A hint from history, June 27, 1900. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.
“A Hint From History” is a cautionary cartoon directed at Imperial Germany, represented by a uniformed and armed Emperor William II, emperor from 1888-1918. German unification didn’t take place until 1871 and Germany had missed out on the great European scramble for colonies in the 19th century. Colonial acquisitions and a powerful navy, policies which William II strongly supported, became a way for Germany to display its power and claims of nationhood. Germany was able to procure several colonies in Africa and the Pacific, including modern day Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Cameroon, Micronesia, Palau, and Samoa. German interests and immigration were also prominent in South America, providing another prospective outlet for German expansion. This is reflected in the cartoon as William II is examining documents related to German colonization and financial interests in South America.
The large, ghostly figure that has caught William II’s attention is Maximilian, a member of the House of Habsburg and, as Maximilian I, the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. Maximilian’s fate is central to the cartoon, his spectral visage a warning to William II and Germany what awaits those who attempt to exert European influence in the Americas and violate the Monroe Doctrine. Maximilian was born on July 6, 1832, in Vienna and was the younger brother of Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary from 1848-1916. He served in the navy and held several, mostly symbolic, government positions. Unlikely to ever rule in Europe, Maximilian agreed to become the Emperor of Mexico at the invitation of Mexican monarchists and French Emperor Napoleon III, whose forces had invaded Mexico in 1862. The French had invaded in response to a two year moratorium on Mexico’s national external debt instituted by the liberal government of Benito Juarez. The French took Mexico City in June 1863 and Maximilian accepted the crown in April 1864. His deal with France, the Treaty of Miramar, promised French military assistance through 1867 and Maximilian guaranteed to pay the cost of intervention and all of Mexico’s prior debts.
The new emperor, and his wife Charlotte, arrived in Mexico in May 1864 and saw that the nation’s desire for a monarchy had been grossly overstated. Maximilian worked hard to win over the population and secure his rule, angering many of his initial supporters with liberal policies. However, only the French military maintained the empire. In 1865, the tide turned against Maximilian. With the end of the American Civil War, the United States was able to focus on France’s clear breach of the Monroe Doctrine. France was pressured to withdraw and American forces were mobilized along the border with Mexico. The high costs of supporting the French forces in Mexico drove popular opposition to the war in France and Napoleon III was increasingly threatened by the growing power of Prussia, which would culminate with German unification after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. French forces left Mexico in February 1867 but Maximilian stayed and attempted to rally his followers. Vastly outnumbered, Maximilian and the imperial army surrendered on May 15, 1867. He was executed by firing squad on July 19.
“Maximilian of Hapsburg.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Print.
Meyer, Michael C, and William H. Beezley. The Oxford History of Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.