The Party of Order and Progress: The European revolutions of 1848 and the Mexican Conservative Party

Ed Shawcross (University College London)
1 November 2016

The study of conservatism has often been seen as a topic of secondary importance; historians have conventionally preferred to research groups that played a “progressive” role in society. This is particularly the case in Mexico where the Conservative Party, founded in 1849, was caricatured by its liberal opponents as supporting a blind reaction that looked backwards to Mexico’s colonial past. The defeat of conservatives by liberals in the War of Reform (1858-61) and again with the execution of the Emperor Maximilian followed by the collapse of the Second Mexico Empire (1867) saw this negative interpretation become embedded within Mexican national discourse and accepted by many historians. However, this paper argues that rather than focussing on Mexico’s past, conservatives proposed a path to modernity that embraced a distinctively post-1848 mode of politics. This was characterised by a technocratic vision of progress, the adoption of elements of democratic politics, and was influenced by events in Europe, particularly the example of Louis-Napoléon in France and the French Second Empire. Far from being caught up in a parochial obsession with national issues, Mexican conservatives understood themselves to be part of what they termed an “international reaction” against the ideas and doctrines of the European revolutions of 1848. This paper explores the international events and transnational currents of thought which influenced Mexican conservatism in the mid-nineteenth century.

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