HispanicVista.com article - Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo – Fifth of May – a great battle, a great victory
By Patrick Osio, Jr.
On May 5, 1862, Mexican troops defeated invading French troops in the
outskirts of Puebla, a city around 60 miles east of Mexico City. How did events come
to this point in time, what were French troops doing in Mexico and why?
On September 15, 1810, a priest, Miguel Hidalgo, sounded the church bells to
unite Mexicans in a war of independence from Spain – Independence was declared
the following day, September 16th. But it took Mexicans 11 years to oust the
They were barely getting their house in order when an unprovoked war was
thrust on them – the US wanted and took about 50 percent of its territory.
Needless to say, Mexicans weren't happy with this circumstance and blamed their
leader, Santa Anna, accusing him of great treason. This led to a rebellion to oust
him from office.
Once this done, Mexico entered into one of its most important historical
periods, the formation of its Constitution of 1857.
There were two political forces at work, the Liberals who wanted to create a
country not unlike the US: A representative republic, democratic, federal,
religiously tolerant, free market economy, and an educational system independent
of religion, and, most importantly - separation between the State and
religion. This instrument would provide Mexican citizens with vast constitutional
protections rivaling those in the U.S.
The other political force was the Conservatives who wanted strong ties to
Spain, only the Catholic religion would be allowed, national industrial
protectionism (limited imports), regulated freedom of expression, no opposing political
parties. They also believed Mexico should be tied to a European monarchy with
the head of Mexico having absolute power, and to distance the country as much
as possible from the US.
This terrible schism led to the civil war known as "La Guerra de Reforma"
(The War of Reform). In 1861, the Conservatives were defeated, and their leaders
executed. But the combination of so many years of fighting had placed Mexico
in heavy international debt with England, Spain and France.
Meantime in the French court of Emperor Napoleon III, a wealthy Mexican land
owner and Conservative, who had access to, and meetings with, the Emperor's
wife, the Spaniard Eugenia de Montijo, planted the idea of establishing a
monarchy in Mexico as a way of stopping the further territorial expansion ambitions
of the U.S..
The U.S. was tied up in its Civil War, so France convinced Spain and England
to join in sending troops to collect monies owed them by the new Liberal
controlled government presided by Benito Juarez.
Troops from the three countries landed in Veracruz in late 1861. The English
and Spaniards were able to negotiate a repayment schedule that was acceptable
to all. The parties, including the French, signed the agreement. The
Spaniard and English troops left Mexico without incident.
The French commander, Dubois de Saligny, declared, "My signature is worth as
much as the paper it is written on." Declaring they were there at the
invitation of the exiled Conservative government to establish a monarchy and save
Mexico from its non Catholic leaders, French troops began their long march to
capture Mexico City.
And so it was that on May 5, 1862, the most potent army in Europe of its day
met the Mexican army of veterans and farmers outside of Puebla. Mexican
General Ignacio Zaragoza, addressed his troops, "…. Your enemies are the first-rate
soldiers of the world; but you are the sons of Mexico, and they are here to
take your country."
The battle began at noon - the French stormed the Mexican defensive position
once and were repelled. A second charge brought the same results. It was
then that the Mexican troops attacked, driving the French back in disarray.
Hostilities came at the end of the day due to heavy rainfall making any more action
French commanders were so sure of quick victory that before beginning their
march had sent a message to Napoleon III declaring the Emperor owner of Mexico.
Instead, it took three months to capture Puebla, and eventually all of
Having captured the country, the French were never able to appease the
population. Widespread resistance finally led to their defeat and departure from
Mexico. The Intervention lasted until 1867.
So as history goes, Cinco de Mayo was one day in which the soldiers of Mexico
fought bravely for their country, and bathed themselves in honor.
So raise your glass to them, and to all, who have bravely fought for their
Patrick Osio, Jr. is the Editor of HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com).
Contact at: POsioJr@...
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