As a young Congressman and later as the nation’s leader, the first Republican president proved to be a true friend to America’s neighbor to the south. Slideshow images are Smithsonian logo, headquarters building in Washington, DC, and Lincoln statue in Tijuana, Mexico.
The Smithsonian.com online magazine featured a lengthy article Feb. 23 by Editor-at-Large Jamie Katz about Abraham Lincoln and Mexico, adding to national news attention about Lincoln’s legacy of support for Mexico. Here are some excerpts, and you can click here to see the full article.
…American historian Michael Hogan makes a bold claim. He says that Abraham Lincoln is in no small part responsible for the United States being blessed for many generations with an essentially friendly nation to the south—this despite a history that includes the United States annexation and conquest of Mexican territory from Texas to California in the 1840s, and the nations’ chronic border and immigration tensions.
…In his 2016 study, Abraham Lincoln and Mexico: A History of Courage, Intrigue and Unlikely Friendships, Hogan points to several factors that elevated the United States’ 16th president in the eyes of Mexicans, in particular Lincoln’s courageous stand in Congress against the Mexican War, and his later support in the 1860s for democratic reformist Benito Juárez, who has at times been called the “Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.” Lincoln’s stature as a force for political equality and economic opportunity—and his opposition to slavery, which Mexico had abolished in 1829—made the American leader a sympathetic figure to the progressive followers of Juárez, who was inaugurated as president of Mexico in the same month and year, March 1861, as Lincoln.
…In the course of researching his Lincoln book, Hogan made an important discovery in the archives of the Banco Nacional de México: the journals of Matías Romero, a future Mexican Treasury Secretary, who, as a young diplomat before and during the American Civil War, represented the Juárez government in Washington. Romero had written a congratulatory letter to Lincoln after the 1860 election, to which the president-elect cordially thanked Romero, replying: “While, as yet I can do no official act on behalf of the United States, as one of its citizens I tender the expression of my sincere wishes for the happiness, prosperity and liberty of yourself, your government, and its people.”
…During its own civil war of the late 1850s, Mexico had accrued significant foreign debt, which the French Emperor Napoleon III ultimately used as pretext to expand his colonial empire, installing an Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian, as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1863. The United States did not recognize the French regime in Mexico, but with the Civil War raging, remained officially neutral in the hope that France would not recognize or aid the Confederacy.
…With Lincoln’s earlier letter in hand, Romero made the rounds with American bankers in San Francisco, New York and Boston, Hogan says, selling bonds that raised $18 million to fund the Mexican army.
…After the Civil War, the U.S. became even more helpful in the fight for Mexican liberation. In a show of support, Grant dispatched 50,000 men to the Texas border under General Sheridan, instructing him to covertly “lose” 30,000 rifles where they could be miraculously “found” by the Mexicans. Sheridan’s forces included several regiments of seasoned African-American troops, many of whom went on to fight in the Indian Wars, where they were nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers.
…By 1867, the French had withdrawn their occupying army; the Juárez forces captured and executed Maximilian, and the Mexican Republic was restored.
…Though most of this history has receded in the national memories of both countries, Hogan believes that Lincoln’s principled leadership and friendship—outspoken in the 1840s, tacit in the 1860s—created a pathway for mutually respectful relations well into the future.”