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
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
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.
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