H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-45 on Baumgartner.  South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

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H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-45

Alice L. Baumgartner.  South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil WarNew York:  Basic Books, 2020.  ISBN:  9781541617780 (hardcover, $32.00); 9781541617766 (paperback, $18.99).

5 July 2022 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT23-45
Editor:  Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Thomas Maddux | Production Editor: George Fujii

Contents

Introduction by Erika Pani, El Colegio de México. 2

Review by Gerado Cadava, Northwestern University. 5

Review by Jorge E. Delgadillo Núñez, University of California, Irvine. 8

Review by Christina M. Villarreal, The University of Texas at El Paso. 12

Review by Kevin Waite, Durham University. 15

Response by Alice Lucile Baumgartner, University of Southern California. 18

 

 

 

Alice Baumgartner’s book tells of the daring journeys of enslaved men and women who found freedom by crossing over the United States’ southern border, first into Spanish territory, then into independent Mexico. But, as the essays in this Roundtable highlight, South to Freedom does more. Meticulously researched, ambitious in scope, elegantly written, masterful in its untangling of complex processes, and attuned to the reverberations of the phenomena it analyzes, the book engages in several historiographical conversations.  Its central argument adds another wrinkle to the history of the fractious politics of slavery and anti-slavery in the United States[1] by underscoring the relevance of their transnational dimension: the fact that runaway slaves could find a safe haven on the other side of the border proved deeply destabilizing to the US. Mexico’s convoluted road to abolition notwithstanding, government officials and regular citizens chose to support the plight of freedom seekers against those trying to enforce the claims of slave masters. For all its inconsistencies, the Mexican government’s opposition to slavery undermined the alleged rights of property in man in the borderlands and, further afield, obfuscated political debates on the introduction of slavery into lands that had been made free by Mexican law. By encouraging secession —first from Mexico, then from the Union— and contributing to polarization, these flights to freedom and the performance of abolitionism help us understand, as Kevin Waite writes in his review, how political disputes “spiraled into a shooting war in 1861.”

The reviewers agree that the book speaks to the potential of borderlands history.[2] It traces the movements, networks, connections, and encounters that constituted the region into a space of risk and opportunity for runaway slaves, even if, as reviewer Christina Villarreal notes, “the voices and experiences of Black fugitives” —who were trying hard not to attract attention— blur into the background. This was possible because the border that was drawn in 1848, after Mexico’s humiliating defeat, was, as Geraldo Cadava argues, porous and plastic. But the fact that it both joined and separated two polities in which the institution of slavery had followed divergent paths and its legal status had been processed differently allowed the weak Mexican State to enact the fiction of territorial sovereignty. Mexican officials claimed the moral high ground and acted as if undisputed national sovereignty started at that —just as chimerical— ‘bright line’ separating slavery and freedom. In this sense, Villarreal and Jorge Delgadillo Núñez are right to stress the book’s contributions to Mexican diplomatic history, and, more broadly, to that of the international relations that were framed by the tensions of colonial legacies and of European expansion in the New World.[3] The book throws light on some of the ways in which the rhetoric and regulation of slavery —sometimes, as Delgadillo Núñez points out, independently of concrete experience— structured, on uneven ground, the intercourse between young American nations, former metropolitan powers, and the fractured remains of their empires.

South to Freedom also strives to show how “‘American’ histories of slavery and sectional controversies are, in fact, Mexican histories too” (15). The reviewers’ thoughtful comments suggest that this is perhaps the book’s most stimulating feature, but that it is also its most perplexing.[4] Waite sees a sweeping story of the US Civil War “stretching across Mexico,” in which presidents Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez stand on common ground and share similar objectives: freedom and self-determination. It is an optimistic, satisfying narrative, but one that can break down if one takes a closer look at the relations between the two governments during the conflict.[5] Delgadillo Núñez, on the other hand, would like to see, in greater detail, how allusions on either side of the border became actual connections. Cadava points to important issues on which Baumgartner touches on but does not develop: the place of Afro-Latinos into “Latinx history writ large” and how to make sense of “Mexico’s deeply engrained racism.”  This suggests that the analytical reach of transnational history depends perhaps on more precise definitions and grounded analysis of the phenomena it dissects: overarching transformations; parallel developments; entangled histories; and the effect of mutual influence, reactions, and distortions. But as the responses to South to Freedom included in this Roundtable attest, it is a perspective that offers exciting possibilities.

Participants:

Alice Baumgartner received her Ph.D. in History from Yale University and is now Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California. Her first book, South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War, was a New York Times’ Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History.

Erika Pani is Research Professor at El Colegio de México. She works on Nineteenth Century political history in Mexico and the United States. She has published Para mexicanizar el Segundo Imperio. El imaginario político de los imperialistas (2001) and Historia mínima de Estados Unidos de América (2016).

Geraldo Cadava is the Wender-Lewis Teaching and Research Professor of History and Latina and Latino Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of two books: The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of An American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump (Ecco, 2020), and Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Harvard, 2013). He is currently writing a history of Latinos in the United States that focuses on colonization and the dynamic between colonizer and colonized.

Jorge E. Delgadillo Núñez is Chancellor’s Advance Post-doctoral Fellow in the Department of History at the University of California-Irvine. He earned his PhD in History from Vanderbilt University (2021). He is the author of “The Workings of Calidad: Honor, Governance, and Social Hierarchies in the Corporations of the Spanish Empire,” The Americas (April 2019); and “La esclavitud, la abolición y los afrodescendientes: memoria histórica y construcción de identidades en la prensa mexicana, 1840-1860”, Historia Mexicana (October-December 2019), as well as of two chapters in edited books.

Christina Marie Villarreal is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso. She focuses on Spanish Borderlands and Colonial Latin America. She is currently editing her first monograph, “Resisting Colonial Subjugation: The Search for Refuge in the Texas-Louisiana Borderlands, 1714-1803,” as the Summerfield Roberts Fellow for the Study of Texas History at the Clements Center for Southwestern Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Kevin Waite is an assistant professor of history at Durham University in the UK and the author of West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (UNC Press, 2021). With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he co-directs a Collaborative Research Grant on the life and times of Biddy Mason, a Georgia slave turned California real estate entrepreneur. His writing has appeared in The AtlanticNational GeographicThe Los Angeles TimesSlateThe Washington Post, and The New Republic, among others.

 

 

Early on in her important book, South to Freedom, Alice Baumgartner quotes the Mexican Congressman José María Tornel to suggest that slavery itself helped form the border between the United States and Mexico. “In the abolition of slavery was involved a highly political consideration,” Tornel explained, “that of establishing a barrier between Mexico and the United States, where slavery is maintained in open contradiction with the principles solemnly proclaimed in its act of independence of 1776” (68).  For borderlands historians, this is an exciting idea because it adds yet another reason for the drawing of the border dividing the two nations. In the 1820s, the new nation of Mexico sought to defend its northern frontier by establishing a human border in the form of new settlements that might slow the advance of the United States (they did not) and repel Indian attacks (again, they did not). By the end of the 1840s, the United States wanted a border that clearly defined its new possessions all the way to the Pacific Ocean.[6] But as Baumgartner demonstrates, there was also another line between the United States and Mexico: the line between slavery and freedom.

But like all borders, and certainly the one between the United States and Mexico, this border between slavery and freedom was more porous and less rigid than Tornel suggested, and also, perhaps, than Baumgartner suggests. True, Mexican leaders reiterated their opposition to slavery in the first several decades of the nineteenth century, when Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, then reaffirmed its commitment to abolition before, during, and after the Texas Revolution, the U.S.-Mexico War, the French occupation of Mexico, and the U.S. Civil War. However, it is also true that early plans for freedom in Mexico called for gradual rather than immediate abolition, that slavery was permitted in Texas even after it was abolished in the rest of the country, and that even after slavery was abolished throughout Mexico, many Mexicans still supported the preservation of slavery in some form, including contract labor that slavery’s opponents considered to be slavery by another name.

So, instead of arguing that there was a bright line between slavery in the United States and freedom in Mexico, it is probably more accurate to say that even though the official policies of the United States and Mexico differed when it came to slavery, and even though it is important to recognize that, on balance, there may have been a greater commitment to freedom in Mexico than in the United States, various forms of unfreedom continued to plague Mexico for decades after the abolition of slavery.

As many scholars of African American history have argued of late, freedom should not be mistaken for equality, and policies that guarantee freedom, justice, and equality can co-exist with the maintenance of unfreedom, injustice, and inequality.[7] Baumgartner acknowledges all of this in her epilogue, where she writes, “It is easy to discount the laws that abolished slavery in both Mexico and the United States, because coercion continued in so many other forms” (page citation). But she does land on the point that a denial of the differences between the United States and Mexico would lead to a “distortion” of the historical record. “Even hypocritical, self-interested, or unenforced policies could have profound significance,” she writes, and these “unexpected consequences should not be ignored because they arose amid unfulfilled promises” (255). Such decisions about where to place the emphasis in the histories we write can be tricky.

My other field of expertise besides borderlands history comprise Latinx history, and for the past several years we’ve been engaged in a debate over how to rewrite Afro-Latinos into Latinx history writ large.[8] I say rewrite because Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Latinos have always been part of that history, but for the most part they were not included in the histories that politicians, public intellectuals, and scholars told across the twentieth century. When political figures like José Vasconcelos made mestizaje—the mixture of African, Indian, and European blood—the cornerstone of Mexican national identity, they focused on the blending of Indian and European blood and largely ignored African roots.[9] The artist José Clemente Orozco painted a mural depicting Hernán Cortés and Malintzín, the Spanish conquistador and his Indigenous translator, bride, and mother to the mestizo Martín Cortés, as an allegory about the birth of the Mexican race. It omitted any reference to Africans as progenitors of the Mexican race. When the Chicano poet Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia, better known as “Alurista,” wrote the poem to introduce the famous manifesto on Chicano identity, “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” he called Chicanos a “bronze people with a bronze culture.” He did not exactly deny the African roots of Mexican and Mexican American identity, but neither did he affirm them. Instead, he wrote about the Indigenous ancestors of Chicanos and the “brutal” gringo invaders of their Indigenous Mexican homeland—Aztlán.[10]

In this sense, South to Freedom helps us tell a more complex history of Mexico that in turn helps us tell a more complex history of Mexican Americans, many of whom did, after all, immigrate from Mexico, a country that Baumgartner depicts as having been populated not only by the offspring of Spaniards and Indians, but also by African and African American slaves, free Blacks, and French, German, and other European immigrants. Surely some of the Mexicans who settled in the United States and became Mexican Americans came from such heterogeneous backgrounds. To at least some extent their thinking about race had been shaped by Mexico’s diverse demographic landscape in ways that Latinx historians have barely acknowledged. Indeed, instead of simply relying on old standards such as Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire, Baumgartner’s South to Freedom will help me tell more complete and complex stories about the Texas Revolution and the U.S. Mexico War, among other topics.[11]

Still, from the perspective of Latinx history, there are many questions related to Afro-latinidad that South to Freedom does not answer, in part because, until the later chapters, Baumgartner’s focus is more on the politics of slavery in Mexico and the United States than on the lives of Black people in Mexico. Of course, Baumgartner in no way set out to write Latinx history. But the subjects she writes about are central to the questions that Latinx historians and other scholars in the field of Latinx Studies are debating today, such as the roots of anti-blackness in Latin America and the United States, or the possibilities and limitations of solidarity between Latinos and African Americans, a topic that rings false to many Afro-Latinos for whom solidarity is not a matter of choice but rather their own personal identity.[12] How could they do anything but act in solidarity with themselves?

One question Baumgartner does not address is how Black people escaping to Mexico from slavery in the United States related to Afro-Mexicans who were already living in Mexico, some for hundreds of years before the antebellum period in the United States. Did they not come into contact with one another, perhaps because they lived in different parts of the country? Another question that is not discussed is how exactly escaped slaves and Afro-Mexicans felt about the Mexican government’s proposals for gradual instead of immediate abolition, or Mexico’s seeming reluctance—if not of the government as a whole, then on the part of a few key leaders—to take a firm stand against slavery that might alienate powerful interests who wanted to keep slavery or something like it in place? Were they supposed to take comfort in the idea that at least they were not in the United States, or did they continue to feel less than free in Mexico as well. The story that Baumgartner tells about Burrill Daniel, a slave brought to Mexico by his southern owner after the defeat of the Confederacy, seems to suggest that Mexico was not the answer to their troubles either (243-250).

And here we are again at the question of where Baumgartner places the emphasis in her story. Afro-Latinx scholars are less concerned with the distinctions between Mexico and the United States when it came to slavery—the border that Tornel talked about—and more with how both Mexico and the United States upheld racial ideologies based on what might be called white supremacy.[13] The book’s assertion that on the matter of slavery, the differences between the United States and Mexico were greater than their similarities, also contributes to misunderstandings of U.S. and Mexican history. I’m inclined to agree, and I applaud this effort to tell unsettling histories at a moment in our nation’s history when historical truth seems to be a matter of deciding between two starkly opposed narratives. Yet the book also may have done more—before the epilogue, that is—to help us make sense of Mexico’s deeply ingrained racism, even at a moment when, in comparison with the United States, it was committed to ending slavery.

There is no doubt that South to Freedom is in many ways masterful: meticulously researched, beautifully—I mean beautifully—written, with many important insights that will help us reframe the stories we tell about the American West, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and U.S. and Mexican histories of slavery and freedom. To my mind, the book expands the chronology and geography of older classics on these subjects, especially David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, and newer standards, such as Andrew Torget’s Seeds of Empire.[14] It is the most thorough account I have read on the politics of slavery in the United States and Mexico in the run up to the Civil War. It even helps me think through some important questions about Latinx history, even if it does not give us all of the answers.

 

 

Drawing from a wide array of sources coming from numerous archives in the United States and Mexico, South to Freedom examines three interrelated questions: why did the U.S. allow slavery to expand across the southern territories? Why, at the same time, did Mexican politicians restrict and eventually abolish slavery? And how did enslaved African Americans who escaped to Mexico contribute to the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War? In order to answer these questions, Alice Baumgartner cleverly interweaves three different analytic threads to show that by running away to Mexico, and using Mexican laws to claim their freedom, enslaved people partially ignited the Civil War.[15]

The book is divided into twelve chapters plus a brief introduction and an epilogue. The chapters are organized chronologically and span from the late colonial period, in the case of Mexico, and the early republic, in the case of the U.S., to the second French intervention in Mexico and the U.S. Civil War. The first half of the book narrates the sometimes parallel, sometimes divergent, paths that Mexico and the U.S. took regarding enslaved labor up to 1837, when Texas declared its independence from Mexico and when, according to the author, after several unsuccessful attempts, Mexico finally abolished slavery for good. Baumgartner shows how, in order to preserve the unity of the country, U.S. politicians allowed slaveholders to keep their human property and even to bring their forced workers to new territories, thereby expanding the reach of slavery. At the same time, the author explores how the divide between the abolitionist north and the pro-slavery south developed over the course of the nineteenth century.

Similar to what was happening in the U.S., the federal government in Mexico limited itself to banning the introduction of more enslaved people into the country, without actually prohibiting slavery and expecting it to die on its own. In contrast to its northern neighbor, however, just one decade after independence, virtually all Mexican states had enacted laws restricting slavery or abolishing it altogether. In the case of Mexico this was more feasible than in the U. S. because slavery survived only in specific regions, namely Coahuila-Téjas, Yucatán, Veracruz, and Chiapas. Importantly, in most of them, except for Téjas, enslaved labor was barely existent. The Mexican government’s motivation for keeping slavery intact were similar to those of the U.S. – to preserve the union of the country and avoid regional rebellions and insurrections.

This reluctance on the part of the Mexican government to abolish slavery at the federal level makes more sense under the light of the specific circumstances of Téjas, as South to Freedom clearly explains. The area to the north of Mexico during that period was rich in resources, but sparsely populated. In order to promote the development of the region, Mexican authorities allowed U.S. citizens to establish colonies in what is now Texas. The defense of enslaved labor by U.S. settlers as well as Mexican policies leaning toward abolition quickly entered into conflict. Mexican politicians faced the dilemma of making the new settlers angry by abolishing slavery, or letting them keep their human property, thereby betraying one of the principles that the country promised to defend during its war for independence against Spain. After several political changes in Mexico and an attempt to abolish slavery in 1829, the result is well known: in order to protect slavery Texas declared its independence from Mexico following a short war. Baumgartner concludes that without the threat of more insurrections, Mexican politicians were finally able to abolish slavery at the federal level in 1837.

The second half of the book deals with the divergent paths that Mexico and the U.S. took from that point forward. Mexican intellectuals and politicians upheld a strong abolitionist, anti-slavery stand, at least in their discourse, in order to claim a higher moral ground and to differentiate the nation from the United States and other European countries, especially Spain. In everyday life, needless to say, exploitation and other forms of coerced labor persisted in Mexico. In contrast, the sectional controversy between the northern and southern states around the issue of slavery grew in the U. S. during the two and a half decades after the independence of Texas from Mexico. This conflict was exacerbated by the U.S. invasion of Mexico from 1846-48 and the subsequent annexation of the northern half of the country. The conquest of new territory, as the author lucidly explains, broke the extant equilibrium between slave states and free states, and ignited heated debates about whether slavery should be allowed in the former Mexican territories or not. These political discussions ultimately led to the American Civil War.

The book’s main arguments are developed in this section. The author meticulously explains how Mexicans’ attempts to abolish slavery, as well as the efforts of the fugitives from slavery to gain their freedom by running away to Mexico, contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. Baumgartner vividly describes how political debates in the U.S. revolved around the question of whether allowing slavery in territories where it was previously banned (in this case by Mexico) was legal or not. All of this is exemplified through fascinating anecdotes, like that of a U.S. congressman reading Mexican laws in their original Spanish before his peers. At the same time, through numerous stories from enslaved fugitives in Mexico, one discovers how these waves of migration sparked anti-slavery policies and attitudes among Mexicans, be they part of the elite or common citizens. U.S. southerners, for their part, saw runaway slaves to Mexico, and the  anti-slavery stance of Mexicans, as a threat to their ‘property rights’ and to the future of the slave economy as a whole. This led to violations of Mexican sovereignty. The final chapters narrate how slavery came to an end in the U.S. and the book concludes with a reflection on the character of abolitionism in North America as a whole and how it has shaped the present.

One of the book’s main contributions is to the field of Mexican diplomatic history. Indeed, this reader’s favorite sections of South to Freedom are those where the author describes Mexico’s diplomatic efforts to end Spain’s attempts of reconquest (chapter 4), and the negotiations with Cuba to prevent a U.S. invasion to the island in the middle of the nineteenth century (chapter 10). In the first case, we learn that Mexican officials threatened Spain with forging an alliance with Haiti in order to invade Cuba and end slavery there. The threat of disruption of the economic activities in the Caribbean and the idea that the liberation of Cuban slaves would serve as an example for other enslaved populations across the Atlantic prompted U.S. and British officials to intervene on behalf of Mexico to prevent Spain from invading it again. In the second case, under the menace of U.S. expansionism, and fearing that its northern neighbor would take the rest of Mexican territory, Mexican officials tried to forge alliances with European powers such as France and Spain to retake what was then the U.S. southwest and prevent the annexation of Cuba.

In spite of its many strengths, South to Freedom is not without a few problems. Needless to say, although in the following lines I am critical of this work, it should be noted that these criticisms come from a place of admiration for both the author and the book and are intended to spark debate around this important piece of scholarship. To begin with, the first chapters of the book contain several errors and imprecisions that might distract readers from more important aspects . The University of Mexico City is not the oldest in the Hemisphere, it is Lima’s (21). Spanish forces drove the Napoleonic army from the peninsula in 1814, not 1815 (25). Ultimately, Isidro, not Ignacio, Barradas was in charge of the Spanish expedition that tried to reconquer Mexico in 1829 (70). On the other hand, the author does well in breaking with arguments about ‘American exceptionalism’ by showing how some events in Mexico shaped processes that were occurring in the United States. These connections, however, are more vibrant and visible at the everyday level of people moving across Téjas than in the political discussions in Mexico City and Washington D.C. It is not clear how the act of a U.S. congressman reading Mexican documents before his peers figures as part of Mexican history. To flip the question, would Mexican congressmen alluding to the U.S. in their political discussions make that episode part of U.S. history too? In what sense does the anti-slavery stand of Mexicans make the U.S. Civil War part of Mexican history?

The social context from late-colonial New Spain presented in Chapter One would have benefited from the same level of nuance that appears in the political analysis. Many scholars agree that social classifications used during that period were not ‘racial’ and worked in a complex way in everyday life.[16] The sixteen classifications in this chapter were not really operational in daily life and most of them came from the genre of casta paintings that several scholars  argue should be interpreted as works of art, rather than reflections of society.[17] ‘Mulato’ was an umbrella term for any person of partial African heritage, regardless of the other components of their ancestry, not just for people of European and African ancestry.[18] Further, Spaniards in colonial Mexico rarely, if ever, identified themselves as white. Not even contemporary Europeans considered them as such. Speaking of white privilege in colonial Mexico and equating the social classifications of the U.S. with those of Spanish America, thus, seem like projections of modern ideas onto the past.[19] This of course, in any sense affects the books’ main argument, but gives readers an imprecise perspective of colonial Mexican society.

Similarly, the interpretation of the abolition decree of 1829 and its enforcement presented in South to Freedom seems to run counter to most of the historiography on the subject. Several local and regional studies have demonstrated that while there were ample differences among Mexican states, these differences point to slavery being eliminated in practice, in almost every region, except for Téjas, by the time of the 1829 law or its immediate aftermath before the decree was revoked in 1831. For example, Adriana Naveda, who has been studying Córdoba, Veracruz, for the past four decades, demonstrates that slavery was declining in Veracruz since before independence, and shows how after independence, civic meetings (juntas cívicas) were created to manumit the few enslaved people that remained in the state after the war. Naveda contends that by the time of the 1829’s decree there were barely any slaves in the Córdoba region, and those who remained, were freed by that law. Regrettably, Naveda’s studies do not figure in this book’s ample notes.[20] The same can be said about other Mexican works that have examined these processes at the local level.[21] Another case in point is that of Yucatán. The book seems to suggest that the secession of this territory from Mexico in 1829 was due to the abolition decree of that year. While this might have been one of the reasons leading to Yucatán’s secession, one expected a more nuanced discussion of the subject.[22] Of course the debate about when slavery in fact ended in Mexico is not settled, but this reader finds the evidence from local Mexican studies more compelling than that presented in South to Freedom. The available evidence suggests that other than in Téjas slavery did not survive the decree of 1829, and once this province seceded from Mexico, the law of 1837 simply put into writing something that was already a reality.

The exceptional situation of Téjas in this regard is amply supported by the evidence presented in South to Freedom. We discover that the governor of Coahuila already suspected that ‘norteamericanos’ would try to occupy Téjas before they were granted permission to establish colonies (38). When they were finally granted authorization to settle the province, they never respected Mexican restrictions on slavery because of the lack of state power in the region (chapter 3). Then, when Mexican authorities sent a commission to survey the border in 1828, the officials “saw a province that hardly seemed to be part of Mexico at all” (61). This commission further communicated to Mexico City “the urgency of taking prompt steps to prevent the shameful loss of the department of Téjas” (75). Further, in describing the town of Anahuac near Galveston Bay, the author notes that “the largest building was the barracks” one of whose tasks was to “stop the immigration of norteamericanos, and generally remind the Anglo colonists that Téjas did not, in fact, belong to the United States” (87). We also learn that before the independence of the province from Mexico, North-American colonists outnumbered Mexicans almost eight to one and that there were more slaves in the province than Mexican citizens (102). Finally, Baumgartner argues that the colonists’ initial defense of federalism as an excuse to rebel had been “but a mere pretence from the beginning” (109), signaling that they wanted to be independent to maintain slavery all along.

Despite these caveats, South to Freedom is a lucidly-written work with thought-provoking arguments. One of its most impressive strengths is that of recovering the names, faces, and stories of the many enslaved African-Americans struggling to get their freedom, and whose actions inadvertently shaped national policies. For this reason alone, the book should appeal to everyone interested in both U.S. and Mexican history.

 

 

A growing interest in the Underground Railroad’s purported “southern route” to Mexico has produced reexamination of the fugitives from slavery who escaped captivity by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in the antebellum period. Enslaved African American men and women, mainly in Texas and Louisiana, took advantage of Mexico's proximity and antislavery policies and sought asylum among the southern neighbors of their enslavers. This passageway disrupted the goals of slaveholders in the U.S. South and sparked significant tensions within the United States and along the border. South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War explores the political implications of this route on a domestic and international scale.

Alice Baumgartner's monograph makes and supports a crucial claim: that the southern route to freedom directly contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Baumgartner argues that Mexico's free-soil policies resulted in a domino effect of emancipation—first in Mexico and later in the United States. In short, as fugitives from slavery continued to flee to non-slave holding Mexican states, Anglo immigrants in Mexican Téjas felt threatened and as a result revolted. The Texas Revolution then led to the absolute abolition of slavery across Mexico, the annexation of Texas, the U.S.-Mexican War, the seizure of New Mexico and California, and the imbalance of free and slave U.S. states which ultimately resulted in the American Civil War. Baumgartner complements this major analytical thread with critical insights on how Mexican, U.S. American, European, and Caribbean agents navigated these precarious moments to advance their divergent political agendas.

Baumgartner supports her central thesis using a chronological organization, starting with the early arrival of fugitives from slavery in Spanish Téjas and ending with the conclusion of the Civil War. In an introduction, twelve brief body chapters, and an epilogue, the author guides the reader through her argument with ease, providing concise summaries and learning objectives at the end of each chapter. Though the antebellum story may seem familiar at first sight, readers will be impressed by this fresh and convincing take on how slavery, abolition, and most importantly, freedom seekers, changed the political map of North America.

The first three chapters explore Spanish and Mexican Téjas, focusing on how abolitionist politics in Mexico shifted and impacted Texas. After 1821, the enslaved population of Texas increased as Anglo immigrants from the United States migrated to Mexican territory in search of cheap land. This trend directly contradicted Mexico's antislavery position, which it upheld in part to distinguish itself from its former Spanish sovereign. Chapters four and five follow Mexico's deepening commitment to ending slavery, which led directly to the Texas Revolution, the subject of chapter six. Chapters seven and eight tackle the politically fraught issue of annexation and its impact on the balance of free and slave states in the United States. Chapter nine offers a distinct perspective focusing on black fugitives who made it to Mexico and the Mexican citizens who protected them. Chapters ten and eleven return to politics and focus on the struggle in the U.S. Congress to balance power between free and slave states. The final chapter the Civil War and the simultaneous French invasion of Mexico.

As a diplomatic history, this book reveals how freedom seekers, Mexican politics concerning slavery, and the annexation of Texas mattered not only to the United States but also to Mexico, Great Britain, and France. Each government had a different political, economic, and or moral stake in the outcome of abolition movements. For the United State, the tensions between growing and maintaining a viable republic were at the center of its concerns. Mexico was seeking political stability, frontier security, and moral high ground. Meanwhile, Great Britain was interested in the fight for abolition, which could rid its cotton-producing rivals of a competitive labor advantage. France was interested in securing repayment on debts and finding an opportunity to replace Mexico’s president with a French-backed monarch. Baumgartner explains these entangled histories and exposes their contingent impact on one another.

Zooming in on North America, Baumgartner analyzes the rifts and intricacies between the nineteenth-century political parties in Mexico and the United States. She discusses Mexican shifts between constitutional monarchy, federalists, centralists, and conservative parties as well as critical moments in Mexico’s charge towards abolition, such as the ratification of Mexico’s Constitution of 1857. Likewise, Baumgartner offers a compelling account of how U.S. political parties began to splinter or solidify around slavery, abolition, and federal control. She also spends time explaining how well-known compromises and obscure proposals, like the Wilmot Proviso (1847), which prohibited the expansion of slavery into non-slave-holding territory acquired from Mexico, split Democrats over the right of Congress to admit free or enslaved states to the union. Altogether, South to Freedom adds a cogent synthesis of mid-nineteenth century U.S.-Mexican politics to the historiography.

Moreover, Baumgartner joins historians like Andrew Torget in highlighting how slavery in Texas and the U.S. borderlands impacted international economies and diplomacy.[23] The book captures the pulse of the historiographical vein that explores the diplomatic side of this side of the southern route to freedom, which is currently represented in the work of Sean Kelley, Sarah E. Cornell, and James D. Nicolas.[24] Historians of Latin America, especially in the colonial period, have also traced the history of slave sanctuary, which Baumgartner’s book complements.[25] South to Freedom adds credence to the observation that European and American governments consistently used Black freedom-seekers to manipulate geopolitics and claim moral superiority, often to the detriment of the individuals in question.

Baumgartner's archival reach is extensive. The book’s primary sources come from collections in Mexico, Britain, and the United States. She scoured small local archives in Saltillo, Coahuila and reread though well-known documents in the National Archives. Her thorough database—which included petitions, court cases, laws, diaries, runaway ads, testimonies, Senate speeches, international treaties, and newspapers—ensured alignment between scope and evidence.

The author’s broad corpus of evidence allowed her to uncover oft-overlooked events and actors of post-independence U.S.-Mexico relations. One revelatory moment appears in chapter four when Baumgartner discusses a secret plot in 1829 that involved Mexican forces entering Cuba to liberate those who had been enslaved within the Spanish empire in response to a tentative invasion from the United States. She also discusses the Seminoles and Black Seminoles that moved to northern Mexico in the 1850s. While historians like Kenneth W. Porter, who is mentioned in the book’s epilogue, have produced original research on these communities, few scholars have considered how these groups strengthened existing opportunities for liberation in Mexico’s northern borderland.[26] Thanks in large part to Baumgartner’s use of local archives in Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, the book achieves a more in-depth assessment of this important development.

The book reframes the Civil War, placing it into Mexican diplomatic history. Baumgartner not only traces how Mexico’s antislavery policies affected abolition in the hemisphere, she takes seriously Mexican efforts to produce a stable government, challenge the United States, and alter international affairs. Giving Mexico equal weight in this revisionist account adds to the historiography by making the book a Mexican history as much as it is a U.S. history. She effectively shows that Mexico and Mexicans supported emancipation in such a way that directly affected the stability of slavery in the United States. As Baumgartner phrases it, “we cannot understand the coming of the Civil War without taking into account Mexico and the slaves who reached its soil” (8).

Baumgartner’s treatment of freedom also represents one of the book’s strengths. She does not sugarcoat the difficult realities of liberation in Mexico. Instead, she explores the problematic labor conditions and slave-like contracts that many freedom-seekers found in Mexico. She also highlights how the country's commitment to abolition often necessitated turning a blind eye towards unfair labor conditions for Mexicans in haciendas and factories. When possible, the author allows the historical actors to define freedom on their own terms and successfully demonstrates that despite its imperfections, Mexico generally offered desirable opportunities for those escaping slavery from the United States.

Baumgartner's writing is engaging and concise. Her prose makes even the most mundane nineteenth-century state representative come to life. She is careful with terminology, keeping key terms relevant and suitable to the story. For example, she refers to Spanish and Mexican Texas as Téjas to avoid confusion with the Republic, and later, the State of Texas. She refers to U.S. citizens as norteamerianos to distinguish them from all Americans, which includes people in Latin America. This thoughtful consideration clarifies how local identities transformed with political changes. Unfortunately, this cautious use of langue falls short when discussing enslaved individuals, to whom Baumgartner refers simply as “slaves throughout the work.[27] Many historians have problematized the term and have moved away from using the status as a noun.[28] Despite this oversight, Baumgartner portrays each fugitive from slavery as an individual and is careful to reconstruct their unique experiences using often incomplete and fragmentary records.

Nonetheless, her third narrative thread, which is meant to focus on the lives of fugitives, is not entirely satisfying. Most of the chapters focus on elite figures negotiating the politics of their respective governments, centering white diplomats and their political wrangling. While the book argues that freedom seekers were the spark that kept this international exchange ablaze, there are only a few cases focused on these self-liberating people. The voices and experiences of most Black fugitives—whom Baumgartner credits for sparking these emancipatory changes—are faint and in the shadow of mostly white male actors. However, this shortcoming does not take away from her argument; instead, it leaves room for further investigation and the use of creative methodologies that trace the individuals that committed themselves to the pursuit of liberation.

The author is to be congratulated for this expertly-researched well-crafted monograph. Despite the messiness of the actual history, South to Freedom is a page-turner, and Baumgartner effortlessly guides the reader along. While this book is well-suited for undergraduates, it also represents a new direction in the historiography that will interest scholars of slavery, the Civil War, Texas, Mexico, and the United States.

 

 

Where to start with Alice Baumgartner’s South to Freedom? Such a sweeping, lucid, elegantly written narrative will doubtlessly spark discussion among students and scholars for years to come. Much of that discussion will center on the two main prongs of Baumgartner’s story: the experiences of the enslaved African Americans who successfully made their way to freedom in Mexico during the antebellum era, and the deepening conflict between North and South over the status of slavery in the Southwest borderlands.

These are the primary topics that early reviewers – who are almost uniform in their praise for Baumgartner’s skills as a historian – have examined.[29] And these topics deserve our close attention, for they tell us much about where, why, and how a political dispute over slavery spiralled into a shooting war by 1861.

But the ambitious scope of Baumgartner’s work embraces far more than just “the road to the Civil War” as the subtitle suggests. It’s also very much a book about the war itself. South to Freedom’s powerful final chapter explains how decades of conflict with Mexico over the slavery question shaped foreign policy considerations during the war years. Baumgartner’s work will compel historians to carefully reconsider the scope and scale of the conflict, and the ways in which a civil war between regions nearly became a border-crossing conflict between nations.

Baumgartner joins a growing group of historians who challenge the standard geographic markers of the Civil War. No longer can the conflict be understood exclusively as a struggle between a free Northeast and a slave Southeast. Thanks to this new generation of scholarship, we now see with greater clarity how the war reached across virtually every corner of the continent and resonated across the globe. By pushing both south and west, Baumgartner’s work intersects with two vibrant bodies of literature: the Civil War in the Far West and the Civil War as a global conflict.[30]

The past decade has seen a proliferation of books, articles, journal special issues, symposia, and even museum exhibits dedicated to the far western dimension of the Civil War.[31] Much of this work, like Megan Kate Nelson’s The Three-Cornered War and Andrew Masich’s Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, centers on the territory of New Mexico, where a Confederate invasion and Union counterassault forever upended the old balance of power in the region.[32] Whereas earlier studies focused primarily on clashes between U.S. and rebel troops in the Far Southwest, Nelson and Masich fully incorporate the region’s Native peoples into the narrative.[33] Their works illustrate how the Civil War marked a turning point in the long history of the Apaches and Navajos, in particular, as they attempted to combat a scorched earth campaign by the U.S. military on their traditional homelands.[34] My own book, West of Slavery, explains how the ill-starred Confederate invasion of New Mexico evolved naturally from slaveholders’ longstanding interest in the region. General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s thousand-mile march over the deserts of the Southwest was no errand into the wilderness, as some have suggested. It was the bloody (and ultimately failed) culmination to the slave South’s dreams of a transcontinental empire.[35]  

Scholars seeking to understand the international dimensions of the war have often turned their attention to Mexico. These studies highlight how an already porous border between Mexico and the U.S. became more permeable still during the Civil War era, as both nations attempted to fend off invading/rebelling armies. Like Baumgartner, these historians understand both conflicts in dynamic relation to one another. And they track the people who moved between the two nations in pursuit of (often competing) transnational agendas.[36] 

Baumgartner’s final chapter moves seamlessly from Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the election of 1860, to the Union stampede at the Battle of First Bull Run in summer 1861, to the French landing at Veracruz, Mexico later that year. That invasion ultimately paved the way for an Austrian archduke, Maximilian, to become a Mexican emperor – albeit with a frail grip over the country he claimed to rule. Mexican Liberals, led by President Benito Juarez, were determined to reclaim their nation from French imperialism.

Lincoln’s Republicans and Juarez’s Liberals found common cause in their wars against the anti-democratic reactionaries in their midst. French invaders and Confederate rebels alike imperilled the emancipatory projects of Mexico and the United States. To make freedom meaningful in North America, these enemy armies would have to be turned back. “Even before Maximilian ascended to the throne,” Baumgartner writes, “Lincoln and Juarez seemed to be united against him” (240).

Baumgartner’s way with words and narrative skills are on full display in this chapter. She weaves together disparate storylines in a coherent and highly readable narrative. Some of these storylines will be familiar to American historians; others will be refreshingly new. Baumgartner also gives us a colorful cast of characters. We see a hapless Maximilian, for example, with thinning hair and ample sideburns, lending him “the long-jowled look of a walrus.” Almost comically out of place in his would-be Mexican kingdom, “The archduke of Austria was the archdupe of France” (236).

The last section of the book turns on a great irony: Mexico, a beacon of freedom for African Americans in the antebellum period, became a haven for their enslavers during the postbellum years. Shortly after their defeat at Appomattox, Confederate self-exiles poured across the southern border, often with enslaved laborers in tow. Perhaps they were enticed by Maximilian’s support for systems of indentured labor, which bordered on slavery. That was certainly what the U.S. minister to Mexico, William Corwin, believed. He warned that Maximilian’s decree on labor contracts had been “drawn up solely (though not ostensibly) with the view of inducing our Southern planters to emigrate with their slaves” (245).

U.S. soldiers, including the many freedmen who filled the ranks, thus turned their attention toward the southern border, where North American slavery seemed to be making a final stand. Under the command of General Philip Sheridan, they moved toward the Rio Grande. Their objective was twofold: to crush the institution of slavery in the Americas and to beat back a European invasion of the Western Hemisphere.

No U.S. invasion was necessary, however. In May 1867, Mexican Liberals overwhelmed Maximilian’s ailing regime and captured the emperor himself. A month later, he faced a firing-squad. Thus, the puppet reign of Maximilian ended, not with a whimper, but with a bang. It was a victory for both Mexican self-determination and North American freedom – however attenuated that freedom would become in the following years.

Like the rest of the book, the final chapter prompts readers to reconsider familiar stories with a fresh perspective. As Baumgartner’s powerful narrative makes clear, the road to and through the Civil War stretched across Mexico.

 

 

A decade ago, the historian of slavery Peter Kolchin observed that almost every statement of analysis in history is a statement of comparison: “The assertion that ‘Reconstruction was harsh,’ for example, implies that it was harsh compared to some assumed standard—either what was desired (which varied, of course, with who did the desiring) or what occurred elsewhere.”[37] Reconstruction appears vindictive from the viewpoint of former Confederates, but downright conciliatory from the perspective of freedpeople; it seems harsh compared to the lenient treatment of loyalists in the wake of the American Revolution, but moderate compared to the executions that followed the Spanish Civil War. Kolchin argues that only by making these comparisons explicit can we judge their accuracy.

I thought about Kolchin’s observation often while writing South to Freedom—and again, while reading this generative, thought-provoking roundtable. I am extremely grateful to Erika Pani for writing the introduction to the roundtable, and to Geraldo Cadava, Jorge Delgadillo Núñez, Christina Villareal, and Kevin Waite for engaging with my work. The four participants in the roundtable have each reflected, implicitly or explicitly, on this issue of comparison. Kevin Waite suggests that comparative and transnational approaches can help to challenge "the standard geographic markers of the Civil War.” Christina Villarreal explores how “zooming in on North American” can expose the “rifts and intricacies between the nineteenth-century political parties in Mexico and the United States.” Geraldo Cadava argues that South to Freedom overemphasized the differences between Mexico and the United States, while Jorge Delgadillo Núñez reaches the opposite conclusion—that the book exaggerated the similarities between these two societies, especially with respect to race.

Rather than respond to each reviewer’s comments, I thought I would use this space to reflect on the broader issue of comparison. If every statement of analysis in history is a statement of comparison, as Kolchin suggested, how do we go about making comparisons? In particular, how do we decide whether to emphasize similarities or differences? “Such decisions about where to place the emphasis in the histories we write can be tricky,” as Cadava rightly puts it, and so let me take Kolchin’s advice and make my own comparisons explicit. While researching South to Freedom, I thought about this question of emphasis in two ways. First, I considered whether the similarities or differences between Mexico and the United States had broader consequences that perhaps only could become apparent with the benefit of hindsight. Second, I tried to understand the comparison from the perspective of the enslaved people who were escaping to Mexico. What mattered most to them—the similarities or the differences? On both counts, the differences struck and continue to strike me as significant.

Hindsight makes clear that the legal differences between the United States and Mexico had profound consequences for the coming of the Civil War. The conquest of Mexican territory in 1848 marked the first time in US history that the United States had acquired territory where slavery had been legally abolished. Northern congressmen, of varied political affiliations, recoiled at the thought of reestablishing slavery where it had been prohibited. Like every other post-emancipation society in the world, Mexico struggled to make good on its antislavery commitments, and southern politicians pointed to this fact to argue that Mexico’s antislavery laws did not matter. But their Northern colleagues were unconvinced. Their continued refusal to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific threatened to shift the balance of power between North and South in favor of the nonslaveholding states. Proslavery politicians spent the next decade trying to avoid such an outcome: they attempted to build a railroad across the American Southwest, in hopes of connecting the economic interests of the former Mexican territories with the slaveholding South. As Kevin Waite’s West of Slavery brilliantly shows, they tried first to purchase and then to invade Cuba, and they succeeded in organizing the Kansas and Nebraska Territories without any prohibition on slavery.[38] The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to the formation of a new political party, the Republican Party, whose success in the election of 1860 led the first of the southern states to secede from the Union. Southern politicians might have wished that the legal differences between the United States and Mexico not to matter, but they did, as hindsight shows.

The political and legal differences were also significant enough to convince enslaved people in the south-central United States to take the risk of escaping to Mexico. It is absolutely true, as Cadava notes, that “early plans for freedom in Mexico called for gradual rather than immediate abolition, that slavery was permitted in Texas even after it was abolished in the rest of the country, and that even after slavery was abolished throughout Mexico, many Mexicans still supported the preservation of slavery in some form, including contract labor that slavery’s opponents considered to be slavery by another name.” And yet some enslaved people were able to secure their freedom under gradual emancipation policies, whether in Mexico or in the northern ‘free’ states that had adopted similar laws.[39] The coercive labor practices and racial prejudices that endured in Mexico and in other post-emancipation societies like Haiti and Canada existed alongside promises of legal freedom and sometimes even land and citizenship. When the alternative was continued bondage in the southern United States, these ‘degrees of freedom’ mattered.[40]

This is not to suggest that every book comparing the United States and Mexico should emphasize differences: the emphasis depends on the questions we ask and the period under study. In 1870, as Cadava mentioned, a freedman named Burrill Daniel claimed 125,000 pesos before the US-Mexico Claims Commission, on the grounds that he and his family had been forced to travel from their home in Arkansas to Mexico five years earlier, as part of a much larger migration of Confederates after the Civil War. Daniel and his family escaped from their former enslaver, only to find themselves entrapped by him in a system of debt peonage. Daniel’s claim gives us a sense of how African Americans understood their lives in Mexico, but it is important to note that the political and legal differences between Mexico and the United States had shifted by 1870. Both Mexico and the United States had abolished slavery, grappling with the difficult transition from bondage to freedom. The differences between the two countries were less pronounced than they had been at the start of the US Civil War, and as such, Daniel’s experiences were not the same as those of earlier freedom seekers. For Daniel, the alternative to life in Mexico—a life that he did not choose—was freedom in the United States. For freedom seekers before the Civil War, the alternative was chattel slavery in the South.[41]

I agree with Jorge Delgadillo Núñez that, if anything, I overemphasized the similarities between the United States and Mexico.[42] I recently had the pleasure of reading and learning from Delgadillo’s book manuscript, a granular, perceptive study of slavery and racial formation in colonial Guadalajara. His research shows that calidad (which historians—myself included—have mistranslated as race) was determined less by phenotype than by reputation and social networks. This genealogy reveals some of the ways in which social categorization operated differently in Latin America than it did in the United States.[43]

Recognizing these differences is important. To suggest that Mexico and the United States have a shared history of ‘racism’ during this period is to naturalize ideologies of racial difference that were, in fact, specific to their respective histories. To discount the differences between antislavery policies in Mexico and the defense of slavery in the antebellum United States is to equate a government that was trying to end human bondage and another that was actively trying to protect it. There is much at stake in whether we recognize or discount these differences. If we highlight only the similarities between Mexico and the United States, then it is difficult to see how either country could have been—or could be—any different.


Notes

[1] See Michael F. Holt, The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension and the Coming to the Civil War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005); Sean Wilentz, Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018); James Oakes, Freedom National. The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014); The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2015); Elizabeth R. Varon, Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

[2] Eric V. Meeks, Border Citizens. The Making of Indians, Mexicans and Anglos in Arizona (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007); Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, eds., Border Policing. A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020); Andrew J. Torget, Gerardo Gurza Lavalle, eds., These Ragged Edges: Histories of Violence Along de U.S.-Mexico Border (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022).

[3] Josep Maria Fradera, Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, eds., Slavery and Antislavery in Spain’s Atlantic Empire (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013); Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018); Gerardo Gurza, “Against Slave Power” Slavery and Runaway Slaves in Mexico-United States Relations, 1821-1857,” Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos, 35, (2019), 143-170.

[4] For all the provocative methodological discussions, transnational history has proven difficult to pull off. See the special issue on “The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Perspectives on United States History,” The Journal of American History (1999), 965-1307. Some particularly successful examples for North America are Andrés Reséndez, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

[5] Marcela Terrazas y Basante, “¿Dónde quedó la Doctrina Monroe? Estados Unidos ante la Intervención francesa en México”, in Guillermo Palacios and Erika Pani, eds., El poder y la sangre. Guerra, estado y nación en la década de 1860 (Mexico City: El Colegio de México), 367-394.

[6] Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Andrew Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018); and Amy Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York: Knopf, 2012).

[7] See, for example, Kate Masur, An Example for all the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 4-5.

[8] See, for example, Lorgia García-Peña, The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016); Yomaira Figueroa, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2020); Ada Ferrer, Cuba: An American History (New York: Scribner, 2021); and García-Peña, Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective (Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming).

[9] Juliet Hooker, Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, DuBois, and Vasconcelos (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), especially Chapter 4.

[10] Alurista (Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia), poem preceding the “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 1: 1 (1970): 4-5.

[11] Juan González, Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America (New York: Viking, 2000).

[12] See, for example, Marixa Lasso, “Race War and Nation in Caribbean Gran Colombia, Cartagena, 1810-1832,” The American Historical Review 111:2 (April 2006), 336-361; Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Paul Ortiz, An African American and Latinx History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018); and Tanya Katerí Hernández, “Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Census Categorization of Latinos: Race, Ethnicity, or Other?,” in Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2021), 361-372.

[13] Jenifer A. Jones, “Blackness, Latinidad, and Minority Linked Fate,” in Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies, 425-437.

[14] David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: Harper & Row, 1961); and Torget, Seeds of Empire.

[15] Baumgartner writes, “Their experiences [runaway slaves’] reorient our understanding of the Civil War, showing that one of the most distinctively ‘American’ events in US history was in part ignited by the enslaved people who escaped to the south and the laws by which they claimed their freedom in Mexico" (4).

[16] For how colonial Spanish American social classifications were not “racial” see for example Joanne Rappaport, The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial Kingdom of New Granada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

[17] For how the sixteen classifications did not really operate in daily life in Mexico see for example Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), 25; for the casta paintings: Ilona Katzew, Casta Paintings: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Magali Carrera,  Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003); and Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 163-172.

[18] For the term mulato: Jack Forbes, Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Black/Red Peoples (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993); and Robert Schwaller, Géneros de gente in Early Colonial Mexico: Defining Racial Difference (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016).

[19] For how Spaniards did not identify themselves as white in colonial Mexico see Pilar Gonzalbo Aizpuru, “La trampa de las castas” In Solange Alberro and Pilar Gonzalbo Aizpuru. La sociedad Novohispana: estereotipos y realidades (Mexico: El Colegio de México, 2013); for how other Europeans did not consider them as white either Bethencourt, Racisms, 259.

[20] Adriana Naveda Chávez-Hita, Esclavos negros en las haciendas azucareras de Córdoba, Veracruz, 1690-1830 (Veracruz: Universidad Veracruzana, 1987); “Mecanismos para la compra de libertad de los esclavos” in III Encuentro nacional de afromexicanistas, edited by Luz María Martínez Montiel and Juan Carlos Reyes, (Colima: Gobierno del estado de Colima-CNCA, 1993); “El nuevo orden constitucional y el fin de la abolición de la esclavitud en Córdoba, Veracruz, 1810-1825.” In De la libertad y la abolición: africanos y afrodescendientes en Iberoamérica, 195-217, edited by Juan Manuel de la Serna. Mexico: Conaculta, 2010.

[21] Also missing in the notes are the many studies by Juan Manuel de la Serna, Pautas de convivencia étnica en la América Latina colonial: (indios, negros, mulatos, pardos y esclavos) (México: UNAM, 2005); De la libertad y la abolición: africanos y afrodescendientes en Iberoamérica (Mexico: Conaculta, 2010); and Negros y morenos en Iberoamérica. Adaptación y conflicto (México: CIALC-UNAM, 2015). See also María Guevara Sanginés, “El proceso de liberación de los esclavos en la América virreinal”, in Pautas de convivencia étnica en la América Latina colonial: (Indios, negros, mulatos, pardos y esclavos), edited by Juan Manuel De la Serna (México, UNAM, 2005); a recent doctoral dissertation demonstrates how the law of 1829 was indeed applied until 1831 when it was repealed, see María Camila Díaz Casas, “‘In Mexico you could be free, they didn’t care what color you was’: Afrodescendientes, esclavitud y libertad en la frontera entre México y Estados Unidos, 1821-1865,” PhD Dissertation (México: ENAH, 2018).

[22] For the secession of Yucatán see: Justo Miguel Flores Escalante, “El primer experimento centralista en Yucatán: el Proyecto de gobierno de José Segundo Carvajal (1829-1831),” Secuencia 62 (2005): 47-76; and Shara Ali, “Yucatecan-Mexican Relations and Yucatecan Politicking from 1829-1832: Centralism, Secession, and Federalism,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 30:2 (Summer 2014): 313-341.

[23] Andrew J. Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[24] Sean Kelley, “‘Mexico in His Head’: Slavery and the Texas-Mexico Border, 1810-1860,” Journal of Social History 37 (2004): 709-723; Sarah E. Cornell, “Citizens of Nowhere: Fugitive Slaves and Free African Americans in Mexico, 1833–1857,” Journal of American History 100 (2013): 351-374; James D. Nichols, The Limits of Liberty: Mobility and the Making of the Eastern U.S.-Mexico Border (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

[25] Jane Landers, “Spanish Sanctuary: Fugitives in Florida, 1687-1790,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 62, no. 3 (January 1984): 296–313; Jane Landers, “Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose: A Free Black Town in Spanish Colonial Florida,” in Colin Palmer, ed., The Worlds of Unfree Labor: From Indentured Servitude to Slavery (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998); Linda M. Rupert, “Seeking the Water of Baptism: Fugitive Slaves and Imperial Jurisdiction in the Early Modern Caribbean” in Richard J. Ross, ed.,  Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850 (New York City: New York University Press (013), 199-231; Julius S. Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (London: Verso, 2018).

[26] Kenneth W. Porter, Alcione M Amos, and Thomas P Senter, The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996); Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border: the Seminole Maroons in Florida: the Indian Territory—Coahuila and Texas (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1993); Daniel F. Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles: From Removal to Emancipation (Jackson: Banner Books, University Press of Mississippi, 2001).

[27] This reviewer discussed this matter in a personal conversation with Baumgartner, who was already aware of this issue at the time of publication and expressed a desire to correct it in subsequent work.

[28] For a popular guide on writing about slavery, see P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. “Writing about Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help,” community-sourced document, Oct 10, 2021, 10:00PM, https://naacpculpeper.org/resources/writing-about-slavery-this-might-help/.

[29] Eric Herschthal, “The Elusive Promise of the Underground Railroad,” The New Republic, December 7, 2020; Kerri Greenidge, “Enslaved, Terrorized, Disenfranchised: Black Americans Still Found Ways to Change America,” New York Times, November 16, 2020.

[30] For helpful historiographic overviews, see the introductory essays for two special issues of the Journal of the Civil War Era. Stacey L. Smith, “Beyond North and South: Putting the West in the Civil War and Reconstruction,” Journal of the Civil War Era 6:4 (December 2016); and W. Caleb McDaniel and Bethany L. Johnson, “New Approaches to Internationalizing the History of the Civil War Era: An Introduction,” Journal of the Civil War Era 2:2 (June 2012). See also, Douglas R. Edgerton, “Rethinking Atlantic Historiography in a Postcolonial Era: The Civil War in a Global Perspective,” Journal of the Civil War Era 1:1 (March 2011).

[31] Much of that activity resulted in two important edited volumes on the Civil War in the Far West. Andrew R. Graybill and Adam Arenson, eds., Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015); and Virginia Scharff, ed., Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015)

[32] Megan Kate Nelson, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (New York: Scribner, 2020), and Andrew E. Masich, The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006).

[33] Some of those influential earlier studies include Donald S. Frazier, Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (College State: Texas A&M University Press, 1995); Martin Hardwick Hall, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1960); as well as a number of works by Jerry D. Thompson.

[34] For more on how the Civil War intersects with Native American history in the West, see Kevin Waite, “War in Indian Country,” in The Cambridge History of the American Civil War, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019); and Stacey L. Smith, “New Mexico and the Central Great Plains in the Civil War: Testing U.S. Authority,” in The Oxford Handbook of the American Civil War, Lorien Foote and Earl J. Hess, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)

[35] Kevin Waite, West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021).

[36] See numerous essays in Robert E. May, ed., The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1995); Rachel St. John, “The Unpredictable America of William Gwin: Expansion, Secession, and the Unstable Borders of Nineteenth-Century North America.” Journal of the Civil War Era 6 (March 2016): 56-84; Robert E. May, “The Irony of Confederate Diplomacy: Visions of Empire, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Quest for Nationhood.” Journal of Southern History 83:1 (February 2017): 69-106.

[37] Peter Kolchin, “Comparative Perspectives on Emancipation in the U.S. South: Reconstruction, Radicalism, and Russia,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2:2 (June 2012): 203-232.

[38] Kevin Waite, West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021)

[39] Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); Graham Russell Hodges, Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1865 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997); David N. Gellman, Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006); Shane White, Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770-1810 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012); James J. Gigantino, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Wendy Warren, New England Bound (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016).

[40] The literature on post-emancipation Canada and Haiti is immense. Some important works include: Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 1997); Carolyn E. Fick, “The Haitian Revolution and the Limits of Freedom: Defining Citizenship in the Revolutionary Era,” Social History 32:4 (2007), 394-414; Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hebrard, “Rosalie of the Poulard Nation: Freedom, Law, and Dignity in the Era of the Haitian Revolution,” Assumed Identities; Maleck Ghachem, The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[41] For more on Daniel, see Alice L. Baumgartner, “Burrill Daniel: A Freedom Seeker in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly (forthcoming).

[42] A point of clarification is: I never intended to suggest that Mexican history was US history, or vice versa, as Jorge Delgadillo Núñez suggests. My point was that US history has been shaped by Mexican history.

[43] Jorge E. Delgadillo Núñez, “Becoming Citizens: Afro-Mexicans, Identity, and Historical Memory. In Guadalajara, 17th to 19th Centuries,” book manuscript (forthcoming).