High Lights of the Mexican Revolution - J. L. McLeish

Don Benito Juarez

Father of the Mexican Constitution

In the hilly country about San Pablo Guelatao, the Zapotecan boy, Benito Juarez, tended his uncle's flocks. He was undersized, swarthy, poorly nourished, with a mournful cast of countenance, sharp, scintillating eyes, rather high forehead and the wiry black hair characteristic of the Aztec native sons. Through the long hot days, he led his lonesome little existence, to return at night to the sordid, humble jacal of his relatives, receiving a scant dole of food and more times than one a sound beating. Tradition tells us that his uncle was a perverse man of utterly uncontrollable temper, venting his spleen upon the little lad chance had thrust upon his bounty.

Came a day when the boy rebelled, and stealing along the highway, set forth for the great city of Oaxaca, twenty miles distant, where lived a sister . . . where too was the mighty Pontifical Seminary, the Monastery of Santo Domingo and the Institute of Sciences, this last supported by the Liberals of Mexico.

It was no small undertaking for a barefoot, illy-clad boy to compass this considerable distance, yet Benito proved equal to the task and came at last to the city of his dreams, footsore, weary and well-spent, to find the people upon their knees in the dust in salutation to two lumbering, fat friars, who had issued from the monastery. The same tradition tells us that because the boy, alone of all the throng, failed to make obeisance, one of the priests admiring his independence, gave him a kindly word instead of the expected rebuke, and promised him a place to study and work at the monastery.

"For you shall be a priest, my muchacho," the friar promised.

Benito did not reply in words. Of Spanish he knew little. Only his furtive, black Indian eyes flashed forth defiance as he abruptly turned his back. Of priests as seen by him at San Pablo Guelatao the lad had conceived no great opinion. They were a lazy lot. The very servility exhibited by these city folks in Oaxaca at the sight of two lumbering friars, appealed not at all to the independent spirit of the Zapatecan boy.

In due time he found his sister's house. She procured him work at the home of Don Joaquin Salaneuva, a wealthy gentleman intimately associated with the Clerical Party.

Salaneuva soon saw possibilities in the energetic little fellow attached to his menage, and personally instructed him in Spanish and the elementals. Presently he entered his protege as a scholar in the Ecclesiastical Seminary.

"You shall be a priest, Benito," he promised the boy.

Young Juarez said nothing but devoted himself to his studies with assiduity, eventually graduating with high honors in Latin and Philosophy. One year he gave to the study of Theology which appealed to him not at all. When his chum, Don Miguel Mendez, left the Seminary to enter upon the study of Law at the heretic Institute of Arts and Sciences, it did not take Juarez long to follow suit, although by so doing he lost the friendship of Salaneuva and two other student friends, Don Isadora Sanchez, and Don Francisco Parra, with whom he had been qualifying for the priesthood.

Another friend he found, however, in Don Marcos Perez, who filled the Chair of Law at the Institute, and who besides was an ardent Mason. With his new friend's aid, Juarez sought and found Masonic Light in the Mexican National Rite, then the militant Masonic Body of the Nation.

It did not take the little group of Liberals at Oaxaca long before realization that in young Juarez had been found the needed leader of their party. He was a radical of the radicals.

Simultaneously with his receiving his degrees of Bachelor-in-Law he was elected a Deputy to the State Legislature.

In 1836 he was thrown into prison for supposed connection with one of the many revolutionary movements of the period. His friends celebrated his release by making him Civil Judge of the State Treasury Department, from which he was quickly transferred to the more important office of Secretary of the State of Oaxaca. When the Republicans gained complete control of the State in 1846, a triumvirate was formed consisting of Don Benito Juarez, Fernandez del Campo and J. M. Arteaga.

In 1846 Juarez had his first essay in the larger arena of national politics. He was elected by his constituency as a Deputy to the—General Constituent Congress of the Nation assembled at Mexico City.

Don V. Gomez Farias, Grand Master of the Mexican National Rite of Freemasons, was also President of the Republic. To the new Congress he proposed a bill for the raising of a loan of $14,000,000 on the property of the Clergy, with the alternative that if such a loan could not be negotiated, all church property should be sold until the amount needed by the nation should be at hand. This was the first assault of the Mexican National Rite upon the Roman hierarchy.

An immense uproar was at once precipitated. Lines were closely drawn. The Clerical Party and Monarchists, backed by the Conservatives, were led by Otero, the Radicals or supporters of Farias by Don Benito Juarez.

Upon vote, the President's Bill passed by a bare majority.

The fame of Juarez had preceded him to his native state, and upon his return in November 1847 he was elected Governor of Oaxaca.

There was plenty of work at hand. Mexico was at war with the United States. The Oaxaca Division under General Leon suffered severely at Molino del Rey. Juarez exerted himself to the utmost to raise new troops and himself established a state factory and munitions plant.

Now came his first personal clash with Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a clash which while he scored a victory was yet to cost him dearly.

Santa Anna, defeated repeatedly by the Americans, discredited by his own army, fled with a few faithful followers to the borders of Oaxaca and immediately requisitioned Governor Juarez to turn over the command of the new Oaxacan soldiery with all their batteries and arms to his leadership. Juarez refused and forbade Santa Anna's entry into Oaxaca.

Peace came. The Governor found leisure for pleasanter pursuits.

With the aid of the National Rite of Mexico which had its ramifications in every large city of Mexico, Benito Juarez spread his propaganda to the native sons, hurling defiance at Santa Anna who was now the recognized champion of the Church party, perjured, foresworn, autocratic Santa Anna—a renegade Mason.

Juarez was constantly denouncing the abuses of the Roman Hierarchy from the Institute of Sciences. He it was who brought about the banishment of the Jesuits from Mexico.

When the Dictator, Santa Anna, recalled that hated Order, Juarez protested loudly. In reply, Santa Anna closed the great Liberal Institute, arrested Juarez and sent him to San Juan de Uloa. Here, for many days Don Benito Juarez suffered every indignity, biding his time, buoyed up by the knowledge that his brethren on the outside would eventually find a means to set him free.

His arrest and incarceration in this most horrible of Mexican prisons was the one spark needed to rekindle the smoldering fires of resentment against the Dictator and his supporting Clericals.

Santa Anna in the capital seemed possessed of immeasurable advantages. Behind him he had the Army, the Jesuits, and the unlimited resources of the Roman Hierarchy, the aristocracy with their great landed estates, government funds of over $20,000,000 and a new nest egg acquired from the sale to the United States of a section of Sonora for $10,000,000.

Indeed, Santa Anna's position seemed impregnable.

Unfortunately for himself, the Dictator had forgotten entirely the Great Brotherhood he had betrayed, whose dominating spirit he had outraged by condemning Juarez to imprisonment at San Juan de Uloa.

Simultaneously with the arrest of Juarez, came the pronunciamiento against Santa Anna, by General Juan Alvarez, an old veteran of the Revolution against Spain. To this doughty leader came young Porfirio Diaz, who had fought his way out of Oaxaca and placed himself at the head of a band of poorly armed Indians, defeating a superior force of government troops.

The long fight was now on.

Through the secret connivance of the Mexican Nationals, Don Benito Juarez was enabled to make his escape from the fortress of San Juan de Uloa, to New Orleans, from which city he took passage for Acapulco, where Alvarez, Diaz, and the Liberal Army were awaiting the advance of the forces of Santa Anna.

In the ensuing battle, the Dictator suffered one of his most disastrous defeats. Condemned by court-martial to be hanged for high treason Santa Anna owed his life to the clemency of the Masonic Brother he had sought to immure for life in the fetid dungeons of San Juan de Uloa.

Alvarez was chosen President of the Republic. Juarez became Minister of Justice and Religion.

With the Liberals now in power, there was an opportunity for putting into practice some of the Laws first proclaimed by the National Mexican Rite as early as 1833.

The Laws of Reform, drawn up by Juarez, and passed by the Mexican Congress Feb. 12, 1857, substantially provided:

"Separation of Church and State; Abolition of the privileges heretofore claimed by Clergy and Military Caste; Non-establishment of any especial religion; Non-recognition of religious festivals on other days than Sundays; Confinement of religious exercises to places of worship; Barring of clerical habiliments from the streets; Prohibition of religious processions; Limitations in the use of Church-bells; Pulpit discourses counseling disobedience to the law, or injury to any one not permissible; All worship to be public; Abolition of Monastic Orders; Restrictions upon the gifts of real estate to the Church; Suppression of the Sisters of Charity; Banishment of the Jesuits forever; Matrimony, by Civil contract; Opening of Cemeteries to burial of all persons indiscriminately; Relaxation from religious vows; Free and compulsory education in the public schools."

The Clerical Forces driven to the last ditch aligned themselves throughout the Republic. With them was the army.

Alvarez faced a divided Cabinet, Juarez, firm, unshakeable, leading the Liberals, Comonfort the party in favor of greater moderation.

As the revolt of the Church Party grew in strength, Alvarez resigned in favor of Comonfort.

The new President's first official act was to demand the resignation of the author of the Laws of Reform. Juarez cheerfully complied. He would have a freer hand in Oaxaca, that hot-bed of Liberalism. But he was mistaken. Upon his arrival in the State Capital he found himself opposed by a strong party led by General Jose Garcia.

Affairs looked black indeed for the Great Reformer. One of his brother Masons, now a power in the state, Don Marcos Perez, sent secret word to young Porfirio Diaz at Ixtlan. That ardent Mason rallied the Indians who had fought with him a few years before, and rode into Oaxaca to defend the man who had saved him from becoming a priest.

Once firmly seated as Governor of Oaxaca, Juarez renewed his activities for the ultimate overthrow of Clericalism in Mexico. Through his secret emissaries in Mexico City, a law was promulgated that the Church dispose of all holdings with the one exception of buildings actually devoted to religious services.

In dire desperation the Roman Hierarchy refused the privilege of the Confessional or Absolution to any holder of ecclesiastical property procured through purchase.

This stringent measure failing, the Clericals rallied 15,000 men at Puebla, and proclaimed against Comonfort.

Their rising was quickly quelled. Confiscation of Church property proceeded more rapidly. The Clergy were disfranchised. Freedom of the press was added to the Laws of Reform. Other immigrants than those from purely Catholic countries might now enter Mexico.

Against the Laws of Reform, the Clericals promulgated the old plan of Tacubaya, which Santa Anna had fought so desperately to insure. To its absolute revocation of the laws of Juarez, it added the very unpatriotic provision for the establishment of a monarchy or protectorate.

The Clergy were making the last fight for Absolutism and Class Privileges in the new world.

To aid them Pope Pius IX issued one of his characteristic allocutions. Mexico was anathema. Upon it rested the curse of the Church of Rome. His Holiness the Pope had spoken. Already he was crystallizing those dangerous doctrines later embodied in his famous or rather his infamous Encyclical.

A better ally for his cause Don Benito Juarez could never have found than this head of the Mother Church, Pope Pius IX, whose frankly undiplomatic utterances from Rome revealed to the Mexicans the amazing fact that for the preservation of the Catholic Faith even the native Clergy were willing to barter the independence of Mexico to a foreign suzerainty.

Juarez, aided by Diaz and his Indian militia suppressed successive uprisings of the Clericals in Oaxaca and Tehauntepec.

In Mexico City affairs were not running smoothly. The city was in a ferment. Street fighting was of daily occurrence. The monks who had been drilling secretly in the Convent of San Francisco, now came boldly out into the open, armed and eager for the overthrow of the government. With difficulty they were repressed.

This by no means dismayed the Clericals. The Church was spending money with a .lavish hand. Mercenaries and professional adventurers flocked to the banner of Rome. Skilled fighters like Marquez and Miramon assumed the leadership of the forces of Absolutism.

President Comonfort scented danger ahead. He was a weakling.

Too late he sought to placate the priests. He declared against Juarez and his following and had the great Liberal leader arrested. For the second time poor Don Benito Juarez found himself helpless in a filthy cell.

Not for long. Quickly the brethren rallied. After desperate fighting they forced the flight of Comonfort, released Juarez and elected him First Constitutional President of Mexico.

One of his first official acts was the enforcement of Article XV amending the Mexican Constitution to the effect that there be freedom of all religious creeds. His next decided stand was upon the "suppression of the Order of Jesuits and the confiscation of their property."

Determined to oppose two measures which meant ruin to their cause, the Church Party made a supreme stand in Mexico City, led by the Papal Nuncio Clementi, who called a "Council of Notables" and proceeded to proclaim General Zuloaga President of Mexico.

President Juarez established his seat of government at the city of Guanajuato and received the allegiance of most of the states of the Republic. From there he was compelled to remove to the city of Guadalajara.

Through bribery the bodyguard of Juarez, made up of the Fifth Infantry, was led to declare for the Church. They seized their commandante, old General Nunez, arrested Juarez and his Cabinet and held them all as prisoners of war in the palace.

The citizens of the city, enraged at this treason, rallied the National Guard under Don Antonio Alvarez: Messengers were sent with "signs and summons" to General Santos Degollado, then Inspector General of the Mexican Rite, and one of the Republican Commanders in the field.

When the National Guard took up their stations in the public square commanding every approach to the palace, the treacherous officers who had sold themselves to the Church Party, Landa and Morrett, demanded that Juarez send an order to the militia to suspend their firing. His reply was characteristic of the man:

"You tell me my life is at stake, if I refuse. So be it. The life of an individual is of no moment, when the fate and interests of a whole people are in jeopardy."

His very boldness saved his life. The traitors capitulated on the condition of being allowed to withdraw from the city, with such of the troops as still held allegiance to the Clericals.

As they were marching away, there arrived from Salamanca the two Republican Generals, Degollado and Parrodi, the latter commander-in-chief of the Federal army.

From then on, Mexico's government was in the hands of a wanderer President. On his way to Colima he was again assailed by the treacherous Landa and the Church Mercenaries, his forces outnumbered, and only his own desperate courage held his little escort from capitulating. Parrodi was outmaneuvered at Guadalajara, and when he reached Colima, Juarez appointed his faithful brother Mason, Santos Degollado, Minister of War and Commandante of the Federal Army. There was no army, and few funds worth mentioning, yet Juarez did not despair. He had placed his faith on the loyalty of the Mexican people and subsequent events showed that it was well founded.

When matters seemed desperate at Manzanillo, where he had taken temporary headquarters, Juarez took passage on a steamer bound for Vera Cruz, which from its natural advantages seemed admirably adapted for the seat of government. With him went his Cabinet, Guzman, Ruiz, Prieto and Ocampo.

The superior resources of the Clericals gave them success in many pitched battles, during the next three years. Doggedly the Liberals refused to be beaten. As soon as one army was defeated, they rallied another.

Presently the tide turned. The armies of Juarez scored a few victories at Soma, Tepic, Silao and Oaxaca.

In alarm, the Church Party turned to Europe for aid. They had already secured recognition for themselves as the "de facto" government by Spain, France and England. It is pleasant to know that from the commencement of the Civil War, the United States had recognized the government of President Juarez.

Zuloaga had been succeeded by General Miramon in the leadership of the Church Party. He still held his seat of government at Mexico City. The resources of the old regime were constantly growing weaker. They knew that they could not long hold out against the feverish spread of Liberalism throughout Mexico.

Rome's agents at Paris and London prevailed upon those governments to offer mediation. Almost simultaneous with the offer of the French and British Ministers, Miramon menaced Vera Cruz with a large army, as though to convince Juarez that he had no alternative but to submit.

Don Benito Juarez knew the crafty foes against whom he was making his stand, however. He knew that Miramon, hard pressed for money, had borrowed immense sums from the Swiss banker, Jecker, on the promise that France would see to its collection with the interest due from Mexico. He knew too, that Miramon had violated the sanctity of the British Legation by forcibly taking therefrom $650,000 in cash, deposited by the Liberal Government with the British Minister, in payment of Mexico's debt to Great Britain. Much justice had he to expect from these two creditor nations. That they would sustain Miramon and the Church Party as against himself, Juarez doubted not for a moment. Therefore he rejected the offers at mediation. He could not do otherwise.

Miramon was not successful in taking Vera Cruz. His situation became so desperate that he evacuated Mexico City on Christmas eve of 1860.

Benito Juarez entered his lawful capital early in February 1861. It did not take him long to ascertain that Miramon and his Clerical supporters had emptied the Treasury. Even in the great City of Mexico, poor Juarez found himself the President of a Republic without any pecuniary resources to maintain governmental operations. As a first protective measure, President Juarez suspended all payments agreed upon in diplomatic conventions for the period of two years. Congress supported him.

Rome laughed. Her hour had come. Her puppet, the French Emperor, had been waiting for the rare opportunity to re-establish Catholicism as the State Religion of Mexico. Another puppet, the Catholic Archduke of Austria, Maximilian, was selected to re-establish the old regime in the New World.

Two other creditor nations, England and Spain, not fully understanding the real animus of the French, agreed to make a demonstration in force against the Mexican Government, with the object of procuring the nullification of the latest law of Juarez.

In due time, the armed representatives of the three creditor nations appeared at Vera Cruz, and were permitted to land their troops by Juarez. It was in the most unhealthy season of the year. For the unwelcome visitors to sojourn long in the hot lands meant decimation of their forces from yellow fever. Knowing this, Juarez graciously accorded them permission to remove into the healthier hilly country, pending progress of negotiations, upon official promise that they would withdraw in case the conference came to naught.

When no agreement could be reached, Spain and England held to their pact. France repudiated her plighted honor and held to the coigne of advantage secured through treachery.

Enter Maximilian, a son of the Church of Rome, supported by fifty thousand French troops under the veteran Marshal Bazaine.

The first formidable essay of the French arms met with a very disastrous defeat at Puebla on May 5th, 1862. One of the Liberal Generals who wrested the laurels of victory from the invaders, was the same Porfirio Diaz, now a General, who long ago at Oaxaca Benito Juarez had dissuaded from becoming a priest of the Church of Rome. Now a soldier and a Mason he was fighting the battle for Mexican Independence. He continued in the field for all the succeeding years of the French occupation.

In May 1863, the French had thrown such reinforcements into the field that longer tenure of Mexico City by the Republican Government, would have been suicidal.

Juarez reluctantly abandoned the city and established his new headquarters at San Luis de Potosi.

Maximilian, sustained by Marshall Bazaine and his French regulars, assisted by the Catholic Mexican Generals Mejia, Miramon and Marquez, this latter known as "The Tiger of Tacubaya," (because he had massacred fifty of Juarez' staff of officers in cold blood,) now ruled at Mexico City.

The extravagances of the new regime, the cruelties perpetuated upon the Liberals, made the next four years a saturnalia. Rome ruled Mexico through her weakling puppet, Emperor Maximilian, held upon a tottering throne by French bayonets, even as Pope Pius IX was maintained in the Vatican through the armies of the unscrupulous ruler of France.

From city to city went Juarez and his Cabinet, still issuing their decrees, at times hard pressed for men and money, yet ever confident that the day of Liberty would dawn again for Mexico.

A picturesque figure indeed the peripatetic President made, in his somber black suit, traveling in a modest diligencia from town to town, ever closely pursued by French hirelings and traitor Mexicans. From San Luis Potosi his capitols were many, Monterey, Santa Catalina, Chihuahua, where he remained until he was driven to the very border, making his headquarters at Paso del Norte in 1865.

Meanwhile affairs had not proceeded any too brightly for Maximilian. His administration was handicapped for money, and his European sponsors neglected to fill their pledges. He was unpopular with his Clerical Advisors because he refused to put into active practice all the preposterous punitive measures they deemed fit to re-establish Rome's ascendancy over the native born.

Retribution was near, however. Our own Civil War having been terminated, the United States had time and opportunity to thoroughly look into the Mexican question.

A diplomatic hint to France that the further retention of Marshall Bazaine and the French soldiers in the New World would be looked upon as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and an open challenge to the United States, led to the gradual withdrawal of the one prop of the throne of Maximilian and Clericalism.

Light began to dawn upon Mexico.

From all sides the Liberal armies drew their lines tighter around the capital.

In vain Maximilian issued the infamous Black Decree, condemning to death all Liberal officers and soldiers who fell into the hands of the Imperial armies. In vain his Generals enforced it.

Driven at last to take refuge in Queretaro, Maximilian and his Generals, Mejia and Marquez, with the forlorn hope of a native following, and the Foreign Legion, made up of Austrians and Belgians, for a few months sustained a hopeless siege.

When at last the city capitulated, and Juarez had at his mercy the men who had made a nightmare of his life for the preceding five years, and cost poor Mexico her brave sons, her prosperity, her happiness, it might have seemed a just reprisal for Benito Juarez to have fallen back upon the Black Decree for which Maximilian had set a precedent.

Instead, the Constitutional President of Mexico accorded his fallen foes a trial by due process of law, allowed them the counsel of the ablest lawyers their Clerical adherents might hire, and left their fate to their judges.

Three monuments today mark the spot where were executed the sometime Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, and his two Generals, Miramon and Mejia, on the Hill of the Bells just outside of Queretaro. Scant retribution indeed for the awful toll they had taken from Mexico.

Seated once more in the National Palace at Mexico City, Don Benito Juarez had ample time to work out the Laws of Reform to which he had dedicated his life. With the shrewd statesmanship he had exhibited ever since the inchoation of his career as a national politician, Juarez chose for his Cabinet men of the broadest and most utilitarian views, Don Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, Minister of State, Don Jose Maria Iglesias, Minister of Home Affairs, Don Ignacio Mejia, Minister of war and marine, Don Ignacio Marescal, Minister of Justice, Don Matias Romero, Minister of the treasury and public credit.

Many of these were brother Masons. In 1867 Don Benito Juarez found time to serve as Inspector General of the Mexican National Rite.

Associated with him in Masonry were many of the brave Generals who had long sustained the cause of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity against the organized forces of Clericalism and Absolutism in Mexico.

Upon the soldiers' roll of honor, you will find to-day in Mexico City, the names of Generals Escobedo, Corona, Trevino, Regules, Porfirio Diaz and Degollado.

For Mexico and Masonry Don Benito Juarez accomplished more than any other native son, and the Nation wept at the passing in 1871 of the indomitable creator of the Laws of Reform, which dealt a death-blow to Clericalism and the Sons of Loyola.