Juan Rafael Mora was born in San José, Costa Rica on February 8, 1814. His primary education in that locality ended with his fifteenth year when his father provided him with employment. At twenty-one, on the death of his father, he undertook the support of his family. Having assumed his father’s debts, he engaged in several commercial ventures but his real interest lay in the coffee industry, in which he was a pioneer. At thirty-three years of age he was elected Vice Jefe de Estado late in 1847 on the resignation of José María Alfaro.
The Congress and supporters of José María Castro, the Jefe de Estado, were not sympathetic with Mora, since they considered him a dangerous political competitor. Nevertheless, he performed his duties well, on one occasion quelling a local uprising in Alajuela, Costa Rica, while acting as Chief of State during the absence of Castro. Prior to the end of Castro’s term, however, Mora resigned.
On August 30, 1848 Costa Rica declared herself independent of the Central American Federation with a President in place of a Jefe de Estado. Due to repeated internal disturbances both Castro and his Vice President resigned. Mora was chosen Vice President on October 2, 1849 and on November 24th was installed as President. Strong measures were required to adjust the nation in light of intense local feelings. When the Congress refused to support his energetic measures, Mora tendered his resignation. On their refusal to accept it, he dismissed the body and called on the people to elect new representatives. Mora and M. Oreamuno were, on May 3 1853, elected President and Vice President. This demonstration of his will of the people assured Mora of the course he had taken. Through his leadership agriculture was fostered, international relations were re-established on a more friendly basis, the influence of the clergy of other countries was minimised through obtaining a Bishopric for Costa Rica and financial conditions were vastly improved through a National Bank.
Mora’s success in establishing and maintaining Peace were equalled by his skill in War. Directing the Costa Rican campaign in Nicaragua against the American filibuster William Walker, Mora was one of the leaders, who drove the adventurous Tennesseean out of Central America. After Mora had been re-elected President in 1859 his many reform policies, urged in some instances against strenuous political resistance, produced a strong opposition which, under Vincente Aguilar, Minister of War in the Cabinet of President J. M. Montealegre, resulted in Mora’s being forced from office on August 14 1859.
It is reported that Mora went tot the United States, where President Buchanan secretly offered to aid him regain the Presidency, if he would re-establish the Central American Federation. Mora, however, felt that such a union would be disadvantageous to Costa Rica and refused the aid offered. Mora sought refuge in El Salvador, where he returned to the cultivation of coffee. In September 1860 Mora yielded to the solicitation of friends to return to Costa Rica as leader of a counter-revolution against the so-called illegitimate Administration of Montealegre. Unfortunately the support given Mora proved ineffective and he surrendered himself to the enemies in order to free several of his associates, who had been captured. On September 30, 1860, a sad date in the history of Costa Rica, Juan Rafael Mora was executed, the tragic victim of political passion.