Benito Juarez

Category: Mexico
Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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Juarez was born in the village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca on March 21, 1807, located in the mountain range now known as the "Sierra Juarez". His parents, Marcelino Juarez and Brigida Garcia, were peasants who both died when he was three years old. Shortly after, his grandparents died as well, in which his uncle then raised him. He described his parents as "indios de la raza primitiva del pais," that is, "Indians of the original race of the country. " He worked in the corn fields and as a shepherd until the age of 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to attend school.

At the time, he was illiterate and could not speak Spanish, only Zapotec. In the city, where his sister worked as a cook, he took a job as a domestic servant for Antonio Maza. A lay Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva, was impressed with young Benito's intelligence and thirst for learning, and arranged for his placement at the city's seminary. He studied there but decided to pursue law rather than the priesthood. He graduated from the seminary in 1827 and went on to gain a degree in law. In 1843 Benito married Margarita Maza.Benito Juarez with his sister Nela (left) and his wife Margarita (right), 1843 Political career Juarez became a lawyer in 1834 and a judge in 1841.

He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1852; in 1853, he went into exile because of his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He spent his exile in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in a cigar factory. In 1854 he helped draft the Plan of Ayutla as the basis for a liberal revolution in Mexico. Faced with growing opposition, Santa Anna resigned in 1855 and Juarez returned to Mexico.The winning party, the liberales (liberals) formed a provisional government under General Juan Alvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma. The Reform laws sponsored by the puro (pure) wing of the Liberal Party curtailed the power of the Catholic Church and the military, while trying to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the U. S. model.

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The Ley Juarez (Juarez's Law) of 1855, for example, abolished special clerical and military privileges, and declared all citizens equal before the law. All the efforts ended on the promulgation of the new federalist constitution. Juarez became Chief Justice, under moderado (moderate) president Ignacio Comonfort. The conservatives led by General Felix Zuloaga, with the backing of the military and the clergy, launched a revolt under the Plan of Tacubaya on December 17, 1857. Comonfort did not want to start a bloody civil war, so made an auto-coup d'etat, dissolved the congress and appointed a new cabinet, in which the conservative party would have some influence, assuming in real terms the Tacubaya plan. Juarez, Ignacio Olvera, and many other deputies and ministers were arrested.

The rebels wanted the constitution revoked completely and another all-conservative government formed, so they launched another revolt on January 11, 1858, proclaiming Zuloaga as president. Comonfort re-established the congress, freeing all the prisoners and resigned as president. Under the new constitution, the chief justice immediately became interim president until proper elections could be made. Juarez took office in late January 1858. Juarez then led the liberal side in the Mexican War of the Reform, first from Queretaro and later from Veracruz. In 1859, Juarez took the radical step of declaring the confiscation of church properties. In spite of the conservatives' initial military advantage, the liberals drew on support of regionalist forces.

They had U. S. help under some terms of the controversial and never approved McLane-Ocampo treaty. This turned the tide in 1860; the liberals recaptured Mexico City in January 1861. Juarez was finally properly elected president in March for another four-year term, under the Constitution of 1857. Bust of Benito Juarez in Guanajuato, Mexico.Faced with bankruptcy and a war-savaged economy, Juarez declared a moratorium on foreign debt payments.

Spain, Great Britain, and France reacted with a joint seizure of the Veracruz customs house in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew after realizing that the French Emperor Napoleon III used the episode as a pretext to launch the French intervention in Mexico in 1862, with plans to establish a conservative regime. The Mexicans won an initial victory over the French at Puebla in 1862, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo (May 5). The French advanced again in 1863, forcing Juarez and his elected government to retreat to the north, first to San Luis Potosi, then to the arid northern city of El Paso del Norte, present day Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and finally to the capital of the state, Chihuahua City, where he set up his cabinet and government-in-exile. There he would remain for the next two and one-half years. Meanwhile Maximilian von Habsburg, a younger brother of the Emperor of Austria, was proclaimed Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico on April 10, 1864 with the backing of Napoleon III and a group of Mexican conservatives. Before Juarez fled, Congress granted him an emergency extension of his presidency, which would go into effect in 1865, when his term expired, and last until 1867 when the last of Maximilian's forces were defeated.

In response to the French intervention and the elevation of Maximilian, Juarez sent General Placido Vega y Daza to the U. S. State of California to gather Mexican American sympathy for Mexico's plight. Maximilian, who personally harbored liberal and Mexican nationalist sympathies, offered Juarez amnesty, and later the post of prime minister, but Juarez refused to accept either a government "imposed by foreigners", or a monarchy.A legitimate Mexican throne had existed long before him, founded by Emperor Augustine I after independence had been achieved in 1821, but was abolished only a year later, during a domestic crisis. With its own civil war over, President Andrew Johnson invoked the Monroe Doctrine to give diplomatic recognition to Juarez' government and supply weapons and funding to the Republican forces. When he could get no support in Congress, he supposedly had the Army "lose" some supplies (including rifles) "near" (across) the border with Mexico.

He would not even meet with representatives of Maximilian. Gen. Philip Sheridan wrote in his journal about how he "misplaced" 30,000 muskets close to Mexico. Faced with this and a growing threat from Prussia, the French troops began pulling out of Mexico in late 1866. Mexican conservatism was a spent force and was less than pleased with the liberal Maximilian. In 1867 the last of the Emperor's forces were defeated and Maximilian was sentenced to death by a military court. Despite national and international pleas for amnesty, Juarez refused to commute the sentence, and Maximilian was executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas in Queretaro.

His body was returned to Europe for burial. His last words had been, '? Viva Mexico! ' Juarez was controversially re-elected President in 1867 and 1871, using the office of the presidency to ensure electoral success and suppressing revolts by opponents such as Porfirio Diaz. Benito Juarez died of a heart attack in 1872 while working at his desk in the National Palace in Mexico City. He was succeeded by Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, his foreign minister.

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Benito Juarez. (2018, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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