Benito Juarez

I have always admired Benito Juarez! To me he was like David and Goliath. His life story was very similar to the life of  Abraham Lincoln. They were contemporaries and faced similar struggles.

Benito Juárez, in full Benito Pablo Juárez García, was born March 21, 1806, in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, Mexico.—and died July 18, 1872, Mexico City. He was born four years before the Independence of Mexico from Spain. He was raised by his uncle surrounded by the ideas of the “Enlightment” and later when he studied law at the liberal Institute of Sciences and Arts, he believed in John Lock’s ideas that individuals agree not to infringe on each other’s “natural rights” to life, liberty, and property, ” He was convinced that it was through secular thought, and a secular education, that men could become masters of their own destinies.

He married Margarita Maza, a woman of European heritage from a socially prominent family in Oaxaca City. He became a lawyer, a judge, a  legislator, and supported Valentín Gómez Farías’ liberal reforms including limitations on the power of the Catholic Church. Benito and other liberals like Melchor Ocampo who opposed Antonio Lopez de Santana went in exile to New Orleans. During his time in exile, Juárez helped draft the liberals’ Plan of Ayutla, a document calling for Santa Anna’s removal from office, and for a convention to draft a new constitution. Faced with growing opposition, Santa Anna was forced to resign in 1855.

He drafted the law named after him, the Juárez Law, which declared all citizens equal before the law, and restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church and the Mexican army. President Álvarez signed the draft into law in 1855. This was the beginning of “The Reforma”.

After three years of civil war, the liberals prevailed, and the “The Constitution of 1857” became law. Juárez was elected president in 1861. He was president during the battle of Puebla of Cinco de Mayo. And during in his first term, the French under Napoleon III invaded and occupied Mexico, putting Maximilian of Austria in power in1864. Benito Juarez was president in “internal-exile”  as he had to move from place to place in the north part of Mexico running away from the conservative military forces making sure he did not cross the border with the United States, while at the same time protecting the archive’s of the nation, including the “Declaration of Independence” from Spain. He did all this from his black carriage as he did not stay long in any one place. He managed to keep the country’s nationalism intact during the three years of the French intervention.

When Napoleon later withdrew his troops, Juárez defeated Maximilian’s armies and had him executed in 1867. Benito Juarez respected Maximilian on a personal level, however, he refused to commute the sentence in view of the Mexicans who had been killed fighting against Maximilian’s Monarchy, defending the republic, and because he believed it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers. 

Benito Juarez and Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln had sent him a letter congratulating him as the elected president of Mexico and recognizing his republican government as the official government of Mexico. During the French intervention Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, had to balance the pressure to keep France’s army in Mexico reminding Napoleon III that according the the “Monroe Doctrine” signed 40 years earlier, the United States will protect any country in the Western Hemisphere from European powers.

It is well established that the Confederate states had many alliances with European countries and  that is the reason Abraham Lincoln set up a maritime blockade. However, The French continued to send supplies and armament to the Confederate  states through various ports of Mexico, and the Confederates continued to send cotton to France via Mexico. Therefore, the liberal armies of Benito Juarez would boycott these shipments as part of their war to the French intervention and to aid in their cause. This was well known by Abraham Lincoln and by Secretary of State, William Seward.

The end of the Civil War in the United States in 1865, however, created a more assertive foreign policy toward Mexico and released arms that were directed to help Juarez in his fight against the French.

Although the United States did not send any direct military aid, they explicitly threatened France, and provided for the sale of Mexican bonds to aid the liberals. This had an immediate effect on the moral of both sides and the liberals began winning back territory even before the French officially withdrew in May 1866.

Benito Juárez’ life and accomplishments are similar to Abraham Lincoln’s life. They both had humble beginnings, and they were self taught, both became lawyers, they did not have an attractive physic.  Both believe in the separation of church and state, in democracy, and in the principle that all men are created equal and deserve the rights to be treated equal under the law, and have the rights as established under the constitution of both countries.Both of them forged a new nation. It is my wish you read more about Benito Juarez and his time.

Books about Benito Juarez that you might want to read or gift.

Jamie Katz is a longtime Smithsonian contributor and has held senior editorial positions at People, Vibe, Latina and the award-winning alumni magazine Columbia College Today, which he edited for many years. He was a contributing writer to LIFE: World War II: History’s Greatest Conflict in Pictures, edited by Richard B. Stolley (Bulfinch Press, 2001).

In February 23,2017, 


a sympathetic figure to the progressive followers of Juárez, who was inaugurated as president of Mexico in the same month and year, March 1861, as Lincoln.

Both were born very poor, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, became lawyers, and ultimately reached the highest office of their countries,”2

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