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Presidential museum launching exhibit on Benito Juarez, the 'Mexican Lincoln'

Author of book on the U.S.-Mexican War delivering speech

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[December 03, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- Everyone knows the story: Born more than 200 years ago to a poor farm family. Rose in the world thanks to education and the law. Led his nation through turmoil and civil war.

A new exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum will explore the two great leaders and their roles in the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-1848.

The exhibit opens Wednesday in conjunction with a presentation by Amy S. Greenberg on her book "A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico." Dr. Greenberg will sign books at 6:30 and start her presentation at 7 p.m.

Juarez, a 19th-century reform leader, sought to build a democratic society similar to that of United States. He also led his country through a civil war between reformers and the forces of the status quo. He is often called "the Mexican Lincoln."

"Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juarez both started near the bottom of society but had the drive and personality to reach the very top. They also had the leadership skills to guide their nations through extraordinary turmoil," said Eileen Mackevich, director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. "Both men are fascinating, and we're thrilled that visitors to the museum will have this chance to explore the accomplishments of two such important leaders."

During the U.S.-Mexican War, freshman congressman Abraham Lincoln denounced the military action in a series of resolutions that became known as the Spot Resolutions. They earned him the nickname "Spotty Lincoln" and cost him politically.

On the other side of the border, Benito Juarez was serving as governor of Oaxaca, Mexico. He was forced into exile after the war, when Santa Ana established himself as dictator of Mexico. Juarez moved to New Orleans and worked alongside slaves in a tobacco factory.

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Juarez returned to Mexico in 1855 to lead La Reforma, an anti-cleric movement that sought to return land to poor farmers and curb the power of wealthy conservative officials. Violence flared in 1857 with the beginning of "the Reform War," which lasted until 1861.

Juarez served as a de facto president in 1858, was formally elected as president of Mexico in 1861 and served until his death in 1872. Despite internal political strife and invasion by European countries, he continued to promote democracy and was determined to reform a corrupt government. He died in office from a heart attack.

The Juarez Global Wall features battle scenes from the U.S.-Mexican War, maps of Mexico and reproductions of letters and political cartoons. It follows a similar exhibit on Mohandas Gandhi as part of the museum's efforts to showcase great world leaders who share the values of Abraham Lincoln.

Exhibit materials were drawn from the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and from institutions such as Tulane University, the University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research, the Yale University Beinecke Library Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington and Northern Illinois University.

Two educational groups at the University of Illinois at Springfield provided assistance: CIELO, the Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization, and OLAS, the Organization of Latino American Students.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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