“Cinco de Mayo” and its Impact on The United States Civil War

By: Patricia Ann Talley, Editor

May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, is a date observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. In the USA, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day, but Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16th.

But, in addition to Mexico’s victory over the French, this date is also related to the U.S. Civil War and the struggle for freedom and liberty on both sides of the border.

Historical Background

Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821. Afterwards, Mexico legalized immigration from the United States. In 1822, Anglos from the U.S. started settling in the Mexican state of “Coahuila y Tejas” (later known as Texas). Most of the U.S. immigrants came from the American south and brought enslaved Africans with them. Mexico abolished human slavery in 1829, causing conflicts that led to the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836, and the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, when Mexico lost half of its country to the US.

In addition to these foreign wars, Mexico had a civil Reform War from 1858-61. The Reform War was a civil war which pitted Liberals, (who believed in separation of church and state and freedom of religion), against the Conservatives, (who favored a tight bond between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican State). Liberal forces eventually won.

All these wars left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt. Therefore, on July 17, 1861, President Benito Juárez of Mexico issued a moratorium to suspend all foreign debt payments for two years. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France did not.

The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 and the Mexican Victory

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed the port city of Veracruz and drove President Juárez and his government into retreat. As the French army moved on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, they encountered heavy resistance from the Mexican army near the City of Puebla. The strong French army attacked the much smaller and poorly equipped Mexican army. Yet, on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French. The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and to the Mexican people, who continued the resistance to the French.

The victory, however, was short-lived. A year later, the French were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and install Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico.

Significance to the History of the U.S. and Human Freedom

During these times, from 1861 to 1865, the United States was engaged in a civil war over human slavery. Eleven Southern states grouped to form the Confederate States of America and seceded from the country. Mexico had abolished slavery back in 1829, so when the U.S. won the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and seized half of its country, this expanded human slavery into the highly profitable cotton areas in the South and Southwest. Southern whites had invested large amounts of money in human slavery and believed that the emancipation of African-Americans would destroy their economy. The South lost the war and human slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. in 1865.

If not for Mexico, the outcome of the U.S. Civil War might have been different. Historian Justo Sierra wrote in Political Evolution of the Mexican People“ that, had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France would have gone to the aid of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War and the destiny of the United States and the freedom of its people may have been different.”3

By 1865, with its Civil War over, the U.S. began to provide political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French. Napoleon III, facing a persistent Mexican guerilla resistance, the threat of war with Prussia, and a possible conflict with the U.S., retreated from Mexico in 1866. On June 5, 1867, President Benito Juarez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a legitimate government.

Schools are closed in Mexico on May 5th, and children are taught the history of the victory over the French. Cinco de Mayo is recognized in many parts of the U.S. and celebrated with festivals and parties. But the date also has significant relevance to freedom and liberty on both sides of the border.


Lynne Scully, “Conflicts Over Slavery Cause the Texas Revolution and Lead to the Mexican American War”.http://imagine-mexico.com/conflicts-over-slavery-cause-the-texas-revolution-and-lead-to-the-mexican-american-war

William Herrera, “Historia de la Batalla de Puebla, 5 de mayo” Webadictos, May 5, 2016. https://webadictos.com/2016/05/05/historia-de-la-batalla-de-puebla-5-de-mayo/

Robert L. Bidwell (Apr 1971). The Political Evolution of the Mexican People. By Justo Sierra. Translated by Charles Ramsdell. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press. 1969.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs. Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami. 13 (2): 306–308. JSTOR 174689

Related Articles:

Imagine-Mexico.com/A Short History of September 16 –Independence Day in Mexico

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