Contentious Republicans

Popular Politics, Race, and Class in Nineteenth-Century Colombia

Contentious Republicans

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 2 maps Published: February 2004

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes

Contentious Republicans explores the mid-nineteenth-century rise of mass electoral democracy in the southwestern region of Colombia, a country many assume has never had a meaningful democracy of any sort. James E. Sanders describes a surprisingly rich republicanism characterized by legal rights and popular participation, and he explains how this vibrant political culture was created largely by competing subaltern groups seeking to claim their rights as citizens and their place in the political sphere. Moving beyond the many studies of nineteenth-century nation building that focus on one segment of society, Contentious Republicans examines the political activism of three distinct social and racial groups: Afro-Colombians, Indians, and white peasant migrants.

Beginning in the late 1840s, subaltern groups entered the political arena to forge alliances, both temporary and enduring, with the elite Liberal and Conservative Parties. In the process, each group formed its own political discourses and reframed republicanism to suit its distinct needs. These popular liberals and popular conservatives bargained for the parties’ support and deployed a broad repertoire of political actions, including voting, demonstrations, petitions, strikes, boycotts, and armed struggle. By the 1880s, though, many wealthy Colombians of both parties blamed popular political engagement for social disorder and economic failure, and they successfully restricted lower-class participation in politics. Sanders suggests that these reactionary developments contributed to the violence and unrest afflicting modern Colombia. Yet in illuminating the country’s legacy of participatory politics in the nineteenth century, he shows that the current situation is neither inevitable nor eternal.


Contentious Republicans is a good book on an important subject. Sanders’ links to broader Atlantic trends in the conclusion should be required reading for all nineteenth-century historians and political analysts interested in modern democracy. Colombia’s experiment deserves to be remembered.” — Kris Lane , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Not just for historians, Contentious Republicans should be read by those interested in the problems that the Colombian nation faces today.” — Michael R. Hall, Journal of Third World Studies

"[A] clear, extremely well-researched, and appealing book that undergraduates will find quite manageable. It is essential reading for all students of nineteenth-century Latin American politics, popular mobilization, and popular discourse." — W. John Green , Hispanic American Historical Review

"[Sanders's] text . . . is remarkably clear, concise, and accessible. . . . Contentious Republicans is the best and most innovative book on Colombian nineteenth-century party politics that I have encountered. It challenges us to rethink our understanding of Latin American partisanship and class struggle." — Nancy P. Appelbaum J, Journal of Latin American Studies

"At a time when many of the assumptions of modernization theory appear to be reemerging not only in scholarly works but war cabinets as well, Contentious Republicans offers an eloquent corrective." — Aims McGuinness , Labor

"Sanders is to be congratulated for producing a provocative work that will surely challenge historians to undertake similar studies for other regions of Colombia." — Helen Delpar , American Historical Review

"Sanders' richly detailed analysis of nation-making from below provides a welcomed comparative and international perspective. . . . Recommended." — S.J. Hirsch , Choice

Contentious Republicans is a lucid, well-researched, and engagingly written account that will force a rethinking of popular political thought and practice and its impact on national politics in Colombia.” — Mary Roldán, author of Blood and Fire: La Violencia in Antioquia Colombia, 1946–1953

“Contentious Republicans is the most intelligent and persuasive application of the insights of ‘subaltern studies’ I have encountered in the field of Latin American studies. James E. Sanders shows in engaging detail how different subaltern groups turned the republican politics of newly independent Colombia into an arena of struggle. The quality and sheer quantity of Sander’s evidence is impressive; much of it is drawn from regional and national archives largely untapped for the purpose of writing social and cultural history.” — Charles Bergquist, author of Labor and the Course of American Democracy: U.S. History in Latin American Perspective


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

James E. Sanders is Assistant Professor of History at Utah State University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments viii

1 Introduction: A Social History of Politics 1

2 “We the Undersigned, Citizens of the State”: Three Forms of Popular Republicanism 18

3 A New Politics: The Emergence of Republican Bargaining, 1848-1853 58

4 Fragmented Hegemony: The Limits of Elite Power, 1853-1863 100

5 The Triumph of Democracy, 1863-1876

6 Failure of Discipline: The Suppression of Popular Politics, 1875-1886 153

7 Conclusion: Popular Republicans’ Legacies 184

Notes 199

Abbreviations 237

Bibliography 239

Index 253
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3224-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3234-3
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