The French Intervention in Mexico and the Empire of Maximilian and Carlota
Summary and Keywords
In 1861, Spanish, British, and French forces all landed in Veracruz to collect the debts Mexico owed them. After two months, the Spanish and British representatives reached an agreement with the Mexican government, but the French troops remained with the objective of imposing a monarchy. This period of occupation, 1861 to 1867, is known as the French Intervention. France’s interference in Mexico was partly due to the efforts of a group of conservative Mexican politicians who believed that a monarchical rather than a republican system would solve Mexico’s problems. In 1863, with the French army occupying Mexico City, the provisional government offered the crown to the Austrian archduke Maximilian of Habsburg. After long negotiations between Maximilian and the French emperor, Napoleon III (who would lend military support and extend credit to the future emperor), Maximilian signed the Treaty of Miramar and accepted the crown.
The empire faced the opposition of President Benito Juárez and his republicans, who rightfully claimed to be Mexico’s legitimate government. Furthermore, Maximilian, a liberal who believed in a secular society, clashed with both the clergy and his conservative supporters. A dismal financial situation, military opposition, and the emperor’s inability to reconcile the different political factions doomed his reign. The premature withdrawal of the French troops and Maximilian’s inability to form an effective army resulted in the empire’s demise. The last remnants of the imperial army were defeated in Querétaro on May 15, 1867, and Maximilian was executed. The monarchical experiment was a complete political and military failure for those who promoted it and for Napoleon III, who supported it.
Nonetheless, the empire was not a complete failure. The monarchy did set important precedents for the administrative organization of the country: promoting nationalism, solidifying liberal reforms including the separation of church and state, and establishing the foundation for the modernization of Mexico.
In the 1850s two main groups contested for control of Mexico. On one side were the so-called liberals, who wanted quick reforms to establish a federalist republic, privatize corporate and church properties, and create a secular society. Their opponents or “conservatives” wanted gradual reform, a more conservative society based on Catholic values, and a centralized government that recognized the traditional privileges of army and clergy. Neither of these groups was homogeneous, and the differences between their moderate elements were not stark.
When the liberals rose to power in 1855, they enacted a series of laws known as the Reform Laws that strengthened the states’ power, ended clerical privileges, secularized society, and privatized corporate and communal property. These laws, enshrined in the 1857 Constitution, were opposed by the clergy and a large segment of the population who considered them an attack on religion. Divisions among moderate and radical liberals sparked a rebellion that soon became the War of Reform (1857–1861), a bloody and costly civil war between liberals and conservatives that tore the country apart and culminated in a liberal victory under the leadership of President Benito Juárez. Many conservatives refused to accept defeat, with their most radical elements now convinced that Mexico was not suited to a republican form of government. To them, only a monarchy under a European prince would unite the country, bring peace, and protect it from United States expansionism. The idea was neither new nor surprising in view of the tumultuous history of the preceding years. Among the most fervent monarchists were José María Gutierrez Estrada, General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, and Archbishop Pelagio Antonio Labastida y Dávalos, who were instrumental in the establishment of Maximilian’s empire.
By early 1861, Mexican monarchists had already approached key figures in France and Austria to float the idea of a Mexican monarchy supported by France, an idea that Napoleon endorsed. Napoleon considered Archduke Maximilian, the younger brother of Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, a desirable candidate, for various reasons. Napoleon had been partly responsible for Austria’s loss of Lombardy, but he knew that the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was an important player in European politics. A crown for Maximilian would improve relations between France and Austria and compensate the archduke for the loss of his viceroyalty. In the Americas, a pro-French monarchy in Mexico would serve as a buffer between the expansionist United States and Central America, a possible location for an inter-oceanic canal that would greatly benefit world trade. However, Franz Joseph was not convinced. He doubted the feasibility of an empire in Mexico and deeply distrusted Napoleon. So, Austria did not reject Napoleon’s proposal outright but did not accept it either, and its emperor made clear that Great Britain’s firm commitment to support the Mexican empire financially and militarily was indispensable for his consent.1
The Triple Alliance and the Treaty of La Soledad
The costly War of Reform resulted in large debts on both sides and left the economy in ruins. In its aftermath, the victorious Juárez government was forced to announce a moratorium on the payment of its debts. Mexico’s main creditors were Great Britain, Spain, and France, who, in addition to government loans, held claims from their subjects who resided in Mexico for confiscation of goods, forced loans, and other abuses. Under the initiative of France’s emperor, Napoleon III, representatives of the three monarchies met in London in 1861 to discuss the matter. They agreed to send troops to Mexico to demand the revocation of the debt moratorium ordered by Juárez. This agreement, known as the Treaty of London, also stated that none of the signatories would interfere with the form of government and internal affairs of Mexico.2
In early December, Spanish naval forces stationed in Cuba received orders to embark for Mexico, officially occupying Veracruz on December 14, 1861, with 6,000 men. On January 7, 1862, they were joined by a French fleet carrying 2,500 men under the command of Admiral Jurien de la Graviere and part of the British forces under Commodore Dunlop. General Juan Prim y Prats and an additional 1,000 Spanish troops arrived the following day with the rest of the British contingent.
Prim, a moderate liberal and republican sympathizer who was married to a Mexican, was given full diplomatic and military powers while the Great Britain and France left their respective ambassadors, Sir Charles Wyke and Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, in charge of negotiations. It soon became obvious that each commander received (or interpreted) orders differently and that none of the diplomatic representatives pursued the same objectives. Their differences quickly came to the fore, aggravated by the slow communications between Mexico and Europe.3
Prim, Wyke, and Saligny first met on January 13. The British, the main creditors, and the Spanish proposed open negotiations with the Juárez government. Saligny first refused but was pressured by Prim and Wyke to negotiate. In response to their proposal, Juárez sent his foreign minister, General Manuel Doblado, and negotiations began at La Soledad, near Veracruz. In a conciliatory gesture, Doblado suggested that the allies move their troops to higher terrain to avoid Veracruz’s heat and diseases with the only condition that, if negotiations broke down, they would withdraw to their previous positions. Taking advantage of the suggestion, the Spanish armies advanced to Córdoba and the French to Orizaba and Tehuacán. The British, having received orders not to advance into the interior, decided to re-embark their troops and wait outside the port.4
While negotiations were taking place, Juárez and his government began to prepare for war. On January 25, 1862, he issued a decree punishing with death anyone who supported the invaders or attempted to alter Mexico’s form of government. The penalty specifically included military who joined enemy forces. Juárez also began to assemble an army. Volunteers came from central and southern Mexico, and various military officers and chieftains responded to the call; others were simply pressed into military service. In December Juárez appointed General Ignacio Zaragoza to lead the eastern army in charge of Mexico’s defense.5
Debt negotiations continued, but new irritants complicated the situation. French reinforcements under the Count of Lorencez command arrived in January. Generals Almonte (indicted by the Juárez government during the War of Reform) arrived from exile under Napoleon’s protection, an open provocation to the republican negotiators. Furthermore, Almonte´s immediate contact with conservative chieftains and government opponents was an affront to Juárez and widened the gap between the allies. As their differences became irreconcilable, the allies decided to continue negotiations independently.6
On February 19, 1861, Wyke and Prim reached an agreement by which the Mexican government would give an initial payment and cover the rest later. Shortly thereafter Prim and his troops withdrew, as did Wyke and his men. The French government repudiated the La Soledad meetings and reinstated its ultimatum of military action. As agreed, the French began marching back to Veracruz before starting hostilities, but Lorencez, under the pretext of having to protect the French soldiers who remained hospitalized, returned to Orizaba. This move granted the French a significant military advantage and prevented them from fighting in the deadly coastal areas. The first encounter took place in Acultzingo. After four hours of intense fighting, Zaragoza and his troops were dislodged from their positions. Puebla was now within the French army’s reach.7
The Battle of Cinco de Mayo and the Arrival in Mexico City
Puebla, a politically conservative city of approximately 80,000 people, was an important industrial and commercial center and the obligatory stop between the coast and the capital. After the defeat at Acultzingo, Zaragoza withdrew to the city and prepared for its defense. The city of Puebla was surrounded by forts with those of Loreto and Guadalupe to the north. Zaragoza, with only a few days to prepare for battle, ordered his men to erect barricades, dig trenches, and occupy the forts.
After the relatively easy victory at Acultzingo and Saligny’s optimistic but erroneous prediction of popular support, Lorencez expected little opposition in Puebla. He disregarded the warnings of General Almonte not to attack by the north and, on the morning of May 5, 1862, launched his attack on the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. French artillery began pounding the forts without inflicting major damage due to their high positions. As the troops drew closer to the fort of Guadalupe, the steep angle hindered artillery fire, giving the advantage to the defenders. Zaragoza counterattacked with a cavalry charge against the enemy’s infantry. At three o’clock heavy rain obscured visibility and turned the battleground into a quagmire. An hour later, with mounting casualties, Lorencez ordered his men to withdraw. The attack had cost the French 482 casualties among dead, wounded, and prisoners (out of 6,000 men).8 The unexpected Mexican victory caught both armies by surprise, raising the spirits of the republican army and shocking their enemies. The news infuriated Napoleon and confirmed the doubts of his critics. The well-publicized French defeat at Puebla also forced Napoleon’s hand as he felt impelled to escalate his commitment and erase the stain on his army’s name.
Despite its symbolic importance, the Cinco de Mayo battle was far from definitive and bought the republicans only limited time. Less than two weeks later, Mexican troops were soundly defeated at Cerro del Borrego, a battle that taught the republican army to avoid major battles and begin fighting instead a guerrilla war, harassing the invading armies and interrupting their lines of supply.9 Nonetheless, the Cinco de Mayo battle became a watershed in Mexican history, and an important part of liberal mythology that continues to be celebrated today.
To avenge the unfortunate defeat outside Puebla, Napoleon increased the Mexican expeditionary forces to 30,000 men and replaced Lorencez with General Élie Frédéric Forey, a veteran of Algeria, Crimea, and Solferino. An experienced and cautious officer who had earned the respect of the armies, Forey was a better choice to lead the Expeditionary Forces.10 His second in command was General François-Achille Bazaine, a participant in colonial and European wars with colonial administration experience in North Africa who was fluent in Spanish. The troops sent to Mexico included Zouaves (Algerian troops), chasseurs d’Afrique (light cavalry), and the Foreign Legion. Later, a battalion of Egyptian Sudanese troops was “lent” by the ruler of Egypt to serve in the hot (coastal) lands as, supposedly, they were more resistant to heat and disease.11
Forey took over Lorencez duties in early November 1863. In the meantime, arriving reinforcements were ordered to advance to Perote and the highlands and clear the area of the juarista or pro-Juarez guerrillas that constantly harassed the armies and threatened their lines of communication and food supply. Other troops remained in Veracruz, becoming prey to heat, malaria, and yellow fever.
The republicans knew that the French armies would soon return. When the Cinco de Mayo hero Ignacio Zaragoza died from typhus in early September, Juárez assigned the defense of Puebla to General Jesús González Ortega. Puebla braced itself for a siege, knowing that the chances of republican victory were slim. After months of planning, Forey began the preparations for the assault on Puebla in early March. The French troops encircled the city, while the republicans fortified trenches and buildings. The battle for the city started on March 16, and the attackers were forced to fight for every inch of terrain as the casualties on both sides mounted. By mid-May the defenders’ situation was desperate. All efforts to break the siege had been unsuccessful, and half of the city had been destroyed. The republicans surrendered on May 19, and Forey entered the city immediately.12 The way to Mexico City was open.
After the fall of Puebla, Juárez wanted to make a stand in the capital, but his generals advised against it. The decision was taken to move the capital north beyond the area of control of the French forces. On May 31, Juárez was granted supreme powers by congress. The republican government then fled on confiscated horses and public and private carriages, leaving the capital without government, police, or military defense.
Bazaine reached Mexico City on June 7. Three days later, Forey, Bazaine, and their Mexican allies formally rode into the city. It was a triumphant entrance, with the main streets decorated and crowds throwing them flowers. Their first stop was the cathedral, where a Te Deum was celebrated, and, after a review of the troops, Forey took over the presidential palace as his temporary residence. Most troops were quartered in the city or around it; the rest were sent to occupy Tlaxcala and Toluca. The initial phase of occupation was over; the imposition of a government and the maintenance of peace would be more difficult.13
The Treaty of Miramar and the Arrival of the Imperial Couple
Once in Mexico, Forey proceeded to organize the government. Given the circumstances, it was not easy to call elections or a congress, so he decided on an assembly of notables. Forey formed a Junta Superior, or board, with thirty-five citizens who would elect three members and two alternates to serve as the executive government. The Junta Superior would then add 213 names from among the most distinguished (and conservative) citizens of Mexico City to form an assembly of notables. The assembly met on July 8, 1863, and, not surprisingly, decided to institute a monarchical form of government and offer the crown to Maximilian of Habsburg. It also appointed a delegation to meet with Maximilian. The Junta’s executive would act as a regency until the emperor arrived.
Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph (1832–1867) was the second son of Archduke Franz Karl and Princess Sophie of Bavaria and the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. He had served in the navy and at twenty-two was given command of the Austrian imperial fleet. As a special envoy to Paris, Maximilian came to be acquainted with Napoleon III. During the same trip, he met Charlotte, daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium, whom he married in 1857. In the same year, Maximilian was appointed viceroy of the Austrian-controlled Lombard-Venetian Provinces, and the couple lived in Milan for two years. In 1859, when Austria lost Lombardy to the Kingdom of Italy, Maximilian retired from public life and traveled to Brazil before settling down at the castle of Miramar in Trieste (present-day Italy).14
The news of the French defeat in Puebla increased Emperor Franz Joseph’s opposition to Napoleon’s proposal. Napoleon also hesitated and began to look for other options. In February 1863, he presented Maximilian with another choice, the crown of Greece (a rebellion had dethroned its king), but Maximilian rejected the offer. Negotiations continued during the spring and summer of 1863. Meanwhile, French troops were not in complete control of Mexico, Napoleon was losing interest in Mexico, and opposition to his regime was building in France. Nonetheless, Maximilian continued to correspond with Napoleon, gradually ceding to his demands.
Franz Joseph authorized Maximilian to receive the Mexican delegation only if he adhered to the original conditions: unconditional French and British political, military, and financial support of the empire. The meeting between the Mexican delegates and Maximilian took place on October 3, 1863. News of the meeting was published in the European newspapers, publicly linking Maximilian to Napoleon’s Mexican expedition and limiting the archduke’s ability to negotiate or refuse the offer if conditions were unacceptable. It was clear that the situation had changed. French interest in Maximilian’s acceptance had decreased and with it the favorable conditions initially offered.15
In January 1864, against his brother’s advice, Maximilian omitted the requirement of a British guarantee and loan (that the British had refused all along) for his acceptance.16 A final hurdle remained. Maximilian originally refused to renounce his claim to the Austrian throne, title of archduke, and appanage (monetary endowment), but he was far too committed to back down. An agreement was reached: Maximilian renounced his rights to the throne but kept his appanage, and, if he returned to Austria, his brother would find a suitable post for him.17
When the Treaty of Miramar between Maximilian and Napoleon was finally signed on April 10, 1864, it stipulated that the 25,000 French troops sent to Mexico would be withdrawn as soon as local armies could take their place. Only 8,000 men from the Foreign Legion would stay for six years. A secret clause was added stating that 20,000 French troops would remain in Mexico until the end of 1867. France extended a loan, but the costs of occupation (calculated at 270 million francs) would be borne by Mexico. The Treaty of Miramar sealed Maximilian’s future. Maximilian and Charlotte or Carlota, as she would call herself from then on, were now emperors of Mexico.18
On April 14, 1864, the new emperors and their entourage sailed from Miramar on board the Novara. After an emotional goodbye to Trieste, the Novara sailed around the Italian Peninsula and landed at Civitavecchia. They continued by coach to Rome for a two-day stop and a meeting with Pope Pius IX. After two more stops in Funchal (Madeira) and Martinique, the Novara reached its destination of Veracruz on May 28, 1864, where the imperial couple was met by a delegation headed by Almonte. Their official landing was followed by a formal reception in which Maximilian received the key to the city. Despite the reception committee’s best efforts, the local population was less than welcoming, a reflection of Veracruz’s republican convictions. The frigid reception, oppressive heat, unappealing aspect of the city, and reputation as a center of disease made for a most disappointing arrival. The emperor and his entourage boarded a train that took them to Loma Alta and then continued by coach. After stops at La Soledad, Córdoba, and Orizaba they reached Puebla. This conservative city received Maximilian and Carlota enthusiastically, making up for Veracruz’s reception. After two days of receptions, the imperial couple started the final leg of the journey to Mexico City.19
On June 12, 1864, Maximilian and Carlota made their official entrance into the capital. Mexico’s elite met them outside the city to show their support. Streets and buildings were decorated with flags, flowers, inscriptions, and arches; women and men crowded the streets and watched from their balconies, throwing flowers and poems on the imperial carriage. At the right of the imperial couple rode Bazaine and his officers. The procession, headed by government officials, stopped at the cathedral to attend a Te Deum and then continued to the government palace, now the imperial residence.20 A banquet and fireworks in the plaza followed.21 Maximilian and Carlota had arrived at their new home.
The Emperor’s Challenges and Achievements
Maximilian faced enormous obstacles. As a liberal, his ideology and policies were closer to those of Juárez and his republicans than to those of his conservative supporters. The crux of the matter lay in the nationalization of church (and corporative) property and other anticlerical measures enshrined in the 1857 Constitution (implemented in 1859), which the monarchists wanted reversed. The clergy expected Maximilian to annul the reform laws and return church property, expectations that went against the emperor’s beliefs.
Militarily and financially, Maximilian depended on Napoleon and had to share power with Bazaine, a situation that caused no end of trouble as both often disagreed. In addition, there were deep divisions among ministers and cabinet members that were aggravated by national, ideological, and personal interests as well as personality conflicts. The armies shared similar problems. With over 25,000 French troops, 6,000 Austrian troops, over 1,000 Belgian volunteers, two Egyptian Sudanese battalions, other European volunteers, and more than 25,000 Mexican recruits, the army was besieged by national rivalries, language difficulties, and misunderstandings resulting in a heterogeneity that undermined cohesion and esprit de corps.22
The empire’s financial situation was another obstacle to success. The empire depended on a French loan that not only multiplied the country’s debt but also proved insufficient. The enormous costs of war, the corruption of army officers and providers, the dishonesty of government officials, a monarchy with a luxurious lifestyle, and Maximilian’s largesse toward his subjects soon consumed the available funds.
Finally, Maximilian and his empire were subject to the vagaries of international politics over which the emperor had no control. The deteriorating political situation in France, the imminent war with Prussia, and the triumph of the union in the American Civil War further undermined the Mexican empire. After 1865, Washington’s diplomatic pressure on France and the rest of Europe mounted.
Despite the inauspicious circumstances, Maximilian dedicated himself to the task of governing his empire. To familiarize himself with the country, in September 1864, he traveled first to Querétaro and Guanajuato, where he visited the mines, and then continued west to Morelia, stopping frequently along the way and returning to Mexico via Toluca at the end of the month. Other trips would follow later.
In December, the emperor established a state council formed by local politicians and bureaucrats, and an advisory cabinet that exerted an enormous influence on the emperor’s decisions and the fate of the empire. The latter’s president was Félix Eloin, a Belgian adviser sent by Carlota´s father, King Leopold. The other members were also foreigners, as ignorant of the country and its language and disdainful of its inhabitants as Eloin, hardly qualified to serve as the emperor’s advisers.23
An overhaul of the administrative and political organization of the empire followed, and in March 1865, Mexico was divided into fifty departments and, for military purposes, eight sections. A year later, the Provisional Statutes of the Mexican Empire spelled out the imperial government’s organization. The emperor ruled through his ministry, composed of nine ministerial departments: Imperial Household, State, Foreign Relations and Navy, Government, Justice, Public Education and Religion, War, Economy, and Finances. There was also an overseeing accounting tribunal and tribunals in charge of justice. Departments were under the charge of prefects who acted as the emperor’s delegates. Each prefect had a departmental council formed by local landowners, merchants, or industrialists selected according to the department’s economic strengths and needs. Imperial “commissioners” (inspectors) visited the departments to ensure adherence to regulations and prevent abuse.24 Maximilian took a conciliatory approach, appointing both conservatives and liberals to government positions. Initially, he had no problem filling posts, but by mid-1866, it became increasingly difficult to find individuals willing to serve.
The empire reached its apex in 1865, when the Franco-Mexican armies were in control of most of the territory. Their advance had started in November 1863, when Bazaine pushed north and west, capturing Querétaro and Morelia and reaching Aguascalientes. The indigenous general, Tomás Mejía, then continued to San Luis Potosí, forcing Juárez to abandon the city and move farther north. Guadalajara fell at the beginning of 1864 without firing a shot. The Franco-Mexican forces continued advancing, taking Zacatecas, Monterrey, and the ports of Tampico and Bagdad, thereby closing the juaristas’ access to supplies from the east and securing important and profitable outlets for cotton from the U.S. Confederacy. By the end of the year, almost all the south and part of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Chihuahua in the north were under imperial control.25 In December Juárez and his government fled Chihuahua for El Paso (Paso del Norte), the republican army dispersed, and (incorrect) news that Juárez had fled across the border and republican resistance was over reached the capital. Most of the country seemed to be pacified except for Guerrero and Michoacán, where guerrillas and bandits openly continued to operate.26
While the imperial armies advanced, Maximilian and his ministries busied themselves with the “organic” organization of the empire, a complete overhaul that would harmonize the work of the various ministries, their regulations and mandates, and society in general. During 1865 and 1866, the empire issued more than 368 decrees, drew up at least twenty pieces of legislation, and completed thirty-seven internal regulations for government ministries and dependencies as well as private enterprise.27 Maximilian envisioned a united empire in which government, legislation, and society worked in harmony without the tensions that a republican federalist system implied, a vision that was well beyond reach.
Maximilian was aware of the importance of economic development and tried to promote agriculture, industry, and commerce; increase available infrastructure; facilitate communications; and promote the economic potential of the country. A contract to build a railroad from Veracruz to Mexico City was signed in September 1864 with the English company Smith Knight and Co. The project, partly subsidized by the empire, was not complete by 1867, but the agreement was honored by the subsequent republican government.28 The empire also increased telegraph lines, promoted regular coach services, and signed agreements to improve communications between Mexican ports and North America, the Caribbean and Europe.29 Mexico’s first two banks, Banco de Londres y México and Banco de México, were incorporated in 1864 and 1865, respectively, and Maximilian standardized currency, making the silver peso the monetary unit of the empire.30 In 1865, the first two insurance companies, “La Previsora” (fire insurance) and “La Bienhechora” (life insurance), opened their doors under government-issued regulations.31 The interest of foreign investors in land, natural resources, and services increased considerably. There was also a growing number and range of patent applications, from tortilla-making machines to rain-resistant hats and photography-processing formulas.32
Maximilian and Carlota paid careful attention to court etiquette and ceremonial, knowing that an aristocracy that conformed to European norms was indispensable for their success. Carlota appointed her ladies-in-waiting from among the local elite, and the court adhered to a strict ceremonial based on hierarchy, position, and occasion. When Carlota’s father died, the official newspaper, El Diario del Imperio, instructed its readers on the appropriate mourning attire and ritual.33 Following European conventions, there were frequent balls and gatherings at Chapultepec castle, the imperial couple’s residence, and they attended and sometimes organized concerts and theater presentations. Maximilian established the Order of the Mexican Eagle as the highest imperial decoration and revived the Order of Guadalupe, a relic of Iturbide’s empire (1822–1823). He also instituted the Order of San Carlos (in honor of Carlota) to reward “feminine merit, charitable acts and abnegation.”34 The decorations and court ceremonies were meant to legitimize and anchor the position of an artificial empire created overnight, but Maximilian did not gain the credibility and acceptance he sought in either Mexico or Europe.
Decline and Fall of the Empire
In 1866, dark clouds began to gather over the empire. While liberal guerrillas and bands of outlaws continued to harass armies and civilians, encounters became bloodier, and on both sides reprisals against military and the population turned more vindictive. In March, Baron d’Huart, the special envoy sent to announce the ascendance of Leopold II, Carlota’s brother, to the Belgian throne, was attacked and killed on his return trip to Veracruz.35 Clearly, Mexico was not pacified and the local army not ready to replace the French forces. Disenchanted Mexican conservatives began to withdraw their support, and some of the empire’s most fervent supporters, like the writer and diplomat Francisco de Paula Arrangoiz, became bitter critics. Nationalists complained about the prominence of foreigners at the court and the control they exerted over the cabinet. The elite and middle classes resented the forced billeting of French officers, and the local population became increasingly bitter about the foreign soldiers’ abuses against the local population. A great source of discontent were the barbaric methods employed by the forces led by Charles-Louis Du Pin to fight the guerrillas in Tamaulipas and the equally barbaric reprisals of the juaristas. Mexicans were growing tired of bloodshed and retaliations; most important, the peace and stability promised by the empire remained elusive.
In North America, the Confederate forces surrendered in May 1865, and the triumph of the Union did not bode well for the empire. Washington was now free to give financial and military aid to the juaristas without risking European intervention in favor of the Confederacy. American diplomats increased pressure over France to withdraw its troops from Mexico. In France, Napoleon faced increasing domestic opposition and a real possibility of going to war against the recently formed Northern German Confederation controlled by Prussia’s prime minister Otto von Bismarck. It was time to call the French army home. The Mexican adventure was seen as a costly failure with no benefit to either France or its emperor. In contravention of his agreement with Maximilian, in February 1866 Napoleon announced that withdrawal of the French expeditionary forces would begin in October. A second group would leave in March 1867, and the final troops would follow in October of that year.36 In the end, not even this schedule was honored as the last French troops left in March 1867.
The news of the French withdrawal reached Mexico in March 1866, as United States pressure was mounting, undermining local support for the empire. To help her husband, Carlota decided to personally request aid in Europe. This was not the first time that she had taken the initiative. She had worked at Maximilian’s side since they arrived in Mexico, substituting for him on various occasions during his absence from the capital, chairing the welfare committee and heading charitable initiatives. She also represented the emperor on an 1865 trip to Yucatán, a bastion of imperialist support. During this trip, Carlota proved a skilled diplomat and an excellent representative, leaving a lasting impression on her hosts and reaffirming their loyalty to the empire.37 Unfortunately, her voyage to Europe would take place in less auspicious circumstances.
Carlota sailed with a small, trusted group that included the emperor’s secretary, José María Luis Blasio, who later described the trip. They reached Paris on August 8, and she met with Napoleon three days later. After a long and unpleasant discussion, Carlota left empty-handed. She then went to Miramar, where she spent three weeks before traveling to Rome to request papal intervention. The pressure proved too much, and once in Rome she showed clear signs of paranoia and mental instability. Carlota begged the pope to allow her to spend the night at the Vatican, claiming Napoleon was trying to poison her. After his initial refusal, the pope relented, and Carlota and her servant stayed overnight. When she returned to her hotel the next morning, she refused to eat or drink anything except water she fetched from a fountain and chickens slaughtered in her presence. Notice was sent to her brother, and she was accompanied to Miramar to be treated by the best medical specialists.38
Maximilian received the news of his wife’s illness at the beginning of 1867, as the French troops prepared to embark and the republicans expanded their area of control. Napoleon tried to convince him to abdicate and return to Europe, but without success. The French armies left Mexico City on February 5, 1867, followed by many sympathizers of the empire who feared the republicans’ reprisals. Bazaine tried to persuade the emperor to leave and waited for him in Puebla, but to no avail. Maximilian had decided to remain and face his enemies.39
On February 13, Maximilian and 2,000 men left for Querétaro, where he joined his generals, Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía. By then, the empire was bankrupt and the emperor had to borrow funds to make his last stand. The imperialists were vastly outnumbered when Querétaro’s siege began (March 14, 1867) and more republican troops were rapidly advancing. Puebla fell to Porfirio Díaz, who, after executing the seventy-four officers who surrendered, continued his march on the capital. The defenders of both cities braced themselves. By April 12, Mexico City was under siege. Its defense was led by Leonardo Márquez, who, on his way to relieve the imperialists in Querétaro, disobeyed Maximilian’s orders and resisted in the capital. By May, the situation in both cities was critical. Querétaro fell on May 15, and Maximilian surrendered the same day. Mexico City held out until June 21, when, after learning of Maximilian’s death, the few remaining defenders and the starving population finally surrendered.40
After his capture, Maximilian was kept in the Santa Cruz convent along with Generals Miramón and Mejía. The three were court martialed in accordance with the law of January 25, 1862, but their fate had already been decided, making the trial a mere formality. Their execution was set for June 16 and then postponed to June 19. Despite the many appeals for clemency on the part of the pope and European heads of states, as well as a plot to help him escape, Maximilian, Miramón, and Mejía were executed the morning of June 19 at the Cerro de las Campanas, outside the city of Querétaro.41
From political and military points of view, the French Intervention was disastrous. In addition to the many lives lost on both sides, it did not end political turmoil in Mexico and contributed to the unpopularity of Napoleon. Traditionally, history has portrayed Napoleon III as a schemer and manipulator and Maximilian as a victim of circumstances, but recent works point to an intricate web of international politics and diplomacy that defies such a simplistic explanation. Numerous factors contributed to the French Intervention. First and foremost were the debt accumulated by Mexico and the Juárez interruption of payments, the precarious political and economic situation in Mexico, and the conservatives’ refusal to accept defeat. These factors combined with the European feelings of entitlement toward Latin America characteristic of the time, and the United States’ inability to intervene due to the Civil War.
The fall of the empire was not surprising. Mexico’s republican past and ungovernability and the lack of financial resources made Maximilian’s dream a chimera. Despite his best intentions, Maximilian never understood the country or its people. He opposed those who supported him for their conservative leanings, reaffirmed the reforms they opposed, and failed to attract the more moderate sector of the population. He also missed the opportunity to bring the indigenous population to his side and create a base of support. The imperial couple’s status and lifestyle isolated them from most of the population and their attempts to legitimize their position by creating an aristocracy and following court ceremonial were misguided and naïve. Nonetheless, Maximilian was the first to envision Mexico as a united country under a central administration and legislation, and some of his reforms would later influence the country’s laws and regulations. A more tangible legacy remains in Chapultepec castle, renovated under his orders, and the avenue that links it to the downtown Mexico City now called Reforma Avenue. In the long term, Maximilian and Carlota’s foreign empire promoted a nationalism much needed among a still disunited population. In the end, it was they who paid the highest price for their misguided dream. Maximilian lost his life and Carlota her mind. Insane and alone, she remained a prisoner in her palace for the remaining sixty-one years of her life.42
Primary documents dealing with the French Intervention are scattered in Mexican, European (mainly French), and a few North American archives. In Mexico, the sources are uneven and incomplete due to the empire’s administrative changes, the shipment of part of Maximilian’s imperial and personal archives to Europe, and the destruction of documents by either vengeful republicans or imperialists fearful of revenge. In Mexico City, most of the surviving documents may be found at the National archives (Archivo General de la Nación), the military archives (Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Defensa), and the municipal archives (Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal). Those interested in the topic can also consult contemporary newspapers such as the conservative La Orquesta and La Sociedad or the liberal El Siglo XIX as well as the empire’s official journal, El Diario del Imperio, which, despite its partiality, includes valuable information on the economy, military movements and personnel, the emperors’ activities, and everyday life. Outside the capital, the municipal and state archives contain numerous administrative reports, local government files, and military information.
In France, the Archives Nationales in Paris house military and diplomatic correspondence and documents on the organization of the scientific expedition. Detailed information on participants, military campaigns, and military reports may be found at the Service Historique de la Défense, chateau de Vincennes, and the numerous published memoirs and accounts of French participants may be found at the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris. Correspondence between Mexico and the Austrian monarchy may be found at the Austrian State Archives, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna.
In the United States, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin America Collection (University of Texas at Austin), Genaro García Sub-collection, has important documentation on the French military forces, Achille Francois Bazaine, and contemporary Mexican politicians such as Teodoro Lares, Ignacio Comonfort and Jesús González Ortega. Carlota’s correspondence and some personal papers of Felix Eloin as well as contemporary Mexican newspapers may be found at the Woodson Research Center, Rice University (Houston, Texas). In Washington, the Library of Congress houses contemporary newspapers and has published works of Mexican and French participants.
There are numerous contemporary works about the French Intervention published in Spanish, English, and French. Their historical interpretation varies depending on each author’s political leanings and opinion of the empire. Among those who witnessed the Second Empire are the republican José María Iglesias and the conservative Francisco de Paula Arrangoiz, who wrote critically about the French Intervention in Mexico, condemning both Napoleon and Maximilian for its failure.43 No less forgiving are the Memorias written by Miguel de Miramón’s widow, Concepción Lombardo de Miramón.44
French participants wrote detailed accounts, usually critical, of their experiences. Among them are G. L. Niox (Expédition du Mexique 1861–1867), Comte E. de Kérartry’s (La Contre-guérilla Française au Mexique and L’Empereur Maximilien, con élévation et sa chute), and Lt. Col. Loizillon (Lettres sur l’Expedition du Mexique: publiées par sa sœur 1862–1867).45 These important works are available only in French.
More sympathetic toward the empire were Sara Yorke Stevenson, José Luis Blasio (the emperor’s personal secretary), William Marshall Anderson, and Samuel Siegfried Karl von Basch (Maximilian’s physician). Stevenson’s Maximilian in Mexico and Blasio’s Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico: Memoirs of his private secretary show a more humane and personal view of the emperor and his court. Anderson’s An American in Maximilian’s Mexico, 1865–1866: The Diaries of William Marshall Anderson and Basch’s Memories of Mexico: A History of the Last Ten Months of the Empire present sympathetic but more detached accounts.46
As with the published primary sources, interpretation varies according to the author and the time of publication. In Mexico, the writer and supporter of the liberal cause, José María Virgil, collaborated on two pieces, “La Reforma” and “La Intervención y el imperio,” which formed the fifth volumen of México a través de los siglos (1884).47 Two decades later, Miguel Galindo y Galindo published his La gran década nacional, ó Relación histórica de la guerra de reforma, intervención extranjera y gobierno del archiduque Maximiliano: 1857–1867.48 Both works provided the liberal, republican, and ultimately long-lasting view of the Second Empire embraced by Mexico’s official history. The topic, however, was mostly neglected during the first half of the 20th century.
To celebrate the Cinco de Mayo battle centenary, the Historical Section of the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadística published a series of short monographs on the military, political, and regional aspects of the period. Among their authors were well-known historians such as Ernesto de la Torre Villar and General Jesús de León Toral.49 Interest in the Second Empire was rekindled in the 1980s and 1990s with publications such as Pedro Pruneda’s Historia de la Guerra de Méjico, the Memoirs of Concepción Lombardo de Miramón, the edited diary of the Prince Carl Khevenhüller, and España y el Imperio de Maximiliano.50 More recently, Erika Pani’s Para mexicanizar el segundo imperio. El imaginario político de los imperialistas challenged the traditional interpretation by exploring the Mexican roots of the monarchist movement and the support it enjoyed among numerous local politicians and government officials.51
The French Intervention has also attracted the attention of North American historians. Among the works written or published in English are The Cactus Throne: The Tragedy of Maximilian and Carlotta; The French army in Mexico, 1861–1867: A Study in Military Government; The Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlota; Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy; Maximilian and Juárez; A Black corps d’élite: An Egyptian Sudanese Conscript Battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863–1867, and Its Survivors in Subsequent African History.52 More recently, Kristine Ibsen published Maximilian, Mexico, and the Invention of Empire, a study of the empire’s historical representation and symbolism, while Mary Margaret McAllen’s Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico and Michele Cunningham’s Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III concentrate on the political and diplomatic aspects.53 Also worth mentioning is David Coffey’s Soldier Princess: The Life and Legend of Agnes Salm-Salm in North America, 1861–1867.54
Recent reprints of works such as Phantom Crown: The Story of Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico (1934) and Frederic Hall’s Life of Maximilian I., Late Emperor of Mexico, with a Sketch of the Empress Carlota (1868) reflect the scholars’ continued interest on the topic.55
Anderson, William Marshall. An American in Maximilian’s Mexico, 1865–1866: The Diaries of William Marshall Anderson. Los Angeles: Huntington Library, 1959.Find this resource:
Blasio, José Luis. Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico: Memoirs of His Private Secretary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934.Find this resource:
Corti, Egon Caesar. Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1968.Find this resource:
Cunningham, Michele. Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III. New York: Palgrave, 2001.Find this resource:
Dabbs, Jack Autrey. The French army in Mexico, 1861–1867: A Study in Military Government. The Hague: Mouton, 1963.Find this resource:
Galindo y Galindo, Miguel. La gran década nacional, ó Relación histórica de la guerra de reforma, intervención extranjera y gobierno del archiduque Maximiliano: 1857–1867. México D.F.: Oficina tipográfica de la Secretaría de fomento, 1906.Find this resource:
Hall, Frederic. Life of Maximilian I., Late Emperor of Mexico, with a Sketch of the Empress Carlota. Michigan historical reprint series. Ann Arbor: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, University Library, 2007.Find this resource:
Harding, Bertita. Phantom Crown: The Story of Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press LLC, 2008.Find this resource:
Haslip, Joan. The Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlota. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.Find this resource:
Hill, Richard, and Peter Hogg. A Black Corps d’élite: An Egyptian Sudanese Conscript Battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863–1867, and Its Survivors in Subsequent African History. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.Find this resource:
Hyde, H. Mexican Empire-The History of Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico. London: Macmillan, 1946.Find this resource:
Ibsen, Kristine. Maximilian, Mexico, and the Invention of Empire. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2010.Find this resource:
McAllen, Mary Margaret. Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2014.Find this resource:
Pani, Erika. Para mexicanizar el Segundo Imperio: El imaginario político de los imperialistas. México D.F.: El Colegio de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, 2001.Find this resource:
Ridley, Jasper. Maximilian and Juárez. London: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.Find this resource:
Stevenson, Sara Yorke. Maximilian in Mexico. New York: The Century Co., 1899.Find this resource:
Virgil, José María. “La Reforma” and “El Imperio.” In México a través de los siglos. Edited by Vicente Riva Palacio, 1st ed. Espasa y Compañía. y Ballescá y Compañía, 1884.Find this resource:
Wilson-Bareau, Juliet, John House, and Douglas Johnson. Manet, the Execution of Maximilian: Painting, Politics, and Censorship. London: National Gallery Publications in association with Princeton University Press, 1992.Find this resource:
(1.) Nancy Nichols Barker, “France, Austria, and the Mexican Venture, 1861–1864,” French Historical Studies 3.2 (1963): 224–245, esp. 224–230.
(2.) Jasper Ridley, Maximilian and Juárez (London: Constable and Company Limited, 1993), 80–95.
(3.) José Valadés, Maximiliano y Carlota en México: Historia del Segundo Imperio (México D.F.: Editorial Diana, 1993), 37–49.
(4.) Luis Garfias M., La intervención francesa en México: La historia de la expedición militar francesa enviada por Napoleón III para establecer el Segundo Imperio Mexicano (México D.F.: Panorama Editorial, S.A., 1980), 20–28.
(5.) Garfias, La intervención francesa, 68.
(6.) Ralph Roeder, Juárez and His Mexico (New York: The Viking Press, 1947), 406.
(7.) Francisco de Paula Arrangoiz, México desde 1808 hasta 1867, prologue by Martín Quirarte, Sepan Cuantos Series (México D.F.: Editorial Porrúa S.A., 1985), 484–511.
(8.) Garfias, La intervención francesa, 42–53.
(9.) Ridley, Maximilian, 101–102.
(10.) Garfias, La intervención, 60.
(11.) Garfias, La intervención, 108–109.
(12.) Jesús González Ortega, La Defensa de Puebla. Artículos bibliográficos por B. Vicuña Mackenna, introduction by Daniel Moreno (México D.F.: B. Costa-Amic Editor, 1978), 126–129.
(13.) Jack Autrey Dabbs, The French Army in Mexico, 1861–1867 (The Hague: Mouton, 1963), 52–55.
(14.) Ridley, Maximilian, 45–57.
(15.) Barker, “France, Austria, and the Mexican Venture,” 233.
(16.) Barker, “France, Austria, and the Mexican Venture,” 236–237.
(17.) Barker, “France, Austria, and the Mexican Venture,” 242.
(18.) Agustín Rivera, Anales mexicanos. La Reforma y el Segundo Imperio (México D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1994), 170–174.
(19.) Paula Kolonitz, Un viaje a México en 1864 (México D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1984), 59–94.
(20.) Shortly after Maximilian and Carlota moved to Chapultepec castle.
(21.) Ridley, Maximilian, 166–167.
(22.) Rivera, Anales Mexicanos, 210.
(23.) Rivera, Anales Mexicanos, 194–195.
(24.) Estatuto provisional de Imperio Mexicano (México D.F.: Imprenta de J.M. Andrade y F. Escalante, 1865). Retrieved from http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/Constitucion/1865.pdf.
(25.) Dabbs, The French Army, 123–124.
(26.) Rivera, Anales mexicanos, 220–221.
(27.) Luz María Hernández Sáenz, Espejismo o Realidad: Maximiliano y el Diario del Imperio, 1865–167 (México D.F.: Secretaría de Gobernación, Archivo Nacional de la Nación, 2012), 63.
(28.) Hernández Sáenz, Espejismo o Realidad, 67–69.
(29.) El Diario del Imperio, Mexico City, December 2, 1865.
(30.) Hernández Sáenz, Espejismo o Realidad, 74–75.
(31.) El Diario del Imperio, Mexico City, February, 4, 7 and 9, 1865.
(32.) Archivo General de la Nación, Patentes y Marcas, caja 8.
(33.) El Diario del Imperio, Mexico City, January 10, 1866.
(34.) Hernández Sáenz, Espejismo o Realidad, 53–59.
(35.) Rivera, Anales mexicanos, 227.
(36.) Ridley, Maximilian, 239.
(37.) José Luis Blasio, Maximiliano íntimo: El Emperador Maximiliano y su corte. Memorias de un secretario (México D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1996), 112–115.
(38.) Blasio, Maximiliano íntimo, 147–185.
(39.) Dabbs, The French Army, 198–216.
(40.) Ridley, Maximilian, 257–269.
(41.) His body was later transported to Austria, where it now lies in the imperial crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Ridley, Maximilian, 257–277.
(42.) She was later transferred to the palace of Tervuren in Belgium, where she remained until 1879, when the palace burned down. She then moved to the palace of Bouchout (Laeken), which would be her residence for the rest of her life. Carlota died in 1927.
(43.) José María Iglesias, Revistas históricas sobre la intervención francesa en México, 1867 (México D.F.: Editorial Porrúa, S.A., 1968); Francisco de Paula Arrangoiz, D.E., México desde 1808 hasta 1867 (México D.F.: Editorial Porrúa, S.A., 1972).
(44.) Concepción Lombardo de Miramón, Memorias, ed. Felipe Teixidor, 2d ed. (México D.F.: Editorial Porrúa, S.A., 1989).
(45.) Gustave Léon Niox, Expédition du Mexique, 1861–1867: Récit politique & militaire (Paris: J. Dumaine, 1874); Émile de Kératry, La contre-guerilla française au Mexique (Paris: Lacroix, 1868); and L’empereur Maximilien: son élévation et sa chute (Leipzig: Duncker et Humblot, 1867); and Henri Loizillon, Lettres sur l’expédition du Mexique: publiées par sa soeur, 1862–1867 (Paris: L. Baudoin, 1890).
(46.) Sara Yorke Stevenson, Maximilian in Mexico (New York: The Century Co., 1899; Marshall, An American in Maximilian’s Mexico, 1865–1866: The Diaries of William Marshall Anderson, ed. Jose Ramon Ruiz (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library Publications, 1959); José Luis Blasio, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico: Memoirs of his private secretary (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934); Samuel Siegfried Karl Basch and Samuel Basch, Memories of Mexico: A History of the Last Ten Months of the Empire (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 1973).
(47.) Vicente Riva Palacio, ed. México a través de los siglos, 1st ed. (México D.F.: Espasa y Compañía. y Ballescá y Compañía. 1884).
(48.) Miguel Galindo y Galindo, La gran década nacional, ó Relación histórica de la guerra de reforma, intervención extranjera y gobierno del archiduque Maximiliano: 1857–1867 (México D.F.: Oficina tipográfica de la Secretaría de fomento, 1906).
(49.) Ernesto de la Torre Villar, Las Fuentes Francesas para la Historia de México y la Guerra de Intervención (México D.F.: Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística. Sección de Historia, 1962); General Jesús de León Toral, Historia Militar: La Intervención Francesa en México (México D.F.: Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística. Sección de Historia, 1962); General M. Pénette and Capt. J. Castaingt, La Legión Extranjera en la Intervención Francesa (México D.F.: Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística. Sección de Historia, 1962).
(50.) Pedro Pruneda, Historia de la Guerra de Méjico, desde 1861 a 1867, Facsimile edition (México D.F.: Fundación Miguel Alemán, A.C., Fundación UNAM, Instituto Cultural Helénico A.C., Fondo de Cultura Económico, 1994); Lombardo de Miramón, Memorias; Brigitte Hamann, Con Maximiliano en México: Del diario del príncipe Carl Khevenhuller, 1864–67 (México D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económico, 1983); Clara E. Lida, ed., España y el Imperio de Maximiliano: Finanzas, diplomacia, cultura e inmigración (México D.F.: El Colegio de México, 1999).
(51.) Erika Pani, Para mexicanizar el segundo imperio: El imaginario político de los imperialistas (México D.F.: El Colegio de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, 2001).
(52.) Richard O’Connor, The Cactus Throne: The Tragedy of Maximilian and Carlotta (New York: Putnam, 1971); Jack Autrey Dabbs, The French army in Mexico, 1861–1867: A Study in Military Government (The Hague: Mouton, 1963); Joan Haslip, The Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlota (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971); Alfred Jackson Hannah and Kathryn Abbey Hanna, Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971); Jasper Ridley, Maximilian and Juárez (New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2001); and Richard Hill and Peter Hogg, A Black Corps d’élite: An Egyptian Sudanese Conscript Battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863–1867, and Its Survivors in Subsequent African History (East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 1995).
(53.) Kristine Ibsen, Maximilian, Mexico, and the Invention of Empire (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2010); Mary Margaret McAllen, Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2014); and Michele Cunningham, Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III (New York: Palgrave, 2001).
(54.) Coffey, David, Soldier Princess: The Life and Legend of Agnes Salm-Salm in North America, 1861–1867 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002).
(55.) Bertita Harding, Phantom Crown: The Story of Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico (Rockville, MD: Wildside Press LLC., 2008); and Frederic Hall, Life of Maximilian I.: Late Emperor of Mexico (New York: James Millar, 1868).