In 1861, due to the precarious situation of the country and its high international debt, Juarez announced a moratory of payments. Spain, France and the United Kingdom, the main countries to whom Mexico had debt with, decided to invade the Mexican territory and defend their interests. After several negotiations, Juarez finally repealed the Suspension of Payments and the Spanish and English armies returned home. But the French, who were interested in establishing a monarchy, continued their invasion. Gallic troops entered Veracruz with relative ease but were met by Juarez’s troops in Puebla in the famous ‘5 de Mayo’ Battle, in which what was considered the most powerful army in the world was defeated.
These impressive achievements gave Juarez worldwide popularity. However, conservatives along with the Church –always at odds with liberal reforms – offered the crown of the Second Mexican Empire to the Austrian, Maximilian of Hapsburg in 1863, thus starting another episode of power disputes. After several battles in northern and central Mexico, Juarez finally defeated Maximilian and ordered him to be executed by firing squad, thus definitely ending the attempt to establish an empire sponsored mainly by France and the Vatican.
The changes that Juarez brought about in Mexico during his presidency were central to promoting equality and disempowering the church, which for many years had dominated the economy, education and social life of Mexico. Las Leyes de Reforma, the reforms enacted during the Juarez’s government effectively removed the inherent immunity of the clergy and the military; they declared that all people are equal before the law; they banned the church from collecting parochial obligations from their faithful, such as tithing (diezmo or 10% of their wages); property owned by churches was passed to the State, freedom of worship was declared, the existence of cloisters and monasteries was banned and the registration of births, marriages and deaths also passed to the State (civil registration).