Ocampo, Melchor (1813–1861)

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Ocampo, Melchor (1813–1861)

Melchor Ocampo (b. 1813; d. 3 June 1861), Mexican liberal politician and cabinet minister. Ocampo was born to unknown parents on the hacienda of Pateo in the state of Michoacán. He was raised by the owner of the hacienda, Doña Francisca Xaviera Tapia, from whom he later inherited the property. After his return from a trip to Europe in 1840, Ocampo turned to politics and was elected to represent Michoacán in the national legislature in 1842. As governor of Michoacán during the war with the United States, Ocampo supported the Mexican forces and offered more troops to continue resisting the invaders, arguing that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo should be rejected. In 1851, Ocampo was involved in a bitter dispute with the church over the refusal of a parish priest to bury a man whose widow could not pay the clerical fees for burial. He then began a campaign to reform parochial fees but was deposed as governor of Michoacán and exiled by Santa Anna in 1853. In New Orleans, Ocampo met Benito Juárez and other exiled liberals.

With the triumph of the Revolution of Ayutla, he returned to Mexico. He served as President Juan Álvarez's first minister of foreign relations (October 1855) but resigned over differences with Ignacio Comonfort. Ocampo was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1856–1857 and served on the committee that drafted the constitution. When Juárez assumed the presidency in 1858, Ocampo served as minister of foreign relations (1858–1859, 1859–1860, 1860–1861) as well as minister of other departments. In 1859 Ocampo bitterly denounced the Ley Lerdo for inhibiting the transfer of property to those of modest means and for actually strengthening the church and increasing its wealth. He also feared that the wars between liberals and conservatives would make it impossible to pay Mexico's foreign creditors, thereby encouraging foreign intervention. To raise capital, Ocampo negotiated the controversial McLane-Ocampo Treaty, signed on 14 December 1859. The treaty has been criticized for giving the United States the right to transport troops and merchandise across the isthmus of Tehuantepec and from Matamoros to Mazatlán, and to use its own troops to protect U.S. citizens and their property in those areas in return for a payment of $4 million to Mexico. Others argue that the McLane-Ocampo Treaty only reaffirmed U.S. transit rights already conceded under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase agreement. Although the McLane-Ocampo Treaty was eventually rejected by the U.S. Senate, it increased dissension in Juárez's cabinet, principally between Ocampo and Miguel Lerdo De Tejada. On 22 January 1860, Ocampo resigned his post as minister of foreign relations and traveled to the United States to determine what help that nation might provide should the Mexican liberals be unable to defeat the conservatives on their own. He returned to the cabinet as minister of foreign affairs on 27 September 1860. Although the liberals had defeated the conservatives by December 1860, Ocampo's increasingly bitter disputes with Lerdo led to him to resign from the cabinet again on 17 January 1861. Ocampo retired to his hacienda, from which he was kidnapped by conservative guerrillas in May. A few days later he was shot on the orders of Leonardo Márquez, who had his corpse hung from a tree. His murder led the liberals to take more extreme measures to repress the conservatives and carry out their reforms.

See alsoJuárez, Benito; McLane-Ocampo Treaty (1859); Mexico: 1810–1910.


Jesús Romero Flores, Don Melchor Ocampo, el filósofo de la Reforma, 2d ed. (1953).

José C. Valadés, Don Melchor Ocampo, reformador de México (1954).

Walter V. Scholes, Mexican Politics During the Juárez Regime, 1855–1872 (1957).

Richard N. Sinkin, The Mexican Reform, 1855–1876: A Study in Liberal Nation-Building (1979), pp. 45-57, 52-59, 77-78, 83-84, 127, 151-155, 177; Diccionario Porrúa de historia, biografía y geografía de México, 5th ed. (1986).

Additional Bibliography

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

Medina Peña, Luis. Invención del sistema político mexicano: Forma de gobierno y gobernabilidad en México en el siglo XIX. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2004.

                                              D. F. Stevens