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Benito Pablo Juárez García ( ) (March 21, 1806 – July 18, 1872) was a Zapotec Amerindian who served five terms as president of Mexico: 1858–1861 as interim, 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871 and 1871–1872. Benito Juárez was the first Mexican leader who did not have a military background, and also the first full-blooded indigenous national to serve as President of Mexico and to lead a country in the Western Hemisphere in over 300 years. For resisting the French occupation, overthrowing the Empire, and restoring the Republic, as well as for his efforts to modernize the country, Juárez is often regarded as one of Mexico's greatest and most beloved leader. Several towns, schools, parks, streets and monuments have been named to honor and remember him. As with many historic figures,some of his achievements and clean image are more myth than reality. During his presidency, Juarez was also known for refusing to leave power, manipulating election results and moving against political enemies. In fact, Juarez managed to hold to power for 14 years. Second only to Porfirio Diaz. Ironically, many of the military battles that allowed Juarez to remain in power and win his reputation as a historical figure, were actually won by Diaz himself who is today vilified by Mexican history.

Early life

Juárez was born in the small village of San Pablo Guelataomarker, Oaxacamarker in March 21,1806, located in the mountain range now known as the "Sierra Juárezmarker." His parents, Marcelino Juárez and Brígida García, were peasants who died when he was three years old. He described his parents as "Indios de la raza primitiva del país," 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.

Political career

Juárez 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 López de Santa Anna. He spent his exile in New Orleans, Louisianamarker, 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 Juárez returned to Mexico. The winning party, the liberales (liberals) formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, 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. The Ley Juárez (Juárez'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. Juárez became Chief Justice, under moderado (moderate) president Ignacio Comonfort.

The conservadores (conservatives) led by General Félix Zuloaga, with the backing of the military and the clergy, launched a revolt under the Plan of Tacubaya on December 17, 1857. Comonfort didn't want to start a bloody civil war, so made an auto-coup d'état, dissolved the congress and appointed a new cabinet, in which the conservative party would have some influence, assuming in real terms the Tacubaya plan. Juárez, 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. Juárez took office in late January 1858. Juárez then led the liberal side in the Mexican War of the Reform, first from Querétaromarker and later from Veracruzmarker. In 1859, Juárez 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. Juárez was finally properly elected president in March for another four-year term, under the Constitution of 1857.

Faced with bankruptcy and a war-savaged economy, Juárez 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, but 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 Juárez and his elected government to retreat to the north, first to San Luis Potosímarker, then to the arid northern city of El Paso del Norte, present day Ciudad Juárezmarker, Chihuahuamarker, and finally to the capital of the state, Chihuahua Citymarker, 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 Juárez 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, Juárez sent General Plácido Vega y Daza to the U.S. State of Californiamarker to gather Mexican American sympathy for Mexico's plight. Maximilian, who personally harbored liberal and Mexican nationalist sympathies, offered Juárez amnesty, and later the post of prime minister, but Juárez 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 Juárez' 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, Juárez 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 México!'

Juárez 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 Díaz. Benito Juárez died of a heart attack in 1872 while working at his desk in the National Palacemarker in Mexico City. He was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, his foreign minister.

Historical context

Mosaic chronicling the life & challenges of Benito Juarez.
Oaxaca, Mexico.
Juarez lived during a cataclysmic time in Mexican history. A group of conservatives and a group of liberals fought continuously to acquire power. When the liberal party assumed political power in 1855, they promulgated a new constitution called “Constitucion de 1857.” As a consequence of the liberal inclination of the constitution, the Catholic Church and the military lost political privileges, for example, there were special courts for military and clericals that were eradicated by the new laws. The Catholic Church was very powerful in Mexico. During Juarez’s administration there was a separation from the government and the Church by a law called “The Reform.” In 1859 Juarez decided to confiscate church properties. Since the Church was such a powerful and influential identity in Mexico, by reducing its power, Benito Juarez automatically became a controversial political figure.

During the 19th century Mexico was characterized by political, social and economical instability. The balance of power in the American continent moved remarkably to the United Statesmarker. In 1836 Texasmarker gained its independence from Mexico. Afterwards, Mexico also lost the territory that today constitutes the American states of Arizonamarker, Californiamarker and New Mexicomarker. Twenty six years later in 1862, Napoleon III, attempted to establish a French colony in Mexico.

In 1864 the conservatives along with the French intervention won and established an empire in Mexico and they helped Maximilian rule the country. Maximilian had the support of France and the conservatives. However, by this time Juarez was leading the liberals, he had support from the United States government, and he was recognized as a ruler in exile. While this was taking place France was threatened by a Prussian invasion; therefore, the French started to return the troops that were occupying Mexico. In 1867, the liberals won the war and Juarez ordered Maximilian to be executed. Juarez was then recognized as a person that saved and rescued the nation from foreign invasion.

The story behind the myth

Mexico was a vulnerable country in the 19th century invaded by two powerful nations; the United States and Francemarker. Napoleon III invaded Mexico while the United States was preoccupied by its civil war. Both nations lent money to Mexico; however, it was not because they were interested in helping the Mexicans, but strictly for economical and political reasons. The United States rooted its support for Juarez in the Monroe Doctrine. They wanted to shield the Western Hemisphere from European influences. This left Juarez as the favored Mexican candidate of the United States government. Juarez would not have defeated the conservatives and Maximilian without some intervention from the United States.

Tomás Mejía (1820-1867), a Mexican general, opposed the Liberal Reform Movement, and was shot along with Maximilian under Juarez’s orders. Afterward, liberals that were in power by that time erased his name from history in order to clean their reputation. Mejía was powerful because of his father who was a cacique, a person who owned massive amounts of land. He fought in the war against the United States in 1846 and 1847. He was an expert in irregular warfare. Mejía and other conservative generals opposed the McLane-Ocampo Treaty of 1859 because it allowed the United States to cross Mexican territory. Mejía perceived the Treaty as a threat towards Catholicism, race, and Mexican customs and traditions. After the Liberals achieved political control, Mejía took refuge in the mountains along with 1500 men. The 7,000 man force sent by Juarez failed to defeat him. Then Juarez offered a 10,000 pesos bounty, saying that Mejia was a threat to national security and stability.

Juarez was married to Margarita Maza. They knew each other because Juarez and his sister had worked as household servants in the Mazas' house. Juarez’ liberal perspective was highly influenced by the Mazas who were a wealthy Italian family. Margarita Maza was taught to read and write, which was unusual for women in that era. Margarita supported and influenced her husband’s decisions. When Juarez was governor of Oaxacamarker, he was influenced by the modern ideas of equality of his wife, and decided to establish public cemeteries throughout the state. Juarez was highly criticized in those times. His critics said that he was not concerned about the traditions and customs of the towns, since public cemeteries did not agree with Catholic teaching and established customs.


Today Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy, equal rights for his nation's indigenous peoples, lessening the great power that the Roman Catholic Church then held over Mexican politics, and the defence of national sovereignty. The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma (the reform), and constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, bringing the army under civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and also led to the almost-complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers.

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 led to a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato (Porfirist era), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

March 21 is a day set to commemorate Juarez. This date has become a national holiday in Mexico, which has continued to grow in acceptance within the Mexican Culture. The image of Juarez has been evolving in order to support and to legitimize a specific group in power. The image that people now have of Juarez is a result of the political conflict that happened in Mexico in the XIX century. The reason that the winning liberal party idolized Juarez was to reinforce their authority and to control and maintain social order. The liberal party created a history of heroes and villains in order to hide their mistakes and make their victories seem more important. They also tried to create nationalism within the nation and that was an important reason why they glorified Juarez after his death.Recently, local governors of the conservative National Action Party in the states of Aguascalientesmarker, Nuevo Leonmarker and Guanajuatomarker attempted to change the names of streets, parks, and monuments that were associated with Juarez and the Reform War claiming that Juarez was not the character that most people think he was.


Monument to Juárez, Mexico City.

Juárez's famous quotation 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." It is inscribed on the coat of arms of Oaxaca.

When Maximilian proposed a meeting with Juárez and offered him the post of Prime Minister of the Empire, Juárez was fleeing with his wife and children from Maximilian's and French armies, and he replied to the Emperor's proposal as follows:

"You assure me that you have no doubt that if I accept this meeting, the peace and happiness of the Mexican nation will result from it, and that the Empire will reserve for me a distinguished position, seeking the help of my talents and patriotism. Certainly, sir, the history of our times registers the names of great traitors who have violated their oaths, their word and their promises; they have betrayed their own party, their principles, their ancestors and everything an honorable man holds sacred. Furthermore, in all these cases, the traitor has been guided by a vile ambition of power and a miserable desire to satisfy his own passions and even his own vices. However, the man currently in charge of the presidency of the Republic, a man who came out of the dark masses of the common people, will succumb - if such is the design of Providence - after fulfilling his duty until the end, in accordance with the trust of the nation over which he presides and having satisfied the requirements of his own conscience. I must conclude due to my lack of time, but I will add a last observation. It is given to men, sometimes, to attack the rights of others, to seize their goods, to threaten the lives of those who defend their nation, to make the highest virtues seem crimes, and to give their own vices the luster of true virtue. But there is one thing that cannot be influenced either by falsification or betrayal, namely the tremendous verdict of history. It is she who will judge us."


  • Juárez' picture appears in Mexican currency in the twenty-pesos bill.
  • The anniversary of Juárez's birth (March 21) is a national holiday in Mexico (See: Fiestas Patrias ).
  • Juárez was given the title of "Benemérito de las Américas" ("the meritorious one of the Americas") by the government of the Republic of Colombiamarker, on May 1, 1865. The Congress of Colombia proclaimed in such date: "The Congress of Colombia, in the name of the people it represents, and facing the unselfishness and the undeniable perseverance that Señor Benito Juárez, in his role of constitutional President of Mexico, has launched towards the defence of the independence and freedom of his homeland, proclaims that citizen Juárez has deserved the title of Asset of the Americas, and as a homage to such virtues, and as an example to the Colombian youth, has ruled that the portrait of this eminent statesman will be displayed at the National Library with the following script:

"The Congress of 1865 dedicates, in the name of the Colombian people, this homage attesting his fortitude in defending the freedom and independence of México."

==People and Places named after Juárez==hjhhh
  • A great number of cities, towns, streets, institutions, and other things are named after Benito Juárez; see Juárez for a partial list.
  • Benito Mussolini, Dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, was named after Benito Juárez by his Socialist parents. ("Benedetto" is the normal form in Italian.)
  • Mexico City International Airportmarker was formally named Benito Juarez in 2006.
  • There is a road named after him Benito Juarez road, New Delhi-110021

See also


  1. Mexico's Lincoln: The Ecstasy and Agony of Benito Juarez
  2. O'Neil, Daniel J. “The Cult of Benito Juarez.” Journal of Latin American Lore 4.1 (1978): 49-61.
  3. Hamnett, Brian. “Mexican Conservatives, Clericals, and Soldiers: the ‘Traitor’ Tomas Mejia through Reform and Empire, 1855-1867.” Bulletin of Latin American Issues 20.2 (2001): 187-209.
  4. Gugliotta, Bobette. “A First Lady’s Courageous Voyage.” Americas 44.2 (1992): 20-25.
  5. Hamnett, Brian. “Mexican Conservatives, Clericals, and Soldiers: the ‘Traitor’ Tomas Mejia through Reform and Empire, 1855-1867.” Boletin of Latin American Issues 20.2 (2001): 187-209.
  6. Jiménez Marce, Rogelio. “La Creación de una Geología Liberal” Historias (2002): 27-49.
Pi-Suñer Llorens, Antonia. “Benito Juárez Hombre o Mito.” Revista de Historia y Ciencias Sociales (1988): 9-13.

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