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Talking Politics in Print

Political Catechisms and the Development of Public Opinion in Nineteenth-Century (Mexico)
La parole politique imprimée: les catéchismes politiques et le développement de l’opinion publique dans le Mexique du XIXe siècle
Eugenia Roldán Vera

Texte intégral

  • 1  I include all titles published in Mexico or abroad for circulation in Mexico, as well as the Mexic (...)

1The purpose of this essay is to discuss why the genre of political catechisms was one of the preferred forms of political communication in nineteenth century Mexico, and how this genre articulated the knowledge it set out to communicate. To do that, I consider not simply the “ideas” conveyed by the texts but mainly the political languages of nineteenth-century Mexico in which these texts are inserted. I also associate the transformations of those languages with changes in the development of the genre of political catechisms. I examine in particular the question-and-answer style in which most political catechisms were written; I argue that this centuries-old form suits to an era when politics were meant to be discussed and understood in a particular way, and that it was adapted to this era. It is my contention that the popularity of this genre in nineteenth-century Mexico is related to the emergence of the concept of public opinion. At least 45 different political catechisms in over 70 different editions were published or reprinted in Mexico between 1808 and 18901. The emergence of this kind of works was related, like in many other parts of the Western world, to the need to communicate the principles of a new political order to a wider population. In the case of Mexico, this new order resulted from three related phenomena: the disintegration of the Spanish empire and the transit from an absolutist to a representative system (starting 1808), the achievement of political independence (1821), and the long process of state formation that followed independence. My analysis will concentrate above all in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the production of this kind of texts was most prolific, and when the question-and-answer genre was used for a wide range of literature beyond school textbooks.

  • 2  See, among others, Margarita Moreno Bonett: “Del catecismo religioso al catecismo civil: la educac (...)
  • 3  Cf. Roldán Vera, “The Making of Citizens” (1996). For a discussion of the use of the question-and- (...)

2Because of the important presence of political catechisms in this period of changes, in the Mexican case these texts have been largely studied as a didactic effort aimed at transforming the subjects of the Spanish empire into the modern citizens of the Mexican republic.The dissemination of the principles of universal citizenship and of the rules of conduct intended to forge the modern type of allegiance of the individual towards the State, which was essential for the new ruling elites to justify their position and to attain a much-needed legitimacy2. Political catechisms, based on the model of the religious catechisms in circulation since the seventeenth century to facilitate transmission of the basics of the Catholic faith, seemed to be an ideal pedagogical means for the transmission of that information. They were indeed a simplified presentation of the basic “doctrine” of the new political system and of the moral qualities of the modern citizen. They were presented in a textual form that was meant to facilitate its inculcation in the minds of their audience, which was supposed to be a broad one: both schoolchildren and adults alike, and by people of different degrees of education3.

  • 4  I have examined the relation between the ways of learning the religious catechism and the ways of (...)
  • 5  A good example of the study of political languages in nineteenth century Mexico is Elías José Palt (...)
  • 6  See Klaus W. Hempferet alii, “Performativität und episteme: die Dialogisierung des theoretischen D (...)

3Certainly, I agree that the genre of political catechisms flourished because of their didactic function in educating the citizens of the new social and political order. However, if we consider only their didactic function we left other dimensions of this particular genre unattended. If political catechisms were not meant exclusively for school children, why was the question-and-answer style a preferred form for the dissemination of political knowledge? And what did the catechetical form give to the particular political and civic contents of the books were to communicate that the others styles did not? In what follows I want to suggest some ways of thinking about how the catechetical style interacts with the knowledge it sets out to disseminate. In order to do that, I will go beyond the analysis of the didactic aspects of the political catechisms (which I have considered elsewhere in some depth)4, and examine political catechisms rather as an argumentative genre, drawing attention to their underlying rhetorical and discursive universe, and considering the conditions of possibility for the emergence of certain political languages5. I see them also as an evolving genre, and therefore I examine their characteristics in different periods throughout the nineteenth century. In my analysis I consider the genre of political catechisms in its double referentiality: its intratextual world – that is, the interaction between the voices within the text – and its extratextual world – the world in which the texts are produced and received. For a catechism does not simply convey the statements of an extratextual authorial subject, but it primarily represents a world in which two anthropomorphic subjects utter complementary or contrasting sentences about reality6.

Political catechisms in nineteenth-century Mexico: a chronology

4Before independence, in Mexico circulated a handful of Spanish catechisms published in the later part of the eighteenth century. These Spanish texts were produced as a reaction to the French political catechisms produced in the aftermath of the French Revolution (many of which were circulating in Spain); their main purpose was to counteract the dangerous French republican principles and reaffirm those of the Spanish monarchy. The treatises by Joaquín Lorenzo Villanueva, Catecismo del estado según los principios de la religión (Madrid, Imp. Real, 1793) and Juan de Escoiquiz, Tratado de las obligaciones del hombre (1794) are fundamental for this period; they were rather political treatises for an adult audience.

Chronology of Mexican political catechisms

Chronology of Mexican political catechisms
  • 7  D.J.C. [Don José Caro Sureda], Catecismo político arreglado a la constitución de la monarquía espa (...)
  • 8  For example, José María Luis Mora, Catecismo político de la Federación Mexicana (Méjico, Galván, 1 (...)
  • 9  Duch as Catecismo político mexicano para uso de las escuelas, México, El Águila, 1828 and A. M. Va (...)
  • 10 Nicolás Pizarro Suárez, Catecismo político del pueblo, Méjico, Navarro, 1851; Catecismo político co (...)

5The year 1808 was a breaking point: the French invasion of Spain and the abdication of the Bourbon kings, with the consequent break of the monarchic bond, gave way to a massive production of political literature, among them political catechisms. The ones that circulated in Mexico were mostly reprints of the Spanish ones, such as the Catecismo civil o breve compendio de las obligaciones del español (Puebla, 1808). These catechisms usually advanced the case for people’s sovereignty in the absence of the monarch and explained that the duties of the good citizens were to organise themselves in popular assemblies and fight the French invader. The promulgation of the Cádiz Constitution in 1812 further motivated the production of catechisms, favoured by the freedom of the press granted in the document. The catechisms published after that date – some written in Mexico, others reprinted there from Spanish ones – were devoted precisely to explaining the Constitution: the concept of sovereignty of the people, the rights and duties of the individual citizens, the ways in which a representative government was to be formed, and so on. The catechism that most widely circulated in Mexico during this time was the Catecismo politico arreglado a la constitución de la monarquía española, reprinted over fifteen times throughout Spanish America7. The 1812 Constitution was abolished by Ferdinand the seventh in 1814, but political publications continued to be published, especially given the ongoing fights between royalists and insurgents. In 1820 the renewed proclamation of the Cádiz Constitution and with it the reestablishment of the freedom of the press led to a boom of ephemeral publications in Mexico, especially pamphlets and periodical press. New political catechisms were published, very similar in content to those from 1812-1814, and many of the previous period were thoroughly reprinted; that was the case of the above mentioned Catecismo político arreglado a la Constitución de la monarquía española and the Cartilla o catecismo del ciudadano constitucional (Puebla, Ontiveros, 1820, reprinted from a Spanish one from 1812). Independence from Spain was achieved in 1821 and the (short-lived) Mexican Empire (1822-1823) headed by Agustín de Iturbide was established. The first catechism published after independence was the Catecismo de la independencia en siete declaraciones (México, Mariano Ontiveros), by Luis de Mendizábal (under the pseudonym of Ludovico de Lato-Monte), in 1821. This text, like the others published in this period, was concerned with explaining the concept of sovereignty of the people, the right of insurrection (to legitimate the separation from Spain), and the rights and duties of the new citizen in the new order; they also discussed the various possible forms of government and took sides as to what the best one for Mexico should be. With the end of the monarchic experiment and the establishment of the first Federal Republic began the most intense period of publication of political catechisms (1824-1836). Written by outstanding politicians8, jurists or school teachers9, these political catechisms exposed the principles of republicanism and the basics of the 1824 Constitution; they discussed the different forms of government, and argued why the republican and federal one was the best for Mexico. Above all, they were all concerned with explaining the doctrinal core of political liberalism. During the Central Republic of 1836-1846 production of political catechisms dwindled, partly due to an increased disenchantment with that doctrinal core. After the defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American war (1847-1848) and until 1856, a number of political catechisms were published again. These were mostly reprints of texts from earlier periods, reflecting the perplexity of what seemed the failure of Mexico as a nation and the need to reaffirm the political principles upon which the state was based. Finally, in the period 1857-1887 a new kind of catechisms emerged. Published after the promulgation of the Reform Laws and the liberal Constitution of 1857, these new texts were devoted mainly to introducing and consolidating the principles of the separation of the religious and the civil spheres, and looked for ways to inspire in their readers love and loyalty for the fatherland. This period was dominated by the reprints of several texts by Nicolás Pizarro10. Now, beyond their apparently simple form in questions and answers, most political catechisms had an interesting rhetorical structure which shaped their content and which has not been properly analysed. In what follows I examine that structure, tracing its development and placing it in relation to the modern forms of discussing politics that emerged in the new order that began with the disintegration of the Spanish empire.

Religion, politics, and performativity

  • 11  Hans-Christian Harten, Elementarschule und Pädagogik in der französischen Revolution, München, R. (...)

6The first political catechisms of the Spanish world were apparently inspired on the French civic catechisms that first appeared in the aftermath of the French Revolution. French civic catechisms had adopted the structure of the traditional religious catechisms with the clear purpose of substituting a new secular genre for a traditionally religious one – and thus superimposing a republican, civic order over a religious or theological one. They were part of a larger trend to substitute religious ceremonies by patriotic ones: instead of the religious catechism, school children were made to recite the declaration of the rights of men and the Constitution. The teacher, in charge of taking the students to the republican festivals and the political meetings instead of taking them to church, was to become the priest of the new, republican religion11. In the Spanish world, by contrast, catechisms appeared largely as part of the reaction against the French radicalism. As already mentioned, the first ones were indeed political treatises written in the question-and-answer style of the religious catechisms, but with the clear purpose of reasserting the monarchic and religious order of the Hispanic world.

  • 12  For an overview of the Spanish catechisms of Christian doctrine, their structure, and the ways in (...)

7The Spanish catechisms published as a result of the French invasion to Spain in 1808 intended to support the popular rebellion against Napoleon and reinforce a feeling of Spanish, Catholic nationalism. The majority of these texts followed closely the structure of the most extended religious catechisms of the time in Mexico – those by Jerónimo de Ripalda and Gaspar Astete – but by no means intended to substitute a secular for a religious order either12.

  • 13  “Preg. Decid, niño: cómo os llamáis? / Responderá su nombre: Pedro, Juan, o Francisco, &c. / Encom (...)
  • 14  “P. Decid, niño, cómo os llamáis? / R. Español. / P. ¿Qué quiere decir español? / R. Hombre de bie (...)

Astete, Catecismo de la doctrina christiana

Catecismo civil, 1808

Q. Tell me child, what is your name?
He will reply with his name: Pedro, Juan, or Francisco, &c.
Each should pray to the saint of his name
Q. Are you Christian?
A. Yes, for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q. What does Christian mean?
A. Christian is a man who has the faith of Christ, who professed through Baptism. (33-34)…..]
Q. What is man obliged to?
A. To search the last end for which he was created.
Q. What was man created for?
A. To love and serve God in this life, and then to see Him and rejoice with Him in the other.
Q. What are the works that most please God?
A. Works of Faith, Hope and Love.13

Q. Tell me child, what is your name?
A. Spaniard.
Q. ¿What does Spaniard mean?
A. Good man.
Q. How many and which are your duties?
A. Three, be Roman Catholic, Apostolic Christian, defend his religion, his country, his law, and die before being defeated. (17).14

8The catechisms of Ripalda and Astete were meant to be learned by heart and recited by the children to the priest. This is why they had a preeminently performative character: By saying “I am Christian” the child was not simply repeating a printed phrase; he was becoming a Christian, and he was committing to the obligations of the doctrine that were summarised in the catechism. This performative character was preserved in the first wave of political catechisms published the Spanish world. In the example above, the child is becoming a “Spaniard” by virtue of his/her recitation of the political catechism. That performative aspect is reinforced by the fact that the voice who asks the questions is the authority and the voice who answers is the child or student who is replying to a test of doctrine. This structure, transposed into the first political catechisms, suggests that these texts, at the moment of being recited, were indeed a kind of ceremonial baptism that was turning their readers into Spanish citizens. However, this performative element would disappear in the Mexican catechisms of the following decades.

Presenting the Constitution

9The catechisms written after the promulgation of the 1812 Constitution, emerging from the Juntas of the Spanish empire that had been called in the absence of a legitimate monarch, had the aim of disseminating the contents of the constitutional document. The structure of the catechisms from the years 1812-1814 and 1820 (when the 1812 Constitution was reinstated) is, in general, a simple one, devoted to explaining the new political concepts, with questions such as: “What is a Constitution?” “What is law?” “What does government mean?” “What is the Spanish nation?” “What is the freedom of the press?” “What is the difference between the Spaniard and the Spanish citizen?” “What is freedom?”. Consider the following examples taken from the most widely reprinted text of this period:

  • 15  “P. ¿Qué es Constitución? / R. Una colección ordenada de las leyes fundamentales o políticas de un (...)

Q. What is a Constitution?
R. An organised collection of the fundamental or political laws of a nation.
Q. What are fundamental laws?
R. Those that establish the form of government: that is, those that settle the conditions with which some are to rule and others are to obey.
Q. Who has the power to make these laws?
R. The nation by itself, be it through its representatives or through its deputies.
Q. Do we have a Constitution?
R. So good, that it can make us happy if we comply with it and contribute that other people comply with it15.

10In this structure there is little argumentative interaction between the voices, they are meant only to introduce clear and distinct definitions, unambiguous and presented in a logical order. There is no contestation, no opposing opinions, only a simplified chain of definitions that could easily be learned by heart. In view of the dramatic political, institutional and judicial changes that the Constitution was introducing, the catechetical form adopted for its dissemination seemed devised as a way of concealing all possible sense of controversy which obviously the new system was introducing. The only sign of disagreement that sometimes appears in the text refers to the difference between how something used to be in the past and how it is in the present, asserting always that the way it is in the present is better but without explaining why:

  • 16  “Q. ¿Qué es ley? / A. En los tiempos de Carlos IV y otros reyes anteriores, se llamaba ley toda or (...)

Q. What is a law?
A. In the times of Charles V. and other previous kings, a law was any order, any decree issued on behalf of the king by the ministers and even the courts of law; but the law really is the expression of the general will, regarding what should be ordered or banned for the good of everyone.
Q. What does general will mean?
A. What everybody want, or what most of the members of a nation want16.

11From the structure of the catechism it is clear that the dissemination of these principles was after all essential to establish the legitimacy of the new government that the Constitution was instituting:

  • 17  “P. ¿Qué es Gobierno? / R. En todo país para que haya orden y tranquilidad, y los fuertes no atrop (...)

Q. What is a Government?
A. In order for there to be order and tranquility, and to prevent that the strong ones run over the weak ones, in every country there must be someone who rules by the consent of everybody and decides whatever is best for the common good. The rules with which those who decide are to rule, and the conditions under which the others are to obey, form what is known as Government. Those rules are called the fundamental laws of a country, and make up its Constitution17.

12It seemed that all that was needed to make people obey these new rules was to present them as an uncontested truth and make the citizens memorise them, just as they used to memorise the religious catechisms. Indeed, the 1812 Constitution prescribed that, together with the religious catechism, “a brief exposition of the civil duties” should be taught in all elementary schools (art. 366). Sometimes the religious catechism was accordingly printed or bound together with the political one. After all, political catechisms had no problem merging religious concepts with the new order of the world; in order to be a good citizen, one needed to be a good Christian. However, the structure of the political catechisms was going to change significantly in the following years, at least in Mexico. This had to do with the introduction of new forms of doing and discussing politics, forms which were introduced alongside the modern concept of public opinion.

The emergence of public opinion

  • 18  See the tables compiled by François Xavier Guerra in Modernidad e independencias: ensayos sobre la (...)
  • 19  For a discussion of the public sphere at the onset of independence in Spanish America, see, for ex (...)
  • 20  The article “Ensayo sobre la opinión pública” was first Publisher in El Espectador Sevillano in Sp (...)
  • 21  “la voz general de todo un pueblo convencido de una verdad, que ha examinado por medio de la discu (...)
  • 22  La “invención de la imprenta” es lo que permite la formación de esta opinión, pues hace posible a (...)
  • 23  “la coincidencia de las opiniones particulares en una verdad, de que todos estan convencidos”. El (...)

13In 1814 the French left Spain, Ferdinand VII returned to the Spanish throne, and, against all expectations, abolished the 1812 Constitution. But the turmoil that started in 1808 was the beginning of many political, social, discursive and conceptual transformations that could not be stopped with the restoration of absolutism. New forms of sociability developed and new forms of discussing public issues emerged when the people across both sides of the Atlantic found themselves without a monarch and facing the task of taking government in their own hands. As a result of the disruption of the Spanish monarchy, a revolution of print began to take place in the Spanish American colonies, especially in Mexico. The Cádiz Constitution officially ensured freedom of the press between 1812 and 1814, but even after its abolition the print revolution could not be easily controlled. The achievement of independence in 1821 and the promulgation of the 1824 Constitution also reinforced that trend in Mexico. Between 1808 and 1830 there was an explosion of production of ephemeral and popular publications – flyers, pamphlets, periodicals, sermons, treatises, political catechisms – and a consequence of this was the emergence of an incipient public sphere and a concept of public opinion18. Whether there existed or not a “proper” public sphere independent from the government and self-regulating in the Habermassian sense in early nineteenth century Mexico is subject of some discussion19. What is undeniable is the fact that in the period starting 1808 there was a crucial transformation in the way the educated groups involved in writing and printing saw themselves. They assumed they had the role of “enlightening” the less educated people about the political and ideological changes that were taking place. More than that, they refashioned themselves as the formers of public opinion of the citizens of the new, representative political order, and this role entailed significant responsibilities. “Public opinion” was a new concept, introduced around 1810, used to describe a new way of discussing politics that did not exist before. According to an article that was reprinted over ten times in different Mexican periodicals between 1810 and 185020, public opinion was defined as “the general voice of an entire people convinced of a truth which it has examined by means of discussion21. Public opinion was formed in the press through the writings of the “wise men”, or those “devoted to the study of letters” and who ought to have the qualities of “patriotic love”, “a decent and firm soul”, and “the noble aspiration to the glory of being useful”. The formation of public opinion – the argument followed – took place in the printed media, for only through print were the men or letters able “to talk in the silence of solitude with our fellow citizens, to listen to their replies and objections, to examine the public interests away from the heat that inspires the love for one’s own opinion, to confess our mistakes or to maintain with dignity the truths of which we are convinced”. In these tasks, guaranteed by the freedom of the press, “reason must be the only judge and discussion [between men of letters] should be the most necessary proceeding”. The readers of the texts written by the men of letters, “the public”, constitute a “silent witness of this interesting dispute”, who “reads, examines and confronts his own opinion”22. The makers of public opinion were to be independent from the government, and the public opinion they formed was to be “the link” between the ordinary citizens and the government. Formed in this way, public opinion would be “the coincidence of the particular opinions upon one truth, of which all are convinced”23.

14What was at stake in this discussion about the formation of public opinion was the ultimate challenge of reconstructing the political order and institutions that had been shattered with the series of revolutions that stated in 1808. It was the challenge of arriving at certain consensual “truth” underlying at the bases of all the institutions of the new order, and which everyone is willing to acknowledge. In my view, this concept of public opinion reflected and further affected the forms in which politics were to be discussed in the modern order. It had an influence upon patterns of writing, publishing and circulation of ideas, and is visible in the rhetorical and discursive strategies of the period, let alone in the political catechisms. Of this modern notion of formation of public opinion, three aspects are highly significant:

  • 1) The possibility of making all particular opinions coincide into one and unified public opinion.

  • 2) The possibility of arriving to this “one truth” by means of a rational discussion, which was to take place in the printed media.

  • 3) The responsibility of the men of letters in educating the ordinary citizens so that they would be convinced of this “one truth”.

  • 24  For a discussion of the idea of truth and the concern for legitimacy in early-independent Mexico, (...)

15Previous to this concept of the formation of public opinion, religious catechisms and the first political catechisms published in the heat of the break with the absolutist order were aimed at presenting one self-evident truth. That truth had a transcendental existence and it did not have to be questioned, it only needed to be conveyed. Even if the “truth” of the constitutional system was not that self-evident for all, it was presented as though it was so. Yet the political catechisms published in Mexico after 1820 are affected by the epistemological shift provoked by the crisis of legitimacy of the ancien régime. Now the truth would not be that self-evident but it will have to be arrived at, by means of rational discussion. And it will not be enough to present that truth but it will be necessary to convince the readers of it, also by means of reasoning24. Still, that truth will be “one truth”, and the public opinion will have to be a unified one.

Learning by questioning

16In 1820 an uprising in Spain obliged Ferdinand VII to reinstate the 1812 Cadiz Constitution. Consequently, and since Mexico was still part of the Spanish empire, new political catechisms were published there, or some of the 1812 Spanish catechisms were reprinted. These texts follow very much the structure of the 1812 catechisms; their aim is to introduce the definition of the new concepts in which the Constitution is expressed. We begin to see important changes in the structure of the Mexican political catechisms after 1821, once Mexico finally obtained formal independence from Spain. Although by that time independence was a more or less a consensual decision, the justice of this act also needed to be asserted in order for the incoming government to consolidate its legitimacy. This legitimacy would thus be searched in principles that ranged from that of the return of sovereignty to the people to the right of insurrection of an oppressed nation; the efforts to construct that legitimacy would extend themselves to the political discussion in the printing press. Moreover, independence brought with it the immense problem of deciding what the best form of government for Mexico was and what the rules of political participation of the people in it should be. The short life of the Iturbide Empire (1822 to 1824) and its dramatic end accentuated the predicament of constructing legitimacy. Accordingly, the political catechisms published in the period known as the First Federal Republic (1824-1836), starting with the promulgation of the 1824 Federal Constitution, were substantially different to those published in the previous decade.

17A first noticeable difference in the political catechisms of the 1820s with respect to earlier works is a reversal of the way in which the textual authority is constructed. Whereas in the previous religious catechisms and the first political ones the knowledgeable voice seemed to be the one who posed the questions, virtually testing what the less knowledgeable voice had learned, in the Mexican catechisms of the 1820s the voice who asks has become the voice who does not know but wants to know. This important epistemological shift can be illustrated with the catechism of Lato Monte (1821), where the asking voice is rather inquisitive and even demands explanations:

  • 25  P. Muchas veces habéis repetido que un pueblo no se hace independiente si primero no se ilustra. ¿ (...)

Q. You have said many times that a people cannot become independent if it is not first enlightened. Is it not true, on the contrary, that the peoples do not actually become enlightened until they are free?
A. Both things can be said, because enlightenment leads to independence, and then independence allows for more enlightenment.
Q. I cannot understand this unless you give me one of your examples.
A. Throw a seed in the soil and you will see a plant grow; look at the plant after some time and you will see it full of seeds. That is what happens in our case: a certain degree of enlightenment is the seed of all independence; but independence is a fruitful tree, loaded of new seeds that increase and improve the enlightenment of the people25.

18This new structure brings the catechism closer to a fictionalised dialogue between two interacting individuals: there is contestation, demands of further explanation, and deductive reasoning derived from the previous answer: The following conversation between a priest and a mayor in the Catecismo de la doctrina social (1833) about the highly contested issue of the right of insurrection provides another example of this:

  • 26  “Cura. Cuando el gobierno viola los derechos de la sociedad, se dice que cada uno de los miembros (...)

Priest. When the government violates the rights of society, it is said that each of the members that form society is being oppressed. When the government violates the rights of one individual, it is said that the whole of the society is being oppressed.
Mayor. Explain me why every individual citizen is being oppressed when the rights of the society are violated.
Priest. Since the rights of the society cannot be different from the right of the citizens, this is why when the society is being oppressed through the violation of its rights, each citizens considers himself oppressed, and he is indeed […]
M. How will the peoples resist this oppression?
P. Through the Constitution and the laws, demanding their fulfillment. Demanding from the representatives of the people, by means of respectful representations, the reparation of the bad things that have done to the peoples, and requesting punishment of the offenders.
M. And what happens if the government disregards of these measures and does not comply with the dispositions of the representative government?
P. Then the people has the right of insurrection, which is not only the most sacred of its rights, but also the most necessary of its duties.
M. Then, can revolutions be legal, just and indispensable?
P. No one can deny that truth26.

19Indeed, by contrast with earlier catechisms these examples seem to give the appearance that by means of a reasoned discussion between several voices it is possible to arrive at a conclusion, at an undeniable truth – in this case, the inalienable right of insurrection of the oppressed peoples. The question-and-answer style no longer has the purpose of presenting a series of new political concepts but it has developed argumentative strategies. In some catechisms, like that of José María Luis Mora, the use of contestation in the dialogue has strong explanatory powers. Consider, for example, his disputation on the freedom of the press:

  • 27  “P. ¿Pero la libertad de imprenta no da lugar a que se escriban muchos despropósitos? / R. Sí, mas (...)

Q. But does the freedom of the press not allow for the writing of many insensible things?
R. Yes, but it also permits that some important truths that, although bitter to the government, are very useful to the public, and this is why the governments are always more or less hostile to the freedom of the press, whereas the people defends it to the last breath.
Q. But is the freedom of the press not a means to promote sedition, and has it not produced that several times?
A. No, it has not. On the contrary, when men are allowed to complain of what they […] suffer, normally they are content with that; but if the authority prohibits that, then they get angry of a censorship […] and it is in this case when conspiracies are plotted and people want to dethrone the government. So it is clear that it is not the freedom of the press but the abuse of authority what provokes sedition. Moreover, through the freedom of the press the government has an infallible way of knowing the public opinion, which it should never ignore […].
Q. But, can the freedom of the press not be abused?
A. Yes, it can, just as the freedom of speech can be abused […]
Q. But why do all governments complain of the freedom of the press and try to ruin it or make it an illusion?27

  • 28  Vargas, Catecismo de república, 1827, p. 28.

20In Mora the rational discussion of two voices in order to arrive to a unified truth reaches rhetorical heights. However, this rational discussion staged in the catechism is only just in appearance a discussion, for the truth is decided from the start and it is not difficult for the reader to locate it in the voice that provides the answers (the priest in the former case). But it is evident that the interactive form of these catechisms does go beyond the mere exposition of the corpus of liberal concepts and tries to use strategies that convince the reader of the truth they are conveying – in this case, by providing further explanations, often of a metaphorical kind, and by connecting the chain of reasoning by means of the sequence of questions and answers, and by countering an argument to give it more strength. Indeed, many authors of catechisms of this period stated that their work was meant to make the citizens be convinced of what they are to obey. This convincing should be an internal one and was essential in “free” and republican countries. Every citizen, concluded Vargas his 1827 catechism, “must be persuaded that the man who lives in a society was not born for himself, but for the republic”28 – and to that end he wrote that catechism. Manuel Eduardo de Gorostiza was even more explicit in his Cartilla:

  • 29  “En los estados libres, los ciudadanos necesitan, para obedecer bien, conocer de antemano lo que v (...)

In the free states, citizens, in order to obey, need to know beforehand what they are to obey, why they are being ruled, and what the advantages are of what they are going to obey. In those states obedience is a habit or a need; in [the monarchic states] obedience is a habit or a need; in the free states, it is the result of the people’s own persuasion. The stimulant of the monarchic states is coercive force; that of the free states is individual interest […] But what is not well understood cannot be properly obeyed, and no one understands what has not been previously clearly explained to him […] Therefore it is one of the first needs of the free peoples, if not the first one, that the political truths are made available to all its citizens29.

21The political catechism thus has a role of convincing the reader of those “political truths”. But actually, and since the reader is led to identify himself with the voice that poses the questions, in a catechism it is not the author who is to persuade the reader, but as the two previous quotes indicate, it is the reader who becomes persuaded of those truths by himself. Here the performative nature of the catechisms acquires a different character: it is not by uttering some sentences that the reader becomes a Christian or a citizen, but it becomes that in the process of asking questions and becoming convinced by means of reasoning. However, if the catechisms of the 1820s and early 1830s had a significant confidence in the capacity of the reader to understand and be convinced towards that truth, soon the ghost of the possibility of “many opinions” and an ensuing division appeared.

From persuasion to commandment: the elusive truth

22As time went by and political instability, military coups (pronunciamientos) and popular revolts became a source of disappointment for the educated elites, the structure of the catechisms changed as well. In the 1830s, especially in the second half of the decade, the idea of the possibility of arriving at a unified public opinion seemed too feeble, and complaints increased about the excesses of the freedom of the press and its role in defending private interests and misleading or dividing “the opinion”. In the catechisms published in this decade the author seems more visible than in the previous ones. These texts often begin with a narrative introduction in which the author complains about the lack of unity or the abuses of the political factions and the compelling need of reaffirming the basic principles that should orient all political action. They tend to regret the role of the free press, which – in the words of Vargas – “could have done so much good to the Mexican peoples; [instead, it] was only concerned with fighting particular interests, in which large masses were involved, with the excuse of aiming at a general good.” Therefore the catechism is meant to be a reminder of the unified truth that seems to be forgotten at times:

  • 30  “La libertad de imprenta, que tantos bienes pudo haber proporcionado a los pueblos mexicanos, este (...)

With this catechism I wish to disseminate this necessary knowledge to all classes of the State so that they understand what the citizen’s rights and duties are. In this catechism I have tried to transcribe the best doctrines. […] I know that this catechism will be criticized by some […], not in the doctrines it conveys, but in the plan, the method, the dialogue; some might call me a plagiarist. But I will reply right now: there is nothing my own self can do against the truth30.

23In spite of the insistence of the catechisms in the existence of “the truth”, that is, the truth of the liberal doctrines they disseminate, this truth begins to appear less self-evident. Catechisms do not vary their contents regarding the popular origin of the laws, made by their representatives, but they acknowledge more often that the law might be wrong; still, the law is the law and, as Mora writes, it must be obeyed:

  • 31  “P. Pero si se demuestra que las leyes son malas y los gobiernos ineptos ó perversos, no serán obe (...)

Q. But if it is demonstrated that the laws are wrong and that the governments are inept or evil, they will not be obeyed, and then, how will the public order be preserved?
A. As long they have not been legally changed, the laws and the governments, they must always be obeyed, and this is why no writer can call to disobey them: to censure a law or an authority is to call for its reform or variation. This is the only political object of the freedom of speech and write, and who exceeds that is an offender that must be punished for sedition31.

24For Mora, the ultimate authority lies, after all, not in the abstract principles that orient the Constitution, but in the Constitution itself, which is a way of bringing that authority down from the realm of the uncontested. Writing about the duties of the cabinet members:

  • 32  “La Constitución ha querido que todos los actos de gobierno emanasen del presidente, y si dispuso (...)

The Constitution has wanted that all the acts of government emanate from the President, and if it established that those acts should not have any value without the signature of a minister, it was with the purpose that if this minister was made responsible, he would reject authorization to the unconstitutional acts of the president32.

25Indeed, the 1824 Constitution which Mora’s catechism had set out to explaining proved to be a relative body of law, for in 1836 a centralist government was established and a new Constitution was formed. This shattered the basics of the already contested institutional order established in 1824, and gave way to significant changes in the political languages. Political catechisms produced in the latter part of the 1830s denote those changes in their rhetorical strategies. The Cartilla civil y política (1839) by José Justo Gómez de la Cortina is divided into a question-and-answer section and a section of “moral precepts”. The former is written in a simplified way, by way of questions of short answers, and the latter consists of a list of commandments that the children are to learn by heart. It includes a section on “Patriotic Obligations”, which comprises the following commandments:

  • 33  “Ama, pues, las leyes que mandan lo útil a la felicidad de todos. / Ama al gobierno que se sujeta (...)

Love the laws that command what is useful for the happiness of everybody.
Love the government which is itself subject to the law, and surveys their compliance.
Love a country where you have nothing to fear apart from the law, and in which the laws do not make a just mean have fear
Love and respect the magistrates who maintain among us the good will, harmony and virtue.
But what conduct should the love for your fatherland inspire?
Here it is: your fatherland will be rich, flourishing and peaceful, when the land is properly cultivated, when there are industrious artists, skilful merchants, soldiers who defend it, magistrates that maintain peace, wise men with whom the government takes care of the administration. Here you are the different states in which citizens are spread. Choose one of those states, and fulfill your obligations.33

  • 34  Thus described Gorostiza his motivations in writing the book: “la necesidad de procurar por todos (...)

26In this catechism, which would be reprinted profusely during the 1840s, the intention of presenting a rational discussion by means of which one can arrive to a fundamental truth has been almost given up. (Still, some explanations by references to an original pact remain). Its purpose no longer seems to convince the reader of something by means of reasoning; rather it seems to intend to simply elicit a behaviour of compliance with the law. After all, as Gómez de la Cortina put it in his introduction, his purpose in writting this catechism was to “cultivate the ideas that both enlighten and put the citizens in the disposition of complying exactly their obligations and duties required in a well-organised society”34. Another rhetorical strategy that suggests an increasing disbelief in the possibility of achieving a unified public opinion is the one used by the Cartilla del liberal cristiano (1836). An instructing book whose author wanted to be learned at school together with the religious catechism, this work constantly contrasts what “the liberals” and what “the serviles” (later called “conservatives”) wanted regarding a common set of issues. For example, with respect to civil and political rights:

  • 35  “Los liberales quieren: que las leyes nos aseguren el goce de los derechos que nos corresponden co (...)

The liberals want: that the laws ensure our enjoyment of the rights that correspond to us as men and as citizens.
The rights that belong to us in our capacity as men are called CIVIL RIGHTS and are reduced to the following: the right of consciousness […] the right of freedom […] the right of security […] the right of equality, the right of press […] All inhabitants of the republic should enjoy these rights […] The rights that belong us in our condition of citizens are called POLITICAL RIGHTS and can be reduced to the following: the right of popular election […] and the right of employment. […] Knowing what the civil and political rights are, it is easy to see the justice of the liberals in wanting that all men and citizens can enjoy them.
The serviles want: that each of them, and no one else, enjoys the civil rights; that the right of popular election does not exist, not even for themselves, and that each of them has only the right of employment.
According to this, and considering that all made equal by the hands of God, no rational being will fail to see the injustice that this pretension of the serviles involves35.

  • 36  los mexicanos deben “saber distinguir al hombre liberal del servil, cuando menos, para no confundi (...)

27Although here the question-and-answer form is absent, the text keeps the appearance of a rational, opposing argumentation, in order to inform the reader of the ideas held by two sides. However, the exposition does not prevent the reader to find where “the justice” lies. The author describe the “serviles” as “people of bad intentions” (personas malintencionadas) of “refined egoism”, and the author expresses his purpose of letting the people know “how to distinguish the liberal from the servile man, in order not to confuse the friend with the foe”36. It is the first case in which a political catechism is used to advance a partisan position, one in which the two sides exposed cannot agree upon a set of fundamental truths.

Surrendering consensual truth

  • 37  Gómez de la Cortina’s Cartilla social, published in 1833, was reprinted at least seven times betwe (...)
  • 38  Cf. Palti, La invención de una legitimidad, 2005.

28In the 1840s there was a decline in the production of political catechisms, with the exception of several reprints of Gómez de la Cortina’s Cartilla37. The legitimacy crisis of the political institutions turned into a sense of catastrophe after the 1847-1848 Mexican-American war. Defeat in this war left Mexico with only half of its territory left and a feeling of national failure and disintegration. The small number of new political catechisms published in the 1850s is an indicator of the distrust of the men of letters of this form of popular instruction in the midst of the crisis. Indeed, this is a period in which all sorts of political paradigms come under question and a sense of social and moral decay invades the public discourse38.

29Political catechisms reappear in the picture only after the promulgation of the 1857 Constitution and the issuing of the Laws of Reform that separated the Church from the State and ended up with the judicial privileges of army and clergy. Yet they re-emerged in a different guise, almost exclusively as a school textbook genre, and became part of the new state-building effort of the triumphant liberal party. Pizarro’s Catecismo politico constitucional, based on the 1857 Constitution and reprinted several times in the next decade is considered the official creed of the new liberal era. This text presents two distinct features. On the one hand, it is not entirely written in questions and answers, but sections on questions and answers are only complementary to narrative, explanatory sections. The questions with their short and simplified answers work as reinforcement for the narrative sections, although both sections do not entirely match; the catechetical one still introduces some new concepts. On the other hand, the quest for a “single truth” that legitimates the contents of the catechisms seems to have disappeared. The word “truth” appears only as adjective, the “true justice”, the “true freedom” The catechism still presents the basic principles of the liberal doctrine (freedom, equality, individual rights, etc.), apart from the new measures of separation of the civil and religious sphere introduced by the Constitution, but none of that is conveyed as an ultimate truth. The truth seems to have become a matter of choice. Even the Constitution has lost the indisputable character it had in the past; what matters is that it has to be obeyed:

  • 39  “Q. Segun esto, ¿deben los ciudadanos sostener que todo lo que se contiene en una Constitución es (...)

Q. According to this, should the citizens sustain that everything that is inside a Constitution is good, even though they know that some of its rules are mistaken or damaging?
A. Not at all; but while those rules are not legally abolished, the mere opinion of any number of citizens, regardless of how large it is, against any constitutional measure, or against any law, cannot excuse anyone of compliance.39

30Finally, by the 1870s we find no political catechisms written for a general audience; and the question-and-answer style becomes almost exclusively a style for children`s textbooks. “Civics” became a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools and textbooks were produced exclusively for that, suited to the various ages and grades of the students. The possibility of talking about politics in a catechetical style in order to orient and convince the reader of a consensual truth of the early-independent period finally receded giving way to didactic technology intended to merely reinforce and assist memorisation of a knowledge previously presented in narrative form.


31In this essay I have tried to broaden the consideration of the political catechisms as a didactic genre and look instead at the epistemological and rhetorical constraints underlying the practices of the production of this kind of texts in the new order emerging in Mexico after 1808. This had led me to see the political catechisms also as an argumentative genre, the characteristics of which are intimately related to the crisis of the old regime and the efforts to establish the legitimacy of the new one, all of which is framed within a new concept of public opinion. The popularity of this particular genre in nineteenth-century Mexico can be located within the disruption of the ideological foundations of the colonial order, and its transformations articulate with the development of discursive conditions of enunciation of the political language throughout nineteenth-century Mexico. In my analysis I have identified at least five periods of that development:

  • 1808-1820: Political catechisms emerge in the process of transition from an absolutist to a constitutional system. Following the vertical structure of the religious catechisms, they try to introduce a new legitimacy by introducing the new political concepts that are to be inculcated in the new citizens. Any sense of controversy is erased from the discourse.

  • 1820s-early 1830s: The question-and-answer form of the catechisms acquires almost fictionalised character, with an intense interaction between the two voices. The reader, led to be identified with the voice who asks the questions, is to be convinced by himself of the truths of doctrinary liberalism; self-persuasion is the basis of compliance with the law.

  • 1830s-mid 1840s: The author reappears in the catechism to reinforce a sense of righteousness that seems to have been lost in society. The catechisms insist in the unified truth but argue that compliance with the law is the most important thing. Instead of convincing the reader, they intend to put him in the disposition to be an obedient citizen.

  • Late 1840s-1850s: Sense of political, social, and national crisis; reprints of earlier catechisms.

  • 1860s-1880s: The political catechism remains primarily as a complementary, didactic instrument in textbooks. The contestation or interaction between the voices has been lost, and they serve only as reinforcement of narrative, moralising lessons.

  • 40 Hempfer et alii, “Performativität und episteme”, 2001.

32Some authors have argued that the genre of philosophical dialogues of the Italian Renaissance is a metaphor of an “episteme of skepticism”, of an epoch in which the transparency of the divine order of nature was giving way to a plurality of human opinions and authorities40. If we think in terms of epistemes, the political catechisms of the nineteenth century can also be described as a metaphor of a particular configuration of knowledge. Considered in this diachronic dimension, political catechisms appear as the genre of the disruption of the political order, the crisis of legitimacy, and the absence of political truths. They are the genre of the emergence of a modern political culture in which the truth has the appearance of being attainable by means of rational discussion, in which compliance with the law seems to be a matter of an internal persuasion based on reason, and yet a culture that needs to have a sense of a common, fundamental truth and which cannot do away with a notion of a fundamental, pre-ordained authority that somehow articulates the diversity of opinions. When the faith in the possibility of achieving a consensual, unified opinion by means of reason fades away, the political catechism loses its argumentative character, returns to an exclusively didactic function and, eventually, disappears from realm of the secular.

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1  I include all titles published in Mexico or abroad for circulation in Mexico, as well as the Mexican reprints of Spanish political catechisms. For comprehensive alphabetical and chronological lists and graphics of the political catechisms published in Mexico and in the Spanish world in the nineteenth century, see Eugenia Roldán Vera, “The Making of Citizens: an Analysis of Political Catechisms in Nineteenth-Century Mexico”, M.A. dissertation, University of Warwick, 1996.

2  See, among others, Margarita Moreno Bonett: “Del catecismo religioso al catecismo civil: la educación como derecho del hombre”, En María Esther Aguirre Lora (coord.), Rostros históricos de la educación. Miradas, estilos, recuerdos, México, UNAM: Centro de Estudios sobre la Universidad, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2001, p. 232-252; Javier Ocampo López, Los catecismos politicos en la independencia de Hispanoamérica. De la monarquía a la república, Tunja, Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia, 1998; Roldán Vera, “The Making of Citizens” (1996); Alicia Salmerón Castro, “De la instrucción en ‘verdades políticas’ a los rudimentos legales. Los manuales políticos en el México del siglo XIX”, en Belem Clark de Lara y Elisa Speckman Guerra (coords.), La república de las letras. Asomos a la cultura escrita del México decimonónico, vol. II: Publicaciones periódicas y otros impresos (México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005) p. 297-312; Anne Staples, “Alfabeto y catecismo: salvación del nuevo país”, Historia Mexicana, XXIX, 1979, p. 35-58; and Dorothy Tanck de Estrada, “Los catecismos políticos: de la Revolución Francesa al México independiente”, en Solange Alberro, et al (coord.), La revolución francesa en México, México, El Colegio de México, 1992, p. 65-83.

3  Cf. Roldán Vera, “The Making of Citizens” (1996). For a discussion of the use of the question-and-answer style by children and adults alike, see Eugenia Roldán Vera, The British Book Trade and Spanish American Independence: Education and Knowledge Transmission in Transcontinental Perspective, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2003, chapter four.

4  I have examined the relation between the ways of learning the religious catechism and the ways of learning political catechisms, the association of the question-and-answer form with sensualist pedagogical ideas of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and the link between the catechetical way of learning and the monitorial system of education in the following works: Eugenia Roldán Vera, “The Monitorial System of Education and Civic Culture in Early Independent Mexico”, Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of The History of Education, New Series, XXXV (2), 1999, p. 297-331;  “Reading in Questions and Answers: the Catechism as an Educational Genre in Early-Independent Spanish America”, Book History 4, 2001, p. 17-47; “Order in the Classroom: Spanish American Variations of the Monitorial Method of Education”, Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of The History of Education, vol. 41, num. 6, December 2005, p. 655-675.

5  A good example of the study of political languages in nineteenth century Mexico is Elías José Palti’s, La invención de una legitimidad: razón y retórica en el pensamiento mexicano del siglo XIX (un estudio sobre las formas del discurso político) (México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005). Palti’s analysis, articulated along the lines of the Cambridge School of political discourse, offers an alternative to the traditional way of understanding political ideas of that period by paying attention at the conditions of enunciation of certain political languages. Whereas Palti’s study is based upon selected writings of key intellectual figures of the period, it is my contention that the diachronic, systematic analysis of works of the same genre might be especially revealing of the transformations of those conditions of enunciation.

6  See Klaus W. Hempferet alii, “Performativität und episteme: die Dialogisierung des theoretischen Diskurses in der Renaissance-Literatur”, in Paragrana 10, 2001, 1, p. 65-90

7  D.J.C. [Don José Caro Sureda], Catecismo político arreglado a la constitución de la monarquía española; para ilustración del pueblo, instrucción de la juventud y uso de las escuelas de primeras letras (Córdoba, 1812). It was reprinted at least four times in 1812, once in 1813 and 1814, seven times in1820, and once in 1837; for other editions the publication year cannot be determined.

8  For example, José María Luis Mora, Catecismo político de la Federación Mexicana (Méjico, Galván, 1831); José Justo Gómez de la Cortina, Conde de la Cortina, Cartilla social, o breve instrucción sobre los derechos y obligaciones del hombre en la sociedad civil, Méjico, Galván, 1833, and Manuel Eduardo de Gorostiza, Cartilla política, Londres, Santiago Holmes, 1833.

9  Duch as Catecismo político mexicano para uso de las escuelas, México, El Águila, 1828 and A. M. Vargas, Catecismo de república, o elementos de gobierno republicano popular de la nación mexicana, México, Martín Rivera, 1827.

10 Nicolás Pizarro Suárez, Catecismo político del pueblo, Méjico, Navarro, 1851; Catecismo político constitucional (1860), reprinted in 1861 (twice), 1871, and 1887; Catecismo de moral, Méjico, J. Fuentes y Compañía, 1868.

11  Hans-Christian Harten, Elementarschule und Pädagogik in der französischen Revolution, München, R. Oldenburg Verlag, 1990, p. 257-311.

12  For an overview of the Spanish catechisms of Christian doctrine, their structure, and the ways in which they were meant to be learned, see Antonio Viñao Frago, “Adoctrinadores y adoctrinados. Catequesis y educación en la España de la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII y primeros años del XIX” (I), Cuadernos de Historia Moderna. Anejos 2004 (III), p. 85-111. Whereas in Spain there was a large variety of religious catechisms, in Mexico the catechisms of Jerónimo de Ripalda and Gaspar Astete were the dominant ones.

13  “Preg. Decid, niño: cómo os llamáis? / Responderá su nombre: Pedro, Juan, o Francisco, &c. / Encomiéndese el tener cada uno devoción con el Santo de su nombre. / P. Sois Christiano? / R. Sí, por la gracia de nuestro Señor JesuChristo. / P. Qué quiere decir ser christiano? / R. Hombre que tiene la Fe de Christo, que profesó en el Bautismo. / […] / P. A qué está obligado el hombre? / R. A buscar el último fin para que fue criado. / P. Para qué fin fue criado el hombre? / R. Para amar y servir a Dios en esta vida, y después verle y gozarle en la otra. / P. Con qué obras se sirve a Dios principalmente? / R. Con obras de Fe. esperanza y Caridad». Gaspar Astete, Doctrina christiana con su breve declaración, por preguntas y respuestas, Burgos, Julián Pérez, 1766, p. 33-34, 39-40.

14  “P. Decid, niño, cómo os llamáis? / R. Español. / P. ¿Qué quiere decir español? / R. Hombre de bien. / P. Quántas y quáles son tus obligaciones? / R. Tres, ser cristiano católico apostólico romano, defender su religión, su patria y su ley, y morir antes de ser vencido.” Catecismo civil, o breve compendio de las obligaciones del buen español, conocimiento práctico de su libertad, explicación de su enemigo, muy útil en las actuales circunstancias, puesto en forma de diálogo, Puebla, 1808, p. 17.

15  “P. ¿Qué es Constitución? / R. Una colección ordenada de las leyes fundamentales o políticas de una nación.

P. ¿Qué se entiende por leyes fundamentales? / R. Las que establecen la forma de gobierno: es decir, las que fijan las condiciones con que unos ha de mandar, y otros obedecer. / P. ¿Quién tiene facultad para hacer estas leyes? / R. La nación por sí sola, o por medio de sus Representantes o Diputados. / P. ¿Tenemos nosotros Constitución? / R. Tan buena que puede hacernos felices si la observamos y contribuimos a que se observe”, D.J.C., Catecismo político, 1820, p. 107.

16  “Q. ¿Qué es ley? / A. En los tiempos de Carlos IV y otros reyes anteriores, se llamaba ley toda orden, todo decreto que a su nombre expedían sus ministros y aun los tribunales; pero la ley realmente es la expresión de la voluntad general, en orden a lo que conviene mandar o prohibir para el bien de todos. / Q. ¿Qué quiere decir voluntad general? / A. Lo que quieren todos, o la mayor parte de los que componen una misma nación.”, D.J.C., Catecismo político, 1820, p. 111.

17  “P. ¿Qué es Gobierno? / R. En todo país para que haya orden y tranquilidad, y los fuertes no atropellen a los débiles, debe haber quien por consentimiento de todos gobierne y disponga lo que juzgue conveniente al bien general. Las reglas, pues, con que estos han de gobernar, y las condiciones con que los demás han de obedecer, son las que constituyen lo que se llama Gobierno; y a estas reglas y condiciones se les da el nombre, como hemos visto, de leyes fundamentales de un país, y forman su Constitución”, D.J.C., Catecismo político, 1820, p. 113-114.

18  See the tables compiled by François Xavier Guerra in Modernidad e independencias: ensayos sobre las revoluciones hispánicas, 2 ed., Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993, p. 288-290. Guerra takes the information about numbers of publications from José Toribio Medina, La imprenta en México, vol. 8 (Amsterdam, N. Israel, 1965), and F. González de Cosío, La imprenta en México (1553-1820), México, 1952, p. 345.

19  For a discussion of the public sphere at the onset of independence in Spanish America, see, for example, François-Xavier Guerra and Annick Lempérière, Los espacios públicos en Iberoamérica: ambigüedades y problemas, siglos XVIII-XIX, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Centro Francés de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos, 1998; Rafael Rojas, La escritura de la independencia: el surgimiento de la opinión pública en México, México, Taurus, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica, 2003.

20  The article “Ensayo sobre la opinión pública” was first Publisher in El Espectador Sevillano in Spain, nums. 38-53, October-November 1809. It was then reprinted in the Mexican edition of that Espectador, num. 3, 1810 p. 78-110. Presumably written by Alberto Rodríguez de Lista (wrongly attributed to the Mexicans Lorenzo de Zavala or José María Luis Mora), this article was totally or partially reproduced between 1820 and 1828, in the following journals: El español constitucional de Londres, circulating in México, February 1820, El Hispano-Americano constitucional, 13 June 1820, La sabatina universal, 13, 20 and 27 July 1822, Gaceta del gobierno de México, 1, 3 and 10 April 1823, El Sol, 3-4, 7 and 9 August 1825, and 18-9 June 1827, and El observador de la República Mexicana, 2 January 1828. Some parts of it were also transcribed in El tribuno de la plebe, 1821and El Sol, 17-19 August 1827. The article was published again, with significant variations, a in La Cucarda, 30 March 1851.

21  “la voz general de todo un pueblo convencido de una verdad, que ha examinado por medio de la discusión”. El espectador sevillano, México, num. 3, III-1810, p. 81-84; italics in the original.

22  La “invención de la imprenta” es lo que permite la formación de esta opinión, pues hace posible a los letrados “hablar en el silencio de la soledad con todos nuestros conciudadanos, escuchar sus respuestas y objeciones, ventilar tranquilamente y sin el acaloramiento que inspira el amor de la propia opinion, los intereses públicos, confesar cándidamente nuestros errores, ó sostener con dignidad las verdades de que estamos convencidos.” En esta operación, garantizada por la libertad de la prensa, “la razon debe ser el único juez, y la discusion es el procedimiento mas necesario”. Ahora bien, esta opinión discutida y razonada de los “sabios”, es independiente del gobierno, pues es “administrada” únicamente por los ciudadanos, y no por “otra magistratura alguna”. Los lectores de esa discusión constituyen “el público”, que en su calidad de “testigo silencioso de esta interesante disputa, lee, confiere, examina y confronta su opinión”. La opinión que el público se forme a partir de esa lectura, es necesariamente acertada: “como no se puede suponer en la masa general de los ciudadanos ningun interes de partido, ningunas miras de ambicion, es preciso que la opinion que adopten, despues de haber presenciado un examen y una discusion prolija, sea la que se funde en los principios indestructibles de la razon y de la justicia.” El “criterio más seguro” para la definición de la opinión pública debe ser “la utilidad pública”, y de esa manera la opinión pública “no es ni puede ser otra cosa sino la coincidencia de las opiniones particulares en una verdad, de que todos estan convencidos”. El espectador sevillano, México, num. 3, III-1810, p. 81-84.

23  “la coincidencia de las opiniones particulares en una verdad, de que todos estan convencidos”. El espectador sevillano, México, num. 3, III-1810, 81-84.

24  For a discussion of the idea of truth and the concern for legitimacy in early-independent Mexico, see Palti, La invención de una legitimidad, op. cit., 2005.

25  P. Muchas veces habéis repetido que un pueblo no se hace independiente si primero no se ilustra. ¿No es verdad por el contrario que los pueblos no logran ilustrarse sino después de ser libres? / R. Uno y otro se puede asegurar, porque la ilustración produce la independencia, y después la independencia produce mayor ilustración. / P. No es posible que entienda yo esto si no usáis de vuestros ejemplos. / R. Echad en la tierra una semilla, y veréis nacer una planta: registrad después esta planta, y la hallaréis cargada de semillas. Así sucede en nuestro caso: cierto grado de ilustración es el gérmen de toda independencia; pero la independencia es un árbol fecundo, cargado de nuevas semillas que aumentan y mejoran la ilustración, Lato Monte, 1821, p. 19.

26  “Cura. Cuando el gobierno viola los derechos de la sociedad, se dice que cada uno de los miembros que la componen está oprimido. Cuando viola los derechos de un solo individuo, se dice que toda la sociedad está oprimida. / Alcalde. Explíqueme vd. por qué se oprime a cada ciudadano en particular, cuando se violan los derechos de la sociedad. / Cura. Como los derechos de la sociedad no pueden ser otros que los derechos de los ciudadanos, por eso cuando se oprime a la sociedad violando sus derechos, cada ciudadano se considera oprimido, y lo está en efecto […] / A. ¿Cómo resistirán los pueblos esta opresión? / C. Ocurriendo a la constitución y a las leyes, y reclamando su cumplimiento… Pidiendo a los representantes del pueblo, por medio de respetuosas representaciones, el resarcimiento de los males que hayan sufrido, y la responsabilidad y el castigo de los infractores. / A. ¿Y si el gobierno se burla de estas medidas, y elude las disposiciones del cuerpo representativo? / C. Entonces la insurrección es para el pueblo, y para cada porción de él, no sólo el más sagrado de sus derechos, sino también el más indispensable de sus deberes. / A. ¿Luego las revoluciones pueden ser legales, justas e indispensables? C. Nadie puede negar esa verdad.”, Catecismo de la doctrina social, 1833, p. 10-11.

27  “P. ¿Pero la libertad de imprenta no da lugar a que se escriban muchos despropósitos? / R. Sí, mas también proporciona que se digan ciertas verdades importantes que aunque amargas a los gobiernos, no por eso dejan de ser muy útiles al público, y por esto aquéllos más o menos siempre son enemigos de ella, cuando éste la defiende hasta el último aliento. / Q. ¿Pues no es un medio de fomentar la sedición la libertad de imprenta y no la ha producido muchas veces? / R. No, por el contrario, cuando a los hombres se les permite quenarse de lo que real o aprendidamente sufren, lo regular es que se contenten con esto; mas si la autoridad se lo impide, entonces se irritan de que no pueda sufrir una censura […], y en este caso es en el que se traman las conspiraciones y se proyecta seriamente derribarla: así es claro que no el ejercicio de la libertad de imprenta, sino el abuso de la autoridad es lo que provoca la sedición. Además, con la libertad de imprenta, el gobierno no sólo tiene un medio infalible de ilustrarse en la opinión del público que jamás debe ignorar […] / Q. Pero qué ¿no puede abusarse de la libertad de imprenta? / R. Sí, lo mismo que de la libertad de la palabra […] / Q. Pues ¿por qué todos los gobiernos se quejan de la libertad de imprenta y procuran arruinarla o hacerla ilusoria?  / R. Porque la censura siempre ha sido dolorosa para el que es objeto de ella, y por justa que sea siempre parece excesiva al que la sufre. Esto no quiere decir que muchas veces no sea infundada y las más descomedida; pero en el primer caso se puede contestar a ella, y en el segundo es necesario despreciar la desatención de su autor. Con una poca de tolerancia para recibir las lecciones siempre amargas de la censura, y alguna filosofía para desentenderse de un lenguaje descomedido, serían como en Inglaterra menos frecuentes las quejas de los gobiernos”, [José María Luis Mora], Catecismo político de la Federación, 1831, p. 446-447.

28  Vargas, Catecismo de república, 1827, p. 28.

29  “En los estados libres, los ciudadanos necesitan, para obedecer bien, conocer de antemano lo que van a obedecer, el porqué se les manda, y las ventajas que les resultará de su obediencia. En [los estados monárquicos] la obediencia es un hábito o una necesidad; en éstos es el efecto del propio convencimiento. El estimulante de los primeros es la fuerza coercitiva; el de los segundos es el interés de cada cual […] Pero ni se obedece bien lo que no se comprende bien, ni nadie comprende lo que antes no se le ha explicado con claridad, ya sea por medio de libros elementales, ya de viva voz. De ahí que sea en los pueblos libres una de las primeras necesidades, cuando no la primera, la de que las verdades políticas estén al alcance de todos los ciudadanos de que aquellos se componen”, Gorostiza, Cartilla, 1833, p. 5.

30  “La libertad de imprenta, que tantos bienes pudo haber proporcionado a los pueblos mexicanos, estendiendo la ilustración y los conocimientos, se ocupó sólo en combatir intereses particulares, en que grandes masas tomaban parte, buscando el bien general, o con pretesto de este bien […] Quiero obsequiar mis deseos [respecto de que se estiendan en todas las clases del estado, los conocimientos necesarios para entender cuáles son los derechos del ciudadano, y cuáles sus obligaciones, para llenar sus deberes] presentando este catecismo, en el que he procutado transcribir las mehores doctrinas […] Estoy también persuadido de que este catecismo será el objeto de la crítica de algunos, que sin atacar las doctrinas que en él se vierten, dirigirán todos sus ataques a la persona, al plan, al método, al dialecto, y no faltará quien me llame un mero plagiario. …Yo contestaré desde ahora. Mi persona nada puede influir en contra de la verdad”, Vargas, Catecismo de doctrina social, 1833, p. iv-v.

31  “P. Pero si se demuestra que las leyes son malas y los gobiernos ineptos ó perversos, no serán obedecidos estos ni aquellas, y entonces ¿cómo podrá sostenerse el orden público? / R. Las leyes y los gobiernos, mientras no hayan sido legalmente cambiados, siempre deben ser obedecidos, y por eso un escritor no puede pedir que se les niegue su obediencia: censurar una ley o una autoridad, es pedir su reforma o variación; este y sólo este es el objeto político de la libertad de hablar y escribir, y el que excede de él es un sedicioso que debe ser castigado como perturbador”, [Mora] Catecismo político de la Federación, 1831, p. 448.

32  “La Constitución ha querido que todos los actos de gobierno emanasen del presidente, y si dispuso que no tuviesen valor ninguno sin la firma de algún ministro, fue con el objeto de que quedando este responsable, rehusase autorizar los actos inconstitucionales de aquél…”, [Mora], Catecismo político de la Federación, 1831, p. 469.

33  “Ama, pues, las leyes que mandan lo útil a la felicidad de todos. / Ama al gobierno que se sujeta él mismo a las leyes, y que vela su observancia. /  Ama a un país donde nada tienes que temer sino a las leyes, y en el que las leyes no hacen temer al hombre justo. / Ama y respeta a los magistrados que mantienen entre nosotros la buena fe, la concordia y la virtud. /   ¿Pero qué conducta debe inspirarte tu amor a la patria? /    Vedla aquí: tu patria será rica, floreciente y tranquila, cuando la tierra se halle bien cultivada, cuando tenga artistas industriosos, hábiles comerciantes, soldados que combatan en su defensa, magistrados que mantengan la paz, hombres sabios con quienes el gobierno se dedique a los cuidados de su administración. He aquí los diferentes estados en que se reparten los ciudadanos. Elige uno de estos estados, y cumple con tus obligaciones. /    Tú y yo, y los hombres que viven con nosotros, nos hemos obligado en fuerza de nuestros pactos y juramentos, o los de nuestros padres, a trabajar para el bien y felicidad de todos.” Gómez de la Cortina, Cartilla civil y política, 1839, p. 19-20 (bold words in the original).

34  Thus described Gorostiza his motivations in writing the book: “la necesidad de procurar por todos los medios posibles el cultivo de las ideas, que a la vez que ilustran disponen a los ciudadanos a cumplir exactamente las obligaciones y deberes que exige una sociedad bien organizada”. Gómez de la Cortina, Cartilla civil y política, 1839, p. 1-2 (bold words in the original).

35  “Los liberales quieren: que las leyes nos aseguren el goce de los derechos que nos corresponden como a hombres y como a ciudadanos. / Los derechos que nos pertenecen en razón de hombres, se llaman DERECHOS CIVILES y se reducen a los siguientes: el derecho de conciencia […] el derecho de libertad […] el derecho de seguridad […] el derecho de igualdad […] el derecho de propiedad […] y el derecho de imprenta […] de estos derechos deben disfrutar todos los habitantes de la república […] los derechos que nos corresponden en razón de ciudadanos, se llaman DERECHOS POLÍTICOS y se reducen a los siguientes: el derecho de elección popular […] y el derecho de empleo […] Sabiendo ya cuales son los derechos civiles y políticos, es muy fácil conocer la justicia con que los liberales pretenden disfturarlos, y que también los disfruten todos los hombres y todos los ciudadanos en los términos explicados […] / Los serviles quieren: que cada uno de ellos, y nadie más, disfrute de los derechos civiles; que el derecho de elección popular no exista ni para ellos mismos y que a cada uno de ellos corresponda exclusivamente el derecho de empleo./ Supuesto lo dicho en el párrafo antecedente y teniendo en consideración que todos los hombres salen iguales de las manos del Criador, ningún racional dejará de conocer la injusticia que envuelve esta pretensión de los serviles”, Cartilla del liberal cristiano, 1836, p. 260.

36  los mexicanos deben “saber distinguir al hombre liberal del servil, cuando menos, para no confundir al amigo con el enemigo”, Cartilla del liberal cristiano, 1836, p. 245.

37  Gómez de la Cortina’s Cartilla social, published in 1833, was reprinted at least seven times between 1836 and 1849.

38  Cf. Palti, La invención de una legitimidad, 2005.

39  “Q. Segun esto, ¿deben los ciudadanos sostener que todo lo que se contiene en una Constitución es bueno, aunque conozcan que algunas de sus disposiciones son erróneas o perjudiciales? R. De ninguna manera; pero mientras legalmente no se deroguen, la simple opinión de cualquier número de ciudadanos, por crecido que sea, en contra de alguna prevención constitucional, o en general respecto de una ley, no puede dispensar de su observancia a ninguna persona”, Nicolás Pizarro, Catecismo politico constitucional, 1861, p. 7.

40 Hempfer et alii, “Performativität und episteme”, 2001.

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Eugenia Roldán Vera, « Talking Politics in Print »La Révolution française [En ligne], Les catéchismes républicains, mis en ligne le 16 novembre 2009, consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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