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Notes on the 19th Century


Era of Santa Anna (1822-1855)
Reforma and Juárez (1855-1875/6)
Porfiriato (1876-1911)

Period begins Agustín Iturbide's short-lived empire.

    Santa Anna had no redeeming features, which says a lot about political conditions of Mexico. He was a military adventurer. He was extraordinarily good at his adventuring but he had no political ideas or principles.

Independence to 1855:

Important questions:

  1. Question of special privilege. Corporate groups were states a within a state.
  2. fight to establish nationalism as the dominant sentiment.
  3. regionalism was an important, serious problem. Core versus the periphery. Merchant groups of Mexico City used the city/national governments power to hurt other merchants. The Jalisco Question (Guadalajara is the capital). Mexico City chopped up the state of Jalisco in the nineteenth century, making it less powerful and smaller.
  4. The Church question included:  1. courts 2. always supported the conservatives  3. property  4. education
  5. Federalism, which the liberals were for and the conservatives against.
  6. Fraud, coercion at election times is almost the rule withouy exception.
  7. Foreign Relations problem. Three traumatic experiences occurred--the loss of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the French intervention with the accompanying empire of Maximilian.

La Reforma (1855-1867)

    Part of it was a reaction on part of liberals to the conservative regimes (1821-55) which preceded it. The Liberals decreed the Ley Juárez (1855) concerning military and church courts which would have no more jurisdictoin in purely civil cases, and the Ley Lerdo (1856), which forbade corporate groups (principally the church) from owning property. Church regained some of its property under Díaz. The Constitution of 1857 was the hallmark of La Reforma. It included the Ley Lerdo and Ley Juárez. Established a federal government, personal guarantees,and an enlarged electorate. It alarmed conservatives. They decided to fight to defeat this leftism.

    The War of the Reform (1857-1860) was bloody on both sides. At first, the conservatives under General Miguel Miramón, were willing but the tide turned in favor of the liberals.   Conservative reaction to the loss of the War of the Reforma was to seek aid in Europe. Best hope was France because France had money invested in Mexico; Napoleon III was ambitious to create an empire in imitation of his famous uncle. The conservatives appealed the French Catholicism, claiming that Benito Juárez and his fellow liberals, were trying to destroy Christianity in Mexico. They also claimed that Juárez, who was a Zapotec, was a savage.

    The French, the Spanish, and the British sent troops to Mexico to collect debts but Napoleon III had other aims. French troops moved inland from the port of Veracruz, defeating liberal armies on the way. They established control of much of the nation. Napoleon III persuaded the powerful Hapsburg monarchy to send one of its younger princes to Mexico to become emperor. Maximilian wouldn't go unless the Mexican people wanted him. So the French army held a phony plebescite and Maximilian came. Maxiiilian alienated the conservatives, for he was more a liberal than a conservative.


As  a young man, he is an example of the lure of modern society affecting a man of traditional, rural society. He had a desire for education. In 1827, the liberals set up a civil academy. Juárez went. These schools were one of the important effects of independence and Mexican liberalism. The Christian church fought these schools because there were secular. A 1ot of people with money in Oaxaca fought this school, backing the Church. Juarez studied law on his own and as an apprentice, which was how lawyers were trained in th Western world thooughout the nineteenth century. It was hard to make money as a lawyer in Mexico in these times. That was generally true in Latin America. It was one reason Juárez went into politics.

    Was Juárez an opportunist in the 1830s and 1840s? Had he tried to be  wild-eyed reformer, he  probably wouldn't have reached the high office that he did.

    His career illustrates the difficulty that civilian government had with the Church.

Controversy between a curate and landowner in Michoacán. Melchor Ocampo was the liberal governor of the state. A peón died and the widow did not have enough money to pay for a funeral. She appealed to the curate. His reply was "Eat the corpse!" The landowner paid the fee and then petitioned the legislature about the Church fee system. The curate turned it into a preservation of the Church, anti-socialism, and anti-equality of property issue.  Ocampo publically denied that these were issues. This controversy pushed him further into liberalism.


Juárez wanted to abolish the keeping of federal military units on the grounds that a standing army aided arbitrary government. Couldn't get this passed because it was too radical for some liberals. the same was true of liberty of conscience and land reform.

Monetary Problems

    The central government never had enough money. It depended upon import and export taxes; the volume of trade, and thus government income, was beyond government control. This was true in all of Latin America.

    In 1859, $15 million peso bond's issued through the Jecker bank. The bank could pay 20% of Mexican customs duty with bonds. Since the bonds depreciated so rapidly, it amounted to a discount on customs, thus meaning that the bank was not being paid full value. Conservatives were able to claim in France that this is one of the things that France should pay attention to in its Mexican diplomacy.

    Mexican people came to feel that they were being strangled by the pressures of local caudillos, foreign goverments, and foreign trepidations.

    Juárez endured. He was courageous and had perserverance. When the conservative army was taking Mexico City, Juárez retreated to northeast Mexico. He realized that he could run the liberal resistance without removing the local caudillo (head of Nuevo León and Coahuila). Had to,fight small war. The caudillo problem not solved until the 1930s. Díaz handled the problem in a new way, but he did not end caudillismo.

    Juárez served many terms, from 158 until his death in 1872. Thought he was indispensable. There were outcrys against his continuism. Porfirio Díaz  pronounced against him in 1871 but lost.

Caste War in the Yucatán (1839-42)

    This was one of the bloodiest local disturbances in 19th century Mexico. Essentially, it was a war on part of the Yucatán/Maya peasantry against landlords. They also revolted against the draft and the Church's special charges. Yucatecos also resisted centralism, for they had a strong regional identification, based partly on languages. Liberal federalists bid for Indian support.


    First railroad begun in 1842 and finished in 1872. Ran from Mexico City to Veracruz. Although Juárez can take credit for beginning railroad construction, the railroad age came under Díaz.

    Roads were very poor. For example, the General Stagecourses of the Republic Line, which operated principally in central Mexico, tool ten days to go from Mexico City to Durango in 1879. To go onwards to Chihuahua, a person had to use a horse and travel another ten days.

    Carrying freight across the country was not only slow but expensive. The "dry customs," tarrifs collected at state borders and sometimes at municipal boundaries, added to the cost. Why did hey do this, knowing that it retarded market development? State and municipal governments needed the money.

    There were some Mexicans who were aware of these problems and wanted to do somthing about them, such as Lucas Alamán and Matías Romero.

    The experiences of  Juárez and other liberals made them believe that the most important thing Mexico needed  were order and stability.