In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section State and Nation Formation in Pre-Revolutionary Mexico

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Materials and Edited Source Collections
  • Contemporary Histories
  • Political Ideology
  • Women, Gender, and the State
  • The State and the National and International Economies
  • Mexico, the United States, and International Trade
  • Modernization, Nationalism, and State Building

Latin American Studies State and Nation Formation in Pre-Revolutionary Mexico
Karen Caplan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0184


In 1821, Mexico gained its independence after a lengthy struggle with Spain. In 1910, it experienced a vast revolution. In the years in between, Mexicans struggled to establish a stable state and to define the nation. In the standard narrative, the first half of Mexico’s 19th century was characterized by political instability, economic failure, and international disgrace in the form of the loss of territory in the Mexican-American War and finally the French occupation. The second half of the century then saw the restoration of republicanism, establishment of strong government, and phenomenal economic growth. The deep economic and political inequities that accompanied that growth prompted dissatisfaction, unrest, and ultimately revolution. In this narrative, the history of the 19th century in Mexico easily becomes the history of the Mexican Revolution, and by extension a story of the failure of the 19th-century state and of 19th-century nation building. In recent years, several trends have combined to counter this teleology. First, increasing attention has been paid to the politics of the first half of the century, seeking to make sense of the seeming chaos, to place early attempts at state formation in context, and to emphasize the importance of a more thorough understanding of these years for the trajectory of Mexican history. Second, historians have come to consider a far broader cast of characters when they investigate state and nation formation; they have recognized the beliefs and actions of indigenous people, peasants, soldiers, urban plebeians, and women as crucial to understanding 19th-century politics. Finally, historians increasingly seek to understand Mexico in the broader context of global history, and to locate the trajectory of the 19th-century state and nation in comparative; transnational; and international political, economic, and cultural frameworks. The result has been a significant expansion of what counts as state and nation formation, and with it the destabilization of long-standing teleologies.

General Overviews

Overviews of 19th-century politics offer differing interpretations of the prevailing conflicts of the era. Cosio Villegas 1955–1974 sees a stark contrast between the constitutional liberalism of the restored republic and the authoritarian liberalism of the Porfiriato, while Guerra 1985 argues for a liberal continuum across the century that the work sets against an underlying religious traditionalism. A more recent and very accessible classroom volume, MacLachlan and Beezley 2010 stresses conflicts within liberalism and between Mexico and the United States. Wasserman 2000, another broad survey, introduces the centrality of local autonomies and subaltern politics that has been crucial to the study of this period. Connaughton, et al. 1999 offers a selection of essays that speak to questions of political legitimization across the century.

  • Connaughton, Brian, Carlos Illades, and Sonia Pérez Toledo, eds. Construcción de la legitimidad política en México en el siglo XIX. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1999.

    This collection of essays addresses the long history of state formation through studies of institutions, groups, and events. Organized around the concepts of ideology, discourse, and hegemony, it reflects a revisionist approach to the 19th century.

  • Cosio Villegas, Daniel, ed. Historia Moderna de México. 9 vols. Mexico City: Editorial Hermes, 1955–1974.

    Long the classic text on the history of Mexico, this series was written between 1955 and 1974 and includes volumes on politics, economics, and society in the restored republic and the Porfiriato. The volumes celebrate constitutional liberalism and implicitly criticize a perceived mid-20th-century drift back to Porfirian policies and structures.

  • Guerra, Francois-Xavier. Le Mexique: De l’Ancien Régime à la Révolucion. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985.

    This book covers the period stretching from the late 18th-century Bourbon Reforms to the revolution. Guerra presents this as a history of struggle between tradition and modernity, with liberalism, the Porfiriato, and the Revolution all set against an underlying holistic, corporate, and religious Mexican society. Also available in Spanish as México: Del antiguo regimen a la revolución (2 vols., Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988 and 2000).

  • MacLachlan, Colin M., and William H. Beezley. Mexico’s Crucial Century, 1810–1910: An Introduction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

    In this book, written primarily for classroom use, the authors focus on ideological conflict and what they interpret as the detrimental relationship of Mexico with the United States.

  • Wasserman, Mark. Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Men, Women, and War. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

    An accessible survey that argues for the importance of local autonomies and popular action for the political history of the Mexican nation in this era. Focuses in particular on the experiences and actions of women.

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