Skip to main content

Sierra Méndez, Justo (1848–1912)

Sierra Méndez, Justo (1848–1912)

Justo Sierra Méndez (b. 26 January 1848; d. 13 September 1912), Mexican writer, political thinker, historian, and educational leader. Sierra was born in Campeche, the son of prominent Yucatecan politician, writer, and jurist Justo Sierra O'Reilly, and after 1861 lived and was educated in Mexico City, receiving a law degree in 1871 from the Escuela de Derecho. A protégé of Ignacio M. Altamirano, in 1868 Sierra began to write poetry, short stories, plays, and a novel. His career as a political journalist and thinker began in 1874 and reached a climax in the important newspaper La Libertad (1878–1884), which he directed until 1880, and which was an exponent of a "new" or transformed liberalism that called for a strong government and economic development. Of several histories, his most important was Evolución política del pueblo mexicano, first published under another title in 1900–1902. He was a deputy to Congress from 1880 until 1894, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. As an educator, he taught at the National Preparatory School after 1877 and led the First and Second National Congresses of Public Instruction in 1889 and 1891, which established the principle of free obligatory primary education and reaffirmed the positivist preparatory curriculum. In 1901 he became subsecretary of public instruction, and then secretary from 1905 to 1911. He founded the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1910. In 1912 he was appointed minister to Spain, where he died.

Sierra was the major Mexican intellectual of his era. His political and educational thought was characterized by a continuing tension between classic liberal principles, including French spiritualism, and positivism. Though an adherent of the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1877–1880, 1884–1911), Sierra led the effort (1892–1893) by the científicos to limit presidential authority.

See alsoAltamirano, Ignacio Manuel; Díaz, Porfirio; Sierra O'Reilly, Justo.


Sierra's Obras completas, 15 vols. (1948), includes a biography by editor Agustín Yáñez. See also C. A. Hale, The Transformation of Liberalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Mexico (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Dumas, Claude. Justo Sierra y el México de su tiempo, 1848–1912. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1992.

Sáez Pueyo, Carmen. Justo Sierra: Antecedentes del partido único en México. Mexico, D.F.: Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales: M.A. Porrúa Grupo Editorial, 2002.

                                        Charles A. Hale

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sierra Méndez, Justo (1848–1912)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 22 Sep. 2019 <>.

"Sierra Méndez, Justo (1848–1912)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (September 22, 2019).

"Sierra Méndez, Justo (1848–1912)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved September 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.