Cinco de Mayo started with an unpaid debt


Cinco de Mayo has become known in this country as a day to celebrate Mexico's history and culture (and beer and margaritas), but the day actually commemorates the country's victory over French forces. Why were the French in Mexico in the first place? A financial crisis and unpaid debt.

The Mexican-American War of 1846-48, along with a civil war in 1848, had left the Mexican government in deep debt. In 1861, President Benito Juarez suspended the repayment of debt to foreign countries for two years while his government attempted to right a foundering ship of state. I guess he didn't know about deficit spending.

England, France (then led by Napoleon III), and Spain said no, non, no and sent troops to Mexico to "encourage" the Mexican government to reconsider its decision. However, the British and Spanish soon realized that France intended to not just reclaim its debt, but actually conquer the country, so they withdrew. The deciding battle, the Battala de Puebla, took place 100 miles east of Mexico City on May 5, 1862, where 4,000 Mexican fighters famously defeated a French force twice its size.