Journal of Latin American Studies

Research Article

Bulwarks of Patriotic Liberalism: the National Guard, Philharmonic Corps and Patriotic Juntas in Mexico, 1847–88

Guy P. C. Thomsona1

a1 Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick.

In the archive of the now disbanded jefatura política of Tetela de Ocampo is an account of the funeral ceremony of the Puebla State deputy and school teacher, Ciudadano Miguel Méndez, only son of General Juan Nepomuceno Méndez, caudillo máximo of the State of Puebla between 1857 and 1884. The Velada Fúnebre was held in 1888 in the cabecera of Xochiapulco (alias ‘La Villa del Cinco de Mayo’), a municipio of nahuatl speakers on the southern edge of Mexico's Sierra Madre Oriental, adjoining the cereal producing plateaux of San Juan de los Llanos. The ceremony took place in the ‘Netzahualcoyotl’ municipal school room and was organised by the municipality's Society of Teachers. The description of the elaborately decorated room and baroque ceremony fills several pages.1 The teachers had decked the school room (normally adorned by ‘sixty-two great charts of natural history, twenty Industrial diagrams, large maps of Universal Geography, and diverse statistical charts and many engravings related to education’) with military banners and weapons, masonic trophies, candelabra, floral crowns and yards of white and black ribbon. In the centre of the room stood the coffin on an altar, itself raised upon a platform, guarded by four National Guard sentries and attended by the philharmonic corps of Xochiapulco and all the public officials of the cabecera and its dependent barrios. For nine days preceding the ceremony this band had played funeral marches, between six and eight in the evening, on the plaza, in front of the house of the deceased. The service was taken by Mr Byron Hyde, a Methodist minister from the United States. Accompanied by his wife at a piano, Hyde gave renderings (in English) of three Wesleyan hymns.2 There followed three eulogies of Miguel Méndez, extolling his services to the Liberal cause and on behalf of the ‘desgraciada nación azteca’. These speeches were infused with extreme anticlerical and anti-Conservative sentiments, a martial patriotic liberalism, a reverence for the principles of the French Revolution, an admiration for Garibaldi and Hidalgo (in that order), and an obsession with the importance of education as the only means for emancipating the indigenous population from clerical subjection.