F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

The Mexican Empire

During the Archduke's travels, in 1856, he had visited Paris and spent twelve days at St. Cloud with Napoleon Third and Eugenie. He became much interested in the Emperor's ambitious schemes, while Napoleon and his wife on their part were so pleased with Maximilian's frank and manly character that by the time he took his departure the French sovereigns had already made plans for the future of their guest, the situation in Mexico offering a favorable opportunity.

The better class of Mexicans were anxious for a strong hand to assume the reins of government and restore order to that distracted and wellnigh ruined land, and as Napoleon Third was then in control of affairs there, it was an easy matter for him to arouse the interest of the Mexicans in the young Archduke as their prospective ruler. The throne of Mexico therefore was duly offered to Maximilian, but he was at first unwilling to accept it. Fully acquainted with the disordered state of that country, there was little temptation for him to exchange the peaceful seclusion of Miramar for so doubtful a gift. Negotiations were carried on for eight months between Paris and Miramar before the Archduke would consent to accept the crown. At length, however, he agreed on condition that both France and England would guarantee their support in this enterprise. Further delays were caused by discussions between France, Spain, and England, but not until England and Spain had finally yielded and withdrawn all their troops from Mexico did Napoleon fully realize the complications of the situation there.

Meanwhile Maximilian at Miramar became devoted to the idea of being Emperor of Mexico, being principally actuated by the fact that his wife would be an Empress. Both applied themselves closely to the study not only of the geography but of the language and customs of the country, actively corresponding at the same time with those who might be able to exert an influence upon the destinies of Mexico.

The first public negotiations were conducted in person by Napoleon Third and the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria, the latter of whom sent his minister, Count Rechberg, to Miramar to discuss the matter with his brother Maximilian. Both the Archduke and his wife attached great weight to the opinion of her father, King Leopold, who was well known as a shrewd and clear-headed thinker. He pointed out plainly the dangers and difficulties attendant on assuming the sovereignty of Mexico, but did not regard them as insurmountable, and his advice decided the question. Maximilian announced himself ready to accept the throne on certain conditions, the chief of which was that his choice as Emperor should be confirmed by a vote of the Mexican people.

On the third of October, 1863, an embassy from Mexico arrived at Miramar with a formal offer of the crown. It was headed by Don Gutierrez de Estrada, who had labored for twenty years to restore a monarchy in Mexico. Maximilian's reply was as follows:

"I am deeply moved by the wishes of the Mexican assembly. It is most flattering to our house that their choice should have fallen on a descendant of Charles the Fifth. Yet noble and lofty a mission as it is to establish the welfare and independence of Mexico, I agree with the Emperor Napoleon that the monarchy can be restored on a firm and stable basis only by the free consent of the people. My acceptance must therefore be conditional on that. On the other hand, it shall be my duty to secure the guarantees necessary to protect Mexico against the dangers that menace her honor and her liberties. If I succeed in this and the vote of the people be in my favor, then I shall be ready, with the consent of my imperial brother, to accept the crown. Should Providence call me to this high mission, it is my firm intention, after the pacification of the country, to open the way for progress by granting a constitution and to make this fundamental law permanent by an oath. Only in this way can a new and truly national policy be created, by means of which all parties, forgetting their differences, may work with me to lift Mexico to an eminent place among the nations. Bring me this declaration, then, on the part of your fellow-citizens and, if possible, ascertain what form of government they desire."

This was a frank and manly answer, and no doubt the emissaries of the Mexican people who carried it back across the Atlantic were equally honorable in their intentions. How the vote was really obtained, however, is told us by Montlong:

At Monterey the French general, Jeanningres, summoned the most influential citizens and addressed them thus: "The Emperor of the French, always solicitous for the welfare of this unhappy country, has determined to transform the Mexican republic into a great and prosperous empire, and in the interests of this undertaking has chosen for your Emperor one of the most liberal and enlightened princes in Europe, the Archduke Maximilian of Austria. But as Napoleon wishes him to be elected by general consent of the people I have summoned you here in order to receive your votes." Then with a threatening glance he added: "You accept, do you not, gentlemen, the prince chosen for you by the Emperor Napoleon?"

Intimidated by the General's manner and the ranks of soldiery behind him, all replied in the affirmative, whereupon Jeanningres, addressing the general staff officer who was to record the votes, ordered him: "Write, sir, that this city votes unanimously for the Empire, and permit these gentlemen to sign it."

The same method of procedure was enacted in every town. When the principal citizens of Potosi refused to sign a similar document, the officer in command caused them all to be imprisoned for thirty-six hours till hunger forced them to yield. Thus by fraud the Empire was founded, as by treachery it fell, both marked characteristics of this nation as we shall see later.

The way now seemed clear, but at the last moment an unforeseen difficulty arose. While the Archduke was making a round of farewell visits at various European courts, it was decided at Vienna to demand a renunciation of all rights of succession to the throne of Austria on the part of Maximilian and his possible descendants. Emperor Francis Joseph strongly opposed this, justly maintaining that if such a step were considered necessary, it should not have been deferred till the last moment, but Count Rechberg and Baron Lichtenfels were firm. The former undertook to lay the matter before the Archduke on his return, but was so coldly received that he abandoned any further attempt, while Maximilian himself declared that had this point been presented to him earlier, negotiations with Mexico would have been broken off at once. This, of course, was now out of the question, and after much discussion he finally agreed to sign the act of renunciation, thus removing the last obstacle.

On the tenth of April, 1864, a second embassy, consisting of twenty distinguished Mexicans, again headed by Estrada, arrived at Miramar to perform the coronation ceremony. In his address, spoken in French, Don Gutierrez alluded, first of all, to the gratifying result of the popular vote. As to the method by which it had been secured the good man probably had as little knowledge as Maximilian himself. He then recalled France's service to his native country, whose future prosperity he hoped would be assured under the new monarchy. Mexico gratefully acknowledged the Archduke's self-sacrifice in accepting this difficult position and was ready to hail with joy her chosen sovereign, whose motto was, Justitia regnorum fundamentum.

Maximilian's reply was in Spanish. He declared that since the two conditions required by him had been fulfilled, he was now able to redeem the promise given six months before and was ready to accept the offered crown. The oath was then administered. Maximilian swore to guard the liberties of the Mexican nation under all circumstances and to do all in his power for the welfare and prosperity of the people, after which Estrada swore allegiance in the name of Mexico and was decorated by his sovereign with the grand cross of the newly revived Guadeloupe order. A triple "Viva" followed to the new Emperor and Empress in whose honor the imperial Mexican flag was hoisted on the tower of Miramar, amidst salvos from batteries and battle ships. A solemn Te Deum in the palace chapel concluded the ceremonies.

On the same day the Emperor signed the important convention with Napoleon, known as the Treaty of Miramar, whereby it was agreed to reduce the French troops as soon as possible to 25,000, including the foreign legion. This body should evacuate the country as soon as forces could be organized to take their place, yet the foreign legion of 8000 was to remain, if required, for six years after the above withdrawal and be supported from this time by the Mexican government. The transport service for French military supplies must be paid by the same government with 400,000 francs for the round trip, likewise the cost of the French expedition, fixed at 270,000,000 francs for the whole time, till July i, 1864, with interest at three per cent per annum. After this date the expenses of the Mexican army rested with Mexico, which had also to give i000 francs for the maintenance of each French soldier, pay included. Against these sums the Mexican government had to pay at once 66,000,000 francs in bonds of the late loan and 25,000,000 francs in specie annually. A mixed commission of three Frenchmen and three Mexicans was to meet at Mexico within three months to adjust the claims of French citizens. All Mexican prisoners of war held by the French were to be released as soon as Maximilian entered his States. In addition to this, there were three secret clauses, by utilizing which France afterward, and not without some show of reason, attempted to extricate herself from her dangerous position.