13. The First and Second Mexican Empires
After leading the revolution against Spain in 1821 and gaining Mexico’s independence, Agustin de Iturbide rallied popular support for a constitutional monarchy as the new form of government. In May, 1822, he used demonstrations to elevate himself to the title of Emperor of Mexico. The lands he ruled included modern-day Mexico, and most of the Southwest United States from Texas to California, as far north as today’s southern border of Oregon. Iturbide summoned the Mexican Congress, had himself elected as Emperor, dissolved the Congress and ruled by Imperial decree. The next year, having lost the support of the army and the people, largely due to a corrupt bureaucracy and a bankrupt treasury, he reconvened Congress and offered his abdication. Congress accepted, and Mexico became a republic.
In 1863, French Emperor Napoleon III intervened in Mexico, allied with Mexican conservatives, to create the Second Mexican Empire. In terms of land area, the Second Empire was much smaller than its predecessor, with the United States having control of the former Mexican territories north of the Rio Grande, and all of California above the Baja Peninsula. Napoleon installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of the House of Habsburg as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian had the support of the Mexican Conservatives and upper classes, but not of the people. French troops occupied Mexico to protect French interests. The United States, embroiled in the Civil War, could do little to oppose the French violation of the longstanding Monroe Doctrine.
In the end, Mexican nationalists defeated the French troops, and the end of the Civil War brought American support of Mexican revolutionaries. Napoleon withdrew his troops beginning in 1866, offering Maximilian safe passage. Maximilian chose to remain and fight for his throne, by then seen as illegitimate even by many conservatives. He sent his wife, Empress Charlotte, to Europe to persuade Napoleon to continue his support. Political pressure from the United States, and an American naval blockade of Mexican ports, forced the French emperor to demur. Maximilian, betrayed by a cabal of his own generals, was captured, tried for treason, and executed by firing squad in June, 1867. With its emperor died the Second Mexican Empire.