Benito Juárez

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Benito Juárez
Benito Juárez, c. 1872
26th President of México
In office
15 January 1858 – 18 July 1872
Preceded byIgnacio Comonfort
Succeeded bySebastián Lerdo de Tejada
President of the Supreme Court
In office
11 December 1857 – 15 January 1858
Preceded byLuis de la Rosa Oteiza
Succeeded byJosé Ignacio Pavón
Secretary of the Interior of Mexico
In office
3 November 1857 – 11 December 1857
PresidentIgnacio Comonfort
Preceded byJosé María Cortés
Succeeded byJosé María Cortés
Governor of Oaxaca
In office
10 January 1856 – 3 November 1857
Preceded byJosé María García
Succeeded byJosé María Díaz
In office
2 October 1847 – 12 August 1852
Preceded byFrancisco Ortiz Zárate
Succeeded byLope San Germán
Secretary of Public Education of Mexico
In office
6 October 1855 – 9 December 1855
PresidentJuan Álvarez
Preceded byJosé María Durán
Succeeded byRamón Isaac Alcaraz
Personal details
Benito Pablo Juárez García

(1806-03-21)21 March 1806
San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, New Spain
Died18 July 1872(1872-07-18) (aged 66)
Mexico City, Mexico
Resting placePanteón de San Fernando
Political partyLiberal Party
Height1.37 m (4 ft 6 in)[1][2][3]
(m. 1843; died 1871)
Alma materInstitute of Sciences and Arts of Oaxaca
ProfessionLawyer, judge, politician

Benito Pablo Juárez García (Spanish: [beˈnito ˈpaβlo ˈxwaɾes ɣaɾˈsi.a] ; 21 March 1806 – 18 July 1872)[4] was a Mexican Liberal lawyer and statesman who served as the 26th president of Mexico from 1858 until his death in office in 1872. As a Zapotec man, he was the first indigenous president of Mexico and the first indigenous head of state in the postcolonial Americas.[5] Previously, he had served as Governor of Oaxaca and had later ascended to a variety of federal posts including Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Public Education, and President of the Supreme Court. During his presidency he led the Liberals to victory in the Reform War and in the Second French Intervention in Mexico.

Born in Oaxaca to a poor, rural, Indigenous family and orphaned as a child, Juárez passed under the care of his uncle, eventually moving to Oaxaca City at the age of 12, where he found work as a domestic servant. Sponsored by his employer who was also a lay Franciscan, Juárez temporarily enrolled in a seminary and studied to become a priest, but he later switched his studies to law at the Institute of Sciences and Arts, where he became active in Liberal politics. He began to practice law and was eventually appointed as a judge, after which he married Margarita Maza, a woman of Italian ancestry from a socially distinguished family in Oaxaca City.[6]

Juárez was eventually elected Governor of Oaxaca and became involved in national politics after the ouster of Antonio López de Santa Anna in the Plan of Ayutla. Juárez was made Minister of Justice under the new Liberal president Juan Alvarez. He was instrumental in passing the Ley Juarez as part of the broader program of constitutional reforms known as La Reforma. As the later head of the Supreme Court, he succeeded to the presidency upon the resignation of the Liberal president Ignacio Comonfort in the early weeks of the Reform War between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, and proceeded to lead the Liberal Party to victory after three years of warfare.

Almost immediately after the Reform War had ended, President Juárez was faced with a French invasion, the Second French Intervention in Mexico aimed at overthrowing the government of the Mexican Republic and replacing it with a French-aligned monarchy, the Second Mexican Empire. The French soon gained the collaboration of the Conservative Party who aimed at returning themselves to power after their defeat in the Reform War, but Juárez continued to lead the government and armed forces of the Mexican Republic, even as he was forced by the advances of the French to flee to the north of the country. The Second Mexican Empire would finally collapse in 1867 after the departure of French troops the previous year and President Juárez returned to Mexico City where he continued as president until his death due to a heart attack in 1872, but with growing opposition from fellow Liberals who believed he was becoming autocratic.[7][8]

During his presidential terms, he supported a number of controversial measures, including his negotiation of the McLane–Ocampo Treaty, which would have granted the United States perpetual extraterritorial rights across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; a decree extending his presidential term for the duration of French Intervention; his proposal to revise the liberal Constitution of 1857 to strengthen the power of the federal government; and his decision to run for reelection in 1871.[9][10] His opponent, liberal general, and fellow Oaxacan Porfirio Díaz opposed his re-election and rebelled against Juárez in the Plan de la Noria.

Juárez came to be seen as "a preeminent symbol of Mexican nationalism and resistance to foreign intervention".[11][12] His policies advocated civil liberties, equality before the law, the sovereignty of civilian power over the Catholic Church and the military, the strengthening of the Mexican federal government, and the depersonalization[further explanation needed] of political life.[13] For Juárez's success in ousting French invasion, Mexicans considered Juárez's tenure as a time of a "second struggle for independence, a second defeat for the European powers, and a second reversal of the Conquest".[14]

After his death, the city of Oaxaca added "de Juárez" to its name in his honor, and numerous other places and institutions have been named after him. He is the only individual whose birthday (21 March) is celebrated as a national public and patriotic holiday in Mexico. Many cities (most notably Ciudad Juárez), streets, institutions, and other locations are named after him. He is considered the most popular Mexican president of the 19th century.[15][16]

Early life and education[edit]

Juárez with his sister Nela (in braids) (left) and wife Margarita Maza
The Maza residence in Oaxaca City, where Juárez worked as a youth, is now known as Casa de Juárez and preserved as a museum.

Benito Juárez was born in an adobe house in the village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, located in the mountain range since named for him, the Sierra Juárez.

His parents, Brígida García and Marcelino Juárez were Zapotec peasants. He had two older sisters, Josefa and Rosa. Juárez became an orphan at the age of 3. His grandparents also died shortly after, and Juárez was raised by his uncle Bernardino Juárez.[17] He described his parents as "indios de la raza primitiva del país," that is, "Indians from the primitive race of the country."[18]

He worked in the cornfields and as a shepherd until the age of 12. Up until then Juarez had also been illiterate and could not speak Spanish[19] knowing then only his native Zapotec language. However, his sister had previously moved to the city of Oaxaca for work, and that year Juarez moved to the city to attend school.[20] There he took a job as a domestic servant in the household of Antonio Maza, where his sister worked as a cook.[20]

In 1818, while the Mexican War of Independence was ongoing, a twelve year old Juarez entered domestic service under the lay Franciscan and bookbinder Antonio Salanueva. The young boy showed potential at primary school, upon which Salanueva sought to sponsor Juarez to enter a seminary to study for the priesthood. [19]

Mexico became independent in 1821, while Juarez was still undergoing his studies. He changed his mind about becoming a priest, and began attending the secular Institute of Sciences and Arts, where he taught for a time, but also studied law. While he was still a law student he had been elected to the Oaxaca City ayuntamiento and he was eventually admitted to the bar on January 13, 1834.[5]

Early political career[edit]

Legal career[edit]

From the very beginning of his legal career, Juarez became an active partisan of the Liberal Party. As a lawyer, Juárez took cases of indigenous villagers. Community members of Loxicha, Oaxaca hired him for their denunciation of a priest, whom they accused of abuses. He did not win the case, and was thrown into jail along with community members, "thanks to the collusion between Church and the state," writing later that it "strengthened in me the goal of working constantly to destroy the pernicious power of the privileged classes."[21] Juárez and other liberals saw equality before the law as a transformative principle for Mexico, as in the post-independence era legal privileges were accorded to the Mexican Catholic Church and the army, and continued some protections for indigenous communities.[22] His ability to rise in Oaxaca state politics was due to the lack of an entrenched political class of criollos, Mexicans of Spanish descent. The relative openness of the system allowed him and other newcomers to enter politics and gain patronage.[23] He developed a political base and gained an understanding of political maneuvering. He became a prosecutor for the State of Oaxaca and was soon elected to the Oaxaca state legislature in 1832, serving for two years during the Liberal presidency of Valentin Gomez Farias. [19]

A Conservative Party coup led by Santa Anna overthrew the presidency of Gomez Farias in 1834, and Juárez was briefly imprisoned. As part of the constitutional reorganization involved in the subsequent transition from the First Mexican Republic to the Centralist Republic of Mexico, Oaxaca became a department controlled by Mexico City and the state legislature of Oaxaca was dissolved. Juarez returned to private practice. [19] After practicing law for several years, He was appointed as a judge in 1841 under the Liberal governor Antonio León (1841–1845).[24]

Governor of Oaxaca[edit]

The Centralist Republic itself would be overthrown in 1846 at the beginning of the Mexican American War, and Oaxaca regained its federal autonomy, its executive now led by a triumvirate which included Juárez. He was subsequently elected to the national congress as a deputy for Oaxaca. [19] Juárez supported President Valentín Gómez Farías, who had returned to power. There was a revolt against the state of Oaxaca during this time, causing Juarez to abandon his congressional post and return to Oaxaca to try and maintain order.

In November, 1847, he assumed the governorship. [19] When Santa Anna fell from power disgraced by his loss in the Mexican-American War, Governor Juárez did not allow the ex-president to establish himself in Oaxaca, which gained for him the future enmity of Santa Anna. [25][26] Juárez was faced with chaos in the state finances, the state justice department, and the state police organization. Juárez proceeded to run a model government through his economic improvements which included an elimination of the state deficit, the construction of roads and bridges, and the development of education. Upon finishing his one term permitted by the state constitution of Oaxaca, Juárez became the director of the Oaxaca Institute of Science and Arts where he had previously studied law and also taught science. Juarez also continued his practice of law. [25]

Exile in New Orleans[edit]

Melchor Ocampo, a radical liberal whom Juárez met in their New Orleans exile

Like other Mexican liberals, Juárez looked to the U.S. as a model of development for Mexico, while conservatives looked to Europe, especially France and Britain.[27] When Santa Anna returned to power in 1853, many liberals went into exile in the U.S., including Juárez. In New Orleans Juárez was brought into a multifaceted and international new milieu. His day job was as a cigar maker in one of the city's factories,[28][29] while his wife remained in Mexico with their children, and were looked after by liberal loyalists, Ignacio Mejía and Domingo Castro.[30] Since he had not enriched himself as governor of Oaxaca, both Juárez and his wife had economic hardships, but she managed to send him some of her own money there to help with his support.[31] Other opponents of Santa Anna were also in exile there, including Melchor Ocampo of Michoacán, who was fiercely anti-clerical.[32] The year and a half Juárez spent in New Orleans (1853–55) was important to Juárez's and other exiles' political formation. The exiles plotted a return to Mexico and the overthrow of Santa Anna. In 1854, Juárez helped draft the liberals' Plan of Ayutla, a document calling for Santa Anna's deposing and a convention to draft a new constitution. Faced with growing opposition, Santa Anna resigned in 1855.[33]

Juárez's time in New Orleans broadened his horizons, meeting not just fellow exile Mexican liberals, but also Cuban separatist exile, Pedro Santacicilia [es], who later married Juárez's oldest child. Cuba was still a Spanish colony, not gaining its independence until 1898, and Cuban nationalists sought independence. For Mexico, the existence of a Spanish colony geographically close to Mexico was seen as a potential threat. It had been the springboard for Spain's unsuccessful attempts to reconquer Mexico. Santacicilia and his fellow Cuban business partner Domingo de Goicuría were important to the Mexican liberal cause, sending arms to Guerrero and acting on liberals' behalf in Veracruz in the War of the Reform. During the Second French Intervention, Santacilia helped Juárez's wife and children in their New York exile.[34]

Liberal Reform, 1855–1857[edit]

Juan Álvarez
Ignacio Comonfort

With Santa Anna's resignation, Juárez returned to Mexico from his exile in the U.S. and became part of the activist puro (pure) faction of Liberals. They formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, the strongman of Guerrero state, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma, or Liberal Reform.[35] Juárez served as Minister of Justice and ecclesiastical affairs.[36][37] During this time, he drafted the law named after him, the Juárez Law, which declared all citizens equal before the law, and restricted the privileges (fueros) of the Catholic Church and the Mexican army. President Álvarez signed the draft into law in 1855.[38][39][40][41]

The Reform laws curtailed the traditional powers of the military and the Catholic Church in Mexico. The Lerdo law forced the sale of Church lands as well as those of indigenous communities. The Juárez Law was subsequently incorporated into the Mexican Constitution of 1857. The laws attempted to create a market economy and modern civil society based on the model of the United States. Juárez had no direct role in drafting the constitution since he had returned to Oaxaca, where he served again as governor.[38][4][42][41]

The Constitution of 1857 was promulgated in February and the following president, Ignacio Comonfort, appointed Juárez as Minister of Government in November. He was elected as President of the Supreme Court of Justice, an office that virtually put its holder as the successor to the President of the Republic.[38][4][43][41]

President of Mexico (1858-1872)[edit]

War of the Reform, 1858–1860[edit]

Juárez was saved by Guillermo Prieto from assassination by Conservatives on 13 March 1858.

Conservatives rejected the new constitution, promulgated on 11 March 1857, and sought to overturn it. Led by General Félix María Zuloaga, Conservatives sought to nullify the constitution and issued the Plan of Tacubaya on 17 December 1857. Recently elected president, Ignacio Comonfort, a moderate liberal, opposed the constitution, which gave more power to Mexican states and further curtailed the power of the executive by making Congress superior to it. Comonfort signed onto the Conservatives' plan, which called for nullifying the constitution, drafting a new constitution, and leaving Comonfort as president with extraordinary powers in the interim. Comonfort "felt that by temporarily assuming dictatorial powers he could hold the extremists on both sides in check and pursue a middle course, always his object. It soon became obvious that such an assumption was merely wishful thinking."[44] Juárez, Ignacio Olvera, and many other liberal deputies and ministers were arrested. For the conservatives, these actions did not go far enough, and on 11 January 1858, Zuloaga demanded Comonfort's resignation. Comonfort re-established Congress, and liberated all prisoners including Juárez, before resigning as president. The conservative insurrectionists proclaimed Zuloaga as president on 21 January 1858.[45]

Under the terms of the 1857 Constitution, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice became interim President of Mexico until a new election could be held. With Comonfort's resignation, Juárez was acknowledged as president by liberals on 15 January 1858 and assumed leadership of the Liberal side of the civil war known as the War of the Reform (Guerra de Reforma) (1858–60). During the war, Mexico had rival governments of the liberals under Juárez, in a constitutional succession, and the conservatives under Félix María Zuloaga.[45] The contest would be decided on the field of battle. With the conservatives in control of Mexico City, Juárez and his government evacuated and moved first to Querétaro and later to Veracruz, whose customs revenues were used to fund the government.[41]

On 4 May 1858, Juárez arrived in Veracruz where the government of Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora was stationed with General Ignacio de la Llave.[46] His wife and children were waiting for his arrival on the dock at Veracruz's port, along with a large part of the population that had flooded the pier to greet him.

Juárez lived many months in Veracruz without incident until conservative General Miguel Miramón's attacked the port on 30 March 1859. On 6 April, Juárez received a diplomatic representative of the United States Government: Robert Milligan McLane. The U.S. was seeking a route for transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the narrowest crossing in Mexico between the bodies of water. With Juárez needing allies against the conservatives, Juárez went forward with a formal treaty between the two governments. Melchor Ocampo signed for Mexico on McLane-Ocampo Treaty in December 1859. Juárez was saved from the implementation of the treaty, which would undermine Mexico's sovereignty, because U.S. President James Buchanan was unable to secure ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate. Despite the failure of the treaty, Juárez's government received aid from the U.S. that enabled the liberals to overcome the conservatives' initial military advantage.[citation needed] Juárez's government successfully defended Veracruz from assault twice during 1860 and recaptured Mexico City on 1 January 1861.

On 12 July 1859, Juárez decreed the first regulations of the "Law of Nationalization of the Ecclesiastical Wealth." This enactment prohibited the Catholic Church from owning properties in Mexico.[47] The Catholic Church and the regular army supported the Conservatives in the Reform War. On the other hand, the Liberals had the support of several state governments in the north and central-west of the country, as well as that of President Buchanan's government.

Juárez in a rare full-length photograph, c.1860

Due to the initial weakness of the Juárez administration, Conservatives Félix María Zuloaga and Leonardo Márquez had the opportunity to reclaim power. To counter this, Juárez petitioned Congress to give him emergency powers. The liberal members of Congress denied the petition, believing they had to preserve their constitutional government achieved only after a damaging civil war. They did not believe that Juárez, who had implemented the constitution, should violate it by taking extraordinary powers. However, after groups of Conservatives ambushed and killed major liberal politicians and intellectuals Melchor Ocampo and Santos Degollado in 1861, liberals were outraged. Juárez took "extreme measures" to deal with the conservatives. After the scandal of Ocampo's murder, the liberal-majority Congress agreed to increase Juárez's powers to defeat the remaining conservative forces.[48]

Constitutional Presidency (1861–1862)[edit]

Benito Juárez, c. 1868

After the defeat of the Conservatives on the battlefield, in March 1861 elections were held and Juárez was elected president in his own right under the Constitution of 1857. Juárez called for elections to be held in January 1861, but they were not held until March. At this point, Juárez had two liberal rivals in the election, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada and Jesús González Ortega. Melchor Ocampo supported Juárez, pointing to Lerdo's statements late in the Reform War that the liberal republic could not win except with the armed aid of the Americans. Ocampo opposed the Lerdo Law and its implementation as unjust.[citation needed] Guillermo Prieto also attacked Lerdo and favored Juárez. As the Juárez government was attempting to regain control of the country's financial situation, it allowed conservative functionaries of the treasury to return to their positions, for which Juárez drew criticism. Prieto countered that the conservative bureaucrats had the relevant expertise. During the campaign, Lerdo died of typhoid, leaving González Ortega as Juárez's only rival. González Ortega was a popular military leader who had delivered significant victories against the conservatives. He then served as Minister of War in Juárez's cabinet, while maintaining his command of the troops of the Zacatecas Division. He resigned from the cabinet, but despite civil unrest in the capital calling for his reinstatement, he did not rebel or allow his name to be used by armed supporters. The civilian government of Juárez prevailed and he won the 1861 election.[49]

Although the conservatives had been defeated on the battlefield, they remained active as guerrillas throughout the country. As congress was reconvening for the first time since 1857, they received word that Melchor Ocampo had been executed in his home state of Michoacán by a conservative guerrilla band. Santos Degollado, who had been dismissed from his command, requested permission from congress to pursue Ocampo's killers. He too was killed by the guerrillas on June 15. González Ortega took charge of routing the guerrillas there.[50] Conservative General Leonardo Márquez took refuge in the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro and refused to recognize Juárez as president. He was blamed for the murders of Ocampo and Degollado. In hiding in March 1861, Márquez declared that Juárez and his supporters were traitors and therefore subject to summary execution.[51]

In the wake of the civil war and the demobilization of combatants, Juárez established the Rural Guard or Rurales, aimed at bringing public security, particularly as banditry and rural unrest grew. Many brigands and bandits had allied themselves with the liberal cause during the civil war. When the conflict finished, many became guerrillas and bandits again.[52] Juárez's Minister of the Interior, Francisco Zarco [es], oversaw the founding of the Rurales. The creation of the police force controlled by the President was done quietly because it violated the federalist principles of Mexican liberalism. The force's creation indicated Juárez had adopted centralist positions as he confronted continuing rural unrest. As a pragmatic solution, the force consisted of former bandits converted into policemen.[53]

Juárez's government also faced international conflicts. Given the government's desperate financial straits, Juárez contemplated suspending payments on foreign debt, which could trigger international intervention. The British government sent diplomat Sir Charles Lennox Wyke to find a solution to the financial crisis.[54] Juárez's Minister of Finance Manuel María de Zamacona negotiated an agreement with Wyke, concluded on 21 November 1861, but the treaty was repudiated by congress.[55] When Juárez suspended repayments of interest on foreign loans taken out by the defeated conservatives on 17 July, it set in motion intervention from European powers. Spain, Britain, and France infuriated over unpaid Mexican debts, agreed to the Convention of London, a joint effort to ensure that debt repayments from Mexico would be forthcoming and sent a joint expeditionary force that seized the Veracruz Customs House in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew, but French Emperor Napoleon III intended to overthrow the Juárez government and establish a Second Mexican Empire with the support of remaining Conservatives, beginning the Second French intervention, with Liberals attempting to oust the foreign invaders and their Conservative allies and restore the Republic.[56][57]

The outbreak of the conflict occurred during the American Civil War, which broke out in April 1861. Despite that, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's government was aware of the liberals' peril. U.S. Secretary of State William Seward attempted to find a solution to the debt crisis, floating the possibility of the U.S. assuming the interest charges on the Mexican debt and placing a lien on public lands in Mexican northern states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Sinaloa. Mexican representative in the U.S. Matías Romero attempted to promote the resolution but was rejected by the U.S. Senate. The European powers invited the U.S. to join their coalition but declined given its adherence to the Monroe Doctrine.[58]

After much contention among the liberals and after it became clear that the European powers would indeed intervene, Juárez was granted extraordinary powers by congress to deal with the crisis. The sole restriction on his taking any step necessary in the current crisis was that "he must maintain the nation's independence and territorial integrity, the form of government established by the constitution, and the principles of the laws of Reform."[59]

Juárez and the French Intervention (1862–67)[edit]

Sculpture of Juárez in the historic center of Oaxaca. Juárez holds a Mexican flag with one hand and with the other is pointing at Maximilian's Crown, which remains in the soil, representing the defeat of imperialism.
Juárez ordered Maximilian to be put to death, depicted here by Édouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1868–69), oil on canvas, Kunsthalle Mannheim.

During the French invasion following Juárez's decision to cancel debt payments to European powers, Juárez came to embody implacable Mexican nationalism against foreign invaders and during the crisis led a largely unified liberal republic. As with the Reform War, Mexico again had two governments, the conservatives with their French allies and that of the constitutional, elected president Juárez. The French invasion challenged the political order in Mexico, but Republican forces under Ignacio Zaragoza won an initial victory over the monarchists on 5 May 1862, the Battle of Puebla, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo. Having sent only a small expeditionary force to Mexico, the French were forced to retreat to the coast for a year and await the arrival of more troops. They advanced again in 1863 and captured Mexico City on 10 June 1863. With the invasion, congress ratified the grant to Juárez of extraordinary powers on 27 October 1862 and again on 27 May 1863.[60]

Juárez left the capital to set up a government in internal exile, though the rump United Mexican States had very little authority or territorial control over most of the non-occupied territory. However, the fact that Juárez remained in Mexico and Mexican nationalists continued to fight the foreign invaders, meant that Juárez denied claims that the French-backed empire of Maximilian was the legitimate and de facto government of Mexico. Juárez headed north, first to San Luis Potosí (9 June – 22 December 1863), Saltillo (9 January; 14 February – 2 April opposed by his old rival Santiago Vidaurri); then to the arid north of Chihuahua near the U.S. border, (12 October 1864 – 10 December 1866), with time in El Paso del Norte (present-day Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua) and finally to the capital of the state, Chihuahua City, where he set up his cabinet. Juárez deposed northern strongman Vidaurri from his base in Nuevo León-Coahuila, separating the states on 26 February 1863. Vidaurri defected to the conservative monarchists on 7 September 1863.[61]

A regency council comprising Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, natural son of José María Morelos; Bishop Pelagio Antonio de Labastida, and General Mariano Salas established a conservative, monarchist regime 18 June 1863. They sought a European royal to take the crown of Mexico. Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg, younger brother of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, accepted the invitation to become emperor on 3 October 1863, with the pledge from Napoleon III of military and financial aid to establish the regime. Maximilian was proclaimed Emperor as Maximilian I of Mexico on 20 April 1864, with the backing of Mexican conservatives.[60]

Juárez's term as president of the republic expired on 1 December 1865. Arguably the head of the Supreme Court would succeed as president. Jesús González Ortega could legally claim the presidency.[62] Juárez issued two decrees to undermine Ortega's claims and retain office. One decree extended the terms of the President and head of the Supreme Court until elections could be held. Juárez "believed he had the power to extend his term ... [and] became convinced that the nation would approve his continuing his term." Juárez exceeded his constitutional powers in remaining in office, but given the extraordinary times, he had considerable support.[63]

In response to the French invasion and the elevation of Maximilian as Emperor, Juárez sent General Plácido Vega y Daza to California to foment Mexican American sympathy for republican Mexico. Emperor Maximilian, as a foreigner and political liberal, had no understanding of the situation in Mexico, offering Juárez amnesty and later the post of prime minister. Juárez, a liberal republican, refused to accept a government imposed by foreigners, or a monarchy. The U.S. government was sympathetic to Juárez, refusing to recognize Maximilian's regime and opposing the French invasion as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Most of its attention was taken up by the American Civil War.[64] Juárez appointed

While Juárez remained in Mexico, his wife, Margarita Maza, and their children spent the French occupation in exile in New York, where she met several times with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who received her as the First Lady of Mexico. The careers of Juárez and Lincoln have been compared, as the two presidents had shared humble social origins, a law career, a rapidly ascending political career in their home states, and a presidency that began under the auspices of a civil war that made long-lasting reform a necessity, but they never met nor exchanged correspondence.[65]

Following the end of the American Civil War and Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson became U.S. president. He demanded that the French leave Mexico and imposed a naval blockade in February 1866. When Johnson could not get sufficient support in Congress to aid Juárez, he allegedly had the Army "lose" some supplies (including rifles) "near" (across) the border with Mexico, according to U.S. General Philip Sheridan's journal account.[66][page needed] In his memoirs, Sheridan stated that he had supplied arms and ammunition to Juárez's forces: "... which we left at convenient places on our side of the river to fall into their hands".[67]

1867 photograph of the execution by firing squad of General Tomás Mejía (left), Emperor Maximilian (center), and General and former President of Mexico Miguel Miramón (right).

Faced with US opposition to a continuing French occupation and a growing threat on the European mainland from Prussia, Napoleon III ordered French troops to leave Mexico in late 1866. Maximilian's liberal views had gained him some liberal supporters for his regime, but that had cost him support from Mexican conservatives. In 1867, the last of the Emperor's forces were defeated. Maximilian was sentenced to death in a military court, a retaliation for Maximilian's earlier orders for the execution of republican soldiers. Some historians point to the fact that the original "Black Decree" was in fact from Juárez, who had men executed, without trial, for "helping" his enemies, whereas Maximilian often pardoned people who had fought against him. Despite national and international pleas for amnesty, Juárez refused to commute the sentence. Maximilian was executed by firing squad on 19 June 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas in Querétaro. After a number of months, his body was returned to Vienna for burial.[68]

Restored Republic (1867–1872)[edit]

Benito Juárez wearing the presidential sash (ca. 1872)
Alegoría de la Constitución de 1857, Petronilo Monroy, 1869

The period following the expulsion of the French and up to the revolt of Porfirio Díaz in 1876 is now known in Mexico as the Restored Republic.[69] The period includes the last years of the Juárez presidency and, following his death in office in 1872, that of fellow civilian politician Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada.

Under ordinary circumstances, Juárez's presidential term would have ended in 1865 and elections held, but during the French invasion, he continued in the presidency as head of state in domestic exile. With the ouster of the French in 1867, other liberals now objected to Juárez's remaining in power without an electoral mandate. The broad liberal front against the French had splintered and rivals to Juárez emerged. Liberals had not been unified in their support of the Constitution of 1857, and with the exit of the French, simmering conflicts between liberal factions in abeyance during the intervention came to the fore. Juárez sought the legal means to extend his time in power, proposing that the Constitution be amended to allow for a third term and increase the power of the executive against that of the legislature. For Juárez's opponents, this was seen as a confirmation that Juárez wished to keep a personal grip on power.[70] The Constitution had been aimed at limiting the power of the Catholic Church and the army as institutions and invigorating the power of Mexican states against the power of the central government. The constitution also made the legislative branch superior to the executive, to forestall personalist power. During the intervention, the republic barely continued to exist and the structure of the constitutional division of powers was inoperative. Juárez realized when he returned to the presidency in 1867 that presidential powers were diminished. In the face of opposition, Juárez built a set of alliances to strengthen the power of the central government and make the constitutional system work. His critics saw his actions as building a personal dictatorship.[71]

The Restored Republic was a politically unstable time in Mexico, with multiple insurrections.[72] A perceived challenge to Juárez came early. In 1867, the liberals' former nemesis, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, and the President of Mexico multiple times sought to return to Mexico from exile. The U.S. had pledged to support Juárez and prevented Santa Anna from disembarking in Veracruz, his home region and political base. Veracruz was still in French imperial hands when Santa Anna attempted to land in June 1867, and the possibility that he might seize the port from them. This could have paved the way for a political comeback threatening Juárez. Juárez's forces diverted the general, who landed in Sisal, Yucatán. He was arrested before a military court on 14 July 1867. He was accused of being a traitor to Mexico, and Juárez sought the use of the law of 25 January 1862 that mandated death for traitors, a fate for Maximilian and two of his generals. The military tribunal decided that Santa Anna should be sentenced to eight years of further exile. Juárez had been expecting a sentence of death and was proceeding to have Santa Anna's landed property confiscated and sold off.[citation needed] Juárez issued a general amnesty for all political opponents in October 1870 but explicitly excluded Santa Anna. The general responded angrily, listing his military deeds for Mexico, asking contemptuously where the civilian Juárez was then, and calling him a "dark Indian," a "hyena," and "a symbol of cruelty." But only after Juárez died in office was Santa Anna able to return to Mexico.[33]

The War of the Reform and the French Intervention had forestalled any serious implementation of the Liberal reforms. With the defeat of the French and their Mexican conservative allies, the way seemed clear to institute changes. Juárez had turned the opposition to the French Intervention into a war of national liberation of the Republic from a foreign invader rather than as a victory of Mexican liberalism. For that reason, he had considerable political support which could be translated into actions.[73]

In a controversial move, Juárez ran for re-election in 1871. His loyal political ally, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada had expected to succeed Juárez in that election, since Juárez had already been criticized for apparently holding onto power. When Lerdo served in Juárez's cabinet post-1867 and had forged political alliances with a number of state governors and with congressmen. It became clear that Juárez was going to run for re-election, and Lerdo resigned from the cabinet. Lerdo and Díaz ran for the presidency with none of them achieving a majority on his own, but rivals Díaz and Lerdo together got more votes than Juárez. Juárez got 5,837 electoral votes, Díaz 3,555, and Lerdo 2,874 in the 1871 general election, throwing the outcome for congress to decide.[70] Congress decided for Juárez, since it was packed with his supporters, with opponents considering the election fraudulent.

Defeated opposition candidate Díaz issued the Plan of la Noria call to arms against Juárez. Díaz had not been involved in the many insurrections that broke out after 1867 and had it not gathered other opponents of Juárez it would have just one more insurrection. Although Juárez had lost support, many political opponents did not want civil war as a means to power. Juárez kept the loyalty of key military figures and was able to outlast the rebellion. Díaz's plan was not a compelling argument for violence. Díaz showed himself at this juncture to be a flawed political and military leader.[74] Juárez called Díaz a "latter-day Santa Anna", invoking the liberals' archenemy.[70] Juárez took the opportunity of the rebellion to attack entrenched groups within various states, using government forces to neutralize rebellious elements in state militias.[75] Having outlasted Díaz's serious rebellion, Juárez again tried to institute constitutional reform but was blocked by congress.[76]

Personal life[edit]

Margarita Maza de Juárez
Children of Benito Juárez

On 31 October 1843, when he was in his late 30s, Juárez married Margarita Maza, the adoptive daughter of his sister's patron.[77] Margarita was 20 years younger than Juárez. Her father Antonio Maza Padilla was from Genoa and her mother Petra Parada Sigüenza was Mexican and of Spanish descent. They were part of Oaxaca's upper-class society. Margarita Maza accepted his proposal and said of Juárez, "He is very homely, but very good."[78] With his marriage to a white woman, Juárez gained social standing. Although legal racial categories were abolished shortly after independence, in social life, ethnic categories were still used. Their ethnically mixed (white/indigenous) marriage was unusual at the time, but it is not often explicitly noted in standard biographies.[citation needed] Their marriage lasted until Margarita's death from cancer in January 1871, when Juárez was planning his run for reelection. Juárez and Maza had ten children together, who were ethnically mixed mestizos, including twins María de Jesús and Josefa, born in 1854. Two boys and three girls died in early childhood. Two of their sons died while they were in exile in New York with their mother during the French Intervention. Their only surviving son was Benito Juárez Maza [es], b. 29 October 1852, was a diplomat and politician, and Governor of Oaxaca 1911–12; he married but had no children.[79] Juárez's daughter Manuela married Cuban poet and separatist Pedro Santacilia [es] in May 1863.[30]

Benito Juárez also had an extramarital relationship with Andrea Campa, with whom he had a daughter Beatriz Juárez.[80] Benito Juarez officially recognized Beatriz as his own child by giving her his last name in her birth certificate. Beatriz Juárez later married Robert Savage and together, they had a son named Carlos Savage Juárez,[80] who became a cadet in Mexico's Heroic Military Academy and participated in the famous "Marcha de la Lealtad [es]" or "March of Loyalty" of Mexican ex-president Francisco I. Madero.[80] Carlos Savage Juárez's children were well known in the film industry: Carlos Savage (1919-2000) was a highly respected Mexican film editor who contributed to over 1,000 award-winning films and documentaries throughout his career.

Benito Juárez is also known to have had two other children with other women. He had fathered a son and a daughter before he married Margarita, a son, Tereso, perhaps around 1838; and Susana. Little is known about them. One of his biographers, Charles Allen Smart, citing the work of Jorge L. Tamayo, the editor of Juárez's letters, says that Juárez's natural son might be alluded to in a letter from a certain Refugio Álvarez, an officer during the French invasion. Juárez's son was taken prisoner by conservative general Tomás Mejía when the conservatives captured San Luis Potosí in December 1863. Juárez's two sons with Margarita Maza were minors at the time and the third not yet born, so the conclusion is that the letter refers to Tereso. In his research for the biography, Smart found no explicit references to Tereso.[81] Juárez's daughter Susana was mentioned by Tamayo, and Smart includes that information, but without page citations to Tamayo's publication. Susana was said to have become an invalid and a narcotics addict who was cared for by Juárez's friends Sr. Miguel Castro and his wife when Castro was governor of Oaxaca.[82] The natural children's mother died before Juárez married Margarita, when Susana was three years old. Juárez and his wife formally adopted Susana, who never married and was with her adoptive mother at her death.[77][83] Margarita Maza de Juárez was buried in the Juárez mausoleum in Mexico City.

Juárez wrote books for his children, such as the book "Apuntes para mis Hijos" ("Notes for my Children" in English). However, this book only briefly talked about his indigenous heritage, describing his parents as "Indians of the country's primitive race."[84] His vision of Mexico was that individual indigenous Mexicans would assimilate culturally and become full citizens of Mexico, equal before the law. "Everything that Juárez and the Liberal circle stood for militated against [his] identification" as an indigenous person.[85] According to one biographer, he "has been the object of so much mythology that it is almost impossible to uncover the facts of his life."[86]

Juárez was a 33rd Scottish Rite Freemason[87] and a member of the directive of the Mexican brotherhood. He was initiated under the name of Guillermo Tell.[88][89][90]

Juárez's health suffered in 1870, but he recovered. His wife Margarita died in 1871 and his health began to fail in 1872. He suffered a heart attack in March 1872, the day before his birthday. He suffered another attack on July 8 and a fatal attack on 17 July.[91]


Juárez was initiated into Freemasonry in the York Rite in Oaxaca. He then moved to the National Mexican Rite, where he ascended to the highest degree, the ninth, which is equivalent to the 33rd degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The York Rite was of more liberal and republican ideas with respect to the Scottish Rite that also existed in Mexico, which was of centralist political ideas. The National Mexican Rite emerged from a group of Yorkist Masons and another group of Scottish Masons whose common objective was to gain independence from foreigners and promote a nationalist mentality.[92][93]

Juárez was fervent in Masonic practice. His name is held in veneration in many rites. Many lodges and philosophical bodies have adopted him as a sacred symbol.[94][95][96]

Juárez's initiation ceremony was attended by distinguished Masons, such as Manuel Crescencio Rejon, author of the Yucatán Constitution of 1840; Valentín Gómez Farías, President of Mexico; Pedro Zubieta, General Commander in the Federal District and the State of Mexico; Congressman Fernando Ortega; Congressman Tiburcio Cañas; Congressman Francisco Banuet; Congressman Agustin Buenrostro; Congressman Joaquin Navarro and Congressman Miguel Lerdo de Tejada. After the proclamation, the apprentice mason Juárez adopted the symbolic name of Guillermo Tell, 14th century Swiss folk hero.[97][98]


Tomb of Benito Juárez. The remains of his wife Margarita Maza are buried in the same mausoleum.

Juárez died of a heart attack on 18 July 1872, aged 66. He had been ill for two days, seemingly without alarming symptoms, but he appears to have suffered an attack similar to the one in October 1870. "At daybreak on the morning of the 19th [of July] the inhabitants of this capital were startled by the roar of artillery, followed by a gun [shot] each quarter of an hour, which indicated the death of the head of the government.[99] A death mask was made and Juárez was given a state funeral. He is buried in the Panteón de San Fernando, where other Mexican notables are interred. There is an account in Ralph Roeder's 1947 lengthy biography of Juárez about his death,[100] but although the work has many direct quotations from sources, it is flawed because there are no scholarly citations.

When Juárez died, Díaz's reasons for rebellion – fraudulent elections, presidential coercion of states – no longer existed. He was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, the head of the Supreme Court. Díaz was amnestied for his rebellion by Lerdo in November 1872.[79] Díaz later rebelled against Lerdo in 1876. Although Díaz was a rival of Juárez during his life, after Díaz seized power he helped shape the historical memory of Juárez.


Monument to Juárez in central Mexico City, built by his old political rival Porfirio Díaz to commemorate the centenary of Juárez's 1806 birth

Today Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy, everyone has equal rights for his nation's indigenous peoples, reduction in the power of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, and a defense of national sovereignty. The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North). It constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, the subordination of the army to civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and the disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the "Juárez Law" or "Ley Juárez".[101]

La Reforma represented the triumph of Mexico's liberal, federalist, anti-clerical, and pro-capitalist forces over the conservative, centralist, corporatist, and theocratic elements that sought to reconstitute a locally run version of the colonial era. It replaced a semi-feudal social system with a more market-driven one. But, following Juárez's death, the lack of adequate democratic and institutional stability soon resulted in a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato (1876–1911), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

Honors and recognition[edit]

The Benito Juárez statue in Washington, D.C., a gift of the Mexican people to the people of the U.S., 1968

Honors in his lifetime

  • On 7 February 1866, Juárez was elected as mayor a companion of the 3rd class of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). While membership in MOLLUS was normally limited to Union officers who had served during the American Civil War and their descendants, members of the 3rd Class were civilians who had made a significant contribution to the Union war effort. Juárez is one of the very few non-United States citizens to be a MOLLUS companion.
  • On 11 May 1867, the Congress of the Dominican Republic proclaimed Juárez the Benemérito de la América (Distinguished of America).[102]
  • On 16 July 1867, the government of Peru recognized Juárez's accomplishments and on 28 July of the same year the School of Medicine of San Fernando, Perú, issued a gold medal to honor him; the medal can be seen at the Museo Nacional de Historia.[102]

Place names

Mexican currency

  • Juárez is depicted on the 20-peso banknote. From the time of Juárez, Mexico's government has issued several notes with the face and the subject of Juárez. In 2000, $20.00 (twenty pesos) bills were issued: on one side is the bust of Juárez and to his left, the Juarista eagle across the Chamber. In 2018, new $500.00 (five hundred pesos) bills were released, also featuring the bust of Juárez. A caption directly below this says in Spanish, "President Benito Juárez, promoter of the Laws of Reform, during his triumphant entrance to Mexico City on 13 July 1867, symbolizing the restoration of the Republic". Juárez appears to face a depiction of his entrance into Mexico City. His likeness appears on two bills simultaneously, and while both are blue in color, the 500-peso and 20-peso notes differ in size and texture.[103]

Monuments and statuary

Benito Juárez is notable for the number of statues and monuments in his honor outside of Mexico.

Film and media

Other eponyms

Juárez Complex National Palace

In the National Palace in Mexico City, where he lived while in power, there is a small museum in his honor. It contains his furniture and personal effects.

Living room, dining room, study and bedroom of don Benito Juárez


Juárez's quote continues to be well-remembered in Mexico: "Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz", meaning "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace". The portion of this motto in bold is inscribed on the coat of arms of Oaxaca. A portion is inscribed on the Juárez statue in Bryant Park in New York City, "Respect for the rights of others is peace." This quote summarizes Mexico's stances toward foreign affairs.

Another notable quote: "La ley ha sido siempre mi espada y mi escudo", or "The law has always been my shield and my sword", is a phrase often displayed inside court and tribunals buildings.[110]

See also[edit]


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  107. ^ "A Town is Born on Death Valley Days". IMDb. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  108. ^ Living History 2; Chapter 2: Italy under FascismISBN 1-84536-028-1
  109. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Juarez, B.", p. 137).
  110. ^ Brunet-Jailly, Emmanuel (2015). Border Disputes: A Global Encyclopedia [3 volumes]: A Global Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 363. ISBN 978-1610690249.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cadenhead, Ivie E., Jr. Benito Juárez. 1973.
  • Hamnett, Brian. "Benito Juárez", in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 1. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997
  • Hamnett, Brian. Juárez (Profiles in Power). New York: Longmans, 1994. ISBN 978-0582050532.
  • Krauze, Enrique, Mexico: Biography of Power. New York: HarperCollins 1997. ISBN 0-06-016325-9
  • Olliff, Donathan C. Reform Mexico and the United States: A Search for Alternatives to Annexation, 1854–1861. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press 1981.
  • Perry, Laurens Ballard. Juárez and Díaz: Machine Politics in Mexico. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press 1978. ISBN 0-87580-058-0
  • Ridley, Jasper. Maximilian and Juarez. London: Constable, 1993. ISBN 978-0-09472-070-1
  • Rivera Cambas, Manuel (1873). Los Gobernantes de Mexico (in Spanish). Vol. 2.
  • Roeder, Ralph. Juárez and His Mexico: A Biographical History. 2 vols. 1947.
  • Scholes, Walter V. Mexican Politics During the Juárez Regime, 1855–1872. Columbia MO: University of Missouri Press 1957.
  • Sheridan, Philip H. Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan. 2 vols. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1888. ISBN 1-58218-185-3.
  • Sinkin, Richard N. The Mexican Reform, 1855–1876: A Study in Liberal Nation-Building. 1979.
  • Smart, Charles Allen. Viva Juárez: A Biography. 1963.
  • Stevens, D.F. "Benito Juárez". Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  • Thomson, G.P.C "Benito Juarez and Liberalism", Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, New York, Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Weeks, Charles A. The Juárez Myth in Mexico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press 1987.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of Mexico
15 January 1858 – 10 April 1864
Succeeded by
Preceded by
President of Mexico (in exile)
10 April 1864 – 15 May 1867
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of Mexico
15 May 1867 – 18 July 1872
Succeeded by