Reform War
The Reform War in Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 is one of the episodes of the long struggle between Liberal and Conservative forces that dominated the country’s history in the 19th century. The Liberals wanted a federalist government, limiting traditional Catholic Church and military influence in the country. The Conservatives wanted a centralist government, even a monarchy
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 with the Church and military keeping their traditional roles and powers. This struggle erupted into a full civil war
Civil war
A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly-united nation state....

 when the Liberals, then in control of the government after ousting Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

, began to implement a series of laws designed to strip the Church and military, but especially the Church, of its rights, powers and property. Conservative resistance to this culminated in the Plan of Tacubaya, which destroyed the government of President Ignacio Comonfort
Ignacio Comonfort
Ignacio Gregorio Comonfort de los Ríos was a Mexican politician and military officer who served as President of Mexico....

 and caused the remaining Liberals to move their government to the city of Veracruz
Veracruz, Veracruz
Veracruz, officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located in the central part of the state. It is located along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most...

. The Conservatives controlled Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

 and much of central Mexico, but the rest of the states chose whether to side with the Conservative or Liberal government. Being less experienced militarily, the Liberals lost most of the early battles, but the tide turned when Conservatives twice failed to take Veracruz. Liberal victories accumulated thereafter until Conservative forces surrendered in December 1860. While the Conservative forces lost the war, guerrillas remained active in the countryside for years after, and Conservatives in Mexico would conspire with French forces to install Maximilian I
Maximilian I of Mexico
Maximilian I was the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire.After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864, with the backing of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican monarchists who sought to revive the Mexican monarchy...

 as emperor during the following French Intervention in Mexico
French intervention in Mexico
The French intervention in Mexico , also known as The Maximilian Affair, War of the French Intervention, and The Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico by an expeditionary force sent by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain...


Liberals vs. Conservatives in post Independence Mexico

After the end of the Mexican War of Independence
Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the people of Mexico and the Spanish colonial authorities which started on 16 September 1810. The movement, which became known as the Mexican War of Independence, was led by Mexican-born Spaniards, Mestizos and Amerindians who sought...

, the country was strongly divided as it tried to recover from more than a decade of fighting. From 1821 to 1857, fifty different governments ruled the country. These governments included dictatorships, constitutional republican governments and a monarchy. The political division is roughly divided into two groups, the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Both the Liberal and the Conservative political movements had their beginnings in the secret meetings of the Freemasonry
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...

. The secret nature of the society allowed for discreet political discussion. Conservatives aligned with the Scottish rites faction and Liberals aligned with the York rites. Conservatives favored a strong centralized government, with many wanting a European-style monarch. Conservatives favored protecting many of the institutions inherited from the colonial period including tax and legal exemptions for the Catholic Church and the military. Liberals favored the establishment of federalist republic based on ideas coming out of the European Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, and the limiting of the Church’s and military’s privileges. Until the end of the Reform period, Mexico’s history would be dominated by these two factions vying for control and fighting against foreign incursions at the same time. The Reform Era of Mexican history is generally defined from 1855 to 1876.

Ascendency of the Liberals in the 1850s

In the 1850s, the Liberal factions gained political control under leaders such as Benito Juárez
Benito Juárez
Benito Juárez born Benito Pablo Juárez García, was a Mexican lawyer and politician of Zapotec origin from Oaxaca who served five terms as president of Mexico: 1858–1861 as interim, 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871 and 1871–1872...

, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada
Miguel Lerdo de Tejada
Miguel Lerdo de Tejada was a Mexican statesman, and a leader of the Revolution of Ayutla.Born in the port of Veracruz, Veracruz, both he and his younger brother, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, became leaders of Mexico's Liberal Party...

, Juan Álvarez
Juan Álvarez
Juan Nepomuceno Álvarez Hurtado was a general and interim president of Mexico for a few months in 1855. He fought in all the major wars of Mexico, from the War of Independence through the Pastry War, the Mexican-American War, and the War of the Reform to the war against the French Intervention...

 and others. This ascendancy came after the loss of about half of Mexico’s colonial territory to the United States in the Mexican-American War. Liberals believed that the Church and the military were the source of most of Mexico’s problems.

Liberals had two internal factions, the puros or radicals, and the moderados or moderates. These two factions united when Juárez and Melchor Ocampo
Melchor Ocampo
Melchor Ocampo was a Mexican lawyer, scientist, and liberal politician.His home state was renamed Michoacán de Ocampo in his honour.-Studies:...

, the leaders of these two factions and both in exile in New Orleans in 1854, supported the uprising of Juan Alvarez against Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was widely blamed for the loss of Texas and what is now the southwest U.S. The two set out principles in a document called the Plan of Ayutla
Plan of Ayutla
The Plan of Ayutla was a plan aimed at removing Antonio López de Santa Anna as dictator of Mexico. Initially drafted on February 24, 1854, by Colonel Florencio Villarreal, it was proclaimed on March 1, 1854, in Ayutla, Guerrero...

. The Plan brought together a broad coalition of forces that was able to oust Santa Anna from the Mexican presidency.

The Liberals’ challenge to the Catholic Church’s hegemony in Mexico came about in stages even before the 1850s. State level measures adopted since the 1820s and the reform measures of Valentín Gómez Farías
Valentín Gómez Farías
Valentín Gómez Farías was several times acting President of Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s.Gomez Farias was one of the more important political figures in early Mexico. The first presidency of Santa Anna from 1833 to 1836 was a temporary victory for the Mexican Liberals...

 led to political defense of Mexico’s Catholic identity, including integration of Church and State. This included Catholic newspapers such as La Cruz and conservative groups that strongly attacked Liberal policies and ideology. This ideology had roots in the European Enlightenment, which sought to reduce the role of the Catholic Church in society. The Reforms begun in the 1830s and 1840s coalesced into principle laws of the Reform era, which were passed in two phases, from 1855–1857 and then from 1858 to 1860. The 1857 Constitution of Mexico was promulgated near the end of the first phase. More Reform laws were passed from 1861–1863 and after 1867 after the Liberals emerged victorious after two civil wars with Conservative opponents.

Reform Laws

The success of the Plan of Ayutla brought rebel Juan Alvarez to the Mexican presidency. Alvarez was a “puro” and appointed other radical Liberals to important posts such as including Benito Juárez as Minister of Justice, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada as Minister of Development and Melchor Ocampo as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The first of the Liberal Reform Laws were passed in 1855. The Juárez Law, named after Benito Juárez, restricted clerical privileges, specifically the authority of Church courts, by subordinating their authority to civil law. It was conceived of as a moderate measure, rather than abolish church courts altogether. However, the move opened latent divisions in the country. Archbishop Lázaro de la Garza in Mexico City condemned the Law as an attack on the Church itself, and clerics went into rebellion in the city of Puebla
Puebla, Puebla
The city and municipality of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico. Being a planned city, it is located to the east of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two.The city was founded...

 in 1855-56. Other laws attacked the privileges traditionally enjoyed by the military, which was significant since the military had been instrumental in putting and keeping Mexican governments in office since Emperor Agustín de Iturbide
Agustín de Iturbide
Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Aramburu , also known as Augustine I of Mexico, was a Mexican army general who built a successful political and military coalition that was able to march into Mexico City on 27 September 1821, decisively ending the Mexican War of Independence...

 in the 1820s.

The next Reform Law was called the Lerdo Law, after Miguel Lerdo de Tejada. Under this new law, the government began to confiscate Church land. This proved to be considerably more controversial than the Juárez Law. The purpose of the law was to convert lands held by corporate entities such as the Church into private property, favoring those who already lived on it. It was thought that such would encourage development and the government could raise revenue by taxing the process. Lerdo de Tejada was the Minister of Finance and required that the Church sell much of its urban and rural land at reduced prices. If the Church did not comply, the government would hold public auctions. The Law also stated that the Church could not gain possession of properties in the future. However, the Lerdo Law did not apply only to the Church. It stated that no corporate body could own land. Broadly defined, this would include ejido
The ejido system is a process whereby the government promotes the use of communal land shared by the people of the community. This use of community land was a common practice during the time of Aztec rule in Mexico...

s, or communal land owned by Indian villages. Initially, these ejidos were exempt from the law, but eventually these Indian communities suffered and extensive loss of land.

By 1857, additional anti-clerical legislation, such as the Iglesias Law (named after José María Iglesias
José María Iglesias
José María Iglesias Inzaurraga was a Mexican lawyer, professor, journalist and politician. From October 31, 1876 to January 23, 1877 he claimed the interim presidency of Mexico...

) regulated the collection of clerical fees from the poor and prohibited clerics from charging for baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

s, marriages, or funeral services. Marriage became a civil contract, although no provision for divorce was authorized. Registry of births, marriages and deaths became a civil affair, with President Benito Juárez registering his newly-born son in Veracruz. The number of religious holidays was reduced and several holidays to commemorate national events introduced. Religious celebrations outside churches was forbidden, use of church bells restricted and clerical dress was prohibited in public.

One other significant Reform Law was the Law for the Nationalization of Ecclesiastical Properties, which would eventually secularize nearly all of the country’s monasteries and convents. The government had hoped that this law would bring in enough revenue to secure a loan from the United States but sales would prove disappointing from the time it was passed all the way to the early 20th century.

As these laws were being passed, Congress debated a new Constitution. Delegates were concerned with the precedents established by the first of the Reform Laws and the issue of whether Mexico would have a central, authoritarian government or a federal republic. In the end, the Constitution of 1857 established a centralist component. This Constitution did not establish the Catholic Church as official, allowing for later laws requiring religious freedom.

Civil war

Each of the Reform Laws met strong resistance from Conservatives, the Church and the military, culminating in military action and war. After the Juárez Law, General Tomás Mejía
Tomás Mejía
Tomás Mejía was a Mexican soldier, born in Pinal de Amoles, Sierra Gorda, Querétaro. He fought as a Cavalry General on the side of Maximilian I of Mexico during the war between Monarchists and Republicans following the French intervention in 1862 and rise of the Second Mexican Empire in...

 rebelled against the Liberal government in the defense of the Catholic identity of Mexico in the Sierra Gorda
Sierra Gorda
The Sierra Gorda is an ecological region centered on the northern third of the state of Querétaro and extending into the neighboring states of Guanajuato, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosí...

 region of Querétaro
Querétaro officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Querétaro de Arteaga is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 18 municipalities and its capital city is Santiago de Querétaro....

. Mejía would conduct operations against Liberal forces for the next eight years.

Opposition to the Lerdo Law and the 1857 Constitution culminated in a takeover of Mexico City by Conservative forces. This operation was called the Plan of Tacubaya. When the military took control of Mexico City, then president Ignacio Comonfort agreed to the Plan’s terms, but Benito Juárez, then president of the Supreme Court, defended the 1857 Constitution. Juárez was arrested. Comonfort was subsequently forced to resign and army general Félix Zuloaga was put in his place. After arriving in Mexico City, Zuloaga’s supporters closed Congress and arrested liberal politicians in preparation to write a new constitution for the country. The Plan of Tacubaya deeply divided the country, with each state deciding whether to support the Liberals’ 1857 Constitution or the Conservatives’ takeover of Mexico City. Juárez escaped prison and fled to the city of Quéretaro. Júarez was recognized as the Liberal’s interim president. As Zuloaga and the army took over more of the central part of Mexico, Juárez and his government was forced to the city of Veracruz. From there, the Liberal government had control over the state of Veracruz and a number of allied states in the north and central-west. The Liberal government would be located in the city of Veracruz from 1858 to 1861.

Full hostilities between Liberal and Conservative forces raged from 1858 to 1861 and is known as the Reform War. The conservatives controlled Mexico City, but not the city of Veracruz. From here, Juárez directed the opposition movement, from which the Liberals obtained supplies and money through duties received in the port city.

At the beginning of the war, Liberal leaders and armies lacked the military experience of the Conservatives, who were backed by Mexico’s official military. However, as hostilities continued, Liberal forces gained experience that eventually would enable victories for the Liberal side. Twice in 1860 conservative forces under General Miguel Miramón
Miguel Miramón
Miguel Gregorio de la Luz Atenógenes Miramón y Tarelo was a Mexican conservative general. He served as unconstitutional interim conservative president of Mexico .Miramón was born in Mexico City into a family of French heritage...

 tried to take Veracruz but without success. In the same year, conservative forces were defeated in Oaxaca
Oaxaca , , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca is one of the 31 states which, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 571 municipalities; of which 418 are governed by the system of customs and traditions...

 and Guadalajara. In December 1860, Miramón surrendered outside of Mexico City. Liberal forces reoccupied the capital on 1 January 1861, with Benito Juárez joining them a week later. Despite regaining control of the Capital, bands of Conservative guerrillas operated in rural areas. General Miramón went into exile to Cuba and Europe. However, General Márquez remained active and Mejía operated from his stronghold in the Sierra Gorda until the end of the French Intervention in Mexico.

Juárez government up to French Intervention

Juárez’s interim presidency was confirmed by his election in March 1861. However, Liberals' celebrations of 1861 were short-lived. The war had severely damaged Mexico’s infrastructure and crippled its economy. While conservatives had been defeated, they would not disappear and the Juárez government had to respond to pressures from these factions. One of these concessions was amnesty to captured Conservative guerrillas who were still resisting the Juárez government, even though these same guerrillas were executing captured Liberals, which included Melchor Ocampo. Juárez also faced external pressures from countries such as Great Britain, Spain and France owing to the large amounts indebted to them by Mexico. Conservative factions in Mexico, who still wanted a European-style monarchy for Mexico, would eventually conspire with French forces to install Mexico’s second emperor during the French Intervention in Mexico.

See also

  • French intervention in Mexico
    French intervention in Mexico
    The French intervention in Mexico , also known as The Maximilian Affair, War of the French Intervention, and The Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico by an expeditionary force sent by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain...

  • Mexican-American War
  • Pastry War
    Pastry War
    The Pastry War was an invasion of Mexico by French forces in 1838.-Background:The war arose from the widespread civil disorder that plagued the early years of the Mexican republic. In 1828, President Manuel Gómez Pedraza ejected Lorenzo de Zavala from the office of governor of the state of México...

  • List of wars involving Mexico
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