aximilian the First, archduke of the Habsburg dynasty of Europe, and
the emperor of Mexico, stood on the Hill of Bells outside
of Querétaro on the morning of 19 June 1867 and awaited his execution. He
had arrived to rule Mexico as emperor at the behest of Mexican Conserva-
tives disgusted with Liberal rule after their defeat in civil war and with the
backing of an imperialist- minded French monarchy and its invading army.
The elected republican government of Benito Juárez resisted the invasion in
a long and bloody war that lasted until Maximilian’s capture in 1867, after
the French had withdrawn. Maximilian faced his death with the bravery,
compassion, and complete political arrogance that his European aristocratic
background had engendered. While in life he had often seemed to lack even
basic comprehension of the Mexican political arena, perhaps facing a fir-
ing squad focused his mind on his 1864 arrival in Mexico. He had come,
he claimed, to bring “the fruits of civilization and true progress.” He had
brought with him from Europe “the Civilizing banner of France,” and his
enthronement was to lead to “the rebirth of order and Peace.”1 Maximilian’s
understanding of his mission fits well with scholars’ understanding of mo-
dernity, civilization, and progress as arising first in Europe and later being
transported to an unruly and backward Latin America.
Yet, whatever thoughts were in Maximilian’s head, they were soon extin-
Querétaro, Mexico, 1867
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