Atlantic Dimensions 7

As the chaotic process of state formation in Latin America pro¬ceeded, realpolitik was everywhere, often in the crudest, most brutal form; but so too were idealistic hopes for enlightened, liberal polities. And those enlightened aspirations were rationalized and conceptual¬ized with reference, in part to the classic texts of advanced European thought, in part to Hispanic traditions, and in large part to the widely circulating translations of North American constitutions, state and federal, with their emphasis on federalism.
The impact of North American constitutionalism on Latin Amer¬ica was profound, but often it was, as one historian, paraphrasing Isabel Allende, put it: like a lock ordered by catalogue that arrived with wrong instructions and no keys. That was certainly the view of Simon Bolivar, convinced that the federalism of the first Venezuelan constitution of 1811, modeled in part on the American Constitution, was a tragic mistake, responsible for the rebel government’s failure and the slaughter of the counterrevolution that followed. What was needed for his countrymen, he believed—deeply divided as they were by race, class, and fiercely defended private jurisdictions; igno¬rant people for the most part, widely scattered and now caught up in a war to the death—was not multiple sovereignties (that idea, he wrote, was one of those “picturesque ideologies” produced by a “craze for imitation”) but an all-powerful central government con¬trolled by a decisive executive backed by force and capable of com-pelling scattered elements to coalesce. Like San Martin, who said he might die whenever he heard a countryman praising federalism, Bolivar believed that “only concentration has infused respect.” Most often, in the end, in Venezuela and elsewhere, after years of chaos and successions of unstable regimes, that view prevailed in the pre¬dominance of innumerable dictators serving their own purposes on the way to public order.
Yet to protect the endemic federalism, deeply rooted in the pre¬independence diversity of the new nations, remained the goal of many enlightened reformers. At certain times and certain places that goal was reached by regional leaders determined to break the politi¬cal and economic monopolies that had been established by force.
In Chile in the 1820s provincial leaders, reacting against the cen¬tralism of the earliest independent regimes, supported a federalist constitution for which that of the United States was an “archetype and example,” and achieved a measure of distributed power, until conservatives, after a bitter civil war, imposed a tightly focused centralist regime. Ecuador’s leading public intellectual, Vicente Rocafuerte, who in exile in Philadelphia had translated the major American state papers as well as Common Sense and who had described the Declaration of Independence as a political decalogue and the United States Constitution as “the only hope of an oppressed peo-ple,” explained the ways in which his country’s initial constitution was a deliberate imitation of the United States’s, though every ele¬ment in it, and especially its federalism, was debated, ridiculed, and praised. Uruguay’s leaders designed what they called a “firm league of friendship” among its constituent parts that was modeled explic¬itly on the Articles of Confederation, and while their effort failed, elements of the Articles, discarded in the United States as a design for too loose a union, survived. And in Mexico, where the United States was initially an exciting symbol of liberty and prosperity, the fiscal and military quasi-independence of the provincial states was retained in the pact of 1823 and the federalist constitution of 1824, which combined elements of the United States Constitution and of Spain’s liberal Cadiz constitution of 1812.
But it was in Argentina, after years of civil war between federates and unitarios during which innumerable constitutions failed to estab¬lish authority superior to the provinces, that federalism, modeled on that of the United States even to the point of verbal quotation, was most clearly established. The leading theorist of Argentine federal¬ism, Juan Bautista Alberdi, who has been described as a Hamil¬tonian, likened the United States in 1782 to Argentina in 1852: both anticipated the creation of national states that balanced central and regional powers. The resulting constitution of 1853 and the subse¬quent rule of Sarmiento vindicated the belief of would-be reform¬ers throughout Latin America that federalism, when sufficiently modified to accommodate local needs, could become the mecha¬nism for national integration and the basis for social and economic development.
Argentina’s integrative federalism would have its share of disrup¬tions thereafter, but its success, in the lurching, chaotic development of the emerging nations of Latin America, was exemplary. Through¬out the continent the hopes for some such resolution, based in part on the constitutional experience of North America, had been ubiq-uitous from the start. The northern model was experimented with, often disastrously, in country after country, emulated and rejected, but from the beginning it had been there—an essential, if endlessly disputed, resource, a central force in the continent’s public life.
By mid-century the influence of American constitutionalism had reached not only the far southern boundaries of the Atlantic world but also its eastern extremities, in the German principalities, where it had once seemed largely irrelevant.

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