An International Affaire Mirès

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Refers to a Paris banker, Isaac Jules Mirès (1809–71).—Ed.

A MAJOR theme of diplomatic circles here is France’s appearance on the Mexican scene. It is found puzzling that Louis Bonaparte should have increased the expeditionary troops at the moment when he promised to reduce them, and that he should want to go forward whilst England draws back. It is known here very well that the impulse for the Mexican expedition came from the Cabinet of St. James and not from that of the Tuileries. It is equally well known that Louis Bonaparte likes to carry out all his undertakings, but particularly the overseas adventures, under England’s ægis. As is known, the restored Empire has not yet emulated the feat of its original in quartering the French armies in the capital cities of modern Europe. As a pis aller[1], on the other hand, it has led them to the capital cities of ancient Europe, to Constantinople, Athens and Rome, and, over and above that, even to Peking. Should the theatrical effect of a trip to the capital city of the Aztecs be lost, and the opportunity for military archæological collections à la Montauban? If, however, one considers the present state of French finance and the future serious conflicts with the United States and England to which Louis Bonaparte’s advance into Mexico can lead, one is then obliged to reject without further question the foregoing interpretation of his proceedings, which is popular with various British papers.

At the time of the Convention of July 17, 1861, when the claims of the English creditors were to be settled, but the English plenipotentiary demanded at the same time an examination of the entire register of the Mexican debts or misdeeds, Mexico’s Foreign Minister put down the debt to France at $200,000, therefore a mere bagatelle of some £40,000. The account now drawn up by France, on the other hand, by no means confines itself to these modest limits.

Under the Catholic administration of Zuloaga and Miramon, an issue of Mexican state bonds to the amount of $14,000,000 was contracted per medium of the Swiss banking house of J. B. Jecker and Co. The whole sum that was realized by the first issue of these bonds came to only 5 per cent of the nominal amount or to $700,000. The sum total of the bonds issued fell very soon into the hands of prominent Frenchmen, among them relatives of the Emperor and fellow wire-pullers of “haute politique.”[2] The house of Jecker and Co. let these gentlemen have the aforesaid bonds for far less than their original nominal price.

Miramon contracted this debt at a time when he was in possession of the capital city. Later, after he had come down to the rôle of a mere guerrilla leader, he again caused state bonds to the nominal value of $38,000,000 to be issued through his so-called Finance Minister, Señor Peza-y-Peza. Once more it was the house of Jecker and Co. which negotiated the issue, but on this occasion limited its advances to the modest sum of barely $500,000, or from one to two per cent to the dollar. Once more the Swiss bankers knew how to dispose of their Mexican property as quickly as possible, and once more the bonds fell into the hands of those “prominent” Frenchmen, among whom were some habitués[3] of the imperial court whose names will live on in the annals of the European bourses as long as the affaire Mirès.

This debt, then, of $52,000,000, of which not even $1,200,000 have hitherto been advanced, the administration of President Juarez declines to recognize, on the one hand, because it knows nothing about it and, on the other hand, because Messrs. Miramon, Zuloaga and Peza-y-Peza were possessed of no constitutional authority to contract such a state debt. The above mentioned “prominent” Frenchmen, however, had to carry the contrary view at the decisive place. Lord Palmerston was, for his part, opportunely instructed by some members of Parliament that the whole affair would lead to highly objectional interpellations in the Lower House. Among other things to be feared, was the question whether British land and sea power might be employed to support the gambling operations of certain rouge-et-noir[4] politicians on the other side of the Channel. Accordingly Palmerston caught eagerly at the Conference of Orizaba to withdraw from a business that threatens us with the filth of an international affaire Mirès.

  1. Last resource.—Ed.
  2. High politics.—Ed.
  3. Customary frequenters of any place, especially one of amusement.—Ed.
  4. Red and black, a game of chance.—Ed.