Mexican Crisis - 1865

The spread of late eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophy, together with the egalitarian example of the American and French revolutions, motivated Mexican-born whites (criollos) to seek greater autonomy and social status within the colonial system. Discrimination against criollos in the granting of high offices had long been a source of contention between Spain and Mexico City. In 1808 the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Napoleon Bonaparte and the forced abdication of the Spanish king, Charles IV, disrupted Spain's faltering authority over Mexico. Rejecting the puppet regime installed by France, the incumbent viceroy allied himself with the criollos and declared an independent junta ostensibly loyal to Charles IV. Allies of the Napoleonic regime responded by staging a coup and installing a new viceroy, an action that set the stage for war between criollos and Spanish loyalists.

On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a criollo parish priest, issued the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), a call to arms against Spanish rule that mobilized the Indian and mestizo populations and launched the Mexican war of independence. After a brief siege of Mexico City by insurgents in 1814, Spanish forces waged a successful counteroffensive that had nearly annihilated the rebels by 1820. However, the tide turned in favor of the criollos in February 1821, when a loyalist officer, Augustín de Iturbide, spurned the newly established constitutional monarchy in Spain and defected with his army to the rebels. Under the conservative Plan of Iguala, the rebel army agreed to respect the rights of Spanish-born whites (peninsulares) and preserve the traditional privileges (fueros) and land titles of the Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish, now outmaneuvered politically as well as militarily, lost the will to continue the war and recognized Mexican independence in September 1821.

Upon the withdrawal of Spain, Iturbide declared himself emperor of Mexico and Central America. Within months, however, his imperial regime was bankrupt and had lost the support of the criollo elite. In February 1823, Iturbide was overthrown by republican forces led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Mexican empire was dissolved when the United Provinces of Central America declared their independence in July 1823. Clashes between the conservative and liberal parties dominated politics during the early republic. Conservatives, who advocated a centralized republic governed from Mexico City and the maintenance of clerical and military fueros, had the support of the Roman Catholic Church and much of the army. Liberals, on the other hand, advocated federalism, secularism, and the elimination of fueros.

In January 1858 after unsuccessful efforts by Comonfort to craft a political compromise, the factions took up arms, and the government was forced from office. A three-year civil war between conservative and liberal armies, known as the War of the Reform, engulfed the country. During this internal conflict, foreign nationals were indiscriminately insulted, robbed, injured, and murdered. In 1859, Mexican conservatives borrowed money from European banks to finance a war against the liberal faction of Benito Juarez. After initial setbacks, the liberals, led by the prominent Zapotec Indian politician and former vice president Benito Juárez, gained the upper hand. In January 1861, the liberals regained control of Mexico City and elected Juárez president. Juarez refused to pay the debts contracted by his enemies.

The three major States that had nationals injured and debts unpaid - Great Britain, Spain, and France - collectively agreed in the Convention of London, signed 31 October 1861, to intervene in Mexico with forces of sufficient size to seize and occupy different fortresses and military positions on the coast of Mexico. Article II of the Convention specified that: "The High Contracting Parties engage not to seek for themselves, through the employment of the coercive measures contemplated by the present convention, any acquisition of territory, nor any particular advantage, nor to exercise in the internal affairs of Mexico any influence tending to abridge the right of the Mexican nation freely to decide upon and establish the form of its government." The signatories of the Convention agreed that the expeditionary forces should consist of 6,000 Spaniards and 3,000 Frenchmen, with Great Britain contributing a naval division and a landing force of 700 Marines. On 14 December 1861, the Spanish fleet sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz and three days later disembarked troops that entered the city. The combined French and British expedition arrived at Vera Cruz on 7 January 1862, and at once began to disembark more troops.

Subsequent conferences between the three Powers revealed growing dissension over the purpose of the intervention. France revealed intentions beyond the mere exaction of damages for wrongs done to its nationals, while Great Britain and Spain continued to adhere to Article II of the Convention of London. Nevertheless, negotiations were initiated with the Mexican government. As the negotiations proceeded, however, the lack of consensus of the parties to the Convention emerged.

France sent substantial reinforcements, allegedly to guard against any disaster to the French troops as they marched into the interior of the country. Additional disputes arose over France's introduction back into the country of exiled Mexicans who had supported the prior monarchy in opposition to the two ruling Constitutionalists. The final rupture occurred at a conference held between the three Powers on 9 April 1862. Great Britain and Spain declared that, if France did not disassociate herself from the exiled Mexicans and continued to support the exiles' determination not to take part in pending negotiations with the Mexican government, they would withdraw their troops from Mexico. When the French refused, the British and Spanish terminated their role in the intervention, lowering their flags at Vera Cruz at sunset on 24 April 1862.

France then initiated an independent policy aimed at the installation of a French-controlled monarch under Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. In May 1863 the French occupied Mexico City. The French emperor, Napoleon III, sent a total force of 25,000 man to Mexico. Although this was a direct challenge to the Monroe Doctrine, Napoleon reasoned correctly that the United States was too preoccupied at that time with its own rebellion to do anything in response. Drawing on the support of the Mexican conservatives, Napoleon III installed Austrian prince Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg as Mexican Emperor Maximilian I in the spring of 1864.

On 09 April 1865 General Lee met General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse and formally surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The military might of the United States was put on display late in May 1865 when Meade's and Sherman's armies participated in a grand review in Washington, Sherman's army alone taking six and one-half hours to pass the reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a spectacle well calculated to impress on Confederate and foreign leaders alike that only a strong government could field such a powerful force.

But even as these troops were preparing for their victory march, the War Department sent Sheridan to command an aggregate force of about 80,000 men in the territory west of the Mississippi and south of the Arkansas, of which he put about 52,000 in Texas. There Sheridan's men put muscle behind previous diplomatic protests against the presence of French troops in Mexico. While the Civil War lasted, the United States had been unable to do more than protest this situation, for even a too vigorous diplomacy might have pushed France into an alliance with the South. Now stronger measures seemed necessary. on 11 September 1865 Emperor Maximilian approved the "Regulations and Instructions'' prepared by Matthew Fontaine Maury to encourage emigration of Southerners to Mexico. President Andrew Johnson sent a force of 50,000 well-equipped, veteran troops under the command of General Sheridan to Brownsville, Texas. This force was not in the least daunted by the prospect of fighting 25,000 French troops in Mexico, but as it turned out they did not have to.

The American military might in being in May 1865 was ephemeral, for the volunteers wanted to go home and Congress wanted to decrease the size of the Army. Because of the needs of occupation in the South and the French threat in Mexico, demobilization was spread over a period of eighteen months instead of the three in which it could have been accomplished. Nevertheless, it was rapid. On 01 May 1865, there were 1,034,064 volunteers in the Army, but by 15 November 1865, at least 800,963 of them had been paid, mustered out, and transported to their home states by the Quartermaster Corps. A year later there were only 11,043 volunteers left in the service, most of whom were United States Colored Troops. These were almost all mustered out by late October 1867.

In the summer of 1866, the Prussians defeated the Austrians at Köningratz, and Napoleon III reasoned, correctly, that France was next. Clearly, he could not afford to maintain a large force in Mexico, and the French garrison returned to France. Demobilization of US forces was not so rapid that Napoleon III was unaware of the strength of US forces in being. In the spring of 1867 he finally withdrew his troops from Mexico. While there were other factors that help explain the French emperor's action, and historians are not agreed on his motives, he could not have ignored the determination to enforce the Monroe Doctrine embodied in Sheridan's show of force, especially since Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield was then on a special mission in France to make this point clear.

Without French soldiers to prop up his throne, Maximillian could not defend it By February 1867, a growing liberal insurgency under Juárez and the threat of war with Prussia had compelled France's withdrawal from Mexico. Maximilian [not Maximillian with 2 "l"s] was captured and executed by Juárez's forces shortly thereafter. Juárez was restored to the presidency and remained in office until his death in 1872.

When the Mexicans executed Maximilian, the only significant justification for US military preparedness died with him. Some units had to be kept on the Mexican border, to protect the frontier from the consequences of the turmoil that followed the collapse of the empire of Maximilian. But this inglorious end was the culmination of the most serious, though not the only, challenge to the Monroe Doctrine until the Cuban missiles crisis a century later.

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