Meet Faustino Chimalpopoca, the indigenous intellectual who offered the Aztec throne to Emperor Maximilian


Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca or Faustino Chimalpopoca Galicia was an indigenous Mexican lawyer, professor, translator, and administrator. He was the most active scholar of the Nahuatl language of the 19th century.

Considered the most important indigenous theorist of the 19th century, a new biography recognizes his role as a skilled political actor who negotiated with imperial power to improve the conditions of indigenous populations.

When the liberals entered Faustino Chimalpopoca’s house to arrest him, the indigenous intellectual had hidden to save his life.

The Second Mexican Empire, led by Maximilian of Habsburg, had fallen and a hunt was unleashed against those who were part of the emperor’s court or sympathized with the crown.

Chimalpopoca wrote about the importance of instruction of science, tradition, and religion, and proposed establishing a school for teachers. He also lobbied for Catholic religious material to be printed in Nahuatl and distributed throughout Mexico City.

In 1856, as part of La Reforma the liberal Mexican government through the Ley Lerdo, forced ‘corporate entities’ to dispose of their lands and sell them to individuals. This measure was aimed at the Catholic Church and at Mexico’s indigenous communities that held land as corporations. During this time Chimalpopoca served as an attorney defending the rights of indigenous peoples whose community lands were threatened by the new laws. He became the official property administrator for the indigenous residential district of San Juan Tenochtitlan in Mexico City. During this period he was also professor of Nahuatl at the University of Mexico.

Second Mexican Empire

Chimalpopoca was a notable participant during the Second French Intervention in Mexico and the establishment of the Second Mexican Empire. He was among the Assembly of Notables that elected Maximilian as Emperor.[9] He gave a speech before an indigenous crowd, which was later published in the press, celebrating the defeat of the liberals at the hands of the French, praising the Empire, and emphasizing the importance of religion for the nation.

He was the personal tutor and interpreter of Nahuatl to Emperor Maximilian, and was named president of the Council for the Protection of the Impoverished. He found a place among the Emperor’s inner circle and lobbied extensively to improve the lives of the marginalized, especially his fellow indigenous Mexicans. The council has records of 272 complaints received totaling 4,800 pages, dealing with issues such as working conditions, land, and water issues. In addition to reviewing such complaints the council also opened a maternity hospital and an orphanage. Chimalpopoca kept Maximilian briefed on the council’s activities.

The regime of Maximilian was propped up by the French army, and when Napoleon III withdrew the troops and the Republican forces had success on the battlefield, the Empire was doomed. After a last stand in Querétaro, the Emperor was captured by liberal forces in May 1867.

Maximilian of Hasbsburg was tried and then executed on June 19, 1867. Republican forces attempted to capture Chimalpopoca, but he escaped detection by hiding in the basement of his home. All of his properties were confiscated by the government of the Restored Republic. He lived in exile in France, but later returned to Mexico. He died in 1877.