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Dr Víctor Manuel Cázares Lira
University of Newcastle
Early Career Fellowship

Written constitutions as engines for war-making: rethinking the early constitutional history of Latin America

Víctor Manuel Cázares Lira assesses the relationship between constitutions, warfare, and territorial expansion in Chile and Argentina during the nineteenth century

Constitutions Map Graphic

After the fall of European rule in Latin America, the continent underwent an intricate and multi-layered process of political reorganisation marked by a plethora of constitutions embodying national ideas and territorial ambitions. However, endless chaos and civil wars often trumped over the most elaborate and beautiful constitutional projects. Only Chile and Argentina managed to halt the relentless political and territorial disintegration and eventually expand their borders. Why? My research will assess to what extent constitutions played a role in improving the state capacity of both countries and will examine to what extent frontier wars over indigenous populations contributed to centralising key fiscal and military powers. As such, this project explores the interconnections between war-making and constitution-making in Chile and Argentina from 1819 to 1854.
In contrast to traditional constitutional history, my research focuses on analysing different constitutional clauses regarding taxation, public debt, raising armies and international treaties that embody the sinews of power buttressing the empires of the age. Scholars have already explored the multiple intellectual sources and traditions informing Latin American constitutionalism, yet we know little about how constitutional law organised fiscal, financial and military power. This gap is noteworthy because the emerging states devoted almost 90 per cent of their budgets to war-making. Sociological studies have concluded that international wars were irrelevant in developing stronger polities. However, they measured state capacity in terms of health, education, housing and communication infrastructure rather than analysing taxes, finances and armies. Notwithstanding, nations breathe, bleed and gain strength through constitutions and this was particularly true in the post-independence period when the new nations designed their first constitutions.  
In the end, I will compare my findings with similar studies on state-building in the United States and Canada, which constituted the other examples of territorial expansion in the Americas. Overall, by placing law and war at the centre of the early political history of the continent, this work represents a step towards fulfilling Karin Wulf’s vision that seeks “an expansive view of the coming together of these dynamic, multilingual, globally-connected and often violent societies.”

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