|26th President of México|
15 January 1858 - 18 July 1872
|Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada|
|President of the Mexican Supreme Court|
11 December 1857 - 15 January 1858
|Luis de la Rosa Oteiza|
|José Ignacio Pavón|
|Secretary of the Interior of Mexico|
3 November 1857 - 11 December 1857
|José María Cortés|
|José María Cortés|
|Governor of Oaxaca|
10 January 1856 - 3 November 1857
|José María García|
|José María Díaz|
2 October 1847 - 12 August 1852
|Francisco Ortiz Zárate|
|Lope San Germán|
|Secretary of Public Education of Mexico|
6 October 1855 - 9 December 1855
|José María Durán|
|Ramón Isaac Alcaraz|
Benito Pablo Juárez García
21 March 1806
San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, New Spain
|Died||18 July 1872 (aged 66)|
Mexico City, Mexico
|Resting place||Panteón de San Fernando|
|Political party||Liberal Party|
(m. 1843; died 1871)
|Alma mater||Sciences and Arts Institute of Oaxaca|
Benito Pablo Juárez García (Spanish: [be'nito 'pa?lo 'xwa?es ga?'si.a] ; 21 March 1806 - 18 July 1872) was a Mexican lawyer and politician, who served as the 26th president of Mexico from 1858 until his death in 1872. He was the first president of Mexico who was of indigenous origin. Born in Oaxaca to a poor Zapotec rural family and orphaned when he was young, he moved to Oaxaca City at the age of 12 to go to school. He was aided by a lay Franciscan, and enrolled in seminary, later studying law at the Institute of Sciences and Arts and becoming a lawyer. After being appointed as a judge, in his 30s he married Margarita Maza, a socially prominent woman of Oaxaca City. From his years in college, he was active in politics. Appointed as head justice of the nation's Supreme Court, Juárez identified primarily as a Liberal politician. In his life, he wrote briefly about his indigenous heritage.
When moderate liberal President Ignacio Comonfort was forced to resign by the Conservatives in 1858, Juárez, as head of the Supreme Court, assumed the presidency and the two governments competed. His succession was codified in the Constitution of 1857 but he survived in internal exile for a period during which he signed the McLane-Ocampo Treaty in 1859. He weathered the War of the Reform (1858-1860), a civil war between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and the French invasion (1861-1867), which was supported by Conservative monarchists. Never relinquishing office, although forced into exile to areas of Mexico not controlled by the French, Juárez tied Liberalism to Mexican nationalism. He asserted his leadership as the legitimate head of the Mexican state, rather than Emperor Maximilian, whom the French had installed.
When the French-backed Second Mexican Empire fell in 1867, the Mexican Republic with Juárez as president regained full power. For his success in ousting the European incursion, Latin Americans considered Juárez's tenure as a time of a "second struggle for independence, a second defeat for the European powers, and a second reversal of the Conquest."
Juárez is revered in Mexico as "a preeminent symbol of Mexican nationalism and resistance to foreign intervention." He understood the importance of a working relationship with the United States, and secured its recognition for his government during the War of the Reform. He held fast to particular principles, including the supremacy of civil power over the Catholic Church and part of the military; respect for law; and the depersonalization of political life. Juárez sought to strengthen the national government, asserting its central power over the states, a position that both radical and provincial liberals opposed.
After his death, the city and state of Oaxaca added "de Juarez" to their formal names in his honor, and numerous other places and institutions were named for him. His birthday (21 March) is celebrated as a national public and patriotic holiday in Mexico. He is the only individual Mexican to be so honored.
Juárez was born in an adobe house in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, located in the mountain range since named for him and now known as the Sierra Juárez. His parents, Brígida García and Marcelino Juárez, were Zapotec peasants. He had an older sister. Both parents died of complications of diabetes when Juárez was three years old. Shortly afterward, his grandparents died as well, so after that his uncle raised him. He described his parents as "indios de la raza primitiva del país," that is, "Indians from the primitive race of the country." He worked in the cornfields and as a shepherd until the age of 12. His sister had moved to the city of Oaxaca for work.
That year he walked to the city of Oaxaca in order to attend school. In the city, he took a job as a domestic servant in the household of Antonio Maza, where his sister worked as a cook. At the time, he could speak only Zapotec.
At this critical time, Juárez was also helped by a lay Franciscan and bookbinder, Antonio Salanueva, who was impressed by the youth's intelligence and desire for learning. Salanueva arranged for his admission to the city's seminary so that he could train to become a priest. His earlier education was rudimentary, but he soon began studying Latin, and completed the secondary curriculum while still too young to be ordained. But, realizing he had no calling to become a priest, Juárez began studying law at the Institute of Sciences and Arts, founded in 1827. It was a center of liberal intellectual life in Oaxaca, and he graduated in 1834.
Even prior to his graduation, Juárez sought political office, and was elected to the Oaxaca city council in 1831. After practicing law and Masonry for several years, in 1841 he was appointed as a civil judge.
On 31 October 1843, when he was in his late 30s, Juárez married Margarita Maza, the adoptive daughter of his sister's patron. Margarita was 20 years younger than the judge. Her father Antonio Maza Padilla was from Genoa and her mother Petra Parada Sigüenza was Mexican, of Spanish descent. They were part of Oaxaca's upper-class society. With the marriage, Juárez gained social standing. Margarita Maza accepted his proposal and said of Juárez, "He is very homely, but very good."
Their ethnically mixed marriage was unusual at the time, but it is not often noted in standard biographies. Their marriage lasted until Margarita's death from cancer in 1871.
Juárez and Maza had twelve children together, three boys and nine girls, including twins María de Jesús and Josefa, born in 1854. Two boys and three girls died in early childhood. Their only surviving son was Benito Luis Narciso Juárez Maza, b. 29 October 1852.
Benito Juárez also had a relationship with Andrea Campa, with whom he had a daughter Beatriz Juárez. Beatriz Juárez married the New Orleans, french man, Robert Savage, with whom she had a son, named Carlos Savage Juárez. Carlos Savage Juárez became a cadet in Mexico's Heroic Military Academy, where he participated in the famous "Marcha de la Lealtad" or "March of Loyalty" of the Mexican ex-president Francisco I. Madero. Carlos Savage Juárez also had children: Carlos, Jesus, Alberto, and Rafael, who would become famous film editors. Carlos Savage (1919-2000) is a renowned Mexican film editor and actor who worked with his brothers in more than 1,000 award winning movies, films and documentaries. Similar to Benito Juarez, Carlos Savage Juárez also had children outside his marriage. In 1921 he had a son with Teresa Campollo named Carlos Savage Campollo, this son died in Tijuana, México in 1973.
The other son of Benito Juarez, Benito Luis Narciso Juárez Maza, also later married a French woman, María Klerian, he and his wife had no children. He was a disappointment, good neither at business nor politics. Although he was appointed as governor of Oaxaca, his biographers concur that he was not a good administrator. Descendants of Juárez-Maza were born through the daughters' families, and the paternal surname was lost.
Juárez had also fathered a son and a daughter with Juana Rosa Chagoya before he married: Tereso, born about 1838, and Susana. His son became close to Juárez during his expatriations and fought in the Reform War. Chagoya died before Juárez married Margarita, when Susana was three years old. The new couple formally adopted Susana. She never married and was with her adoptive mother at her death. Margarita Maza Juárez was buried in the Juárez mausoleum in Mexico City.
Juárez's experiences in political life in Oaxaca were crucial to his later success as a leader. His political affiliation with liberalism developed at the Institute of Arts and Science and his ability to rise in Oaxaca state politics was due to the lack of an entrenched political class of criollos, Mexicans of European descent. The relative openness of the system allowed him and other newcomers to enter politics and gain patronage. He developed a political base and gained an understanding of political maneuvering.
Following Juárez's graduation as a lawyer in 1834, law practice, and service as a civil judge in 1841, he became part of the Oaxaca state government, led by liberal governor Antonio León (1841-1845). He became a prosecutor in the Oaxaca state court and was elected to the state legislature in 1845.
Juárez was subsequently elected to the federal legislature, where he supported Valentín Gómez Farías, who instigated liberal reforms including limitations on the power of the Catholic Church. With the return to the presidency of Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1847, Juárez returned to his practice in Oaxaca.
He was elected governor of the state of Oaxaca, serving from 1847 to 1852. During his tenure as governor, Juárez supported the war effort against the U.S. in the Mexican-American War. Recognizing that the war was lost, he refused Santa Anna's request to regroup and raise new forces. This, as well as his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship of Santa Anna, resulted in his going into exile in New Orleans in 1853, where he worked in a cigar factory. His wife sent him some of her own money there to help with his support. Other Santa Anna opponents were also in exile there, including Melchor Ocampo of Michoacán, who was fiercely anticlerical.
In 1854, Juárez helped draft the liberals' Plan of Ayutla, a document calling for Santa Anna's being deposed and for a convention to draft a new constitution. Faced with growing opposition, Santa Anna was forced to resign in 1855.
With Santa Anna's resignation, Juárez returned to Mexico and became part of the activist liberales (Liberals). They formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma, or Liberal Reform. Juárez served as Minister of Justice and ecclesiastical affairs. During this time, he drafted the law named after him, the Juárez Law, which declared all citizens equal before the law, and restricted the privileges (fueros) of the Catholic Church and the Mexican army. President Álvarez signed the draft into law in 1855.
The Reform laws, sponsored by the puro (pure) wing of the Liberal Party, curtailed the power of the Catholic Church, confiscating Church land, and restricting the military. They tried to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. The Ley Juárez was subsequently incorporated into the Mexican Constitution of 1857. Juárez had no role in drafting the constitution, as he had returned to Oaxaca, where he served again as governor.
The new liberal Constitution of 1857 was promulgated and the new president, Ignacio Comonfort, appointed Juárez as Minister of Government in November 1857. He was elected as President of the Supreme Court of Justice, an office that virtually put its holder as the successor to the President of the Republic. Conservatives led by General Félix María Zuloaga, with the backing of the military and the clergy and under the slogan Religión y Fueros (Religion and Privileges), launched a revolt under the Plan of Tacubaya on 17 December 1857. Comonfort sought to placate the conservative rebels by appointing several conservatives to the Cabinet, dissolving the Congress, and implementing most of the Plan of Tacubaya. Juárez, Ignacio Olvera, and many other liberal deputies and ministers were arrested. The actions did not go far enough for the rebels, and on 11 January 1858, Zuloaga demanded Comonfort's resignation. Comonfort re-established the Congress, and liberated all prisoners, before resigning as president. The conservative forces proclaimed Zuloaga as president on 21 January.
Under the terms of the 1857 Constitution, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice became interim President of Mexico until a new election could be held. Juárez was acknowledged as president by liberals on 15 January 1858 and assumed leadership of the Liberal side of the civil war known as the War of the Reform (Guerra de Reforma), (1858-60). During this war, Mexico had rival governments of the liberals under Juárez, in a constitutional succession, and the rebellious conservatives under Félix María Zuloaga.
With the conservatives in control of Mexico City, Juárez and his government fled. First they went to Querétaro and later to Veracruz, whose customs revenues were used to fund the government's expenditure.
On 4 May 1858, Juárez arrived in Veracruz where the government of Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora was stationed with General Ignacio de la Llave. His wife and children were waiting for his arrival on the dock at Veracruz's port, along with a large part of the population that had flooded the pier to greet him.
Juárez lived many months in Veracruz without incident until conservative General Miguel Miramón's attack on the port on 30 March 1859. On 6 April, Juárez received a diplomatic representative of the United States Government: Robert Milligan McLane. Following this visit, Juárez's government and the US signed a treaty, the McLane-Ocampo Treaty, in December 1859. President James Buchanan was unable to secure ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate.
The failure of the U.S. to ratify the treaty meant that Mexico's sovereignty was not later undermined by giving free passage to the U.S. across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which Juárez had agreed to. But, under his leadership, Mexico received aid from the US that enabled the liberals to overcome the conservatives' initial military advantage. Juárez's government successfully defended Veracruz from assault twice during 1860, and recaptured Mexico City on 1 January 1861.
On 12 July 1859, Juárez decreed the first regulations of the "Law of Nationalization of the Ecclesiastical Wealth." This enactment prohibited the Catholic Church from owning properties in Mexico. Because of Juárez's Law of Nationalization, the Catholic Church and the regular army supported the Conservatives in the Reform War. On the other hand, the Liberals had the support of several state governments in the north and central-west of the country, as well as that of President Buchanan's government.
Due to the initial weakness of the Juárez administration, conservatives Félix María Zuloaga and Leonardo Márquez had the opportunity to reclaim power. To counter this, Juárez petitioned Congress to give him emergency powers. The liberal members of Congress denied the petition, believing that they had to preserve their constitutional government achieved only after a damaging civil war. They did not believe that Juárez, who had implemented that constitution, should violate it by taking dictatorial powers.
But, after two groups of conservatives ambushed and killed major liberal politicians Melchor Ocampo and later Santos Degollado in 1861, the liberals were outraged. Juárez took "extreme measures" to deal with the conservatives. After the scandal of Ocampo's murder, the liberal-majority Congress gave Juárez the money and power that he needed to defeat the conservatives.
After the defeat of the Conservatives on the battlefield, in March 1861 elections were held and Juárez was elected president in his own right under the Constitution of 1857. However, the Liberals' celebrations of 1861 were short-lived. The war had severely damaged Mexico's infrastructure and crippled its economy. Although the Conservatives had been defeated, they did not disappear, and the Juárez government had to respond to pressures from these factions. He was forced to grant amnesty to captured Conservative guerrillas still resisting the Juárez government, despite their executions of Ocampo and Degollado.
In the wake of the civil war and the demobilization of combatants, Juárez established the Rural Guard or Rurales, aimed at bringing public security, particularly as banditry and rural unrest grew. Many brigands and bandits had allied themselves with the Liberal cause during the civil war. When that conflict was concluded and they were unable to gain jobs, many became guerrillas and bandits again.
Juárez's Minister of the Interior, Francisco Zarco, oversaw the founding of the Rurales. The creation of the police force controlled by the President was done quietly because it violated federalist principles of traditional Liberalism, which gave little power to the central government and much to Mexican states. The force's creation was an indication that Juárez was becoming more of a centralist as he confronted rural unrest. As a pragmatic solution, the force consisted of former bandits converted into policemen.
Juárez's government also faced international dangers. In view of the government's desperate financial straits, Juárez canceled repayments of interest on foreign loans taken out by the defeated conservatives. Spain, Britain and France, angry over unpaid Mexican debts, sent a joint expeditionary force that seized the Veracruz Customs House in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew. They realized that the French Emperor Napoleon III intended to overthrow the Juárez government and establish a Second Mexican Empire, with the support of remaining Conservatives. Thus began the French invasion in 1861 and the outbreak of an even longer war, with Liberals attempting to oust the foreign invaders and their Conservative allies and save the Republic.
Republican forces under Ignacio Zaragoza won an initial victory over the monarchists on 5 May 1862, the Battle of Puebla, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo, forcing the French to retreat to the coast for a year. But the French advanced again in 1863 and captured Mexico City.
Juárez and his elected government fled the capital and became a government in exile, with little power or territorial control. Juárez headed north, first to San Luis Potosí, then to the arid northern city of El Paso del Norte, present-day Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and finally to the capital of the state, Chihuahua City, where he set up his cabinet. There he remained for the next two and a half years. Meanwhile, Maximilian von Habsburg, younger brother of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, was proclaimed Emperor as Maximilian I of Mexico on 20 April 1864, with the backing of Napoleon III and a group of Mexican conservatives.
Before Juárez fled, Congress granted him an emergency extension of his presidency. It went into effect in 1865, when his term expired, and lasted until 1867, when his forces defeated the last of Maximilian's forces.
In response to the French invasion and the elevation of Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico, Juárez sent General Plácido Vega y Daza to California to gather Mexican American sympathy for republican Mexico. Maximilian offered Juárez amnesty and later the post of prime minister, but Juárez refused to accept a government "imposed by foreigners," or a monarchy. The US government was sympathetic to Juárez, refusing to recognize Maximilian and opposing the French invasion as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Most of its attention was taken up by the American Civil War.
Juárez's wife, Margarita Maza, and their children spent the invasion in exile in New York, where she met several times with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who received her as the First Lady of Mexico. The careers of Juárez and Abraham Lincoln have been likened, because they were two presidents who shared humble social origins, a law career, a rapidly ascending political career in their home states, and a presidency that began under the auspices of a civil war that made long-lasting reform a necessity. But they never met nor exchanged correspondence. Following the end of the American Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson succeeded to the US presidency. He demanded that the French evacuate Mexico and imposed a naval blockade in February 1866.
When Johnson could not get sufficient support in Congress to aid Juárez, he allegedly had the Army "lose" some supplies (including rifles) "near" (across) the border with Mexico, according to U.S. General Philip Sheridan's journal account.[page needed] In his memoirs, Sheridan stated that he had supplied arms and ammunition to Juárez's forces: "... which we left at convenient places on our side of the river to fall into their hands".
Faced with US opposition to a French presence and a growing threat on the European mainland from Prussia, French troops began pulling out of Mexico in late 1866. Maximilian's liberal views had cost him support from Mexican conservatives as well. In 1867, the last of the Emperor's forces were defeated.
Maximilian was sentenced to death by a military court, a retaliation for Maximilian's earlier orders for the execution of republican soldiers (although some historians point to the fact that the original "Black Decree" was from Juárez - who had people executed, without trial, for "helping" his enemies, whereas Maximilian often pardoned people who had fought against him). Despite national and international pleas for amnesty, Juárez refused to commute the sentence. Maximilian was executed by firing squad on 19 June 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas in Querétaro. His last words had been "¡Viva México!". His body was returned to Vienna for burial.
The period following the expulsion of the French and up to the revolt of Porfirio Díaz in 1876 are now commonly known in Mexico as the Restored Republic. The period includes the last years of the Juárez presidency and, following his death in office in 1872, that of fellow civilian politician Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. Juárez did not leave power following the end of the French invasion. He won the presidency in 1867, and immediately requested and obtained special powers from Congress to rule by decree.
In 1867, the liberals' former nemesis, General Antonio López de Santa Anna and President of the Republic multiple times, sought to return to Mexico from exile. The U.S. had pledged to support Juárez, and prevented Santa Anna from disembarking in Veracruz, his home region and political base. Veracruz was still in French imperial hands when Santa Anna attempted to land in June 1867, and the possibility that he might liberate the port from them was a distinct possibility. This could have paved the way for a political comeback threatening Juárez. Juárez's forces diverted the general, who landed in Sisal, Yucatán. He was arrested before a military court on 14 July 1867.
He was accused of being a traitor to Mexico, and Juárez sought the use of the law of 25 January 1862 that mandated death for traitors, a fate for Maximilian and two of his generals. The military tribunal decided that Santa Anna should be sentenced to eight years of further exile. Juárez had been expecting a sentence of death, and was proceeding to have all of Santa Anna's landed property confiscated and sold off. Juárez issued a general amnesty for all political opponents in October 1870, but explicitly excluded Santa Anna. The general responded angrily, listing his many heroic military deeds for his homeland, asking contemptuously where the civilian Juárez was then, and calling him a "dark Indian," a "hyena," and "a symbol of cruelty." But only after Juárez died in office was Santa Anna able to return to Mexico.
Juárez began instituting major reforms, which had constitutional force with the re-establishment of republican government. One such reform was in education. An elite preparatory school was founded in Mexico City in 1868, the National Preparatory School.
Juárez ran for re-election in 1871 and opposition candidate, liberal General Porfirio Díaz, issued the Plan of la Noria call to arms against him. Juárez's enemies joined Díaz's revolt for their own reasons. The 1871 election was thrown to congress to decide, and since it was packed with his supporters, Juárez prevailed, despite fraud charges and widespread controversy.
During his last two terms, Juárez used the office of the presidency to ensure electoral success, obtain personal gains, and suppress revolts by opponents.
Juárez died of a heart attack on 18 July 1872, aged 66, while reading a newspaper at his desk in the National Palace in Mexico City. He was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, the head of the Supreme Court and a close political ally.
Today Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy, equal rights for his nation's indigenous peoples, reduction in the power of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, and a defense of national sovereignty. He is also remembered for his brutality and his executions of political opponents. The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North). It constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, the subordination of the army to civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and the nearly complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the "Juárez Law" or "Ley Juárez".
La Reforma represented the triumph of Mexico's liberal, federalist, anti-clerical, and pro-capitalist forces over the conservative, centralist, corporatist, and theocratic elements that sought to reconstitute a locally run version of the old colonial system. It replaced a semi-feudal social system with a more market-driven one. But, following Juárez's death, the lack of adequate democratic and institutional stability soon resulted in a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato (1876-1911), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.
Monuments and statuary Benito Juárez is notable for the number of statues and monuments in his honor outside of Mexico.
Film and media
Juárez Complex National Palace In the National Palace in Mexico City, where he lived while in power, there is a small museum in his honor. It contains his furniture and personal effects.
Living room, dining room, study and bedroom of don Benito Juárez
Juárez's quote continues to be well-remembered in Mexico: "Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz", meaning "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace". The portion of this motto in bold is inscribed on the coat of arms of Oaxaca. A portion is inscribed on the Juárez statue in Bryant Park in New York City, "Respect for the rights of others is peace." This quote summarizes Mexico's stances towards foreign affairs.
Another notable quote: "La ley ha sido siempre mi espada y mi escudo", or "The law has always been my shield and my sword", is a phrase often displayed inside court and tribunals buildings.
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