The Fall of Maximilian


The Fall of Maximilian

A.D. 1867

[Note: The harsh words against Mexicans in this article, published in the 1800s, are here only because they were in the original article.]

Charles A. Fyffe, Prince Salm-Salm

Compared with the Civil War in the United States, the contemporary French intervention in Mexico seems but a slight episode, little more than an eddy in the tremendous current of greater events. But as a unique passage in the diversified history of Mexico, no less than in its bearings upon European attitudes toward the United States at a critical time the story of Maximilian's ill-starred empire, and of his own fate, possesses a distinct interest.

The French expedition against Mexico had at first the backing of England and Spain. Its professed object was "to demand from the Mexican authorities more efficacious protection for the persons and properties" of the subjects of England, France, and Spain in Mexico, and fulfilment of the obligations contracted toward the sovereigns of the three former countries by the latter. Finding that France wished to go beyond this design in Mexico, and failing to agree with her upon a plan of action, England and Spain withdrew from the undertaking. But Napoleon himself was determined to establish "a sort of feudatory monarchy" in Mexico. How he went about the accomplishment of this purpose is well shown, in few words, by Fyffe, the excellent historian of modern Europe. The tragic ending of this enterprise is described by a prominent participant in the events here narrated, Prince Felix Salm-Salm. He was a German soldier of fortune who came to the United States in 1861, entered the Union army, and rose to the rank of brevet brigadier-general of volunteers. In 1866 he entered Maximilian's service in Mexico, and, as aide-de-camp to the Emperor and chief of the imperial household, shared intimately in his experiences. After the execution of Maximilian, Salm-Salm entered the Prussian army, and was killed at the battle of Gravelotte, August 18, 1870.


THERE were in Napoleon III, as a man of state, two personalities, two mental existences, which blended but ill with each other. There was the contemplator of great human forces, the intelligent, if not deeply penetrative, reader of the signs of the times, the brooder through long years of imprisonment and exile, the child of Europe, to whom Germany, Italy, and England had all in turn been nearer than his own country; and there was the crowned adventurer, bound by his name and position to gain for France something that it did not possess, and to regard the greatness of every other nation as an impediment to the ascendency of his own.

Napoleon correctly judged the principle of nationality to be the dominant force in the immediate future of Europe. He saw in Italy and in Germany races whose internal divisions alone had prevented them from being the formidable rivals of France, and yet he assisted the one nation to effect its union, and was not indisposed, within certain limits, to promote the consolidation of the other. That the acquisition of Nice and Savoy, and even of the Rhenish Provinces, could not in itself make up to France for the establishment of two great nations on its immediate frontiers Napoleon must have well understood: he sought to carry the principle of agglomeration a stage further in the interests of France itself, and to form some moral, if not political, union of the Latin nations, which should embrace under his own ascendency communities beyond the Atlantic as well as those of the Old World. It was with this design that in the year 1862 he made the financial misdemeanors of Mexico the pretext for an expedition to that country, the object of which was to subvert the native republican Government, and to place the Hapsburg Maximilian, as a vassal prince, on its throne.

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