Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/27

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17
AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF MEXICO.

to conquer the country. The national forces, under the leadership of undoubtedly the greatest and noblest character that Mexico has produced, Benito Juarez, reported to be of pure Indian parentage, offered a not inglorious resistance; and in at least one instance undoubtedly inflicted a severe defeat upon the French army. But with the almost universal defection of the clergy and the wealthier classes, and with the country weakened by more than forty years of civil strife and an impoverished exchequer, they were finally obliged to succumb; and after a period of military operations extending over about sixteen months, or in June, 1863, the French entered the city of Mexico in triumph and nominally took possession of the whole country. A month later, a so-called "assemblage of notables," appointed by the French general-in-chief, met at the capital, and with great unanimity declared the will of the Mexican people to be the establishment of an empire in the person of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, "or such other prince as the Emperor Napoleon should designate"; and in pursuance of this act the crown was formally offered to Maximilian at his palace in Austria in October, 1863, and definitely accepted by him in April, 1864. Viewed in the light of subsequent events, the point of greatest interest and importance in this scheme on the part of Louis Napoleon for the conquest of Mexico and its conversion into a French dependency, to the humiliation of whatever political organizations might be left after the war to represent the former Federal Union, and to the utter discomfiture of the "Monroe doctrine" a scheme which Napoleon designed should constitute the most brilliant feature of his reign—was the connection of the Church of Mexico and its adherents with the movement. If not, indeed, as is often suspected, the instigators of it in the first instance, they were undoubtedly in full sympathy with it from its inception and with good reason. For as far back as 1857, Juarez, when a member of the Cabinet of General Comonfort, had been instrumental in the adoption of a political Constitution which was based on the broadest republican principles, and which provided for free schools, a free press, a complete subjugation of the ecclesiastical to the civil authority, and universal religious toleration—a Constitution which, with some later amendments, is still the organic law of Mexico. Such a reform could not, and at the time did not, triumph over the privileged classes, the Church, the aristocracy, and the military leaders, and, although embodied in the form of law, remained in abeyance.

But the Church and the aristocracy at the same time did not fail to recognize that, if Juarez and his party ever attained political ascendency, their property and privileges would be alike imperiled.

The subversion of the so-called Republic of Mexico, with its unstable government and frequent revolutions, and its replacement with an empire, backed by the then apparently invincible arms of France, and with one of the Catholic princes of Europe on the throne, were,