The Mexican De Tocqueville
569. ZAVALA, Lorenzo. Viage a los Estados Unidos del Norte de América. Paris: Imprenta de Décourrchant, Calle d’Erfurth, No. 1, Junto a la Abadia, 1834. , [i] ii-vii [1, blank],  2-374 pp. 8vo (19.7 x 12.5 cm), contemporary three-quarter tan calf over brown and blue marbled boards, spine gilt lettered. Spine chafed at extremities, corners bumped, marbled paper on boards very rubbed (with some losses). Text with overall light to moderate foxing, pp. 135-141 and last few leaves waterstained, a few scattered pencil marks. Overall, a good copy of a scarce book rarely seen on the market.
First edition of “an incredibly important, although little known…meticulously written narrative about the democratic culture and institutions of the United States. Zavala’s narrative not only stands as a major document of early Mexican-American letters, but also as one of the first theoretical and ethnographic examinations of democracy as a political and cultural institution. Thus, Zavala’s book challenges the widespread acceptance by American scholars that Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America (1835) is the first book to take United States democracy as a focus of political and cultural study. With the inclusion of Zavala’s narrative into the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Series, Zavala’s story of democratic peoplehood will no doubt, in time, be read as one of the founding political texts of U.S. and Mexican democratic culture” (John-Michael Rivera in the introduction of the 2005 English translation of the present work, published by Arte Público Press, University of Houston, 2005).
Clark, Old South III:118. Howes Z3. Onís, The U.S. as Seen by Spanish-American Writers, pp. 112-115: “Of particular interest to us because of the author’s personality and the prominent part he played in inter-American relations…. A close friend of Poinsett, he was at all times associated with the interests of the U.S.” Palau 378349. Raines, p. 224: “One of the few books of travel in the U.S. worth reading. A fine picture of American manners, customs, and institutions, by a Mexican republican, with some notice of Austin’s colonization in Texas…. A true patriot and uncompromising lover of liberty.” Rich II, p. 264. Sabin 106280. Streeter 1156: “This narrative of Zavala is included here, though only a few pages directly relate to Texas, because of his prominence in Texas affairs.”
Zavala left Veracruz, sailed to New Orleans, went up the Mississippi, and at Cincinnati traveled east, where he toured Canada and most of the major cities of the East Coast. A learned, literate, sensitive observer, his narrative can still be read today with profit. His trip, however, prejudiced him somewhat against his own countrymen, whom he thought suffered by contrast to U.S. citizens:
Este libro no tiene ningun mérito en cuanto á originalidad…. Sin embargo, debe ser de mucho utilidad para los Mejicanos, que son á los que le dedico. En él encontrarán una descripcion verdadera del pueblo que sus legisladores han querido imitar. Un pueblo laborioso, activo, reflecsivo, circunspecto, religioso en medio de la multiplicidad de sectas, tolerante, avaro, libre, orgulloso y perseverante. El Mejicano es lijero, perezoso, intolerante, generoso y casi pródijo, vano, guerrero, supersticioso, ignorante y enemigo de todo yugo. El Norte-American trabaja, el Mejicano se divierte; el primero gasta los menos que puede, el segundo hasta lo que no tiene: aquel lleva á efecto las empresas mas arduas hasta su conclusion, esta las abandona á los primeros pasos: el uno viva en su casa, la adorna, la amuebla, la preserva de los inclemencias; el otro pasa su tiempo en la calle, huye la habitacion, y en un suelo en donde no hay estaciones poco cuida del lugar de su descanso. En los Estados del Norte todos son propieterios y tienden á aumentar su fortuna; en Méjico los pocos que hay la descuidan y algunos la dilapidan (pp. iii-iv).
Despite that severe opinion, he concludes that he has written the book in hopes of inspiring his fellow countrymen to imitate what is best from what he reports.
W.S. Cleaves, “Lorenzo de Zavala in Texas”, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, Southwestern Historical Quarterly:
Much has been written and more has been said about the Anglo-American leaders of the Texas Revolution, but little or no attention has been given, generally speaking, to the part which Mexicans—Texas born or otherwise—played in the early stages of the heroic struggle that was to result in the creation of an independent republic destined to become a state of the American Union. Of the numerous picturesque characters that played an important role in this grim drama of life and death no one deserves more to be remembered than Lorenzo de Zavala. It is difficult to conceive today the full extent of the influence exercised at that time by his dominating personality and his ardent zeal for personal rights. Generally recognized by Mexican historians as a misguided genius, often accused of having allowed his personal views and political interests to betray his mother country, this man who from the earliest years was an ardent defender of liberty and a thorough-bred liberal, espoused the Texas cause with an enthusiasm equal to that of the most patriotic advocate of Texas Independence.
The complete extent of Zavala’s writings in Mexico and the U.S. has never been definitively established.
Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009