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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER VIII.
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One of the first things to attract the attention of the youths was the aqueduct by which Queretaro is supplied with water. They learned on inquiry that it was built by one of the citizens at an expense of half a million dollars; the story goes that it was the result of a banter between him and another wealthy Mexican, one offering to supply the city with water if the other would build a shrine and saint of solid silver. The offer was accepted, and the agreement carried out by both parties.
The water comes from a mountain stream five miles from the city, and
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 is brought through a tunnel, and afterwards along a series of arches, some of which are ninety feet high. It was finished in 1738, and has ever since supplied Queretaro with an abundance of water.
 Church of the Cross. Hill of the Bells.
The most interesting sight of Queretaro is the Cerro de las Campanas, or Hill of the Bells, and thither our friends proceeded as soon as they had partaken of the mid-day meal, which was ready on their arrival at the hotel. There is a fine view from the hill, and they greatly enjoyed it; but they were more interested in the spot where the last Mexican empire came to an end. Three black crosses mark the place where Maximilian and his generals, Miramon and Mejia, were shot on the morning of the 19th of June, 1867. This was the last scene in the drama of the imperial monarchy which Louis Napoleon sought to found in North America at the time of the American Civil-War.
Frank and Fred had already familiarized themselves with the history of Maximilian's career in Mexico. Frank had committed a portion of the story to paper, and with Fred's assistance it was completed during their stay at Queretaro, and mailed homeward with their next batch of letters. Here it is:
"From the time Mexico established her independence of Spain down to 1860, there was a bitter hostility between the two parties into which the influential portion of the population was divided—the Conservative or Church party, and the Liberals. The Conservatives represented the Catholic Church, whose religion was brought to Mexico by the priests that accompanied Cortez and sought to convert the people from paganism. They succeeded in great measure, and as long as the Spaniards were in power the Church was in full control. It possessed a great part of the wealth of the country; the most moderate estimate is that one-fourth of all the property in the country belonged to the Church, and some authorities say that the proportion was far greater.
"When independence was established, the Liberals began active opposition to the Church party, and the country was hardly ever at peace from one end to the other. Revolutions followed each other with great rapidity. Several Presidents were not allowed to enter upon the duties of their office at all, and the first President to complete the full term for which he was elected was Benito Juarez. Historians are not agreed as to the number of revolutions that have taken place in Mexico; but it is safe to say that they were not fewer than thirty-six in the limit of forty years, most of them being accompanied by bloodshed. In that period there were no less than seventy-three rulers, nearly all of them exercising very brief authority, and some none at all.
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"As time went on, the hostility of the Church and Liberal parties to each other grew more and more bitter, till it culminated in the War of the Reform, between 1855 and 1858. In 1859 President Juarez proclaimed the famous Laws of the Reform, which forbade priests to appear in public wearing their robes of office, suppressed the monasteries and convents, and gave the property of the Church to the Government. The value of this property is said to have been more than $300,000,000. The Liberal army captured the capital city six months after the proclamation of these laws, and they were immediately put in operation, and with great severity.
"The country was deeply in debt, and in 1861 the Liberal Congress passed a law suspending payment of the interest on its foreign debt. This gave England, France, and Spain an excuse for sending a naval and military force to Mexico; they captured Vera Cruz, and then an arrangement was made which caused the withdrawal of England and Spain; but France remained, and was evidently determined to conquer the country. The French advanced towards the capital, which they captured June 9, 1863. There were 40,000 French troops in Mexico, and they were joined by a Mexican force which was in the interest of the Church party.
"In July a congress of Mexican notables proclaimed that the Government of Mexico should be an hereditary monarchy, under a Catholic prince, and offered the crown to Maximilian, brother of the Emperor of Austria. Maximilian accepted the offer, and came to Mexico with his wife, Carlotta; they arrived in July, 1864, and were crowned Emperor and Empress of Mexico, in the great cathedral of the capital city. The Emperor selected Chapultepec as his imperial residence; a fine avenue was laid out from the castle to the city, trees were planted, streets were improved, and for a short time it seemed as if peace and prosperity were coming to Mexico.
"Juarez was still President of the Republic; he and his army were driven far to the north, but they continued to fight, and in October, 1865, Maximilian signed an order which became known as the 'Black Decree,' condemning all Republican officers captured in battle to be shot as brigands. Many of them, including several generals and colonels, were shot accordingly, and this act exasperated the people.
"The American Civil War had ended; the United States Government put 60,000 troops along the western frontier of Texas, and then intimated that the French forces must be withdrawn from Mexico. The diplomatic correspondence lasted six months, and our Government threatened armed intervention unless the French troops were recalled. They were withdrawn; Maximilian had no foreign support, and his own army could not cope successfully with the Republican forces. Juarez, with his army, advanced
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 towards the south, and the Imperial army marched to meet him, and was defeated. A Republican army, under General Diaz, captured Puebla, and put the Imperialists to flight.
"Carlotta went to France, and vainly besought Louis Napoleon to continue his aid and keep a French army in Mexico. Then she asked the Pope to exercise his influence, and finding that was of no use, she became hopelessly insane. Maximilian started for the coast, intending to leave the country; unwisely for himself, he changed his plans, and joined General Miramon at Queretaro, where there were 5000 Imperial troops. Queretaro was besieged by 20,000 troops, under General Escobedo; the siege
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 lasted two months, and ended on the 15th of May, when the key of the position was captured, and the Emperor and his army surrendered. The Emperor was taken on the Hill of the Bells, the very spot where he was afterwards shot by order of the court-martial which condemned him to death."
"A very concise history of the events of that time," said Doctor Bronson, when Frank paused in reading their joint production; "have you anything more to add to it?"
"Yes, sir, we have," was the reply. "We have thought that the story of the court-martial, and the last days and hours of Maximilian, would be interesting, and ought to form a part of our narrative."
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"That is quite right," the Doctor answered, "and if you have not finished it I will hear it some other time."
On a subsequent occasion Fred presented the following, which was heartily approved by Doctor Bronson as deserving a place in the narrative of their journey through Mexico:
"Maximilian was condemned to death on account of the 'Black Decree,' and the officers who had carried out his orders were sentenced to the same fate. The wife of General Miramon went to San Luis Potosi to intercede with President Juarez for her husband's life. The Princess Salm-Salm went at the same time to do a similar service for Maximilian. The princess, in the account of her interview, says: 'I saw the President was moved; he had tears in his eyes, but he assured me in a low, sad voice, "I am grieved, madame, to see you thus on your knees before me, but if all the kings and queens of Europe were in your place, I could not spare that life. It is not I who take it, it is the people and the law; and if I should not do its will, the people would take it, and mine also."'
"Miramon's wife told a similar story about the wish of the President to be merciful and reprieve her husband. She says he was wavering when his Minister of Foreign Affairs said, 'It is to-day or never that you will consolidate the peace of the republic.' Then the President told her as gently as he could that it was impossible to grant her request.
"The Government of the United States asked that Maximilian's life be spared, and the Emperor of Austria sent a similar request, but all to no purpose. On the morning of the execution Maximilian rode in a coach with his confessor from the prison to the Hill of the Bells, and Miramon and Mejia, with their confessors, followed in another coach. An adobe wall had been built up for the occasion, and the three men were placed in front of it, and about ten paces from the firing party. Maximilian held a crucifix in his hand, and looked intently upon it as the order to fire was given. The President caused the remains of the ill-fated Emperor to be carefully coffined, and they were sent home to Austria for interment in the Imperial vault of the Hapsburgs.
"President Juarez entered the city of Mexico on the 15th of July, less than a month after Maximilian's death, and carried with him a train of provisions for the relief of the suffering inhabitants. Great leniency was shown to all who had served under Maximilian; nineteen of the officers who had committed crimes or deserted from the Republican army were shot, others were imprisoned, and some were ordered to leave the country under pain of imprisonment in case they returned. The rank and file of the soldiery were sent to their homes or incorporated into the national
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 army, and the President did everything in his power to bring peace to the country; and since that time Mexico has been a peaceful land compared with what it had been for the preceding forty years."
When Fred completed the reading of his story Doctor Bronson said he was reminded of an incident that happened at the time of the execution of Maximilian.
"I was in Paris," said he, "when the news came that the execution had taken place. The French papers were not allowed to make any comment upon the affair, except to execrate it and denounce the Mexicans in the bitterest terms. Louis Napoleon would have caused the immediate suspension of any paper that uttered a word in sympathy with the acts of Juarez.
"One of the liberal papers managed very skilfully to get around the prohibition. It printed the telegram announcing that Maximilian had
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 been shot by order of a Mexican court-martial, and directly beneath the telegram it printed the 'Black Decree' of October, 1865, to which you have alluded, and with it two letters written by Maximilian's victims just before they were led to execution. The decree and the letters were copied from the French offici............
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