Miguel Lerdo de Tejada

Miguel Lerdo de Tejada (1812-1861) was a Mexican liberal politician. He is most famous for his formulation of the anticlerical laws which bear his name.

Miguel Lerdo was born in the port city of Veracruz. His father was of Spanish blood and moderately successful as a merchant; the belief exists that he may have been a friend of Antonio López de Santa Ana when both families later lived in Jalapa. As a youth, Miguel was active in the Liberal party, and in 1849 he took part in the Veracruz municipal government, holding at various times the posts of minister of health, public works, and education. In 1853, although still a federalist, Lerdo supported Santa Ana for the presidency and was a member of the commission which called Santa Ana home from exile. Lerdo later served in Santa Ana's Ministry of Public Works.

After Santa Ana's overthrow, Lerdo, always a Liberal, easily collaborated in the government of Ignacio Comonfort, serving as his minister of finance. In 1856 he wrote the famous Ley de Desamortización de Fincas Rusticas y Urbanas, known as the Ley Lerdo. The law's purpose was to disamortize the land held in mortmain by the Church. Conservative by later standards, the law proposed to take Church real estate and sell it on the open market. The proceeds were immediately to be handed over to the Church with a 5 percent sales tax accruing to the government. If the Church desired, it could sell the lands without government interference.

The law created a storm, as the clergy would not recognize the government's right to force them to sell their land. The Mexican Church appealed to the papacy, but the law gave them only 3 months in which to sell. With the clergy refusing to bend, the government began to confiscate and sell Church lands. The clergy rebelled openly. Lerdo, as the author of the hated law, was disliked by the Conservative forces but became a hero to many Liberals, who wanted to make him president.

In 1867 the Conservatives seized Mexico City; Lerdo escaped and joined Benito Juárez in Veracruz. During the Three Year War (1857-1860) Lerdo was one of the most prominent Liberal leaders, serving as minister of the Treasury and as a negotiator with the United States for the sale of lower California (Maclane-Ocampo Treaty). In 1860 he quarreled with Melchor Ocampo over the direction which the sale of Church lands was to take and retired to private life to prevent an open break within the Liberal party. He had also disagreed with Juárez in 1860 over the suspension of the foreign debt, which Lerdo heartily advocated and Juárez at that time opposed.

In November 1860 the Veracruz government called for presidential and congressional elections, and Lerdo emerged as the candidate of a large Liberal faction and a serious rival of Juárez. Although personally attacked by Ocampo and other prominent Juáristas, he remained a threat. On March 22, 1861, Lerdo died suddenly at his home in Mexico City.


Further Reading on Miguel Lerdo de Tejada

There is no biography of Lerdo. Some information can be found in Frank Knapp's biography of Lerdo's brother, The Life of Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, 1823-1889 (1951). Those interested in Miguel Lerdo's life must consult general histories of the period. Among the best are Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico (6 vols., 1883-1888), and Henry Bamford Parkes, A History of Mexico (1938; 3d rev. ed. 1960).