On May 5, 1862 La Batalla de Puebla was fought. When the battle was over, the untrained Mexican forces (made up of commoners) had won victory over the all-powerful French army. Although this victory did not win the war, it did show the courage and strength of the Mexican troupes.
Mexico had gained its independence from Spain in 1810, but there were internal power struggles that left Mexico shaky. Then in 1846, under the dictatorship of Santa Anna, Mexico went to war with the United States. Mexico was fending off US claims and its desire to acquire California. Then Mexico lost a huge portion of land with the annexation of Texas to the US in December 1845 . The Mexican-American War left Mexico in a state of national crisis. The years of fighting left Mexico devastated and bankrupt.
Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian leader became the Minister of Justice in 1855. He proposed two very controversial laws. One, that the church and military courts could no longer try civilian cases and the second legalized the sale and distribution of church lands. This caused civil unrest. In 1861, Juarez took control of the capital and put his laws into effect causing a civil war that created a national debt.
On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a statement that all foreign debt payments would cease for two years after which time the payments would resume. The English, Spanish, and French did not agree to this and decided to invade Mexico and extract their payments any way they could. Eventually, the Spanish and English withdrew, but the French refused to leave. They planned to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. In 1862, the French army moved in.
Shortly before the battle on May 5th Benito Juarez announced to his people:
The government of the republic will fulfill its duty to defend its independence, to repel foreign aggression, and accept the struggle to which it has been provoked, counting on the unanimous spirit of the Mexicans and on the fact that sooner or later the cause of rights and justice will triumph.
At the same time General Lorencz stated to the French government:
We are so superior to the Mexicans in race, in organization, in discipline, in morality, and in refinement of sensibilities, that as of this moment, at the head of our 6,000 valiant soldiers, I am the master of Mexico.
On May 5th the outnumbered, untrained, and ill-equipped Mexican people defeated the formidable French army. The success was unimaginable and was won with the determination and spirit of the Mexican people. However, victory was short lived and within a year France had successfully conquered Puebla and the rest of Mexico. They ruled there until 1867, then Juarez was restored to power where he ruled until his death in 1872.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the courage of the Mexican people during the battle on May 5th. It is often confused with the Mexican Independence Day, which occurred September 16, 1810 about 50 years earlier. The United States celebrates Cinco de Mayo on a much larger scale than Mexico with fiestas, parades, mariachi music, and pinatas.
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1: Encyclopedia.com and TheHistoryChannel.com
“Mexico had never recognized Texas’s independence and made plans to recapture the area. As Congress debated the issue, Mexico made it clear that the permanent loss of Texas would be sufficient cause for war.” from TheHistoryChannel.com