“MOTLEY AND MERCILESS” MEXICAN MEN
AND CROSS-DRESSED FEMALE AVENGERS
History teaches no truth more emphatically, than that those empires, which have become powerful, have drawn their energy from the life-vigor imparted by one single dominant race. A State composed of a heteroge neous mixture of discordant races, held together by no ties of a common origin, no common faith, no common language, no common customs and habits, necessarily contains within itself the elements of weakness and final ruin.
—Daniel Ullmann, “The Course of Empire”
In an 1856 speech called “The Course of Empire,” delivered before the Order of United Americans on the anniversary of Washington's birthday, the New York nativist Daniel Ullmann tried to reconcile the project of
Despite Ullmann's guarded optimism about the ability of Anglo-Saxon Americans to “absorb all other castes, races, and nationalities,” during the war with Mexico questions about how far “the mixture of foreign and discordant elements … should be permitted” were among the main sticking points for those who debated the question of annexation. Which foreign elements might safely be absorbed by Anglo-Saxon America and which would fatally modify it? Ullmann's assertion that the Spanish empire's fatal flaw was that it had “no real unity of race, language and territory” tells us something about what many politicians and popular
Those on all political sides of the annexation issue, moreover, pondered these questions by translating them into the register of erotic and sexual relations between Mexicans and U.S. Americans. For instance, when in January of 1847 Representative Owen of Indiana argued that the inhabitants of northern Mexico were at present “unprepared” for annexation, he added that “when, it may be, the sons of our republic, attracted by the black eyes of Mexican beauty, shall have found homes and wives in those far regions of the south … then may come annexation; come, when mutually desired.” Here, Owen imagined the Mexico of the future as a feminized extension of the U.S. domestic sphere that might offer “homes” and “wives” for U.S. sons; in this way, he tried to ground annexation in mutual heterosexual desire. Although Owen suggested that at some point in the future Mexico might be safely absorbed into the United States, however, many other U.S. Americans adamantly opposed the annexation of Mexico, especially the densely populated sections, at any time and on any terms. Opponents of annexation, too, frequently used a sexually charged language to denounce the expansionists as rapacious conquerors who wanted to force Mexico into an unwanted union with the United States. Senator Berrien, for instance, condemned the expansionists' “sordid lust for the acquisition of territory” in Mexico, while George Badger objected to “wresting from her one inch of her domain by the exertion of any force which shall control her will.”
Although reasons for opposing the annexation of new lands were various, fears of the so-called amalgamation that would result from a union with Mexico figured prominently in antiannexationist arguments. And arguments that hinged on this word also had pronounced sexual and racial connotations, for as Robert Young suggests, until “the word ‘mis-cegenation’ was invented in 1864, the word that was conventionally used for the fertile fusion and merging of races was ‘amalgamation.’” Thus Senator Berrien tried to mobilize fears of sexual and racial mixing when he asked his colleagues: “Are you willing to put your birthright into the keeping of these mongrel races who inhabit these territories, by incorporating them into this Union? For myself, I am not. I protest against this amalgamation.” These kinds of ideas, moreover, were not limited to the Whig opposition. Although Indiana senator Hannegan supported
Other fears about annexation included worries that the acquisition of foreign lands would cause domestic dissension, specifically over the issue of slavery. During the debates over the Wilmot Proviso, politicians on both sides of the issue frequently expressed concern that foreign policy might fatally disrupt domestic peace by pushing the slavery question to the point of crisis. Pennsylvania Whig James Pollock warned that “the acquisition of territory will awaken a question, the agitation of which will shake the very foundations of the Union.” “Is there no common ground to be found upon which the North and South may meet in peace and embrace each other in the bonds of common brotherhood?” he asked. “There is; and it can only be found in a firm determination on the part of Congress and the people, never to add another foot of foreign territory to that we now possess.” Southern Whig Thomas Corwin agreed: “Should we prosecute this war another moment, or expend one dollar in the purchase or conquest of a single acre of Mexican land, the North and South are brought into collision on a point where neither will yield.” And New Jersey's Senator Miller also foresaw that “your conquered peace in Mexico will become the fierce spirit of discord at home.” All of these politicians accurately predicted that the bonds of common (white) brotherhood would ultimately be torn apart by the struggle over slavery, which was intensified by the heated disagreements about whether lands taken through foreign conquest would be slave or free.
The international race romances of 1846–1848 both register and attempt to manage such concerns about racial amalgamation, the bonds of white brotherhood, slavery, and entanglements of the foreign and the domestic. They do so, however, by seeking to anchor questions about national expansion in the bodies of men and women drawn irresistibly
These wartime narratives were based in part upon models developed a little earlier to legitimate the efforts of U.S.-American men to gain land and power in Texas and California. Antonia Castañeda has suggested that in Anglo representations of Mexican California in the 1840s, “elite Californianas were deemed European and superior while the mass of Mexican women were viewed as Indian and inferior.” Both images, she argues, “formed part of the belief and idea system that rationalized the war and dispossession of the land base,” for the positive images facilitated marriages that allowed Anglo men to acquire land, while the negative ones “served to devalue the people occupying a land base the United States wanted to acquire—through purchase if possible, by war if necessary.” Similarly, many of the bifurcated representations of Mexican women in the international race romances of 1848 seek to justify the appropriation of Mexican lands and other assets by, on the one hand, portraying elites as, in Castañeda's words, “aristocratic, virtuous Spanish ladies” who may be appropriate marriage partners for white U.S. men, and, on the other hand, constructing pejorative images of nonelite Mexicanas in order to champion “Anglo America's racial, moral, economic, and political superiority.” But the proliferation of nonwhite or ambiguously white characters shadows the whiteness of the elite Mexican heroines, and it often undermines or blocks, as we shall see, international romances between such heroines and U.S. heroes.
The heroine of story-paper international romances is almost always a Mexican woman, although sometimes one parent is a U.S. citizen. In Buntline's The Volunteer, the heroine Edwina Canales/Helen Vicars was born in Mexican Texas, the child of a U.S.-American father and a Mexican mother, while in The Mexican Spy: or, The Bride of Buena Vista, Annabel Blackler, the main female character, is the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant and a Mexican woman “of Castilian extraction” (7). In almost every case, the heroine is repeatedly, if rather anxiously, described as white. The titular character in Inez, the Beautiful, for example,
But these elite white heroines are not the only female characters in the story-paper novelettes, for they are often contrasted with nonwhite Mexican women who do not play leading roles in the international romance. In The Volunteer, Edwina Canales is paired with her friend, the half-Castilian, half-Aztec Anita Urrea, the daughter of the famous Mex-ican general. It is noteworthy that Anita is described as “all woman—all tenderness” (18), while Edwina is said to be “of a sterner and more queenly cast” (19). Although it might be expected that the former description would be reserved for the heroine, and that the second would not be a compliment in the mid-nineteenth-century United States, Buntline clearly prefers Edwina to Anita, for Edwina's martial womanhood wins the love of the U.S. hero, while Anita remains in Mexico and is married to Edwina's brother, a guerrilla fighter. And in The Secret Service Ship, Isora La Vega is contrasted to Juana the evil giantess, whose “inhuman nature” is attributed to the fact that the “cannibal blood of Patagonia” (90) flows in her veins. As a result, Juana strangles infants,
Besides their whiteness, another characteristic that distinguishes many of the heroines of international romance is a talent for cross-dressing. Edwina Canales fiercely leads Mexican troops into battle, fights bravely and effectively, and generally relishes the “perils” and “excitements of active service” (57) until she receives a shoulder wound while fighting in the war's bloodiest battle, Buena Vista. Because she has already fallen in love with Captain George Blakey, the U.S. volunteer who lifts her from the bloody heap of bodies in which she is half-buried, she ends her military career, marries Blakey soon after, and returns with him to the back-woods settlement of Rural Choice, Kentucky. And yet for much of the narrative, she is dead set on avenging the murders of her parents at the hands of Texas bandits who coveted their land and her body, and she is represented as a “noble” and “exalted” example of female patriotism, even though she fights on the Mexican side. “This may appear singular to many of our readers,” Buntline advises his audience, “but there have been many instances of the kind” (40).
Indeed, there were “many instances of this kind” in the story-paper literature of the period, for the figure of the cross-dressed Mexican maid was a nearly standard plot device in the international race romances of 1846–1848. In The Mexican Ranchero, for instance, Buena Rejon is “the farfamed, wide known, deep dreaded maid of the chapparal, the female avenger of Mexico” (17). Although she often fights in female dress against U.S. forces, she masquerades as a man, fools her brother, and becomes the lieutenant of his ranchero band in order to act as “fearlessly and perilously” (95) as she wishes. The heroine of The Hunted Chief also cross-dresses in order to lead a guerrilla band with such daring skill that the U.S.-American hero longs “to measure swords with them, man for man” (4). On the other hand, the war causes Inez, the Beautiful, “a Mexican military prodigy,” to impersonate a man in order to fight side by side with her father, a general, at the battle of Resaca de la Palma, where she wields her sword “with a consummate precision defying the most skilled swordsmen”
Some of the models of womanhood in these story-paper novels complicate the idea that there are natural, fixed oppositions between male and female behavior. For instance, when in The Hunted Chief the U.S.-American hero and the Mexican heroine are attacked by a band of robbers, Rainford notes that “he could discover nothing of the fear so natural to women, but her manner was resolute and collected, while from her eyes there gleamed the light of genuine courage. She sat as firm and erect in her saddle as a veteran warrior upon parade” (39). Here, Rain-ford's attribution of a “natural” fear to women is countered by the heroine's courage and firmness, although she is also represented as an exception to the norm, a kind of “wonder.” Similarly, when in The Secret Service Ship, Isora and Rogers are attacked by bandits, Isora “wildly wielding her weapon, sprang into the thickest of the fight! … Rogers would have encircled her waist with his arm, the better to protect her person, but proudly she waved him off and fearlessly fought on” (32). Later, Rogers is captured by Mexicans, and Isora dons her male apparel once more to effect his rescue, explaining that “it is a duty the true woman owes to him she loves” (85). Even though Isora's crossing of gender boundaries is justified by the exigencies of warfare, her exceptional status, heterosexual love, and the ideal of true womanhood, this ideal has in this case apparently been revised to include adopting male dress, engaging in bloody physical fights, and rescuing helpless men.
Although U.S. readers in the 1840s enjoyed many stories about domestic heroines who impersonated men, these international race romances must be interpreted in light of the strong probability that the gender-bending behavior of these heroines would be attributed to their exotic, foreign status as well as to a perceived crisis in Mexican nationality. In Buntline's The Volunteer, Edwina Canales's inversion of gender roles is symptomatic of a larger crisis, one that sometimes is tenuously linked to the violence of U.S. empire-building but is more often attributed to the weakness of Mexican men and Mexican national sentiment. When Blakey first meets the cross-dressed Edwina in battle, he asks, “Has it
Even though the reader is often quickly let in on the secret of the cross-dresser's “true” gender, sometimes the novels play with the possibility of male-male desire. Captain Bill Bruxton's claim that the cross-dresser in The Hunted Chief, for example, is “a perfect beauty” seemingly depends upon the chief's presumed maleness; “he” is, according to Bruxton, “the most beautiful boy you ever saw” (7). And when Josefa masquer-ades as a Mexican cavalry officer in The Prisoner of Perote, “he” quickly manages to “prepossess, if not infatuate” (27) the other soldiers. It could be argued, of course, that men are “naturally” drawn to the cross-dresser because they intuit that she is a woman; this may suggest that despite the cross-dresser's almost flawless performance of masculinity, “natural” gender differences cannot entirely be hidden. Indeed, the fact that all of these soldiers are erotically compelled by the cross-dresser may fortify the belief that men are inevitably attracted to women, so that their impulses register the female gender of the cross-dresser even though she appears to be a man. But the repetition of the fantasy in so many stories suggests that some kind of pleasure was taken in the gender confusion, and this almost all-male world in which officers are drawn to beautiful soldiers and enlisted men are infatuated with their leaders is not so different from the world depicted in soldiers' personal narratives about the war; the war theater intensified all kinds of hierarchical male-male relationships, and there is perhaps some trace of this as well in the trope of the soldier who is drawn to a man who turns out to be a woman.
Many of these heroines are said to be near twins of their brothers, who are curiously feminized and whose bodies are described in ways that are often reserved for women. These descriptions also resemble those of the cross-dressers in scenes in which the latter masquerade as men. In The Volunteer, the guerrilla chief Canales, who is the heroine's brother, is “small, but compactly, nay, elegantly formed; his features are regular and delicate as a woman's” and are “particularly expressive of a kind and womanlike disposition. … One would scarcely believe that his slight and delicate person could undergo more fatigue, exposure, and actual hardship than could any man of his company, yet so it was” (27). And although Rafael Rejon the Ranchero, the Maid of the Chaparral's brother, is a valiant “Mexican hero” (14), he is also described as small and woman-like: “Small and slender as a lady's were his graceful feet, which were encased in beautifully wrought moccasins; and a wildly picturesque appearance was given to his lower limbs by the tight-fitting buskins of the buffalo's hairy hide, which so plainly revealed their symmetrical shape and proportions” (13). These representations may be explained by the-ories, such as Gobineau's, which held that “lower” races were female or feminized, and that race-mixing could therefore cause a racial degeneration that made men more feminine. This idea is supported by Rejon's statement that the “daughters of this benighted land of Mexico are ever more noble and brave spirited than her degenerate sons, who seem to have a blood less pure and lofty in their mongrel veins” (82). These gendered representations could be used to justify conquest, inasmuch as according to this schema Mexican men were too unmanly to defend or govern “their” women, themselves, and their nation. Descriptions of Mexican men as appealingly womanlike in novels that trumpeted the idealized man-hood of U.S. men also suggested hierarchies between nations and between men that were implicitly grounded in the inequalities that were assumed and defended in dominant models of male-female relations.
Interestingly, these two feminized guerrilla chiefs are two of the rare cases where Mexican men seem to be welcomed into the U.S.-American family circle. Both Rejon and Canales turn out to have one U.S.-American parent, and that is certainly significant in the hero's decision, in both novels, to join the family by marrying the twinlike sister at the end. It also helps to explain why Rejon, for one, is not only described as lady-like but also as “noble and manly” (13). As he explains, it is only because of “this mingling of American with the Mexican blood” in his “nature” that he has perhaps “escaped the taint” of racial degradation that afflicts Mexico's “degenerate sons” (82). In other words, if he is both lady-like
Figure 7.“Rejon the Ranchero” illustration from Charles Averill's The Mexican Ranchero (1847). (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
More usually, though, Mexican men were represented as unmanly because they were savage, as Indians and blacks were thought to be, or because they were decadent, as Spaniards and creoles appeared when viewed through the lens of the Black Legend. In both cases Mexican men were outside the pale of white male civility as it was defined in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. Indeed, in this literature the civility and manliness of white U.S.-American men is defined in opposition to the incivility and unmanliness of Mexican men. In Inez, the Beautiful, for instance, Charles Devereux, an American lieutenant “just verging towards manhood” (10) exhibits his manliness by foiling the efforts of Don Jose Terceiro—a “monster bearing but the semblance of a man” (18)—to rape the heroine and to force her to marry him. Terceiro is an un-manly monster in a man's guise because his passions, which are deemed Castilian, are so easily inflamed, and so he tries to make Inez the “victim to his hellish lust” (14). But she escapes by jumping into a river, whereupon Devereux promptly rescues her. Although he, too, is sexually aroused by her, he prays to heaven for “courage to banish the polluting desire that for a moment possessed” him (20), and in the end he becomes engaged to marry her. In The Secret Service Ship General Ampudia is similarly represented as an unmanly “avenging fiend of hell” (12) because he is unable to control his passions; the chivalrous Midshipman Rogers, however, displays his manliness by rescuing a woman Ampudia is trying to rape and by hurling the general into a sepulchral pit. Finally, in The Prisoner of Perote, it is because of his timidity rather than his rapacity that the Mexican cavalry officer Don Fernando is the defining foil for the U.S. hero. Fernando fails to rescue his betrothed from a fire because he is wounded and timid, but his failure makes it possible for the U.S.-American Julius Marion to step in and display his manly courage and coolness as he rescues the beautiful Josefa, who promptly falls in love with him. In addition to this panoply of passionate, unmanly Spaniards and creoles, the novels also include many representations of lawless, savage mestizo rancheros and villainous, licentious priests.
In almost every case, the representations of unnatural genders and perverse sexualities are used to legitimate some form of U.S. involvement in Mexico. For not only are manly U.S. men often characterized through
The heroine's love object is almost always a U.S. officer whose manly body and status as a representative of the nation are the most important things about him. Midshipman Rogers, for instance, is initially described as a kind of walking, talking U.S. flag. In the first scene, while he is on a spy mission dressed as a Mexican, he saves the heroine from assault and then exposes his true identity:
The cloak fell instantly from the disguised form of the unknown, revealing the graceful figure, and lordly proportions of a strikingly handsome young man arrayed in the brilliant uniform of an American Naval Officer, in a proud attitude of command, as he stood thus majestically upon the castle ramparts of San Juan d'Ulloa, his right arm rearing proudly aloft to the breezes of the
All tricked out in stars and stripes, the naval officer's body—his “graceful figure” and “lordly proportions”—presents a spectacle at which the heroine gazes “in involuntary admiration” (15). Generally, the hero's role as a U.S. soldier is the key to his character. In The Hunted Chief, we never learn what part of the United States Lieutenant Rain-ford is from, nor does the narrative reveal anything about his class of origin; what is more important is that he possesses “an extraordinary share of manly beauty” and that there was “a fire in his hazel eye that could stimulate a soldier to deeds of daring, or could kindle a flame in the heart of a susceptible maiden” (4).
Despite the emphasis on an overarching model of military manhood that could serve as a point of identification for U.S.-American men of different classes and as an object of desire for readers, however, domestic class hierarchies continue to be registered in much of this fiction. Alexander Saxton has argued that the story-paper fiction of the 1840s features “Free Soil” heroes who adumbrate “the Free Soil alliance of yeomen, artisans, and established capital out of which sprang the Republican party” in the 1850s. But during the 1840s, this coalition was still inchoate, and story-paper literature reflects different positions on the question of class hierarchy, from Whiggish efforts to adapt it to the changing conditions of Jacksonian U.S.-America, with its increasing intolerance for a “politics of deference,” to other efforts to liberate middle and lower-class male characters “from the disabilities attached to class.” And yet, despite their differences, both strategies crucially depended upon what Saxton calls the ascendancy of a “scenario of white brother-hood purified and consolidated through the destruction of non-whites.”
Examples of the first position—that is, efforts to preserve class hierarchies while acknowledging changing conditions—can be found in those novels in which an elite U.S. officer, often a merchant's son, is paired with a lower-class Yankee character who speaks in a dialect and
These pairings of elite and nonelite men have a long history that goes back at least as far as Royall Tyler's 1790 play The Contrast, in which Colonel Manly, the romantic hero, was paired with his servant, the yeo-man Yankee Jonathan. Saxton explains that the premise was that Manly, who “spoke for the landlord-merchant oligarchy that had led the Revolution
The pairings of romantic heroes and Yankee vernaculars in U.S.–Mexican War novels reflect efforts to construct cross-class alliances between a merchant elite and a lower class of yeomen and artisans in the wake of the Jacksonian upsurge. In The Mariner of the Mines the merchant's son Redwood even explicitly repudiates the aristocratic prejudices of his father and opts for the society of the “common man.” Although Campbell also turns out to be a merchant's son, his status as a foundling of unknown origin for much of the novel provides opportunities for an assault on the merchant Sherwood's similarly aristocratic prejudices; and Sherwood's change of tune after reading of Campbell's valor on the battlefield suggests that manly military merit, as demonstrated by participation in U.S. empire-building abroad, can compensate for an obscure or lowly class origin. On the other hand, the Yankee Zephaniah Sniggins exhibits none of the deference that marked the behavior of earlier Yan-kees such as Tyler's Jonathan. He still, however, tries to negate differences of class and status by making fun of blacks; even though he is paired with Caesar, he reasserts a hierarchy between himself and the servant that replicates and displaces the earlier hierarchy between white master and white servant in plays such as The Contrast. Indeed, the bonds of white brotherhood between the yeoman Yankee and the merchants' sons are forged at the expense of Caesar, who remains literally bound in a servile relationship to Campbell at the end of the novel, as well as the “motley and merciless” (11) Mexicans against whom the white brothers battle.
Significantly, the bonds of white brotherhood are also forged in opposition to the immigrant Irish. In The Mariner of the Mines, the patriotic Yankee is contrasted with Dennis O'Finnegan, a side-switching sergeant in the Mexican infantry who, when asked if he is a Mexican, replies
And yet, these strategies for turning representatives of different classes into a band of white brothers do not completely succeed in obscuring class differences. They continue to be strongly marked, especially in the contrast between the Yankee's peculiar dialect and the refined, proper speech of the romantic heroes. It is also noteworthy that the Yankee in The Mariner of the Mines is paired with Caesar Burney instead of simply being assimilated to a trio that includes Redwood and Campbell; despite the hierarchy that structures the relationship between Caesar and the Yankee, as “common soldiers” they are distinguished from the officers, and the text establishes a mirroring relationship between them through the use of dialect and by making them the sources of comic relief. Finally, what Saxton calls “the problem of marriage-ability” continues to haunt these novels, underlining the class differences that the authors in other ways try to obscure and soften. In The Mexican Spy the Yankee is entirely ineligible for romance; he returns home to Vermont while the elite romantic hero, Major Rowland, is married to the merchant's daughter, Annabel Blackler. And in The Chieftain of Churubusco, the Yankee weds Vanilla Hartville, a blind girl who in the beginning is the heroine's servant and is said to be the daughter of a Mexican “lepero,” although she turns out to be the daughter of a poor Texas settler. The elite hero Charles Warren, however, marries the wealthy and aristocratic Lauretta Varere. Similarly, in
The Mariner of the Mines, the Yankee returns home to marry his lowly Yankee sweetheart while the two officers and merchants' sons marry rich women. These representations to some degree qualify Saxton's claim that before the Civil War, “[r]omantic love was not for vernaculars” even as they establish boundaries between the classes that cannot be bridged by marriage.
Saxton argues that only later, after the U.S.-Mexican War period, is “equal access to privileges of the upper class, including acquisition of wealth and marriageability,” extended to characters of lower-class origin. Significantly, the example he cites is Ned Buntline's Buffalo Bill, who, despite his relatively humble origins, gets to marry a banker's daughter. But Buntline was already working toward such a solution to the problem of marriageability in The Volunteer, in which he makes the hero, George Blakey, a backwoodsman from Kentucky. George's father, a self-made man, had come to Kentucky “with no property save his axe, rifle, and a healthy young wife [!]” (8) but soon became a successful shopkeeper. As a Westerner and a shopkeeper's son, George is considerably removed from the merchant elite of New York and Philadelphia, but he is the hero of international romance nonetheless, for he wins the heroine's love despite the fact that “his line of descent” is not “so haughty as her own” (70). In Newton Curtis's The Prairie Guide, also, the “handsome and noble-looking” Charles Fanchette impresses the rich Mexican heroine “despite the rough teachings of his early education” (24), and a U.S. officer notes, “[If] he does not make a noise in the world yet, then I am no prophet. One may look a long time for his equal” (7). But such a white egalitarian position, which emphasizes equal opportu-nity and class mobility for nonelite men, is grounded in the ideal of white “native” military manliness tested and displayed through violent encounters with foreigners and nonwhites. This is true of all of the story-paper novels that obscure or negate the hero's class origins in favor of an overarching model of imperial manhood and international romance.
Another way that these novels try to mitigate class differences among U.S.-American men is by contrasting them with foreign villains who are also wealthy aristocrats. In The Hunted Chief, the Chevalier Rijon, who wants to force a marriage with the heroine, is a sensual, rich, Spanish native, the descendant of a noble family who nonetheless exhibits “no true nobility” but is rather “an unprincipled villain” (16). In Buntline's Magdalena, the villain is Colonel Gustave Alfrede, a rich Mexican officer who rapes and kills the U.S. hero's mother and sister and then tries to use the leverage of debt to force Magdalena's father to pressure her to
Force and consent are key words in these international romances. Although Donna Isabella Xera, the heroine of The Prairie Guide, despises him, Captain Minon pressures her guardian and even kidnaps and imprisons her in an effort to force a union. Even though her uncle initially consents to the marriage, however, Isabella insists that “I ought to be permitted to make my own choice” (17). When in The Chieftain of Churubusco, Don Jose de Varere—“a rich and influential citizen of Puebla”—says that his will is his daughter's law and that he can determine whom she will marry, her servant girl replies that it “may be so in everything else but love” (11); the heroine, Lauretta Varere, indeed refuses to consent to the unwanted marriage in spite of her antagonists' efforts to force her to do so. And in The Texan Ranger, Adela refuses to agree to marry Don Eugenio, “a lover chosen for her by her father, rather than by her own will” (92). By identifying Mexico and Spain with patriarchy and coercive force, these narratives represent the United States, by contrast, as the land of modernity and relative freedom for women. Since in these novels romantic and political discourses are mapped onto each other, these scenarios also construct the Mexican government as despotic and U.S. government as consensual, democratic, and “free.”
Scenes in which Mexican heroines and U.S. heroes are magnetically attracted to each other and almost instantly fall in love reinforce this dichotomy between force and consent, imagined as a contrast between Mexico and the United States. When Xelima and St. James quickly fall for each other in The Vidette, the narrator defends love at first sight: “True love is to the human soul, what the spark of fire is to the magazine, and equally as instantaneous in its effects” (79). And when Fanchette, the prairie guide, first sees Isabella, he “started, as if he had received an electric shock” (24) and soon harbors a “deep and fervent attachment” to her, while after only a few hours, “with all the ardor of a soul capable of the greatest extremes of passion—she loved him!” (25). By making the U.S. hero the Mexican heroine's romantic choice, and by
This ideological work was especially urgent because U.S. opponents of the war were increasingly arguing that the invasion of Mexico violated the liberal democratic ideal of consent, although occasionally the principle of consent would be invoked to explain why the United States could in good conscience annex all or part of Mexico. The expansionist Democrat senator Dickinson, for one, argued that as a republic, “deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed,” the U.S. form of government was “admirably adapted to extended empire,” inasmuch as “its influences” were “as powerful for good at the remotest limits as at the political centre.” More often, though, when the question of annexation came up, the ideal of consent was cited as a reason why the incorporation of Mexico would be hypocritical and wrong. The Whig C.B. Smith, for instance, argued in the House of Representatives that the U.S. government was based on the principle of “consent of the governed” and that imperialists sought “in violation of this principle, to extend our government, by force, over a reluctant and unwilling people.”
In practice, of course, liberal democratic theory often conflates consent and submission, and it thereby fails, as Carole Pateman argues, “to distinguish free commitment and agreement by equals from domination, subordination, and inequality.” In a critique of consensual paradigms as they have been applied to Chicanas/os, Carl GutiérrezJones has persuasively argued that since “the history of Anglo and Mexicano/Chicano interaction is one of territorial occupation through legal manipulation working in concert with violence, it comes as little surprise that consent, as framed in the mainstream manner, is significantly challenged by Chicano texts: consent cannot be the cornerstone of justice where choice has not played a significant role.” In the mid–nineteenth century, the question of empire forced some of these contradictions to resurface in the sphere of politics as well as in mass literary culture. In response to the war, in other words, congressmen found it necessary to return to questions of consent and to debate the meaning of a principle that was more often left unexamined. And although advocates of expansion would of
Many of these novels symbolically attempt to reverse the U.S. invasion of Mexico by representing international romance as the Mexican heroine's conquest of the U.S. hero. After Charles Devereux falls in love with Inez, he thinks of her as “the being who had taken captive his heart” (22). And in The Secret Service Ship, Midshipman Rogers not only tells Isora that she has made “a full conquest” of his heart but also adds, “You had made a breach in the walls, the first glance I received from your dark eyes on the ramparts of San Juan d'Ulloa!” (63). Although U.S. soldiers were invading the homes of Monterrey and bombing the city of Vera Cruz, narratives such as this one try to invert the terms of military conquest and occupation by making the Mexican woman the conqueror. Midshipman Rogers also tries to heal the wounds of war and turn force into consent by suggesting that love transcends national enmities: “By nationality we are enemies, 'tis true, dear lady, but O! say not that in feeling and in LOVE we are foes!” (63). Other strategies that are deployed to justify a U.S. presence in Mexico include the emplotment of a preexisting relationship between the romantic hero and heroine. In The Mexican Spy, the half-Mexican Annabel Blackler observes that “the affections of my heart were pre-engaged long before I first came to this unhappy country” (62); and in The Texan Ranger, Marguerita fell in love with a U.S. officer at a military ball while her father was exiled in New Orleans: “[F]or his sake,” she “loved the whole nation” (102). These representations try to override the military hostilities between nations by resolving them into loving bonds that derive from preexisting transnational connections between elites in Mexico and the United States.
Although many of these novels promote international romance as the symbolic resolution to the war, the conclusions present a number of different outcomes. In The Prairie Guide, the Mexican heroine Isabella dresses as a man and follows her lover to Matamoras, where he has rejoined the U.S. forces. Once it is revealed that she is a female in disguise, the two are married at once, making it possible for the humble guide to share her “immense estate” (8) and incredible wealth. This ending is obviously suggestive of the landgrab that accompanied the ending of the
Although a significant number of these novels end in marriage, in others marriage must be deferred until the war ends. Inez, the Beautiful, for instance, ends with a “contract of marriage” between hero and heroine that is “not to be consummated until peace is concluded between the United States and Mexico” (50–51). The narrator concludes that this is “a consummation devoutly to be wished” by “that respectable class of citizens who embrace the strongest PEACE views” (51). And at the end of The Secret Service Ship, Midshipman Rogers and Isora La Vega are engaged and plan to marry at the end of the war, when “there will be no bar of nationality” between the “union” (100). At the conclusion of The Light Dragoon, too, the U.S. officer Allston and the heiress Elvira are engaged but not yet married, and Elvira is revealed to be the lost child of a U.S. officer in the Seminole War and his Spanish wife, who was murdered by Indians (rather than the daughter of the rich Mexican Espindola, who adopted her). After they marry, Allston plans to return to Mexico as soon as that country is “conquered” in order to claim the deceased Espindola's estates “in the name of the heiress, Elvira” (100). This conclusion seems to indicate a desire for Mexican lands without the Mexicans, since Elvira turns out to have only a legal relationship to her “adopted” nation.
In still other novels, however, the consummation of international romance is prevented by the violence of war or by other obstacles, such as the previous engagement to a U.S. woman that makes it impossible for
Julius, in The Prisoner of Perote, to return Josefa's love. At the end of the novel, during the siege of Vera Cruz, Josefa is killed by a bomb, and as she dies she bequeaths a ring to her friend, Julius's fiancée, which becomes “the sacred bond of their marriage” (40). And The Mariner of the Mines completely rejects the possibility of international romance by wedding Campbell to the daughter of a New Orleans merchant and pairing the wealthy Redwood with the foundling Charlotte Archington, who turns out to be the daughter of a rich U.S. merchant and an Englishwoman whose father traded in Mexico and later became a Mexican citizen. Moreena, a “native Mexican girl,” falls in love with Redwood, and when she is rejected by him her love turns to hatred and she tries to kill both him and Charlotte, although she is ultimately foiled. Her brother Francisco, who tries to force Charlotte to marry him, fares no better. This novel apparently refuses any form of amalgamation between the United States and Mexico, although it does underline the advantageous trading relationships that might be established in Mexico by foreign merchants.
Some of these novels end by trying to harmonize relations between North and South. At the conclusion of The Mariner of the Mines, when Caesar Burney remains with “his master” Campbell in New Orleans, Campbell's marriage to the Southern merchant's daughter in that city anticipates the reunion of Northern and Southern interests—at the expense of Burney, of course, as well as the Mexicans who are vilified in this novel. And when the death of the evil Irishman Raleigh allows the dispossessed Captain Harold in The Mexican Ranchero to recover “the old family plantation” in Virginia and to move there with his Mexican bride, the narrative seems to be responding to Southern objections to the war by incorporating the South into its vision of postwar reconciliation, although the question of slavery is repressed. When the issue is explicitly raised in The Mexican Spy, the conclusion seems forced and hollow. That novel features a black character, Brutus, a former slave in Alabama. Brutus, who was freed by his master, is a servant to a rich Mexican don, but at the end he returns to Alabama and becomes the “overseer on a plantation there” (100). In the novel, Brutus, who is paired with the Yankee vernacular character Pelatiah Shattuck, is used as comic relief (as part of a spy mission, he cross-dresses as a nun, for example) in ways that are reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy. The fact that he returns to Alabama and becomes an overseer on a plantation, along with his view of his former master as a benign, fatherly presence, suggests that the novel is struggling to put to rest fears raised by debates over slavery through the promotion of what Eric Lott calls “the mythology of plantation
If these novels strain to manage the incipient crisis, in other narratives the question of slavery erupts from within plots that otherwise try to marginalize the issue. In The Texan Ranger, for example, Marguerita helps two U.S. officers escape from the Mexicans, but she is betrayed by “a Texan slave whom she had trusted, for he had been a servant of her uncle's ever since his flight from Texas, and she believed that he was faithful” (101). But he asked her for more money to keep her secret because he wanted to buy his wife and two boys in Bexar, and when she refused he turned her in to the Mexican authorities. This vignette is particularly interesting because some proannexationists, according to Michael Holt, tried to convince “reluctant Northern Democrats opposed to slavery extension and a growing black population” that adding new territory to the Union would “benefit the anti-slavery cause” by drawing slaves to Texas and eventually to Mexico, thus eliminating “the twin problems of slavery and race adjustment” in the older states. In other words, these Northern Democrats argued that U.S. expansion would mean that slavery would move even farther south and therefore farther away, and that slaves would gravitate across the border to whatever was left of Mexico, where slavery had been abolished. Although such a representation of runaway slaves in Mexico might have comforted the many Northern Democrats who wanted black people removed as far away as possible, it could hardly, however, have been reassuring to Southerners who worried, during the debates over the Wilmot Proviso, about the protection of the peculiar institution.
In The Volunteer, on the other hand, the Mexican heroine's brother, the guerrilla Canales, also employs a black “body servant,” Matteo, who accompanied him from Texas to Mexico and whose son, Roberto, joins Canales's band. Even though Matteo's continued service to Canales might suggest to supporters of slavery that racialized labor relations akin to slavery could be maintained in Mexico, Roberto's assimilation into Canales's guerrilla band is treated more ambiguously. In fact, this portrayal of the black son of a slave allied with Mexican guerrillas recalls the fears raised in the Williams Brothers' story paper the Uncle Sam, quoted in the previous chapter, to the effect that mixed-blood Mexican soldiers “proclaiming liberty to the people of color” might enlist Southern slaves to fight against U.S. whites. At the very
And what of the “internal stresses” of Indian/white relations? Despite the recent history of Indian Removal, the Seminole Wars, and the Black Hawk War, those who supported annexation in Congress sometimes optimistically suggested, as did Senator Sevier, that “[we] can get along with those Indians with as little trouble as we do with our own” Some of these, like Senator Breese, thought that Mexican Indians were “apt to learn, and willing to improve, and, if not possessed of all the manlier virtues, have at least those which fully ensure their cheerful acquiescence to our control and rapid advancement under it.” Others, such as Senator Dickinson, took the harsher view that like “their doomed brethren, who were once spread over the several States of the Union, they are destined, by laws above human agency, to give way to a stronger race from this continent or another.” Although Democrats generally endorsed one of the poles of the “civilization or extinction” dyad, Whigs who opposed annexation tended to argue that Mexican Indians were not likely to disappear anytime soon, and almost all of them worried about the incorporation of Indians into the white nation. Senator Bell, for instance, warned that even if U.S. whites immigrated to Mexico, “[Y]ou will still have five millions of Indians on hand, to be an ever-eating canker on your system.”
The international romances of 1846–1848 usually focus most centrally on Mexican creoles, but some Indian characters do appear in these texts in subordinate roles. In Buntline's Magdalena, the Indian boy Zalupah, who is Magdalena's servant, is so intensely loyal to her that he sacrifices his life to save the U.S. officer that she loves. Although his behavior is described as “brave” and “noble” (63), this representation naturalizes hierarchical master/servant relations and constructs what we might call a mythology of hacienda paternalism that implies that creole/Indian relations in Mexico resemble (white fantasies of) white/black relations in the South. Zalupah is also used to define Magdalena's whiteness through contrast. When she decides to disguise herself and to team up with Zalupah in order to save her beloved, she must stain her face and hands “as dark as a New Orleans quadroon, or a Seminole Indian” (59) in order to be of “the same hue” (59) and to pass as an Indian
Mexico, doubtless by taking U.S. interests to heart. Indeed, in some of these romances, the representations of U.S. merchants and especially merchants' sons, many of whom do not marry Mexican women, suggest that these novels may be advocating intimate economic relationships with Mexico rather than political or romantic ones. Although it would be difficult to argue in almost every case that the story-paper novels un-equivocally endorse the war and the annexation of Mexico, in all of these narratives the boundaries of gender, race, and sexuality are central to debates over the politics of empire-building and the incorporation of “foreign” territories and peoples.
I suggested in the previous chapter that story-paper literature claimed to be neutral or independent and tried to appeal to a mass audience composed of multiple classes. Nonetheless, the political debates between Democrats and Whigs over the war and annexation resonate throughout the pages of these novels. Although Democrats advocated the annexation of all of Mexico, more of them wanted to take only the relatively sparsely inhabited parts of northern Mexico, especially California. And despite the fact that most of the Whigs voted for supplies and resources in support of the war, and even ran war hero Zachary Taylor as their presidential candidate in the election of 1848, many raised questions about the origin of the war, tried to devise strategies for ending it, and argued for a “No Territory” program. Indeed, Whiggish positions are implicitly referenced in the story papers more often than might be expected, not only when objections to annexation are voiced but also in the efforts to construct models of white Protestant manhood and fraternity that might serve as “mutualist” points of identification for U.S. American men of different classes. Such a conjunction of class, nativism, white manhood, and imperialism is especially significant in the work of Ned Buntline, whose infamous career as a purveyor of popular culture is the subject of chapter 5.