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Maximilian Of Austria And His Empire In Mexico
by [?]

It is interesting, in view of the total conquest and submission of the Indians in Mexico, that the final blow for freedom in that country should have been made by an Indian of pure native blood. His name was Benito Juarez, and his struggle for liberty was against the French invaders and Maximilian, the puppet emperor, put by Louis Napoleon on the Mexican throne. In the words of Shakespeare, “Thereby hangs a tale.”

For many years after the Spanish colonies had won their independence the nations of Europe looked upon them with a covetous eye. They would dearly have liked to snap up some of these weak countries, which Spain had been unable to hold, but the great republic of the United States stood as their protector, and none of them felt it quite safe to step over that threatening bar to ambition, the “Monroe Doctrine.” “Hands off,” said Uncle Sam, and they obeyed, though much against their will.

In 1861 began a war in the United States which gave the people of that country all they wanted to do. Here was the chance for Europe, and Napoleon III., the usurper of France, took advantage of it to send an army to Mexico and attempt the conquest of that country. It was the overweening ambition of Louis Napoleon which led him on. It was his scheme to found an empire in Mexico which, while having the name of being independent, would be under the control of France and would shed glory on his reign.

At that time the President of Mexico, the Indian we have named, was Benito Juarez, a descendant of the Aztec race, and, as some said, with the blood of the Montezumas in his veins. Yet his family was of the lowest class of the Indians, and when he was twelve years old he did not know how to read or write. After that he obtained a chance for education, and in time became a lawyer, was made governor of his native state, and kept on climbing upward till he became secretary of state, president of the Supreme Court, and finally president of Mexico.

He was the man who had the invaders of his country to fight, and he fought them well and long. But the poor and undisciplined Mexicans were no match for the trained troops of France, and they were driven back step by step until the invaders were masters of nearly the whole country. Yet Juarez still had a capital and a government at San Luis Potosi, and all loyal Mexicans still looked on him as their president.

When Napoleon III. found himself master of Mexico, he looked around for a man who would serve him as a tool to hold the country. Such a man he found in Ferdinand Joseph Maximilian, the brother of the emperor of Austria, a dreamer rather than a man of action, and a fervent believer in the “divine right of kings.” This was the kind of man that the French usurper was in want of, and he offered him the position of emperor of Mexico. Maximilian was taken by surprise. The proposition was a startling one. But in the end ambition overcame judgment, and he accepted the lofty but perilous position on the condition that France should sustain him on the throne.

The struggle of the Mexicans for freedom was for the time at an end, and the French had almost everywhere prevailed, when in 1864 the new emperor and his young wife Carlotta arrived at Vera Cruz and made their way to the city of Mexico. This they entered with great show and ceremony and amid the cheers of many of the lookers on, though the mass of the people, who had no love for emperors, kept away or held their peace.

The new empire began with imperial display. All the higher society of Mexico were at the feet of the new monarchs. With French money to pay their way and a French army to protect them, there was nothing for Maximilian and Carlotta to do but enjoy the romance and splendor of their new dignity. On the summit of the hill of Chapultepec, two hundred feet above the valley, stood the old palace which had been ruined by the American guns when Scott invaded Mexico. This was rebuilt by Maximilian on a grand scale, hanging gardens were constructed and walled in by galleries with marble columns, costly furniture was brought from Europe, and here the new emperor and empress held their court, with a brilliant succession of fetes, dinners, dances, and receptions. All was brilliance and gayety, and as yet no shadow fell on their dream of proud and royal reign.