Carlos Concepción (1825 - 1887), also Conception and Conceptión, was a Libertarian Senator from Chiapas who was the first Mexicano to be a serious contender for the office of President of the United States of Mexico, and the founder of the Workers' Coalition and the Moralistas.
Concepción was a devout Catholic who was known to be contemptuous of the U.S.M.'s Anglos, and Sobel notes that he spoke English with a decided Spanish accent. Although Sobel does not specifically say so, it is evident that Concepción was influenced by the class-based theories of the radical German political philosopher Karl Marx.
Concepción became the leader of the radical wing of the Liberty Party during the administration of Arthur Conroy in the 1860s. Speaking of Conroy's reforms, Concepción said, "Under the guise of reformism, this man has managed to solidify his class's control over the nation. We are doomed to many more years of Conroyism, unless the people wake up to what the Machiavelli has done to deceive them."
During the 1869 Mexican elections, Concepción sought the Libertarian presidential nomination, claiming that under Conroy's electoral reforms, a Mexicano from Chiapas might gain enough support to win the election. However, Concepción had no support among the Libertarian leadership, who were not ready to unite behind a Chiapan, much less a Mexicano. The Libertarians ultimately chose Governor Henry Colbert of Mexico del Norte.
Six years later, at the Liberty Party convention in May 1875, Concepción was one of two main contenders for the presidential nomination, along with Arizona Governor Thomas Rogers of Arizona. By then, Concepción had formed alliances with some of the more radical Indian tribes in Arizona and Mexico del Norte, and had begun to champion small farmers in California who were being victimized by Kramer Associates. He also denounced Guatemala's subordination to Mexico, comparing the relationship between the two countries to that of "thief and assassin." During the convention, he declared, "If I am defeated at this caucus, it will be because of my race and the opposition of powerful interests opposed to the well-being of all Mexicans." He also spoke of "Mexico's wealth having fallen into the hands of a few, while the rest of the nation remains in chains." Sobel says that such remarks won Concepción much support among radical Libertarians, but alienated mainstream voters.
When the convention chose Rogers on the second ballot, Concepción and his followers split from the Liberty Party and formed the Workers' Coalition, which would run against both Rogers and incumbent President Omar Kinkaid. During the election campaign, Concepción refused to appear in areas of the U.S.M. controlled by Anglos, and called for a "union of Mexicanos against our oppressors" and the nationalization of Kramer Associates. By late July, he was giving most of his speeches in Spanish, and on one occasion called for the "removal of those who stole our country from us." Sobel states that it was clear in hindsight that Concepción had given up hope of winning the election, and was laying the groundwork for a revolutionary organization.
In the elections, Concepción won 10.9% of the vote, mostly among Mexicanos, which was well above expectations. His attempt to gain support among Mexico's Indians was unsuccessful, gaining him only 3.4% of the vote in Arizona and 4.2% in Mexico del Norte. In spite of this, he claimed that his showing in the election represented a moral victory. "We have shown the plutocrats of Mexico City and Paris that we are united. We have been heard. We will be heard in the future. Mexico will shake to the sound of our voices, united in the cause of justice. God is speaking to us today, just as he spoke to Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to Revillagigedo and to José Morelos when he first dared defy the might of the white devils of Jefferson. The Workers' Coalition is dead, killed by the cynics of the north. Long live the Moralistas!" He and his chief supporters then disappeared into the Sierra Madre Occidental and began a guerilla campaign to overthrow the Mexican government.
The rise of the Moralista insurgency coincided with the coming of the Great Depression and the Bloody Eighties, both of which resulted from the outbreak of the Franco-German War in the late autumn of 1878. The war resulted in a panic in the money markets of Paris and Berlin, which soon spread to London and New York. Prime Minister Geoffrey Cadogan ordered a mobilization of the British army and increased naval appropriations in 1879. The resulting higher taxes and increased interest rates combined with a war scare to cause British investors to liquidate their investments in the Confederation of North America. A string of business failures in the C.N.A. led to the most severe economic crisis in North American history, and a general depression throughout Europe and the Americas, including the U.S.M.
When President Kinkaid was assassinated by a thrown bomb on 7 December 1879, Concepción denied responsibility, claiming that Bernard Kramer and Monte Benedict had been behind the bombing. His successor, George Vining, responded by deploying a major part of the army to the Sierra Madre. He also created an elite corps of undercover police and soldiers called the Constabulary, placing railroad executive Benito Hermión in charge.
The combined army and Constabulary offensive succeeded in limiting the Moralistas to their center of operations in the Sierra Madres. However, the Workers' Coalition continued to organize among the Mexicanos of Chiapas, and announced that it would hold its national convention in the Chiapan capital city of Palenque in July 1881. There were rumors that Concepción himself would appear at the convention, and in the days leading up to the convention's opening ceremonies on 15 July both Moralista insurgents and Constabulary agents began to appear in Palenque.
On the morning of 15 July, José Godoy, a leading figure in the Coalition and a reputed lieutenant of Concepción, began to give a speech. A squad of Constabulary agents entered the hall, marched to the podium, and attempted to arrest him. A riot erupted in the convention hall, and a gun battle broke out between the delegates and the Constabulary. In the ensuing chaos, Godoy and twenty-two other delegates were killed, and another seventy-five people were badly injured, including ten Constabulary agents.
The Massacre of Innocents, as it was called, led to an uprising among Chiapan Mexicanos, which spread to the rest of the U.S.M. Concepción took advantage of the popular outrage to launch a new round of Moralista attacks on major cities in Chiapas and Durango, with himself leading the attack on Mexico City. All of the attacks were repulsed by the army, and Concepción was badly wounded.
Vining's death by heart attack on 12 September, nine days before the scheduled election, allowed Hermión to seize power and make himself dictator of Mexico. He continued the campaign against the Moralistas, which by the summer of 1883 were able to operate only in the Sierra Madre, the Yucatan peninsula, and parts of Baja California. Concepción himself died of natural causes in 1887, and Sobel remarks that his passing was barely noticed at the time.
Sobel uses the variant spelling Conceptión throughout For Want of a Nail . . .
Sobel's sources for the life and career of Carlos Concepción include Felix Lombardi's The Three-Cornered Hat: Conceptión, Kinkaid, Rogers, and the Election of 1875 (Mexico City, 1955); William Berry's The Dead Are Unburied in the Plaza: The Mexican Repression of 1881 (Mexico City, 1956); Robert Kerr's Carlos Conceptión and the Birth of the New Radicalism (New York, 1960); Orrin Macon's The Palenque Convention in Mexican History (Mexico City, 1960); and Herbert Brinkerhoff's Mexico's Political Revolution (New York, 1964).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 21 July 2013.