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Juárez, Benito, on his early years

pre> Benito Juárez, Apuntes Para Mis Hijos [Notes for My Children]> (ca. 1857)
            On March 21, 1806, I was born in the village of San Pablo
Guelato, the jurisdiction of Santa Tomás Ixtlán in the state of
Oaxaca. [M]y parents, Marcelino Juárez and Brigida García, Indians of the
primitive race of the country, died when I had hardly reached three
years of age, leaving [us (my sisters María Joséfa and Rosa)] in the care
of our paternal grandparents, Pedro Juárez and Justa López, also
Indians of the Zapotec nation. My sister María Longinos, a child recently
born, for my mother died in giving her birth, remained in the care of my
maternal aunt, Cecilia García. Within a few years my grandparents
died; my sister María Joséfa married Tiburcio López of the village of Santa
María Tahuiche; my sister Rosa married José Jimenez of the village
of Ixtlan, and I was left under the guardianship of my uncle Bemardino
Juárez, because of my other uncles, Bonifacio Juárez had already
died. Maríano Juárez lived apart from his family, and Pablo Juárez was
still a minor. 
    ******** soon as I could think at all, I dedicated myself,
insofar as my young age permitted, to work in the fields. In the few
intervals in which we were not working, my uncle taught me to read; he
showed me how useful and advantageous it would be for me to know the
Spanish language, and since at that time it was extremely difficult for poor
people, and especially for Indians, to follow any learned career except
the ecclesiastic [holy orders], he revealed that he wanted me to
study for ordination. His desire, and the examples that I had before
me of fellow countrymen who knew how to read, write, and speak the
Spanish language, and of others in the priesthood, awakened in me a vehement
desire to learn, with the result that when my uncle called me to give
me my lesson, I myself took him the whip, so that he could beat me
if I did not know it. However, my uncle's work, and my own, in the
fields,  frustrated my ambition, and I advanced very little in my
lessons. Furthermore, in a village as small as mine, which had hardly
twenty families, at a time when hardly anyone was concerned with
the education of youth, there was no school; and there one hardly ever
heard Spanish, because the parents who could pay for the education of their
children sent them to the city of Oaxaca for that purpose, and those
for whom there was no possibility of paying for hoard and tuition
sent them to work in private homes, on condition that they would be
taught to read and write. This was, in general, the only method of getting
an education, not only in my village but also in the whole district of
Ixtlan, with the interesting result that at that time most of the
servants in the houses of the city were young people, of both sexes,
from our district. Thus, from feeling out these facts, rather than from
any mature reflection, of which I was incapable, I acquired
the conviction that I could learn only by going to the city, and
to this end I often urged my uncle to take me to the capital, but either
because of his affection for me, or from some other motive, he did not
do so, but only gave me hopes that some day he would take me there.
     Furthermore, I too was hesitant to separate myself from
him, to leave the house that had sheltered me in my orphaned
childhood, and to abandon my little friends, with whom I had always had the
deepest sympathies and from whom any separation always wounded me.
The conflict that arose within me, between these feelings and my
desire to go to another society, new and unknown to me, where I might
acquire an education, was cruel indeed. However, my hunger overcame
my emotions, and on December 17, 1818, when I was twelve years
old, I fled from my house and walked on foot to the city of Oaxaca,
where I arrived on the night of the same day.
     I lodged in the house of don Antonio Maza, in which my
sister María Joséfa was serving as cook. During those first days I
worked by taking care of the cochineal [an insect from which a dye is
extracted] while I looked for a house in which to work. At
that time there lived in the city a pious and very honorable man who
worked as a bookbinder. He wore the habit of the Third Order of St.
Francis, and although dedicated to devotions and religious practices, was
very broadminded and was a friend of the education of youth. The
works of Feijoo [Spanish philosopher]  and the epistles of St. Paul
were his favorite reading. This man, who received me into his house,
offering to send me to school, so that I could learn to read and write,
was named don Antonio Salanueva. In this way I found myself settled in
Oaxaca on January 7, 1819.
     In the primary schools at that time, Spanish grammar was
not taught. Reading, writing, and learning by rote the catechism
of Father Ripaldo was at that time the whole of primary instruction.
Inevitably, my education was slow and in every respect imperfect. I
spoke Spanish without rules and with all the errors committed by
the uneducated.  After some time in the fourth class in writing
in the school that I attended--as much because of my work as
because of the bad method of instruction---I could still hardly write at all.
     Anxious to finish my writing lessons quickly, I asked
permission to go to another school, believing that thus I could learn
more perfectly and rapidly. I presented myself to don José
Domingo Gonzalez, as my new teacher was named, and he promptly asked me in
what grade I was writing; I answered him, in the fourth. ''Well, then,''
he said, "write me a page and hand it in to me at the hour when the
others hand in theirs." When the usual time arrived, I handed in the
page that I had prepared in accordance with the pattern he had given me, but
it was not perfect, because I was a student and not a teacher. The
teacher was annoyed, and instead of showing me the defects that my page
had and showing me how to correct them, he only told me that it
would not do, and ordered that I be punished.
     This injustice offended me deeply, as did the inequality
with which the teaching was done in that school, which was called
the Royal School. For while the teacher in a separate department
taught with care a certain number of children who were called
"decent,'' the poorer youngsters, such as myself, were relegated to another
department, under the direction of another man, called the Assistant,
who was as little fit to teach and of as harsh a character as
the master.
     Since I was dissatisfied with this deplorable method of
teaching, and since there was in the city no other school to which I
could go, I decided to leave the school for good, and to practice by
myself the little that I had learned in order to express myself in
writing, however bad in form that writing might be as indeed it is to this
     Meanwhile, every day, I saw going to and coming from the
Seminary College in the city many youths who were studying
to embrace careers in the Church, and that reminded me of the advice of
my uncle,  who wanted me to become a priest. Furthermore, it was at
that time the general opinion, not only of the common people, but also of
those in the upper classes of society, that the religious, and even those
who were only studying to become priests, knew a great deal, and I
noticed that they were in fact treated with respect and consideration for
the knowledge that was attributed to them.  This circumstance,
more than the idea of my becoming a clergyman, an idea for which I felt an
instinctive  repugnance, induced me to ask my godfather--for so I shall
call don Antonio Salanueva, because he took me to be confirmed only a
few days after receiving me into his house--to allow me to go and
study in the seminary, assuring him that I should do all I could to make
the fulfillment of my obligations to him, in his service, compatible with 
my dedication to the studies I wanted to undertake.
     Since that good man, as I have already said, was a friend
of the education of youth, he not only received this idea gladly,
but even urged me to put it into effect, saying that since I had the
advantage of knowing Zapotec, my native language, I could be ordained, in
accordance with the ecclesiastical laws of America, without having to
have the  patrimony that others needed to live while obtaining a
benefice. With my road smoothed in this manner, I began the study of Latin
grammar at the seminary, with the rank of capense, on October 18, 1821--of
course without knowing Spanish grammar or any other of the elements
of a primary education. Unfortunately I was not alone in this 
deficiency, which marked the other students generally, because of the 
backwardness of public education at that time.
     Thus I began my studies under the direction of teachers
who, all being clerical, gave me a literary education that was
strictly ecclesiastical. In August of 1823,  I completed my study of
Latin grammar, having passed the two required examinations with
the grades of excellent. In that year the course in arts did not begin,
and I had to wait until the following year to begin the study of
philosophy in the work of Father Jacquier; but before that I had to overcome
another serious difficulty that presented itself, as follows: as
soon as I finished my study of Latin grammar, my godfather showed
great eagerness that I should go on to the study of moral theology, so that
in the following year I could begin to receive holy orders. This
suggestion was very painful to me, both because of my repugnance to a
religious career and because of the low reputation of the priests who had
only studied Latin grammar or moral theology, and who therefore were
ridiculed by being called ''priests of mass and stew," or ''Larragos.''
They were called the first because, on account of their ignorance;
they could only say mass to earn a living, and were not permitted to preach
or to exercise any other functions requiring instruction and
ability; and they were called ''Larragos" because they had studied moral
theology only in the works of Father Larraga.
     As well as I could, I explained this objection frankly to
my godfather, adding that not yet being old enough to be
received into the priesthood, I should lose nothing by taking the course in
the arts.  Luckily, my arguments convinced him, and he allowed me to go
my own way.
     In the year 1827, I finished the course in arts, having
defended in public the two theses that had been assigned to me and
having passed two required examinations with the grades of excellent
unanimously given, and with other honors given me by my synodical
       In the same year there began the course in theology, and
I went on to study that subject as an essential part of the career or
profession to which my godfather wished to destine me, and perhaps that
was the reason why he had not insisted that I be ordained previously....
      The constitution of 1824 was a compromise between progress and
reaction, and far from being the basis of a stable peace and
of true liberty for the nation, it was the fertile and enduring
seedbed of the incessant convulsions that the Republic has suffered, and
that it will still suffer while society does not recover its balance by
making effective the equality of rights and duties of all citizens
and of all persons who inhabit the national territory, without
privileges, without exemptions, without monopolies, and without odious
distinctions; or while there remain in force the treaties between Mexico and
foreign powers, treaties that will be useless as soon as the supreme
law of the Republic is an inviolable and sacred respect for the rights
of all men and of all peoples, whoever they may be, provided they
respect the rights of Mexico, her authorities, and her laws; or while,
finally, there is not in the Republic one single and unique authority, 
the civil authority as it is established by the national will, without
a religion of the state, and wiping out the military and ecclesiastical
powers as political entities that force, ambition, and abuse have
opposed to the supreme power of society, usurping its rights and
prerogatives, and subjecting it to their caprices.
         The republican party adopted the name Yorkist party, and
from that time onwards there continued a bloody and unremitting
struggle between the Scotch party, which defended the past with all
its abuses, and the Yorkist party, which sought liberty and progress;
but unfortunately, the latter almost always fought at a disadvantage
because, enlightenment not having become general in those days, its
adherents, with a very few and very honorable exceptions, lacked faith
in the triumph of the principles they proclaimed, since they ill
understood liberty and progress, and they lightly deserted its ranks,
going over to the opposing party, which action confused the efforts of
their former fellow partisans, defeating them and delaying the triumph
of liberty and progress. This was in general the state of the Republic
in the year 1827.
     At the beginning of 1833, I was elected deputy to the
state legislature. Because of the Law of Expulsion of Spaniards
passed by the federal congress [in 1829, the Bishop of Oaxaca, don Manuel
Isidoro Pérez, although exempted from this hardship, refused to
remain in his diocese, and departed for Spain. Since there was not now one
bishop in the Republic, because the few that there had been had also
gone abroad, it was not easy to receive holy orders, and they could only
be had by going to Havana or New Orleans; for this purpose it was
indispensable to have sufficient resources, which I lacked. For me, this
circumstance was highly favorable, because my godfather, recognizing the
impossibility of my being ordained, permitted me to continue in my career at
the bar. By that time I was supporting myself entirely by my own
     In the same year I was named Aide to the Commandant,
General don Isidro Reyes, who defended the city against the forces
of General Canalizo, who had pronounced for the plan of religion and
exemptions put forward by Colonel don Ignacio Escalada in Morelia. From
that time, the clerical-military party impudently undertook to maintain
their exemptions, their abuses, and all their antisocial pretensions by force
of arms and by means of rebellions. What gave this rebellion of the
privileged classes a pretext was the first step that the liberal party
took at that time on the road of reform: repealing the unjust laws that
imposed civil coercion for the collection of monastic votive offerings
and the payment of tithes.