Ley Lerdo

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Ley Lerdo

Ley Lerdo, a Mexican law disamortizing property held by the Catholic Church and civil institutions, was named for Miguel Lerdo De Tejada, its principal author. The law was promulgated 25 June 1856, while Lerdo served as finance minister for President Ignacio Comonfort. It declared that civil and ecclesiastical corporations, such as the Catholic Church and local and state governments, would be prohibited from owning real property not directly used in everyday operations. The church could retain its sanctuaries, monasteries, convents, and seminaries, and local and state governments their offices, jails, and schools, but both had to sell all other urban and rural real estate. Tenants were given preference during the first three months the law would be in effect, and the annual rent was considered as 6 percent of the value of the property for sale. The government would collect a 5 percent tax on these sales. The law prohibited civil and ecclesiastical corporations from acquiring property in the future, but it did not confiscate their wealth. The Ley Lerdo also targeted the ejido, the communally held land of indigenous and peasant villagers, demanding its sale. Intended to raise revenue and promote the development of markets, the actual effects on property ownership are disputed, but it seems to have raised little revenue for the government. The Ley Lerdo was adopted as part of the Constitution of 1857. It was later superseded by decrees confiscating church property.

The Ley Lerdo was one of several laws ending church privileges adopted in Mexico during the revolutionary era known as "La Reforma" (the Reform) from 1854 to 1876. In response to the liberal and modernizing reforms approved in the 1857 constitution, religious, military, and peasant leaders rose up in protest and civil war ensued. The Catholic Church excommunicated authorities who had signed the constitution. Ultimately, the liberals succeeded, though not without lasting consequences. While Catholicism remained strong into the twenty-first century, the Ley Lerdo and La Reforma marked the beginning of a formal feud and separation between church and state that has slowly been resolved, particularly with Mexico's 1992 constitutional reforms.

See alsoAnticlericalism; Lerdo de Tejada, Miguel.


Jan Bazant, Alienation of Church Wealth in Mexico: Social and Economic Aspects of the Liberal Revolution, 1856–1875 (1971).

Thomas Gene Powell, El liberalismo y el campesinado en el centro de México, 1850–1876 (1974).

Robert J. Knowlton, Church Property and the Mexican Reform, 1856–1910 (1976).

Charles R. Berry, The Reform in Oaxaca, 1856–76: A Micro-history of the Liberal Revolution (1981).

Additional Bibliography

Chasteen, John Charles, and James A. Wood. Problems in Modern Latin American History: Sources and Interpretations, Completely Revised and Updated. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 2004.

Hamnett, Brian. Juárez. New York: Longman, 1994.

Jackson, Robert H., ed. Liberals, the Church, and Indian Peasants: Corporate Lands and the Challenge of Reform in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Juárez, José Roberto. Reclaiming Church Wealth: The Recovery of Church Property after Expropriation in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, 1860–1911. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.

Kourí, Emilio. A Pueblo Divided: Business, Property, and Community in Papantla, Mexico. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Matute, Alvaro, Evelia Trejo, and Brian Francis Connaughton, eds. Estado, Iglesia y sociedad en México, siglo XIX. México, D.F.: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UNAM, Grupo Editorial, Miguel Angel Porrúa, 1995.

Thomson, Guy P. C. Patriotism, Politics, and Popular Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Juan Francisco Lucas and the Puebla Sierra. With David G. LaFrance. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999.

                                            D. F. Stevens