Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (9/2)

9 – THE END (2)

“Todo es inutil”. “All is useless”. Maximilian is resolved. He will abdicate. He writes to his younger brother: “I came here, pushed by Charlotte. Without her, why stay? I have no heir and no more courage”. But the next day he remembers his honour as a Habsburg Prince and sends another letter, saying that he will do his “duty till the end”. And on top of his honour, there are his advisors: men who have nothing to gain, but everything to lose when he abdicates. Everyone connected with the empire shall be made to suffer when the republicans take over. Juárez’ threat to kill anyone who collaborates with the French is put enthusiastically into practice by his advancing troops.

Then Félix Eloin proposes a solution out of the imbroglio. An abdication before the French have left he considers as weakness. Once the French are gone, the Emperor can put the monarchy to the vote. If the people say “no”, he can return with honour to Europe, where he might even be called to play an important role: when in Austria, Eloin sensed a general feeling of discontent. Franz-Joseph is discouraged and the people ask his abdication. Maximilian can count on their sympathy, he knows.

The document is meant to remain highly secret and strictly confidential, but it falls into the hands of the Americans, who publish it with malign pleasure. Not least because it contains some painful details about Napoleon’s illnesses: the poor man suffers from kidney stones and prostate infections. Obviously, neither the French nor the Austrian Emperor finds it funny, but the letter does take effect: Maximilian firmly decides that maybe he’d probably better stay on after all, at least for now.

In October Napoleon sends his personal aide, General Castelnau, with powers to override Bazaine. His task is to make haste with the mopping up: he must pull out the troops, dissolve the empire and convince Maximilian to abdicate. The hedging Emperor is causing irritation in Washington and embarrassment in Paris. It might even become dangerous: the U.S. are beginning to doubt whether Napoleon intends to keep his word.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
For purely military reasons, Napoleon has decided to pull out his army in one shipment, as the plan to bring the army home in three parts would risk the annihilation of the last third. The evacuation was thus to begin four months later, but to end eight months earlier. Despite the Emperor’s orders to that effect, no word of this about-turn was properly passed to the U.S. government, but fortunately they intercepted his telegram to Castelnau: “Received your dispatch of the ninth December. Do not compel the Emperor to abdicate, but do not delay the departure of the troops; repatriate all except those who do not wish to return. Most of the ships have left. NAPOLEON”.

The Americans can comfortably sit back and watch the end. The entire French force is leaving; and with the French gone, Maximilian, even if he would try to keep his throne, won’t have a ghost of a chance against the Liberals. The European threat to American soil is virtually at an end.

Maximilian, meanwhile, flatly refuses to see Castelnau. After months of wavering between staying on or abdicating, he has come to the insight that the decision is best made for him. But not by the French: on January 14, a junta of notables assembles, to which Bazaine is invited too. The Marshal bluntly states that the government is best left to others and then leaves the assembly, which he qualifies as “a big joke”. Then the notables vote: of its 33 members, 7 vote in favour of abdication, 17 against it, and 9 shrug their shoulders. Thus the fate of Maximilian is sealed.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
This insecure harlequin is a far cry from the proud Archduke of Miramar with his noble statement that “a Habsburg never usurps a throne”. From now on he can no longer pretend to be the monarch of all Mexicans: he has become the ringleader of the conservative faction.

While anyone connected with the empire flees the capital, Maximilian returns, accompanied by General Marquez, who earned his nickname of “Hyena of Tacubaya” with murdering his own medical staff, that had dared to tend to wounded republican soldiers. On February 5, 1867, hidden behind the balustrade of his palace, he watches the French lower their flag and leave the city. “Finally, we are free!” he exclaims.

And now, when the die is cast and his ships are burned, even Maximilian understands that there can be no more wobbling. Action must be taken. His prime minister, Teodosio Lares, has promised $ 4,000,000 for his war coffers. But these 4 million now turn out to be based on the hopes of raising money with a lottery. No more than 600,000 piasters, about 50,000 dollars, can be scraped together by extorting the populace. Who can’t pay is thrown in prison. With the same methods 8,000 men are enrolled in the army. Together with the troops of Generals Miramón, Mendez and Mejia, and the Europeans that stayed behind, the Emperor can muster a force of about 16,000. With that, he must face Juárez’ 60,000, and his army is still growing.

On 13 February Maximilian leaves his capital for the town of Querétaro, where he arrives on March 4. The Republicans lay siege. After holding out for two months, on the 15th of May, Maximilian surrenders. He is imprisoned, and tried by a court martial. In compliance with his own “black decree”, he is condemned to death, as a rebel caught in arms against a lawful government.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

On June 19, 1867, Maximilian is, together with his generals Miramón and Mejia, shot by a firing squad. He dies, it must be said, with honour, as befits the last Emperor of Mexico.

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

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