Juárez, Benito

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Juárez, Benito

Benito Juárez (bānē´tō hwä´rās), 1806–72, Mexican liberal statesman and national hero. Revered by Mexicans as one of their greatest political figures, Juárez, with great moral courage and honesty, upheld the civil law and opposed the privileges of the clericals and the army. A lawyer, he was governor of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1852. In 1853 he was imprisoned for his opposition to Santa Anna. After a period of exile in the United States, Juárez was a chief figure in drawing up the Plan of Ayutla and in the subsequent revolution that overthrew Santa Anna. Juárez became minister of justice in the new government and issued the Ley Juárez, which, with the Ley Lerdo (see Lerdo de Tejada, Miguel), attacked the privileges of the church and the army. The conservatives rose against the liberal constitution of 1857. When Comonfort resigned, Juárez became acting president. He showed his mettle as a high-minded leader of the liberal revolution, which transferred political power from the creoles to the mestizos and forged Mexico's national consciousness. Forced to flee to Guanajuato, then to Guadalajara, and finally to Veracruz with his government, he resisted the conservatives, and ultimately the liberals were successful in the War of the Reform (1858–61). After establishing the government in the capital, Juárez was immediately faced with new difficulties. The intervention of France, Spain, and Great Britain because of unpaid debts to their nationals was followed by the French attempt to establish a Mexican empire (1864–67) under Maximilian. Juárez, with the adherence of such notable Mexicans as Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, continued gallant resistance to the French soldiers and moved his capital to El Paso del Norte (later renamed Juárez city). The Mexican people rallied to Juárez, and the empire fell. Reelected in 1867, he instituted the program of reform in full force, but political divisions among the liberals hampered real accomplishments, and by his political maneuvers Juárez somewhat tarnished the glory gained by his defense of Mexico. He was again elected in 1871. An insurrection against him by Porfirio Díaz was being suppressed when Juárez died.

See biography by U. R. Burke (1894); studies by W. V. Scholes (1969), I. E. Cadenhead, Jr. (1973), L. B. Perry (1978), and C. A. Weeks (1987); R. Roeder, Juárez and His Mexico (1947, repr. 1968).

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