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 History of Benito Juarez

SUMMARY: Benito Juarez is considered one of Mexico's greatest and most beloved leaders. During his political career he helped to institute a series of liberal reforms that were embodied into the new constitution of 1857. During the French occupation of Mexico, Juarez refused to accept the rule of the Monarchy or any other foreign nation, and helped to establish Mexico as a constitutional democracy. He also promoted equal rights for the Indian population, better access to health care and education, lessening the political and financial power of the Roman Catholic church, and championed the raising of the living standards for the rural poor.

Benito Juarez was born March 21st 1806, the child of Zapoteco Indians. After they died when he was three, he went to live with his uncle, but when he was 12 he joined his sister in Oaxaca. He began studying for the priesthood, but in 1829 changed to studying for a law degree, which he received in 1831. That year he also began his political career, with a seat on the municipal council. In 1841 he became a judge, and the governor of Oaxaca.

Benito Juarez, President and national hero
Benito Juarez - Mexican President and National Hero
In 1853 the conservatives took power in Mexico and many liberals were exiled, including Juarez, who spent his time of exile in New Orleans. In 1855 the liberals won the election, and Benito Juarez returned from his exile as the Minister of Justice. In 1857 he was elevated to preside over the supreme court, in effect making him the Vice President. In 1858 the conservatives rebelled, and again Juarez had to leave Mexico City, this time fleeing to Veracruz, where he created a government in exile.

In January 1861 the conservatives lost power, and Benito Juarez became the President of Mexico. As the treasury was practically empty Juarez made the decision to suspend payment on all foreign debts for a two year period. After Mexican congress rejected an agreement Juarez had made with the British Prime Minister to protect the interests of European countries Spanish, British and French troops landed in Vera Cruz. Spain and Britain were there to protect their financial interests, and left in April, after it became clear that France had conquest in mind. The French troops fought for two years, and although suffering a serious defeat on 5th May 1862, eventually captured Mexico City in June 1863, and placed Archduke Maximilian of Austria on the Mexican throne.

Benito Juarez and the government of Mexico were forced to retreat right back to Ciudad Juarez, on the border with the USA. After four years with growing pressure from America, continuing resistance from Mexicans and criticism from the French govenrment and people, finally the Napoleonic forces withdrew. Maximilian himself was captured and executed on 19th June 1867.

Juarez returned to Mexico city, and the presidency even after suffering a stroke in October 1870, and the loss of his wife in 1871. He won the presidential election in 1871, but died on 18th July 1872, of a heart attack.

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