Party or Country?


Interesting historical note. Mexico established its Federalist Constitution in 1824, and the first President of the Republic,Guadalupe Victoria, was a hero of the revolution, similar to how Washington became the first President under the U.S. Constitution. Mexico was torn between two different visions of the country that we today refer to as Liberal and Conservative. At the time the Conservatives favored government modeled after the Spanish Empire, while Liberals favored more distribution of power into the states, like the United States. In reality, the Conservatives were shunted aside early in the Republic, and the main political conflict was between two groups of Liberals: the Moderados who favored gradual reforms, and the Puros who wanted to immediately strip the conservative elements of society of their privileges and establish a liberal society.

The first election under the new Constitution was held in 1828. It resulted in the victory of Manuel Gomez Pedraza, a Moderado. But the Puros accused the previous President Victoria of using undue influence to favor Pedraza, and Puro opponents and others (i.e., power brokers like Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna) “pronounced” against the election. The electoral contest transitioned from the ballot box to the streets as armed forces of the two sides battled each other for the Presidency. In the end, Pedraza, the legally elected President, was forced to flee, and Vicente Guerrero succeeded to the Presidency. However, having been installed by force, Guerrero’s Presidency was short lived. He was overthrown by his Vice President a year later and was subsequently executed for trying to retake his office by rebellion.

The failure of democracy in the first contested election, manifest in discounting the vote, ignoring the Constitution, and raising party loyalty over national interest resulted in a half century of political chaos in Mexico.

In the United States, the first contested election occurred in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran against John Adams for the Presidency. That election resulted in a deadlock that eventually led to 36 ballots in the House of Representatives. The House at that time was controlled by Federalists, the opposing party to both Jefferson and Burr, so neither candidate was desired by the majority in the House. As the deadlock dragged on the Republican Governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania threatened to call out the militia to install Jefferson as President.

In the background Alexander Hamilton, who was the leader of the Federalists, who had worked to fashion the United States economy after that of Great Britain and who regarded Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans as dangerous radicals, agreed to a hard compromise whereby Jefferson would become President but would leave in place the Federalists financial system Hamilton had created. Both Jefferson and Hamilton would deny for the rest of their lives that they had made such a compromise, but there is evidence to prove it, and the Federalist system remained in place under Jefferson.

The Republic was saved by the hard compromise that placed survival of the country over political affiliation. I wonder if there’s a lesson there for us?