, and the Asian in Asia and the African in his part of the world.”

Gunsmith, farmer, soldier (who won 419 straight battles… not even Napoleon could claim that) and president who emancipated the slaves in 1828 (when Abe Lincoln was 9 years old), Vicente Guerrero (1782 – 1831)

The administration is obliged to procure the widest possible benefits and apply them from the palace of the rich to the wooden shack of the humble laborer. If one can succeed in spreading the guarantees of the individual, if the equality before the law destroys the efforts of power and of gold, if the highest title between us is that of citizen, of the rewards we bestow are exclusively for talent and virtue, we have a republic, and she will be conserved by the universal suffrage of a people solid, free and happy. 

Soldier in the War of Independence, in the War of the French Invasion (1838), in the War of the U.S. Invasion (1846), guerilla leader during the Franco-Austrian Invasion of 1862(when he was over 70), farmer, political moderizer, liberal reformer, and President, Juan Alvarez Benítez (1790-1867)

I entered the presidency a poor man, and a poor man I leave it, with the satisfaction that I do not bear the censure of the public because I was dedicated from an early age to personal labor, to work the plow to maintain my family, without the need for public offices where others enrich themselves by outrages to those in misery.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 February 2012 8:40 am

    It’s probably because, even outside the attempts to abolish slavery, the English/Americans/etc. were making significant steps towards progress in the world in general. By side effect, that includes the recording of history.

    I find it funny that it’s automatically assumed that American concerns about rampant Mexican immigration is strictly a racist “Us vs. Them” thing. For some of us, it’s that we’re allowing thounds of human beings in who don’t contribute anything to the progress of the world. They breed. They bring in “traditional” catholic values amounting to do-whatever-you-want-god-will-forgive-you. When seriously asked, this is how most people identify them.

    • 14 February 2013 12:55 pm

      “Progress in the world”? Sure you didn’t mean to say ‘plunder of the world’, since that’s mainly makes the U.S. attractive to migrants. Most of those migrants would prefer to stay home, except that their home countries have been looted by foreign and domestic plunderers operating under the banner of ‘progress’.

      • Eric permalink
        25 November 2017 8:08 am

        Rather dishonest aren’t we? Mexico self segregated, it’s always been a problem, & still is. Mexico is where The “one drop rule” originated from. Although Mexicans accepted anyone who was “passable” for Spanish as the ruling class, but rejected anyone who couldn’t.

        The Spanish/Mexicans were the largest Slave traders in the world. Of the 11 Million Black Africans sold into Slavery, the Spanish imported 10 million to South, Central, & North America (Mexico). They pretty much wiped out the Aztecs, & Maya by enslaving them, & working them to death.

        I find it interesting that anyone would even attempt to make this argument. Anyone who has even a basic understanding of Mexican History should be able to call BS on this poor attempt to make Mexico look better.

      • 25 November 2017 4:36 pm

        A couple of points. Portugal was the world leader in the slave trade, although Spain of course had a big role. If you’re speaking of the African slave trade, the trade in Mexico was nowhere near the level of the rest of Latin America or the British possessions… indigenous workers being more cost effective (to put it in blunt terms). The number of slaves imported from Africa (not counting those from Cuba) was only about 6000 (compared to say 4.5 million sent to Brazil) between 1524 and 1824.

        Not sure where you get the information that the “one drop” legislation is Spanish in origin. I think you’re thinking of the Bourbon “casta” system, which classified (or attempted to classify) populations by their mixed ancestry, whereas under U.S. style “one-drop” rules, a person even 1/18th black was still black. One reason I suspect the percentage of “Negros” dropped so dramatically in the latter half of the 18th century (from 0.6% to 0.1%) was that people of mixed race defined themselves as the default casta, mestizo, rather than zambo or pardo.

        The Aztecs (Mexica) and various Mayan peoples are still with us, although they bore the brunt of the 16th century wave of European diseases that decimated all American indigenous communities. Going back to Vasconcelos, and even earlier, it doesn’t appear that commentators on “race” were in denial of African roots, so much as they assumed that those of mostly African ancestry had been assimilated into the general population.

        Those of Afro-Mexican descent in Veracruz and Tabasco… less isolated than those of the Costa Chica… have higher than average income and educational levels than the general population, whereas those isolated (until recently) communities on the west coast (Costa Chica and Oaxaca) lower income/education levels than general. This may have to do with more West Indian immigration to Veracruz and along the Gulf Coast, while those Afro-Mexican communities on the Pacific were isolated.

        While it would be foolish to claim that there isn’t discrimination based on color, there are other factors besides descent from Sub-Saharan Africans that are factors in a country where mixed race is the norm, rather than the exception.

  2. 2 December 2012 9:58 am

    Why does Mexico deny there was African slavery. What was the port city of Veracruz used for. Slavery in Mexico lasted for more than 3 centuries. In the US less than 250 years. Slavery is Slavery how was slavery in New Spain different. Or is your argument slavery in Mexico only lasted from 1821 to 1828…

    • 14 February 2013 1:12 pm

      Mexico became an independent country in 1821 and slavery was abolished there within 8 years. The ‘United States of [anglo] America became independent in 1781, 40 years BEFORE Mexico did, and abolished slavery over 80 years later, about 35 years AFTER Mexico did. Moreover, the Mexican revolution against Spain was partly a struggle against slavery, while the United States War of Independence was, in large part, a successful attempt to delay the abolition of slavery.

  3. sRT permalink
    14 December 2016 9:49 pm

    You are forgetting the Afro-Mexicans are still fighting for their rights in Mexico after all this time. They still aren’t viewed as citizens.

    • 15 December 2016 12:46 pm

      Of course they are citizens. That people are mistreated based on color is another thing, and outside the narrower focus of the post. There has been no “organized” racism (like the KKK) against Afro-Mexicans, nor legal attempts to deny them citizenship (as in Costa Rica) since independence.

  4. NCchick permalink
    12 May 2017 4:08 pm

    What a crock. The US Constitution is the first document of its kind to recognize our inalienable rights come from our Creator regardless of color. No country has done more for equal rights than USA. Much more racism and oppression, especially against indigenous people can be found throughout Mexico and into Central and South American. That slavery was not widespread in Mexico is due more to a lack of largescale agricultural and export of goods than any aversion to slavery. Slavery and equality are two different subjects. USA consisted of freemen of all colors at its inception. All colors have been enslaved and all colors have been the slavers.

    • 12 May 2017 6:35 pm

      Were it that were true, NCchick. The US Constitution specially allowed slavery, and considered “Indians” as foreigners. Mexico’s first constitution, as well as the earlier “Sentiments of the Nation” both specify that slavery is forbidden and “Indians” are citizens.

      While indeed there were “freemen of color” there were also slaves up until 1865 in the US (only Brazil and Cuba in the Americas had legal slavery longer).

      You are right that slavery was less common in Mexico, but it was a much larger agricultural exporter than the United States at the beginning of the 19th century. It was also then the second largest mining exporter (after Peru) in the world, and slavery in the mining district was more common than agricultural slavery, which was largely confined to Veracruz and the Caribbean coastal region.

      As to racism against the indigenous people, certainly it did (and does) exist… however, there was never any concerted effort at exterminating indigenous people, nor large scale removals, as there was in the United States up until nearly the beginning of the 20th century. You do know that legally “Indians” were not citizens of the United States until 1924 (and in some states, notably Arizona) could not vote until 1968?

  5. Jim James permalink
    22 February 2019 4:46 am

    Not True. after 1821 Mexico kept the “Encomienda” system until 1936. It was a form of indentured slavery or share cropper (peon). They were kept in bondage by ever mounting debt, & paid in script that could only be spent at the “Encomendero” store with high prices. Known as peon, & under the peonage system.

Trackbacks

  1. Streets of Poets (Sor Juana) « The Mex Files
  2. Making census of us (and U.S.) « The Mex Files

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