History of Mexico

The Revolution, 1910-20

The Early Phase

In the political arena, the Porfiriato was marked by the systematic violation of the principles of the constitution of 1857. Díaz courted foreign interests, allowed the clergy again to become openly influential in temporal matters, and gave the army a free hand to violate guaranteed civil liberties while opponents of the regime were either coopted or sent to jail.

Meanwhile, liberal writers and journalists began to challenge the regime. These attacks became more coordinated with the organization of liberal clubs and a liberal convention at San Luis Potosí in 1900 and 1901 that defended the principles of the constitution of 1857. For the next two years, liberal congresses were held, but the persecution of representatives led many liberals to seek asylum in the United States. The exiles (especially the Flores Magón brothers, Juan Saraia, Antonio I. Villareal, and Librado Rivera) issued a liberal proclamation on July 1, 1906, from St. Louis, Missouri, that called for the overthrow of Díaz. They then started a publication, Redención, to set forth their ideas. The program presented in the proclamation of St. Louis introduced new concepts in education, labor relations, land distribution, and agricultural credit. These ideas reached Mexico through issues of Redención smuggled across the border.

In 1908 an unexpected development brought hope of political change to the anti-Díaz political opposition. In an interview with a United States reporter, Díaz stated that he would not seek reelection in 1910. Liberals and dissident intellectuals immediately seized the opportunity and nominated Francisco I. Madero, the scion of a wealthy family in Coahuila, to run in the upcoming election. In June 1910, relying on harsh measures, including the imprisonment of thousands of opposition activists, Díaz was reelected. Madero, himself imprisoned, was released from jail and went into exile in the United States.

Díaz began preparing a joint celebration--the one-hundredth anniversary of Mexican independence and his eightieth birthday--in September 1910. Mexico City went through a full refurbishing. Buildings were dedicated, monuments were unveiled, and numerous balls and celebrations were attended by the entire diplomatic corps. The streets of the capital were cleared of refuse and undesirables in order to present foreigners with a positive picture of the society created by the Porfiriato.

In October 1910, Madero drafted the Plan of San Luis Potosí, which called for the people to rise on November 20 to demand the restoration of the democratic principles of the constitution of 1857 and the replacement of Díaz with a provisional government. Although it was mainly a political document with scant reference to redressing Mexico's many social ills, the Plan of San Luis Potosí was enthusiastically received among the widespread, but uncoordinated movements that were already on the verge of rebellion against their respective state governments. Copies of the plan, which Madero had drafted in St. Louis, soon reached Mexico and were widely distributed. On the appointed day, Madero and a small band of rebels crossed into Mexico, but finding no rebel armies with which to rendezvous, they soon turned back.

By January 1911, however, a large-scale insurrection had broken out in the northern state of Chihuahua, led by Pascual Orozco, a local merchant, and Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Madero, who had declared himself provisional president in the Plan of San Luis Potosí, returned to Mexico to lead the nascent revolution. The successes of the rebel bands in Chihuahua sparked similar uprisings throughout the country. As early as 1909 in Morelos, the peasant leader, Emiliano Zapata, had recruited thousands of hacienda laborers and landless peasants to attack the haciendas and reclaim lost lands.

In April Díaz sent finance minister Limantour to negotiate an armistice with the northern rebels, who were besieging Ciudad Juárez. When Limantour refused to negotiate Díaz's resignation, Villa and Orozco renewed their attack on Ciudad Juárez and captured the town. By May several state capitals had been lost to the rebels, and mobs filled the streets of Mexico City shouting for Díaz to resign. On May 25, 1911, the eighty-year-old dictator submitted his resignation to congress and turned power over to a provisional government. The following day Díaz quietly sailed for exile in France.

Madero's Government

Madero assumed the presidency in November 1911. The new administration faced insurmountable problems. The fall of Díaz raised popular expectations of far-reaching social reforms, especially land reform. Zapata had come to Mexico City to claim hacienda land for the peasants of Morelos, which to him was the only acceptable result of the overthrow of the Díaz regime. Instead, Madero ordered Zapata to disband his troops, and reluctantly Zapata acceded to Madero's request. The interim government did not think Zapata was demobilizing fast enough, however, and sent federal troops to disarm the revolutionaries by force. Even though Madero was not responsible for this action, Zapata withdrew his support for Madero. Madero soon realized that to the liberals, the Revolution meant political change, but to the revolutionary fighters it meant radical social and economic transformations that Madero would not be able to fulfill. Madero dealt with the labor and land tenure problems politically through the National Agrarian Commission and the Department of Labor. However, the only tangible change was that labor groups felt free to organize. They were also allowed to publish the newspaper Luz . Labor unrest continued, despite the government's attempts to control strikes. Madero's democratic administration was failing its staunchest supporters, and rebellions began to surface.

In November the Zapatista faction revolted under the principles of the Plan of Ayala, which asked for restoration of privately owned lands to rural villages. The armed revolt spread through the states of Morelos, Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Puebla, México, and even into Mexico City. By 1912 the Zapatista forces had caused severe damage to railroad and telegraph lines and had won several battles against federal troops.

Revolutionaries from other areas began to challenge the new government, and an offensive was launched in March 1912 by Orozco, who accused Madero of abandoning the principles of the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Orozco was defeated, however, by Victoriano Huerta, the unscrupulous commander of the federal forces. Meanwhile, Félix Díaz (Porfirio's nephew) was assembling an army in Veracruz to march against Madero, but Madero was able to order his arrest andbring him to Mexico City.

Félix Díaz and other counterrevolutionaries plotted a military coup from inside prison and proceeded to take the National Palace on February 8, 1913. With the aid of loyal troops under Huerta, Madero initially resisted the Díaz forces, but street fighting and chaos overtook the city. On February 18, Huerta, seeing an opportunity to seize power, joined the coup against Madero and had both the president and Vice President José María Pino Suárez arrested.

Huerta's decision to change sides was made with the knowledge and assistance of United States ambassador Henry Lane Wilson in what became known as the Pact of the Embassy. Huerta extracted resignations from both Madero and Pino Suárez and had himself appointed secretary of interior, which made him the heir to the presidency, according to the provisions of the constitution of 1857. That same evening, Huerta was sworn in as president, and on February 21, Madero and Pino Suárez were assassinated while being transferred to the penitentiary in Mexico City.

The Huerta Dictatorship

Opposition to Huerta began to emerge once he assumed power. Venustiano Carranza in Coahuila, Villa in Chihuahua, and Álvaro Obregón in Sonora formed a front against the dictator under the Plan of Guadalupe, issued in March 1913. Zapata preferred to maintain his troops' independence from the northern coalition, but remained in revolt against Huerta. The latter responded by increasing the size of the military by forced conscription. Federal forces terrorized the countryside and looted villages, and political assassinations became a trademark of Huerta's rule. The country faced other problems. The federal treasury was empty, and each faction began issuing its own currency. Huerta's government had not been recognized by the United States, which considered him a usurper of the previously elected government. Seeking a return to constitutional rule, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson channeled aid indirectly to the northern coalition.

By early 1914, Huerta was clearly losing on all fronts, but there was one specific event that precipitated his resignation. When United States sailors were arrested at Veracruz for trespassing on dock facilities, the commander of the United States naval forces off Tampico demanded ceremonial salutes of the United States flag by Mexican personnel. When the United States demands were not met, United States troops occupied Veracruz. Indignation brought about a series of reprisals against United States citizens and their flag throughout Mexico. In the face of growing disorder, Huerta resigned on July 8, 1914.

The Constitution of 1917

After the fall of Huerta, Carranza, chief of the northern coalition, invited all revolutionary leaders to a military conference at Aguascalientes to determine the future course of Mexico. A split developed almost immediately: on one side were Carranza, Obregón, and supporters of the plans of San Luis Potosí and Guadalupe; on the other side were Zapata, Villa, and the supporters of the Plan of Ayala. The convention chose Eulalio Gutiérrez, who had the support of the Villistas and the Zapatistas, as provisional president, while Carranza, with Obregón's support, established a dissident government in Veracruz. The country went through another period of civil war and anarchy in which four governments claimed to represent the will of the people: Carranza in Veracruz, Obregón in Mexico City (after Gutiérrez had left the city and established his headquarters in Nuevo León), Roque González Garza (supported by the Zapatistas), and Villa in Guanajuato. Later that year, Carranza emerged as the victorious commander of the revolutionary forces. His government was soon recognized by the United States, and his troops were supplied by munitions abandoned when United States forces left Veracruz.

United States support for Carranza prompted an aggressive reaction from Villa. After 1916 Villa frequently raided United States border towns and then retreated to Mexico. United States General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing's troops crossed the border in pursuit of Villa several times during 1917. Despite Villa's "victories" over Pershing, the true victor was Carranza. To consolidate his power further and to institutionalize the Revolution, he called for a meeting at Querétaro, where the constitutionalists drew up a new supreme law for Mexico. The Congress of Querétaro met for the first time on December 1, 1916. In commemoration of that event, the inauguration of all Mexican constitutional presidents has taken place on December 1.

Carranza presented his draft of a constitution to the congress. The draft was similar in many ways to the constitution of 1857, but gave extensive powers to the executive. The final version of the constitution of 1917, however, gave additional rights to the Mexican people. It was the fruit of the Revolution--an expression of popular will that guaranteed civil liberties, no presidential succession, and protection from foreign and domestic exploitation to all Mexicans.

Carranza's Presidency

After formally accepting the constitution of 1917, Carranza won the presidential election and was sworn into office on May 1, 1917. Conditions in Mexico were again close to chaos: the economy had deteriorated during the years of civil war, communications had been seriously disrupted, and shortages had led to rampant inflation. Land and labor remained the basic issues for the Mexican people, but Carranza chose to overlook the constitutional provisions dealing with these issues and returned lands expropriated during the Revolution. Despite the president's opposition, public enthusiasm for the labor provisions of Article 123 led to the creation in 1918 of the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación Regional de Obreros Mexicanos--CROM), which would unify and lead the labor movement in the years ahead. Meanwhile, Mexico took advantage of United States involvement overseas in World War I, its attention and troops distant from any further intervention in Mexico.

In 1918 parts of the country still saw military action; the fighting was particularly fierce in Morelos. The Zapatistas in that area, who had very specific grievances, wanted more than a constitution. In March 1919, Zapata sent an open letter to Carranza, hoping by this means to bring the Zapatistas' demands before the whole population. Zapata expected that Carranza, once confronted by public pressure, would be willing to address the Zapatistas' grievances. Carranza's response was very different, however. Jesús M. Guajardo, a colonel in the federal army, was contracted to deceive Zapata by offering allegiance to the revolutionaries. Zapata's cautious acceptance of Guajardo's protests of loyalty led to a meeting on April 10, 1919, in Zapata's territory. As Zapata entered the meeting area, Guajardo's men appeared ready to fire a salute in his honor but instead they fired point-blank, killing the peasant leader and thereby eliminating the last significant military opposition.

In 1920 just as Carranza was about to nominate a loyal subordinate, Ignacio Bonilla, to serve as a puppet president, Adolfo de la Huerta and Plutarco Elías Calles rose in opposition. Under the Plan of Agua Prieta, they raised a constitutionalist army of northerners and marched to Mexico City. Carranza fled the capital and was assassinated in May while on the road to exile. De la Huerta served briefly as provisional president, but was replaced in November 1920 by Obregón, who was elected to a four-year term. Shortly thereafter, Villa accepted a peace offer from the federal government.

Mexico History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress