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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.

Article

Paul Vanderwood and Robert Weis

By revealing the weaknesses of its political system and the fragmentation of its social fabric, Mexico’s devastating loss to the United States in 1848 forced a reexamination of the nation’s very foundation. It also emboldened leaders to redouble efforts to either refashion Mexico into a modern, democratic republic or strengthen colonial-era institutions that had ensured unity and stability despite cultural and regional heterogeneity. Those who hoped to modernize Mexico were the liberals. Their ideas regarding the depth and pace of change varied considerably. But they coalesced around broad principles—democracy, secularism, and capitalism—that, they insisted, would help Mexico overcome the vestiges of colonialism. In pursuit of equality under the law, liberals proposed to dismantle legal privileges for nobles, ecclesiastics, and the military. In order to stimulate the economy, they wanted to force corporate entities, especially the church, to sell their lands to individual owners. Finally, liberals sought to establish the primacy of the state by granting civil leaders authority over the church. Conservatives countered that the liberal program and its exotic ideas constituted an attack on Mexico’s Hispanic Catholic legacy and would only further weaken the nation. It was a chimera, if not demagoguery, to declare the equality of citizens in a society where the masses were illiterate, isolated hamlets who barely spoke Spanish, and residents in the far-flung regions regarded national rule with deep suspicion. Conservatives feared that the liberal program would foster more of the peasant revolts, threats of regional succession, and racial antagonism that had roiled the nation since independence. They wanted to conserve the pillars of order—the military and the Catholic Church—reinstate monarchism, and curtail political participation. Liberals and conservatives vociferously debated these divergent visions in the public forum. But ultimately their differences plunged the country into civil war.

Article

Chinacos were mounted guerrillas of the War of the Reform and the French Intervention (1857–1860, 1862–1867) who fought on the liberal republican side, operated out of central Mexican regions, and were known for their wide-brimmed sombreros and battle lances. What is known about them is largely the product of popular perception shaped by print depictions, some of which were created long afterward. They first appeared in the press when the War of the Reform was winding down and the victorious Juárez government, in carriage and on horseback, prepared to enter Mexico City in January of 1861. Before the French invasion that began in October of 1861 with the naval landing at Veracruz, the “chinaco” designation applied to irregular fighters. The newspaper and propaganda organ La Chinaca gave such fighters an image and narrative that endures to the present day. Still known among many Mexicans, their appearance in print media resulted from times of crisis as Mexico, after a military defeat by the United States and a major loss of territory, encountered the French Intervention in the 1860s. Chinacos as symbolic figures on horseback exemplify a historic pattern of guerrilla warfare in Mexico, dating at least to the US-Mexican War. There are different versions of the label chinaco, although there is strong evidence that it has roots in the chino designation assigned to Afro-Mexicans during the colonial era. It is also linked to “china,” or rural women known for their distinctive attire as depicted in popular reading.

Article

Porfirio Díaz’s liberal dictatorship used the centenary of independence to promote material progress, political stability, and the mestizo nation, all of which have remained important characteristics of the Mexican state. The centennial program lionized José Maria Morelos as a mestizo hero of independence and Benito Juárez as an architect of La Reforma and savior of the nation. Besides his remarkable political career, Juárez symbolized the cultural transformation of an Indian into a mestizo through education and secularization, a process advocated by Porfirian social engineers as essential to Mexico’s modernization. Porfirians also viewed Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage as a source of national pride and identity. For the Centenary, the government expanded the national ethnographic museum, reconstructed Teotihuacán, and sponsored the International Congress of Americanists where scholars presented papers on precolonial cultures. Porfirians’ appreciation for the pre-Columbians, however, did not extend to contemporary Indians, who were considered to be a drag on modernization and an embarrassment. Mexico’s modernization was symbolized by the transformation of Mexico City, the principal venue for the Centennial programs. The capital had been remodeled along Parisian lines with grand boulevards, roundabouts (glorietas), and green space. Electric tramways also connected neighborhoods with downtown, new fashionable suburbs displayed mansions with modern conveniences, and high-end department stores sold merchandise imported from Paris and London. During the Centenary, the Paseo de la Reforma and downtown avenues accommodated parades with patriotic and commercial themes, and central plazas provided space for industrial and cultural exhibitions similar to those found at international fairs. The Desfile Histórico depicted scenes from the conquest, colonial, and independence periods that outlined a liberal version of Mexican history. The program also featured openings of primary schools, a public university, an insane asylum, and water works, all indicative of Porfirian notions of modernization. The Centennial’s audience included Mexico City residents, visitors from the provinces, and delegates from the United States, Europe, and Asia. International and liberal newspapers characterized events as festive and patriotic, while the conservative press protested the lack of attention given to Agustín de Iturbide, the conservative independence leader, and to the Catholic Church. During the celebration, supporters of Francisco I. Madero, the reformer imprisoned by Díaz, organized two protests that interrupted events and foreshadowed troubles ahead. Following Madero’s escape from prison, his call to revolution was answered by peasants, provincial elites, and local strongmen whose movements forced Díaz to resign the following year. Revolutionary governments subsequently used Independence Day celebrations, including another centennial in 1921, to promote their political and cultural agendas, including anti-clericalism and indigenous culture as national culture.