Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
Manifesto to the Mexican Republic, which Brigadier General José Figueroa, Commandant and Political Chief of Upper California presents on his conduct and on that of José María de Híjar and José María Padrés as Directors of Colonization in 1834 and 1835. Translated, with an Introduction and Notes by C. Alan Hutchinson. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1978. Bibliography. Index. 156 pages. $15.75.
Reviewed by David Johnson, Lecturer in History at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In this handsomely designed and intelligently conceived volume, C. Alan Hutchinson has made available an important document concerning California’s Mexican period. Governor José Figueroa’s Manifesto to the Mexican Republic was the first book length imprint published in California (1835). It is here presented in Spanish as well as Hutchinson’s English translation, along with an introduction that gives the pertinent background and introduces the cast of characters. Editor Hutchinson has already told the story of the Híjar-Padrés colony (Frontier Settlement in Mexican California (1969) ), and while the Figueroa Manifesto serves the purpose of further enlightening the specifics of that episode, its major significance rests with the information it includes about politics and society during California’s poorly understood Mexican era.
Shortly before his death in 1835, Calfornia’s Governor Figueroa wrote the Manifesto to explain his obstruction and expulsion of the leaders of the Híjar-Padrés colony. This colony, the brainchild of Mexico’s vice president, Gomez Farias, arrived in Upper California at the close of 1834 counting 239 farmers, artisans, and professionals in its ranks. Farias hoped to reform and strengthen the small, weak, and distant province from internal decay and external (Russian, American) incursions, and he chose the colonists carefully, sending those with skills sorely lacking in California. Most importantly (and ominously), he provided the colony with large powers, commissioning its leaders, José María de Híjar and José María Padrés, as California’s governor and military commandant, and authorizing them to secularize the province’s twenty-one missions. Essentially, these newcomers were given control of the California government and the power to distribute, to whom they saw fit, the province’s only substantial source of wealth.
Of course, the colony never began, much less completed, its task, and the obvious question is why not? Why did Figueroa place such formidable barriers in front of them, refusing supplies promised by the central government, accusing Híjar and Padrés of treason and treachery, and ultimately expelling them on flimsy evidence? Most historians have repeated the argument found in Figueroa’s Manifesto: the colony had questionable authority (Santa Anna revoked Híjar’s commission as governor shortly after his departure for California), they meant to steal mission land rightfully owned by Indians, Híjar and Padrés did indeed intend to overthrow Figueroa, by violence if necessary. Hutchinson, in his notes and introduction, argues that Híjar and Padrés were innocent of the governor’s most damning charges. He only hints, however, at what the major issues between the two parties were: “Perhaps the controversy may be set to rest by reflecting that there were honest differences of opinion separating Figueroa and Híjar, which were sufficient in themselves to explain their mutual animosity.” (15)
A reading of Figueroa’s Manifesto suggests that the “honest difference of opinion” involved crucial questions of power and authority in provincial California. While Figueroa couched his attack on Híjar and Padrés in a defense of Indian rights to mission lands (with one telling exception, p. 83, where he referred to the missions as the property of Californians), one sees from the arguments of both parties that the issue was which group of Mexicans-Californian or colonist-would oversee the distribution process. The local elite of landholders in control of California’s territorial diputación, a small but growing group who coveted the missions’ property because they realized that wealth, prestige, and power rested upon land ownership, believed that the Híjar-Padrés colony intended to keep them from acquiring additional land. For them, that meant an end to power, position, and prominence.
In short, the differences between the two parties, as set out by Governor Figueroa, went to the heart of Calfifornia politics and society. Indian rights were not a serious concern of the Californios, as revealed by the ultimate disposition of mission property. At the center of the argument, rather, was the local elite’s effort to control the province’s only substantial resource, and to protect their prerogatives against the pretenses of the colonists. Insofar as the Manifesto gives us a look at this class, through its able ally Figueroa, acting to defend access to property-to power-it has substantially added to our knowledge of society in Mexico’s farthest frontier.