Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (8/2)


Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
Not only the Americans are nagging Napoleon to put an end to his Mexican escapade; on 7 March 1865 the Duc de Morny, the man who so completely dominated the Corps Législatif, inconveniently dies. In him, Napoleon loses a valuable safety valve on the boiling kettle of French politics. In the beginning of 1866, Napoleon has to send the Baron Saillard to Mexico with the notification that the Corps Législatif can no longer free funds for the maintenance of the troops in Mexico, and that he therefore is forced to withdraw them as soon a possible.


For any sensible man, this would have been a gift from heaven. Here is a golden opportunity to get out of the mess and return home without loss of face. Now Maximilian can, and righteously so, publicly accuse Napoleon of breaching the agreement that is the fundament of the empire. But his answer is as stupid as it is dignified: “Monsieur mon frère, Your Majesty considers himself (…) not able to observe the solemn treaties that he has signed with me hardly two years ago, and he has disclosed this with an honesty that cannot do him but honour. I am too much your friend to want to be (…) the cause of a danger for Your Majesty or his dynasty. I propose therefore, with a cordiality equal to yours, that you withdraw immediately your troops from the American continent. On my part, guided by honour, I will seek to come to terms with my compatriots in a loyal way and worthy of a Habsburg (…)”.

When he comes to his senses after a good night’s sleep, he hastily sends his secretary, Félix Eloin, to Europe. He is glacially received in Paris, where the Emperor “didn’t even once shake hands” with him. The audience in Brussels with Charlotte’s brother, Leopold II (her father has died last December) was less unfriendly, but equally fruitless.

More delegations and representatives are sent on missions to Rome and Vienna, all of them to no avail. Almonte, returned to grace, -Max pays him the ambiguous compliment “the best that Mexico has produced”- has another go in Paris, but has to report back to the same effect as the message conveyed through Saillard.

In April 1866 John Bigelow, the U.S. Minister to France, after continuous pressure and polite threats, reaches an understanding with Napoleon: the troops in Mexico will be brought home in three stages, the last being set on November 1, 1867. On July 30 Napoleon proposes a new agreement to Maximilian: in exchange for half the revenues of the customs of Tampico and Vera Cruz, he is prepared to withdraw his troops not immediately but, yes: in three stages, the last on November 1, 1867. And Napoleon means business: he instructs Bazaine formally to advance Maximilian’s government no more funds, and to pay only the auxiliary force. The Mexican army may dissolve.

To everyone it is as clear as day that the French are shutting up shop, and that the empire is finished. To everyone, except to Their Imperial Majesties, who have by now completely lost their way in cloud-cuckoo-land.

©2010, M.S.F. Wick


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