Reform War

The War of Reform (Spanish: Guerra de Reforma) in Mexico, during the Second Federal Republic of Mexico, was the three-year civil war (1857–1860) between members of the Liberal Party who had taken power in 1855 under the Plan of Ayutla, and members of the Conservative Party resisting the legitimacy of the government and its radical restructuring of Mexican laws, known as La Reforma. The War of the Reform is one of many episodes of the long struggle between Liberal and Conservative forces that dominated the country’s history in the 19th century. The Liberals wanted to eliminate the political, economic, and cultural power of the Catholic church as well as undermine the role of the Mexican Army. Both the Catholic Church and the Army were protected by corporate or institutional privileges (fueros) established in the colonial era. Liberals sought to create a modern nation-state founded on liberal principles. The Conservatives wanted a centralist government, some even a monarchy, with the Church and military keeping their traditional roles and powers, and with landed and merchant elites maintaining their dominance over the majority mixed-race and indigenous populations of Mexico.

This struggle erupted into a full-scale civil war when the Liberals, then in control of the government after ousting Antonio López de Santa Anna, began to implement a series of laws designed to strip the Church and military—but especially the Church—of its privileges and property. The liberals passed a series of separate laws implementing their vision of Mexico, and then promulgated the Constitution of 1857, which gave constitutional force to their program. Conservative resistance to this culminated in the Plan of Tacubaya, which ousted the government of President Ignacio Comonfort in a coup d'etat and took control of Mexico City, forcing the Liberals to move their government to the city of Veracruz. The Conservatives controlled the capital and much of central Mexico, while the rest of the states had to choose whether to side with the Conservative government of Félix Zuloaga or Liberal government of Benito Juárez.

The Liberals lacked military experience and lost most of the early battles, but the tide turned when Conservatives twice failed to take the liberal stronghold of Veracruz. The government of U.S. President James Buchanan recognized the Juárez regime in April 1859 and the U.S. and the government of Juárez negotiated the McLane-Ocampo Treaty, which if ratified would have given the Liberal regime cash but also granted the U.S. transit rights through Mexican territory. 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 as emperor during the following French Intervention in Mexico.

Reform War or Mexican Civil War
1858 Mexico Map Civil War Divisions


Liberal victory

Mexico Liberals
 United States[1]
Mexico Conservatives
Commanders and leaders
Benito Juarez
Jesus Gonzalez Ortega
Ignacio Zaragoza
Felix Zuloaga
Miguel Miramon
Leonardo Marquez

Liberals vs. Conservatives in post-Independence Mexico

After the end of the Mexican War of Independence, the country was strongly divided as it tried to recover from more than a decade of fighting. From 1821-57, 50 different governments ruled the country. These included dictatorships, constitutional republican governments and a monarchy.[2]

The political division was roughly divided into two groups, the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Liberal political movements had their beginnings in the secret meetings of the Freemasonry. The secret nature of the society allowed for discreet political discussion. Conservatives favored a strong centralized government, with many wanting a European-style monarchy.[3]

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 a federalist republic based on ideas coming out of the European Enlightenment, 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.[3] The Reform Era of Mexican history is generally defined from 1855-76.[4]

Ascendency of the Liberals in the 1850s

In the 1850s the Liberal ousted Antonio López de Santa Anna under the Plan of Ayutla in 1855, bringing Juan Álvarez of the state of Guerrero to the presidency. Liberals exiled to the U.S. during the late Santa Anna regime, Melchor Ocampo and Benito Juárez returned to Mexico, and other Liberals came to national prominence, including Miguel Lerdo de Tejada and his younger brother, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. This ascendancy came after the loss of about half of Mexico’s national territory to the US in the Mexican–American War. Liberals believed that the entrenched power of the Roman Catholic Church and the military were the source of most of Mexico's problems.[4]

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 during the regime of Valentín Gómez Farías led conservatives to defend 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 began in the 1830s and 1840s coalesced into the principal laws of the Reform era, which were passed in two phases, from 1855–57 and then from 1858–60. The 1857 Constitution of Mexico was promulgated near the end of the first phase. More Reform laws were passed from 1861–63 and after 1867 when the Liberals emerged victorious after two civil wars with Conservative opponents.[5]

The Liberal Reform

Miguel Lerdo de Tejada-drawing
Miguel Lerdo de Tejada drafted the law to disentail the lands of the Catholic Church and those of indigenous communities.
Alegoría de la Constitución de 1857
Alegoría de la Constitución de 1857 shows a dark complected Mexican woman clutching the liberal Constitution of 1857. The 1869 painting by Petronilo Monroy was completed after the expulsion of the French in 1867.

The success of the Plan of Ayutla brought rebel Juan Álvarez to the Mexican presidency. Alvarez was a "puro" and appointed other radical Liberals to important posts, 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,[6] by subordinating their authority to civil law. It was conceived of as a moderate measure, rather than abolishing church courts altogether. However, the move opened latent divisions in the country. Archbishop Lázaro de la Garza (es) in Mexico City condemned the Law as an attack on the Church itself, and clerics went into rebellion in the city of Puebla in 1855–56.[7] 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 in the 1820s.[6]

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.[6] 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 this would encourage development and the government could raise revenue by taxing the process.[7] 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 ejidos, or communal land owned by Indian villages. Initially, these ejidos were exempt from the law, but eventually Indian communities suffered an extensive loss of land.[6]

By 1857 additional anti-clerical legislation, such as the Iglesias law (named after José María Iglesias), regulated the collection of clerical fees from the poor and prohibited clerics from charging for baptisms, marriages or funeral services.[8] 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.[9]

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 US, but sales would prove disappointing from the time it was passed all the way to the early 20th century.[9]

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.[6] Since the constitution did not establish the Catholic Church as the official and exclusive religious institution, it was a major step in the separation of church and state.[9]

Civil war

Felix Maria Zuloaga
General Félix Zuloaga, conservative president of Mexico during the Reform War.
General Miguel Miramón
General Miguel Miramón

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 (1820 – 1867) rebelled against the Liberal government in the defense of the Catholic identity of Mexico in the Sierra Gorda region of Querétaro. Mejía would conduct operations against Liberal forces for the next eight years.[7]

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.[10] Comonfort was subsequently forced to resign and Gen. Félix Zuloaga was put in his place. After arriving in Mexico City, Zuloaga’s supporters closed Congress and arrested liberal politicians, preparing to write a new constitution for the country.[11]

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 Querétaro.[10] He was recognized as the Liberals' interim president. As Zuloaga and the army took over more of the central part of Mexico, Juárez and his government were 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 Veracruz from 1858-61.[12]

Full hostilities between Liberal and Conservative forces raged from 1858-60. The Conservatives controlled Mexico City, but not Veracruz. Twice in 1860 Conservative forces under Gen. Miguel Miramón tried to take the city but failed. From there Juárez directed the opposition movement, from which the Liberals obtained supplies and money through duties received in the port city.[13]

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 and obtained aid from the US that would eventually enable victories for the Liberal side. On March 6 of that year, two ships previously acquired by the Conservative government were prevented from entering the city by a US naval force, acting in support of the Liberal faction of Benito Juarez. The force fleet attacked the Mexican ships and arrested their crews, eventually kidnapping Mexican marines and taking them to New Orleans.[14] This incident is known as the Battle of Anton Lizardo. In the same year Conservative forces were defeated in Oaxaca and Guadalajara. In December 1860 Gen. Miramón surrendered outside of Mexico City. Liberal forces reoccupied the capital on 1 January 1861, with Benito Juárez joining them a week later.[13] Despite the Liberals regaining control of the capital, bands of Conservative guerrillas operated in rural areas. Miramón went into exile to Cuba and Europe. However, Gen. Márquez remained active and Mejía operated from his stronghold in the Sierra Gorda until the end of the French Intervention in Mexico.[15]

The Juárez government up to the French Intervention

Juárez’s interim presidency was confirmed by his election in March 1861. However, the Liberals' celebrations of 1861 were short-lived. The war had severely damaged Mexico’s infrastructure and crippled its economy. While the 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, one of whom was 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.[16] Conservative factions in Mexico, who still wanted a European-style monarchy, would eventually conspire with the French government to install Mexico’s second emperor during the French Intervention in Mexico.[16][17]

See also

Battles in the Reform War:


  1. ^ "Juárez es apoyado por tropas de EU en Guerra de Reforma" [Juarez is aided by U.S. troops in the War of Reform] (in Spanish). Mexico: El Dictamen. 2012-10-08. Archived from the original on 2014-02-02.
  2. ^ Kirkwood 2000, p. 107
  3. ^ a b Kirkwood 2000, p. 109
  4. ^ a b Kirkwood 2000, p. 100
  5. ^ Hamnett 1999, p. 160
  6. ^ a b c d e Kirkwood 2000, p. 101
  7. ^ a b c Hamnett 1999, p. 162
  8. ^ Kirkwood 2000, pp. 101–102
  9. ^ a b c Hamnett 1999, pp. 163–164
  10. ^ a b "La Guerra de Reforma, Historia de México" [The Reform War, History of Mexico] (in Spanish). Mexico: Explorando Mexico. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  11. ^ Kirkwood 2000, p. 102
  12. ^ Hamnett 1999, p. 163
  13. ^ a b Kirkwood 2000, p. 103
  14. ^ "Juárez es apoyado por tropas de EU en Guerra de Reforma" [Juarez is aided by U.S. troops in the War of Reform] (in Spanish). Mexico: El Dictamen. 2012-10-08. Archived from the original on 2014-02-02.
  15. ^ Hamnett 1999, p. 165
  16. ^ a b Kirkwood 2000, p. 104
  17. ^ Hamnett 1999, p. 166


  • Kirkwood, Burton (2000). History of Mexico. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-4039-6258-4.
  • Hamnett, Brian R (1999). Concise History of Mexico. Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-521-58120-6.
Battle of Ahualulco

The Battle of Ahualulco took place on 29 September 1858 during the War of Reform, near the town of Ahualulco in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, between elements of the liberal army, commanded by the Generals Santiago Vidaurri, Juan Zuazua and Francisco Naranjo and conservative army troops commanded by General Miguel Miramón and Leonardo Márquez. The victory went to the conservatives. The liberals suffered 672 casualties and 91 prisoners. It is considered by some to be one of the most brilliant triumphs of Miramón.

Battle of Antón Lizardo

The Battle of Anton Lizardo was a naval engagement of the Reform War which took place off Anton Lizardo, Mexico in 1860. A Mexican Navy officer, Rear Admiral Tomas M. Marin, mutinied and escaped to Havana, Cuba. There he formed a squadron of armed vessels to attack merchant ships and blockade Veracruz. The Mexican Government declared Marin a pirate and permitted foreign navies to attack his ships so the United States accepted the challenge, as they had several vessels patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Battle of Atenquique

The Battle of Atenquique took place on 2 July 1858, during the Reform War, in the vicinity of the canyon Atenquique near the Nevado de Colima in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The conflict was between elements of the liberal army, under General Santos Degollado, and conservative troops, commanded by General Miguel Miramón. The battle caused heavy losses for both sides. Some consider the result undecided, although most historians qualify it as a win with a clear advantage for conservatives: Miramón's troops obtained control of the state of Jalisco. Additionally, Degollado became known as the Hero of the Defeats, for his troops' constant failures.

Battle of Celaya (1858)

The Battle of Celaya took place on 8 and 9 March 1858 in Celaya (in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico). It was a battle of the Reform War. Fought between elements of the liberal army, under General Anastasio Parrodi, and elements of the conservative army, commanded by General Luis G. Osollo, the victory corresponded to the conservative side, and was the first liberal defeat. In the face of this defeat, the liberal General Parrodi retired to Salamanca, where the next battle was fought.

The liberal defeat was caused by two main aspects. First, liberal General Moret did not hold the force of cavalry that he commanded: The general and other leaders of the liberal coalition forces had little communication. A fire in a carriage park of liberal soldiers also contributed to the defeat of the combined forces.

Battle of Estancia de las Vacas

The Battle of Estancia de las Vacas took place on November 13, 1859 in the vicinity of Estancia Cows in the state of Querétaro, Mexico, between elements of the liberal army, under General Santos Degollado and elements of the conservative army commanded by General Miguel Miramón during the Reform War. The victory corresponded to the conservative side that won despite the Liberals were doubled in number.

Battle of Guadalajara (1858)

The Battle of Guadalajara (1858) took place on 14 December 1858 in the vicinity of La Hacienda de Atequiza, near the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, during Reform War. Between elements of the liberal army, under General Santos Degollado, and elements of the conservative army commanded by Generals Miguel Miramón, Leonardo Márquez, Marcelino Cobos, the victory went to the conservative side. The conservatives attacked the ranch of San Miguel, near Poncitlán, Jalisco, where the battle took place. By the end of the battle, the conservatives had gained great quantities of weapons and other war materials. Afterwards, Miramón sent orders to shoot the captured liberal officers.

Battle of San Felipe del Obraje

The Battle of San Felipe del Obraje took place on August 8, 1861 in Loma de Jalpa near the town of San Felipe del Obraje in the State of Mexico, Mexico, between elements of the liberal army, under the command of General Jesús González Ortega and elements of the conservative army during the Reform War. Although technically the war had ended with the victory of the Liberals and the entry of Benito Juárez to the capital, conservatives were trying to form strength to somehow beat the Liberals. The victory corresponded to the liberal side, so that conservatives were dispersed in Xalatlaco.

Battle of San Joaquín

The Battle of San Joaquín in the War of Reform took place on 26 December 1858 in the municipality of Cuauhtémoc (Colima, Mexico), between elements of the liberal army, under General Santos Degollado, and elements of the conservative army, commanded by General Miguel Miramón.

Battle of Silao

The Battle of Silao took place on August 10, 1860 in the vicinity of Silao in Guanajuato state, Mexico, between elements of the liberal army, under the command of General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega and Ignacio Zaragoza with a force of 8,000 men and elements of the conservative army commanded General Miguel Miramon by commanding an army of 3,282 during the War of Reform. The battle was a liberal victory. General Miguel Miramon was almost captured but escaped in the disorder caused by the Republican artillery, abandoning artillery, ammunition and weapons.

Battle of Tacubaya (1859)

The Battle of Tacubaya took place on 11 April 1859 near the ancient village of Tacubaya in today's Federal District, Mexico City, Mexico, between elements of the liberal army, under General Santos Degollado and elements of the conservative army commanded by General Leonardo Marquez during the War of Reform. The victory corresponded to the preservative side, generating heavy casualties on both sides. After the battle General Miramon ordered Marquez to shoot the chiefs and officers Liberals captured in defeat, including the head of the Army Medical Corps was, as well as other liberal doctors, is why Leonardo Marquez know him as the Tiger of Tacubaya.

Ciudad Nicolás Romero

Ciudad Nicolás Romero is the largest city and municipal seat of the municipality of Nicolás Romero in State of Mexico, Mexico. It is located 58 km from the city of Toluca, the state capital and lies in the north-central part of the state, just northwest of the Federal District (Mexico City). The seat/municipality's current name is to honor Nicolás Romero, who fought for Benito Juárez during the Reform War and the French intervention in Mexico. He was executed there by the French. The town adopted this name in 1898. The area was settled by the Otomi and named Azcapotzaltongo ("among the ant hills" in Náhuatl) by the Aztecs after conquering it. During colonial times, it was known as San Pedro Azcapotzaltongo. It was then called Monte Bajo from 1821 to 1898, when the current name was adopted. Both the municipality and city are commonly referred to as Nicolás Romero.

Crabb massacre

The Crabb massacre was the culmination of the eight-day Battle of Caborca. It was fought between Mexico and their O'odham allies against American forces in April 1857. Due to the outbreak of the Reform War in Mexico, the rebel Ygnacio Pesqueira invited the American politician Henry A. Crabb to colonize the northern frontier region in the state of Sonora, on the basis that the colonists would help Pesqueira fight in the civil war and against the Apache. However, when Crabb arrived in Mexico, his command was attacked and ultimately defeated. Some 50 survivors of the battle, out of about 85 men, were murdered by the Mexicans.

Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1857

The Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1857 (Spanish: Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos de 1857) often called simply the Constitution of 1857 is the liberal constitution drafted by 1857 Constituent Congress of Mexico during the presidency of Ignacio Comonfort. It was ratified on February 5, 1857, establishing individual rights such as freedom of speech; freedom of conscience; freedom of the press; freedom of assembly; and the right to bear arms. It also reaffirmed the abolition of slavery, eliminated debtor prison, and eliminated all forms of cruel and unusual punishment, including the death penalty.

Some articles were contrary to the interests of the Catholic Church, such as education free of dogma, the removal of institutional fueros (privileges) and the sale of property belonging to the church. The Conservative Party strongly opposed the enactment of the new constitution and this polarized Mexican society. The Reform War began as a result, and the struggles between liberals and conservatives were intensified with the implementation of the Second Mexican Empire under the support of the church. Years later, with the restored republic, the Constitution was in force throughout the country until 1917.

First Siege of Veracruz

The First Siege of Veracruz was a military encounter of the Reform War which took place around Veracruz, Mexico in 1859. Conservative President Miguel Miramon attempted to besiege the Liberal capital, Veracruz, but was slowed down by guerrilla attacks and forced to withdraw when he received news that a Liberal army was marching on Mexico City. Miramon would try again one year later with similar results in the Second Siege of Veracruz.

Home Squadron

The Home Squadron was part of the United States Navy in the mid-19th century. Organized as early as 1838, ships were assigned to protect coastal commerce, aid ships in distress, suppress piracy and the slave trade, make coastal surveys, and train ships to relieve others on distant stations. It was discontinued in 1861 after the outbreak of the American Civil War, when the Union blockade forced a reassignment of ships to close off Southern ports.

List of heads of state of Mexico

The Head of State in Mexico is the person who controls the executive power in the country. Under the current constitution, this responsibility lies with the President of the United Mexican States, who is head of the supreme executive power of the Mexican Union. Throughout its history, Mexico has had several forms of government. Under the federal constitutions, the title of President was the same as the current one. Under the Seven Laws (centralist), the chief executive was named President of the Republic. In addition, there have been two periods of monarchical rule, during which the executive was controlled by the Emperor of Mexico.

The chronology of the heads of state of Mexico is complicated due to the country's political instability during most of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century. With few exceptions, most of the Mexican presidents elected during this period did not complete their terms. Until the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, each president had remained in office an average of fifteen months.This list also includes the self-appointed presidents during civil wars and the collegiate bodies that performed the Mexican Executive duties during periods of transition.

Ozuluama de Mascareñas (municipality)

Ozuluama de Mascareñas Municipality is one of the 212 municipalities of the Mexican state of Veracruz. It is located in the state's Huasteca Alta region. The municipal seat is the village of Ozuluama de Mascareñas, Veracruz.

In the 2005 INEGI Census, Ozuluama Municipality reported a total population of 23,190, of whom 3,439 lived in the municipal seat.

Of the municipality's inhabitants, 284 spoke an indigenous language, primarily Nahuatl.

The municipality of Ozuluama de Mascareñas covers a total surface area of 2,357.39 km².

The name "Ozuluama" is Nahuatl in origin. The epithet "de Mascareñas" (awarded 20 August 1980) honours Colonel Francisco Esteban Mascareñas, who was born here and fought on the Liberal side in the Reform War.

Second Siege of Veracruz

The Second Siege of Veracruz was a military encounter of the Reform War which took place around Veracruz, Mexico in 1860. Conservative President Miguel Miramon besieged the Liberal capital, Veracruz, for over a month but was compelled to withdraw after he ran out of ammunition. Part of his problem was that he was unable to blockade the port by sea due to the intervention of the United States off Antón Lizardo.

Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters

The Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters building is on the northeast corner of San Ildefonso and Republica de Argentina streets in the historic center of Mexico City, and used to be part of the largest and most sumptuous convents in New Spain. It was secularized in the 19th century and then taken over by the then-new Secretariat of Public Education after the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. The new agency did extensive remodeling work on the building, including covering nearly all the walls of the two inner courtyards with murals. These murals include Diego Rivera’s first large-scale mural project, which he completed in 1928.

Reform War


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