A Brief Political History of Mexico - The Constitution of 1857

capelle spears legal translations law legal translation mexican history thelawyertranslator translation Dec 07, 2022

The Constitution of 1857 once again implemented a federalist and representative Republican form of government and divided the country into 23 states, one territory, and the federal district. Among its most important provisions were the abolishment of titles of nobility, regulations on religion—including prohibitions on property ownership by church institutions other than those used for religious services—free public (secular) education, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the abolition of slavery, and a series of procedures for protecting these rights was also established. Referred to as Amparo, these procedures together referred to a judicial remedy whereby natural and legal persons may attempt to seek protection from government action.

Benito Juarez became president in 1858, while Mexico was on the cusp of a civil war between liberals and conservatives. Liberals, including Juarez, supported the new government and Constitution, while conservatives were seeking a return to a monarchy and the restoration of the Catholic Church’s political and economic power.  Although the liberal faction would eventually prevail in the so-called Reform War, leading to Benito Juarez’s regaining control of the presidency, their victory would be short-lived.  In 1861, Juarez ordered a moratorium (a delay on payment obligations) on all foreign debt, which triggered an eventual invasion by France to replace the Mexican government with a monarchy. Mexican conservative elitists had been attempting for decades to reestablish the monarchy, and the moratorium imposed by Juarez, coupled with the U.S. Civil War, gave Napoleon III the excuse to finally execute it.   The French invasion began in April 1862, and two years later, Napoleon-backed Maximilian I, Archduke of Austria, agreed to be named Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire.  His reign would be cut short, however, as liberals continued to fight against the French assault.  After the U.S. Civil War concluded, Juarez, who was still recognized by the U.S. as the legitimate President of Mexico--believing the French invasion to be a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, had the support of the U.S. government.  U.S. President Andrew Johnson pressured Napoleon III to withdraw his forces from Mexico, and Napoleon III eventually relented.  With U.S. support, Juarez and his republican forces would eventually triumph, leading to the fall of the Second Mexican Empire and the capture and execution of Maximilian in June 1867.  One of the main generals and heroes of the military campaign against France was General Porfirio Diaz, who would eventually ascend to the presidency in 1877 after Juarez died in 1872.  Sabastian Lerdo de Tejada, Juarez’s successor, was forced to flee Mexico after insurgents led by General Diaz had severely defeated government forces in Huamantla, located in the eastern part of Tlaxcala.  Porfirio Diaz’s tenure as president (or as some historians refer to as a "de facto dictatorship" since, despite reelection being constitutionally prohibited, he was “reelected” in 1884 and again up until he was ousted in 1911) would become known as the PorfiriatoWhile historians (correctly) classify the Porfiriato as autocratic or dictatorial in nature as freedom of the press was largely ignored or outlawed, the country did prosper economically throughout his governorship and developed significantly in terms of industry, education, public health, and foreign investment.  The country also saw considerable growth in its middle class but also saw a revival of Catholic power and influence.  All the progress could not erase Diaz’s despotic social policies, which eventually led to an uprising and ignited the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920.  Francisco Madero challenged Diaz’s power in 1910, running against the de facto dictator, but shortly before the election, Diaz had Madero jailed and Madero ultimately lost the election “by a landslide.”  A letter Madero wrote from jail and was circulated called for a revolt against Porfirio Diaz and his “illegal” presidency.  The Plan of San Luis Potosi, as it is known, (you can download the original in Spanish here) offered change for many of the disenfranchised and contained the slogan “Sufragio Efectivo, No Reelección.”  Madero also gained the support of important rebel leaders, such as Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco, Venustiano Carranza, and Emiliano Zapata, and the weak Federal Army was unable to suppress Madero and the others.  The Federal Army was defeated in a string of battles, leading to the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez, whereby Diaz agreed to resign as president and go into exile.  Madero won the presidency in the 1911 elections but failed to implement most of the reforms that originally prompted the coup against Diaz, which included land and labor reforms.  The rebels who had originally supported Madero were now against him and the Mexican civil war continued.  Madero was eventually murdered although his death would subsequently unite all revolutionaries.  Venustiano Carranza and the Constitutionalists would ultimately prevail, and by late 1915, his government had been recognized as the legitimate government of Mexico.  Although his language had been exceedingly pro land reform, Carranza failed to implement any of the more liberal reforms sought by peasants.  However, in 1916, Carranza called for a constituent congress to draft a new constitution based on revolutionary ideas.  The result was the Constitution of 1917, which was the first in history to raise certain social, labor, and land rights to a constitutional level and restricted the Catholic Church’s political and economic power. 

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