Notes on Liberals and Conservatives, 1855-1876
The Reform, the French Intervention and the
Reforma or The Reform or The Reformation (1855-1867):
The efforts of Mexican Liberals to dramatically change Mexico and
make is a society of equality before the laws and equality of opportunity, abolish special
privilege, and create a democratic political system.
2. The French Intervention and the erstwhile Empire of
Maximilian of Hapsburg (1864-1867):
Invited by Mexican Conservatives and supported by Emperor Napoleon
III of France, Maximilian established an Empire in Mexico. He and his wife, Carlota,
tried to create a liberal monarchy. Benito Juárez resisted the Empire and eventually won.
3. The Restored Republic, 1867-1876:
Victorious in the fight against Maximilian, Juárez and company
recreated the Republic. Juárez dies in 1872, and is succeeded by his Vice President, Sebastián
Lerdo de Tejada.
Alvarez—proclaimed the Plan de Ayutla. He was an aging guerrillero leader who had
been involved in the Independence movement.
2. Benito Juárez—the hero of 19th century Mexico.
3. Miguel Lerdo de Tejada—finance minister whose decree on
property ownership helped start a civil war.
4. Melchor Ocampo—former governor; leading anti-clerical.
5. Ignacio Comonfort—first Liberal president after Santa
1. Félix Zuloaga—Conservative general.
2. Miguel Miramón—Conservative general who was a stalwart
of the conservative cause.
3. Juan Almonte—General put in power by the French in 1863
4. Maximilian of Hapsburg—erstwhile Emperor of Mexico
Restored Republic Personnel
1. Matías Romero— finance minister who managed to put the
national finances in a semblance of order.
Barreda—education minister. Barreda
was the founder of the modern educational system.
Diaz—Liberal general and hero of the resistance to the French intervention
Santa Anna's departure in August, 1855 left Mexico with a political vacuum, a
country full of pronouncing caudillos with their private armies. Victorious Liberals
wanted a constitutional convention to write a document that would provide law and order,
equality of opportunity, and civilian government. Meant breaking the power of the army and
Juan Alvarez took over Mexico City in November, 1855 and called a
constitutional convention. His Minister of Justice, Benito Juárez, issued the Ley
Juárez, which abolished all special courts. The Army and the church were furious
over the loss of their fueros, privileges, for they had been "states within a
state." Alvarez retires.
Ignacio Comonfort, a moderate lawyer, takes over. Ley Lerdo
issued which called for the forced sale of corporate holdings. Corporate included all
church lands as well as village-owned lands (owned by Indians). Liberals overestimated the
amount of land owned by the church and the amount the government might obtain from the
sale of the land. The idea was to create a nation of small farmers who would be
independent and inclined to democratic government. (That is not what would happen,
however.) The land would be auctioned off in small units and the government would receive
income from a title transfer tax. Conservatives outraged and prepared to fight. The Church
told people not to buy or else be excommunicated and suffer the wrath of God.
CONSTITUTION of 1857
Drafted by the constitutional convention and signed February, 1857.
It created a federal system with a unicameral legislature. Made no mention of
Church-State relations because the framers couldn't agree. Created a 19th century
representative government. Incorporated the Leyes Juárez and Lerdo.
Conservatives denounced and refused to obey it. Pope Pius IX
condemned it and forbade Catholics from obeying. Mexican Churchmen were furious and began,
along with other conservatives, to circulate anti-Liberal tracts. Conservatives stashed
arms and plotted conspiracies.
In December, 1857, came the revolt of Felix Zuloaga. Comonfort and
Juárez arrested. Many members of Congress and administration escaped to Querétaro and
organized a rump government. Comonfort gets Juárez freed and then Comonfort leaves
country. As chief Justice of he Supreme Court, next in the line of succession, Juárez was
now president. Benito
Juárez was a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca. He was an orphaned sheepherder who was
befriended and then sent to Oaxaca City to seminary. Decided to become a lawyer. Fought
cases for the poor. Pious, mystical, righteous, homely man. Tough and determined.
Beginning in 1847, he was governor of Oaxaca for 5 years. Had alienated Santa Anna by
refusing to give him refuge when the latter was on the run. Santa Anna exiled him from
1853-55. He lived in New Orleans with other Liberal exiles, making cigars and plotting
Freed from jail because of Comfort, Juárez and his cabinet flee to
the Pacific coast in a black carriage. They disguised the carriage by having it draped to
seem that the passengers were diseased. When they reached the coast, they took a boat to
Panama, crossed the Isthmus via mule, and then took a boat Veracruz, traditionally a
Liberal stronghold. Juárez was tough and enduring. His strength of resolve kept the
liberal cause alive. Only the United States recognized his claim to be the government of
Conservatives, led by Miguel Miramón, established republic in
Mexico City. Also controlled rich central Mexico.
WAR OF THE REFORM—civil war between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Killed
some 50,000 people. As the war progressed, the liberals were radicalized and passed the
Laws of the Reform: complete separation of church and state; complete religious
toleration; abolition of monasteries and/convents; no tithing; civil marriage; and
confiscation of church property not used for religious purposes.
Conservatives were dominant for three years and enjoyed the military
successes of Miramón. Had money and recognition from every government except that of U.S.
The Liberals, desperate for funds, agreed to the
McClane-Ocampo Treaty which would have given U.S. the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. US. Senate
The liberals finally won and, in January, 1861, Juárez returned to
Mexico City the victor. Conservatives leaders fled into exile; some to Europe where they
sought help from European nations. Juárez government had no money but plenty of debts,
many of them incurred by conservative governments. Congress reelected Juárez. Both
Liberals and Conservatives had borrowed money or taken money from foreigners during the
civil war. Now the creditors wanted to be repaid. Juárez scaled down claims, for many
were bogus or inflated. When claimants protested, he declared that debts wouldn't be paid
for two years, that Mexico had to get on its feet again financially, but the debts would
Some European nations, encouraged by Mexican conservatives who
asserted that this savage Indian couldn't be trusted, started sending armies in December,
1861 and January, 1862. Spanish, French, and British troops took control of the port city
of Veracruz. Their purpose was debt collection. Spanish and British withdrew when they
realized that Juárez fully intended to pay and that French goals were different.
THE FRENCH INTERVENTION
In April, 1862, the French army moved towards Mexico City. During
the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862), French troops were beaten by Porifirio Díaz. The
French continued to advance but Napoleon II poured troops into Mexico to avenge French
honor. In June, 1863, 30,000 troops entered Mexico City. Mexican General Almonte was put
at the head of the government. Napoleon III tries to get a European prince to go to
Mexico as monarch. His famous uncle had been unable to sustain a New World empire, which
he now hoped to do. He also wanted to curry favor with the House of Hapsburg, Europe's
leading royal family.
The Hapsburgs agreed to send Maximilian, one of their young archdukes (princes) but he
refused to go unless the Mexican people wanted him. The French army then staged a
plebiscite to give the results that his ego desired. He and his wife sailed to Mexico and
made a triumphal procession from Vera Cruz Mexico City. The nation now had a monarch,
Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico.
Maximilian liked Mexico and Mexicans and many, including some
liberals, liked him. Part of it was the romance of monarchy; there seems to be a universal
fascination with young royals. Some of it was the pleasure of seeing how much the couple
loved each other. Some of it was the construction of public works, such as the broad
boulevard from the National Palace to Chapultepec Castle, for this created jobs. Some
support came because people tend to support whoever is in power.
Maximilian was a bad choice, however. His politics were more like
those of the liberals than the conservatives. He supported the confiscation of church
property that had occurred and favored the separation of church and state. He even tried
to make an alliance with Juárez, who reminded him that he was a foreign interloper who
would be shot if the liberals ever caught him! Although many conservatives did not like
his policies, they were stuck. Besides, they could hope that age would make him more
conservative as it did for most people. In the meantime, his government was clearly
propped up by French troops.
In 1866, Prussia leading the North German Confederation won the
Austro-Prussian War in a matter of weeks and Napoleon III decided to withdraw his troops
so he could station them along the Rhine River in case of a Germanic advance. Besides, the
U.S. had been demanding the withdrawal of French troops and, in 1865-66, had a
battle-hardened large army which had just won a major war.
Without French troops, Maximilian's empire crumbled as the liberal
armies made advance after advance. Carlota went to France and begged Napoleon III to send
troops again. He didn't want to be bothered with her and sent her to the Pope where she
had a mental breakdown. Her family came for her and took her to a family castle in Belgium
where she died on January 16, 1927. In 1867, Maximilian, Miramón, and other conservative
leaders were executed at the Hill of the bells in Querétero. Juárez ignored worldwide
protests; he wanted it clear that foreign interlopers would be shot. Mexico was for
THE RESTORED REPUBLIC
On July 15, 1867, Juárez was back into Mexico City and the
problems worse than they were in 1861. His finance minister, Matías Romero, undertook
fiscal reforms and promoted economic development. Railroad construction was pushed,
for example. Gabino Barreda created the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria and revamped the
educational system to emphasize the use of reason. Freedom of the press was instituted.
Juárez died in 1872 after having had himself reelected. People began to complain about
his continuism and Porifiro Díaz had tried an unsuccessful revolt. Sebastián Lerdo de
Tejada served as president in 1872-1876. He was overthrown by Porifiro Díaz when Lerdo de
Tejada tried to impose himself in 1876.
Restored Republic was democratic and progressive, especially by Mexican standards.
- Internal bickering invites outside intervention.
- Inability to compromise weakens the State.
- Bloodshed invites bloodshed. Violence, even of word, breeds violence.
- Damage to the nation, including psychological damage, occurs.