In 1856, Mexican Treasury Minister Miguel Lerdo de Tejada issued a law ordering the Catholic Church to sell all property not used for religious purposes. When the government implemented the Ley Lerdo and included it in its new constitution, Mexico erupted into civil war, followed shortly thereafter by the French Intervention. Lerdo also served his nation by compiling volumes of statistics on foreign trade, on national population and occupation, and records of sales consummated as a result of his controversial law. Yet despite his major accomplishments, historians know almost nothing about Miguel Lerdo as an individual and little more about his public career.
This short biography brings together in narrative form most of the printed sources about Lerdo, including newspapers and some archival material. Thus assembled, the data yield a consistent and intriguing portrait of Lerdo as an advocate of annexation to the United States and as a champion of Mexican infrastructural development designed to benefit an emerging commercial bourgeoisie in Veracruz and Mexico City to which he himself belonged. As the author details Lerdo’s career from membership in the pro-United States Ayuntamiento in Mexico City in 1847 to Minister of Development under Santa Anna to his emergence as Minister of Finance and the Ley Lerdo under Comonfort, the meaning of the Reform to those who intended to profit from it becomes increasingly clear. Unhappily, the author concentrates on Lerdo as a political figure and does not analyze the motivations and outlook of the group he represented. Further, the author refrains from interpreting Lerdo’s career in terms of discussions of social class and politics in this period and in terms of the debate over the composition and ideological divergencies of the Mexican bourgeoisie after independence.
Nevertheless Blázquez clearly presents evidence from which one can infer that the group represented by Lerdo shifted its allegiance from a Conservative dictatorship to a Liberal “republic” once it recognized the economic possibilities inherent in the Reform. Indeed that shift may well have tipped the balance for the first time since independence and secured the eventual victory of liberalism.
It is tempting to speculate about how this Liberal movement would have reacted to the French Intervention with Lerdo in a leadership role since he was so pro-annexation and so close to liberal Frenchmen in Mexico. In fact, but for his untimely death at forty-nine in 1861, Miguel, not his brother Sebastián, would assuredly have been Juárez’ rival and successor. Therefore the material presented in this new biography of Lerdo brings historians closer to an understanding of the real motivations behind the Reform and why it led to the Porfiriato.