Born in the village of Guelatao, sixty kilometers from Oaxaca City, Benito Juárez was descended from the old indigenous nobility of the Zapotecas. After his parents died, the young Juárez would spend his childhood as a shepherd for his uncle. He ran away to Oaxaca shortly before turning twelve and became an apprentice bookbinder under the instruction of Antonio Salanueva, a lay devotee of Saint Francis.

After two years, Juárez was enrolled in the only educational institution of the city, the Council Seminary, where he began to study Latin grammar, scholastic philosophy and moral theology. Headed for a career in the Church, his curiosity led him to instead pursue the study of law at the new Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Juárez was elected to Oaxaca's city government in the 1830s and began to make a reputation for himself as a legal expert. Juárez was named temporary governor of the state of Oaxaca in October, 1847; becoming the first indigenous governor in the Mexican Republic.

In 1848, Juárez issued a decree forbidding Antonio López de Santa Anna from entering the state of Oaxaca. Santa Anna retaliated by exiling Juárez. During his exile and while in New Orleans, Juárez met Melchor Ocampo, the staunchly anti-clerical Liberal. The teachings of Ocampo made Juárez evolve his religious feeling for the law to the point of creating, within Juárez's conscience, the separation of Church and State.

The first truly liberal Constitution was promulgated on February 5th, 1857. The Conservatives replied by getting together an army, blessed by the Clergy (of course), and declaring war on the Liberals. Thus began the War of the Reform (1858-1861). During the first few months, the Conservatives swept away everything in their path. But the Liberals would eventually stiffen their resistance, creating a painful equilibrium for two long years.

In one of the worst acts of the War, on April 11th, 1858, in the town of Tacubaya near the capital, the Conservatives massacred all their prisoners - commanders, officers, soldiers, doctors, even the medical students who were caring for the wounded. The "decent people" of the town, including Church and military leaders, filled the streets with lights in an enormous public celebration. The battle of Silao (in the state of Guanajuato) ended the Conservatives' chances of winning the War, and Juárez entered Mexico City in January, 1861. Juárez was re-elected for another four years. Church and State were now divorced.

The French would intervene in 1864, with the governor-general of the small kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia (in northern Italy) taking over as Emperor of México. Napoleon III, the Frenchman who had decided to take over México in the first place, decided to pull out his forces just three years later (apparently Napoleon viewed the whole ordeal as a really bad investment, but he didn't bother telling Maximillian... woops).

French troops pulled out of Mexico City, and Conservatives (with Maximillian) tried pulling together an army. They made it as far as Querétaro before having their generals captured. Juárez, from San Luis Potosí, ordered the court-martials of the Conservatives Miramón and Mejía as well as Maximillian. European governments, an American representative, even Garibaldi, the champion of Italian liberalism, pleaded with Juárez to show mercy to Maximillian. Juárez would reply that it was the will of the law and the will of the people. Maximillian would be executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867.

A month later, Juárez returned to the capital. With the Republic once again restored, Juárez called elections. His opponent was the new hero of México, Porfirio Díaz. Juárez would win 72% of the vote. Juárez had a tough time governing. Unrest and outbreaks scattered throughout the Republic led to the creation of the "rurales," and Juárez failed in amending the Constitution of 1857 to even out the balance of power between the legislative branch and the judiciary and executive (the all-powerful legislative branch had led to the downfall of past presidents).

Juárez was up for election in 1871, and faced two opponents: his right-hand man, Lerdo de Tejada, and once again Porfirio Díaz. Juárez would win 47% of the vote, but the sentiment against him was growing fast, especially considering he had maneuvered Congress into amending the Constitution to favor his own candidacy and had promoted a string of electoral practices that jeopardized the freedom and secrecy of the vote. Porfirio Díaz had started a revolt in the state of Oaxaca under the banner of "Valid voting, No Re-election." But just one year after winning re-election, Benito Juárez would die of a heart attack, at the age of 66.

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