F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




Louis Napoleon's Attitude

When Maximilian ascended the throne of Mexico, the Civil War was still raging in the United States, and the White House had no time to care for the affairs of its southern neighbor. Although from the first the United States had refused to recognize the Empire, its attitude had been neutral rather than actually hostile, and Napoleon was counting on an indefinite continuation of the war for the furtherance of his plans. The end came sooner than was expected, however. After a bitter struggle the Southern States yielded to the North, and this materially changed the situation in Mexico. Juarez was now not only regarded as President, but furnished with active support, without which he would doubtless have been forced to give up the struggle. He hovered on the border, now on one side of the line, now on the other, escaping into Texas when the enemy was close at his heels, and remaining there in safety until the danger was passed, then crossing back into Mexico again, where, reinforced by volunteers from the north, he won frequent victories over the imperial troops and constantly gained ground.

Napoleon's position was likewise changed. In a speech delivered from the throne on the twenty-second of January, 1866, he declared:

"In Mexico the government founded by the people continues to 'thrive. The rebels, overpowered and dispersed, have no longer any leaders. The national troops have proved their valor and the country has furnished security for order and safety in the development of resources which have made its commerce worth millions with France alone. Our enterprise therefore is progressing most successfully, as I last year expressed the hope that it would. As to the recall of our troops I have come to an understanding with Emperor Maximilian, whereby their withdrawal may be accomplished without danger to the interests of France, for the protection of which in that distant country we have pledged ourselves. Any objections raised by the United States to the continued presence of our troops in Mexico will be removed, I feel sure, by the justice of our explanations. The American people will perceive that an enterprise in which we sought their aid cannot be contrary to their interests. Two nations, equally jealous of their rights, must naturally resent any step that might jeopardize their honor or their dignity."

Plausible and reassuring as this sounds, it nevertheless betrays two facts: France's fear of being drawn into war with the United States if she continued to maintain an army on American soil, and Napoleon's desire to conciliate that country even at the cost of violating the Treaty of Miramar. True, there may have been something in the secret articles added to this document which justified Napoleon's methods, while on the other hand it is evident that Maximilian was far from opposing the recall of Bazaine, nor did he object to the gradual withdrawal of the French troops, as may be seen from the following announcement that appeared in the Monitor:

"In pursuance to an agreement between M. Dano, the French ambassador, His Excellency Marshal Bazaine, and the Mexican government, the Emperor has ordered that the French troops shall leave Mexico in three detachments: the first to go in November, 1866, the second in March, 1867, the third in the following November. Negotiations between the two governments have also begun to substitute those articles of the Treaty of Miramar relating to finance, new stipulations whereby France's indebtedness and the interest of the loan guaranteed by her to Mexico shall be assured."

The United States declared itself satisfied with these assurances and continued to assist Juarez in his attempts to undermine the government.

The year 1866, which thus began so peacefully on paper at a time when there was little peace in the air, either in Europe or America, was to prove an eventful one for Maximilian, and hastened with giant strides the downfall of the Mexican Empire.