Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anniversary of Maximilian of Austria's proclamation as Mexican emperor

On April 10, 1864, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, brother of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. Following the French intervention in Mexico led by Emperor Napoleon III, a delegation of Mexican monarchists approached Maximilian with the offer of ascending the throne of a second Mexican empire (the first Mexican empire, under Emperor Agustin de Iturbide, had collapsed in 1823 after less than a year), which would be supported by France's military presence in Mexico. Maximilian accepted, and together with his wife, Charlotte (daughter of King Leopold I of the Belgians), they were proclaimed Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Mexico.




Maximilian and Charlotte sailed from Europe on an Austrian navy ship and docked at Veracruz on May 21. From the start, Maximilian found great resistance to his rule from the Mexican people. Backed by French troops, he was able to establish his capital in Mexico City, and he and Charlotte chose the famed Chapultepec Castle as their official residence. Maximilian constructed a pathway leading from Chapultepec through the center of Mexico City, and named this Paseo de la Empeatriz (The Empress' Promenade). Today, it is known as the Paseo de la Reforma (Reform Promenade), Mexico City's most famous and fashionable boulevard.

With his country constantly in conflict between the remaining French presence and the republican forces who wanted to do away with the new foreign monarchy, Maximilian took a liberal approach and supported a number of the policies implemented by Benito Juarez, Mexican president before the French occupation. Maximilian even offered amnesty to Juarez if he would swear allegiance to the empire, but Juarez refused. In response to the republican tactic of executing anyone who professed support for the empire, Maximilian ordered that anyone supporting Juarez should also be shot, which furthered his unpopularity among the Mexicans.




Following the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States, agitated by a monarchy so close to their borders and by the French presence, began supplying arms to Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz. Maximilian also invited ex-Confederates to live in Mexico, further annoying the US government.


In 1866, faced with a losing battle against Mexico's republican forces and domestic trouble at home, Napoleon III withdrew French troops from Mexico, effectively ending any legitimate military support for the Mexican empire. All across Europe, Maximilian was being called "the Archdupe", portraying him as a puppet in Napoleon III's botched scheme.


Refusing to desert his followers, Maximilian resisted suggestions to abdicate, but in May 1867 he was captured, court-martialed and sentenced to death.


Several of Europe's crowned heads appealed to save Maximilian's life. Although they had been in conflict before, Benito Juarez (who had been reinstated to power in Mexico) admired Maximilian on a personal level, but nonetheless agreed that in order to demonstrate Mexico's intolerance for future foreign invasions, Maximilian's death sentence should be carried out. The deposed emperor was executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867.

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