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Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  Today, many Americans use the occasion primarily to celebrate Mexican pride, and so the history behind the holiday is often forgotten.  But it’s very interesting how it relates to what was going on in the United States and around the world at the time.  The French, led by Emperor Napoleon III, decided to invade Mexico at that time because the U.S. was embroiled in a bloody civil war and would be unable to stop them.  Until that time, the U.S. had been able to keep the European powers out of their sphere of interest under their Monroe Doctrine, declared by President Monroe in 1823.  But now that the U.S. was weakened and divided, the imperialistic French took the opportunity to make their play for Mexico.  What they did not count on was the tenacious spirit of the Mexicans.

Below is a map of Mexico from 1862, the year after the French forces invaded:

Map of Mexico by Alvin Jewett Johnson, from Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas with Descriptions, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical, published 1862 (via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 was a decisive victory for the vastly underpowered Mexican army.  Unfortunately, their success was shortlived, as the French retaliated and eventually prevailed, installing Emperor Maximilian as their puppet ruler of the new regime.  It was not until 1867 that the French regime was overthrown, Maximilian was executed, and the Mexican republic was restored.  By that time, the U.S. had ended its civil war and regained its ability to dissuade France and other meddling Europeans from invading Latin American countries.

So now when you’re enjoying a cerveza on Cinco de Mayo, keep in mind the true meaning behind the day and let your battle cry ring out: Remember the Battle of Puebla!