Who is Benito Juárez? An explanation for children

On March 21st, we commemorate the birth of Benito Juárez, also called “Distinguished of America.” Regarding the date and the fact that it is an official holiday, we invite you to explain to your children what he did and why he is so important in the history of Mexico.

Who was Benito Juárez: summary for children

Benito Juárez is the first and only indigenous president that Mexico has had. He ruled the country from 1857 to 1872. He was known as Distinguished of America for his fight against the French invasion. He established the bases by which the secular state (separated from the church) and the Federal Republic were founded in our country.

A brief account of his biography

His full name is Benito Pablo Juárez García. He was born on March 21st, 1806, in the town of San Pablo Guelatao, in the state of Oaxaca. He was of Zapotec origin. His parents, Marcelino Juárez and Brígida García, were farmers and died when he was three years old. Benito worked as a field laborer and sheep herder since he was a child.

At the age of 12, he decided to leave his town because there were no schools, and he realized that those who learned to read and speak Spanish did so by traveling. He went to the city of Oaxaca, where he stayed with his sister Josefa who worked as a cook for a wealthy merchant named Antonio Maza. Many years later, Mr. Maza’s adoptive daughter, Margarita Maza, would become his wife.

In Oaxaca, Juárez began tending Mr. Maza’s farm, and later met the Franciscan priest Antonio Salanueva, who accepted him as an apprentice bookbinder and offered to send him to school.

He had difficulty going to school because the other children were more advanced. In addition, he suffered from bullying and discrimination due to his indigenous and poor condition. The teacher gave classes to “decent” children, and children who looked like him were instructed by the assistant. Angrily, he dropped out of school and decided to learn independently.

With the help of the clergyman Salanueva, he managed to master Spanish and continue with his studies. He took courses in Latin, philosophy, and theology at a seminary, but despite his excellent grades, it was not his calling, and he turned to law. In 1834, at the age of 20, he obtained a law degree from the Institute of Sciences and Arts of Oaxaca.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Important events in Benito Juárez’s life.

He began his political career on January 1, 1832, when he was elected alderman of Oaxaca.

During the United States invasion of Mexico, he was appointed interim governor of his state. During his administration, he carried out public works and doubled the number of schools in the state. He founded the town of Huatulco and built many roads.

He prevented Antonio López de Santa Anna from hiding in Oaxaca when he was a fugitive, so he was banished to Cuba when Santa Anna reached the presidential seat for the eleventh time. He traveled to New Orleans, where he received support from the Masonic lodges and met Melchor Ocampo, with whom he planned a coup against Santa Anna.

Back in Mexico, he collaborated with General Juan Álvarez, leader of the Ayutla Revolution, who appointed him Minister of Justice when he was elected President. During this period, he elaborated the first reformist law, known as Ley Juárez, which cut the rights of the military and ecclesiastics.

In 1858, after Ignacio Comonfort’s self-coup d’état in support of the Tacubaya Plan, Benito Juárez held the position of President of the Republic by law.

As president, he defended the Constitution of 1857 and proclaimed the Reform Laws, among which is the nationalization of ecclesiastical assets and freedom of worship. He also successfully faced the French Intervention and the Second Empire, preserving Mexico’s sovereignty and independence.

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What is Benito Juárez’s best-known quote?

“Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”

The famous phrase was said when the Republic was restored in Mexico in 1867. Its meaning expresses the universal awareness that everyone, whether individuals or nations, is free and sovereign with the right to self-govern and self-determine. It points out that singular and collective respect is the basis of human dignity.

When did Benito Juarez die?

In 1871 his wife, Margarita Maza de Juárez, died, which lowered the spirit of the President, who did not recover from his loss. On July 18, 1872, when he was planning his re-election, he died of a heart attack in his apartment at the National Palace, where he resided. He was 66 years old.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version: here

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