How did an Austrian Become the Emperor of Mexico? : Maximilian I of Mexico

How did an Austrian Become the Emperor of Mexico? : Maximilian I of Mexico


Last time we left Mexico it was in an ideological
struggle between the conservatives which favored a very centralized administration that retained
many aspects of the former colony with most favoring the reinstatement of a European style
Monarchy, and the liberals which favored curbing the power of the church and the military and
most wanting an establishment of a more USA style republic. And this ideological divide wouldn’t really
go away for the next century or more. Since Iturbide’s death Mexico was highly
unstable going from being an Empire to an ill-conceived republic to then being attacked
by Spain trying to requinquer it, to then another ill-conceived republic, to then losing
a war with Texas and the USA, while switching to a third ill-conceived republic, all while
this guy, Antonio López de Santa Anna a military leader/president/dictator kind of controlled
things to various degrees during this period. Ou and while all of this was happening a bunch
conservative and liberal rebellions occurred as well helping to increase the natural chaos
of the era. All of this combined and more that we don’t
have time to talk about meant that Mexico was in a deep state of shit ehh I mean poop. And it is this state of affairs in the year
of 1854 that we start our journey. As I have mentioned before since the first
Mexican Empire, the mexican politics were largely dictated by one person, Santa Anna. He is a complicated character to say the least,
he was a prominent military leader a president and a dictator. Sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a
time, sometimes he called politics boring and left on a military campaign while leaving
someone else in charge, sometimes he left completely only to later come back, it was
a game of hats to him. None the less even though it can’t be said
that he completely controlled Mexico during the entire time since the dissolution of the
Empire, he was so prominent in Mexican politics during this time that many historians just
call it “the age of Santa Anna” as all major events in Mexican history during this
era involved him in one way or another. He wasn’t really liked by the conservatives
or the liberals as his “reforms” were very staunchly centralist not giving either
side what they wanted. He mainly managed to stay in power because
of public support, political maneuvering between the two factions and the backing from the
military. But in 1854 he was finally overthrown by the
liberals, who quickly started implementing their laws known as La Reforma. Culminating in the 1857 new constitution,
which by the way if you’re keeping count is the 4th ill-conceived republic. Nonetheless the conservatives weren’t happy
to say the least, and with this new 1857 liberal constitution something had to be done. So they launched a Coup d’état, taking control
of Mexico City and rolling back the liberal reforms. The liberals retreated to Veracruz and called
the conservative government iligitmenet, and so the rest of Mexico had to choose whether
to support the Liberal government in Veracruz or the Conservative government in Mexico City
and with that the civil war known as the Reform War started. Initially the conservative forces head an
upper hand already controlling some of the Liberal states and having a much better equipped
and trained army, however USA decided it would be better for them if Mexico was controlled
by the republic leaning liberals rather than monarchy leaning conservatives, and so they
started to support the liberals, who in the end thanks in part to this support managed
to win in 1860 appointing Benito Juárez as the new Meixcan president in 1861. But at this point as you would imagine, Mexico
was devastated. It’s infrastructure in ruins, immensely
in debt, the economy barely holding together, and conservative gorillas still patrolling
the countryside trying to fight the liberal government wherever they can. Benito Juarez had no choice but to default
on the Mexican debt which was mainly owned by the British, French and Spanish. Obviously these three countries weren’t
happy with this and so decided to invade Mexico to force the liberal government to pay its
debt. But not all of these countries had the same
plan. Napoleon the 3rd king of France was hoping
to install a French favoring monarchy in Mexico as to have an ally in the new world. And when Mexico defaulted on its debt it gave
Napoleon the perfect causes belly to make this happen, plus USA was in the middle of
a civil war meaning they couldn’t interfere with Napoleon’s plan. When the English and Spanish found out about
the ulterior plans of the French they promptly withdrew their forces as they didn’t want
to support a French coup. Now alone the French army was defeated on
May the 5th at the Battle of Puebla by Ignacio Zaragoza. This Mexican victory is celebrated today as
CInco de Mayo, which if you ask me is kind of a Random Battle to have a whole holiday
around. Yes the Mexicans won against a much better
trained and equipped French army all while being outnumbered 2 to 1, but in the grand
scheme of things the battle didn’t really change much. The French army just retreated, waited for
reinforcements and then defeated the Mexican army anyways. Yes there are some interesting aspects of
the battle applyed to it retroactively but during that time it was just another battle
of many in Mexican history. But I digress. Napoleon now controlled Mexico, well kind
of. The Liberal government of Benito Juarez relocated
to Chihuahua with the countries treasury, hoping to continue the fight against the French,
which they did but very unsuccessfully. Napoleon also gained support from the Mexican
conservatives whom ever since their lose in the Reform War wanted to get their power back. So with Mexico now largely in the French hands
and with the help of the conservatives the second Mexican Empire was declared. Not long after that a suitable European monarch
to take the new throne was searched for. Kind of having a dejavu here. A suitable monarch was quickly found, Austrian
born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph from the house of Habsburg-Lorraine the younger brother
of Franze Joseph yes that Franz Joseph. But unlike his brother Maximilian was a true
renaissance man believing in the many ideas that came from the enlightenment. By age 17 he was taking 55 different classes
ranging from fencing to history and engineering, he also spoke 7 to 8 languages including Spanish. In everything Maximilian ever did, he was
trying to surpass his older brother, to show everyone that even though not in line for
the throne he would be a better ruler than Franz Joseph. In the end he was largely ignored and held
several royal positions within the Austrian kingdom before being asked by Napoleon the
3rd if he wanted the Mexican throne. Maximilian didn’t want to take the crown
at first saying he will only take it, if the Mexican people vote in favor of him. Napoleon along with the Mexican conservatives
obliged and staged a dubious vote which unsurprisingly turned out overwhelmingly in the favor of
Maximilian. Unbeknownst to the fabricated vote Maximilian
promptly left for Mexico with his wife Charlotte of Belgium, hoping to once and for all prove
to everyone that he will be a great monarch. Maximilian arrived to Mexico to a very cold
welcome. There wasn’t even anyone in Veracruz to
meet him, he just kind of stepped off the boat and waited. Turns out the conservative attache that was
supposed to meet Maximilian in Veracruz confused the time of his arrival and so came much later. Nonetheless Meximilian was taken to Mexico
City where he chose Chapultepec castle as his seat of power. But this is where the entire situation started
to become much more clearer to Meximilian. First he found out that he wasn’t actually
elected by the Mexican people and many of them didn’t want him here. Second he realized he was only in power, because
of the French military in Mexico that was keeping him in power. Without it the liberal government of Juarez
would come back. Third, turns out that Mexico was financial
in a disaster. This combined with the fact that a large portion
of the treasury was taken by the liberals and that it wasn’t him but the French government
who controlled the Mexican finance ministry, meant that even though Maximilian was the
emperor he did not have control over the country’s coffers or the military keeping him in power. But that didn’t disway the young emperor
who had something to prove. He quickly got to work reforming the Mexican
Empire according to the ideas of the enlightenment, which by the way where very similar to the
ideas that the liberals implemented at the start of the reform war just a couple of years
back. Meximilian abolished the large haciendas’
monopolies in Mexico, restricted working hours, banned child labor, cancelled all pesents’
debt under 10 pesos, and banned all the selling and reselling of indebted Mexican peasents
known as peons, who up untill now where more like slaves. He enacted many more other liberal reforms
but we don’t have time to talk about all of them. Naturally all these liberal reforms started
to anger the conservatives who brought Maximilian here to get rid of the liberal reforms not
to pass them. However Maximilians wife known in Mexico as
Carlota through lavish Austrian style galas and parties to keep the aristocrats at least
somewhat occupied. Plus in the conservative minds having a liberal
monarch is still better than a liberal government. Meximilian also brought many Austrian engineers
to help build up the Mexican infrastructure and mainly rebuild Mexico city in the style
of the European capital cities. For example, today’s famous Paseo de La Reforma
was built by Maximilian. Suddenly the tide started to change. Many liberals seeing Maximilian’s reforms
started to take up administrative jobs within Maximilian’s government, thinking maybe
having this emperor isn’t that bad. The peasants also started to turn to Meximilian’s
side mainly the indios class who saw having an emperor a much better option than being
controlled by a majority mestizo/criollo liberal government. And over all, even the people who didn’t
want a monarchy started to become much less vocal about it, as everyone was sick of fighting
at this point and if peace meant having an Austrian monarch so be it. Maximilian even tried to endear himself to
the Mexican people by walking around the capital with no guards or ontarouge wearing a Sombrero
and a Mexican charro, just chatting with the people and seeing how the day was going. He even offered Juarez a pardon and a prime
ministerial position in his new government. Juarez however declined, he didn’t fight
Santa Anna and then the reform war just to now work under a foreing monarch. And that is where the troubles for Maximlian
start piling on. The liberals were almost stomped out by the
French army but then the US civil war ended. USA now no longer preoccupied decided it was
time to intervene. The reasons for the intervention where mainly
that the US didn’t support the liberals in the reform wars just to see them now lose
power and also because all of this was a European intervention in the Americas, which under
the US Monroe Doctrine was a no go. Which seems kind of hypocritical but I digress. President Andrew Johnson couldn’t get the
congress to agree on an intervention plan, so he just relocated a lot of the US army
to the Mexcian Border and then just had them “lose their weapons and supply” somewhere
in that area. The Mexican liberals, now with US support
could finally go on the offencive and started to win a bunch of battles and retake some
land. Meximilian was now forced to enact the Balck
Decree which made anyone forming any armed bands to be imprisoned and executed within
twenty four hours. This did slow down the liberals but also angered
many other people who were appalled by all the killing, sometimes even of innocent people
who happened to have guns on them, so many people started to support the liberals again. While this was happening USA exerted a lot
of diplomatic pressure on France urging them to leave at once, this combined with a looming
Franco-Prussian war back in Europe, meant that Napoleon had no choice but to withdraw
all of his troops from Mexico. Without the French army the Mexcian Empire
would surely fall and Napoleon urged Maximilian to leave the country. But Maximilian ever the naive Emperor was
convinced by his conservative advisors that a solid defence can be mustered up against
the liberals even without the French. However unbeknownst to Maximilian the conservatives
didn’t have much power anymore ever since their defeat in the reform war and this proposed
defence was just a pipedream. As a last ditch effort Maximilian himself
went on to lead his troops in to battle, and when it became obvious that the Liberals will
win, he allegedly hoped for a “lucky bullet” that would kill him in battle fighting for
his country, but it never came and eventually he was captured and sentenced to death. A day before the execution Maximilian was
offered a chance to escape but he refused as his Mexican generals who were ordered to
be executed with him couldn’t make it and he wouldn’t leave them behind. Also escaping would mean shaving his beard
which along with the escape itself would taint his proud Habsburg heritage if caught, and
so he will stay and face the firing squad as an Emperor. His last words before a firing squad where
in flawless spanish. “I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to
forgive me. May my blood, which is about to be shed, be
for the good of the country. Viva Mexico, viva la independencia!” Maximilian wasn’t a perfect monarch, he
was naive, easily swayed by other people and even though goal oriented he was very indecisive
on how to get to those goals. But with his liberal ideas and openness to
hear out his advisors, with his care for all people regardless of class and his passion
to improve the living standards for all Mexicans, he was in a way the perfect monarch for Mexico. And ironically while pursuing their goal to
stabilize the country, the liberals may have squandered the best chance for peace and stability,
Mexico had in a long time. Or maybe not, maybe the US would invade or
France would fully take over, who knows. However I will end with this statement, after
the reinstatement of the republican government Juarez thought about releasing a list of all
the liberals that asked for or gotten a job within the Maximilian administration, to which
Sebastián Lerdo a prominent liberal him self replied “If you publish that list, there
will no longer be a liberal party”. That is where this video ends, please do read
the description for so much more information that I was unable to cram in to this already
pretty long video. Information like the fact that there are several
contradicting sources on what the actual last words of Maximilian were, so if you want to
know what Maximilian may have said, check out the description. Also please if you can, do support me on Patreon
the editing and research for my videos takes a very long time, and this combined with the
fact that often times I have to cancel the sponsor spots for my videos including this
one, because the way they want to implement them would ruin the entire flow of the videos
means that I have yet to make a single dollar of profit on my channel. Therefore any support is appreciated. As always my name is M. Laser and stick around
for history.

21 thoughts on “How did an Austrian Become the Emperor of Mexico? : Maximilian I of Mexico

  1. Maximilian is the ideal "monarch of people", sadly the realistic is much cruel. His last words made me cry the first time I read it.

  2. 15:52
    This is profit in the accounting sense. revenue – total expenses = profit (on the channel not individual videos)

    I keep an annual income statement which has never even gotten above -1000 dollars at the end of the year.

    This doesn't mean some videos didn't make profit when accounted for individually. The Battle of Karansebes Explained video for one did make profit, 332 (rounding up from cents) dollars of profit to be exact. But over all many of my videos are in large negatives (like the recent Cambridge video), hence the over all profit on my channel is very much in the red.

  3. "…Mexico was in a deep state of shi – I mean poop." That is the clear eyed history narrative we need! This new style of historical narrative: clear eyed and straight-talking is what the field needs!

  4. I'd love to see you do some videos on Prehispanic Mexican history. There's, sadly, very little content about it on youtube that's not low effort, exclusively focused on the Aztec and Maya, or filled with tons of errors; even though there's 3000 years of prehispanic complex societies in the region, dozens of other civilizations beyond those two, etc . The only people who have really done a fantastic job are Kings & Generals and Invicta, whom I helped with his Aztec rank video; so there's a real untapped pool of potential content there (There's also Aztlan historian, but his channel as of now is tiny). There's also more sources then you might think: the Spanish book burnings were devastating, but a decent amount was re-recorded; at least for specific time periods/cultures: there's been ENTIRE books written about single, specific Mesoamerican historical figures, for example, like "Tlacaelel Remembered", "In The Realm of 8-Deer", and "The Allure of Nezahualcoyotl", etc.

  5. This is literally the first time I have ever heard of this person.
    Which is a shame because this is super interesting.
    I am an american and have a Masters Degree in International Affairs and somehow have not heard of this.
    I feel like schools failed me.

  6. I always felt bad for Maximilian. Imagine how different history could potentially be if something happened to young Franz Joseph and Maximilian became the Emperor of Austria. Add to that Frederick III not dying on cancer and we would have two liberally-minded emperors. That is assuming that the German Empire would be even formed (maybe not in the same form) in that timeline with Maximilian already being a pretty large "butterfly", flapping his metaphorical wings and effecting the unification of Germany in ways that are hard to predict.

    BTW this is shaping up to be a great series about Mexican history.

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