Benito Juárez

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This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Juárez and the second or maternal family name is García.
Benito Juárez
Benito Pablo Juárez García.png
26th President of Mexico
In office
15 January 1858 – 18 July 1872
Preceded by Ignacio Comonfort
Succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada
Governor of Oaxaca
In office
1847–1852
Personal details
Born Benito Pablo Juárez García
(1806-02-17)17 February 1806
San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca
Died 18 July 1872(1872-07-18) (aged 66)
Mexico City, Mexico
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Margarita Maza
Domestic partner Juana Rosa Chagoya[citation needed]

'Benito Pablo Juárez García, generally known as Benito Juárez (About this sound /beˈnito ˈpaβlo ˈxwares garˈsi.a/ ), (21 March 1806 – 18 July 1872)[1][2] was a Mexican lawyer and politician of Zapotec origin from Oaxaca who served as the president of Mexico for five terms: 1858–1861 as interim, then 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871 and 1871–1872 as constitutional president.[3] He resisted the French occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, restored the Republic, and used liberal measures to modernize the country.

Mythification[edit]

Benito Juárez early life account has been plagued with myths and inventions created by ruling elites that have governed the country years after his demise, due to the fact that his legacy has been so far reaching. Some of these groups, coming from all parts of the Mexican political spectrum (from far right hardliners from the Revolutionary era, to far left socialist from the current political scene) have claimed themselves the bearers of this legacy, strong-arming intellectuals on their side to twist the few facts in order to align them to their agenda. This has been done several times throughout Mexico's modern history transforming Juarez's image from time to time.

As such, few facts from his early life are actually documented in trustworthy sources. Much is unknown before his ascent to power. Below is what is generally accepted as true.

Early life[edit]

Portrait in the National Palace of Margarita Maza de Juárez, wife of Benito Juárez, daughter of Juárez's white patron.

Juárez was born on 21 March 1806, in a small adobe house in the village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, located in the mountain range now known as the "Sierra Juárez". His parents, Brigida García and Marcelino Juárez, were Zapotec peasants and died of complications of diabetes when he was three years old. Shortly afterward, his grandparents died as well, so after that his uncle raised him.[4][5] He described his parents as "indios de la raza primitiva del país," that is, "Indians of the original race of the country."[5] He worked in the cornfields and as a shepherd until the age of 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to attend school.[3] At the time, he could speak only Zapotec.

In the city, where his sister worked as a cook, he took a job as a domestic servant for Antonio Maza.[3] A lay Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva, was impressed with young Benito's intelligence and thirst for learning, and arranged for his placement at the city's seminary. In 1843 Benito married Margarita Maza, the daughter of his sister's patron. That was unusual for a highly racist and segregated nation like Mexico, since Margarita was of white descent and Benito—20 years her senior—was of indigenous origins. With a height of 1.37 m (4 ft 6 in), Juárez is considered one of the shortest presidents in world history.[6][better source needed]

Political career[edit]

Juárez became a lawyer in 1834 and a judge in 1841.[7] He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1852. During his tenure as governor he supported war effort against the Americans in the Mexican War but seeing the war was lost, refused Antonio López de Santa Anna's request to regroup and raise new forces. This as well as his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship Santa Anna led to his exile in 1853.[8] He spent his exile in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in a cigar factory.[9] In 1854 he helped draft the Plan of Ayutla, a document calling for Santa Anna's deposition and a convention to implement a new constitution.

Faced with growing discontent, Santa Anna resigned in 1855 and Juárez returned to Mexico. The winning party, the liberales (Liberals) formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma. The Reform laws sponsored by the puro (pure) wing of the Liberal Party curtailed the power of the Catholic Church and the military, while trying to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. The Ley Juárez (Juárez Law) of 1855 declared all citizens equal before the law and severely restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church.

Supreme Court[edit]

Benito Juárez with his sister Nela (right) and his wife Margarita Maza (left), 1843
Oil painting of Benito Juárez.

A new liberal constitution, the Constitution of 1857, was promulgated, under which Juárez became President of the Supreme Court of Justice, under moderado (moderate) president Ignacio Comonfort. Conservatives led by General Félix María Zuloaga, with the backing of the military and the clergy, launched a revolt under the Plan of Tacubaya on 17 December 1857. Comonfort sought to placate the rebels by appointing several conservatives to the Cabinet, dissolving the Congress, and implementing most of the Tacubaya Plan. Juárez, Ignacio Olvera, and many other deputies and ministers were arrested. The actions did not go far enough for the rebels, and on 11 January 1858, Zuloaga demanded Comonfort's resignation. Comonfort then re-established the Congress, liberated all prisoners and then resigned as President. The conservative forces proclaimed Zuloaga as President on 21 January.

Meanwhile, 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. Juárez was thus acknowledged as president by liberals on 15 January 1858 and assumed leadership of the Liberal side of the civil war known as the Reform War (Guerra de Reforma).

As Zuloaga's troops were in control of Mexico City, Juárez and his government fled, first to Querétaro and later to Veracruz, whose customs revenues were used to fund the government's expenditure. The Conservatives were supported by the Catholic Church (in 1859, during the war, Juárez ordered the confiscation of church properties) and the regular army, but the Liberals had the support of several state governments in the north and central-west and the administration of US President James Buchanan. A treaty between the two governments, the McLane-Ocampo Treaty was signed in December 1859, although Buchanan was unable to secure ratification of the treaty by the US Congress. Nevertheless, the aid received enabled the liberals to overcome the conservatives' initial military advantage; Juárez's government successfully defended Veracruz from assault twice during 1860 and recaptured Mexico City on 1 January 1861.

President[edit]

Monument to Benito Juárez in Chihuahua, inaugurated in 1910 during the independence centenary.
Decree of President Benito Juárez in which judges are instituted for the Civil Registry – Tamaulipas Reynosa

In March 1861, Juárez was finally elected President in his own right under the Constitution of 1857. However, the Liberals' celebrations of 1861 were shortlived. The war had severely damaged Mexico's infrastructure and crippled its economy. While the Conservatives had been defeated, they would not disappear, and the Juárez government had to respond to pressures from these factions. He was forced to give an amnesty to captured Conservative guerrillas still resisting the Juárez government even though they were executing captured Liberals, which included Melchor Ocampo. In view of the government's desperate financial straits Juárez cancelled repayments of interest on foreign loans.

Spain, Britain and France, angry over unpaid Mexican debts, sent a joint expeditionary force that seized the Veracruz Customs House in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew after they realized that the French Emperor Napoleon III intended to overthrow the Juárez government and establish a Second Mexican Empire, with the support of the remnants of the Conservative side in the Reform War. Thus began the French intervention in Mexico in 1862.

Mexican forces under Ignacio Zaragoza won an initial victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo (5 May). The French advanced again in 1863, forcing Juárez and his elected government to flee Mexico City once again, first to San Luis Potosí, then to the arid northern city of 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 and government-in-exile. There, he would remain for the next two and a half years. Meanwhile, Maximilian von Habsburg, a younger brother of the Emperor of Austria, was proclaimed Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico on 20 April 1864 with the backing of Napoleon III and a group of Mexican conservatives.

Before Juárez fled, Congress granted him an emergency extension of his presidency, which would go into effect in 1865, when his term expired, and last until 1867, when the last of Maximilian's forces were defeated.

Expelling the French[edit]

Mosaic chronicling the life & challenges of Benito Juárez. Oaxaca, Mexico.

In response to the French invasion and the elevation of Maximilian, Juárez sent General Plácido Vega y Daza to California to gather Mexican American sympathy for Mexico's plight. Maximilian offered Juárez amnesty and later even the post of prime minister, but Juárez refused to accept a government "imposed by foreigners" or a monarchy. The government of the United States was sympathetic to Juárez, refusing to recognize Maximilian opposing the French invasion as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but it was distracted by the American Civil War. Following the end of the war, US President Andrew Johnson demanded the French evacuate Mexico and imposed a naval blockade in February 1866.

When Johnson could get no support in Congress, he supposedly had the Army "lose" some supplies (including rifles) "near" (across) the border with Mexico.[10]

Faced with US opposition and a growing threat from Prussia, French troops began pulling out of Mexico in late 1866. Maximilian's liberal views cost him support from Mexican conservatives as well. In 1867, the last of the Emperor's forces were defeated and Maximilian was sentenced to death by a military court (a retaliation for Maximilian's earlier orders for the execution of republican soldiers). Despite national and international pleas for amnesty, Juárez refused to commute the sentence, and Maximilian was executed by firing squad on 19 June 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas in Querétaro. His last words had been '¡Viva México!' His body was returned to Austria for burial. It should be noted that Maximillian, like Juarez, was also a Freemason.[11]

Juárez had no intention to leave power following the end of the French invasion. He won in a relatively clean manner the 1867 election and immediately requested and obtained special powers from Congress to rule by decree. Despite being forbidden to do so by the 1857 constitution, Juarez once again ran for re-election in 1871.

Amid fraud charges and widespread controversy, he was re-elected for a new term in 1871. During his last two terms, he used the office of the presidency to ensure electoral success, obtain personal gains and suppress revolts by opponents, such as Porfirio Díaz. Juárez died of a heart attack on July 18, 1872 while reading a newspaper at his desk in the National Palace in Mexico City. He was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, his foreign minister.

Legacy[edit]

Benito Juárez
Sculpture of Benito Juárez made in 1894 at Paseo Juárez "El Llano" in the Historic Centre of Oaxaca. Juárez holds a Mexican flag with one hand and with the other is pointing Maximilian's Imperial Crown of Mexico which remains in the soil, representing the defeating of the Second Mexican Empire.

Today Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy, equal rights for his nation's indigenous peoples, his antipathy toward organized religion, especially the Catholic Church (motivated by his adherence to Freemasonry),[12] and what he regarded as defense of national sovereignty. The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North), and 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 also the almost-complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the "Juarez Law" or "Ley Juarez".[13]

Tomb of Benito Juárez

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 old colonial system. 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 led to a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato (Porfirist era), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

21 March is the set day to commemorate Juárez. This date has become a national holiday in Mexico, which has continued to grow in acceptance within Mexican culture.

On 7 February 1866, Juárez was elected as 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.

In Washington, D.C., there is a monument by Enrique Alciati, a gift to the US from Mexico.[14] Juárez has been mentioned or featured in television and film. Juarez is a 1939 American historical drama film directed by William Dieterle, and starring Paul Muni as Juárez. In January 1959, the episode entitled "The Desperadoes" of the ABC/Warner Brothers western television series, Sugarfoot, starring Will Hutchins in the title role, focuses upon an imaginary plot to assassinate Juárez. Set at a mission in South Texas, the episode features Anthony George as a Catholic priest, Father John, a friend of the series character Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster. [15]

Quotations[edit]

Juárez's famous quotation 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.

"Law has always been my shield and my sword" is a phrase often reproduced as decoration inside court and tribunals buildings.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Benito Juarez". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "Benito Juárez (March 21, 1806 – July 18, 1872)". Banco de Mexico. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "Juárez' Birthday". Sistema Internet de la Presidencia. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  4. ^ Stacy, Lee, ed. (2002). Mexico and the United States. Vol. 1. Marshall Cavendish. p. 435. ISBN 978-0-7614-7402-9. 
  5. ^ a b "Juárez, Benito, on his early years". Historical Text Archive. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  6. ^ "Benito Juárez". W. 2013. Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  7. ^ "Benito Juárez". Who2. 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  8. ^ "Juárez, Benito". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). 2007. 
  9. ^ Lipsitz, George (2006). The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (2nd ed.). Temple University Press. p. 239. ISBN 1-59213-494-7. 
  10. ^ (General Philip Sheridan wrote in his journal about how he "misplaced" about 30,000 muskets). Mexico's Lincoln: The Ecstasy and Agony of Benito Juarez
  11. ^ http://www.austrianinformation.org/march-april-2007/2007/4/23/maximilian-i-of-mexico.html
  12. ^ http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/05/21/sem-arteche.html
  13. ^ http://biblio.juridicas.unam.mx/libros/2/999/19.pdf
  14. ^ Smithsonian Institution (1993). "Benito Juarez, (sculpture).". Save Outdoor Sculpture, District of Columbia survey. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  15. ^ ""The Desperadoe", January 6, 1959". tv.com. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  16. ^ Living History 2; Chapter 2: Italy under FascismISBN 1-84536-028-1

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ignacio Comonfort
President of Mexico
15 January 1858 – 10 April 1864
Succeeded by
Juan Nepomuceno Almonte
José Mariano Salas
as Regents
Preceded by
Himself
President of Mexico (in exile)
10 April 1864 - 15 May 1867
Succeeded by
Himself
Preceded by
Maximilian I of Mexico
as Emperor
President of Mexico
15 May 1867 – 18 July 1872
Succeeded by
Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada