Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The French Intervention

[A. D. 1861.] For full forty years had Mexico been convulsed with internal feuds, and during this long period she had passed through thirty-six  different forms of government and under seventy-three  rulers. Such a series of unparalleled revolutions and changes of administration could not but attract the attention of all the world. As early as April, 1861, Secretary Seward, of the United States government, wrote to Mr. Corwin, our minister at Mexico: "For a few years past the condition of Mexico has been so unsettled as to raise the question on both sides the Atlantic whether the time has not come when some foreign power ought, in the general interests of society, to intervene  to establish a protectorate, or some other form of government in that country, and guarantee its continuance there."

This was a note of warning, showing that the United States, though jealous of the intervention of European powers, yet recognized the possibility—perhaps the necessity—of such. In March, 1860, the governments of France, England, and Spain, under pretext that the war in Mexico would be interminable, offered mediation, proposing to guarantee to one party the establishment of social reforms, and to the other that of conservative political principles. The conservative, or Church party—which the foreign powers were disposed to recognize as the de facto  government of Mexico, while the Mexicans themselves disavowed it—invited mediation; but the republican president sternly and steadily refused it. The popular vote sanctioned his course a few months later in re-electing him constitutional president of the Republic.

The defeat of the army of the Church was not immediately followed by peace, its scattered forces formed themselves into marauding bands, which robbed and murdered indiscriminately. It was not the fault of Juarez that peace was not at once restored, for, in addition to foes without, he had enemies in his own party. Personal ambition, and the desire of each one to carry out his various theories of government, caused divisions in the Liberal ranks. "The people had risen in arms against despotism; it was necessary to restore this body to their normal condition in the republic, and to cause them to return to their distinct social positions, from which they had been forcibly driven by the tumult and the necessities of the conflict. Each several State considered itself as a political entity, and was accustomed during the civil war to an unlimited sovereignty. "With the varied and conflicting elements of the difficult situation were interwoven the pretensions of the diplomatic representatives, growing out of the different international questions which had arisen in the nation during the course of the civil war."

The country was entirely exhausted, it was impoverished, and the government without funds. To provide these it was compelled to resort to extraordinary measures, even to imprison capitalists and negotiate forced loans. In this great strait it was resolved to suspend payment of the interest on all debts, internal and foreign, for the space of two years from July 17, 1861. With the funds thus obtained from their revenues, diverted temporarily to the relief of the country, all armed opposition could be put down, internal peace preserved, and order restored. "This once achieved, the leaders of the party would adhere to the written constitution, and enforce obedience to law; and industry, secure in its reward, would soon take the place of idleness and crime."

This certainly would have followed; but the struggling party—represented by its congress and president—made a serious blunder when it suspended the payment of its foreign obligations. Though it was argued that the suspension was but temporary, in order to allow the exhausted nation a chance to breathe, and to restore law and order, Mexico's foreign creditors did not view the matter in that favorable light. The ministers of France and England—especially the former, who was deeply in sympathy with the Church party, and detested the Liberals—immediately resented this "outrage" against their governments. It finally ended in their demanding their passports and suspending diplomatic communication. The claims of France were ridiculously small, and based upon questionable transactions. Those of England were greater, but founded upon claims equally unjust. Over half a million was for the robbery of the English legation by the minions of the very Church party that was urging intervention, and a large sum for indemnity for outrages upon British subjects by the guerillas of the Church—the "Party of the Reaction," or retrograde principles. Such as they were, however, they had been secured by treaty, and the government in power was bound to respect them. Making this act of the Juarez government a pretext, Spain, France, and England entered into the tripartite alliance, in London, October 31, 1861. A few months later, December 22, 1861, Spanish troops were landed at Vera Cruz, under General Prim, and the ships of England and France were on their way to the same port.

The government of the United States had been kept advised of the progress of events by its ministers in England and Mexico, and was not unprepared for all that followed. Mr. Corwin, two weeks after the passage of the law, had written Mr. Seward as follows: "Her (Mexico's) late suspension, leading to the cessation of diplomatic relations with England and France, may, perhaps, have been imprudent. She could not pay her debts, however, and maintain her government; and perhaps it was as well to say she would not pay for two years as to promise to pay and submit herself to the mortification of constantly asking further time. She is impoverished to the last degree by forty years of civil war. . . . I cannot find in this republic any men of any party better qualified, in my judgment, for the task than those in power. If they do not save her, then I am quite sure she is to be the prey of some foreign power."

The United States was invited by the powers (though tardily) to join them in demanding redress; but she assured them that, far from having a desire to destroy the autonomy of Mexico, she had instructed her minister there to offer to negotiate a loan for her relief. This answer to the allied powers (in part) is given here, that coming generations may be reminded of the friendliness of our government to our sister republic, and of the wisdom and forbearance that guided the ship of state during the dark period when civil war disturbed our own land.

"It is true, as the high contracting parties assume, that the United States have, on their part, claims to urge against Mexico. Upon due consideration, however, the President is of opinion that it would be inexpedient to seek satisfaction of their claims at this time through an act of accession to the convention. Among the reasons for this decision are, first, that the United States, so far as it is practicable, prefer to adhere to a traditional policy, recommended to them by the father of their country and confirmed by a happy experience, which forbids them from making alliances with foreign nations; second, Mexico being a neighbor of the United States on this continent, and possessing a system of government similar to our own in many of its important features, the United States habitually cherish a decided good will towards that republic, and a lively interest in its security, prosperity, and welfare. Animated by these sentiments, the United States do not feel inclined to resort to forcible remedies for their claims at the present moment, when the government of Mexico is deeply disturbed by factions within and war with foreign nations. And, of course, the same sentiments render them still more disinclined to allied war against Mexico, than to war to be urged against her by themselves alone."

"The undersigned is further authorized to state to the plenipotentiaries, for the information of Spain, France, and Great Britain, that the United States are so earnestly anxious for the safety and welfare of the republic of Mexico, that they have already empowered their minister residing there to enter into a treaty with the Mexican republic, conceding to it some material aid and advantages, which it is to be hoped may enable that republic to satisfy the just claims and demands of the said sovereigns, and so avert the war which these sovereigns have agreed among each other to levy against Mexico."

This friendly offer could not, however, be entertained, as the allied powers considered the Mexicans answerable, not only for the guaranteed interest on their claims, but for the repeated outrages the subjects of these powers had received at the hands of her soldiers and citizens.

Owing to the masterly diplomatic action of Senores Zamacona and Doblado, a treaty was made by which the English and Spanish troops returned to their ships, glad to retreat from the disgraceful position into which they had been forced. The French troops, however, persisted in marching into the interior, the Emperor of France considering this a good opportunity for the establishment of French dominion in Mexico, while the country was vexed with distracting strifes and while the United States, likewise, were plunged into the horrors of civil war.

They occupied Orizaba without opposition, and in May marched upon Puebla, where they were repulsed by General Zaragoza.

[A. D. 1862.] This victory, known in. Mexican annals as the "glorious victory of the Fifth of May," was the most decisive ever won by the Mexicans against a foreign foe. The yearly anniversary of this day is celebrated throughout the republic with great rejoicings.

The Emperor of France sent to Mexico his best troops, and a year later, in May, 1863, General Forey, commander of these forces, advanced upon Puebla and took it. On the thirty-first of the same month they took possession of the capital, the Juarez government retreating into the interior, taking its stand, in June, in San Luis Potosi. Augmented by the troops of the Church party,—Mexicans recreant to their obligations to their country—the French advanced steadily, northward and southward. Juarez, with his loyal cabinet, was driven from place to place, at last reaching Chihuahua, and finally taking refuge in Paso del Norte, a small town on the border.

Napoleon and his battalions accomplished (perhaps) for Mexico what her various rulers had never yet been able to do—they aroused that spark of patriotism so long dormant in many breasts, and united her people against the invaders. Upon all sides might have been seen the rising of an aroused and outraged population. Generals fit to command were quickly found—born of the emergency—to lead these patriots. We cannot name them all. The savior of the south, fighting desperately in Oaxaca, was General Porfirio Diaz, who later became president of the republic; Negretti and Escobedo disputed with the enemy in the north.

The Advent of Maximilian

Upon starting out on the expedition against Mexico, France expressly disclaimed any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of that country. The following extract from the letter of instructions from the minister of France to Rear Admiral Graviere, commanding the French squadron, will explain the assumed attitude of the powers: "The allied powers do not propose to themselves, I have said to you, any other object than that which is indicated in the convention; they forbid each other from interfering in the internal affairs of the country, and especially from exercising any pressure upon the wishes of the people as to the choice of their government."

Notwithstanding the protestations of France, her troops had no sooner shaken themselves clear of those of England and Spain, than they at once marched upon the two chief cities of Mexico, took them, and immediately prepared the way for the imposition of a foreign ruler upon the unwilling inhabitants. They occupied the city of Mexico on the loth of June; on the 16th, the French general issued a decree for the formation of a provisional government. A "Superior Junta" was elected, by the influence of the French commander-in-chief, and this junta chose a substitute for Congress under the name of the "Assembly of Notables," composed of two hundred and fifteen persons. The Assembly invested the president and secretaries with extraordinary powers, and they were solemnly installed on the 8th of July. In other words, the Junta elected the Assembly, and the Assembly chose the Junta, to be the supreme executive power of Mexico,—a farcical proceeding as ridiculous as it was iniquitous! Three clauses of their "Decree," issued July 11, 1863, will explain who were the moving spirits, and what their motives:— 1st. "The Mexican Nation (?) adopts for its form of government a limited, hereditary monarchy, with a Catholic prince. 2nd. The Sovereign will take the title of Emperor of Mexico. 3rd. The Imperial Crown of Mexico is offered to His Imperial Highness, Prince Ferdinand Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, for him and his descendants."

On the 15th of August a commission embarked at Vera Cruz for Europe, empowered by the "provisional executive power," or the regency, to offer the crown of Mexico to Prince Maximilian. They were received by the Archduke on the third of October, at his residence near Trieste, the Castle of Miramar. Two years previously, on the 30th of October, at the time the powers were drawing up the tripartite treaty of alliance, a party of Mexicans residing in Paris had addressed Maximilian, inviting him to the mythical throne of Mexico. His reply at that time was worthy of him; it was as follows: "My co-operation in favor of the work of governmental transformation, on which depends, according to your convictions, the salvation of Mexico, could not be determined, unless that a national manifestation should prove to me, in an undoubted manner, the desire of the nation  to see me occupy the throne." These sentiments he expressed two years later, when the commission (appointed by the Assembly of Notables, which had been elected by the Junta, which had been elected by the Assembly) approached him with their flattering offer. He declined accepting it until he had heard an expression of the people's voice.

Portrait of Maximilian.


[A. D. 1864.] This the regency pretended to obtain, and in March, 1864, another deputation waited upon him and claimed compliance with his promise. Misled by what he was led to believe was a popular call to the throne, he yielded his consent, and on the tenth day of April, at the Castle of Miramar, accepted definitely the crown of Mexico. On the same day, the treaty of Miramar was signed between Maximilian and Napoleon III., by which the French Emperor pledged himself to support the new ruler until firmly seated upon his throne, both with his legions and with his gold.

After taking leave of his royal relatives, and after a journey to Rome to receive the special blessing of the Pope, Maximilian and Carlota, Emperor and Empress of Mexico, set sail for the distant country they had been called upon to govern across the sea.

Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, brother to the Emperor Francis Joseph, was born in 1832. Educated in the company of the most accomplished personages of the Austrian court, he had acquired a refinement of deportment that set off well his natural endowments. He spoke fluently six or seven languages, and his intellectual acquirements were of a high order. In 1857 he was married to the Princess Maria Charlotte Amalia, daughter of Leopold I., King of the Belgians. This Princess, Carlota,—with whose sad history all the world is familiar—was at the time of her marriage seventeen years of age, and possessed of more accomplishments than usually adorn even one of her exalted rank. Her charms of mind and person are acknowledged by all, even by those most bitterly opposed to her occupation of the position in which she was falsely placed. Personally, then, these young sovereigns, in whose hands had been placed the destinies of the Mexican people, were well qualified to win their love and esteem. They arrived at Vera Cruz on the 28th of May, 1864, where they were received with apparent enthusiasm, and then set out for the capital, all the way treated by the local authorities of towns and villages with popular demonstrations of affectionate greeting.

Portrait of Carlotta.


At this late day, passing in review the acts of Maximilian, we believe that he was honest, first, in believing that he was called to Mexico by the popular voice; second, in accepting as sincere those expressions of joy at his arrival, from the people along the route he travelled, then under French control. But he saw only a superficial demonstration; deep down in the nation's heart still strongly throbbed the desire for liberty—for the people, of the people, and by  the people. Every grace of person and endowment of intellect he doubtless possessed; but he was not the people's choice; he had been imposed upon them by the machinations of a heartless and intriguing priesthood, and supported by the bayonets of a foreign despot. When the bayonets should be withdrawn both ruler and priesthood would fall to earth.

They arrived in the capital on the 12th of June, and took up their residence in the national palace. Later on, Maximilian reconstructed the Castle of Chapultepec, which became their favorite retreat, and they also dwelt in Cuernavaca and Orizaba. One of his first public acts was the issuing of a general amnesty to all political prisoners, including those who had been sentenced; and he seems to have been animated by a sincere desire for the restoration of peace and the promotion of the welfare of his subjects. It has been said that the empire under Maximilian was as republican as the republic; yet it was an empire, costly in its maintenance and supported by foreign mercenary troops, for whose services the very people they were tyrannizing over were obliged to pay! Great improvements were made in the streets of the city and in the suburbs, the most important of which were, the adorning of the great central square with flowers, trees, and fountains, and the laying out of the great avenue known as the Grand Paseo, leading to Chapultepec, which also was beautified at the people's cost. Large loans were contracted in London for the payment of the hireling troops and for the costly improvements; loans which the republic of Mexico, since the establishment of its independence, would be perfectly justified in repudiating.

It soon became apparent to the leaders of the Church party that they had not, in Maximilian, the willing tool they wished for the forwarding of their designs. His views were more liberal than theirs; his sympathy with the people more pronounced and genuine. Perceiving that the republican movement was that of the masses, he would have identified himself with them; but its loyal leaders strongly rejected his overtures. He soon found himself deserted and betrayed by the party that had called him to power in Mexico, and supported only by the strength of his Austrian, French, and Belgian legions. He precipitated his downfall and hurried matters to a crisis in October, 1865, by signing what is known as the "black decree," which proclaimed all persons found fighting against the forces of the empire as banditti, and ordered that all such should be shot as soon as captured. By this decree many prominent republicans were murdered, including the brave Generals, Salazar and Arteaga. The feeling engendered against Maximilian by the publishing of this infamous proclamation was so deep that it eventually wrought his destruction. It is claimed by his friends that he signed it at the instigation of General Bazaine, commander-in-chief of the French forces, after great pressure had been brought to bear upon him, and that he afterwards used great exertions to prevent executions under this act. It was necessary to use severe measures to check the progress of the guerillas, who swarmed throughout the country, and even infested the mountains around the valley of Mexico. If an excuse could be found in a retaliatory measure so harsh, it will be found in a decree of Juarez, similar in its provisions, against the imperialists, in which the death penalty is frequently applied, and which was issued January 25, 1862. It was made contrary to the provisions of the constitution, which especially says that no two functions shall be invested in one body, as it was issued upon the sole authority of Juarez himself. "While this law of January 25, 1862, stares the world in the face," says one of Maximilian's defenders, "the complaint of inhumanity against Maximilian comes with bad grace from the lips of the Juarez party." Further, in extenuation of the offences attributed to the emperor, it must be borne in mind that, while the French troops (who committed the greater part of these outrages against inoffensive Mexicans) were under the absolute control of their commander, (according to the treaty of Miramar), yet Maximilian, as the head of the nation, was responsible for their deeds!

[A. D. 1866.] While the powers of the United States were engaged in crushing a gigantic rebellion at home, the French troops were at liberty to support the empire in Mexico but as soon as this was quelled Secretary Seward intimated to Napoleon that they must be withdrawn. This, in short, is the substance of a long diplomatic correspondence.

Matias Romero.


And the result was that, yielding to the pressure brought to bear upon him by the United States, the Emperor of France relinquished his pet scheme of establishing an empire in the New World, and abandoned Maximilian to his fate, withdrawing his troops in disgrace. This was carried into effect in February, 1866.

News of this deplorable decision first reached Maximilian at his country retreat in Cuernavaca. Carlota, his noble wife, immediately volunteered to proceed to France to throw herself at the feet of Napoleon and implore him to continue his assistance. Leaving Mexico in July she arrived at Paris in August, and immediately sought an interview with the emperor. Her efforts were without avail, for he decidedly refused to permit another French soldier to set foot in Mexico, nor would he advance another franc for the support of the tottering empire. Overwhelmed with despair at the appalling prospect before her and her husband, Carlota left Paris and went to Rome, where she soon gave evidence that her reason had been shaken by the long series of trials she had undergone. She was conducted to her native country, Belgium, where she was confined in a castle near Brussels, and where she has since remained, subject to occasional fits of insanity.

The remaining scenes of this tragedy were quickly shifted, and the drama of the empire soon taken from the stage.

Each succeeding day saw Maximilian deeper in debt, the number of his friends decrease, and the growth of the movement against him. Seeing himself abandoned on all sides he resolved to abdicate the throne; he even went so far as to set out for the coast, reaching Orizaba, in October, where he received news that induced him to return.

The leaders of the conservative party became alarmed; the departure of Maximilian would prove their certain ruin; the recent return from Europe of Miramon and Marquez, two of their ablest generals, decided them to unite their ranks and to resist to the last the progress of the Liberal forces. Acting upon their advice and representations, he returned to the capital in December.

While these events, narrated in the previous pages, had been transpiring, the patriot Juarez and his loyal cabinet had been the life and soul of the republican party. Through his talented minister at Washington, Romero, the United States government was kept informed of the true state of affairs. The value to Mexico of the labors of Mr. Romero cannot be overestimated. Though the direct successes of the Liberal arms are attributable to other leaders in various parts of the country, Juarez and his small circle of faithful adherents had formed a nucleus about which gathered the representatives of the people, and the central point from which emanated orders for their guidance. Driven from place to place by the advance of the French forces, he had finally reached the frontier town of El Paso, and had he retreated farther he would have been obliged to seek a refuge in the United States. Upon the withdrawal of the foreign hirelings he had again returned southward, like the reflex waves of the ocean, which, though driven high upon the strand, return to their centre of propulsion. He had now reached the city of Zacatecas, and able generals were in command of his continually augmenting forces. Acting with great energy, the imperialist forces marched upon Zacatecas and took it, Juarez and his cabinet narrowly escaping capture and retreating to San Luis Potosi.

Queretaro, from the hill of bells.


[A. D. 1867.] The victorious army of Miramon was met by the avenging army of the north (Liberal) on the 1st of February, 1867, and nearly annihilated; but, escaping to Queretaro, the forces were organized anew and prepared to resist, at that point, the onward march of the republican hosts.

Queretaro is an ancient city, having been founded in 1531, on the site of a still more ancient Indian town. It is delightfully situated in a fertile valley, shut in by mountains on every side, and has a temperature combining the warmth of the hot country with that of the temperate region, as it lies at an altitude of 6,365 feet above the sea. Not only is it celebrated as the point where the empire of Maximilian was finally overthrown, but as that where the treaty with the United States, in 1848, was ratified by the Mexican Congress.

On the 19th of February, Maximilian reached Queretaro with reinforcements, received by the army and by the populace with enthusiasm. With the subsequent addition of another army under Marquez, the force at the command of Miramon was increased to nearly nine thousand men. The Liberal army has been estimated as high as thirty thousand, as the whole northern country contributed its quotas, and was under the command of General Escobedo, a valiant patriot, who had received his schooling in the war with the United States, and in various revolutions. The city was invested so closely that provisions became exhausted, and the soldiers and citizens suffered extremely. Active preparations for defence went on, in which Maximilian took a leading part. Finally, on the night of the 14th of May, a portion of the Liberal forces obtained entrance into the city, through the treachery of one of Miramon's officers, a Colonel Lopez, and by daylight the city was in their possession.

Maximilian was captured in the outskirts of the city, at the hill of bells—Cerro de las Catuparias,—Miramon was wounded and captured; and, indeed, the entire force of the besieged surrendered, with but little resistance or bloodshed. A court-martial was soon held for the trial of the three high commanding officers, and they were summarily condemned to death. On the nineteenth of June, 1867, was performed the last act of this terrible tragedy, when the Emperor Maximilian and Generals Miramon and Mejia were shot, by order of the court-martial and with the sanction of the commanding officer, Escobedo, and President Juarez.

It has been claimed that Maximilian was tried and sentenced contrary to the constitution of Mexico, contrary to the laws of nations, and contrary to the expressed wishes of the United States; but it was considered necessary (in those days, when the national existence hung trembling in the balance), that a terrible example should be made, as a warning to foreign powers. The martyrs to the imperialist cause met their death with firmness, and Maximilian especially, says the Mexican historian, with the valor of a gentleman and the dignity of a prince. The place where occurred this lamentable event is known as the Cerro de las Campanas, the same "hill of bells" at which Maximilian gave up his sword. Three crosses mark the spot where they fell, and indicate where the last Emperor of Mexico met his death.

Execution of Maximilian.


After the capture of Queretaro, the victorious Liberal army passed on towards the capital. Desperate fighting had been going on in and near the Mexican valley. General Diaz, coming up from the south, had laid siege to Puebla, which was defended by the imperialist General Noriega. During the siege of Queretaro, when affairs the city by storm, Diaz turned upon Marquez and completely defeated him, the traitor leaving his troops to their fate and fleeing to the capital. There he conducted the most high-handed proceedings, under pretence of preparing the capital for defence. The city of Mexico was soon invested by the Liberal troops, the valley filled with their armies, under the supreme command of General Diaz. On the 20th of June, after a siege of over two months, the city was attacked at all points, and sustained a terrible fire of artillery for several hours. On the 21st, it was occupied by General Diaz, at the head of the republican troops. Vera Cruz was occupied on the 4th of July, and thus, during the summer of 1867, the whole country came under republican rule appeared to be in a critical condition, Maximilian had despatched General Marquez to Mexico for reinforcements. This man, a traitor alike to his country and to his adopted cause, disobeyed the command, and, instead of hastening back to the succor of his beleaguered comrades, marched with his command against Diaz at Puebla. After taking

The 15th of July witnessed the entrance of Juarez and his cabinet, those loyal patriots who had been driven from the capital four years previously, and who now returned to witness the triumph of the principles for which they had so long contended.

In November, the body of Maximilian was delivered to the Austrian admiral, Tegethoff, and was carried to Trieste, in the same frigate, the "Novara," in which the unfortunate prince and princess had sailed for Mexico, three years before.