Execution by firing squad of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

I do not celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  I doubt that many Mexicans know the real story surrounding that date. If they knew what a vicious, murderous, and petty character President Benito Pablo Juarez Garcia really was, they should not either. 

On May 5, 1862, the Mexican Army defeated the French Army in the First Battle of Puebla.  Benito ran the country into the ground financially, as liberals often tend to run out of your money, and Mexico fell heavily into debt to Spain, England, and France.  Britain and Spain were less anxious, but the French sent troops to Mexico to encourage repayment of the debt. A year later, the French defeated the Mexicans in the Second Battle of Puebla and also took Mexico City. The first battle was a morale boost for Mexico, even though it was a minor victory of little military consequence.  The second battle allowed France to install Emperor Maximilian as the leader of the Mexican Government.  Maximilian was appointed by the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I.  Maximilian was a Habsburg, the younger brother of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria.   Napoleon I had divorced Josephine and moved into the Palace of Schönbrun in Vienna and married an Austrian Princess with whom he had a son. It was this that created the French/Austrian connection from then on.   Maximilian was an enlightened leader.

Maximilian, as Emperor of Mexico, introduced land reform in Mexico, giving property to the people to grow crops and develop.  He took assets from the very wealthy Catholic Church and created religious freedom for everyone. Maximillian brought Austrian culture and even Austrian music to Mexico. The classical “Umpapa” music heard in the usual Mexican folk music is heavily laced with strains of accordion sounds, an instrument popularized in Berlin and  Vienna around 1830.  Maximillian gets no credit for that musical gift to Mexico.

Other than ruining Mexico’s economy, Juarez didn’t do much for the people.  Benito Juarez, President of Mexico, had to escape when Maximilian was crowned.  Juarez, the head of the liberal factions, was in conflict with his own country’s conservative branch, who, in fact, supported Maximilian over him. Maximilian offered Juarez amnesty and even offered him the position of prime minister.  Juarez had conservative members of the Government rounded up and had them murdered without trial, just shot, which was the original  “Black Decree,” according to historians.  He later accused Maximilian of that heinous act and used it as justification for having Maximilian executed.  Although Maximilian did execute some hardcore military, he did so after a military court-martial and pardoned many of them.

Abraham Lincoln refused to support Juarez, nor did the US House and Senate, and it was only because Andrew Johnson, who took over after the Lincoln assassination, could not get Congressional support for Mexico, and pulled the Reagan/ Iran Contra Affair trick, by privately and secretly seeing to it that Juarez got some much needed presumably “lost” weapons of US Army stock near the Mexican border for his fight against Maximilian. After all, he wanted to follow the Monroe Doctrine of no European influence in the Americas.

When the French abandoned Maximilian,  he was arrested.  He had the chance to escape but did not want to leave his supporters, and never assumed that Benito, whom he liked and with whom he had an amicable relationship, would kill him. Every crowned head of Europe including Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, the Kaisers of Austria, and Germany, the King of Spain who was a Habsburg, Garibaldi of Italy and the famous author, Victor Hugo of France, as well as Pope Pious IX petitioned Juarez to give amnesty to Maximilian, but Juarez felt he needed to prove himself to the Europeans.  He needed to show his superiority to those aristocrats that he was in charge, and he was more powerful, he was the leader of Mexico now.   But to me, that just proved his small-mindedness and provincial attitude, as well as a loss of respect in Europe!

Maximilian, when facing his executioners, gave each of them a gold coin, asking them not to shoot him in the face so that his mother could recognize his body. On June 19, 1867, Maximilian was executed by a firing squad.  His last words were “Viva Mexico!”

I was born in Austria, and my parents were Austrians.  I have respect for my place of birth and its history.  And I resent the fact that a self-impressed bureaucrat who wanted to call attention to himself by murdering an Austrian Emperor gets any credit at all, instead of condemnation, even if this was over 160 years ago. So I don’t think you will hold it against me if a call it “Stinko de Mayo!” and don’t share my Guacamole or beer with anyone as a celebration of a petty president.   Besides, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the day got more attention because of the American Beer Industry who looked for a date to celebrate, and it now rivals the Super Bowl in beer revenue and avocado sales, except this year because of the Corona pandemic.