Sparring partners before and after the Mexican War of Independence, included the liberal Republicans and the conservative Imperials. Dominated on one side with the goal of encouraging a controlling monarchy (Imperialists), the other side was adamant that a reformed democracy should be put into place (Republicans), with the two parties remaining at odds with each other over their ideas, for decades. Finally, a bloody end game resulted in a few deposed monarchs (that were under the influence of Bonaparte), after the 1820s French invasion of the region.
Over the years leading up to 1862, the disputes between the liberals and the conservatives had resulted in two failed Republics, the loss of several northern lands to the United States, and a bloody civil war sparked by attempts at reform. The fight ended in 1861, and then-president Benito Juarez suspended all interest payments to his European debtors in an effort to help support the shattered Mexican economy. This did not go over well in Great Britain, Spain, and France; while all three countries originally agreed to sail to the New World to receive their money, the first two nations backed out when they realized that Emperor Napoleon III intended to invade permanently.
The capital city was overtaken in 1863 after French ships had landed the previous year, and were helped by locals that wanted to see the continuation of more traditional forms of rule (read: dictatorial) means. Declaring the nation to be a new Empire, Napoleon III offered the Mexican crown to his ally, Maximilian, a member of the Austrian nobility. He and his wife, Charlotte, moved into the Chapultepec castle in May 1864, becoming the Emperor and Empress of this brand new monarchy. Meanwhile, France’s forces continued their invasion of the countryside.
He was stuck in a difficult position, even though as leaders go he was a very progressive thinker. He favored a limited monarchy that worked alongside a democratically elected set of representatives, enacted laws forbidding child labor and abolished the land tenancy acts which had effectively rendered the indigenous populations serfs on their own property. He also forgave all peasant debts over 10 pesos. Unfortunately, the Republicans shunned the creation of a monarchy and his beneficial ideas didn’t appeal to the Imperialist forces who had placed him on the throne.
The Emperor was in power for less than three years; With some token support from the USA (which had just won it’s own civil war), the liberal faction began to reacquire some French dominated areas in 1865. Napoleon III announced that his armies would begin to withdraw from Mexico in 1866; without their support, the Imperialist troops lost battle after battle to the Republicans. Finally, in February 1867, the liberals recaptured the capital, re-instating Benito Juarez as President (who upheld many of the policy reforms that had been put in place by the beleaguered monarch).
Maximilian was executed despite pleas from most of Europe to spare him; another foreign-instigated government would not be tolerated by the victors, and it was a symbol to them. The Republicans ruled unchallenged for the next few years because the Conservative party, which had supported Napoleon III, had completely lost favor in the minds of the public.
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