F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




The Emperor at Orizaha

Herzfeld's knowledge of the real state of affairs and anxiety for his master's safety soon caused him to lay aside all other considerations and follow the Emperor to Orizaba, where he urged preparations for departure with all possible despatch. In the midst of those, however, he was ordered to Europe by Maximilian to prepare for his arrival there. Thus this loyal friend was spared being a witness of the Emperor's tragic fate.

During his stay in Orizaba Maximilian led a simple, secluded life in his palace, seeing only his intimate associates, but occupied with arrangements for departure, and the settling of his private affairs. Much to his satisfaction, his Civil List showed a balance in his favor of $180,000. All his servants but two were paid and dismissed. Colonel Kodolitsch was sent to Mexico to arrange with Bazaine concerning the Austrian and Belgian volunteers, who had followed Maximilian to Mexico and for whose future he felt it his duty to provide. One question much discussed confidentially, and which Maximilian seemed quite unable to decide, was as to whether the abdication should take place before his departure or in Europe, where he had accepted the crown. His plans for the future were already made. It was not his intention to return at once to Austria, but to travel for two years, rneeting the Empress at Corfu, if her condition should permit. Meanwhile his own health had greatly improved. With his two countrymen, Dr. Basch and Professor Bilimek, he made frequent excursions about the neighborhood, enjoying the wonderful scenery or searching for rare specimens of plants and insects. Suddenly, however, events occurred which changed the aspect of affairs and effectually put an end to the Emperor's plans of travel.

Two old comrades-in-arms in the Mexican army, Generals Marquez and Miramon, returned from Europe and, seeking an immediate audience with the Emperor, urged him to return to the capital, holding out promises of support and encouraging prospects for the imperial cause. While Maximilian was hesitating, a letter arrived from Bazaine, which turned the scale. In this the Marshal was so imprudent as to tell tales out of school, betraying the fact that Napoleon III had made other plans for Mexico without consulting Maximilian, who, as he had not yet abdicated, was still sovereign of the country. This arbitrary conduct on the part of his ally roused Maximilian to action. Indignant at the slight cast upon him and anxious to prove that he was not slinking away at the bidding of France like a disgraced servant, he was in a proper frame of mind to respond to the appeal made by his conservative advisors, that it was his duty to remain and not desert his party in the hour of danger. Although outwardly preparations for departure continued as before, the Emperor's resolution was weakened, and toward the end of November he summoned his council to Orizaba to consult with them as to the advisability of his abdication, giving in an address to that body his reasons for such a step, viz., the spread of the revolution with its attendant evils, the hostility of the United States toward Mexico, and the withdrawal of the support of France.

A vote was taken, twenty-three members of the council being present, of whom two were for immediate abdication, ten of the opposite opinion, while eleven were in favor of abdication, but held that the present was not the time for such a step. Maximilian yielded to the majority and agreed to remain on condition that funds should be raised for the proper defence of the government and the organization of a permanent national army, and that measures should be taken toward the settlement of questions pending with France and the United States. The Mexicans, proverbially lavish with promises, readily agreed to all these points, and on the first of December the Emperor issued a manifesto to the people, declaring that he had yielded to the desire of his council on condition that a congress representing all parties should be summoned to decide the existence of the Empire, and, if this were confirmed, he would devote himself to tilt promotion of its welfare.

On the twelfth of December, 1866, Maximilian left Orizaba to return to Mexico, accompanied by most of the members of the council who, in the unsettled condition of the country, were glad to avail themselves of the imperial escort, consisting as before of Colonel Kodolitsch's hussars. They consumed much time on the journey, lingering for nearly three weeks at Puebla, Maximilian residing at first in the Xonaca palace, a short distance outside the city. Here he held an interview with Castelnan, the French consul, which appears to have been of a most unpleasant nature and widened still further the breach between the two Emperors. Scientific expeditions were also attempted by the three friends, as at Orizaba, but, finding few specimens in the region about Puebla, these excursions were soon abandoned and Maximilian moved his residence into the city.

Arriving in Mexico on the fifth of January, 1867, Maximilian remained for a time at the Hacienda de Teja, a quarter of an hour's distance from the capital. While there three of his former ministers, Ramirez, Escudero, and Robles y Pezuela, made a final attempt to induce him to abdicate and leave the country at once. But although evidently impressed by their arguments he refused to follow their advice. The accusations of vacillation and irresolution afterward made against Maximilian would seem to be justified by his behavior at this time. Doubtful of himself and of the future, he still clung to the hope of being able at least to retire with honor, conscious of having fulfilled his duty to his adherents. In relating to his physician the interview with his ex-ministers, he declared that Ramirez wept at parting, expressing the earnest wish that his evil forebodings might not be realized. He knew but too well how deceptive were the promises of his countrymen.

"In no case," continued the Emperor, "will I remain here more than a few months, only until affairs are more settled. Will it injure my health,, do you think, to stay on in Mexico? Will the fever return?"

"I have no anxiety as to Your Majesty's health on that score," replied the physician; "it is Your Majesty's life I fear for."

Maximilian's attempts to convoke an assembly of liberal representatives from all parties to discuss measures for remedying the existing disorders in the country met with small success, as might have been expected. It seemed impossible to obtain any sort of peaceful fusion or cooperation, and there was nothing left for the Junta (congress) but to declare war on the rebels in Mexico—war to the knife.