Gálvez, Mariano (1794–1862)

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Gálvez, Mariano (1794–1862)

Mariano Gálvez (b. 26 May 1794; d. 26 May 1862), chief of state of Guatemala (1831–1838). Gálvez was adopted as a foundling by an influential family in Guatemala City and eventually received a royal dispensation from the legal disadvantages of his suspicious birth. He was educated in the law, and his enthusiasm for the Enlightenment ideas of his day led him to a career in politics. He was much involved in the negotiations and turmoil that preceded independence from Spain. Indeed, he voted in favor of independence, but promoted, in fear of instability, political union with the new Mexican empire. After the fall of Agustín de Iturbide, emperor of Mexico, in 1823 and the separation of Central America from Mexico that same year, Gálvez held public offices at both the state and federal level, and in 1831, after a devastating civil war that destroyed conservative power, he was elected chief of state of Guatemala.

With the leading conservatives in exile and with the power to squash opposition, Gálvez fervently sought to set an example in Guatemala that would eventually turn all of Central America into a modern, progressive republic through enlightened social and economic legislation. His attack on the clergy reduced drastically the wealth and power of the church. He proclaimed religious toleration and destroyed the hegemony of the clergy in education by establishing a system of free, public, lay instruction. He began a series of projects for economic development designed to bring new life to sparsely populated and neglected areas of the country, often using foreign colonization to achieve his goals. He attempted to impose a new and alien system of common law, the Livingston Codes, on a society accustomed to the civil law of Spain. Most important, he sought to promote economic competitiveness and prosperity by reducing the communal lands of municipalities to private property. During his term of office, Gálvez instituted the most radical liberal program of reform of nineteenth-century Guatemala.

Gálvez's reforms alienated, offended, and often threatened the livelihood of large sectors of the population, especially the impoverished peasantry. Liberal trade policy damaged native industry. A head tax of two pesos per capita excessively burdened peasants who found themselves landless after the agrarian reforms. The liberal demand for forced labor on public works projects further increased resentment. Peasants also found burdensome the travel that jury duty required. Eventually, profound discontent became outright rebellion. Peasants formed an unlikely alliance with disgruntled conservatives and clergymen that relied on the leadership of a brilliant guerrilla fighter, José Rafael Carrera. Gálvez tried desperately to amend the errors of his reform program, but his stopgap measures were too late to impede a revolutionary movement that had gained tremendous momentum. When he tried unsuccessfully to stop the growth of a cholera epidemic in 1837 by implementing the most modern controls, his measures were misinterpreted by peasants as deliberate poisonings. For these reasons, Gálvez's liberal program was destined to die. He was overthrown in February 1838 and later forced into exile in Mexico.

See alsoGuatemala; Guatemala City.


Antonio Batres Jáuregui, El Dr. Mariano Gálvez y su época (1957).

Jorge Luis Arriola, Gálvez en la encrucijada: Ensayo crítico en torno al humanismo político de un gobernante (1961).

Miriam Williford, "The Reform Program of Dr. Mariano Gálvez," Ph.D. diss., Tulane University, 1963.

William Joyce Griffith, Empires in the Wilderness: Foreign Colonization and Development in Guatemala, 1834–1844 (1965).

Francis Polo Sifontes, Mariano Gálvez, éxitos y fracaso de su gobierno (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Argueta, Mario. La primera generación liberal: Fallas y aciertos (1829–1842). Tegucigalpa: Banco Central de Honduras, 1999.

Torres Moss, José Clodoveo. El doctor Mariano Gálvez en el exilio. Guatemala: Universidad Mariano Gálvez de Guatemala, 1999.

                                          Michael F. Fry

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