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October 15, 2014


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Here's an alternate Mexico question: what-if Trist followed his instructions closer and the northern tier of what became OTL's Mexican states and Baja were annexed to the US as part of an alternate Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

If that happens, whither Mexico?

Utterly unpredictable, but mostly after 1865, and probably nowhere good.

Start with the War of the Reform, 1858-61. (Which might not occur, let alone on schedule, but let's keep it simple.) It probably goes much as it actually went, with a Liberal victory, since the northern territories played a relatively minor role.

But the French Intervention is an entirely different story. More southern slave states might serve to delay the U.S. Civil War. Would the French still invade if the U.S. were at peace? I have no idea. That said, a long time ago David Tenner convinced me that more slave states would not have delayed the Civil War, so let's say the French invade on schedule. Well, most of the redoubts from which the Republicans launched their counteroffensive are now in the United States! That opens the door to the possibility that the resistance will be completely wiped out: Juárez retreated from San Luis Potosí to Saltillo in December 1863. Some resistance survived on Mexico's west coast, but without the north it's not clear that the French and Belgian forces, supplemented by Conservative supporters, could not have crushed it.

If that happens ... well. The Second Empire will stumble along until, uh, something! You could spend all day debating what a prolonged Empire would look like. Maximilian was oddly liberal, but relied on Conservative support. [Capitalization deliberate.] And he was deeply in debt to France, unsustainably so. End result? God if I know. But different.

Alternatively, Juárez's government could survive in exile, in which case he would stage a counteroffensive from the American side -- the Johnson Administration would not have been averse. In that case, you get a Restored Republic and (absent some sort of random butterfly effect) the Porfiriato.

The thing is, the collapse of the Porfiriato in 1910 and the rise of the subsequent regime was almost entirely a northern story. Take Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila out of the federation and you remove both the factions and personalities that drove the Mexican Revolution. So you either get no Mexican Revolution or an unrecognizable one.

At that point it's a mug's game to predict the result. But it won't look like modern Mexico. You'll still have a big semi-industrialized country --- we are not talking Greater Guatemala at all. But a succession of unstable military governments is the most likely outcome, albeit not the only one.

Not satisfying, I know. I open this thread up to more speculation and better counterfactual arguments.

What's the likelihood of the US intervening after the Civil War is done? What would France do if we did?

A US intervention against the Mexican Empire might well end up producing a Franco-American war and the likely loss of Mexico. This would have a huge impact on French and European politics. Will it bring down the Second Empire?

Wouldn't happen.

By 1865, the Second Empire was coming apart. Maximilian was losing Conservative support because ... well ... he was actually quite the liberal. Napoleon III understood this and withdrew French troops with no fanfare in 1866 when the U.S. asked him to. ("Asked" in the sense of "put 50,000 federal troops on the Mexican border and send an active duty general to Paris to make the point.")

The mere threat of invasion was enough to get Napoleon III to withdraw rather than risk a war that he would lose.

Now, imagine a situation in which Juárez's government is destroyed. You get the same result viz-a-viz France: the U.S. makes its demands and Napoleon III withdraws rather than risk war. The chance that the Second Mexican Empire will survive the French withdrawal will be much higher, but the American aim was to expel French influence. The elimination of the Mexican monarchy was much lower down on the list and not likely to be something that a war-weary Congress would countenance force to accomplish. (This was back when Congress was unafraid to exercise its control over these things.)

In other words, if the Second Empire could survive without France, then the U.S. would have no reason to go to war to overthrow it.

All that said, if you scoot over to the next post you'll find me arguing that the Republicans are likely to survive even (perhaps especially) with the U.S. border moved a couple hundred miles south. So the point is moot: the Civil War ends, Juárez marches south, and the Restored Republic takes power.

I don't know enough about Mexican history to comment effectively, but would like to ask a question.

If you could make one change in Mexican history, to create a better Mexico and a better world, what would it be?

That's hard, so I'll go with what jumped into my head ...

Stop Napoleon from invading Spain. That heads off most of the chaos of the war of independence. It holds out the possibility of either greater Mexican freedom within a liberalizing Spanish Empire or a Brazilian-style peaceful transition to independence under a Bourbon monarch. Avoiding the lost decades of the 19th century probably won't be the bounty that Coatsworth imagined in the cited article, but it would be a good thing for human suffering.

Have Porfirio Díaz hand off to a successor in 1908, say Bernardo Reyes. The Porfiriato was not a great regime and a handoff to Reyes would not have made the place richer or more democratic, but it might have headed off the Mexican Revolution and saved a lot of lives.

Have the U.S. prevent the decena trágica. Francisco Madero was a lousy politician, but the Huerta coup was a complete disaster. The U.S. could have and should have stopped the coup in its tracks instead of abetting it; President Taft screwed that one up completely. It is impossible to predict the outcome of a continuing Madero administration, but things could not have ended worse.

Stop President Calles from taking on the Catholic Church. He didn't win and a lot of people died, not least Alvaro Obregón. Would an Obregón presidency have been better than the Maximato? Probably not by much, but the Cristero War was nothing but pointless bloodshed.

Keep Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Luis Echeverría far away from the Mexican presidency. Caray. Massacres and economic chaos! What's to like?

Somehow get the De la Madrid administration (or better still, López Portillo) to enthusiastically sign on to President Reagan's proposed "North American Accord." The trade provisions would probably be watered down compared to NAFTA but there is a good chance that the agreement would have expanded immigration with untold beneficial effects for both nations. (I have no idea how to make that plausible from the Mexican side, but it was a missed opportunity that won't come again until it's no longer needed.)

Make Vicente Fox a better politician, capable of actually shepherding bills through Congress. The PRI was obstructionist after 2000, yes, but not the style of the GOP. A good politician could have accomplished a lot.

To be honest, none of these really makes the world that much better. There isn't any one moment when Mexico "went wrong."

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