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Benito Juárez (March 21, 1806-July 18, 1872)

He was born in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca. The son of Zapotec Indians, at age 13 he went to Oaxaca City and did not yet speak Spanish. He was a grain harvester for a short time but soon found a protector in Don Antonio Salanueva, a bookbinder and tertiary of the Franciscan order. With Salanueva and teacher Domingo González, Juárez learned to read. He enrolled in high school at the Santa Cruz Seminary, where he studied Latin and philosophy and finished his high school degree in 1827. The following year, without his protector’s consent, he entered the Sciences and Arts Institute, where he graduated as a lawyer in 1834. He was the first to graduate from the Institute with a professional degree.

In 1831 he became a councilor in Oaxaca’s Town Hall and in 1833, a local congressman. In 1841 he became a civil judge. When the presidency of General Paredes Arrillaga was overthrown, Juárez was elected a federal congressman. After he returned to Oaxaca, he served as governor for a short time upon the resignation of José Simeón Artega. At the end of that term in August 1848, Juárez presented himself as a candidate for the following term and was elected. He achieved economic equilibrium and completed several public works projects: roads, the reconstruction of City Hall, the founding of schools, a geographic survey, and the Oaxaca City map. He reorganized the National Guard and left a surplus in the treasury. Juárez ended his term in 1852.

When Santa-Anna returned to power, Juárez and many other liberals were expatriated, first to Jalapa and then to Havana after a short time at San Juan de Ulúa prison. From Havana, Juárez was deported to New Orleans, where he landed in October 1853. After Santa-Anna’s fall and the arrival of Juan Álvarez y Comonfort to the presidency, Juárez was named to head the ministry of justice (October – December, 1855). In November 1855, the law on the administration of justice was passed. Called the “Ley Juárez” (Juarez’s Law), it abolished deportations. Juárez was named Governor of Oaxaca and took office on January 10, 1856. He then called elections and was re-elected. When the Federal Constitution of 1857 was issued, Juárez promulgated it.

On December 17, the Tacubaya Plan was proclaimed. Juárez did not support Comonfort’s new policies and was apprehended. He was released in January 1858 and fled the capital. In July 1859 with the support of the radical party, Juárez issued what are called the Reform Laws, including independence of the state from the church, civil marriage, new regulations for graveyards and cemeteries, and the transfer of church property to the nation.

González Ortega, a civilian who improvised as a military general, led the liberal forces to victory and by the end of December 1860 entered Mexico City. Meanwhile, Juárez had taken command of the government. He held elections and won a mandate to continue. He ordered the suspension of foreign debt payments, provoking military expeditions from England, France, and Spain to Veracruz. In the end, France was the only power that did not turn back, and by 1862, the intervention had begun. The French army was stopped at Puebla by Zaragoza on May 5, 1862. However, despite a heroic defense by González Ortega, the city fell in 1863 after three months of siege. On May 31, Juárez left Mexico City, becoming the embodiment of Mexico’s sovereignty during his exodus.

The French army withdrew due to events in Europe, and the restoration of the Republic began. Juárez was re-elected president and took office on December 25, 1867. He was forced to put down several rebellions in Mexico and Yucatán. In 1871, Porfirio Díaz rebelled. Benito Juárez died in the National Palace on July 18, 1872, as the insurrection was failing. Juárez is author of the phrase: “Respect for the rights of others is peace.”

Source: Diccionario Porrúa de Historia, Biografía y Geografía de México