Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Events in Mexico after the Departure of the Empress

Two persons have already been mentioned who played an important part in the events of this history, Herzfeld, the Minister of State, and Father Fischer. Herzfeld was a German and devoted to the Emperor. Unfortunately Maximilian sent him back to Europe soon after this, thereby depriving himself of a valuable friend and adviser in his days of misfortune. Father Fischer was born in Wurtemberg, of Protestant parents, and seems to have had rather an adventurous career. He came to America with a band of emigrants who settled in Texas, and went from there to California as a gold miner. Becoming a convert to Catholicism, he entered the Jesuit order, from which he was subsequently dismissed, for good and sufficient reasons, no doubt. The description of this man given by the Emperor's physician is far from flattering, but it is manifestly unjust to lay his faults at the door of the much-abused order of Jesuits. A whole society cannot be held responsible for the deeds or misdeeds of a single member, still less when that member has ceased to be one. At all events Father Fischer belonged to the Emperor's closest circle of friends, another member of which was Professor Bilimek, whose acquaintance we shall make in the next chapter. This man was a scholar, absorbed in the study of the flowers and butterflies of Mexico and troubling himself little with political affairs.

After the departure of the Empress matters went rapidly from bad to worse. In the north the followers of Juarez had inflicted a series of defeats on the imperial troops and were steadily gaining ground, while in the capital the outlook was far from encouraging. Maximilian had replaced two of his Mexican ministers with Frenchmen, Generals Osmont and Friant, but their attempts to remedy the situation were frustrated by the pride and jealousy of the Mexicans who bitterly resented the appointment of foreigners to these high positions. The United States, moreover, took exceptions to these appointments as a violation of French neutrality and made a formal complaint to Napoleon, whereupon the following announcement appeared in the Monitor:

"On the twenty-sixth of July His Majesty, the Emperor of Mexico, issued a decree entrusting the portfolio of war to General Osmont, Chief of Staff of the Expedition Corps, and that of finance to Friant, intendant-general of the army. As, however, the military duties of these gentlemen, both holding important posts in an army still in the field, are irreconcilable with the responsibilities of their new positions, they have received no authorization to accept these appointments."

This plainly shows France's fear of the United States and her indifference to her engagements with Maximilian. A new ministry, therefore, had to be formed, in the selection of which Father Fischer's influence is said to have been largely responsible.

As the prospects for a restoration of the Republic grew brighter, Juarez did not remain the only candidate for the presidential chair, a certain Ortega and the former ex-President Santa Anna also appearing as aspirants to the honor. The position of the imperial forces on the border soon became so unsafe that Maximilian was forced to abandon those districts to the revolutionists and withdraw his troops more into the interior. Even his attempt to keep the way to the coast open was not successful, for the city of Xalapa, on the road to Vera Cruz, was besieged and captured by the rebels, thus cutting off communication between the capital and the coast, while many of the native soldiers deserted and went over to the enemy with their leaders. Even among the revolutionists, however, there were dissensions, the greater part of them supporting Juarez, others Ortega or Santa Anna. On one point only were they united, the downfall of the Empire and restoration of the Republic.

Another incident occurred at this time which was well calculated to make Maximilian, already suffering from an intermittent fever, caused by the climate, still more averse to remaining in Mexico. This was a conspiracy against his life, discovered by one of the town prefects. The plot, hatched by some of Santa Anna's guerilla followers, was to include the murder of the prefect himself by his secretary, a man from the lower classes whom he had befriended, to be followed by that of several other prominent personages. A closer investigation revealed that the Emperor's life also had been aimed at.

Such were the people by whom Maximilian was surrounded, and such the treachery which he had constantly to deal with in his adopted country.

On the afternoon of the day on which the two fatal despatches arrived in Mexico Maximilian was taking his usual stroll on the flat roof of the palace with his physician, when he suddenly announced his intention of abandoning the country where he had met with such ingratitude, and asked his friend's advice as to the matter.

"I do not see how it will be possible for Your Majesty to remain here," replied the doctor frankly.

"Will it be attributed to the Empress' illness if I should leave?" he then inquired.

"That certainly is reason enough," returned the other. "Besides, Europe must recognize that Your Majesty is no longer bound to remain in Mexico after France's violation of her contracts."

"What do you suppose Herzfeld and Fischer will think of it?" continued Maximilian, after a pause.

"I am sure that Herzfeld will share my views," declared the physician. "As to Father Fischer, to tell the truth, I have not much confidence in his opinions."

They then discussed the advisability of leaving at once or whether it would be better to wait for a time, but as there seemed no good reason at present for a sudden departure, Dr. Basch advised deferring it for a week in order that suitable preparations might be made.

That evening Maximilian summoned his Minister of State and Professor Bilimek, director of the museum, and laid the matter before them. To both, the Emperor's safety was of far more concern than the fate of a half-civilized country whose indifference had caused the downfall of all his hopes and schemes. The recent plot against the Emperor's life also may well have been an argument in favor of the plan. At all events they heartily coincided with it and Herzfeld urged preparations for departure with such energy that in three days' time it was possible to leave Chapultepec, a summer palace near the city of Mexico, which Maximilian had had newly restored and fitted up at great cost and where he was staying at this time.

The rumor of the Emperor's proposed departure caused general consternation. The new ministry was stunned and tried every means to dissuade him from this step. But Maximilian remained deaf to all arguments and, lest his resolution should be weakened, Dr. Basch had orders to permit no one to enter the royal apartments. All who came were dismissed with the information that His Majesty was ill and could receive no visitors. Even the Princess Iturbide, aunt of little Prince Iturbide, a descendant of August the First, the first Emperor of Mexico, whom Maximilian, having no children of his own, had named as Crown Prince, was unable to gain access to him. The physician admits he had rather a violent scene with the high-spirited Princess. She would take no denial and ended by roundly abusing those friends of the Emperor's who had persuaded him to leave Mexico.

As a last resort the ministry threatened to resign in a body if the plan were persisted in, but even this was of no avail. Maximilian quietly declared that if these gentlemen resigned their offices he would leave the country at once, and he would certainly have kept his word. It is greatly to be regretted, therefore, that they did not do so and thus spare Mexico the everlasting stain of treachery and murder. Finding it the only means of at least deferring the Emperor's abdication, however, they remained at their posts and sent a message to him agreeing to carry on the business of government during his absence in accordance with his wishes.

Maximilian had already received a letter from Bazaine approving the plan of changing his residence to Orizaba, which was only a day's journey from the seaport of Vera Cruz, and promising to maintain law and order in the capital. The Emperor's abdication would suit his own plans very well, by bringing him a step nearer to the realization of his secret ambitions.

Thanks to Herzfeld's energy and activity, all was ready at the appointed time, and at four o'clock on the morning of the twenty-first of October, the Emperor, escorted by a troop of three hundred hussars under the command of Colonel Kodolitsch, set out from Chapultepec, little thinking ever to see that place again. Councillor Herzfeld remained in the capital to arrange some business matters, expecting to join the Emperor later on.

The journey to Orizaba must not be passed over in silence, as it was marked by the occurrence of an important event. On the afternoon of the first day, the imperial party reached the Hacienda Socyapan, where they were to spend the night. The Emperor seemed abstracted, and walked up and down before the hacienda in silence with his physician and Professor Bilimek. At length he broke out suddenly:

"I cannot have any more bloodshed in this unhappy country on my account. What am I to do?"

The professor advised him to abdicate and sail for Europe at once, but Dr. Basch opposed this, representing that an unnecessarily sudden departure would only precipitate matters and bring about exactly what the Emperor wished to avoid, namely, more bloodshed in Mexico. At the same time he urged a revocation of the decree of the third of October, 1865, a suggestion which Maximilian cordially approved, and in regard to which he expressed himself in strong terms on this occasion.

Father Fischer and Colonel Kodolitsch, who were also in the Emperor's confidence, added their influence to the doctor's, urging that a hacienda was not a suitable place from which to abdicate a throne, as Maximilian himself was forced to acknowledge. He contented himself, therefore, with issuing two orders. Father Fischer was to write personal letters at once to Bazaine and to Minister Lares, ordering the repeal of the law of the third of October and the cessation of all hostilities until further notice. These two important despatches were entrusted to Count Lamotte, an officer in the Austrian Hussars, to carry back to the city of Mexico, and on the following morning the Emperor left the hacienda apparently much relieved. At noon of the second day, while resting at Rio-Frio, he sent the following telegram to Captain Pierron:

"You, with Messieurs Pino, Trouchot, and Mangino, are hereby appointed a commission which, under your direction and with the assistance of some trustworthy official from the ministry of finance, will examine the Civil List accounts, mine as well as that of the Empress, to prove whether we owe the State or the State us. I desire from the commission a detailed and authenticated statement in regard to this, in which shall be included the sum taken by the Empress for her voyage to Europe, and that received by my secretary on the Civil List account, together with those employed by Minister Arroyo after the reduction of the Civil List, in works on the palace and at Chapultepec."

Herzfeld was also commissioned to issue, in the name of the Emperor, the necessary written orders to the prefect and treasurer at Miramar.

"The Emperor wishes the utmost publicity to be given these matters," so Herzfeld was notified, "and holds you responsible therefor on your honor and your friendship. Amid the political shipwreck he desires to keep his name and honor untarnished and would rather suffer personal loss than touch any part of the property of the Mexican nation."

At the stations of Actzingo and Canada, Maximilian spent the night in the house of the priests, a fact which furnished his enemies an opportunity for accusing him of too close affiliation with the clergy. His arrival was everywhere hailed with rejoicings, and he was overwhelmed with expressions of sympathy for the illness of the Empress. On the twenty-seventh of October the imperial party reached the city of Orizaba, which they entered at five o'clock in the afternoon, greeted with booming of cannon and the enthusiastic acclamations of the populace.