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¡Happy Birthday, Benito Juárez!

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Photo of a portrait depicting Benito Juárez by Salvador Martínez Báez in the Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room. According to Georgette Dorn, Chief, Hispanic Division, this portrait was gifted to the Hispanic Division by the late Senator Michael Joseph Mansfield, who had received it in 1973 from then president of Mexico Luis Echeverría.
Photo of a portrait depicting Benito Juárez by Salvador Martínez Báez in the Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room. According to Georgette Dorn, chief of the Hispanic Division, this portrait was gifted to the Library in 1972.

…el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.–Benito Juárez

210 years ago, on March 21, 1806, Benito Juárez (Benito Pablo Juárez García), one of Mexico’s most renowned leaders, was born.  Ask any Mexican about Benito Juárez, and you may find them promptly reciting a well-known aphorism of his:  “… el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.”  The whole aphorism states:  “Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” which translated to English means: “Among individuals, as well as between Nations, respect for another’s right is [the key to] peace.”  These words were uttered soon after the defeat, trial and execution of Maximilian I. And it is this victory at the hands of Benito Juárez for which Cinco de Mayo (aka La Batalla de Puebla) is best known.  An additional legal element that links this lawyer and statesman to our blog post is the fact that the Federal Law of Administrative Procedure of Mexico provides for the commemoration of federal holidays.  According to the Accord issued on January 29, 2016, March 21, 2016 is a federal holiday where work will be suspended in commemoration of the birth of Benito Juárez.

As with many leaders and heroes, Juárez’s biography is fraught with moments where he overcame considerable odds. At an early age, he was orphaned.  But as with any epic hero, fate seemed to look kindly upon him.  Before starting elementary education, it is believed that he did not speak Spanish.  Instead, he spoke Zapotec and would have to learn Spanish as he received a formal Western education.

Below I would like to flesh out some of the most salient and epic moments in his history—among other facts, for those who are not Mexican—as it is certainly fitting when commemorating a figure such as Juárez. I have added to his timeline events from our American history, so that in their juxtaposition, we can get a better sense of the world of his time.


On March 21, Benito Juárez was born to Marcelino Juárez and Brígida García in San Pablo, Guelatao, Oaxaca, Mexico.


  • Orphaned at age 3, Juárez’s grandparents took custody of him; upon their deaths, his uncle, Bernardino Juárez, took him in and made him a shepherd.
  • On March 4, James Madison was inaugurated president. (The Library recently celebrated his 265th birthday.)


On September 16, Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla became the pioneer of the Mexican Independence movement when he “waved a banner bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and proclaimed ‘Long live independence.  Death to the Spaniards.’”


On June 18, The War of 1812 began.


On March 4, James Monroe was inaugurated president.


On December 17, Juárez left his uncle’s home, set out for Oaxaca City and ended up in the home of Genoese gentleman Antonio Maza Padilla (and his Mexican wife, Petra Parada Sigüenza) at whose house his sister, María Josefa Juárez García, was a maid.  It is also worth noting that at this point Juárez only spoke his native Zapotec language.  It is in this home where he met Margarita Eustaquia Maza Parada, who later became his wife–Da Margarita E. Maza Parada de Juárez.



On March 6, President James Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise.


  • Agustín de Iturbide (Agustín I of Mexico) and Vicente Guerrero achieved Mexico’s Independence.
  • In October, Juárez entered the seminary, where he studied Latin, theology and philosophy—with a relatively limited educational background.


On December 2, the Monroe Doctrine was declared, stating that the “American continents…are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”


On October 4, the Mexican Constitution of 1824 was issued.



On January 8, the Institute of Science and Arts of Oaxaca opened its doors, at which point Juárez enrolled.  (There are discrepancies on this milestone in the life of Juárez.  Some sources claim that he entered the priesthood; others claim he enrolled in law school.)


On March 4, Andrew Jackson was inaugurated president.


  • On May 28, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act.
  • On December 9, Benito Juárez graduated from the Institute of Science and Arts of Oaxaca.


Benito Juárez began a legal practicum at the firm of Lic. Tiburcio Cañas. That same year, he was elected “regidor” (alderman) of the city of Oaxaca.




Texas declared its Independence from Mexico.


On March 4, Martin Van Buren was inaugurated president.


The term “manifest destiny” was coined by John L. O’Sullivan.



On July 31, Juárez married Margarita Eustaquia Maza Parada, daughter of D. Antonio Maza Padilla.


On December 4, Juárez was designated “fiscal del Tribunal Superior de Justicia del estado de Oaxaca” (state’s attorney of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of the State of Oaxaca) by Antonio de León.




On February 2, Mexican War concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.



The Compromise of 1850 was set forth.


On March 20, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published.



  • On October 4, Juan Álvarez appointed Juárez to be Minister of Justice, Ecclesiastical Affairs and Public Education.
  • On November 23, Juárez Law (Law on the Administration of Justice and Organic Law of the Courts of the Nation of the District and Territories) was promulgated.


On June 25, Lerdo’s Law was issued, which aimed to reform and establish separation of church and state in Mexico. As a result, the Mexican Constitution of 1857 was promulgated on February 5th, and Pope Pious IX excommunicated any who swore allegiance to that constitution.


  • On March 4, James Buchanan was inaugurated president.
  • On March 6, Dred Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court Decision was issued.
  • On May 23, Juárez was appointed by the new Mexican congress to preside over the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, which made him also the de facto vice-president of Mexico.
  • On September 16, Mexico’s new constitution entered into effect.


On April 7, under the Buchanan administration, the United States recognized Benito Juárez as the legitimate Mexican head of state.


  • On November 6, Abraham Lincoln was elected president.
  • On December 20, the secession convention adopted the ordinance for South Carolina to secede, while a separate “Declaration on the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” was adopted on December 24.



On May 5, the French were defeated at the Battle of Puebla (Cinco de Mayo).




  • On February 24, President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives, and became the first seated president to be impeached.
  • July 28, 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which defines citizenship, was ratified.


On March 4, Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated president.


  • On February 3, the 15th Amendment was ratified, granting African-American men the right to vote.
  • On October 22, Juárez survived a stroke.


  • On January 2, his wife, Margarita Eustaquia Maza Parada de Juárez, died.
  • On October 12, Juárez was re-elected.


On July 18, Juárez died after suffering a heart attack.


Note:  Caption below image was updated 3/21/2016.

Comments (2)

  1. UPDATE Concerning the portrait: According to Library of Congress Information Bulletin Vol. 31, No. 42 of October 20, 1972, the portrait was received by the Library during a ceremony that took place on October 4, 1972.

  2. Thanks for the update Fran!

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