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Born January 6, 1814 in Pateo, Michoacán, the son of Francisca Javiera
Tapia, the rich owner of the hacienda. The father's identity is unknown. He was
tutored in Tlalpujahua and Maravatío by Catholic priests. In 1824, he was sent
to Morelia (then Valladolid) to study law in the Seminario Conciliar de Morelia.
He also studied botany, astronomy, agriculture, and linguisitics. When he
graduated in 1831, he went to Mexico City where he worked in a law firm. When Francisca Javiera
Tapia died, he inherited property. In 1840, he went to France, the United
Kingdom, and Italy, studying his first love, science. He would write Viaje de un mexicano a Europa,
a book of observations he had made while abroad. When he returned to Michoacán,
he settled on his hacienda, Pomoca, and applied scientific principles to
He became a liberal politician. He got elected to the national congress in 1842, and then to the governorship of the state for the 1846-48 term. As governor, he extended public education and worked on economic development. In 1847, he reestablished El Colegio de San Nicolás in Morelia but as a civil not a clerical institution. He established a law college. When the United States declared war on Mexico in 1846, he raised the Matamoros battalion to fight. He tried to get the legislature to scale down the fees of the clergy so that ordinary citizens could do such things as bury their dead. He had been made aware of the issue when he discovered that a priest had told a poor widow when she said she could not afford the Church fees to bury her husband and asked the priest what to do with the corpse, had replied "eat it." Agustín Dueñas, curate of Maravatío, publicly criticized Ocampo in writing. Ocampo responded with five points, similar to the ideas in the Laws of the Reform. Infuriated, clerical supporters threatened Ocampo with death if he ever became governor again. Some time afterwards, Ocampo served as Senator oh is state in Querétaro, the city to which the national government had retreated when the US occupied Mexico City. When the government returned to Mexico City, he was named Finance Minister by President General Mariano Arista. In 1852, he again became governor of Michoacán. When the Conservative Party won, he retired to his hacienda. Antonio Santa Anna, the Conservative president and dictator, had him imprisoned, taken to the fortress San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz harbor, and then sent into exile, first to Cuba and then to New Orleans in the United States. Together with Benito Juárez, Ponciano Arriaga y José María Mata, he plotted the overthrow of Santa Anna and the Conservatives.
This Junta Revolucionaria, led by Juárez and Juan Alvarez, pushed Santa Anna from power in 1855 and established a Liberal government. In the Junta de Representivas was created to elect a president, Ocampo represented Michoacán and was elected vice president of the Junta. When Alvarez was elected President of the Republic, Ocampo joined his Cabinet as Minister of Foreign Relations. The government split and Ignacio Comonfort became president. When Comonfort allied with the conservative Félix Zuloaga because they could not stomach the Ley Lerdo, the Ley Juárez, and the Constitution of 1857, he resigned. Benito Juárez became president but had to flee Guanajuato in the face of a Conservative army. Ocampo supported Juárez and served as his minister of Government, Finance, and Foreign Relations. Juárez, Ocampo, and some of his government fled west across Mexico where they boarded a ship to Panamá. They crossed Panamá and eventually went to the Liberal bastion of Veracruz in May, 1858.From this city, they would struggle to beat the Conservatives in what is known as the War of the Reform. They were so desperate that Ocampo negotiated the McLane-Ocampo Treaty with the United States in December, 1859, a treaty which, if ratified by the US, would have given land in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the US in exchange for money.
The Liberals won the war by 1861 and Ocampo began implementing the Liberal agenda designed to create equality before the law. He resigned over policy differences and went home to his estate. The Conservative guerrilla Lindoro Cagigas captured him on June 1, 1861. On June 3, 1861 he was executed by firing squad.
His views on marriage can be seen in the Epístola de Melchor Ocampo,
Julio de 1859.