Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba

Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba

by David Sartorius


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Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba by David Sartorius

Known for much of the nineteenth century as "the ever-faithful isle," Cuba did not earn its independence from Spain until 1898, long after most American colonies had achieved emancipation from European rule. In this groundbreaking history, David Sartorius explores the relationship between political allegiance and race in nineteenth-century Cuba. Challenging assumptions that loyalty to the Spanish empire was the exclusive province of the white Cuban elite, he examines the free and enslaved people of African descent who actively supported colonialism. By claiming loyalty, many black and mulatto Cubans attained some degree of social mobility, legal freedom, and political inclusion in a world where hierarchy and inequality were the fundamental lineaments of colonial subjectivity. Sartorius explores Cuba's battlefields, plantations, and meeting halls to consider the goals and limits of loyalty. In the process, he makes a bold call for fresh perspectives on imperial ideologies of race and on the rich political history of the African diaspora.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822355939
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 01/10/2014
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 9.70(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

David Sartorius is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Maryland.

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Ever Faithful Ever Faithful

Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5593-9


Belonging to an Empire

Race and Rights

The blood of colored men is red, and so is that of warriors, of healthy men: pure and noble blood. The juntas established in America have won this class over, granting them the equality for which they yearn. We must win them back with a similar declaration. "Come, pardo," I would say: "Do not stray in search of the sweet food you desire. Do not flee your home to seek it, poor wretch (for they are very humble and like to be treated like this). Here at home you can have it."

—José Mejía Lequerica, addressing the Cortes of Cádiz, 1810

Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain in 1808 prompted a remarkably uniform response from the Spanish American colonies: demonstrations of loyalty to the exiled monarch Fernando VII and the establishment of juntas (councils) that would rule in the king's name as Joseph Bonaparte assumed the Spanish throne. Few calls for independence could be heard in the Americas. The Junta Central in Spain called for an assembly to redefine the relationships between the king, his government, and his subjects, and in so doing it began to imagine what it meant for Spain to exist as both an empire and a nation. With French troops advancing south from Madrid, the Junta Central retreated in 1810 to the Isla de León at the southern port of Cádiz, and dissolved to form a Regency Council that called for an assembly to draft Spain's first constitution. It included deputies from across the Atlantic but stopped short of asserting the political equality of the American territories; the deputies instead insisted that they were not from "colonies or outposts (factorías) like those of other nations, but an essential and integral part of the Spanish monarchy." So many interested parties from across the empire descended on the city to observe and participate in the proceedings that one onlooker wrote that "Spain had almost entirely been reduced to the walls of Cádiz."

That microcosm bustled with people maintaining an empire entering its fourth century. Among the official delegates to the constitutional Cortes (Parliament) figured titled nobles, priests, lawyers, and merchants, and they mingled in the city with the sailors, slaves, and artisans who had done their part, too, for the prosperity and defense of Spain. By 1812, sixty-three of the delegates—about a fifth of the total—represented the American colonies. As the port in Spain through which most trade and communication with the Americas took place, Cádiz was no stranger to transatlantic arrivals or to the presence of slaves, who were bought and sold there as they were in other imperial ports. But during the constitutional debates, the presence of Americans and people of African descent—both of them subjected to a subordinate political status—served as a powerful reminder of the limits of the liberal principles being fiercely debated. That some of the American juntas began to favor independence and seek supporters of native and African origins exposed the contradictions in the Cádiz debates even further.

In the midst of the commotion was a free Cuban man of African descent experiencing firsthand how the Spanish state gave political significance to racial difference. José María Rodríguez, identified in documents as a free mulatto and vecino (resident) of Havana, spent the early months of 1812 stuck in Cádiz with no apparent role in the constitutional drama. Instead, he was struggling to acquire a passport—in this era, permission to make a single voyage—that would let him travel back to Cuba to take care of urgent financial matters and then return to Cádiz with the money that he needed to conduct business. He was one of several Cubans whose requests to travel stalled as the imperial bureaucracy struggled to stay afloat. Unlike applicants of full Spanish descent, however, Rodríguez had to wait for the Real Audiencia (high court) in Havana to send documentation of his free status back to Spain before he could receive permission to travel. Moving within the empire as well as beyond it irregularly required state documentation for most people, and a passport—a basic document that identified membership in a sovereign political community—presented particular challenges to free people of African descent, whose full legal personhood was not recognized by Spanish law. In contrast, thousands of enslaved Africans continued to travel the Atlantic against their will each year with no such passports; as far as customs houses and officials were concerned they were cargo, property, but rarely individual people with fixed legal identities who required documentation. Rodríguez's hassles occurred as the Cortes of Cádiz was determining the legal status of free people of African descent: whether they could be Spanish citizens or remain Spanish subjects.

The crisis in Spain precipitated an empire-wide crisis of coherence, and people from Cortes delegates to frustrated Cubans routinely used the language of race to formulate their responses. Drawing on old languages of citizenship and inclusion, the Cortes of Cádiz initiated new conversations about the political subjectivity of African-descended people in the Iberian world that became particularly resonant in Cuba as it remained part of the empire. Although the Constitution of 1812 was in effect only briefly (from 1812 to 1814 and 1820 to 1823), it established the terms of debates about who did and could belong to the newly imagined Spanish national empire, despite its long-term inability to reconcile liberalism with an ongoing imperial project. 5 In the context of a French invasion of the mother country, restructuring the Spanish nation had immediate implications for Cubans. In the wake of the Haitian Revolution, French refugees arrived from Hispaniola. Now that the French had seized Spain, did those immigrants obey the same king? Did support for France equate to sedition or solidarity?

Independence movements in mainland Spanish America found their origins less in long-simmering nationalisms than in the chaos produced from competing attempts to reformulate Spanish sovereignty after 1808. In this light, the politics of empire in Cuba merit close attention. The historical developments that postponed violent independence conflicts in Cuba do not necessarily attest to an inherently conservative, backward-looking, or risk-averse political culture. As is well known many well-to-do Cubans preferred Spanish stability to the risks of a violent conflict when both sugar production and slavery were expanding precipitously—in other words, loyalty to Spain represented "the price of prosperity." That explanation leans heavily on the racial anxieties of white Cubans. As the Cortes of Cádiz and other imperial projects reconsidered the privileges and meanings of whiteness in the early nineteenth century, the diverse Cubans who shaped the island's political trajectory did not stop at trying to stifle independence; they sought to reimagine the goals and limitations of loyalty to the Spanish empire and the political languages through which they expressed that support.

Race, Rights, and the Constitution of 1812

Spain's political identity as an empire had long been supported by legal structures and governing institutions that generated interrelated hierarchical distinctions between its diverse subjects. Representative advisory councils called cortes dated back to medieval Iberian kingdoms, but throughout the colonial period, the colonies had not figured in what had become a fulsome legislative system. All of the monarch's subjects enjoyed the right of appeal, but the extension of royal justice to social subordinates functioned unevenly and according to paternalistic ideologies that attributed an inherent weakness to women, children, inhabitants of the colonies, and people of indigenous and African ancestry, who required the king's benevolent protection. Measures to ameliorate the conditions of these weaker people made no presumption of their equality or capacity for membership in a polity. The crisis of 1808 effected dramatic reimaginings of these relationships. In the process of drafting a constitution in Cádiz, the question of who could belong to Spain overlapped with the question of how Spain would unite its territories around the world. The answer offered by the Cortes of Cádiz was to envision Spain much more explicitly as a nation, even as it sought to preserve its older imperial configuration and regain territorial control from France. As Henry Kamen explains it, "Spain existed as a nation because absence made it real."

This is not to say that concepts of nationalism and citizenship did not exist before the Constitution of 1812. Among the earliest references to the Spanish nation, even in the absence of a political unit, were contrasts between Spanish naturales (natives) and extranjeros (foreigners), and indeed, the select few who would claim to be vecinos (residents or citizens) enjoyed limited formal rights offered by the crown. Early modern notions of vecindad and naturaleza were primarily local categories of belonging from which broader concepts of a national community later derived, although the monarch could naturalize foreigners by issuing a carta de naturaleza (naturalization letter). Inhabiting those categories involved negotiations and affirmations within towns and cities, and although the boundaries were rigid enough to prevent women from claiming vecindad, early cases of indigenous, mestizo, mulatto, and non-Spanish European vecinos and naturales attest to the fluidity, and perhaps informality, of these designations. What Tamar Herzog notes as a "growing identification between 'Spanishness' and citizenship" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was oft en checked by individuals who proved their love of community or "a sufficient sense of loyalty," according to one eighteenth-century writer. Thus test cases in the colonies oft en delineated citizenship's boundaries, as individuals not from Iberia attempted to claim membership and as migrants to the colonies longed for their homeland.

The Constitution of 1812 was a radical document that placed Spain far ahead of other European polities in its embrace of liberalism and its extension of citizenship rights guaranteed by a constitution. It limited the power of the crown and traced its authority to popular sovereignty; it established civil rights and free trade; and it announced the elimination of entail and seigneurial jurisdiction. Beyond the concrete outcomes, the proceedings of the constitutional Cortes in 1810 and 1811 devoted significant time to discussing basic political questions and how they might be applied to Spain and its empire. What is sovereignty? What is a nation? Who are the people of a nation? What is a citizen? These questions led delegates to test the limits of vague commonplaces; especially vexing were the ideas that the nation was the collectivity of all Spaniards in both hemi spheres and that the "voice of the people" resided in the majority. As in earlier negotiations of the meaning of vecindad and naturaleza, delegates routinely sought evidence in the details of colonialism and racial difference.

From the outset, the deliberations in Cádiz had to address the question of the political Representation for the Americas. By 1810 the provisional juntas that had been established in many Spanish American cities were no longer reliably supportive of Fernando VII and the Cádiz Cortes, sometimes out of calculated strategy, sometimes out of genuine confusion. Indeed, minor confusion about legitimate political authority punctuated early deliberations in Cuba. When news of the French invasion reached Havana in July 1808, the Marqués de Someruelos, the captain general, authorized the formation of a junta subordinate to the Junta Suprema Central in Spain, but two members of Havana's ayuntamiento, or city council, opposed the decision, claiming that there was no precedent or right to do so. Francisco Arango y Parreño, the modernizing political force behind Cuba's expansion of slavery and sugar cultivation, led a short-lived movement to form a Junta Suprema. With equal authority to those in Spain and presumably with the intent of reorganizing the government, the movement nominally claimed a state of exception that justified extraordinary power during crisis. Ultimately, the ayuntamiento requested permission to form a junta on 26 July and in 1810 received a royal order thanking Cubans for "the demonstrations of loyalty and the common feelings in all American provinces of love for the King." The Consejo de Regencia, which replaced the Junta Suprema Central, formed a Cortes in Cádiz and gave Cubans the right to Representation in the Cortes in February 1810. When the Cortes first met at the end of September, twenty-seven delegates out of the ninety-nine represented the Americas. Cuba had two delegates: the Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago and Joaquín Santa Cruz. Representation surfaced frequently as the principal problem of including the colonies in the process and nation. Many Spanish deputies understood that guaranteeing Representation across the ocean was necessary to maintain the loyalty of the colonies but a threat, in numerical terms, to the dominance of peninsular Spaniards in a representative system. Delegates from the Americas faced the dilemma of advocating for broad categories of citizenship that would include non-European populations in order to increase their proportional numbers, while remaining concerned about the social repercussions of extending rights so broadly at home. In contrast to finding colonies expressing increased frustration with Spanish rule, members of the Cortes worried that Spain had too many loyal subjects—namely the dark ones who threatened to outnumber them.

Despite the low-key presence of the Cuban deputies in the Cortes Constituyentes, the debates that took place had a profound impact on the island and on the way that ideas about race intersected with political rule and political allegiance. Certainly some concerns about who counted as a Spaniard minimized racial distinctions. Pedro Inguanzo, a delegate who consistently argued against the adoption of liberal principles, explained that the majority of the population included women, artisans, menial laborers, rústicos (bumpkins), and ignorant people who were too "docile and submissive" even to expect to have a voice, much less know how to represent "the people." And the question of who could become a Spaniard was sometimes less about who lived within Spanish territory than who came from beyond it. The French intervention weighed heavily on the minds of delegates, and Francisco Javier Borrul, a delegate from Valencia, thought it appropriate to require a foreigner to live in Spanish territory for at least ten years before seeking naturaleza, "in order to ascertain his love of the nation and firm desires to follow our laws." Belonging to the empire, in other words, depended on affective ties and avowed subordination—fundamental components of pro-colonial loyalty as its adherents frequently articulated it.

Several delegates recognized the incongruity between the embrace of liberal ideas and the continued existence of slavery, and proposals in July 1811 to abolish slavery and the slave trade were one of the first debates into which Cuban delegates actively entered. José Miguel Guridi y Alcocer and Agustín de Argüelles, who did the most to introduce the principles of liberalism into the constitutional debates, submitted proposals to abolish slavery in July 1811. Concerned, too, with property rights, Guridi y Alcocer proposed to require current slaves to "remain in servile condition" so as not to "defraud their owners of the money they cost them." Argüelles, however paired his proposal to abolish the transatlantic slave trade with a call to abolish torture "tan bárbara y cruel [so barbaric and cruel]" and to live up to "the liberality and religiosity of the principles of Spain's criminal code." Andrés de Jáuregui, a Cuban deputy, spoke against the proposal, promising that Cuba "today enjoys profound tranquility," and he worried about the political effects of altering "domestic peace" by abolishing slavery in "one of the most precious parts of overseas Spain." Domestic peace was a constant concern of Jáuregui to the extent that he requested that all discussions of slavery be conducted in secret sessions so that news of the proceedings did not reach Cuba and generate rumors of emancipation.

Francisco Arango y Parreño, Cuba's great enlightened reformer and voice of the planter elite, regularly expressed concern that Cuba's place in the Spanish empire would be in jeopardy if slavery were abolished. No enemy of liberalism, Arango y Parreño was perhaps the greatest ideological exponent of free trade in Cuba, which he had been advocating for since he joined Havana's ayuntamiento in the 1780s, when he was still a legal minor. He epitomized the reconciliation of free market economics and slave labor that, as Dale Tomich has noted, was "at once a defining feature and a central paradox of the nineteenth-century Cuban slave regime." The proposals by Guridi y Alcocer and Argüelles led Arango to author one of the great defenses of Cuban slavery and persuade the captain general and Havana ayuntamiento that the question of slavery would be the one issue that might determine Cuba's loyalty to Spain. In this case, Arango's fear was less that a slave insurrection would cause the demise of colonial rule than that the Cuban elite would revolt if slavery fell victim to the Cortes's commitment to liberal principles.


Excerpted from Ever Faithful Ever Faithful by DAVID SARTORIUS. Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Preface, vii,
Acknowledgments, xv,
INTRODUCTION A Faithful Account of Colonial Racial Politics, 1,
ONE Belonging to an Empire Race and Rights, 21,
TWO Suspicious Affinities Loyal Subjectivity and the Paternalist Public, 52,
THREE The Will to Freedom Spanish Allegiances in the Ten Years' War, 94,
FOUR Publicizing Loyalty Race and the Post-Zanjón Public Sphere, 128,
FIVE "Long Live Spain! Death to Autonomy!" Liberalism and Slave Emancipation, 158,
SIX The Price of Integrity Limited Loyalties in Revolution, 187,
Conclusion Subject Citizens and the Tragedy of Loyalty, 217,
Notes, 227,
Bibliography, 271,
Index, 305,

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"Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba is without a doubt among the most original interpretations of nineteenth-century Cuban history to appear in recent years. By not treating the path of nationhood as preordained, David Sartorius focuses our attention on the phenomenon of loyalty—always contingent yet rooted in long historical processes of incorporation—and on the myriad historical actors who professed it. A valuable and welcome study."—Ada Ferrer, author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898

"Ever Faithful is an important book. Rather than add to the copious scholarship explaining how Cubans came to reject colonial rule, David Sartorius asks why so many remained loyal to Spain. Exploring how loyalty worked in practice, he focuses on people of color, whose allegiances were watched closely by both imperial and nationalist leaders. He offers an original and convincing thesis: that the history of loyalty explains as much or more about Cuban racial politics than does the history of revolution and independence."—Vincent Brown, author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

"David Sartorius illuminates and complicates Cuban history from 1808 to 1898, focusing on loyalty to Spain to understand enduring colonial rule, the expansion and end of slavery, and a late and limited independence. Diverse Cubans negotiated Spanish citizenship. In a complex racial politics, opposition to empire and to slavery often diverged—prolonging both. Ever Faithful begins an essential rethinking of empire and citizenship, race and resistance in Cuba—with powerful implications for Brazil and the United States."—John Tutino, author of Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America

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