F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




Arrival of the Emperor in Mexico

On the tenth of April, 1864, the die was cast for Archduke Maximilian and Carlotta. On the fourteenth, the day set for departure, all was bustle and confusion at Miramar, usually so peaceful. The harbor of Trieste was filled with vessels, large and small, and, anchored at some distance from shore, lay the Novara, the Austrian war-ship that was to convey the imperial pair to Mexico. Little did any one then suspect that this same vessel was so soon to bring back the body of Maximilian, cruelly murdered by Mexican rebels! To-day all was joyous anticipation. A gayly decorated barge carried the Emperor and Empress out to the Novara. Showers of blossoms were flung after them as they left the shore, lined with thousands of spectators, and floated gently out upon the blue waves of the Adriatic. Cannon thundered a farewell. Maximilian looked for the last time upon his native shores.

Two nights later the travellers rounded the southernmost point of Italy, and on the eighteenth reached Civita Vecchia where they landed and were met by the French and Italian ambassadors, envoys from Belgium and Austria, and the Cardinals sent by Pope Pius Ninth to welcome Maximilian. A special train was waiting to convey the entire party to Rome where, on the nineteenth of April, the Emperor had an audience with the Pope. Church affairs in Mexico had been completely demoralized by Juarez, and one of the Emperor's chief tasks was to restore order and provide for the religious needs of his people. The following day Pope Pius Ninth returned the visit at the Palazzo Marescotti, after which the imperial party returned to Civita Vecchia, where they again boarded the Novara and resumed their voyage. At Gibraltar another stop of two days was made, and on the twenty-eighth of May the Novara anchored before the city of Vera Cruz. The goal was reached—but what of Maximilian's reception by the people of Mexico who had chosen him as their sovereign by a unanimous vote?

Although the French frigate Themis, which escorted the Novara across the Atlantic, had hastened on in advance to notify the city of the Emperor's arrival, there was no commotion in the harbor. No flags were flying, no guns roared a welcome, no one was waiting to receive him. A feeling of uneasiness pervaded the Emperor's household, but Maximilian himself made no comment. After a long delay the commander-in-chief of the French fleet, Rear-admiral Bosse, and his adjutant finally made their appearance, though even then, according to the Countess Kollowitz, their greeting was none too warm. Quite different, however, was the Emperor's reception in the towns between Vera Cruz and Mexico; his journey to the capital was like a triumphal progress.

Thus did Maximilian enter the land that was henceforth to claim his whole attention and best endeavor. For this indifferent and ungrateful people he had undertaken the Herculean task of regenerating a country wasted by forty years of civil warfare; regulating a society demoralized by anarchy; restoring national prosperity; reviving industries; and reconciling to law and order a people to whom outlawry and robbery had become second nature. The army must be reorganized, the land rid of marauders, contending factions appeased and made to work together for the common good. The Church must be placed once more on a settled basis, new channels of trade established, and the whole national standard of civilization raised. These were surely problems to daunt the bravest! Well may Maximilian have hesitated long before accepting such responsibilities, yet with heroic self-sacrifice the young Emperor set himself to this stupendous work. That he failed was no doubt due partly to his unfitness for the task, but more to the insuperable obstacles that loomed before and finally crushed the noble Hapsburger.