French Intervention and Maximilian
Mexican creditors pressured their home countries—the
United Kingdom, Spain, and France—to intervene (send troops)
in Mexico to force Mexico to pay its debts. They refused to accept the assurances
of the government that the debts would be paid and many Mexican conservatives,
who were vehemently opposed to the liberal government (presided over by an Indian at that!)
also encouraged European intervention.
In December, 1861,
Spain landed troops in Veracruz, followed in January, 1862 by
British and French troops. The Spanish and British quickly
figured out that President Benito
Juárez fully intended to pay the debts when he
could, so they withdrew. They also realized that the French had
other intentions, indicated by the arrival of reinforcements, and
had no desire to help France achieve its ambitions.
As often happens, several different factors played a role in
the decision by the French to conquer Mexico and install a
puppet government. Mexican Conservatives had been effective in
convincing French Christians that Christianity was being
attacked in Mexico. It wasn't, of course. Frenchmen were sensitive
to the issue, for the Papacy had complained loudly when French
troops under French Emperor Napoleon III had aided the Italian
unification movement, which had wrested most of the Papal States
from the Pope. Intervening in Mexico to "protect Christianity"
gave Louis Napoleon [Napoleon III] the opportunity to regain support from the
devout in his own country. This Napoleon, the nephew of the
great Napoleon, also saw the opportunity to achieve what his
uncle had failed to do—establish a French empire in the New
World. He would also ally himself more closely with the House
of Hapsburg, the most important royal family in Europe, and
give more legitimacy to his own questionable claim to royal
French armies took control of the most important parts of Mexico
rather quickly after they began marching to Mexico City in
April, 1862. There was an initial setback at Puebla on May 5,
1862, when a Mexican army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza beat them, but
French troops rallied and pressed forward. The Puebla defeat,
honored in Mexican history, diminished the prestige of France.
Napoleon III sent fresh troops and a new commander to Mexico
in 1863. By June, 1863, 30,000 French troops entered Mexico
City and began pacifying the core region of the nation. To head
the government they created, they made General Juan Almonte
Juárez failed to rally Mexicans to resist the French invasion.
Perhaps they were simply tired of the constant turmoil and
fighting; perhaps many decided that resistance was futile.
Nevertheless, Juárez refused to accept defeat and always
asserted that he was President of Mexico and that the intervention
was illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional. His steadfast
patriotism would eventually pay off but not until many Mexicans
tired of the French and the Austrian emperor they imposed on
Initially, Maximilian, the young Austrian Archduke, and his wife,
Carlota, were very popular. They were an attractive royal couple
deeply in love with one another. People enjoy romance; they also
enjoy the pageantry that comes with royalty. Maximilian loved the
nation and its people and took great pains to "Mexicanize" himself.
Many Liberals joined others in supporting him. Other than being a prince
(archduke in the Austrian system), he had little to recommend him as ruler of a
vast territory torn by ethnic and religious splits.
He had been born in Schönbrunn palace in Vienna on the 6th July, 1832,
as His Imperial Highness Ferdinand Maximilian
Joseph, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Hungary and Bohemia Maximilian of the House of Hapsburg. He was the second son of the Emperor. His older brother, Franz Josef,
would become Emperor in 1848. As a young man, Maximilian became interested
in science, particularly botany, and in the navy. His naval interests led him to
create the naval port of Trieste. In February 1857, his brother named him viceroy of the Lombardo-Venetian
kingdom. On July 27, 1857, he married Carlota of Belgium, daughter of Leopold
I, King of the Belgians, in Brussels. They lived in Milan on the Italian
peninsula until 1859 until his brother, Franz Josef , dismissed him for being
Maximilian stayed near Trieste, where he built the beautiful chateau of
Miramar on the coast, and pursued the interests of a rich 29-year-old young man.
In 1859, he was approached by Mexican conservatives who had lost power to
the liberals and hoped to recoup their fortunes by recreating a monarchy with a
European prince as king/emperor. He turned them down and concentrated his
efforts on a botanical expedition.
In 1859, the Austro-Hungarian Empire
went to war with the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, aided by Napoleon III of
France, whose armies won decisive engagements. Napoleon III, however, made a
separate peach with the Empire, which had to cede Lombardy. Moreover, the Pope
lost part of the Papal States, which upset Catholics. Revolt broke out in
many Italian principalities, most of whom willingly joined the Italy created in
1861 by Piedmont-Sardinia. Napoleon III decided that he was not so liberal after
all; he didn't really believe in self-determination and representative
government. Nor did Austria-Hungary, which was a polyglot, multi-ethnic
conglomeration difficult to rule. Conservatism seemed to be the means of keeping
the Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Poles, and other groups in line and inside
the Empire. Napoleon III needed to repair the damage the war had caused with his
Roman Catholic political base and with the Hapsburg dynasty. Mexico would give
him the chance.
Napoleon III finally convinced Maximilian
on April 10, 1864, that Mexicans wanted him to comer be their emperor. Actually,
Mexican conservatives and the French, backed by their armies, had rigged a plebiscite
to show those results. They protected Maximilian and Carlota as they landed in
the port of Vera Cruz and made a triumphal journey to Mexico City.
Maximilian brought Europeans into Mexican life. French architects and engineers
created the Paseo de los Heroes [later the Paseo de la Reforma], a wide
boulevard like the Champs E'lysee in Paris, stretching from Chapultepec Park
and Chapultepec castle where the royal family lived, to within a few
blocks of the National Palace. Carlota could stand on the veranda and watch her
husband go to and from work. Besides beautifying the city, Maximilian made other
Maximilian eventually alienated many of his Mexican supporters,
for he had no intention of creating a conservative monarchy dominated by
priests. He had insisted that he would not take the throne
of Mexico unless the people wanted him. The French quickly
arranged a plebiscite that, not surprisingly, showed an
overwhelming vote for the Archduke. He had democratic
sentiments. His view of Church-State relations resembled those
of the Liberals and his government also needed the funds
generated by the tax on the sale of Church lands.
He was a French puppet, regardless of his mistaken belief that the
Mexicans loved him and that he was trying to "do right" by Mexico. Conservatives
and even some Liberals supported him but,
without French troops backing up the Imperial army, he was doomed. The
Liberal Party leadership resisted the Empire as best they could.
Conservatives, once they understood Maximilian's democratic
sentiments and anticlerical attitudes, began withdrawing their
support. The French also began taking what they wanted; their
motives for intervention had never been altruistic.
By 1866, the tide had turned against Maximilian and the French. The
U.S. had always recognized the Juárez government and, after U.S.
forces took Vicksburg, Mississippi in April, 1863, the U.S. began
sending supplies to Juárez. After the U.S. victory at Appomattox
in 1865, volunteers and arms poured into Mexico as part of
the resistance to European imperialism. The Liberal armies
gained in strength and the Conservative and French armies
began a campaign to suppress any opposition, killing
non-combatants along with soldiers. Maximilian decreed in
October, 1865 that rebels could be summarily shot. The United
States protested the French presence and demanded that Napoleon III
withdraw his troops. After the U.S. military victory in 1865,
which demonstrated the ability of the U.S. to fight and which
meant that the U.S. had large armies in the southern part of the
U.S., the Napoleon agreed in February, 1866 to begin withdrawing
his troops. Maximilian tried to persuade him to leave them there,
but the victory of the North German Confederation over the
Austrian Empire in the summer of 1866 convinced Napoleon III
that his troops were needed more along the Rhine River than
in the lost cause of Mexico. By the end of 1866, the troops
were gone. The fight was now just between the Liberal and
Conservative armies. In May, 1867, the Liberal armies had
taken Querétaro and captured Maximilian and his generals. Foreign
invaders and their Mexican collaborators were to be shot.
On July 15, 1867, Juárez entered Mexico City again,
facing problems worse than he had faced in 1861.
Carlota went insane when she heard that her husband had
been executed. She had gone to Paris to try to convince Napoleon
not to remove French troops; he sent her to the Pope. She
wouldn't leave the Papal quarters voluntarily. A brother came
and took her away to her native Belgium where she stayed locked
in a castle until her death in 1929.