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By Rebecca Williams
Lucas Alamán was a great Mexican statesman and historian. Alamán was a criollo aristocrat, who was brought up well educated. He remained loyal to his country throughout his life. He was involved in many important decisions during the struggle to maintain Mexican independence. He also helped to create many cultural institutions in Mexico. Alamán was a strict conservative, who eyed democratic tendencies with suspicion. An on again-off again relationship with the Mexican government regularly saw him in and out of office. He is best remembered for his Conservative approach and outlook towards politics. Above all, he always kept Mexico's best interests at heart. What follows is his biography:
Lucas Alamán was born on October 18, 1792 in the province of Guanajuato. Three days later he was baptized Ignacio Josi, Joaqumn Pedro de Alcantara, Juan Bautista Francisco de Paula. Alamán was the son of don Juan Vicente Alamán and doña Marma Ignacia Escalada. He was born of a noble lineage of power and prestige. On his mother's side of the family he descended from the highest Spanish aristocracy. His father was from a medium position in society and had found his wealth in the mines of Guanajuato.
Alamán grew up in a stable and happy home. He studied music, painting, and the natural sciences under Juan Antonio de Riaqo. He also gained his love of foreign languages at this time. He became a member of the Catholic religion and remained a devout Christian throughout his life. At the age of fifteen, he went to live with his brother, the Governor don Manuel Iturbe, in Nuevo Santander. He was able to travel and see more of New Spain.
The Alamán family suffered a great loss on April 29, 1808 with the death of the father, don Juan Vicente. His death came at a time when the Alamán family fortune was beginning to decline. The royalties from the mines, which had for many years been at the center of the economic community, were beginning to diminish. Alamán and his mother moved to Mexico City for a short time. There, the young Alamán had an opportunity to meet don Augustin de Iturbide through some of his mother's powerful and influential friends. Alamán and his mother returned to Guanajuato in 1809 to deal with the worsening economic situation of the mines.
Civil unrest was growing at this time and in September of the following year Hidalgo would lead his followers into Guanajuato. At this time the clergy rivaled the state in power. The mines and agriculture were still at the heart of the economic community. The commerce was almost exclusively in the hands of the Europeans.
In September of 1810, the houses of Commerce shut down in order to do battle. Almost all of the Europeans gathered their families and their riches together and waited in the Alhondiga de Granaditas, which was the public granary. On September 28, 1810 Riano, who was trying to defend the city, died and Hidalgo moved in. Hidalgo was leading the insurgents and the Indians as they burned down the Alhondiga, killing most of the people and stealing all of their possessions. Alamán, at the age of 18, witnessed the tragic events of this day and later recorded them in his book, History of Mexico. Being exposed to the events of the times, Lucas developed a keener sense of awareness and memories with which he would reflect on later.
Lamar links the events that passed during this time to the anti-democratic sentiments that Alamán nurtured and harbored throughout his life (88). Alamán associated Hidalgo and his followers as followers of democracy and the democratic way of life. Because relations with the U.S. were far from friendly, and because the U. S. was a democratic nation, Alamán treated affairs with the nation later on in his political career, with caution.
The Independence War awakened Lucas to the cold realities of life after he had been so well sheltered in his comfortable and cultural upbringing. The family moved to Mexico City on December 9, 1810. Alamán continued his studies, studying French, English, mineralogy, and chemistry among other things. At this time, Alamán was questioned for possessing books that were prohibited by the Inquisition. Although he was pardoned by the authorities because of his mother's powerful friends, he would hear about this situation later on in his political career. On February 11, 1811, Alamán received the habit of the third order of Penitence of San Francisco. It was during this time that Alamán held his first job, writing for the Mexico Daily until 1812. He learned much about politics from this job and began to cultivate an interest in it.
On September 11, 1813, he received a very honorable certificate from the Royal Seminary. He then planned a trip to the Old World, first stopping in Havana, Cuba. Alamán arrived in Spain in 1814, during the Restoration. He was 22 years old. It was during his travels in Europe that he met many influential acquaintances and friends who would have a great impact on him later in life. After visiting many important historical sites in Spain, he arrived in France. The Bourbons were ruling in France when he arrived, but Napoleon was planning his return. The return of Napoleon resulted in the beginning of the war, which interrupted Alamán's studies in France. Therefore, he decided to travel on to England, leaving France on April 13, 1815. After England, he returned to France before continuing on to Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and other countries. He visited cathedrals, palaces, plazas, sculptures, paintings, and famous battle sites.
While touring extensively in Europe, Lucas had time to observe the monarchy as a system of government. He particularly liked England and its system of government. According to Lamar, he was pro-monarchist and thought that the Mexican government should be modeled after the English one (88). Alamán's feelings towards a democratic style of government were very negative. His idea of elections was tantamount to a joke. He did not feel that there was a place for the common people of Mexico in the government. In no way did a representative-style government have a place in Mexican politics, according to Alamán.
After tiring of the tourist life, Alamán visited universities and mines. In Germany he took an interest in the Freyberg mines, where he wanted to learn the newest technology and machinery of the mines. He believed that the economy of New Spain rested on the abundance of metals in the earth. He also learned of new methods of extracting gold and silver.
When he received news of his family's worsening economic situation, he returned to Mexico. He had met many influential people in Europe, had acquired sone new languages, and had made some serious plans for his future. While he was on his return trip, the Constitution of 1812 had been established. After six years he returned home on February 27, 1820. When he arrived in Mexico, he was named Secretary of the Superior Committee of Sanitation, his first public job. Thus began his 32 years of public service.
He was elected to represent the courts and began his second trip to Europe to find out some solutions to the decline of the mining industry in New Spain. He began his second trip when Iturbide had initiated his final campaign. In the Spanish courts he was well received. He obtained the right of sales for the Mexican mines. He then went to Paris, where he initiated the arrangements for the formation of the United Company of Mines. He put his knowledge of the secret method of extracting silver and gold, by using sulfuric acid instead of nitric acid, to use. During all of this, New Spain had become the Mexican Imperial. The new government named Alamán the diplomatic representative before the king of France. After marrying the doqa Narcissa Castrillo on July 31, 1823 he occupied the position of Minister of Relations. During this time, he succeeded in getting England to recognize Mexico's independence. This was necessary to boost the economy by attracting possible English investors in Mexico's business interests. He asked Congress to recognize Guatemala's independence, as well. He also tried to settle the dispute between the land boundaries of the U.S. and Mexico. He was very emphatic on this point because he could see what others were denying. While he was trying to detain more settlers from entering Mexico, and subsequently settling there, he received much resistance. He was always thinking of the best interests of Mexico and knew that the U.S. was wanting to annex part of Mexico's territory. Because of the anti-democratic feelings that Alamán had towards the U.S. government, he held suspicions towards them. Perhaps because of the proximity of the U.S. and Mexico, Alamán had reason to be suspicious of their expansionist intentions. However, Alamán was the right person to choose in dealing with the Mexican-U.S. land boundary issue. Alamán met with Joel Roberts Poinsett and undecidedly kept the negotiations within the best interests of Mexico. According to Lamar, "Poinsett represented to Alamán a system of government which he had long considered repugnant and dangerous, for he considered the masses incapable of governing themselves" (100). At this time, he also founded the General Archive, the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities, and protected the San Carlos Academy.
Accusations against Alamán began to come in at the beginning of 1824. He was called a traitor and left the Ministry. After defending himself he returned on May 15, 1824. In September of 1825, he was again attacked. This time he was accused of breaking various rules. He resigned again and dedicated all of his time to mining activities and to the direction of the United Company of Mines of Mexico. He organized his first mining company and spent much of his time trying to attract investors from England and France. He had various projects to keep him busy while he was away from public office. He brought up the exploitation of the mining industry before Congress. He stated that with a change in the political regiment should come a change in the economic regiment. He called attention to the riches of California and Texas, also. He concerned himself with Mexico's welfare when he called attention to the importance of the interior commerce of Mexico and the riches that Mexico had. He was strongly for the economic freedom of Mexico. Unfortunately, he was a better politician than he was a businessman and lost money on many of his economic ventures.
Public office again called and he returned. Alamán had a presence that got things done and he was a definite asset to Mexico. He was in the department of Exterior and Interior Relations and spent most of his time dealing with the affairs of Mexico and other nations. He worked with Cuban Independence before he spent time trying to make Spain recognize all of its old colonies. He continued his work with relations between Mexico and England, using many of the old contacts that he had made when he lived there. Once again the life of a politician was not for him. He separated from the Ministry on September 7, 1824.
After his mother died, he was once again called back to office. He returned January 12, 1825 for the third time. At this time, Guadalupe Victoria was president. Alamán was always in disagreement with the members of his cabinet. The cabinet wanted to be like it was under the Monarchy. He continued to do other things for the benefit of the Mexican nation, as well. He had a great triumph when he reestablished trade with England. He was also at the center of the U.S. Expansion issue. When the U.S. expansion issue came up again, the United States politicians found Alamán to be a difficult obstacle in their attempts to expand into Mexico. He was now in the Ministry of most importance and he worked on the problems of the fledgling government.
Alamán helped relations between New and Old Spain by bringing in business for the latter. Although his opponents argued not to because Spain had not formally recognized New Spain, he thought of the best interests of Mexico. His typical thinking in this period was that good foreign relations with Spain would bring about faster recognizement of the new nation. He argued for a system of government like the U.S., also. When don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was elected president and Gomez Farias, vice-president, they started to change the politicians in their government. Alamán, once again, came under attacks and accusations. He left the Ministry again, without thanks or appreciation for the work that he had accomplished. In his book, Defense, he demonstrated his defense. Later, he was absolved on March 17, 1835. He once again turned his attention to business. He gave up directing the United Company of Mines because of problems that he had encountered with the English. He turned his interests to agriculture and bought some haciendas. He wanted to jump start Mexico's production and free the country from relying on foreign manufactured products.
In 1836, the Centralist Constitution was enacted. In April of the following year General Bustamante was elected president. Alamán refused to participate in the high positions of government except to give occasional advice. He, also, asked England to mediate in the situation with Texas. Alamán was given a position in the General Direction of Industry. He worked on the industrialization of Mexico. A little time later, the disastrous war with the U.S. had begun.
Alamán was the most notable figure in the Conservative party after the war with the U.S. He had predicted what had actually occurred when Mexico's land holdings were cut in half. Alamán returned to the political arena with an enthusiasm in his country, when spirits were low and death tolls were high. Alamán believed in national unity. He believed in traditional Mexican institutions and the old way of government, with public institutions such as the city hall, in the center of the community. He remained a monarchist at this point in his life and proudly espoused the monarquist-style of government.
In 1849, Alamán organized a conservative party that participated in the municipal elections. Alamán , also wrote for a conservative paper, El Universal, in which he supported his party's views and attacked the leaders of the Independence War. The conservative party, at this time, considered Alamán's leadership a golden age for conservatives. In 1851, he was elected as the representative for Jalisco. The next year, he was elected Senator. On March 23, 1853, Alamán wrote a letter to Santa Anna about the state of the country and his party's program. He began a study of the metric system and proposed its adoption. He worked on the project of the creation of a Historical Institute, as well. He fell ill from some problems that had appeared in 1843 and quickly worsened. He died on June 2, 1853.
Lucas Alamán will always be remembered fondly in Mexican history for the devotion and progress that he showed in his efforts to improve Mexico. He was a very patriotic man to his native country, Mexico. Although one must wonder if he could truly understand the real Mexico, as it existed and as it existed in his mind. As he was born from a privileged background, he could never fully recognize the plight of the poverty-stricken, average Mexican, seeing that they came from such opposite ends of the economic spectrum. He will be remembered fondly, however, for the great services that he accomplished for his country.
Alamán, Lucas. El reconocimiento de nuestra independencia por España y la unión de los paises Hispano-Americanos. México D. F. : Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 1924.
González Navarro, Moises. El pensamiento político de Lucas Alamán. Mexico D. F. : El Colegio de Mexico, 1952.
Lamar, Curt. " Genesis of Mexican-United States Diplomacy: A Critical Analysis of the Alamán-Poinsett Confrontation, 1825." The Americas XXXVIII (1981-1982): 87-110.
Valdes, José C. Alamán: estadista e historiador. Mexico D. F. : Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1987.