Benito Juárez was a political reformer and statesman. Juárez was elected president of Mexico five times between 1958 and 1872. Juárez was born into a Zapotec family on March 21, 1806. As a child, he worked in the fields of San Pablo Guelatao. At the age of 12, he was orphaned and sent to life with his sister in Oaxaca. An intelligent child, Juárez was selected to join the priesthood and receive an education. Juárez graduated in 1834 with a law degree from the Institute of Science and Art. Juárez was active in local politics, serving as a city councilman in Oaxaca where he gained a reputation for defending the rights of indigenous people. In 1847, he became governor of Oaxaca, angering conservatives by passing laws that allowed the confiscation of church property. When President Santa Ana returned to power in 1853, many liberals in the Mexican government were exiled, including Juárez. In 1855, Juárez returned from exile and was appointed the Minister of Justice. Juárez instituted the Juárez Law that reduced the power of the army and clergy.
Juárez served as the leader of the liberal faction during the War of Reform, where conservatives contested with the liberal party for control of Mexico. Juárez resumed the presidency when the liberals won in 1861. After the conclusion of the War of Reform, Juárez suspended payment on foreign debt owed to Europe for two years. The French government used this as a pretext to invade Mexico. Juárez directed the struggle to eject the French invaders. In 1866, the United States government warned the French to leave Mexico. French troops withdrew in 1866 and 1867. Juárez became president again in 1967. Juárez is credited with separating church and state and establishing religious toleration in Mexico. Juárez was elected president for a final time in 1871. He died July 18, 1872.