Honor and the Public Sphere
in the Republican Era
In the eyes of Mexican public men who came of age after the triumph of
the republic in 1867, the story of Santos Degollado contained a stark
lesson about the power of public opinion. Justo Sierra, for example, wrote
in 1900 that Degollado’s honor was ‘‘transparent like the purest crystal.’’
This reputation, more than military credentials, led President Benito
Juárez to appoint Degollado in 1858 to coordinate the military e√ort
against the conservatives. In 1860, however, as the war raged on and the
liberal army became starved for funds, Degollado authorized the seizure
of a private remittance of cash owned by foreign nationals on its way
from Zacatecas to Europe. He explained to a subordinate the pragmatic
reasons for his decision: ‘‘The blood of our soldiers is more precious than
their dishonor.’’∞ Yet taking the money to rescue the Republic, Degollado
later stated in a manifesto, meant the sacrifice of ‘‘my reputation, deliver-
ing it to mockery and slander.’’ ‘‘I killed my name,’’ he added, ‘‘destroyed
my future,’’ and sacrificed his family’s patrimony—‘‘a pure name to be-
queath my children.’’ Demoted and arrested by his own party, Degollado
requested his release in order to avenge the death of Melchor Ocampo,
another heroic leader of his generation. Congress, according to Sierra,
granted the authorization, understanding the ‘‘death-wish’’ that soon
thereafter pushed Degollado to succumb at the hands of conservative
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