President Benito Juárez
Benito Juárez was an important Mexican liberal during the time of the U.S.-Mexican War, and emerged as one of the nation’s most important figures in the Nineteenth Century. A Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, Juárez was born into a peasant family in 1806. By 1831, Juárez was a lawyer and an active liberal politician at the city and state level. When Valentín Gomez Farias became president of Mexico in 1846, Juárez went to Congress and supported a wave of liberal reforms designed to bolster Mexico’s efforts in the U.S.-Mexican War, but that eventually failed and triggered a conservative revolt.
As the war wound down, Juárez returned to Oaxaca as governor, advocated a protracted guerilla war against the United States, opposed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and refused to grant General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna asylum when his government collapsed. In 1853, the dictator returned to exact his revenge, and Juárez fled to New Orleans.
He returned to Mexico in 1855, and became the nation’s president two years later. From 1857 to 1872, Juárez successfully defended his government against Conservative opponents in the War of the Reform, and defended his nation against the French-back monarchists under Emperor Maximillian I. He emerged as one of the truly great men of Mexican history, and died in office from a heart attack in 1872.