Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today in Mexican History

It was on this day in 1863 that General Juan Almonte was appointed provisional President of Mexico by the Superior Junta in Mexico City appointed by the victorious General Frederic Forey of the French Imperial Army. The body was essentially a triumvirate consisting of General Jose Mariano Salas, General Juan Almonte and Archbishop Pelagio Labastida (left to right in the above picture). The elderly General Salas, like Almonte a veteran of the war in Texas and the storming of the Alamo, had twice served as an interim President of Mexico and all were known advocates of the conservative, Catholic, monarchist cause in Mexico. General Juan Almonte had been dispatched to Europe by a previous Mexican government (that was quickly overthrown as they all were) and had remained there arguing in Paris and Madrid and elsewhere for a European prince to come across the ocean and restore the Mexican monarchy. Accusations that he had his own sights on the throne are entirely false and obviously absurd. General Almonte had always been loyal to his own superiors and never advocated anything that would have given himself power. On the contrary, a major reason for his adherence to the monarchist cause was that none of the traditional elites in Mexico could be trusted. So many governments had come and gone, so many leaders set up and overthrown over and over again that no one trusted anybody. He was convinced that only someone from outside the country, with no connections to the entrenched political factions, could bring order out of the chaos.

As Provisional President, General Almonte formed a regency and sent a delegation to formally invite the Austrian Archduke Maximilian to assume the Mexican Crown. This had long been the goal of the conservative, Catholic faction in Mexico but, oddly enough, they were probably closer to their own ideal vision under the provisional regency of General Almonte than they were when Emperor Maximilian actually arrived. Under Almonte the rights of the clergy were restored, the honored place of the Church was restored, public processions were as well and it was made a criminal offense to fail to kneel when the Blessed Sacrament was being carried in procession down the street. Churches that were closed were re-opened and the traditional rights of the aristocracy were restored to them as well. Much of this would be un-done by Emperor Maximilian as he tried to rule moderately and appeal to all parties and be acceptable to all nations -ultimately without success. The French were, themselves, not entirely impressed with the Triumvirate that Forey's assembly of notables had appointed. One officer referred to General Salas as, "a mummy dug up for the occasion".

General Forey addressed the junta after their organization on the subject of their task of forming a government from the political chaos left over from the Reform War. They were free to choose any sort of government they wished, though the acid-tongued Captain Loizillon (quoted above) said that was so, "on condition they choose a monarchy". However, in truth, this issue was never much in doubt. The traditionalist party in Mexico had long supported a restoration of their short-lived empire founded at independence by Agustin de Iturbide. They were also ecstatic that the French had delivered them from the hands of Benito Juarez and his leftist, anti-clerical tyranny and, as Colonel du Barrail thought, they would have voted for the Grand Turk or the Devil himself if the French army had desired them to. Fortunately, neither Satan or the Grand Turk were on the short list of candidates which held only the name of His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, to my mind the most noble, selfless and genuinely good intentioned leader the Mexican nation has ever had.

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