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Mexico: Heads Will Roll

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A half century earlier, George Washington led an insurgency similar to those waged by Hidalgo and Morelos, but with a much different philosophy. Like Hidalgo, many of Washington's admirers expected him to take the role of king or emperor. He refused for the higher purpose of establishing a constitutional democracy, and when asked to serve a third term as president, he set the custom that a president serves only two terms (later ratified as the 22nd Amendment).

An enthusiast for Thomas Paine's deistic treatise, The Age of Reason, Washington had little interest in any one religion, although baptized at birth in the Church of England, the official church of Virginia before the revolution. He strongly supported the separation of church and state.

"Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."(George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792; The Great Quotations, G. Seldes, ed.).

Like many European and American philosophers of the time, Washington, a deist, had learned how religious dogma could be exploited to serve nonsense (consider today's creationism) such as the divine right of kings, against which the United States had waged a bloody revolution. The revolutions in France and the United States, however, arose as much from disgust for the whimsical laws of religious faith as from a growing bourgeoisie, educated in empirical philosophy and science. They wanted the entrepreneurial and financial freedoms that were otherwise greatly limited under the British monarchy, whose very authority rested with its assumed privileged communion with God. Frenchmen invented the guillotine as an efficient way to behead the royalists, tyrannical gluttons of financial and political power.

Freedom and Democracy? Or Financial Interests?

Most of the leaders of the American Revolution lived as members of a liberal bourgeois class. For many years only the white male landowners enjoyed privileges such as the right to vote. After the revolution the "Founding Fathers" and their class of mostly nouveaux riches enjoyed the benefits of social, financial, and religious freedoms, including ownership of slaves. For as much as possible, the fifty white men who were signers of the Constitution, mostly deists, took their destiny into their own hands and relied less on God for whatever providence they might eke out by praying.

"In short, said Beard [an historian] the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates. Beard applied this general idea to the Constitution, by studying the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty men"to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers by profession, that most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest" (A People's History of the U.S. by Howard Zinn). These fifty "Founding Fathers," were mostly men who took charge, made things happen, and if obstacles arose, they nevertheless found ways to create the country they wanted.

Washington and his American colleagues were disciples of the Enlightenment. In contrast, the people of Mexico, as Morelos explained, placed less faith in their own actions than in the power of God and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. The popular revolutions in Mexico lasted at least a century (from the 1820s to the 1940s) and, in many ways continue to this day. Current struggles take the form of sporadic guerilla warfare, in the guise of underground movements against the mechanized modern state: guerilla insurgency""Zapatista Army of National Liberation; religious resistance through anti-Catholic cults""Santa Muerte; and the power struggles among the so-called drug cartels.

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Mark Biskeborn is a novelist: Mojave Winds, A Sufi's Ghost, Mexican Trade. Short Stories: California & Beyond. Poetry & Essays. For more details: See Mark's stories on or wherever books are (more...)

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