American Aid to Benito Juarez

One of the more interesting periods in American-Mexican relations was during the occupation of Mexico by Napoleon III beginning in 1862, followed by the imposition of Maximilian I of Austria as Emperor of Mexico through a rigged plebiscite in 1864.  From the beginning, the Lincoln administration looked askance at the French attempt to transform Mexico into a French colony.  In the midst of Civil War all Lincoln could do was to convey his best wishes to Mexican President Benito Juarez who was carrying out a guerilla war against the French occupation.

After the War President Andrew Johnson sent General Phil Sheridan to the Rio Grande as a sign of American displeasure with the French occupation.  Secretary of State Seward, fearing a war with France, opposed attempts to pressure France or to supply the Juaristas.  Generals Grant and Sheridan, recalling with ire the desire by Emperor Maximilian to have an alliance with the Confederacy, clandestinely supplied the Juaristas with funds and weapons, Sheridan noting in his journal the supplying of 30,000 rifled muskets.  3,000 Union veterans went south of the border to join Juarista armies. Johnson privately approved all of this, even clandestinely meeting with an ambassador from Juarez, while publicly merely indicating that the US wanted France to withdraw from Mexico, and that what happened after this was a purely internal Mexican matter.

With the withdrawal of the French troops in 1866, the Juarista armies, largely armed and funded by the United States, easily defeated Maximilian in 1867, who was executed following a trial, and who died with great courage.  His last words were:  “I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. Viva Mexico, viva la independencia!” Juarez had refused pleas from around the world to commute the sentence of the court-martial, correctly I think, in view of the tens of thousands of Mexicans killed during the French intervention, and that  he thought that Mexico needed to send a clear message that it would tolerate no further infringement on its independence.

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One Comment

  1. Wow, interesting.


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