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Cinco de Mayo: “Batalla de Puebla” changes America’s Civil War outcome

What if France had gone to the aid of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War? The destiny of the United States and the freedom of its people may have been different.

During Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico City, people in the “Peon de los Baos” neighborhood take part in a recreation of the battle between the Mexican Army against the French Army in the Battle of Puebla. Photo: Jair Cabrera/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In addition to Mexico’s victory over the French, Cinco de Mayo has ties to the U.S. Civil War and the struggle for freedom and liberty on both sides of the border.

By PATRICIA ANN TALLEY, Contributing Writer

The May 5th, Cinco de Mayo holiday is a date observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day, but Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on Sept. 16.

Historical background

Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821. Afterward, Mexico legalized immigration from the United States. In 1822, Anglos from the U.S. began settling in the Mexican state of “Coahuila y Tejas” (later known as Texas). Most of the U.S. immigrants came from the American south and brought enslaved Africans with them. Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, causing conflicts that led to the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836, and the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, when Mexico lost half of its country to the U.S.

In addition to these foreign wars, Mexico had a civil Reform War from 1858-61. The Reform War was a civil war which pitted liberals, (who believed in separation of church and state and freedom of religion), against the conservatives, (who favored a tight bond between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican State). Liberal forces eventually won.

Compton Herald | Patricia Ann Talley, MBA

Patricia Ann Talley, MBA

The foreign wars left the Mexican treasury nearly bankrupt, forcing President Benito Juárez on July 17, 1861, to issue a moratorium suspending all foreign debt payments for two years. In response, France, Britain, and Spain dispatched naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France did not.

Battle of Puebla and the Mexican victory

Late in 1861, a well-armed French armada disembarked troops that stormed the port city of Veracruz and forced the Mexican Army to retreat. The marauding French army pressed the attack against the much smaller Mexican army, driving them toward Mexico City, but they encountered heavy resistance near the city of Puebla.

Surprisingly, on May 5, 1862, Mexican forces effectively and decisively crushed the French. The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and to the Mexican people, who continued to resist the French.

The victory, however, was short-lived. A year later, the French were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and install Emperor Maximilian I (born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph) as monarch of Mexico.

Significance to U.S. history and freedom

From 1861-1865, the United States was engaged in a civil war over slavery and states rights. Eleven Southern states grouped to form the Confederate States of America and seceded from the U.S. Mexico had abolished slavery back in 1829, so when the U.S. won the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and seized half of Mexico, this expanded human slavery into the highly profitable cotton areas in the South and Southwest. Southern Whites had invested large amounts of money in human slavery and believed the emancipation of African-Americans would destroy their economy. The South lost the war and slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. in 1865.

The Thirteenth Amendment

Editor’s Note: The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party on Jan. 1, 1863, was recognized as a war measure. Therefore, it might have no constitutional validity once the war was over. The legal framework of slavery would still exist in the former Confederate states as well as in the Union slave states that had been exempted from the proclamation. So, the party committed itself to a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. The overwhelmingly Republican Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment by more than the necessary two-thirds majority on April 8, 1864. But not until Jan. 31, 1865, did enough Democrats in the House abstain from voting or vote for the amendment to pass it by a bare two-thirds. By Dec. 18, 1865, the requisite three-quarters of the states had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which ensured that forever after “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States.”

If not for Mexico, the outcome of the U.S. Civil War might have been different. Historian Justo Sierra wrote in Political Evolution of the Mexican People, “…that, had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France would have gone to the aid of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War and the destiny of the United States and the freedom of its people may have been different.”

By 1865, with its Civil War over, the U.S. began to provide political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French. Napoleon III, facing a persistent Mexican guerilla resistance, the threat of war with Prussia, and a possible conflict with the U.S., retreated from Mexico in 1866. On June 5, 1867, President Juarez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a legitimate government.

Schools are closed in Mexico on May 5th and children are taught the history of the victory over the French. Cinco de Mayo is recognized in many parts of the U.S. and celebrated with festivals and parties. But the date also has significant relevance to freedom and liberty on both sides of the border.

Content from Wikipedia contributed to this post

Patricia Ann Talley is a marketing and communications consultant and professor in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, where she has lived for the past 20 years. Talley has conducted extensive research in the African presence in Mexico and is the publisher of Imagine-Mexico.com. Talley is a Whitney Young, Jr. Fellow of Economic Development from the Ross Graduate School of Business at the University of Michigan where she earned an MBA degree. She is the daughter of Alfred and Barbara Talley of Southfield, Mich.

Compton Herald is a digital news publication providing clear, fair and current news, information and commentary about Compton, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Los Angeles County, California, and the world.

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