Book: By Charles A. Fyffe Author: Fyffe, Charles A. By Charles A. Fyffe 1867
Compared with the Civil War in the United States, the contemporary French intervention in Mexico seems but a slight episode, little more than an eddy in the tremendous current of greater events. But as a unique passage in the diversified history of Mexico, no less than in its bearings upon European attitudes toward the United States at a critical time, the story of Maximilian's ill-starred empire, and of his own fate, possesses a distinct interest. The French expedition against Mexico had at first the backing of England and Spain. Its professed object was "to demand from the Mexican authorities more efficacious protection for the persons and properties" of the subjects of England, France, and Spain in Mexico, and fulfilment of the obligations contracted toward the sovereigns of the three former countries by the latter. Finding that France wished to go beyond this design in Mexico, and failing to agree with her upon a plan of action, England and Spain withdrew from the undertaking. But Napoleon himself was determined to establish "a sort of feudatory monarchy" in Mexico. How he went about the accomplishment of
this purpose is well shown, in few words, by Fyffe, the excellent historian of modern Europe. The tragic ending of this enterprise is described by a prominent participant in the events here narrated, Prince Felix Salm-Salm. He was a German soldier of fortune who came to the United States in 1861, entered the Union army, and rose to the rank of brevet brigadier-general of volunteers. In 1866 he entered Maximilian's service in Mexico, and, as aide-de-camp to the Emperor and chief of the imperial household, shared intimately in his experiences. After the execution of Maximilian, Salm-Salm entered the Prussian army, and was killed at the battle of Gravelotte, August 18, 1870. Text There were in Napoleon III, as a man of state, two personalities, two mental existences, which blended but ill with each other. There was the contemplator of great human forces, the intelligent, if not deeply penetrative, reader of the signs of the times, the brooder through long years of imprisonment and exile, the child of Europe, to whom Germany, Italy, and England had all in turn been nearer than his own country; and there was the crowned adventurer, bound by his name and position to gain for France something that it did not possess, and to regard the greatness of every other nation as an impediment to the ascendency of his own. Napoleon correctly judged the principle of nationality to be the dominant force in the immediate future of Europe. He saw in Italy and in Germany races whose internal divisions alone had prevented them from being the formidable rivals of France, and yet he assisted the one nation to effect its union, and was not indisposed, within certain limits, to promote the consolidation of the other. That the acquisition of Nice and Savoy, and even of the Rhenish Provinces, could not in itself make up to France for the establishment of two great nations on its immediate frontiers Napoleon must have well understood: he sought to carry the principle of agglomeration a stage further in the interests of France itself, and to form some moral, if not political, union of the Latin nations, which should embrace under his own ascendency communities beyond the Atlantic as well as those of the Old World. It was with this design that in the year 1862 he made the financial misdemeanors of Mexico the pretext for an expedition to that country, the object of which was to subvert the native republican Government, and to place the Hapsburg Maximilian, as a vassal prince, on its throne. The design of Napoleon to establish French influence in Mexico was connected with his attempt to break up the United States by establishing the independence of the Southern Confederacy, then in rebellion, through the mediation of the great Powers of Europe. So long as the Civil War in the United States lasted, it seemed likely that Napoleon's enterprise in Mexico would be successful. Maximilian was placed upon the throne, and the republican leader, Juarez, was driven into the extreme north of the country. But with the overthrow of the Southern Confederacy and the restoration of peace in the United States in 1865 the prospect totally changed. The Government of Washington refused to acknowledge any authority in Mexico but that of Juarez, and informed Napoleon in courteous terms that his troops must be withdrawn. Napoleon had bound himself by treaty to keep twenty-five thousand men in Mexico for the protection of Maximilian. He was, however, unable to defy the order of the United States. Early in 1866 he acquainted Maximilian with the necessities of the situation, and with the approaching removal of the force which alone had placed him and could sustain him on the throne. The unfortunate Prince sent his consort, Carlotta, daughter of the King of the Belgians, to Europe to plead against this act of desertion; but her efforts were vain, and her reason sank under the just presentiment of her husband's ruin. The utmost on which Napoleon could venture was the postponement of the recall of his troops till the spring of 1867. He urged Maximilian to abdicate before it was too late; but the Prince refused to dissociate himself from his counsellors who still implored him to remain. Meanwhile the Juarists pressed back toward the capital from north and south. As the French detachments were withdrawn toward the coast the entire country fell into their hands. The last French soldiers quitted Mexico at the beginning of March, 1867, and on May 15th Maximilian, still lingering at Queretaro, was made prisoner by the Republicans. He had himself while in power ordered that the partisans of Juarez should be treated, not as soldiers, but as brigands, and that when captured they should be tried by court-martial and executed within twenty-four hours. The same severity was applied to himself. He was sentenced to death and shot at Queretaro on June 19th. Thus ended the attempt of Napoleon III to establish the influence of France and of his dynasty beyond the seas. The doom of Maximilian excited the compassion of Europe; a deep, irreparable wound was inflicted on the reputation of the man who had tempted him to his treacherous throne, who had guaranteed him protection, and at the bidding of a superior power had abandoned him to his ruin. From this time, though the outward splendor of the Empire was undiminished, there remained scarcely anything of the personal prestige which Napoleon had once enjoyed in so rich a measure. He was no longer in the eyes of Europe or of his own country the profound, self-contained statesman in whose brain lay the secret of coming events; he was rather the gambler whom Fortune was preparing to desert, the usurper trembling for the future of his dynasty and his crown.