French intervention

For the earlier French intervention of 1838–39, see Pastry War.

The second French intervention in Mexico (Spanish: Segunda intervención francesa en México), also known as the Maximilian Affair, Mexican Adventure, the War of the French Intervention or the Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and Spain. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on 17 July 1861, which angered Mexico's major creditors: Spain, France and Britain.

Emperor Napoleon III of France was the instigator, justifying military intervention by claiming a broad foreign policy of commitment to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would ensure European access to Latin American markets. Napoleon also wanted the silver that could be mined in Mexico to finance his empire. Napoleon built a coalition with Spain and Britain while the U.S. was engaged in a full-scale civil war.

The three European powers signed the Treaty of London on 31 October, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On 8 December the Spanish fleet and troops arrived at Mexico's main port, Veracruz. When the British and Spanish discovered however that France planned to seize all of Mexico, they quickly withdrew.

The subsequent French invasion resulted in the Second Mexican Empire, which was supported by the Roman Catholic clergy, many conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities; the presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858–71) were interrupted by the rule of the Habsburg monarchy in Mexico (1864–67). Conservatives, and many in the Mexican nobility, tried to revive the monarchical form of government (see: First Mexican Empire) when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian Ferdinand, or Maximilian I who was married to Charlotte of Belgium, who changed her name to Carlota when she and Maximillian were sent to Trieste. France had various interests in this Mexican affair, such as seeking reconciliation with Austria, which had been defeated during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, counterbalancing the growing American Protestant power by developing a powerful Catholic neighboring empire, and exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.

1862: Arrival of the French

The British, Spanish and French fleets arrived at Veracruz, between 8 and 17 December 1861 intending to pressure the Mexicans into settling their debts.[1] The Spanish fleet seized San Juan de Ulúa and subsequently the capital Veracruz[1] on 17 December. The European forces advanced to Orizaba, Cordoba and Tehuacán as it had been agreed in the Convention of Soledad.[1] The city of Campeche surrendered to the French fleet on 27 February, and a French army, commanded by General Lorencez, arrived on 5 March. When the Spanish and British realised the French ambition to conquer Mexico, they withdrew their forces on 9 April, their troops leaving on 24 April. In May, the French man-of-war Bayonnaise blockaded Mazatlán for a few days.

The French army suffered an initial defeat in the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 (commemorated with the Cinco de Mayo holiday) against the Mexican forces commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza. The pursuing Mexican army was then contained by the French at Orizaba, Veracruz, on 14 June. More French troops arrived on 21 September, and General Bazaine arrived with more reinforcements on 16 October. Tampico, Tamaulipas, was occupied by the French on 23 October, with Xalapa, Veracruz, taken peacefully on 12 December.

1863: The French take the capital

The French bombarded Veracruz on 15 January 1863. Then, on 16 March, General Forey and the French Army began the siege of Puebla.

On 30 April, the French Foreign Legion earned its fame in the Battle of Camarón when the small infantry patrol unit, led by a one-handed Captain named Jean Danjou, numbering 62 soldiers and three officers was attacked and besieged by Mexican infantry and cavalry units numbering three battalions, about 3000 men, and was forced to make a defence in Hacienda Camarón. Danjou was mortally wounded in the defense of the hacienda, and the last of his men mounted a glorious bayonet attack fighting to nearly the last man, leaving three survivors. To this day, 'Camerone Day' is still the most important day of celebration for Legionnaires.

The French army of General François Achille Bazaine defeated the Mexican army led by General Comonfort in their attempt to relieve the siege of Puebla, at San Lorenzo, to the south of Puebla. Puebla surrendered to the French shortly afterward, on 17 May. On 31 May, President Juárez fled the city with his cabinet, retreating northwards to Paso del Norte and later to Chihuahua, where the government-in-exile remained until 1867, taking the treasure of the state with them.

French troops under Bazaine entered Mexico City on 7 June 1863. The main army entered the city three days later led by General Forey. General Almonte was appointed the provisional President of Mexico on 16 June, by the Superior Junta (which had been appointed by Forey) The Superior Junta with its 35 members met on 21 June, and proclaimed a Catholic Empire on 10 July. The crown was offered to Maximilian, following pressures by Napoleon. Maximilian accepted the crown on 3 October, at the hands of the Comisión Mexicana, sent by the Superior Junta.

1864: Arrival of Maximilian

On 28 and 31 March 1864, men from the French man-of-war Cordelière tried to take Mazatlán, but were initially repelled by Mexicans commanded by Colonel Gaspar Sánchez Ochoa.

The French under Bazaine occupied Guadalajara on 6 January 1864, and troops under Douay occupied Zacatecas on 6 February. Further decisive French victories continued with the fall of Acapulco on 3 June, occupation of Durango on 3 July, and the defeat of republicans in the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco in November.

Maximilian formally accepted the crown on 10 April, signing the Treaty of Miramar, and landed at Veracruz on 28 May (or possibly 29 May) 1864 in the SMS Novara. He was enthroned as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico. In reality, puppet monarch of the Second French Empire. Maximilian of Habsburg was very much the product of the progressive ideas in vogue in the West at the time. He favoured the establishment of a limited monarchy sharing powers with a democratically-elected congress and inspired laws that abolished child labour, limited working hours, and abolished a system of land tenancy that virtually amounted to serfdom among the Indians. This was too liberal to please Mexico's conservatives, while the liberals refused to accept a monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico.

On Sunday, 13 November 1864, three French men-of-war (Victoire, D'Assas and Diamante) shelled Mazatlán 13 times, and Imperial Mexican forces under Manuel Lozada entered and captured the city.

1865: Beginning of Republican victories

The French continued with victories in 1865, with Bazaine capturing Oaxaca on 9 February (defeating the city's defenders under General Porfirio Díaz). The French fleet landed soldiers who captured Guaymas on 29 March. However on 11 April, republicans defeated Imperial forces at Tacámbaro in Michoacán. In April and May the republicans had many forces in the states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Most towns along the Rio Grande were also occupied by republicans. The Belgian volunteers were defeated by the republicans at the Second Battle of Tacámbaro on 11 July.

The decree known as the "Black Decree" was issued by Maximilian on 3 October, which threatened any Mexican captured in the war with immediate execution. This was the later basis of his own execution. Several high-ranking republican officials were executed under this order on 21 October.

American perspective

American President Abraham Lincoln had supported the republicans under Juárez, but was unable to intervene due to the American Civil War. Immediately after the end of the war, in 1865, United States Army General Philip Sheridan, under the supervision of President Andrew Johnson and General Ulysses S. Grant, assembled 50,000 troops, and dispatched them to the border between Mexico and the United States. There, his corps ran patrols to visibly threaten intervention against the French, and also supplied weapons to Juárez's forces.[2] The United States Congress had unanimously passed a resolution which opposed the establishment of the Mexican monarchy on 4 April 1864. On 12 February 1866, in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine, the US requested the French withdraw their forces from Mexico; while moving soldiers to positions along the Rio Grande, and set up a naval blockade to prevent French reinforcements from landing. The US officially protested to Austria about the Austrian volunteers in Mexico on 6 May.

1866: French withdrawal and Republican victories

In 1866, choosing Franco-American relations over his Mexican monarchy ambitions, Napoleon III announced the withdrawal of French forces beginning 31 May. The Republicans won a series of crippling victories taking immediate advantage of the end of French military support to the Imperial troops, occupying Chihuahua on 25 March, taking Guadalajara on 8 July, further capturing Matamoros, Tampico and Acapulco in July. Napoleon III urged Maximilian to abandon Mexico and evacuate with the French troops. The French evacuated Monterrey on 26 July, Saltillo on 5 August, and the whole state of Sonora in September. Maximilian's French cabinet members resigned on 18 September. The Republicans defeated imperial troops in the Battle of Miahuatlán in Oaxaca in October, occupying the whole of Oaxaca in November, as well as parts of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato. On 6 December the Austrian and Belgian volunteers disbanded and were supposed to join the Mexican Army; however, 3500 of the 4648 volunteers did not enlist, and tried to flee the country.

On 13 November, Ramón Corona and the French agreed to terms for the withdrawal of Mazatlán. At noon, the European invaders boarded three men-of-war, Rhin, Marie and Talisman and departed.

1867: Republicans take the capital

The Republicans occupied the rest of the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato in January. The French evacuated the capital on 5 February.

On 13 February 1867, Maximilian withdrew to Querétaro. The Republicans began a siege of the city on 9 March, and Mexico City on 12 April. An imperial sortie from Querétaro failed on 27 April.

On 11 May, Maximilian resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. He was, however, intercepted before he could carry out this plan on 15 May and, following a court-martial, was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including liberals Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared, but Juárez refused to commute the sentence, believing that it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers.

Maximilian was executed on 19 June (along with his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía) on the Cerro de las Campanas, a hill on the outskirts of Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez, who had kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention. Juárez's position was further strengthened when the United States deployed troops to the Rio Grande, and threatened an invasion. Mexico City surrendered the day after Maximilian was executed.

The republic was restored, President Juárez was returned to power in the national capital, yet there was little change in policy given that Maximilian had upheld most of Juárez's liberal reforms.

After the victory, the Conservative party was so thoroughly discredited by its alliance with the invading French troops that it effectively ceased to exist, and the Liberal party was almost unchallenged as a political force during the first years of the "restored republic". In 1871, however, Juárez was re-elected to yet another term as president in spite of a constitutional prohibition of re-elections, provoking one of the losing candidates, Porfirio Díaz (a Liberal general and a hero of the French war, but increasingly conservative in outlook) to launch a rebellion against the president. Supported by conservative factions within the Liberal party, the attempted revolt (the so-called Plan de la Noria) was already at the point of defeat when Juárez died in office on 19 July 1872, making it a moot point. Díaz ran against interim president Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, lost the election, and retired to his hacienda in Oaxaca. Four years later, in 1876, when Lerdo himself ran for re-election, Díaz launched a second, successful revolt (the Plan de Tuxtepec) and captured the presidency, which he effectively held through eight terms until 1911.

See also


  • a Peruvian Foreign Minister José Fabio Melgar condemned the Allied intervention from the beginning and called the Pan-American countries to take concerted action against the tripartite invasion.[11] Furthermore the government of Peru signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Juárez regime on 11 June 1862. In 1863 when Maximilian published his decree, general consul Don Manuel Nicolas Corpancho provided shelter for those pro-Juarez Mexicans, who were persecuted by the Imperialists. He bought several houses in Mexico and claimed them the properties of Peru and hosted these fugitives in these protected homes. His accidental death is also related to his diplomatic journey to visit Ramón Castilla [12]
  • b Apart from the participating European dynasties, the Empire of Russia also acknowledged the Mexican crown. After the inauguration of Maximilian and the capture of Acapulco the Tsarist fleet was ordered to sail to the harbor of the city and salute the Mexican Imperial flag.[13]


  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Bancroft Company, New York, 1914, pp. 466–506
  • Corti, Egon Caesar. Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico (2 vol 1968). 976 pages
  • Cunningham, Michele. Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001
  • Garay, Lerma. Antonio. Mazatlán Decimonónico, Autoedición. 2005. ISBN 1-59872-220-4.
  • Sheridan, Philip H. ISBN 1-58218-185-3 (vol. 2, part 5, Chapter IX)
  • Topik, Steven C. "When Mexico Had the Blues: A Transatlantic Tale of Bonds, Bankers, and Nationalists, 1862–1910," American Historical Review, June 2000, Vol. 105 Issue 3, pp 714–40

External links

  • Chronology of the Mexican Adventure 1861–1867
  • Bibliography for the French intervention in Mexico
  • ISBN 978-1-59534-183-9
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