“How fatal that man will be to France!” a Spanish general predicted in a Nov. 9, 1862 letter to a friend in Paris.
It did not take a seer to see that Alphonse Dubois would make a mess of things in Mexico like he had two decades earlier in Texas. He was, after all, the devious diplomat responsible for the infamous “Pig War.”
Alphonse Dubois began his checkered career in the French foreign service at the age of 22. Eight years later in 1839, the low man on the embassy totem pole in Washington was sent on an inspection tour of the Republic of Texas.
From a hotel room in New Orleans, Dubois fabricated a glowing report of the new nation complete with detailed accounts of unseen sights and the preposterous prediction that the population of Texas would reach a million within five years. Based upon his imaginary impression, France was the first European power to recognize the Lone Star Revolution.
As his reward, the duplicitous young diplomat was put in charge of the French mission in the capital of Austin. But the crude settlement was a far cry from cosmopolitan Paris, and the world traveler looked down his nose at the town and its inhabitants.
Although his father was an ordinary civil servant, Dubois introduced himself to the trusting Texans as “Count de Saligny.” Carried away by the masquerade, he signed dispatches with the phony title much to the displeasure of the foreign minister, a bona fide blue blood.
Violating the diplomatic code of political neutrality, Dubois picked sides in the faction fight that dominated public life in the Republic. An enthusiastic supporter of Sam Houston, he openly criticized President Mirabeau Lamar, who naturally presumed the foreigner spoke for his government.
Embroiled in one controversy after another, Dubois soon wore out his welcome. The comic episode called “The Pig War” led to his overdue and undignified departure.
“I have for a long time suffered from the many hogs with which this town is infested,” Dubois whined. In addition to regular raids on his garden, he claimed the beasts “entered even to my chamber and ate my towels and papers.”
On Dubois’ instructions, a servant killed several of the trespassers, which belonged to Richard Bullock, an Austin innkeeper the Frenchman owed for many days room and board. According to a New Orleans newspaper, the outraged Bullock attacked “the unlucky murderer, bunging up (bruising) his eyes and phlebotomizing (causing to bleed) his nose in a maneuver designed to appease the ghosts of the slaughtered innocents.”
Dubois demanded swift and severe punishment for “an odious violation of the law of nations.” Though none too fond of the arrogant emissary, Austin authorities arrested Bullock, who assaulted his accuser minutes after posting bail.
Without bothering to notify his superiors, Dubois abandoned Austin. From the safety of the Crescent City, his home for the next year and a half, he issued ominous but empty threats.
When the French refused to underwrite a loan to the hard-pressed Republic, Texans blamed Dubois, who had bragged the finance minister was his brother-in-law. But that was another of his lies, and the exile had no role in the rejection of the loan request.
After Houston regained the presidency and offered a perfunctory apology for the problem with the pigs, Dubois came back to Galveston in 1842. He cut short his stay after only three months but resumed his duties in January 1844.
Residing again in New Orleans, Dubois tried halfheartedly to prevent annexation by the United States. When the Republic was no more, he went home and languished on a diplomatic blacklist for 14 years.
Then in 1860 Emperor Napoleon III asked Dubois to fill in for the representative to Mexico, who had taken a leave of absence. The temporary assignment suddenly became permanent, when a power shift in the host country made the absent minister unwelcome.
Taking advantage of a high position that offered unlimited opportunities for graft and corruption, Dubois finally hit the jackpot and made a fast fortune. He did, however, find the time to encourage the French takeover of Mexico which took place in 1862.
On Jul. 26, 1863, the emperor ordered Dubois to stop what he was doing and come home immediately. But he kept the bad news to himself and stayed at his profitable post as if nothing had happened.
In a last-ditch attempt to remain in the country, Dubois married the daughter of a wealthy Mexican. Obeying instructions straight from the emperor, the French military commander physically put him on-board the next trans-Atlantic ship.
Dubois returned to France in disgrace but a very rich man. After buying a chateau, he had enough money left to live his last years like the aristocrat he was so fond of impersonating.
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