4 – AN EMPIRE IS FORGED
With nothing in hands but the capital, Dubois de Saligny presents the plans for a new government. The French appoint 35 persons to form a junta. This junta then appoints a regency of three, which is given the executive power:
General Juan Almonte, Mgr. Labastida y Davalos, the Archbishop of Mexico,and General José Mariano Salas, the man who had solemnly offered the keys of the city to Forey.
Moreover, the junta is to appoint 215 persons, with whom it will form an “Assembly of the Notables”. This Assembly, “men of intelligence, accustomed to political life and public affairs”, according to De Saligny (though gossip had it that the French even paid for the very clothes of some of these “notables”) is supposed to represent the will of the people, and must decide upon the future form of government. They set to work on July 11, and that same day, by unanimous vote, declare that the Mexican nation adopts as form of government a hereditary monarchy with a Catholic prince, and that the crown should be offered to His Highness Maximilian of Habsburg.
A deputation headed by Gutierrez de Estrada, formerly Minister to the court of Rome, leaves for the castle of Miramar near Trieste, and on October 3, 1863, offers the crown to its illustrious inhabitant, Archduke Maximilian.
Which he promptly refuses: “I must recognise the fact -and in this I agree with the Emperor of the French- that the monarchy cannot be established (…) on a firm and legitimate basis, unless the whole nation shall confirm (…) the wishes of the capital. My acceptance of the throne must then depend upon the result of the vote of the whole country.”
Forey and Dubois de Saligny got carried away by their enthusiasm. In his instructions to Forey, Napoleon had written: “…espouse the quarrel of no party, but announce that all is provisional until Mexico shall have declared its wishes”. And: “The end to be obtained is not to impose (…) a form of government that will be distasteful to them, but to aid them to establish, in conformity with their wishes, a government which will have some chance of stability”. Arguably Napoleon never intended to let the Mexican people have a say in the matter. But, if so, he certainly didn’t want his agents to let the whole world know about it. And that’s exactly what the two dimwits have done: at Vera Cruz even a royal salute of 101 guns was fired.
The Emperor is not amused. Forey is recalled, though raised to the rank of marshal to soften the removal of this loyal but incompetent servant. Dubois de Saligny, who, besides this mucking up, has been using the surety of France to cover some very shady transactions, is given the boot. And now the reins of power pass into the more firm and capable hands of General François Achille Bazaine.
Foreign minister Drouyn de Lhuys writes to the new Commander-in-Chief: “…we can only consider the vote of the Assembly as a first indication of the inclinations of the country. (…) the Assembly recommends to its fellow-citizens the adaptation of monarchial institutions and designates a prince for their suffrages. It is now the part of the provisional government to collect these suffrages”.
That’s all nice and fine, but how secure the vote of the people when the whole country is up in arms against the French? While Forey was twiddling his thumbs, the juaristas reorganised their resistance: their rallied forces are holding the country, and bands of highwaymen, courteously called “guerillas”, are infesting the roads, even at the very gates of the capital.
And Bazaine has yet another problem: the Church. After the Liberals imposed the laws that stripped the Church of her property, lawsuits were commenced upon notes given for the purchase of that property, and were endlessly impeded by the Church. In fact, under her pressure, the courts hesitated to take jurisdiction over these suits. And now that the French have inaugurated a government, one of the chief ministers of which being the Archbishop himself, the Church believes that the expropriations will be nullified, and her former influence in the state restored.
The French intend to do neither. Bazaine instructs the regents not to annul the law, and orders the judges to make haste with the settlement of the lawsuits. Labastida is furious, and declares the order null and void, upon which he is promptly removed from the regency, and politely asked to keep his mouth shut.
Having dealt with this problem with his typical briskness, the general takes the field, and within six weeks defeats the forces of Generals Doblado, Negrete, Comonfort and Uraga. The French are now in control of the larger part of the country, and Juárez is forced to take refuge in Monterrey, close to the U.S. border. And now Bazaine can settle the question of the vote. No difficulties here: the conquered cities acknowledge the Archduke just as resignedly as they over the past forty years have acknowledged every victor’s chosen presidential candidate.
And so, Estrada and his Commission can return to Miramar, and on 10 April 1864 offer the crown once more to Maximilian, who from now on may call himself His Imperial Majesty Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico.
©2010, M.S.F. Wick