Special Characteristics of Benito Juarez

Manuel Arvizu

          Benito Juarez was a fundamental leader in Mexican History. He was a Zapotec Amerindian peasant who overcame illiteracy and became the President of Mexico, serving five terms between 1858 and 1872. Benito Juarez had three characteristics that served him in his successful political career: courage, leadership, and integrity.

          Having begun life in impoverished, humble circumstances, Benito Juarez courageously overcame his background. He was born in a little village, on March 21,1806  in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. His parents were Amerindian peasants who died when he was three years old. He worked as a shepherd at one of the biggest farms in the region until the age of twelve. But in December of 1818, although he was illiterate and could speak only a few words in Spanish, his courage led him to make the decision to leave his village and start out on a long journey, walking to the city of Oaxaca. He had decided to educate himself and do something to improve the lives of poor people like himself.

          Leadership characterized Juarez's life in many ways. Once in the city of Oaxaca, Benito took a job as a domestic servant. At the time, a priest noticed Benito’s unusual desire to learn, his  skills, and his intelligence and took him to a seminary where Juarez studied until he was ready to attend law school. In 1834, Juarez became a lawyer; seven years later he completed the requirements to be a Judge. He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1853. In 1854 he led a group of men to develop “El Plan de Ayutla,” which was the basis for the liberal revolution in Mexico. As a member of the liberal party, Benito Juarez was President of Mexico from January 19, 1858 to July 18, 1872. The period of his leadership in Mexico is known as “La Reforma” (the Reform). With this movement Juarez wanted to create a capitalist economy and emulate American society. An example of the impact of Juarez ’s ideology in Mexican society is the Ley Juarez ( Juarez ’s Law),  which declares all citizens equal before the law. Also, this law restricts the power of the clerics and the military before the State. Benito Juarez is remembered as a reformer devoted to democracy and equal rights for indigenous people in Mexico .

          Sadly, corruption has been a serious  problem throughout Mexican history, but it is well known that Benito Juarez was a man of integrity. In fact, he was one the most honest presidents that Mexico has ever had. In 1853, Juarez left Mexico and exiled himself in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Because of his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship of then President Santa Ana, he preferred to leave his own country rather than live under the oppression of a corrupt government. He returned to Mexico in 1855 upon the resignation of Santa Ana. In 1862, France launched an invasion in the Mexican territory. Two years later Benito Juarez was displaced from the presidency. The French Emperor of Mexico , Maximilian I, offered Juarez the post of Minister of the Empire. But Juarez didn’t accept the proposal and instead he came to the United States looking for help. Abraham Lincoln gave diplomatic recognition to Juarez ’s government and supplied men and weapons to him. Juarez ’s loyalty to his men and country led him to win the war over the French invasion, and in 1866 French troops were expelled from Mexico and Juarez regained control of the country. There is a phrase that reflects Juarez ’s philosophy. “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz ”.  The meaning is “Among individuals, as among  nations, respect for rights of others is peace.”

          Benito Juarez devoted his life to serving his country. His courage, leadership, and honesty were characteristics that helped him to have a successful political career. His legacy of reform and respect for individual and national rights has inspired people throughout Latin America for more than a 150 years.