1858-1861 - War of the Reform
The Mexican reform movement was inspired by the liberal political philosophies of European intellectuals, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, and Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Their views were adopted by a group of Mexican intellectuals who shared a strong commitment to moralize Mexican politics. The most outstanding member of the group was Benito Juárez, a Zapotec lawyer and politician. Juárez and his cohorts went into exile in Louisiana, where they drew up the Plan of Ayutla in 1854 for the overthrow of Santa Anna. As the plan gained broad-based support, the conspirators began to return to Mexico. In August 1855, in response to growing opposition, Santa Anna resigned for the last time.
A provisional government was installed under Juan Ruiz de Álvarez and the intellectuals of Ayutla; the ensuing period of liberal rule came to be known as the Reform. The Reform was touted as a Mexican version of the French Revolution. Several laws, known collectively as the Reform Laws, abolished the fueros , curtailed ecclesiastical property holdings, introduced a civil registry, and prohibited the church from charging exorbitant fees for administering the sacraments.
The Reform Laws polarized Mexican society along pro- and anticlerical lines at a time when delegates were preparing the constitution of 1857, as provided for in the Plan of Ayutla. The new constitution was derived from that of 1824, but it reflected a more liberal vision of society through its incorporation of the Reform Laws. It reaffirmed the abolition of slavery, secularized education, and guaranteed basic civil liberties for all Mexicans. Both the Reform Laws and the constitution, however, divided the political classes and set the stage for a civil war.
The civil war, commonly known as the War of the Reform, that engulfed Mexico between 1858 and 1861 brought to light the underlying conflicts that had been present in Mexican society since independence. The conservative faction launched the Plan of Tacubaya and, with the support of the military and the clergy, dissolved congress and arrested Juárez. Juárez escaped and established a "government in exile" in Querétaro (the liberals later moved their capital to Veracruz). The initial military advantage was held by the conservatives, who were better armed and had plentiful supplies, but by 1860 the situation was reversed. The final battle took place just before Christmas 1860. The victorious liberal army entered Mexico City on January 1, 1861.
In March 1861, Juárez won the presidential election, but the war left the treasury depleted. Trade was stagnant, and foreign creditors were demanding full repayment of Mexican debts. Juárez proceeded to declare a moratorium on all foreign debt repayments.
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