Welcome to Melchor Ocampo, a historic city located in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. The city is named after Melchor Ocampo, a well-known Mexican lawyer, scientist, and politician. Ocampo was a radical liberal and a fierce opponent of the Catholic Church in Mexico. His early writings against the Church gained him a reputation as a leading liberal thinker, and he was considered the heir to José María Luis Mora, another prominent liberal intellectual of the early republic.
Melchor Ocampo was born on January 5, 1814, and was raised by a wealthy woman named Doña Francisca Xaviera Tapia, who bequeathed him her property. Ocampo studied at the Roman Catholic seminary in Morelia, Michoacán, and later at law school at the Colegio Seminario de México (Universidad Pontificia). He began working in a law office in 1833 but left the practice of law and returned to his hacienda, perhaps because of its imminent bankruptcy.
In 1840, Ocampo traveled to France, where he was influenced by liberal and anticlerical ideas following the French Revolution. He returned to Michoacán after a year to work his lands, practice law, investigate the regions flora and fauna, and study the local indigenous languages. More importantly, he entered politics in Michoacán, in opposition to Antonio López de Santa Anna.
Ocampo was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1842 and was appointed Governor of Michoacán in 1844 by President Manuel Gómez Pedraza. During the Mexican-American War, Ocampo recruited troops without conscription or increased taxes, but solely by persuasion. He urged that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war be rejected. Ocampo was a fierce opponent of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico and viewed the church as sucking wealth from indigenous people with high clerical fees for ecclesiastical services and impeding progress. He appointed Santos Degollado as the rector of the Colegio de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, where revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had served.
Ocampo advocated free, public, secular education in Mexico and believed that education had to be grounded on the basic postulates of liberalism, democracy, respect and tolerance for different beliefs, equality before the law, the elimination of privileges, and the supremacy of civil authority. He began a published polemical debate with a priest or a group of priests in Michoacán about the reform of clerical fees. Ocampo was subsequently deposed as governor and was forced to flee the country by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, taking refuge first in Cuba and then in the U.S. city of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ocampo returned to Mexico in 1855 following the successful ouster of Santa Anna under the Plan de Ayutla. He served briefly in Juan Álvarez’s cabinet as foreign minister but returned to Michoacán when Ignacio Comonfort became president. He was then elected to the Constitutional Convention that drafted the liberal Constitution of 1857. During Benito Juárez’s administration, Ocampo served in various high posts, including Minister of the Interior, with responsibility also for foreign affairs, defense, and the treasury. He became embroiled in a bitter dispute about the implementation of the Lerdo Law, which called for the sale of property of corporations, meaning the Roman Catholic Church and indigenous communities which was aimed at undermining the economic power of the church and creating a yeoman peasantry of small landowners. Ocampo charged that the law was counterproductive, strengthening the power of the church and preventing the acquisition of land by those of modest means.
Ocampo’s most controversial act was negotiating the McLane-Ocampo Treaty in 1859, when he served the Liberal government of Benito Juárez. The regime was strapped for cash to pursue the War of the Reform against conservatives. The treaty would have awarded the United States perpetual transit rights, for its armies and merchandise, through three zones of Mexico’s territory. The treaty was aimed at getting U.S. recognition for the Juárez government and gain the regime two million dollars in much-needed funding. Ocampo’s beliefs were fiercely anticlerical and challenged the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. He was executed by firing squad on June 3, 1861, at the Hacienda of Tlaltengo, Tepeji del Río, in what is today the state of Hidalgo. His murder was a scandal, and Juárez’s government took more extreme measures to repress the conservatives. The remains of Ocampo are interred in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres in Mexico City.
Today, Melchor Ocampo is a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage. Visitors can explore the city’s historical landmarks, such as the temple of San Francisco, the Casa de la Cultura, and the Municipal Palace. The city is also known for its delicious local cuisine, including traditional dishes such as tamales, atole, and corundas.