Juárez was born to a poor Zapotec family in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca state, and was orphaned when he was three. He and his two sisters lived first with their grandparents and then with an uncle, until he was 12, when he went to live with his sister, a servant in Oaxaca city, and was taken under the wing of her employer (whose daughter he later married), who had him educated and fostered by an elderly lay brother, Don Antonio Salanueva.
He entered a Franciscan seminary, but turned to the law, and graduated in 1834. In 1831 he became a city council member in Oaxaca, 1841 a judge, then a federal deputy, then governor of Oaxaca state 1847-52. After Santa Anna returned to power in 1853 Juárez was expelled with other liberal intellectuals, and went into exile in the USA, where he conspired to overthrow the dictator.
He served as minister of justice when Santa Anna was overthrown in 1854, but in 1856 was again governor of Oaxaca. After the coup of 1857 he was arrested and jailed, narrowly escaping the firing squad during the Reform War of 1858-61. He was elected president of Mexico after the war, in 1861, but overthrown by the French in 1867 in favor of their puppet, Maximilian. When Maximilian was deposed in 1867 Juárez was again elected president and died in office.
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