Benito Juarez (1806-1872), full-blooded Zapotec Indian and five-time President of Mexico, may summarize the differences between Mexico and the United States (especially when compared with his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln). Born in an adobe house to Zapotec peasants, he worked as a shepherd, field hand, and domestic servant before an employer, realizing his gifts, sent him to seminary. He subsequently studied law and was elected governor of Oaxaca. Sent into exile by long-time dictator Santa Anna, he worked at a cigar factory in New Orleans before returning home, where he was instrumental in helping promulgate the liberal Constitution of 1857. Serving as interim president under the new constitution, he was elected in his own right in 1861. The constitution’s liberal slant, which, among other things, mandated education free of religious dogma, plunged Mexico into civil war, during which France intervened, installing the Archduke Maximilian as Maximilian I of a new Mexican Empire.
Juarez resisted the French occupation, and, with military help from U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, expelled the French in 1867. He was reelected President twice more, in 1867 and 1871. He died of a heart attack while in office.
Tough, stubborn, and unstoppable, Juarez is remembered in Mexico today for his belief in democracy, the rights of Mexico’s Indians, and secular government. He is generally regarded as Mexico’s greatest president, and has been called “Mexico’s Lincoln.” He came closer to realizing the dream of an independent, federal, and democratic Mexican republic than anyone before the Mexican Revolution.
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Photo: President Benito Juarez, WikiCmns, Public Domain.