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Maximilian In Mexico

July 2024
1min read

Maximilian and Carlola—the faces of the Austrian archduke and his wife, the Belgian princess, seem to belong to the romantic leads of a light opera about some mythical Middle European principality. But because they allowed themselves to become the tools of a dictator’s grab for empire, their story turned out to be Graustark with a cruel twist. The attempt to place Maximilian on the throne of Mexico was the improbable handiwork of the selfmade Emperor of France, Napoleon III. Part genius, part mountebank, whose most notable monument was the superficial glitter of the Second Empire, he saw an opportunity for national aggrandizement that might assure him a fame equal to that of his uncle, the great Bonaparte. Two circumstances prompted his undertaking. The first was a civil war in Mexico (1858–61), which had left the country in a state of anarchy and the bankrupt republican regime of Benito Juárez deeply in debt to European creditors—a perfect set-up lor outside intervention. The second, of course, was the War Between the States; as long as it lasted, Napoleon knew, he could expect no interference. And so, in 1861, he set in train the events that were to bring Maximilian and Carlota to Mexico. Rarely has foreign meddling in the affairs of the Western hemisphere been so blatant—or its potential threat to the interests of the United States so great.

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