The March 21st Mexican holiday each year marks the anniversary of the birth of Benito Juárez (1806 – 1872), the most revered of all Mexican presidents. He is the only Mexican individual to have a national public and patriotic holiday named in his honor.
Known for his impeccable honesty and simple tastes, he was immune from corruption. He didn’t play favorites and sought to implement reforms fairly.
He is considered a preeminent symbol of Mexican nationalism and resistance to foreign intervention.
He served a total of five terms as president seeking to institute constitutional reforms and create a democratic Mexico.
Benito Juárez, a Zapotec Indian, was born in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, Mexico. Both his parents died when he was 3 years old and he was raised by his uncle. When he was 12, he moved to Oaxaca to live with his sister, learned Spanish and started school.
In 1831 he received his law degree and quickly began to help poor farmers of Oaxaca in their battles with land owners.
At this time, Mexico was coming out of thirty years of domestic violence which had bankrupt the country. Two political factions emerged: conservatives, who represented the large landholders, the Catholic
Two political factions emerged: conservatives, who represented the large landholders, the Catholic
– conservatives, who represented the large landholders, the Catholic Church and the military and wanted to protect the status quo, and
– Liberals representing small merchants and rural ranchers and farmers and wanted to institute democratic reform. He believed the landed aristocracy’s monopoly on the economy was the root cause Mexico’s poor living conditions.
He believed the landed aristocracy’s monopoly on the economy was the root cause Mexico’s poor living conditions.
In 1843 Juárez married Margarita Meza, the daughter of one of Mexico’s wealthiest Creole families. This increased his standing and led to several prestigious state appointments. Politics soon became his passion and he was elected to Oaxaca’s legislature.
In 1846, the Liberal Party took power and Benito Juárez joined the push for liberal causes. During the war with the United States (1847-1848) he was appointed Oaxaca’s governor. He promoted a guerrilla resistance toward the United States. In 1853, the dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana came to power and Juárez was exiled in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in a cigar factory.
In 1855, Santa Ana’s government collapsed and Benito Juárez returned from exile. Juárez was appointed President of the Supreme Court. In 1857, the presidency of Juan Alvarez ended with his retirement and Mexico entered a period of inner turmoil, known as the Three Year War or the War of Reform, a struggle for power between political factions.
When it was over, Juárez emerged as president of Mexico.
President of Mexico
Benito Juárez struggled to help Mexico find its financial footing. He resisted the French occupation and worked to overthrow Emperor Maximillian. In 1867, French forces withdrew. Emperor Maximilian was arrested and executed by firing squad. Benito Juárez was elected President.
During his time as President, he rebuilt the nation’s infrastructure, cut the power and funding of the military, expropriated much of the Church’s large landholdings to the poor, and promoted free speech, press, and assembly. However, secrecy, suppression of political opposition, and corruption marred his presidency. On July 18, 1872, Juárez died in office from a heart attack.
The period of Juárez’s leadership is known as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North). During this time, large tracts of Church land was redistributed to the poor, the army was put under civilian control, church was separated from state, and civil rights were expanded.
Although many of his positions shifted during his political life, he held fast to particular principles including the supremacy of civil power over the Catholic Church and the military; respect for law; and the de-personalization of political life.