W
hen Mexican Conservatives offered Maximilian the throne, he as-
sumed that their desire for a monarch meant that the republican ex-
periment in Latin America had failed. Even though he fell in defeat, Latin
America’s importance for the development of republicanism and democracy
and the shaping of the modern Atlantic world is similarly dismissed today.
This refusal to grant the republican experiments in Latin America legitimacy
has occluded a powerful alternative possibility for organizing society and
understanding the future that emerged in nineteenth- century Latin America.
As noted in the prologue, I denominate this alternative “American republi-
can modernity.” In this counter mentalité, Latin Americans did not define a
modernity bound to cultured Europe and its civilization but celebrated an
imagined modernity located in America, a modernity whose definition was
inherently political. Latin America represented the future because it had ad-
opted republicanism and democracy while Europe, under the boots of mon-
archs and aristocrats, dwelled in the past.1 American republican modernity
emphasized republican politics as a marker of modernity. This republican-
ism did not just involve elite gentlemen’s safeguarding of abstract political
and personal rights for privileged individuals; instead, popular groups (to
use the nineteenth- century language for the lower class or subalterns) in-
fused republicanism with a democratic challenge and assertions of social
introduction
American Republican Modernity
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