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Myths of Harmony

Myths of Harmony: Race and Republicanism during the Age of Revolution, Colombia, 1795-1831

MARIXA LASSO
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjrmh
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    Myths of Harmony
    Book Description:

    This book centers on a foundational moment for Latin American racial constructs. While most contemporary scholarship has focused the explanation for racial tolerance-or its lack-in the colonial period, Marixa Lasso argues that the key to understanding the origins of modern race relations are to be found later, in the Age of Revolution.

    Lasso rejects the common assumption that subalterns were passive and alienated from Creole-led patriot movements, and instead demonstrates that during Colombia's revolution, free blacks and mulattos (pardos) actively joined and occasionally even led the cause to overthrow the Spanish colonial government. As part of their platform, patriots declared legal racial equality for all citizens, and promulgated an ideology of harmony and fraternity for Colombians of all colors. The fact that blacks were mentioned as equals in the discourse of the revolution and later served in republican government posts was a radical political departure. These factors were instrumental in constructing a powerful myth of racial equality-a myth that would fuel revolutionary activity throughout Latin America.

    Thus emerged a historical paradox central to Latin American nation-building: the coexistence of the principle of racial equality with actual racism at the very inception of the republic. Ironically, the discourse of equality meant that grievances of racial discrimination were construed as unpatriotic and divisive acts-in its most extreme form, blacks were accused of preparing a race war. Lasso's work brings much-needed attention to the important role of the anticolonial struggles in shaping the nature of contemporary race relations and racial identities in Latin America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7325-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction: The Wars of Independence
    (pp. 1-15)

    On November 11, 1811, an angry mob of black and mulatto patriots stormed into the Cartagena town council hall. Armed with lances, daggers, and guns, they gave their petition for independence to the undecided members of the local revolutionary junta. After insulting and beating its members, they forced the helpless junta to sign the declaration of independence against its will.¹ The scene described above faithfully follows most contemporary eyewitness accounts of Cartagena’s Independence Day and conforms to historical research that demonstrates the political influence of blacks and mulattoes in the independence movements. Yet to many it still seems incredible to...

  2. 2 Racial Tensions in Late Colonial Society
    (pp. 16-33)

    In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Magdalena River was Colombia’s undisputed commercial artery, and its three port cities, Cartagena, Mompox, and Honda, controlled most of the legal and illegal trade between the Caribbean and the Andes.¹ Among these three cities, Cartagena reigned. With its impressive walls, rich houses, and magnificent churches and convents, it was the seat of the merchant guild (consulado de comercio), the Inquisition, and the office of the provincial governor. A prosperous town of 13,396 habitants, Cartagena dominated New Granada’s trade and had the viceroyalty’s highest concentration of merchants. Here, New Granada’s gold was...

  3. 3 A Republican Myth of Racial Harmony
    (pp. 34-67)

    In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the newly independent Spanish American countries decreed racial equality among free men and constructed powerful nationalist notions that linked racial harmony and equality to national identity. The significance of this step tends to be explained as the result of creole tactics to attract nonwhites during the Wars of Independence and elite attempts to avoid racial conflict and ensure white domination in the republican period. This explanation is certainly valid: contemporaries used just such arguments to convince recalcitrant creoles. Yet this argument implies a predetermined relationship among race, republicanism, and equality that obscures...

  4. 4 The First Republic and the Pardos
    (pp. 68-90)

    Official descriptions of Cartagena’s struggle for independence extolled the unity and patriotism of its people. According to the patriot junta of Cartagena, “the people’s general clamor” had forced deposition of the Spanish governor and the establishment of the new government. It was the people who abhorred despotism and the tyranny of the Spanish governor.¹ This glorious narrative conceals the deep social tensions that characterized the emergence of modern politics in Cartagena. In particular, it silences anxieties over the nature of popular participation in the new regime now thatpardoshad joined the patriot movement. This problem would divide Cartagena, during...

  5. 5 Life Stories of Afro-Colombian Patriots
    (pp. 91-128)

    In addition to descriptions of faceless crowds, we have access to the lives of a few Afro-Colombian patriots whose stories have survived because at some moment they found themselves in court. Occasionally, their encounters with the law were the results of their own attempts to seek justice from republican courts. More often, however, their political activities provoked the anger or fear of local elites. Sometimes, court records provide abundant information, allowing for a rich description of their lives. At other times, they provide only legal summaries that highlight the most threatening aspects of their political activities. Yet all these records...

  6. 6 Race War
    (pp. 129-150)

    References to race war (guerra de colores) were an integral part of the political discourse of early republican Colombia. In 1823, the minister of the interior, José Manuel Restrepo, mentioned a number of conspiracies against whites in his private diary. He speculated, “It is most probable, and the Libertador always predicts it, that once the war with the Spanish is finished, we will have a new one with the blacks.”¹ In its secret sessions, the 1823 Senate discussed “the dangers racial differences pose to the Republic if the problem is not conveniently solved.”² In 1824, Vice President Santander wrote to...

  7. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 151-160)

    The Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, and citizenship faced perhaps their strongest challenges and reached their most dramatic consequences in the colonial settings of the Americas. Here these ideals most directly confronted their extreme opposites: slavery, colonialism, and racism. The power of these oppositions was only matched by the violence and length of the struggles to resolve them. Here democracy was for the first time linked to human equality regardless of color and geographical origin. And here anticolonial wars first faced a question that would become common in the anticolonial wars of the modern era: how can unifying national identities...