In the middle of the nineteenth century Mexico was poised on the
brink of an intense period of political change that has come to be known as
the Reform. During the Reform a group of liberals whose most prominent
leader was Benito Juárez struggled against the Church hierarchy, conserva-
tives, and eventually the French empire to construct a new liberal national
state in Mexico. This ultimately successful authoritarian liberal state set a
pattern which would endure throughout the remainder of the nineteenth
century and would only be modified by the great upheaval of the 1910–20
Mexican revolution and subsequent attempts at state formation. For many
Mexicans the Reform stands between the War of Independence and the
Revolution as one of the three great epochs in the formation of Mexican
nationality. Although interpretations of the Reform do not always grant it a
heroic character, historians of many perspectives see it as crucial.∞
During and after the Reform liberal politicians and historians constructed
a vision of politics in early republican Mexico. This vision served both as
an analytical tool for Reform thinkers and legitimation for their often-
authoritarian methods. Generally the liberals argued that as of the middle of
the nineteenth century Mexico was still an essentially colonial place, with a
promising economy held back by traditional forms of collective property
and a political system still controlled by the privileged groups and institu-
tions that had dominated the colonial period. In the liberals’ view, the mass
of Mexican society had been left essentially untouched by political change
and largely at the margins of Mexico’s putatively republican and democratic
politics.≤ In constructing this vision, liberals filtered their knowledge of
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