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Ley Juárez

by Kristin Arias

The Ley Juárez was a law that was created and passed by Benito Juárez. It was a law that caused immediate confusion and a great furor within the social classes and the Church. During the 1850's, the Mexican society was becoming more liberal in its views and was trying to do away with many of the conservative ideas that the country possessed. At this point in time there were many problems within the new government and country. The reconstruction after the war for independence caused many problems itself, and the election of Juan Alvarez to the presidency along with his supporters after a meeting in Cuernavaca was an unfortunate choice. Juan Alvarez was an old, inefficient man who was opposed to centralism, even though he was for passing many democratic ideas since the war for independence. Most individuals believed that Ignacio Comonfort would be the next person to lead Mexico as president. However, it was Alvarez's old age that made him desirable for the idea of unity within the country.

Juan Alvarez's cabinet consisted of Melchor Ocampo as Minister of Relations, Guillermo Prieto in treasury, Ignacio Comonfort as Minister of War, Benito Juárez as Minster of Justice, and Miguel Lerdo de Tejada as Minister of Development. There were many problems within this cabinet. Each of these men possessed their own views of how the government should be run. This caused a division within the cabinet on many different issues proposed. Juárez, who had been called back from exile by Alvarez and appointed Minister of Justices and ecclesiastical affairs, battled between being a moderate and a radical. The conservatives also rallied behind Comonfort who opposed any immediate change. Comonfort feared it would turn the conservatives and many moderates against the new regime that the cabinet was trying to enact. Ocampo and Prieto wanted far-reaching reforms put into effect immediately, but would find impossible because of fear that Comonfort would disagree and cause an uprising if programs moved too fast. Ocampo was unsuccessful in making his views known and victorious within the cabinet, so he decided to leave. Shortly after, Prieto left the cabinet as well. The resignation of these two men made it evident that the moderates were winning control of the new government.

Although these problems existed within the cabinet, these men were able to create a reform program which generated the Reform Laws. This program was used weaken special privileges. One of the laws that were passed within this group is the Ley Juárez. This law was designed and issued by Juárez himself. It was published by presidential decree on November 23, 1855. This law abolished judicial fueros or immunities of the clergy, church, and the army. It also reduced the members of the privileged classes to the jurisdiction of civil courts and the common law. As stated, it caused great furor and immediate confusion. This law has been misunderstood and many tend to believe it was an attack towards the clergy. However, the Ley Juárez was established with liberal objectives to provide equality of opportunity before the law.

The Ley Juárez was a law that was moderate and very promising for the future. The Ley Juárez in conjunction with the Ley Lerdo declared to the individuals who possessed these special privileges the following restrictions: (1) No church could legally own property, (2) foreigners could not serve as priests or pastors, (3) worship services should be held exclusively in temples or churches, not in public buildings, (4) clergy could not directly or indirectly criticize government authorities, (5) clergy could not vote or participate in politics, (6) mass media should not be used to promote religion, and (7) government leaders should never participate in religious ceremonies. By implementing these restrictions, the Church would lose a lot of its power, which would therefore give more power to the government. People who could not afford to own land, such as the poor, were now able to because of this new law.

The law was not accepted by the people like the cabinet hoped it would have been. Ley Juárez caused discontent to the people of Mexico, and because of this, a revolutionary movement came about in Guanajuato that was headed by Manuel Doblado. Doblado, who had been against Ley Juárez and the Alvarez administration the entire time stated the following about the law:

"The clergy, deprived even of their rights as citizens, the Church whose property is that of the poor, the army destroyed as a class and prostituted by the entrance into the ranks of notorious bandits and jailbirds, the proprietor whose possessions are unprotected by an unbridled government, and the artisan, humiliated by the presence in the capital of the republic of the filthy, insolent, and immoral horde which the weakness of a few men has vomited upon Mexico out of the mountains of the south, and which threaten the lives and honor of our wives and daughters."

It was not four days after this statement that Doblado decided to rebel towards the Alvarez government. However, if Doblado had waited a few more days to launch his revolt the outcome of the government would have possibly been different. Because the division of the cabinet immobilized the Alvarez government, many people began to believe that Comonfort needed to become the new president and Alvarez would have to resign. Although the moderates had won at this point, the idea of this new government by Comonfort was not quickly accepted. Doblado could have possibly changed the outcome if he would have realized his reactionary attitude to this law was not the way to power. Once he realized the error he made, Doblado dropped the revolt and ended up having to adopt the policies enacted by the government. Afterwards, Doblado became one of the most powerful men in the Liberal party.

The Ley Juárez also aroused the church and the peasants. The Archbishop of Puebla spoke harshly against the law that caused Comonfort, with the help of Doblado, to lead an army to siege the city of Puebla. Because of more controversy thereafter, the archbishop was eventually exiled. This also caused Comonfort to lose a lot of his conservative followers.

The Ley Juárez was incorporated into the constitution even though it caused uproar amongst the people. This law was imperfect. Many immunities of the clergy remained intact, and those of the army were merely pared. However in conjunction with the Ley Lerdo, the Ley Juárez was a start in the right direction. It illustrates the relationship of later attempts of unifying the country in equality, but in the ideas of monopolies in the future. Although Mexico was looking to become more liberal, the Ley Juárez was just too much for that time. There were too many problems trying to enforce it, and too many revolts and uprising caused from implementation of this law.

Bibliography

Cadenhead, Ivie E. Benito Juárez. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1973

Roeder, Ralph. Juárez and His Mexico. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968

Scholes, Walter V. Mexican Politics During the Juárez Regime 1855-1872. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969

Weeks, Charles A. The Juárez Myth in Mexico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987

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