Benito Juárez was the president of Mexico for five consecutive terms, from 1858 to 1872. He is Mexico's only full-blooded indigenous President in history and is remembered as a great leader. Benito Juárez helped defend Mexico against the French occupation beginning in 1862, eventually overthrowing the Empire headed by Maximilian of Habsburg and restoring the Republic.
Benito Juárez was born on 21 March 1806 in San Pablo Guelatao, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He became a lawyer at the age of 29 and a judge seven years later, and he served as the governor of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1853. When military dictator Santa Anna regained the Mexican Presidency in 1853 after a period of exile, Juárez, a liberal, went into his own exile in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he worked at a cigar factory. Juárez and other Mexican liberals drafted a plan to remove Santa Anna from office in 1854, and Santa Anna resigned the next year. Juárez returned to Mexico, where the liberals formed a provisional government and began introducing political and social reforms.
In December 1857, conservatives led a revolt against the liberal government, and civil war ensued. Benito Juárez was arrested, but later led liberal forces to victory. As President, first elected in 1858, Juárez continued to issue reforms and modernize the country. In late 1861, after Juárez suspended interest payments on foreign loans due to Mexico's poor economy, the French Army under Napoleon III invaded. The first victory of Mexican forces against the invaders is commemorated on its anniversary by the Mexican national holiday Cinco de Mayo.
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Maximilian I, an Austrian, was installed as Emperor of Mexico in 1864. The United States did not recognize his sovereignty and supported Mexico throughout the French occupation. French troops finally withdrew late in 1866, and Maximilian was executed the following year.
Benito Juárez was reelected twice after the occupation and continued to serve as President until his death of a heart attack on 18 July 1872. Juárez is remembered as an inspiring leader and reformer, and he is commemorated with a national holiday on his birthday in Mexico, as well as with monuments throughout Mexico, the United States, and Guatemala.