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Pedro Hermión of Jefferson.

The Scorpions in a Bottle speech of 7 May 1843 was the most famous speech in the career of Mexican President Pedro Hermión. It immediately made Hermión the leading figure in the Continentalist Party and served to reorient the Continentalists' foreign policy platform from coexistence with the Confederation of North America to wariness and hostility.

Hermión gave the speech at the Jeffersonian Continentalists' state convention in Henrytown in early May 1843. At that time, the Continentalist Party was in disarray and deeply pessimistic about the future, following the Liberty Party's victory in the 1839 Mexican elections. Liberty Party candidate Miguel Huddleston had won the allegiance of the U.S.M.'s Mexicano majority, and although most Mexicanos were unable to vote at the time, growing numbers were leaving the farms and plantations of Jefferson, Durango, and Chiapas to form small businesses and find urban employment, thereby joining Mexico's "free" voting population.

The convention began on 5 May 1843 when Senator Peter O'Gorman gavelled the meeting to order and gave a speech on the Jefferson's growing economic problems. He ended by saying, "Our land is leeched of its vitality, and our people of their soul." On 6 May, former Secretary of Agriculture Homer Brown made an unconvincing speech in which he predicted a rise in the price of cotton.

Pedro Hermión was then a member of the Assembly from Lafayette who served as a token Hispano for the Anglos who controlled the party. He had pleaded with O'Gorman to be allowed to address the convention "on the problems of my people in Lafayette," and the Senator had agreed.

Hermión began his address by saying, "Our party has been at different times accused of weakness, wrong-headedness, and incivility. We have been called slavers, tyrants, yellow dogs, and scorpions. But we have never been accused of blindness or lack of daring. I charge, gentlemen, that our opponents are wrong. We are not scorpions or yellow dogs, tyrants or weaklings. But we are blind and have lost our ability to meet challenges. And the fault, my fellow-continentalists, is with you, the people I see before me. It is people such as you who have brought our party to its present sorry state."

At this point, Hermión's audience began jeering at him, calling him "Mexican chico", "greaser", and "traitor", but he remained silent until the abuse ended, then raised his hands and declared, "You have just given the world another example of the blindness of which I speak," but this time, refused to allow himself to be silenced. He continued, "Our party built this nation. Our party led it through its most difficult years. Our party was responsible for the gathering of the wealth in California, for the lifting of oppression in Chiapas, for the beginnings of explorations in Arizona and Mexico del Norte. Our party, our President, led the way for harmonious racial relations in the Capital District. Our party has made the U.S.M. a major world power. And now our party is in despair, not because of any failing of the party or its leadership, but because of events our party could not control, because the price of cotton has fallen a few centavos. Our party has not been built on cotton, but on men! And men, not cotton, will bring our party to greatness once again."

By now, Hermión's audience was shouting its agreement. He had succeeded in winning the approval of a group that was ninety percent Anglo. He went on, "Our past has been glorious, and we need not apologize for anything we have done, to any man, be he Mexican or North American, English or French. But a party lives in the present, and not in the past, and we must direct ourselves to these tasks, and not to the current Paris or Liverpool or New York cotton quotations. Greene was not concerned with such matters, nor was Hamilton or Jackson. They were men involved with men, and not with dolares and centavos. And the program for the future is so obvious that it begs for recognition. That is why I say we are blind, and it is for this program that I will speak."

Hermión's audience was silent now. He had their undivided attention. He continued, "For too long we in Mexico have forgotten our heritage and our roots. As President Jackson once said, 'In our veins flows the blood of rebels and conquistadores.' Yet all we talk of today is gold and cotton, as though such commodities could purchase national greatness and honor. Nor should we forget the threats to our land from abroad. Russia looks longingly at California, Spain dreams of a new empire in the Americas. And most of all, the Confederation of North America threatens our very existence. Along the Mississippi and Arkansas, in the Gulf of Mexico and the west Atlantic, we face the North Americans, who hunger for our wealth and lands."

Now Hermión's speech was interrupted with cheers and whistles. The Continentalists of Jefferson did indeed remember their roots as the Patriots who fought for independence in the North American Rebellion and lost. The C.N.A. was the country founded by their Loyalist enemies, and were always ready to be reminded of it. Hermión concluded his speech by saying, "In Mexico del Norte the Mexicanos have a game -- some call it a sport. The peasants put two scorpions in a large bottle, and then take wagers as to which will win the struggle. Slowly the scorpions circle each other, until one lashes out at the other, and strikes him dead. So it is on our continent. At first glance it appears North America is a large place, with room enough for all. But the C.N.A. and the U.S.M. are both inhabited by aggressive and expansionist peoples. Within a few years this great expanse will seem small indeed, as we meet in the waters of the Gulf and along the Jefferson-Vandalia border. At this point the scorpions will meet in combat, with only one the victor. I mean that victor to be Mexico, and I believe only the Continentalist Party, revived and restored, can lead the nation to such a destiny!"

Although, Hermión's speech only lasted for fifteen minutes, he succeeded in winning over Continentalists, giving them a new program and a new leader. When Huddleston read the speech, he denounced Hermión's view of the U.S.M. and its future, saying, "We have troubles enough in our own land without seeking new ones abroad. Mexican gold and silver will be used for the benefit of all, not the destruction of property and the murder of men. Privately, though, he admitted that Hermión had struck a nerve. Mexicans of all races liked their leaders aggressive, and Hermión was giving them what they wanted.

From a poltiical standpoint, Hermión's new emphasis on an aggressive foreign policy aimed at the C.N.A. was a clever one. Alexander Hamilton, who had founded the Continentalist Party in the 1790s, had only left the thirteen colonies reluctantly. He had urged conciliation with the C.N.A. and Britain, and instead had seen Jefferson's destiny laying in expansion to the south and west, into the lands of the Spanish colonial empire. During the Trans-Oceanic War, Hamilton had even created a de facto alliance of Jefferson and the C.N.A., as both made war on Spain's new world colonies, and the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers formed a mutually-agreed-upon boundary between the two nations. But the party Hamilton had founded had fallen victim to its own success. Once the union with Mexico was achieved by Jackson, the Continentalists no longer had a distinct foreign policy. Hermión's master stroke was to take the Liberty Party's old enmity for the C.N.A., which Huddleston had abandoned, and claim it for the Continentalists.

Nor was Hermión's fear of the C.N.A. misguided. Only three months before, the North Americans had elected a military leader their first Governor-General, and newly-appointed Minister of War Henry Gilpin made no secret of his desire to see the C.N.A. grapple with the "anarchists and half-breeds of Mexico." War with the C.N.A. was already looming in 1843, and Pedro Hermión considered himself the proper man to lead Mexico in that war. In the Scorpions in a Bottle speech, he was able to convince the leaders of the Continentalist Party that he was right.


Sobel's sources for the Scorpions in a Bottle speech are the 8 May 1843 Jefferson Patriot, the 15 May 1843 Mexico Gazette, James Boatwright's Pedro Hermión: A Hero in His Own Land (Mexico City, 1954), Janet Holt's Demagogue and Dictator: The Life of Pedro Hermión (New York, 1954), and Herman Muller's Hermión of Jefferson: Patriot or Traitor? (Mexico City, 1969).

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