Maximilian in Mexico. A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862-1867 by Sara Yorke Stevenson - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
THE EMPIRE OF MAXIMILIAN I 1864-65
I. MARSHAL BAZAINE
In October, 1863, the reins of power, so loosely held by General Forey, at last passed into firmer hands. General Bazaine took command of affairs. It was high time. The Juarists, profiting by the long respite afforded them, were reorganizing in the interior, and were threatening.
The daily stage was attacked on its way to the coast as often as not.
Highwaymen tore up the rails of the Paso del Macho Railroad, attacked the train, and killed passengers. Detachments of banditti, called by courtesy guerril as, everywhere infested the roads, even at the very gates of the capital. A picnic was given to us at this time, by some officers of General Bazaine's staff, at a wild, beautiful spot, where the ruins of a graceful aqueduct, built by the Spaniards, formed the principal attraction. It was less than a twenty-mile ride, yet it was deemed unsafe to go without a strong escort, although we and the officers who gave the affair formed, with their orderlies, a large cavalcade.
General Forey's policy in letting the regency have its way, and in countenancing reactionary legislation of an aggressive character, had discouraged the honest partizans of order. The clergy now openly declared that Maximilian was pledged to the holy see for the restoration of the confiscated property of the clergy to its original owners. The archbishop, newly landed, did all that was in his power to encourage such a belief and to guide the regency to an uncompromising surrender to the holy see.* As the security of immense transactions in clergy property was involved, serious uneasiness was felt.
* Compare M. de Keratry, loc. cit., p. 31.
General Bazaine handled all these complications with firmness and skil .
He compel ed the regency to repeal the decrees most objectionable to the thinking portion of the community. He enforced the maintaining of al bona-fide transactions in clergy property, but advocated the revision of such contracts as might be proved fraudulent, and urged a concordat proposing that the state provide for the support of the clergy. His orders were to ral y around him the Liberal chiefs, and he strove by a wise, tactful policy to conciliate men of al shades of opinion. His vigorous military action soon established order in the territory surrounding Mexico. With the concurrence of General Almonte, who earnestly wished the welfare of his country, he reduced Archbishop Labastida to terms, if not to silence.
Having done this, he took the field, concentrated his army from the various distant points where the different corps had been ordered in view of the campaign which he was preparing, and within six weeks defeated, by rapid and well-concerted blows, Generals Doblado, Negrete, Comonfort, and Uraga, who at that time, thanks to General Forey's procrastination, were holding the country with. the ral ied forces of the Liberal party.
From Morelia to San Luis, from Mexico to Guadalajara, the French flag waved over every stronghold. The conquered cities received the conquerors coldly, but acknowledged the archduke (of whom, we were told by the officers, many did not even know the name) just as resignedly as for over forty years of civil war they had been wont to acknowledge the victor's chosen presidential candidate.
This campaign was little more than a race, and it was said that the French conquered the country with their legs far more than with their bayonets.
In February, 1864, the general, uneasy at the turn which political affairs were taking in the capital, returned with an escort as suddenly as he had departed. It was high time. In his absence, Mgr. Labastida, not giving due consideration to the change of leadership that had taken place at the French headquarters, had so far forgotten himself as to fulminate, in the name of the church, against the French. But upon the return of the commander-in-chief he reconsidered his action, and publicly "gave them his blessing."*
* M. de Keratry, loc. cit., p. 33.
General Bazaine was at this time the most popular man in the army.
Hitherto eminently successful in al his military undertakings, he had risen from the ranks, having won his honors step by step upon the battle-field, at first by his courage, later by his remarkable military ability.
He was a plain-looking man, short and thick-set, whose plebeian features one might search in vain for a spark of genius or a ray of imagination; and yet under the commonplace exterior dwelt a kindly spirit, an intel igence of no mean order, and, despite a certain coarseness of thought and expression too common among Frenchmen, a soul upon which the romance of life had impressed its mark in lines of fire.
The story went that, when a colonel, he had in Spain come across a little girl of great beauty and personal attractions, who seemed to him out of place amid her surroundings. He picked up the little wild rose as it grew on the roadside, and conceived the notion of transplanting it into good, rich soil, and of giving it its share of sunshine. He took the child to Paris, where he left her in a convent to be educated.
The soldier continued his bril iant career in the Crimea, Italy, Syria, and Africa; and when, after some years, he returned to Paris, he found the little girl grown into a beautiful and attractive woman, whose heart was full of warm gratitude for her benefactor. He fel in love with her, and, breaking through all rules of French matrimonial usage, married her.
Her charm won for her many friends in the circle which his position entitled her to enter; her attractions exposed her to temptations which her early training had il fitted her to meet; and her death, which occurred under peculiarly distressing circumstances soon after his promotion to the command of the army in Mexico, was a cruel blow. The news of his loss reached the general while away from the capital on the bril iant campaign which added the greater part of the country to the projected empire (November, 1863). After a funeral mass, which he heard with his officers, he retired to his tent, and, alone, fought that hardest of all battles, and conquered his own heart. In a few days he returned to his duty, and no one ever knew what had passed in his innermost soul.
Two years later a bal was given at the quartier-general. Bazaine, who had lately been promoted to the rank of marshal (1864), had stopped for a moment to say a few words, when one of his guests, a young Mexican girl who was waltzing by, suddenly stopped near us, having torn her dress. Pins were produced, the damaged ruffle was repaired, and the girl passed on. "Who is this?" asked the marshal, evidently much struck with her appearance. "It is extraordinary," he muttered, "how much she reminds me of my wife." He looked distrait, and shortly after excused himself, and wandered off in the direction Mlle. de la Pena had taken.
The courtship was a short one. Maximilian, in order to facilitate a union which he deemed to be in the interest of his government, gave the young girl as a dowry the palace of San Cosme,* valued at one hundred thousand dol ars; and thus was May united, to December. Two children were born to the marshal, one of them in Mexico,** and never was father prouder of his young wife and of her offspring than was the marshal.***
* A suburb west of Mexico.
** Maximilian was his godfather,
*** When, after the Franco-Prussian war, the marshal, having been made a sacrifice to France's wounded pride, was court-martialed, and, amid the imprecations of his countrymen, was imprisoned in the Fort de Ste.
Marguerite, his young wife and her cousin contrived the perilous escape of the old man. By means of a rope procured for him by them he lowered himself from the walls of the fortress. Mme. Bazaine was awaiting him in a smal boat, the oars of which were held by her cousin. A ship was near by, ready to sail, on which they sought refuge in Spain. And so it was that a fal en marshal of France passed from a state prison into exile, where he ended a life in which fame and romance had an equal share.
II. A BED OF ROSES IS A GOLD-MINE
The difficult task intrusted to General Bazaine had been triumphantly performed.
The adhesion of the main part of Mexico to the empire was secured.
Oajaca and Guerrero, in the south, stil held out, under General Porfirio Diaz, and in the north Chihuahua and Durango had not submitted; but enough of the Mexican territory was pacified to answer immediate purposes. European criticism and the scruples of Maximilian must be satisfied by this appearance of a popular election and a quasi-universal suffrage. For forty years Mexico had not been so quiet. The defeated and demoralized Liberal forces were scattered, and the Juarez government, retreating toward the extreme northern frontier at Monterey, seemed to have nothing left save its eternal rights.
On May 28, 1864, Maximilian of Austria and the Archduchess Charlotte reached Vera Cruz on the Austrian frigate Novara. They were escorted by the French man-of war Themis, By some unfortunate contretemps, the deputation that had left the capital with much pomp and flutter in order to greet them was not there. They arrived as ordinary passengers, the people evincing little curiosity and less cordiality, as we have seen.
Vera Cruz is in itself not calculated to cheer the newcomer, and their first impression of their venture was a painful one.
In due time, however, things righted themselves. General Almonte and his suite appeared upon the scene, and all the necessary pageant was brought into play to soothe the wounded feelings of the new sovereigns. They landed on the following day at six o'clock in the morning. The early hour interfered with any effective popular demonstration, and their reception, as they proceeded to Loma Alta, at that time the terminus of the railroad, was by no means a brilliant one. At this point they took carriages and drove on, escorted by a body of cavalry commanded by General Galvez and Colonel Miguel Lopez. Near the Cerro del Chiquihuite the imperial carriage broke down, and the young sovereigns had to accept that of General de Maussion. It was in the midst of a terrible tropical storm, which put out the torches with which their escort lighted the way, that the imperial cortege entered Cordoba. Here, however, they were met by a crowd of torch-bearing Indians, whose enthusiasm made up for the gloom and disappointments which had hitherto marked their arrival.
The rest of the journey was a wel -prepared ovation. The priests, now eager to come to the fore, had ordered out the Indian population. The action of Maximilian in going to Rome, and in piously securing the papal blessing before sailing to take possession of his new dominions, had been received by the ultra-clerical party as a hopeful symptom of returning papal ascendancy under the coming reign.*
* On April 19, 1864, Maximilian and the archduchess had repaired to Rome in order, said the official papers, to "implore the benediction of the august chief of the church, and to place their future effort under the aegis of his paternal intercession and of his powerful authority." The sermon preached by Pius IX in the Sistine Chapel on April 29, in which the Holy Father encouraged the new sovereigns to accomplish the designs of Providence in a mission which was but a part of a "grand scheme of Christian propagandism," linked the empire to the clerical party.
At this time Napoleon III could no longer be unaware that the recognition of the liberty of religious worship, of toleration, and of the reform laws promulgated by Juarez, was a necessity of the situation, and that the church could not be reinstated as in the past. His representatives in Mexico knew that the reactionary platform was not only an unsafe one, but an impossible one for the empire to stand upon in Mexico; and they were endeavoring to extricate themselves from the consequences of their faux pas with as much dignity and consistency as circumstances would admit. The awkwardness of the situation was, therefore, only added to by this demonstration of piety and filial obedience on the part of the new Mexican rulers. Yet it had the effect of rallying the clergy for the time being, who did their best to increase their claims by a public display of devotion to the empire.
The new sovereigns might well imagine that they were the elect of the people when, fol owed by a multitude of Indians, they entered the capital.
It was under the scorching rays of a hot June sun that they made their formal entry into the city of Montezuma.* Never had such a sight been seen since the days of the Aztecs. The lavish ingenuity of the French--anxious, for obvious reasons, to make the occasion a tel ing one--vied with the interested patriotism of the clerical party to excite the enthusiasm of the people, and to produce an impression upon the Austrian travelers. Triumphal arches of verdure, draped with flags and patriotic devices, were raised along the principal avenues leading to the Plaza Mayor and to the palace. As far as the eye could reach, the festively decked windows, the streets, and the flat roofs of the houses were crowded with people eager to catch a glimpse of the new sovereigns.
As they slowly approached in the official landau, the crowd was so dense as to be with difficulty held back.
* June 12, 1864. The Archduchess Charlotte was born in Brussels on June 7, 1840, and she was then twenty-four years old. The archduke was born at Schonbrunn on July 6, 1832, and was therefore not quite thirty-two years of age.
It was a singular spectacle. They seemed so tall and fair, these two young people of another race, as they smilingly advanced through the swarthy multitude of their smal , ragged subjects, bowing in acknowledgment of their acclamations! Involuntarily one thought of visiting angels, or, better stil , of the fair god Quetzalcohuatl, whom the Mexican legend of olden times brought from the East to rule over and to civilize the natives of this land by bringing them plenty. The analogy spontaneously occurred to every thoughtful onlooker, and spread like lightning throughout the city.
Dramatic as it might be, the situation was not without its comic touches. Some one in the imperial entourage had the unfortunate idea of imitating for the Emperor's body-guard the sky-blue-and-silver uniform of Napoleon's tal Cent-Gardes. It is hard to imagine anything more amusing than the caricature thus produced of the French picked regiment, which saw the light for the first time on that occasion.
It was at first difficult to establish among the republican Mexicans the rigid etiquette of the Austrian court, and some unsuccessful attempts to do so were fruitful of heartache on both sides. For instance, when Senora Salas, the wife of the regent, was first introduced to her young sovereign, the poor little old lady amiably advanced, prepared to give her the national abraso--a graceful greeting which closely simulates an embrace. In Mexico its significance in good society was very much that of a shake of the hand with us. Much to her consternation, the tall Empress stepped back and drew herself up to her full height at what she regarded an undue liberty, while tears of indignation came into her eyes. Whereupon the poor senora was dissolved in tears, and the incident came near to disturbing the good feeling that every one hoped might at once be established between the sovereigns and their Mexican court.
For a brief space we al felt as though a new era were indeed about to dawn upon this Western land. There is no doubt that at this time the empire seemed a fact, and that, with the exception of a certain number of outlying districts, the country was fast ral ying around its banner.
It represented order and stability, while the Liberals occupied the position of anarchists.*
* See Masseras, "Un Essai d'Empire au Mexique," p. 9, where he quotes a letter addressed by Senor Zamacona to President Juarez, and bearing date June 16, 1864.
General Bazaine did al in his power to inaugurate bril iantly the advent of the empire. A splendid bal was given to the young sovereigns at the quartier-general--such a bal as is seldom seen outside the great European capitals. The general's aides-de-camp had been put in charge, and al that unlimited funds and a large experience of such matters could accomplish was done to make the occasion the memorable feature of a memorable historic event.
The great patio of the palace of San Cosme was floored and roofed over to serve as a bal -room. At the back of the great arcade surrounding it, the arches and pillars of which were draped with French and Mexican flags, was banked a profusion of plants and flowers, upon which was cast the light of myriads of candles and colored lanterns. In the middle of the huge improvised bal -room the great fountain played, and its sparkling waters were seen through masses of tropical vegetation. Here and there enormous warlike trophies reminded the spectator that he was the guest of a great army. The artillery had supplied groups of heavy cannon, stacked on end, and huge piles of cannon-bal s, while at intervals trophies of flags and drums, of guns and bayonets, tasteful y grouped about the French and the Mexican coats of arms, broke with striking effect the expanse of wall above the arcades.
When the imperial cortege entered the crowded bal -room, the quadrille d'honneur was danced by their Majesties, the general-in-chief, and the more distinguished members of their respective suites, after which the Emperor and Empress were respectfully escorted by the general to their throne, set under a crimson-velvet canopy resting upon French cannon.
They were so young and so handsome in their imperial pomp! By them stood Princess Zichy, tall and distinguished, in a simple white-tulle gown and natural flowers, with a wealth of such diamonds as are seldom seen on one person--a homely woman, but interesting to us as the daughter of the Metternichs. Her husband, Prince Zichy, was the most striking figure in the imperial party. He wore the ful state costume of a Hungarian Magyar; and his many orders, hanging around his neck and upon his breast, as well as the marvelous hilt, belt, and jeweled sheath of his ancestral sword, stood out finely upon his black-velvet costume, and made him a conspicuous figure even in an assemblage where the ordinary evening dress was almost unseen.
The glitter of all this court life, the revival of trade, the abundance of money so freely brought and spent in the country, dazzled the people, and a golden dust was thrown into the eyes of al , which for a brief period prevented them from seeing the true drift of political events.
Indeed, the bril iancy of the scene was not entirely due to flash-light.
The revenues derived from the customs of Tampico and Vera Cruz were at this time material y increasing. An official report, read to the French Chamber in 1865, showed that the revenues from those ports, which for three months in 1864 had been $96,000 and $900,000 respectively, had for the same period in 1865 risen respectively to $431,000 and $1,645,000.
Large concessions for railroads had been asked for and granted under solid guaranties--the line from Vera Cruz to Mexico to an Anglo-French company, pledged to complete it in five years, and another concession for three lines, for the carrying out of which $4,500,000 had been subscribed. Telegraph lines were being established; coal, petroleum, and gold- and silver-mines were being exploited, or were in a fair way to be.
The good management of the regency under General Almonte's frugal administration had accumulated a balance of 15,000,000 francs in the treasury--a smal surplus which must have been encouraging to the Emperor upon his arrival. Moreover, the loan of 200,000,000 francs, so readily taken up abroad, had given a substantial foundation for hopeful anticipation, and it seemed as though France might possibly get out of her rash venture with honor and profit.
The mirage that had lured Napoleon to these perilous shores now appeared materially nearer, and its outlines seemed more vivid and attractive than ever before.
But it was an easy matter to create an empire as the result of an armed invasion of an unwil ing land, it was quite another thing to organize it upon a permanent basis. As Prince Napoleon--familiarly known as Plon-Plon--very wittily remarked later, "One can do anything with bayonets, except sit upon them." ("On peut tout faire avec des baionnettes, excepte s'asseoir dessus.") For over two years Napoleon III endeavored to make Maximilian perform the latter feat--with what result we al know only too wel .
The details of Maximilian's court once settled, and the code of etiquette to be used adopted, the new sovereign started forth upon a tour of the provinces, to present himself to the loyalty of his subjects. The Empress remained as regent, to govern under the guidance of the Commander-in-chief. Ovations had everywhere been prepared, and a semblance of popularity, so dear to Maximilian's heart, was the result.
But immense sums were expended, and more precious time was wasted.
Upon his return, Mexican society turned out en masse to do him honor. We all sal ied forth in a monster cavalcade by the Paseo de la Vega to meet him some miles out of the city, and escort him back to the palace. All this was pleasant and exciting, but wise heads saw that this was no time for idle pleasure, and some impatience was manifested at this pageantry.
Then began a series of administrative experiments. Many projects were mapped out with a view to placing Mexico abreast of the most advanced countries of the civilized world.
Among other premature efforts made at this time, when the young Emperor gave ful est flight to his dreams, was a Department of the Navy. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate how whimsical was the mind of the Austrian ex-admiral and how slight was his grasp of the situation.
Long-postponed issues, involving vital questions of policy and of administration, were awaiting his decision, and he busied himself with frivolities and with impossibilities. These early days gave the keynote of his three years' reign.
Captain Destroyat, a French naval officer, was made secretary of the navy. As the Mexican government did not own a canoe, and as there was at that time no serious likelihood of its ever owning a battle-ship, this sinecure caused no little merriment among us, and many were the practical jokes of which the hapless cabinet officer was the victim.
His quarters were situated one block below our house, in the Cal e de Espiritu Santo. This street, owing to a depression in the level and to bad drainage, was usually flooded, during the rainy season, after every severe aguacero. So impassable did it then become that even men were compel ed to engage the services of a cargador to carry them across
"pickaback." When came the first shower after his new dignity had been conferred upon Captain Destroyat, his comrades, bent upon fun, purchased a toy flotil a, which they floated, flying the Mexican flag, down the street. In mock dignity the tiny ships came to an anchor before his door, much to every one's merriment, excepting, it was whispered, to that of the powers that were, who found a sting in the harmless levity.*
* The new Navy Department, although substantial advances were made to it by the French treasury for the purpose of guarding the coast against smugglers, did little to justify its existence. Two years later, when Empress Charlotte arrived in Vera Cruz, about to sail for Europe on that the fruitless errand from which she was never to return, there was not one rowboat flying the Mexican flag ready to convey her to the steamer which was lying in port at anchor. A boat belonging to a French man-of-war was placed at her disposal, but the unfortunate woman, then embittered by the treatment received at the hands of the French government, flatly refused to be taken, even over so short a distance, under the French flag; and the incident gave rise to a painful scene. As the Empress was then on her way as a suppliant to the court of the Tuileries, there is every reason to believe this illogical and almost childish sensitiveness was one of the first symptoms of the cerebral derangement that was so soon to become evident. Other exhibitions of an impaired judgment were related which then seemed incomprehensible.
Maximilian has been uniformly blamed by French writers for frittering away the first precious months of his reign in dreams, or in the settlement of minor details, the triviality of which was in glaring contrast with the gravity of the issues before him. True as this criticism may be in theory, it is perhaps to be regretted--if we consider his Majesty's youth and inexperience, and his absolute ignorance of the conditions which he was called upon to face, as well as of the capabilities and personal history of the men with whom he was to deal--that he did not longer continue to al ow others, who had painfully earned a clearer knowledge of the situation, to rule in his name. The French, after a long series of preliminary blunders, were just beginning to understand the country when the Emperor arrived and attempted independently to acquire the same lesson, at the expense of the nation, of his party, and of his allies.
It soon became obvious that the young monarch was not equal to the task which he had undertaken, and a feeling of disappointment prevailed.
Unendowed with the force and clearness of mind necessary in an organizer, he nevertheless insisted upon al administrative work passing through his own imperial bureau. At the head of this bureau he placed an obscure personal favorite, a Belgian named Eloin, who had risen to favor through his social accomplishments. This man did not speak one word of Spanish, hated the French, despised the Mexicans, and was more ignorant than his master himself of American questions in general, and of Mexican affairs in particular.
While in office he used his power to repress much of the impulse given to enterprise by the French. His narrow views were responsible for a jealous policy which excluded al that he could not personally appreciate and manage. He and the Emperor undertook to decide questions upon which they were then hardly competent to give an intel igent opinion. The Mexican leaders were made to feel that they had no influence, the French that they had no rights. A chill was suddenly felt to pervade the official atmosphere. As a prominent member of the Belgian legation once remarked:
"To eat priest for breakfast and Frenchman for dinner, when one has been called to the throne by the clergy, and must rely upon France for sole support, may be regarded as a dangerous policy." After doing much mischief, M. Eloin was sent abroad upon a mysterious mission. It was rumored that he had gone to watch over his master's personal interests abroad.*
* On December 28,1864, Maximilian entered a protest against the family compact exacted from him by his brother, the Emperor Francis Joseph, on April 9, a few days before his departure from Miramar and communicated to the Reichsrath on November 16th. In this curious document he stated that it was upon the suggestion of the Emperor of Austria that the throne of Mexico had been offered to him; that after the negotiations were closed, when his withdrawal must have brought about the most serious European complications, the Emperor Francis Joseph, accompanied by his most intimate councilors, had come hastily to Miramar to force from him an absolute renunciation of his birthrights; that, having given his word to the Mexican delegation sent to offer him a throne, he had signed this unqualifiable compact, but that experienced diplomats and expert jurists, after studying the question, were of the opinion that a document exacted under such conditions was nul and void; and that the diets, with the consent of the two interested emperors, were alone competent to decide upon such rights. In this case the diets had not even been consulted.
This protest, the text of which is published in M. Domenech's "Histoire du Mexique" (vol. i i, p. 204), excited the suspicion that Maximilian had not relinquished his European ambitions, and that the role of Liberal ruler which he played upon the Mexican stage was played partly to an Austrian audience.
A few months after this (May 3, 1865) M. Eloin was sent abroad, ostensibly to treat of a new loan; he was no financier, and it is likely that his mission was a confidential one, the political nature of which comes out clearly in the intercepted letter, under date of September 27, 1866, which was published in the United States. (See p. 243.) Indeed, the presence of the personal friends and countrymen of the sovereigns who had accompanied them in their voluntary exile caused a note of discord in the general harmony of the first days of the empire, indicative of the cacophony which was soon to fol ow. Prince and Princess Zichy and Countess Col onitz soon returned home, but a number of men remained to occupy lucrative and confidential positions about the person of the monarch.
It was natural that, so far away from their native land, these would-be Mexican rulers, stranded among a people with whose customs and mode of thought they had no sympathy, and of whose traditions they knew nothing, should cling to the little circle of trusted friends who had fol owed them in their adventure. It was natural also that the Mexicans, seduced by the vision of a monarchy in which THEY hoped to be the ruling force by virtue of their share in its inception and its establishment, should feel a keen disappointment upon finding foreigners, whom they themselves had been instrumental in placing at the head of affairs, not only overshadowing them, but usurping what they deemed their legitimate influence. It was likewise natural that the French, who had put up al the stakes for the game, and who had sacrificed lives, millions, and prestige in the venture, should look to a preponderant weight in the councils of an empire which was entirely of their creating. Al this was the inevitable consequence of such a combination as that attempted in Mexico; but apparently it was one which had entered into no one's calculations, and for which no provision had been made. The imperial dream of Napoleon III had been too shadowy to include such humanities.
The original "king-makers" soon became a troublesome element in Maximilian's administration. His policy naturally led him to seek supporters among the progressive Mexicans, and to devise the honorable retirement of his early al ies from the active management of affairs.
General Almonte from the first was set aside with empty honors.* In 1866
he was appointed to replace Senor Hidalgo as representative of Mexico to France. General Miramon and General Marquez were likewise sent away in honorable exile; and by degrees the more conspicuous among the reactionary leaders were put out of the way.
* He was made great marshal of the court, minister of the imperial household, and high chancellor of the imperial orders.
In March, 1864, Maximilian, about to sail from Miramar, had addressed a letter to President Juarez. In this curious document he spoke of himself as "the chosen of the people," and invited him to attach himself to the empire. He even offered him a distinguished place in its administration.
This, of course, was haughtily declined by the President. But persevering efforts were made to win over, by promises of preferment, the leading men of the Liberal party. Some declined in noble terms, but others succumbed to the temptation, and for a while a decided tendency was shown to ral y around the new order of things. Yet these conditions, favorable as they were, added to the complications of the situation. In a very short time, what with the difficulties arising from the nationalized clergy property, and with the personal disappointment of many of those who had made the empire, Maximilian found the men upon whose invitation he had come to Mexico turning away from him. Moreover, the influence of M. Eloin's policy had inaugurated the long series of misunderstandings between the court and the French quartier-general, which ultimately led to complications at first by no means unavoidable.
"Non es emperador, es empeorador," was the pun popularly repeated by Mexican wags.* Six months had not elapsed since the regent Almonte had turned over to the young Emperor the quasi-consolidated empire conquered by Marshal Bazaine, and thinking men already foresaw the end. Never did the tide of success turn so rapidly.
* "Ce n'est pas un empereur; c'est un empireur." Compare Masaeras, "Un Essai d'Empire au Mexique," p. 42 (Paris, 1879).
In October, 1864, Comte de Thun de Hohenstein had been sent to Paris to negotiate for the transportation of some four thousand Austrians for the army of Maximilian in Mexico. Belgians were also rapidly enlisting under Colonel Van der Smissen; and shortly afterward Austro-Belgian auxiliary troops, numbering, from first to last, some eight thousand men, were transferred to Mexico.* These soon developed into an additional source of difficulty.
* See Galignani, October 14, 1864.
The officers of the Austrian contingent had not forgotten the yet recent encounters with the French army at Solferino and Magenta, and, no doubt at first unconsciously, an unconciliatory spirit was manifested in every difference which arose between the French and their present allies.
Comte de Thun, the commander of the Austrian corps, felt more than restless under Marshal Bazaine's authority. Eventual y, in 1865, Maximilian, whose confidence he enjoyed, further complicated the situation by establishing alongside of the War Department a military cabinet, through which the Austro-Belgian contingents were independently administered. This broke up al chance of uniform action in military matters. It placed the auxiliary troops beyond the jurisdiction of the French commander, who, under the terms of the treaty of Miramar, was to be regarded as the commander-in-chief.
The same lack of unity that existed between the imperial army and the French was also found to exist between the foreign mercenaries and the Mexican troops.
To the natives these foreigners, although countrymen of their sovereigns, were interlopers and rivals. Their very presence defeated the object of their Emperor's futile attempt at a show of Mexican patriotism. The position of the French was a well-defined one. They were there for a purpose, spent their money freely, fought their battles victoriously, and would some day go back to France. But the Mexicans hated these foreigners, and the confidential offices held by impecunious Belgians and Austrians in the government and about the person of the chief executive added to the instinctive suspicion with which their permanent residence in the country was regarded.
Under the then existing conditions, where so many irreconcilable interests were in presence, it is not to be wondered at if little harmony prevailed amid the various conflicting elements gathered together by fate for the enactment of this fantastic scene.
The attitude of the United States toward the empire had been unmistakably emphasized on May 3, 1864, by the departure of our minister, the Hon. Thomas Corwin, who left, ostensibly on leave of absence, as soon as the approach of the new sovereigns was heralded.
His was an interesting personality. Tal , stout, and somewhat awkward in his gait, his double chin was lost between the exaggerated points of the stiff white collar so characteristic of our American statesmen at that time. His kindly smile and natural charm of voice and manner, however, soon attracted and held those who at first found him unengaging. With all his attainments he had preserved unspoiled a certain natural modesty, which led him to attribute his advancement to accident or fate.
He once told me that he owed al his success in life to the fact that, as a country boy in Ohio, while driving his father's cart downhil at daybreak, he fel asleep and was jolted off his seat, breaking his leg.
During the weeks of enforced seclusion that fol owed he taught himself to read, and developed a studious turn of mind, which, his leg having been permanently weakened by the accident, led him to seek a situation in a lawyer's office. From these humble beginnings he rose to the place he then occupied as one of our foremost orators and, since 1861, as minister to Mexico,* so that, he merrily added, he owed his fortune to a broken leg. Such men, however, are in no need of accidents to rise; Mr.
Corvin could not help doing so from the innate buoyancy of his brilliant personality.
* He now left American affairs in the charge of his secretary of legation, his son Wil iam Corwin.
On April 4 the Senate and House of Representatives at Washington had passed a unanimous resolution in opposition to the recognition of a monarchy in Mexico, as an expression of the sentiment of the people of the United States. Secretary Seward, in forwarding a copy of the resolution to Mr. Dayton, our minister to France, had, however, instructed him to inform the French government that "the President does not at present contemplate any departure from the policy which this government has hitherto pursued in regard to the war which exists between France and Mexico."*
* See "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1865, Part III, p. 357.
Notwithstanding the smal encouragement which such an attitude gave him, one of the earliest acts of Maximilian was to send Senor Arroyo to seek an interview with the head of the United States government, with a view to the recognition of the empire. Senor Arroyo was not even granted an audience. In July, 1865, another attempt was made by Maximilian with the same object in view.
Among the chamberlains of the Emperor at that time was a son of General Degollado, a Liberal leader who had been kil ed at Las Cruces, while fighting for the republic against General Marquez in 1861. Young Degollado had lived in Washington, and there had married an American woman. His attainments were mediocre and his personality was colorless, but his wife was ambitious and energetic. She was eager to see her husband come to the front, and, setting aside family traditions, did her best to encourage the imperial court in the idea that the United States government, if properly approached, might be brought to consider the recognition of the empire. She was a good-looking, pleasant woman, who readily made friends, and the couple were put forward as likely to bring the undertaking to a favorable conclusion.
It had at first been suggested that an envoy extraordinary be sent in ful official pomp to Washington. General Almonte had been spoken of for the mission, and Mr. and Mrs. Degol ado were to have accompanied him as members of the embassy. Senor Ramirez, the minister of state and a moderate Liberal of high standing and ability, realized, however, that the imperial government, in fol owing such a course, must publicly expose itself to a slight. He therefore urged upon Maximilian a modification of the plan, and it was arranged that Mr. and Mrs.
Degollado should go in a semi-official manner to prepare the ground and to feel the way.
Mrs. Degol ado was much excited over the prospect, and even seemed sanguine of success. It was hinted that Mr. Corwin, then in Washington, was lending himself to certain intrigues designed to facilitate the negotiations.
The Emperor's agents arrived in Washington on July 17, 1865. M. de Montholon, who since 1864 had been minister of France to Mexico, endeavored to obtain an audience for "the chamberlain of Maximilian" as bearer of a letter from the Emperor of Mexico to the President.* But the mission proved a failure, and only added one more to the many abortive attempts made during those four years to "solve the unsolvable problem."**
* "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1865, Part III, p. 484.
** According to Prince Salm-Salm, yet another attempt was planned in the fal of 1866, in which he and his wife were intended to be the principal actors, and were to be sent to Washington armed with a fund of $2,000,000 in gold. He states that the news of the Empress's il ness, and the consequent failure of her mission abroad, prevented the carrying out of the scheme.
On January 1, 1865, President Juarez issued from Chihuahua a proclamation in which he confessed defeat, but in dignified tones asserted the righteousness of the national cause, in which he put his trust, and appealed to the nobler ideals of his countrymen.
At that moment, to the superficial observer, and in the capital, the empire seemed an accomplished fact. The country at large, although by no means pacified, was nominally under imperial rule. Almost alone, in the south, General Porfirio Diaz held his own at Oajaca, and remained unsubdued.
General Courtois d'Hurbal, who had been sent against him, had so far been unable to deal with him. The commander-in-chief resolved once more to take the field in person. As a result, Oajaca shortly afterward was taken, and General Diaz, at last forced to surrender, was made prisoner, and transferred to Puebla for safe-keeping.*
* He, however, boldly managed his escape a few months later, and again took the field at the head of a band of fourteen men. These increased in number, snowbal fashion, as other guerrillas gradually rallied around the distinguished chief; and, at the head of an army, he reappeared in Oajaca. After defeating the Austrians, in whose keeping the state had been left, he reentered the city in October, 1866.
In the course of these and other vicissitudes General Diaz conducted himself not only as a patriot, but as a soldier. It was generally to him that the French turned when cal ed upon by circumstances to trust to a leader's word or to his humanity. Yet General Forey, in the Senate, March 18, 1866, declared him a brigand in time whose summary execution would be warranted, as indeed would that of all the Mexican generals.
From Mexico to the coast the country was quiet, and things were apparently beginning to thrive. But if to the residents of the capital the national government was a mere theoretical entity, in the interior of the country, and especial y in the north, the smal numbers of the French scattered over so vast an expanse of territory were obviously insufficient to hold it permanently. In order to please Maximilian, they traveled from place to place, receiving the allegiance of the various centers of population;* their battalions multiplied their efforts, and did the work of regiments. But the predatory bands now fighting under the republican flag were, like birds of prey, ever hovering near, concealed in the sierras, ready to pounce upon the hamlet or the town which the French must perforce leave unprotected, and wreaking terrible vengeance upon the inhabitants.
* As Colonel de Courcy cleverly remarked, some of these regiments
"brought back eighteen hundred leagues of country on the soles of their boots."
At this time there were some fifteen thousand French residents in the country, and these natural y suffered most both in life and property, especially toward the last.*
* The wholesale hanging which took place at Hermosil o in the autumn of 1866 was sufficient evidence of what those compromised by the empire might have to face, and only those who were forced to do so by imperative business interests remained.
Whether the smal guerril as fought under one flag or the other, the result was much the same to the people, who had to submit to the alternate exactions of both parties.
No wonder if the intervention grew in unpopularity. In certain parts of the country, as in Mazatlan, the French had to resort to force to constitute an imperial administration. It was made a penal offense to decline an office, and the reluctant Mexicans were compel ed to serve against their wil .
The war then waged was a cruel war, a war without mercy. Woe to the small detachment that al owed itself to be surprised and overpowered! It was sure death, death often embittered by refinements of cruelty and general y dispensed in the most summary manner, with little of the formality that obtains among civilized nations. To give but one instance: One of the most popular among the Austrian officers was Count Kurtzroch, a man of ancient lineage and of unexceptionable breeding. He and his friend Count von Funfkirchen were favorites in the small foreign coterie, the center of which was at San Cosme, and they did not seem to be involved in the national feuds. During the campaign of 1865 he, with a smal corps of Austrians, was defending a town in the interior against the Plateados, a far superior force. Hard pressed, the Austrians retreated, fighting at every step until they reached the church, in which they intrenched themselves and prepared for a siege. They hoped that relief might reach them, but the Mexicans set fire to the church, and the trapped men were forced to surrender. During the struggle Count Kurtzroch had been wounded in the legs. Unable to walk, he was carried out by his comrades on an improvised stretcher. As the defeated band filed before the victors, the leader, Antonio Perez, approaching the wounded man, asked his name, and, drawing his revolver, deliberately shot him dead as he lay helpless before him. This is but one of many such acts, and I mention it only because I knew and liked the man, and the details of the story natural y impressed me when, upon my inquiring about our friend, Count Nikolitz, a brother officer, after his return from the campaign, gave me the above details of his death.
At the beginning of the year 1865 martial law was proclaimed. By this measure Marshal Bazaine sought to check not only brigandage, but the military disorganization which the then prevailing state of things must inevitably create. In this effort he found but little support on the part of the imperial government. Indeed, Maximilian insisted upon al actions of the courts martial being submitted to him before being carried out. Much acrimony arose on both sides in consequence of this interference.
I remember once hearing the marshal refer to a controversy that was then going on between himself and the Emperor with regard to prisoners taken by him at Oajaca, and who, he felt, should be exiled. Maximilian, unmindful of the prolonged effort which it had cost to subdue these men, insisted upon releasing them, and eventually did so. The marshal bitterly complained of his weakness, gave other instances of his untimely interference with the course of justice as administered by the military courts, and excitedly declared that he was tired of sacrificing French lives for the sole apparent use of giving an Austrian archduke the opportunity "to play at clemency" (de faire de la clemence). Such difficulties steadily widened the breach between the court and the French military headquarters.
In the autumn of 1865, the news having reached him that President Juarez had passed the border and left the country, Maximilian, elated by the event, and exaggerating its bearing upon the political and military situation, issued the famous decree of October 3, now known in Mexican history as the Bando Negro ("black decree"). In this fatal enactment he assumed that the war was at an end, and, while doing homage to President Juarez himself, attempted to brand all armed republicans as outlaws who, if taken in arms, must henceforth be summarily dealt with by the courts martial, or--when made prisoners in battle--by the military leader, and shot within twenty-four hours.*
* See Appendix A.
This extraordinary decree was greeted with dismay in the United States.
It outraged the Mexicans, and excited the vindictiveness of the Liberal party. At the time such men as General Riva-Palacio and General Diaz were still in the field, and some of Mexico's most il ustrious patriots were thus placed under a ban by the foreign monarch.*
* General Diaz's record is well-known and requires no comment here.
General Riva-Palacio was a patriot and a gentleman. He was a man of parts, and had achieved some reputation as a poet and dramatic author.
At the outbreak of the war he organized and equipped at his own expense a regiment, and was with General Zaragoza at Puebla. His division was one of the finest in the Mexican service, and, throughout the war, he loyal y conducted his military operations in strict accordance with recognized usage. He cared for the wounded, exchanged prisoners, and, at the last, even went so far as to extend his protection to smal detachments of French troops making their way to the Atlantic coast from the shores of the Pacific. See note from Marshal Bazaine, quoted in a letter from Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward, February 12, 1866 ("Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 281).
It has been claimed that Marshal Bazaine entered an earnest protest against the measure, the harshness of which he regarded as impolitic; that he urged its inexpediency, and personally objected to it as likely to weaken the authority of the military courts; that he, moreover, observed that it opened an avenue to private revenge, and delivered up the prisoners of one faction into the hands of another, a course which could not fail to add renewed bitterness to the civil war now so nearly at an end.* But although the famous decree certainly was the spontaneous act of the Emperor, and of his ministers who signed it, there can be no doubt that it embodied the policy of repression urged by the marshal, and that, if he cannot be held responsible for its form, in substance it
"was approved by him.** "Whatever may have been its origin, when, shortly afterward (October 13, 1865), Generals Arteaga and Salazar, with others*** who, at the head of small detachments, were holding the country in the north against General Mendez, were taken by the latter, and shot, under the decree of October 3, such a clamor of indignation was raised at home and abroad as must have demonstrated his mistake to the young Emperor. This mistake he was soon to expiate with his own blood.
* See M. de Keratry, loc. cit., p. 84 et seq. See also debate in Chamber of Deputies, "Moniteur Universel" (Paris), Jan. 28,1866.
** See Louet, "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique," etc., Part ii,
"L'Empire de Maximilien," by P. Gaulot; also Prince Salm-Salm's "My Diary in Mexico," etc., in which the author states that he was told by Maximilian that the decree was drafted and amended by Marshal Bazaine, who urged its enactment. In the memorandum drawn up for his lawyers, and published by Dr. Basch in "Erinnerungen aus Mexico," Maximilian, says: