|Reform War or First Mexican Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Jesús González Ortega
Luis G. Osollo
|Casualties and losses|
|History of Mexico|
The War of Reform (Spanish: Guerra de Reforma) in Mexico, was a three-year civil war lasting from December 1857 to December 1860 fought between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party over the Constitution of 1857, promulgated under the liberal presidency of Ignacio Comonfort. The new constitution was part of a wider liberal program intended to eliminate the political, economic, and cultural power of the Catholic church; separating church and state, while also attempting at reducing the power of the Mexican Army, and economically developing the nation.
The Constitution of 1857 was proclaimed in February of that year and immediately faced extreme opposition from Conservatives and the Catholic Church, most notably over the Ley Lerdo which stripped the church of most of its property. The measure however was not exclusively aimed at the Catholic Church and Mexico's native communities were also forced to sell their traditional communal lands. Backlash was also provoked by a government measure in March making it mandatory for public servants to swear a public oath to the constitution or lose their jobs. The controversy rose to the point where President Comonfort, a known moderate, joined a self-coup in December to establish a new constitution, as laid out in the Plan of Tacubaya, proclaimed by General Felix Zuloaga.
Comonfort soon repented of his role in the conspiracy, resigned the presidency, and left the country, being constitutionally succeeded by president of the Supreme Court, Benito Juárez who moved the liberal government to the east coast port of Veracruz. The Conservatives controlled the capital and much of central Mexico, while the rest of the states had to choose whether to side with the Conservative government of Félix Zuloaga or that of Juarez. Both governments managed to attain international recognition, the liberals by the United States, and the Conservatives by France, Great Britain, and Spain.
The conservatives struggled to pass a new constitution, and Zuloaga was replaced by general Miguel Miramon while the liberals passed even more anti-clerical measures in the states they controlled. Both sides struggled to capture the enemy's capital, and in order to try to gain an advantage, the liberals negotiated the McLane-Ocampo Treaty with the U.S., which if ratified would have given the Liberal regime cash but also granted the U.S. vast military and economic rights on Mexican territory. The treaty failed to pass in the U.S. Senate, but the American navy nonetheless helped protect Juarez' government in Veracruz, and even captured conservative vessels en route to a siege attempt. Liberal victories accumulated thereafter until Conservative forces surrendered in December, 1860.
While the Conservative forces lost the war, guerrillas remained active in the countryside for years after, and conservative generals would join the French during the subsequent French Intervention in Mexico, and help establish the Second Mexican Empire.
Ever since independence, the Mexican political scene had been divided into two main camps composed of liberals and conservatives.
The liberals were influenced by the political thought of the United States, and the French Revolution. They advocated a federal form of government, and wished to reduce the power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, as part of a wider program of social and economic progress. They were alternatively also known as puros, and were led by theorists such as José María Luis Mora and Lorenzo de Zavala.
Conservatives also advocated economic development without wishing to uproot the social order, they preferred to respect the social position of the Catholic Church and the Mexican army, a stance which was expressed through the recurring slogan of 'religion y fueros,' fueros referring to specific legal military privileges. They preferred a strong, centralist form of government, and certain conservatives even advocated establishing a monarchy in Mexico.  They were alternatively known as continuistas. Their leading theorist at this time was Lucas Alaman.
In the course of the first few decades of independence, Mexico would alternatively be ruled by liberal and conservative factions. The original Constitution of 1824 would be Federalist, and the liberal administration of Valentin Gomez Farias would attempt to pass sweeping anti-clerical measures as early as 1833. The government shut down church schools, assumed the right to make clerical appointments to the church, and shut down monasteries. The ensuing backlash would result in Gomez Farias' government being overthrown, and conservatives would establish a Centralist Republic during the 1830s which would last all the way into the 1846. Santa Anna who had previously gained power as a liberal and a conservative at separate times, came to power again in 1853 as a conservative and quickly established a dictatorship which was overthrown by a liberal coalition. The new government began passing unprecedented reforms, and even began work on a new constitution, which would eventually trigger the War of Reform.
After the overthrow of Santa Anna, a new government led by the liberal Juan Alvarez assumed power in November, 1855. His cabinet was radical and included the prominent liberals Benito Juarez, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Melchor Ocampo, and Guillermo Prieto, but also the more moderate Ignacio Comonfort.
Clashes in the cabinet led to the resignation of the radical Ocampo, but the administration was still determined to pass significant reforms. On November 23, 1855, the Ley Juarez, named after the Minister of Justice substantially reduced the jurisdiction of military and ecclesiastical courts which existed for soldiers and clergy respectively. 
Further dissension within liberal ranks, led to Alvarez' resignation and the handing the presidency over to the more moderate Comonfort on December 11, who chose a new cabinet. A constituent congress began meeting in February 14th, 1856, and ratified the Ley Juarez. In June, another major controversy emerged over the promulgation of the Ley Lerdo, named after the secretary of the treasury. The law was aimed at the collective ownership of real estate. It forced 'civil or ecclesiastical insitutions' to sell any land that they owned, with the tenants getting priority and generous terms for buying the land that they lived on. It was mostly aimed at the church, but also affected Mexico's native communities who were forced to sell their communal lands.  The law was designed to develop Mexico's economy by increasing the amount of private property owners, but in practice the land was bought up by rich speculators. Most of the lost Indian lands went to haciendas.
The Constitution of 1857 was finally promulgated in February 5, and it integrated both the Ley Juarez and the Ley Lerdo. It was meant to take into effect on September 16th. On March 17 it was decreed that all civil servants had to publicly swear and sign and oath to it.  The Catholic Church decreed excommunication for anyone that took the oath, and subsequently many Catholics in the Mexican government lost their jobs for refusing the oath. 
Controversy over the constitution continued to rage, and Comonfort himself was rumored to be conspiring to form a new government. On December 17th General Felix Zuloaga proclaimed the Plan of Tacubaya, declaring the Constitution of 1857 as not in accord with the customs of the Mexican nation, and which offered to give supreme power to President Comonfort, who was to convoke a new constitutional convention to produce a new document more in accord with Mexican interests. In response, congress deposed President Comonfort, but Zuloaga's troops entered the capital on the 18th and dissolved congress. The following day, Comonfort accepted the Plan of Tacubaya, and released a manifesto making the case that more moderate reforms were needed under the current circumstances. 
The Plan of Tacubaya did not lead to a national reconciliation, and as Comonfort realized that he had helped trigger a civil war he began to back away from Zuloaga and the conservatives. He resigned the presidency and left the country in January 1858, after which the constitutional presidency passed over to the President of the Supreme Court, who happened to be Benito Juarez. The Conservative government in the capital summoned a council of representatives that elected Zuloaga as president, and the states of Mexico proclaimed their loyalties to either Zuloaga or Juarez. The Reform War had now begun. 
After hostilities broke out Zuloaga, knowing the strategic importance of Veracruz, tried to win over the governor of the state, Gutierrez Zamora, who however affirmed his support for the government of Juarez. In the meantime liberal forces in the north were being organized by Santiago Vidaurri and Manuel Doblado led a liberal coalition in the interior headquartered in the town of Celaya. On March 10, 1858, the liberals lost the Battle of Salamanca, which opened up the interior of the country to the conservatives. 
Juarez at this point was in Guadalajara, when part of the army there mutinied and imprisoned him, at one point threatening his life, until fellow liberal minister and prisoner Guillermo Prieto dissuaded the hostile soldiers from shooting Juarez. As rival factions struggled to control the city, Juarez and other liberal prisoners were released on agreement after which Guadalajara was fully captured by conservatives by the end of March. Juarez now made Santos Degollado the head of his armies, and then decided to head towards Veracruz, embarking from Manzanillo, crossing Panama, and arriving in Veracruz on May, 4 1858. 
On July 24, Miramon captured Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi was captured by the conservatives on September 12. Vidaurri was defeated at the Battle of Ahualulco on September 29th. By October the conservatives were at the height of their strength. 
The liberals failed to take the capital on the 14th of October, but Santos Degollado captured Guadalajara on the 27th of October, after a thirty days siege that left a third of the city in ruins. This victory caused consternation at the conservative capital, but Guadalajara was taken back by Marquez on December 14. 
The failure of Zuloaga's government to produce a constitution actually led to a conservative revolt against him led by General Echegaray. He resigned in favor of Manuel Robles Pezuela on December 23. On December 30th a conservative junta at the capital elected Miguel Miramon as president. 
President Miramon's most important military priority was now the capture of Veracruz. He left the capital on February 16th, leading his troops in person along with his minister of war. Meanwhile, Aguascalientes and Guanajuato had fallen to the liberals. Liberal troops in the West were led by Degollado and headquartered in Morelia, which now served as a liberal arsenal. The conservatives meanwhile, feeling the effects of the malarial climate, abandoned the siege of Veracruz by March 29th.  Degollado made another attempt on Mexico City in early April and was utterly routed in the Battle of Tacubaya by Leonardo Márquez, who captured a large amount of war material, and who also in this battle gained infamy for including medics among those executed in the aftermath of the battle.
On April 6, the Juarez government was recognized by the United States, and on July 12, the liberal government nationalized the property of the church, and suppressed the monasteries, the sale of which provided the liberal war effort with new funds, though not as much as had been hoped for since speculators were waiting for more stable times to make purchases. 
Miramon met the liberal forces in November at which a truce was declared and a conference was held on the matter of the Constitution of 1857 and the possibility of a constituent congress. Negotiations broke down, however and hostilities resumed on the 12th after which Degollado was routed at the Battle of Las Vacas. 
On December 14th, 1859, the Juarez government signed the McLane–Ocampo Treaty, which granted the U.S. perpetual rights to transport goods and troops across three key trade routes in Mexico, and granted Americans an element of extraterritoriality. The treaty caused consternation among the conservatives, the European press, and members of Juarez' cabinet, however the issue was rendered moot when the U.S. Senate failed to approve the treaty. 
Meanwhile Miramon was preparing another siege of Veracruz, heading out of the capital on February 8, once again leading his troops in person along with his war minister, hoping to rendezvous with a small naval squadron led by the Mexican General Marin who was disembarking from Havana. The United States Navy however had orders to intercept it. 
Miramon arrived at Medellín on the 2nd of March, and awaited for Marin's attack in order to begin the siege. The American steamer Indianola however had anchored itself near the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, in order to defend Veracruz from attack. 
On March 6th, Marin's squadron arrived in Veracruz, and was captured by Captain Joseph R. Jarvis of the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Antón Lizardo The ships were sent to New Orleans, along with the now imprisoned General Marin, depriving the conservatives of an attacking force and the substantial amount of artillery, guns, and rations that they were carrying onboard for delivery to Miramon.
Miramon's effort to siege Veracruz was abandoned on the 20th of March, and he arrived back in the capital on April 7th. The conservatives had also been suffering defeats in the interior, losing Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosi before the end of April. Degollado was sent into the interior to lead the liberal campaign as their enemies now ran out of resources. He appointed José López Uraga as Quartermaster General
Uraga split his troops and attempted to lure Miramon out strategically to isolate him, however On late May however, Uraga then commited the strategic blunder of attempting to assault Guadalajara with Miramon's troops behind him. The assault failed and Uraga was taken prisoner. 
Miramon was routed however, on August 10, in Silao, which resulted in his commander Tomas Mejia being taken prisoner, and Miramon retreated to Mexico City. In response to the disaster, Miramon resigned as president to seek a vote of confidence, and the conservative junta only elected him president again after a two days interregnum. 
By the end of August, liberals were preparing for a decisive final battle. The capital was cut off from the rest of the country. Guadalajara was surrounded by 17,000 liberal troops while the conservatives in the city only had 7000. The conservative commander Castillo surrendered without firing a shot, and was allowed to leave the city with his troops. Meanwhile Leonardo Marquez was routed on the 10th of November, attempting to reinforce General Castillo without being aware of his surrender. 
Miramon on November 3rd convoked a war council including prominent citizens to meet the crisis and by November 5th it was resolved to fight until the end. The conservatives were not struggling with a shortage of funds, and increasing defections. Nonetheless Miramon gained a victory when he attacked the liberal headquarters of Toluca on the 9th of December, in which almost all of their forces were captured. 
General Gonzalez Ortega however approached the capital with reinforcements. The decisive battle took place on December 22th, at Calpulalpan. The conservatives had 8000 troops and the liberals 16,000. Miramon lost and retreated back towards the capital. 
Another war council now agreed to surrender. The conservative government fled the city, and Miramon himself managed to escape to Europe. Marquez escaped into the mountains of Michoacan. The triumphant liberals entered the city with 25,000 troops on the 1st of January, 1861, and Juarez entered the capital at January 11. 
To the French Intervention and the Second Mexican Empire
A French invasion and the establishment of the Second Mexican Empire followed almost immediately after the end of the Reform War, and key figures of the Reform War would continue to play roles during the rise and fall of the Empire.
While the main fighting in the Reform War was over by the end of 1860, guerilla conflict continued to be waged in the countryside. After the fall of the conservative government, General Leonardo Marquez remained at large, and in June, 1861, he succeeded in assassinating Melchor Ocampo. President Juarez sent the former head of his troops during the Reform War, Santos Degollado after Marquez, only for Marquez to succeed in killing Degollado as well. 
Having been influenced by Mexican monarchist exiles, and using Juarez' suspension of foreign debts as a pretext, and with the American Civil War preventing the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, Napoleon III invaded Mexico in 1862, and sought local help in setting up a monarchical client state. Former liberal president Comonfort was killed in action that year, having returned to the country to fight the French, and having been given a military command. Former conservative president Robles Pezuela was also executed in 1862 by the Juarez government for attempting to help the French. Seeing the intervention as an opportunity to undo the Reform, conservative generals and statesmen who had played a role during the War of the Reform joined the French and a conservative assembly voted in 1863 to invite Habsburg archduke Maximilian to become Emperor of Mexico.
The Emperor however proved to be of liberal inclination, and ended up ratifying the Reform laws. Regardless, the liberal government of Benito Juárez, still resisted and fought the French and Mexican Imperial forces with the backing of the United States, whom after the end of the Civil War could now once again enforce the Monroe Doctrine. The French eventually withdrew in 1866, leading the monarchy to collapse in 1867. Former president Miramon, and conservative general Tomas Mejia would die alongside the Emperor, being executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867. Santiago Vidaurri, once Juarez' commander in the north during the Reform War had actually joined the imperialists, but he was captured and executed for his betrayal on July 8, 1867. Leonardo Marquez would once again escape, this time to Cuba, living until 1913.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Reform War.|
- La Reforma
- Constitution of 1857
- Second French intervention in Mexico
- Second Mexican Empire
- List of wars involving Mexico
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