F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Maximilian's First Measures

One of the first necessities that confronted Maximilian in the execution of his mission was the establishment of diplomatic relations with the world. The courts of Vienna, Rome, Paris, and Brussels had been informed at once of his acceptance of the throne of Mexico. It now remained to notify the remaining powers of this event. A decree was issued on the twenty-first of June, 1864, empowering the foreign office to make the necessary arrangements. By the end of the year Mexico had been recognized as an Empire by Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and England, also by the German Confederation and the Shah of Persia. Far more valuable to the new monarchy would have been its recognition by the United States, but the White House at Washington still looked upon Juarez as President of Mexico, as did its smaller and less important neighbors on the south, the republics of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, San Salvador, and Costa Rica. Thus the Empire was surrounded by hostile countries, while its only ally in America, the Emperor Don Pedro Second of Brazil, could be of little use.

Maximilian appointed the advocate Don Jose Ramirez as minister of foreign affairs—a man concerning whom opinion is divided. There can be no question, however, as to his ability and his loyalty to Maximilian, to whom he proved a valuable counsellor, although the Emperor unfortunately did not always follow his advice. Maximilian took no further action in governmental affairs until he had gained a more intimate knowledge of the country. Though well versed in the language and history of Mexico as well as its political complications, he discovered at once the necessity of a personal acquaintance with the various portions of his new realm and determined to make a tour of those provinces loyal to him. Meanwhile he devoted himself to learning the needs of his people. With this object in view he spent much time walking about the streets of the capital or visiting various public and charitable institutions. The Empress was her husband's constant companion, sharing all his cares and interests, and although Maximilian did not always agree with her opinions, her clever pen, her quick wit, and cultivated mind often proved of great help to him.

He soon discovered many evils the existence of which he had not suspected. The Mexican is profuse in promises which are never kept, and Maximilian had daily proof of this national characteristic. In spite of his personal charm and kindness the French officers kept jealously aloof from him, regarding themselves as slighted in the distribution of orders. The clergy, disappointed that the Church property confiscated by Juarez had not been immediately restored to them, were dissatisfied with the new government, while the republicans under Juarez refused, of course, to acknowledge the Empire.

The accusation made by these malcontents that Maximilian did not attempt to improve conditions was entirely unjustified, however. Few that followed his career realized how diligently and self-sacrificingly he labored for that end. That the restoration of order must be gradually accomplished was self-evident. Realizing that drastic measures were necessary at many points in the affairs of state, he was forced to take time for observation and investigation before attempting any change. Many evils had to be endured temporarily before any radical changes could be made, and he had also to consult the opinions of his advisers, whether in accordance with his own or not.

His first attention was devoted to the regulation of military and financial matters. A commission, headed by General Bazaine, commander-in-chief of the French troops, was appointed to meet on the fourteenth of July to consider the reorganization of the army. The relations between Maximilian and this officer had been none too friendly from the first. Bazaine considered himself his own master and troubled himself little as to the Emperor's views. In justice to Napoleon Third, however, it must be said that he seems to have been very imperfectly informed as to the actions and practices of his generals in Mexico. All correspondence with France had to pass through the hands of Bazaine or his subordinates, who could easily color reports to suit themselves. On the fifteenth of July a commission, presided over by Velasquez de Leon, and consisting of landed proprietors, merchants, manufacturers, and mine owners, met to discuss the regulation of financial affairs.

From the first Maximilian exerted himself to do away with antiquated customs, and as early as the sixteenth of July a decree was issued requiring all officers of justice to be at their posts from nine to twelve in the morning and shortening their annual leave of absence from three months to six weeks, an innovation that met with small favor from the Mexicans, as may be imagined.

On the tenth of August the Emperor set out upon his tour into the interior, the government during his absence being left in charge of the Empress. He was accompanied by his life-long friend, Count Bombelles, his secretary, Iglesias, Privy Councillor Scherzenlechner, and the Lord Chamberlain Felipe Raygosa. Originally planned for four weeks, the journey extended over three months. A proclamation had been issued by Velasquez de Leon, shortly before the Emperor's departure, announcing his tour and forbidding any state receptions or entertainments in order to spare expense to the people, impoverished by years of civil strife. In spite of this prohibition, however, magnificent triumphal arches were erected in many places in honor of the Emperor, who was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the populace, the Indians, in particular, gathering in crowds everywhere to gaze at their new sovereign.

On the seventeenth of August Maximilian arrived at Queretaro where he was received with great enthusiasm and remained for several days, being royally entertained. ' Little did any of those who joined in the festivities suspect that in this very town, only three years later, the Emperor was to lay down his life for Mexico! From there he went on to Celaya which was reached a week later. In many places through which they passed evidences were visible of the effects of the famine that existed in the interior of the country, and where the suffering was greatest Maximilian distributed considerable sums of money from his own purse. At Trapuato the Emperor was suddenly seized with an attack of quinsy which confined him to his bed for two weeks. This delay, together with other unforeseen occurrences in the capital, obliged him to abandon the rest of his journey, and the party returned to Mexico, though by a different route, arriving on the thirtieth of October.

This tour of Maximilian's had proved a continuous ovation, but how much of the popular enthusiasm was due to his personality rather than to allegiance to him as a sovereign is a question. He had shown himself everywhere most gracious and kindly, granting audiences to persons of all classes with a fearlessness which, considering the state of the country, must have commanded the respect even of his enemies. Whether he allowed himself to be deceived by these demonstrations is uncertain. At all events he returned well content with the results of his journey and full of hope for the future. That many of the great changes planned by him for the benefit of the people were never put into execution was not altogether his fault. To carry out any thorough system of reform large sums of money are needed, and the treasury was exhausted.

Maximilian's first act after his return was to form a ministry. During his travels he had met many able and patriotic Mexicans who, he fancied, would be of great assistance to him in his projected reforms, and from these he chose his ministers exclusively, though doubtless well aware that in some cases the positions would have been better filled by Austrians, Belgians, or Frenchmen. When reminded of this by his friends, however, he would say, "Have patience! When the country learns that Mexican ministers are good-for-nothing, I may be justified in appointing others, and my people can then have nothing to reproach me with." This was no doubt wise on the Emperor's part. The appointment of foreigners would have excited suspicion if not rebellion at once among the excitable and distrustful Mexicans.

On his tour Maximilian had discovered that the country's most pressing need was the revival of commerce. New channels of trade must be created, and for this purpose the laying out of highways and the building of bridges was ordered. Robles, minister of public works, was commissioned to build a railroad between Queretaro and Guanajuato, an undertaking which was never carried out, however. A railroad from Mexico to Vera Cruz was also planned, the execution of which was entrusted to an English company, and three different companies received permission to run steamship lines between the more important seaports of the country. To exterminate the robber bands and secure safety for the life and property of the people, a much needed system of militia was instituted on the seventh of November, 1864. At the same time the Emperor urged most strictly upon all magistrates of the various provinces the following injunctions: preservation of law and order, firm administration of justice, supervision of the press, construction and maintenance of roads, extermination of marauders and outlaws, sanitation, improvements in agriculture and the breeding of cattle, conservation of forests, etc.

All this proves the loftiness of Maximilian's aims—nor were his hands idle as some of his enemies maliciously maintained. Could he but have had the necessary support and cooperation, conditions in that unfortunate country must soon have improved. But with only the fickle and treacherous Mexicans to depend upon, all these reforms were of brief duration—a mere ripple on the stream.