The French Occupation of Mexico, Part V —- The Execution of Maximilian I.
By 1866, events in Mexico began to turn against Emperor Maximilian and the Second Mexican Empire. Maximilian was hated by the Mexican populace and managed to alienate the Mexican aristocracy, who were his main supporters. In the border regions republican forces began to strike back, waging a bloody guerrilla war which made Napoleon III reconsider the benefits of the occupation. Then in 1865 the Civil War in the United States ended. Once again the US was back in international politics and determined to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. Worse yet, the end of the Civil War freed up enough surplus weapons to arm a massive army. In 1866 alone the United States supplied the Republicans with $16 to $18 million worth of weapons and ammunition. Heavily armed and determined, the Mexican Republicans were now a force to be reckoned with.
The final nail in the coffin of the Second Mexican Empire was forged by important events in Europe. At the time, a small militarized state called Prussia was beginning to unify the many kingdoms and city states that made up Germany. Napoleon III feared the rise of a new German Empire in Europe, and many Europeans believed that war between France and Prussia was imminent. In the summer of 1866 Napoleon III withdrew French forces from Mexico to fight in the imminent war with Prussia. By November of 1866 almost all French forces had been evacuated. Napoleon begged Maximilian to leave as well, but since he had renounced all Austrian titles of nobility he had nothing to go home to. Maximilian chose to stay and somehow salvage his empire.
French soldiers were really the only thing holding the Second Mexican Empire aloft. Without them, the Empire quickly collapsed. The new, heavily armed army of the Republicans immediately went on the offensive, liberating city after city on their march to Mexico City. Worse yet the Mexican populace rose in rebellion, overthrowing local governors and imperial officials. By spring of 1867, the Republicans were nearing the outskirts of Mexico City.
Maximilian and what remained of his forces tried to make a stand at the City of Queretaro, but the Republicans surrounded the city on March 9th. With no reinforcements to relieve them and short on supplies, Queretaro quickly fell. Maximilian tried to escape through enemy line, but was captured.
Before the uprising Maximilian ordered that all who gave aid to or were members of the Republican movement were to be executed. Using his own orders against him, the Republicans order that all captured monarchists were to be executed. All over Mexico imperial officials were lined up against a wall and shot. The execution orders for Maximilian came straight from the desk of President Juarez himself.
On June 19th, 1867 the former Emperor Maximilian I of the Second Mexican Empire was executed by firing squad. Two of the executioners were his former generals, who had switched sides towards the end of the war. News of Maximilian’s death sent shockwaves across Mexico and Europe. The remaining imperial forces surrendered and the Mexican Republic was quickly restored.
Benito Juarez was restored as President of Mexico, and would hold the office until his death until 1872. The restoration of the Mexican Republic would not lessen the turmoil of Mexico’s social and economic issues. For the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century Mexico would be embroiled in civil war, rebellions, and military juntas.
Meanwhile in Europe, the war between France and Prussia broke out as predicted. Lasting between 1870 and 1871, the Prussians dealt France a series of terrible military defeats. The Second French Empire collapsed and Napoleon III was forced into exile. He died while living in England in 1873.
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