Collage of the Mexican Revolution
Federal troops led by Porfirio Díaz
Forces led by Bernardo Reyes
Forces led by Félix Díaz
Forces led by Victoriano Huerta
Forces led by Félix Díaz
Forces led by Aureliano Blanquet
United States (1910-1913)
United States (1913-1918)
British Empire (1916–1918)
|Commanders and leaders|
José Yves Limantour
Pascual Orozco (Fought own revolution after Díaz was overthrown and later sided with Huerta after Huerta took power.)
Bernardo Reyes † (Led own revolution until his death in 1913.)
Félix Díaz (sided with Reyes and later Huerta after Reyes died in 1913.)
Emiliano Zapata (Sided with Orozco until Huerta took power.)
Ricardo Flores Magón (POW)
Pascual Orozco ( † in 1915)
Manuel Mondragón (Until June 1913)
Francisco León de la Barra
Francisco S. Carvajal
Emiliano Zapata †
Aureliano Blanquet †
Francisco I. Madero
Ricardo Flores Magón
Francisco I. Madero †
José María Pino Suárez †
Victoriano Huerta (Secretly sided with Reyes against Madero until Reyes died in 1913. After Reyes died, Huerta launched his own revolution.)
Aureliano Blanquet (Also secretly sided with Reyes until his death.)
Plutarco Elías Calles
Venustiano Carranza †
| Counter-revolutionary forces:
Federal troops 250,000 - 300,000
| Revolutionary forces:
Revolutionary Forces 255,000 - 290,000
|Casualties and losses|
|2 Germans killed||500 Americans killed|
| 1.3? to 2? million Mexican deaths (civilian and military)
280,000 to 825,000 civilian dead (Using 2 million figure)
|A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution (Spanish: Revolución Mexicana) was a major armed struggle c. 1910–1920 radically transforming Mexican culture and government. Although recent research has focused on local and regional aspects of the Revolution, it was a "genuinely national revolution". Its outbreak in 1910 resulted from the failure of the 35-year-long regime of Porfirio Díaz to find a managed solution to the presidential succession. This meant there was a political crisis among competing elites and the opportunity for agrarian insurrection. Wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero challenged Díaz in the 1910 presidential election, and following the rigged results, revolted under the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Armed conflict ousted Díaz from power and a new election was held in 1911, bringing Madero to the presidency.
The origins of the conflict were broadly based in opposition to the Díaz regime, with the 1910 election becoming the catalyst for the outbreak of political rebellion. Begun by elements of the Mexican elite hostile to Díaz, led by Madero and Pancho Villa, the revolution expanded to the middle class, the peasantry in some regions, and organized labor. In October 1911, Madero was overwhelmingly elected in a free and fair election. Opposition to the Madero regime increased from both the conservatives, who saw him as too weak and too liberal, and from former revolutionary fighters and the dispossessed, who saw him as too conservative.
In February 1913 Madero and his vice president Pino Suárez were forced to resign and were assassinated. The counter-revolutionary regime of General Victoriano Huerta came to power, backed by the United States, business interests, and other supporters of the old order. Huerta remained in power from February 1913 until July 1914, when he was forced out by a coalition of different regional revolutionary forces. When the revolutionaries' attempt to reach political agreement failed, Mexico plunged into a civil war (1914–1915). The Constitutionalist faction under wealthy landowner Venustiano Carranza emerged as the victor in 1915, defeating the revolutionary forces of former Constitutionalist Pancho Villa and forcing revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata back to guerrilla warfare. Zapata was assassinated in 1919 by agents of President Carranza.
The armed conflict lasted for the better part of a decade, until around 1920, and had several distinct phases. Over time the Revolution changed from a revolt against the established order under Díaz to a multi-sided civil war in particular regions, with frequently shifting power struggles among factions in the Mexican Revolution. One major result of the revolution was the dissolution of the Federal Army in 1914, which Francisco Madero had kept intact when he was elected in 1911 and General Huerta used to oust Madero. Revolutionary forces unified against Huerta's reactionary regime defeated the Federal forces. Although the conflict was primarily a civil war, foreign powers that had important economic and strategic interests in Mexico figured in the outcome of Mexico's power struggles. The United States played an especially significant role. Out of Mexico's population of 15 million, the losses were high, but numerical estimates vary a great deal. Perhaps 1.5 million people died; nearly 200,000 refugees fled abroad, especially to the United States.
Many scholars consider the promulgation of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 as the end point of the armed conflict. "Economic and social conditions improved in accordance with revolutionary policies, so that the new society took shape within a framework of official revolutionary institutions", with the constitution providing that framework. The period 1920–1940 is often considered to be a phase of the Revolution, as government power was consolidated, the Catholic clergy and institutions were attacked in the 1920s, and the revolutionary constitution of 1917 was implemented.
This armed conflict is often characterized as the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century; it resulted in an important program of experimentation and reform in social organization. The revolution committed the resulting political regime with "social justice", until Mexico underwent a neoliberal reform process that started in the 1980s.
- 1 The Porfiriato, 1876–1911
- 2 Madero Presidency, 1911–1913
- 3 Huerta Dictatorship, 1913–1914 and civil war
- 4 War of the Winners, 1914–1915
- 5 Constitutionalists in Power under Carranza, 1915–1920
- 6 Emiliano Zapata and the Revolution in Morelos
- 7 Land reform
- 8 Role of the United States
- 9 Role of the Catholic Church
- 10 End of the military phase of revolution
- 11 Consolidation of the Revolution, 1920–1940
- 12 Historical Memory
- 13 Legacies
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
The Porfiriato, 1876–1911
Part of a series on the
|History of Mexico|
The Porfiriato is the period in late nineteenth-century Mexican history dominated by General Porfirio Díaz, who became president of Mexico in 1876 and ruled almost continuously (with the exception of 1880–1884), until his forced resignation in 1911. After the presidency of his ally, General Manuel González (1880–1884), Díaz ran for the presidency again and legally served in office until 1911. Under his administration, the constitution had been amended to allow unlimited presidential re-election. Díaz's had originally challenged Benito Juárez on the platform of "no re-election." During the Porfiriato, there were regular elections, marked by contentious irregularities. Although Díaz had publicly announced in an interview with journalist James Creelman that he would not run in the 1910 election, setting off a flurry of political activity, he changed his mind and decided to run again at age 80.
The contested 1910 election was a key political event that contributed to the Mexican Revolution. As Díaz aged, the question of presidential succession became increasingly important. In 1906, the office of vice president was revived, with Díaz choosing his close ally Ramón Corral from among his Científico advisers to serve in the post. By the 1910 election, the Díaz regime had become highly authoritarian, and opposition to it had increased in many sectors of Mexican society.
In the 19th century, he had been a national hero, opposing the French Intervention in the 1860s and distinguishing himself in the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 ("Cinco de Mayo"). Díaz entered politics following the expulsion of the French in 1867. When Benito Juárez was elected in 1871, Díaz alleged fraud. Juárez died in office in 1872, and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada succeeded him. Díaz unsuccessfully rebelled against Lerdo under the Plan de La Noria but later accepted the amnesty offered to him. However, when Lerdo ran for the presidency in 1876, Díaz successfully rebelled under the Plan de Tuxtepec.
In his early years in the presidency, Díaz was a master politician, playing factions off one another while retaining and consolidating his own power. He used the rurales, an armed police force directly under his control, as a paramilitary force to keep order in the countryside. He rigged elections, arguing that only he knew what was best for his country, and he enforced his belief with a strong hand. "Order and Progress" were the watchwords of his rule. Although Díaz came to power in 1876 under the banner of "no re-election," with the exception of the presidency of Manuel González from 1880–1884, Díaz remained in power continuously from 1884 until 1911, with rigged elections held at regular intervals to give the appearance of democracy.
Díaz's presidency was characterized by promotion of industry and development of infrastructure by opening the country to foreign investment. He believed opposition needed to be suppressed and order maintained to reassure foreign entrepreneurs that their investments were safe. The modernization and progress in cities came at the expense of the rising working class and the peasantry.
Farmers and peasants both complained of oppression and exploitation. The economy took a great leap during the Porfiriato, as he encouraged the construction of factories and industries, and infrastructure such as roads and dams, as well as improving agriculture. Industrialization resulted in the rise of an urban proletariat and attracted an influx of foreign capital from the United States and Great Britain.
Wealth, political power, and access to education were concentrated among a handful of elite landholding families, overwhelmingly of European and mixed descent. Known as hacendados, they controlled vast swaths of the country by virtue of their huge estates (for example, the Terrazas had one estate in Sonora that alone comprised more than a million acres). Most people in Mexico were landless peasants laboring on these vast estates or industrial workers toiling for little more than slave wages. Foreign companies, mostly from the United Kingdom, France, and the U.S., also exercised influence in Mexico.
Díaz created a formidable political machine, first working with regional strongmen and bringing them into his regime, then replacing them with jefes políticos (political bosses) who were loyal to him. He skillfully managed political conflict and reined in tendencies toward autonomy. He appointed a number of military officers to state governorships, including General Bernardo Reyes, who became governor of the northern state of Nuevo León, but over the years military men were largely replaced by civilians loyal to Díaz.
As a military man himself, and one who had intervened directly in politics to seize the presidency in 1876, Díaz was acutely aware that the Federal Army could oppose him. He augmented the rurales, a police force created by Juárez, making them his personal armed force. The rurales were only 2,500 in number, as opposed to the 30,000 in the Federal Army and another 30,000 in the Federal Auxiliaries, Irregulars, and National Guard. Despite their small numbers, the rurales were highly effective in bringing control to the countryside, especially along the 12,000 miles of railway lines. They were a mobile force, often put on trains with their horses to put down rebellions in relatively remote areas of Mexico.
The construction of railways had been transformative in Mexico (as well as elsewhere in Latin America), accelerating economic activity and increasing the power of the Mexican state. The isolation from the central government that many remote areas had enjoyed or suffered was ending. Telegraph lines constructed next to railroad tracks meant instant communication between distant states and the capital.[page needed]
The political acumen and flexibility that Díaz had exhibited in the early years of the Porfiriato began to decline. He brought the state governors under his control, replacing them at will. The Federal Army, while large, was increasingly an ineffective force with aging leadership and troops dragooned into service. Díaz attempted the same kind of manipulation he executed with the Mexican political system with business interests, showing favoritism to European interests against those of the U.S.
Rival interests, particularly those of the Americans and the British, further complicated an already complex system of favoritism. As economic activity increased and industries thrived, industrial workers began organizing for better conditions. With the expansion of Mexican agriculture, landless peasants were forced to work for low wages or move to the cities. Peasant agriculture was under pressure as haciendas expanded, such as in the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City, with its burgeoning sugar plantations. There was what one scholar has called “agrarian compression,” in which "population growth intersected with land loss, declining wages, and insecure tenancies to produce widespread economic deterioration," but the regions under the greatest stress weren't the ones that rebelled.
Opposition to Díaz
A number of Mexicans began to organize in opposition to Díaz policies that had welcomed foreign capital and capitalists, suppressed nascent labor unions, and consistently moved against peasants as agriculture flourished. In 1905, the group of Mexican intellectuals and agitators who had created the Mexican Liberal Party (Partido Liberal de México) drew up a radical program of reform, specifically addressing what they considered to be the worst aspects of the Díaz regime. Most prominent in the PLM were Ricardo Flores Magón and his two brothers, Enrique and Jesús. They, along with Luis Cabrera Lobato and Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, were connected to the anti-Díaz publication El Hijo de Ahuizote. Political cartoons by José Guadalupe Posada lampooned politicians and cultural elites with mordant humor, portraying them as skeletons. The Liberal Party of Mexico founded the anti-Díaz anarchist newspaper Regeneración, which appeared in both Spanish and English. In exile in the United States, Práxedis Guerrero began publishing an anti-Díaz newspaper, Alba Roja (Red Dawn), in San Francisco. Although leftist groups were small in numbers, they became highly influential through their publications which helped articulate opposition to the Díaz regime. Francisco Bulnes described these men as the “true authors” of the Mexican Revolution for agitating the masses. As the 1910 election approached, Francisco I. Madero, an idealistic political novice and member of one of Mexico’s richest families, funded the newspaper Anti-Reelectionista, in opposition to the continuous re-election of Díaz.
Organized labor conducted strikes for better wages and more just treatment. Demands for better labor conditions were central to the Liberal Party Program, drawn up in 1905. Mexican copper miners in the northern state of Sonora took action in the 1906 Cananea strike. Among other grievances, they were paid less than U.S. nationals working in the mines. In the state of Veracruz, textile workers rioted in January 1907 at the huge Río Blanco factory, the world’s largest, protesting against unfair labor practices. They were paid in credit that could be used only at the company store, binding them to the company.
These strikes were ruthlessly suppressed, with factory owners receiving support from government forces. In the Cananea strike, mine owner William Cornell Greene received support from Díaz’s rurales in Sonora as well as Arizona Rangers called in from across the U.S. border. In the state of Veracruz, the Mexican army gunned down Rio Blanco textile workers and put the bodies on train cars that transported them to Veracruz, "where the bodies were dumped in the harbor as food for sharks". Government suppression of strikes was not unique to Mexico, with parallel occurrences both in the United States and Western Europe.
The repressive nature of the Díaz regime attracted the attention of a number of U.S. nationals who joined in international solidarity with Mexicans to oppose Díaz, particularly outraged by U.S. businesses' direct responsibility for the most horrific Mexican labor practices. Most notably, the leftist journalist John Kenneth Turner posed as a rich businessman exploring investments in Mexico to gain access to some of the most repressive and lucrative enterprises. His series of investigative exposés of Mexico under Díaz was first published in American magazines, then, in 1910, republished as a collection in Barbarous Mexico.
Since the press was suppressed in Mexico under Díaz, little was published that was critical of the regime. Newspapers barely reported on the Rio Blanco textile strike, the Cananea strike, or harsh labor practices on plantations in Oaxaca and Yucatán. Leftist Mexican opponents of the Díaz regime, such as Ricardo Flores Magón and Práxedis Guerrero, went into exile in the relative safety of the United States, but cooperation between the U.S. government and Díaz's agents resulted in the arrest of some.
Presidential succession and the election of 1910
Díaz had ruled continuously since 1884. The question of presidential succession was an issue as early as 1900, when Díaz turned 70. It was his "undeclared intention to step down from the presidency in 1904." Díaz seems to have considered his finance minister José Yves Limantour as his successor. Limantour was a key member of the Científicos, the circle of technocratic advisers steeped in positivist political science.
Another potential successor was General Bernardo Reyes, Diaz's Minister of War, who also served as governor of Nuevo León. Reyes, an opponent of the Científicos, was a moderate reformer with a considerable base of support. Díaz became concerned about him as a rival, and forced his resignation from his cabinet. He attempted to marginalize Reyes by sending him on a "military mission" to Europe, distancing him from Mexico and potential political supporters.
In a 1908 interview with U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz said that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would step down to allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. If Díaz had kept to this, the presidency and vice presidency would have been open in 1910. Díaz's later reversal on retiring from the presidency set off tremendous activity among opposition groups.
In 1909, Díaz and U.S. President William Howard Taft conducted a historic summit, held in both El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; it was the first meeting between a U.S. and Mexican president, and the first time a sitting U.S. president crossed the border into Mexico. Díaz requested the meeting to show that he had American support for his planned eighth run as president. Taft agreed to support Diaz in order to protect the several billion dollars of American capital then invested in Mexico. After nearly 30 years with Díaz in power, U.S. businesses controlled "nearly 90 percent of Mexico’s mineral resources, its national railroad, its oil industry and, increasingly, its land." At the meeting, Díaz explained his decision to stay in office, "Since I am responsible for bringing several billion dollars in foreign investments into my country, I think I should continue in my position until a competent successor is found."
On 16 October, the day of the summit, Frederick Russell Burnham and Private C.R. Moore, a Texas Ranger, discovered a man holding a concealed palm pistol standing at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce building along the procession route. Burnham and Moore captured and disarmed the assassin within a few feet of Díaz and Taft.
"The potential challenge from Reyes would remain one of Díaz's political obsessions through the rest of the decade, which ultimately blinded him to the danger of the challenge of Francisco Madero's anti-reelectionist campaign."
In 1910, Francisco I. Madero, a young man from a wealthy land-owning family in the northern state of Coahuila, announced his intent to challenge Díaz for the presidency in the next election, under the banner of the Anti-Reelectionist Party. Madero chose as his running mate Francisco Vázquez Gómez, a physician who had opposed Díaz. Although similar overall to Díaz in his ideology, Madero hoped for other elites to rule alongside the president. Díaz thought he could control this election, as he had the previous seven; however, Madero campaigned vigorously and effectively. To ensure Madero did not win, Díaz had him jailed before the election. Madero escaped and fled for a short period to San Antonio, Texas. Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a "landslide". When it became obvious that the election had been fixed, Madero supporter Toribio Ortega took up arms with a group of followers at Cuchillo Parado, Chihuahua on 10 November 1910.
End of the Porfiriato
On 5 October 1910, Madero issued a "letter from jail," known as the Plan de San Luis Potosí, with its main slogan Sufragio Efectivo, No Re-elección ("free suffrage and no re-election"). It declared the Díaz presidency illegal and called for revolt against Díaz, starting on 20 November 1910. Madero's political plan did not outline major socioeconomic revolution, but it offered the hope of change for many disadvantaged Mexicans.
Madero's plan was aimed at fomenting a popular uprising against Díaz, but he also understood that the support of the United States and U.S. financiers would be of crucial importance in undermining the regime. The rich and powerful Madero family drew on its resources to make regime change possible, with Madero's brother Gustavo A. Madero hiring, in October 1910, the firm of Washington lawyer Sherburne Hopkins, the "world's best rigger of Latin American revolutions", to encourage support in the U.S. A strategy to discredit Díaz with U.S. business and the U.S. government achieved some success, with Standard Oil representatives engaging in talks with Gustavo Madero. More importantly, the U.S. government "bent neutrality laws for the revolutionaries."
In late 1910 revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí. Madero's vague promises of land reform in Mexico attracted many peasants throughout Mexico. Spontaneous rebellions arose in which ordinary farm laborers, miners, and other working-class Mexicans, along with much of the country's population of indigenous natives, fought Díaz's forces, with some success. Madero attracted the forces of rebel leaders such as Pascual Orozco, Pancho Villa, Ricardo Flores Magón, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza. A young and able revolutionary, Orozco, along with governor Abraham González, formed a powerful military union in the north, and, although they were not especially committed to Madero, took Mexicali and Chihuahua City. These victories encouraged alliances with other revolutionary leaders, including Pancho Villa. Against Madero's wishes, Orozco and Villa fought for and won Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso, Texas, on the south side of the Rio Grande. Madero's call to action had some unanticipated results, such as the Magonista rebellion of 1911 in Baja, California.
With the Federal Army defeated in a string of battles, Diaz's government began negotiations with the revolutionaries. One of Madero's representatives in the negotiations was his running mate in the 1910 elections, Francisco Vázquez Gómez. The talks culminated in the 21 May 1911 Treaty of Ciudad Juárez. The signed treaty stated that Díaz would abdicate the presidency along with his vice president Ramón Corral by the end of May 1911, to be replaced by an interim president, Francisco León de la Barra, until elections were held.
Some supporters criticized Madero for displaying weakness in not simply seizing the presidency from Diaz, and for failing to pass immediate reforms; however, by following the electoral process, Madero established a liberal democracy and received support from the United States and popular leaders such as Orozco, Villa, and Zapata. Francisco León de la Barra became interim president of Mexico, pending an election to be held in October 1911. Madero won the election decisively and was inaugurated as president in November 1911.
When Díaz left for exile in Paris, he was reported as saying, "Madero has unleashed a tiger; let us see if he can control it."
Madero Presidency, 1911–1913
Madero was an inexperienced politician who had never held office before, but his election as president in October 1911, following the exile of Porfirio Díaz in May 1911 and the interim presidency of Francisco León de la Barra, raised high expectations for positive change. However, the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez guaranteed that the essential structure of the Díaz regime, including the Federal Army, was kept in place. Madero fervently held to his position that Mexico needed real democracy, which included regime change by valid election, a free press, and the right of labor to organize and strike.
The rebels who brought him to power were demobilized and Madero called on these men of action to return to civilian life. According to a story told by Pancho Villa, (one of those who had defeated Díaz's army and forced his resignation and exile), he told Madero at a banquet in Ciudad Juárez in 1911, "You [Madero], sir, have destroyed the revolution.... It's simple: this bunch of dandies have made a fool of you, and this will eventually cost us our necks, yours included." Ignoring the warning, Madero increasingly relied on the Federal Army as armed rebellions broke out in Mexico in 1911–1912, with particularly threatening insurrections led by Emiliano Zapata in Morelos and Pascual Orozco in the north.
The press embraced their new-found freedom and Madero became a target of their criticism. Organized labor, which had been suppressed under Díaz, could and did stage strikes, which foreign entrepreneurs saw as threatening their interests. Although there had been labor unrest under Díaz, labor's new freedom to organize also came with anti-American currents. The anarcho-syndicalist Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker) was founded in September 1912 by Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Manuel Sarabia, and Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara and served as a center of agitation and propaganda, but it was not a formal labor union.
Political parties proliferated, one of the most important being the National Catholic Party, which in a number of regions of Mexico was particularly strong. Several Catholic newspapers were in circulation during the Madero era, including El País and La Nación, only to be later suppressed under the Victoriano Huerta regime (1913–1914).
Madero did not have the experience or the ideological inclination to reward men who had helped bring him to power. Some revolutionary leaders expected personal rewards, such as the young and militarily gifted Pascual Orozco of Chihuahua. Others wanted major reforms, most especially Emiliano Zapata and Andrés Molina Enríquez, who had long worked for land reform in Mexico. Madero met personally with Zapata, telling the guerrilla leader that the agrarian question needed careful study. His meaning was clear: Madero, a member of a rich northern hacendado family, was not about to implement comprehensive agrarian reform for aggrieved peasants.
In response to this lack of action, Zapata promulgated the Plan de Ayala in November 1911, declaring himself in rebellion against Madero. He renewed guerrilla warfare in the state of Morelos. Madero sent the Federal Army to deal with the Zapata, unsuccessfully. Zapata remained true to the demands of the Plan de Ayala and in rebellion against every central government up until his assassination by an agent of President Venustiano Carranza in 1919.
The brilliant northern revolutionary general Pascual Orozco, who had helped take Ciudad Juárez for the revolutionaries, had expected to become governor of Chihuahua, a powerful position. In 1911, although Orozco was "the man of the hour," Madero gave the governorship instead to Abraham González, a respectable revolutionary, with the explanation that Orozco had not reached the legal age to serve as governor, a tactic that was “a useful constitutional alibi for thwarting the ambitions of young, popular, revolutionary leaders."
Madero had put Orozco in charge of the large force of rurales in Chihuahua, but to a gifted revolutionary fighter who had helped bring about Díaz’s fall, Madero’s reward was insulting. After Madero refused to agree to social reforms calling for better working hours, pay, and conditions, Orozco organized his own army, the "Orozquistas", also called the Colorados ("Red Flaggers"). In early 1912 they rebelled against Madero, causing considerable dismay among U.S. businessmen and other foreign investors in the northern region. It was a signal to many that Madero’s government could not maintain the order that was the underpinning of modernization in the era of Porfirio Díaz.
In April 1912, Madero dispatched Gen. Victoriano Huerta of the Federal Army to put down Orozco's revolt. As president, Madero had kept the Federal Army intact as an institution, using it to put down domestic rebellions against his regime. Huerta was a professional soldier and continued to serve in the Federal Army under the new commander-in-chief, but Huerta's loyalty lay with General Bernardo Reyes rather than with the civilian Madero. In 1912, under pressure from his cabinet, Madero had called on Huerta to suppress Orozco's rebellion. With Huerta's success against Orozco, he emerged as a powerful figure for conservative forces opposing the Madero regime.
During the Orozco revolt, the governor of Chihuahua mobilized the state militia to support the Federal Army, and Pancho Villa, a colonel in the militia, was called up at this time. In mid-April, at the head of 400 irregular troops, he joined the forces commanded by Huerta. Huerta, however, viewed Villa as an ambitious competitor. During a visit to Huerta's headquarters in June 1912, after an incident in which he refused to return a number of stolen horses, Villa was imprisoned on charges of insubordination and robbery and sentenced to death. Raúl Madero, the President's brother, intervened to save Villa's life. Jailed in Mexico City, Villa fled to the United States, later to return and play a major role in the civil wars of 1913–1915.
There were other rebellions, one led by Bernardo Reyes and the other by Félix Díaz, nephew of the former president, that were quickly put down and the generals jailed. They were both in a Mexico City prison, and fomented yet another rebellion in February 1913. This period came to be known as the Ten Tragic Days (la decena trágica), which ended with Madero's resignation and assassination and Huerta assuming the presidency. Madero placed Huerta in charge of suppressing the Mexico City revolt as interim commander. Madero did not know that Huerta had been invited to join the conspiracy but had held back. During the fighting that took place in the capital, the civilian population was subjected to artillery exchanges, street fighting, and economic disruption.
The Madero presidency was unraveling, to no one's surprise except perhaps Madero's, whose support continued to deteriorate, even among his political allies. Madero's supporters in congress before the coup, the so-called Renovadores ("the renewers") criticized Madero, saying, "The revolution is heading toward collapse and is pulling the government to which it gave rise down with it, for the simple reason that is not governing with revolutionaries. Compromises and concessions to the supporters of the old [Díaz] regime are the main causes of the unsettling situation in which the government that emerged from the revolution finds itself.... The regime appears relentlessly bent on suicide."
Huerta allowed the rebels to hold the armory in Mexico City, the Ciudadela, while Huerta consolidated his political power. Huerta changed allegiance from Madero to the rebels under Félix Díaz (Bernardo Reyes having been killed early in the conflict). U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who had done all he could to undermine U.S. confidence in Madero's presidency, brokered the Pact of the Embassy, which formalized the alliance between Félix Díaz and Huerta, with the backing of the United States. Huerta was to become provisional president of Mexico following the resignations of Madero and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez. Rather than being sent into exile with their families, the two were murdered while being transported to prison, a shocking event, but one that did not prevent the Huerta regime's recognition by most world governments.
Madero had created no political organization that could survive his death and he had alienated and demobilized the revolutionary fighters who had helped bring him to power. In the aftermath of his assassination and Huerta's seizure of power via military coup, former revolutionaries had no formal organization through which to raise opposition to Huerta.
Huerta Dictatorship, 1913–1914 and civil war
Huerta's presidency is usually characterized as a dictatorship. From the point of view of revolutionaries at the time and the construction of historical memory of the Revolution, it is without any positive aspects. "Despite recent attempts to portray Victoriano Huerta as a reformer, there is little question that he was a self-serving dictator." There are few biographies of Huerta, but one of these strongly asserts that Huerta should not be labeled simply as a counter-revolutionary, arguing that his regime consisted of two distinct periods: from the coup in February 1913 up to October 1913, during which time he attempted to legitimize his regime and demonstrate its legality by pursuing reformist policies; and after October 1913, when he dropped all attempts to rule within a legal framework and began murdering political opponents while battling revolutionary forces that had united in opposition to his regime.
Supporting the Huerta regime initially were business interests in Mexico, both foreign and domestic; landed elites; the Roman Catholic Church; as well as the German and British governments. Huerta's first cabinet comprised men who had supported the February 1913 Pact of the [U.S.] Embassy, among them some who had supported Madero, such as Jesús Flores Magón; supporters of Bernardo Reyes; supporters of Félix Díaz; and Catholic former interim president Francisco León de la Barra. Initially, Huerta was even able to muster the support of Andrés Molina Enríquez, author of The Great National Problems (Los grandes problemas nacionales), a key work urging land reform in Mexico. Huerta was deeply concerned with the issue of land reform since it was a persistent spur of peasant unrest. Specifically, he moved to restore "ejido lands to the Yaquis and Mayos of Sonora and [advanced] proposals for distribution of government lands to small-scale farmers." When Huerta refused to move faster on land reform, Molina Enríquez disavowed the regime in June 1913, later going on to advise the 1917 constitutional convention on land reform.
Within a month of the coup, rebellion began to spread throughout Mexico, most prominently led by the governor of the state of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, along with Pablo González and old revolutionaries demobilized by Madero, such as Pancho Villa. Upon taking power, Huerta had moved swiftly to consolidate his hold in the North. Carranza might have counted on governor of Chihuahua Abraham González, but Huerta had him arrested and murdered for fear he would foment rebellion.
The Northern revolutionaries fought under the name of the Constitutionalist Army, with Carranza as the “First Chief” (primer jefe). When northern general Pancho Villa became governor of Chihuahua in 1914, following the ousting of Huerta, he located González’s bones and had them reburied with full honors.
In Morelos, Emiliano Zapata continued his rebellion under the Plan of Ayala (while expunging the name of counter-revolutionary Pascual Orozco from it), calling for the expropriation of land and redistribution to peasants. Huerta offered peace to Zapata, who rejected it.
Lame duck U.S. President Taft, whose term ended 4 March 1913, left the decision of whether to recognize the new government up to the incoming president, Woodrow Wilson. Despite the urging of the U.S. ambassador, Henry Lane Wilson, who had played a key role in the coup d'état, President Wilson not only declined to recognize Huerta's government, but first supplanted the ambassador by sending his "personal representative" John Lind, a Swedish-American progressive who sympathized with the Mexican revolutionaries, and then, in the summer of 1913, recalled Wilson. Further, under Wilson, the United States lifted the arms embargo imposed by Taft in order to supply weapons to the landlocked rebels, since while under the complete embargo Huerta had still been able to receive shipments from the British. While urging other European powers to likewise not recognize Huerta's government, Wilson also attempted to persuade Huerta to call prompt elections "and not present himself as a candidate." The United States offered Mexico a loan on the condition that Huerta accept the proposal. He refused. The envoy Lind "clearly threatened a military intervention in case the demands were not met."
In the summer of 1913, Mexican conservatives who had supported Huerta sought an elected civilian alternative to Huerta, brought together in body called National Unifying Junta. Political parties proliferated in this period, so that by the time of the October congressional elections there were 26. From Huerta's point of view, the fragmentation of the conservative political landscape strengthened his own position. For the country's conservative elite, "there was a growing disillusionment with Huerta, and disgust at his strong-arm methods." Huerta dispensed with the legislature on 26 October 1913, having the army surround its building and arresting congressmen perceived to be hostile to his regime. Congressional elections went ahead, but given that congress was dissolved and some members were in jail, the fervor of opposition candidates disappeared. The sham election "brought home to [Woodrow] Wilson's administration the fatuity of relying on elections to demonstrate genuine democracy." The October 1913 elections were the end of any pretension to constitutional rule in Mexico, with civilian political activity banned. Prominent Catholics were arrested and Catholic newspapers were suppressed.
Huerta militarized Mexico to a greater extent than it already was. In 1913 when Huerta seized power, the army had approximately 50,000 men, but Huerta mandated the number rise to 150,000, then 200,000, and, finally in spring 1914, 250,000. Raising that number of men in so short a time would not occur with volunteers, and the army resorted to the leva, forced conscription. The revolutionary forces had no problem with voluntary recruitment. Most Mexican men avoided government conscription at all cost and the ones dragooned into the forces were sent to areas far away from home and were reluctant to fight. Conscripts deserted, mutinied, and attacked and murdered their officers.
In April 1914, American opposition to Huerta culminated in the seizure and occupation of the port of Veracruz by U.S. marines and sailors. Initially intended, in part, to prevent a German merchant vessel from delivering a shipment of arms to the Huerta regime, the muddled operation evolved into a seven-month stalemate resulting in the death of 193 Mexican soldiers, 19 American servicemen, and an unknown number of civilians. The German ship landed its cargo - largely American-made rifles, in a deal brokered by American businessmen - at a different port. U.S. forces eventually left Veracruz in the hands of the Carrancistas, but with lasting damage to U.S.-Mexican relations.
Huerta's position continued to deteriorate. In mid-July 1914, after his army suffered several defeats, he stepped down and fled to Puerto México. Seeking to get himself and his family out of Mexico, he turned to the German government, which had generally supported his presidency; the Germans were not eager to allow him to be transported into exile on one of their ships, but relented. Huerta carried "roughly half a million marks in gold with him" as well as paper currency and checks. In exile, Huerta sought to return to Mexico via the United States and made an alliance with his former adversary, Pascual Orozco. U.S. authorities arrested him and he was imprisoned in Fort Bliss, Texas. He died in January 1916, six months after going into exile.
His resignation marked the end of an era since the Federal Army, a spectacularly ineffective fighting force against the revolutionaries, ceased to exist. The revolutionary factions that had united in opposition to Huerta's regime now faced a new political landscape with the counter-revolutionaries decisively defeated. The revolutionary armies now contended for power and a new era of civil war began.
War of the Winners, 1914–1915
With the departure of Huerta in July 1914, the revolutionary factions agreed to meet and make “a last ditch effort to avert more intense warfare than that which unseated Huerta.” Called to meet in Mexico City in October 1914, revolutionaries opposed to Carranza’s influence successfully moved the venue to Aguascalientes. The Convention of Aguascalientes did not, in fact, reconcile the various victorious factions in the Mexican Revolution, but was a brief pause in revolutionary violence. The break between Carranza and Villa became definitive during the Convention.
Carranza had expected to be confirmed in his position as First Chief of revolutionary forces, but his supporters "lost control of the proceedings." Opposition to Carranza was strongest in areas where there were popular and fierce demands for reform, particularly in Chihuahua, where Villa was powerful, and Morelos, where Zapata held sway. The Convention of Aguascalientes brought that opposition out in an open forum.
The revolutionary generals of the Convention called on Carranza to resign executive power. Although Carranza agreed to do so, he laid out conditions for it. He would resign if both Pancho Villa and Emililano Zapata, his main rivals for power, would resign and go into exile, and that there should be a preconstitutionalist government “that would take charge of carrying out the social and political reforms the country needs before a fully constitutional government is reestablished.”
Rather than First Chief Carranza being named president of Mexico at the convention, General Eulalio Gutiérrez was chosen for a term of 20 days. The convention declared Carranza in rebellion against it. Civil war resumed, this time between revolutionary armies that had fought in a united cause to oust Huerta in 1913–1914. Although during the Convention Constitutionalist general Alvaro Obregón had attempted to be a moderate force and had been the one to convey the Convention's call for Carranza to resign, when the convention forces declared Carranza in rebellion against it, Obregón supported Carranza rather than Villa and Zapata.
Northern general Pancho Villa went into alliance with southern leader Emiliano Zapata to form the Army of the Convention. Their forces moved separately on the capital and took Mexico City, which Carranza's forces had abandoned, in December 1914. The famous picture of Zapata and Villa, with Villa sitting in the presidential chair in the National Palace, is a classic image of the Revolution. Villa is reported to have said to Zapata that the presidential "chair is too big for us."
In practice, the alliance between Villa and Zapata as the Army of the Convention did not function beyond this initial victory against the Constitutionalists. Villa and Zapata left the capital, with Zapata returning to his southern stronghold in Morelos, where he continued to engage in warfare under the Plan of Ayala. Lacking a firm center of power and leadership, the Convention government was plagued by instability. Villa was the real power emerging from the Convention, and he prepared to strengthen his position by winning a decisive victory against the Constitutionalist Army.
Villa had a well-earned reputation as a fierce and successful general, and the combination of forces arrayed against Carranza by Villa, other northern generals, and Zapata was larger than the Constitutionalist Army, so it was not at all clear that Carranza would prevail. Carranza had the advantage of the loyalty of Alvaro Obregón. Despite Obregón's moderating actions at the Convention of Aguascalientes, even trying to persuade Carranza to resign his position, he ultimately sided with Carranza.
Another advantage of Carranza’s position was the Constitutionalists' control of Veracruz, even though the United States still occupied it. The United States had concluded that both Villa and Zapata were too radical and hostile to U.S. interests and sided with the moderate Carranza in the factional fighting. The U.S. timed its exit from Veracruz, brokered at the Niagara Falls peace conference, to benefit Carranza, and allowed munitions to flow to the Constitutionalists. The U.S. granted Carranza's government diplomatic recognition in 1915.
The rival armies of Villa and Obregón met on 6–15 April 1915, in the Battle of Celaya. The frontal cavalry charges of Villa’s forces were met by the shrewd, modern military tactics of Obregón. The Constitutionalists’ victory was complete. Carranza emerged in 1915, as the political leader of Mexico, with a victorious army to keep him in that position. Villa retreated north. Carranza and the Constitutionalists consolidated their position as the winning faction, with Zapata remaining a threat until his assassination in 1919. Villa also remained a threat to the Constitutionalists, complicating their relationship with the United States when he raided Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916, prompting the U.S. to send a Punitive Expedition to capture him.
Constitutionalists in Power under Carranza, 1915–1920
Venustiano Carranza had proclaimed the Plan of Guadalupe a month after Victoriano Huerta seized power in February 1913, uniting northern factions into a movement to oust Huerta, especially under generals Alvaro Obregón and Pancho Villa. Huerta went into exile in July 1914 and the revolutionary factions sought to decide Mexico's political future in the Convention of Aguascalientes. Villa broke with Carranza and went into alliance with Emiliano Zapata. General Obregón remained loyal to Carranza, and led the Constitutionalist Army to victory over Villa in the Battle of Celaya in April 1915.
Carranza had gained recognition from the United States, which enabled arms sales to his forces. Villa had previously been friendly toward the U.S., but its recognition of Carranza, as well as Villa's decisive defeat at Celaya, finished him as a major force in Mexico. In 1916, Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico. Under heavy pressure from public opinion (stoked mainly by the papers of ultra-conservative publisher William Randolph Hearst, who owned a large estate in Mexico) to punish the attackers, U.S. President Wilson sent Gen. John J. Pershing and around 5000 troops into Mexico in an attempt to capture Villa. The American intervention, known as the Punitive Expedition, was limited to the western sierras of Chihuahua, and was notable as the U.S. Army's first use of airplanes in military operations. Intimately knowing the inhospitable terrain, Villa had little trouble evading his pursuers. After nearly a year the hunt was called off and Pershing's force returned to the U.S. Carranza asserted Mexican sovereignty and forced the U.S. to withdraw in 1917.
With the outbreak of warfare in Europe in 1914, foreign powers with significant economic and strategic interests in Mexico - particularly the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany - made efforts to sway Mexico to their side, but Mexico in World War I maintained a policy of neutrality. In the Zimmermann Telegram, a coded cable from the German government to Carranza's government, Germany attempted to draw Mexico into war with the United States, which was itself neutral at the time. Carranza did not pursue this policy, but the leaking of the telegram pushed the U.S. into war against Germany in 1917.
The 1913 Plan of Guadalupe, was narrowly political, but Carranza sought to consolidate his position with support of the masses by policies of social and agrarian reform. As revolutionary violence subsided in 1916, leaders met to draw up a new constitution, thus making principles for which many of the revolutionaries had fought into law. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 was strongly nationalist, giving the Mexican government the power to expropriate foreign ownership of resources and enabling land reform (Article 27). It also had a strong code protecting organized labor (Article 123), and extended state power over the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico in its role in education (Article 3).
Although villistas and zapatistas were excluded from the Constituent Congress, their political challenge pushed the delegates to radicalize the Constitution, which in turn was far more radical than Carranza himself. While he was elected constitutional president in 1917, he did not implement its most radical elements. He was not in a position to do so in any case, since there were still threats to his regime regionally, despite the relative subsidence of violence nationally.
The Constitutionalist Army was renamed the "Mexican National Army" and Carranza sent some of its most able generals to eliminate threats. In Morelos, Carranza sent General Pablo González Garza to fight Zapata's Liberating Army of the South. Although the peasants of Morelos under Emiliano Zapata had not expanded beyond their local region of Morelos and parts of the state of Puebla, Carranza sought to eliminate Zapata. Morelos was very close to Mexico City and not having it under Carranza's control constituted a vulnerability for his government. Agents of the Carranza regime assassinated Zapata in 1919. Carranza sent Generals Francisco Murguía and Manuel M. Diéguez to track down and eliminate Villa. They were unsuccessful, but did capture and execute one of Villa's top men, Felipe Angeles.
Carranza pushed for the rights of women and gained women's support. During his presidency, Carranza relied on his personal secretary and close aide, Hermila Galindo de Topete, to rally and secure support for him. Through her efforts he was able to gain the support of women, workers and peasants. Carranza rewarded her efforts by lobbying for women's equality. He helped change and reform the legal status of women in Mexico.
After all the bloodshed of the revolution concerning the principle of no-re-election, it was politically impossible for Carranza to run again. Carranza chose to back Ignacio Bonillas, a civilian and political unknown. For Northern generals Alvaro Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Adolfo de la Huerta, who had fought successfully for the revolution, the candidacy of a civilian and potential Carranza puppet was untenable. They led a revolt against Carranza under the Plan of Agua Prieta. Carranza attempted to flee the country and died on the way to the Gulf Coast.
Carranza's attempt to impose his civilian candidate for the 1920 election and the opposition of the generals who had ousted him meant that Carranza was not honored as a revolutionary hero in the 1920s and 30s, and Carrancismo was seen as a "deviation", "the tragic interim of the Carrancista period during which the values of la Revolución were transmuted and for a time defeated." His remains were not placed in the Monument to the Revolution until 1942, when Manuel Ávila Camacho was president.
Emiliano Zapata and the Revolution in Morelos
Emiliano Zapata was one of the leading figures in the Mexican Revolution and is now considered one of the national heroes of Mexico: towns, streets and housing developments named "Emiliano Zapata" are common across the country. His image has been used on Mexican banknotes and there is a Zapata Metro station in Mexico City. Opposed to the Porfirio Díaz regime because of the loss of peasant lands to large haciendas in Morelos, Zapata initially supported Francisco I. Madero, whose Plan de San Luis Potosí promised the return of such lands. When Madero did not implement his promise after becoming president of Mexico, Zapata rebelled against him under the Plan de Ayala.
Many peasants and indigenous Mexicans admired Zapata as a practical revolutionary whose populist battle cry, "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Liberty), was spelled out in the Plan de Ayala for land reform. He fought for political and economic emancipation of the peasants in southern and central Mexico. Zapata was killed in 1919, by Gen. Pablo González and his aide, Col. Jesús Guajardo, in an elaborate ambush. Guajardo set up the meeting under the pretext of wanting to defect to Zapata's side. At the meeting, González's men assassinated Zapata.
"Zapatista" originally referred to a member of the revolutionary guerrilla movement founded about 1910 by Zapata. His Liberation Army of the South (Ejército Libertador del Sur) fought during the Mexican Revolution for the redistribution of agricultural land. Zapata and his army and allies, including Pancho Villa, fought for agrarian reform in Mexico. Specifically, they wanted to establish communal land rights for Mexico's peasants, who had lost their land to the wealthy elite.
The majority of Zapata's supporters were indigenous peasants from Morelos and surrounding areas, but intellectuals from urban areas later joined the Zapatistas and played a significant part in their movement, specifically the structure and communication of the Zapatista ambitions. Zapata himself had received a limited education in Morelos, only going to school for a few years. Educated supporters helped express his political aims. The urban intellectuals were known as "city boys" and were predominantly young males. They joined the Zapatistas for many reasons, including curiosity, sympathy, and ambition.
Zapata agreed that intellectuals could work on political strategy, but he had the chief role in proclaiming Zapatista ideology. The supporters from the cities also provided medical care, helped promote and instruct supporters in Zapatista ideology, created a plan for agrarian reform, aided in rebuilding villages destroyed by government forces, wrote manifestos and sent messages from Zapata to other revolutionary leaders.
Zapata's compadre Otilio Montaño was one of the most prominent intellectuals. Before the Revolution Montaño was a professor. During the Revolution he taught Zapatismo, recruited citizens and wrote the Plan de Ayala for land reform. Other well-known intellectuals were Abraham Martínez, Manuel Palafox, Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Pablo Torres Burgos, Gildardo Magaña, Dolores Jiménez y Muro, Enrique Villa and Genaro Amezcua.
Since Zapata's political ambitions and campaign were usually local, women were able to aid the Zapatista soldiers from their homes. There were also female Zapatista soldiers who served from the beginning of the revolution. When Zapata met with President Madero on 12 July 1911, he was accompanied by his troops. Among them were female soldiers, including officers. Women joined the Zapatistas as soldiers for various reasons, including revenge for dead family members or to perform raids.
Perhaps the most popular Zapatista female soldier was Margarita Neri, who was a commander. Some of the Zapatista women soldiers were killed in battle, and long after the revolution ended many continued to wear men's clothing and carry pistols. Col. María de la Luz Espinosa Barrera was one of the few whose service was formally recognized with a pension as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution.
Under the Porfiriato, rural peasants suffered the most. The regime confiscated large sections of land, which caused major losses to the agrarian work force. In 1883 the government passed a land law giving ownership of more than 27.5 million hectares of land to foreign companies. By 1894 one out of every five acres of Mexican land was owned by a foreign interest. Many wealthy Mexican families already owned huge estates, resulting in landless rural peasants working on the property as virtual slaves. In 1910 at the beginning of the revolution, about half of the rural population lived and worked on such plantations. The rapid and brutal uprooting of the peasantry contributed greatly to the violent furies unleashed in the Mexican Revolution and its subsequent course, giving it the character of a gigantic peasant war for land that attacked the structure of the Mexican state.
Salvador Alvarado, after taking control of Yucatán in 1915, organized a large Socialist Party and carried out extensive land reform. He confiscated the large landed estates and redistributed the land in smaller plots to the liberated peasants.
Role of the United States
The first time the United States intervened in the revolution was in 1914, during the Ypiranga incident. When United States intelligence agents received word that the Ypiranga, a German merchant ship, contained illegal firepower for Huerta, President Wilson ordered American troops to the port of Veracruz to stop the ship from docking. Wilson never actually declared war on Mexico. The United States skirmished with Huerta's troops in Veracruz. The Ypiranga successfully docked at another port and unloaded the arms, which greatly angered Wilson. The ABC Powers arbitrated and U.S. troops left Mexican soil, but the incident added to already tense Mexican-American relations.
In 1916, in retaliation for Pancho Villa's plunder on Columbus, New Mexico, and the death of 16 United States citizens who were killed when a group of Villistas attacked a train on the Mexico North Western Railway, near Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, President Wilson sent forces commanded by Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico to capture Villa. Villa was deeply entrenched in the mountains of northern Mexico, and knew the terrain too well to be captured. Pershing could not continue with his mission and was forced to turn back. This event not only damaged the fragile United States-Mexico relationship, but also gave way to a rise in anti-American sentiment among the Mexicans.
Role of the Catholic Church
From 1876–1911, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican government were stable, with the anticlerical laws of the Mexican Constitution of 1857 remaining in place, but not enforced, so conflict was muted.
During Francisco I. Madero's presidency (1911–1913), Church-state conflict was channeled peacefully. The National Catholic Party became an important political opposition force during the Madero presidency. In June 1912 congressional elections, "militarily quiescent states...the Catholic Party (PCN) did conspicuously well." During that period, the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth (ACJM) was founded. Although the National Catholic Party was an opposition party to the Madero regime, "Madero clearly welcomed the emergence of a kind of two party system (Catholic and liberal); he encouraged Catholic political involvement, echoing the exhortations of the episcopate." What was emerging during the Madero regime was "Díaz's old policy of Church-state detente was being continued, perhaps more rapidly and on surer foundations." The Catholic Church was working within the new democratic system promoted by Madero, but it had its own interests to promote, some of which were the forces of the old conservative Church, while the new, progressive Church supporting social Catholicism of the 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum was also a current. When Madero was overthrown in February 1913 by counter-revolutionaries, the conservative wing of the Church supported the coup.
During the counter-revolutionary regime of Huerta (1913–1914), the Catholic Church initially supported him. "The Church represented a force for reaction, especially in the countryside." However, when Huerta cracked down on political parties and conservative opposition to Huerta. Huerta had "Gabriel Somellera, president of the [National] Catholic Party arrested; La Nación, which, like other Catholic papers, had protested Congress's dissolution and the rigged elections [of October 1913], locked horns with the official press and was finally closed down. El País, the main Catholic newspaper, survived for a time."
End of the military phase of revolution
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In 1916, the revolution was drawing to a close. Carranza was gaining support from peasants with the promise of a new constitution. This caused Emiliano Zapata’s forces to lose some support, pushing their forces further south. Later that year, Carranza also sent General Gonzales after Zapata, causing further troubles for his Liberation Army of the South. In 1917, the situation was growing worse for Zapata.
Zapata was low on supplies and his lines were moving further south. However, a colonel named Jesús Guajardo from the Federal Army approached him, offering to join with Zapata’s forces. Zapata had misgivings, as previous defectors and former Federal Army generals had betrayed him before. To test Guajardo's loyalty, Zapata had him attack one of Carranza’s strongholds, which he carried out successfully.
As the war went on in 1919, Zapata began to run out of essential supplies, such as ammunition, and decided to acquire them from Guajardo. Zapata went to Guajardo's camp to negotiate with the colonel, whom he had not met before. However, Zapata had walked into a trap. Guajardo’s soldiers attacked Zapata, killing him and routing his forces. Venustiano Carranza rewarded Guajardo with a promotion to general and a cash prize of 100,000 pesos for having "successfully completed the difficult commission that was conferred to him."
Later that year, Carranza assembled the constitutional convention drafting the new constitution. With this, Carranza also gained support of the communists and anarchists, who were formed into Red Battalions to confront the forces of Villa and those remaining of Zapata’s. This further turned the tide, causing Villa to surrender in 1920. He negotiated a peace deal with Carranza, ending all hostilities and granting him a small estate, thus ending the war.
Later that year, Carranza held elections for the presidency. Alvaro Obregón, Carranza's best general and a reformist who pushed for the new constitution, was to oppose him for the seat. Carranza orchestrated a sham election, allowing Ignacio Bonillas to win. Carranza then fled to Guerrero where he staged a short coup to bring him into the presidency but was killed on horseback while fleeing from Mexico City to Veracruz.
Consolidation of the Revolution, 1920–1940
One of the major issues that faced Alvaro Obregón’s early post-revolution government was stabilizing Mexico. Regional caciques (chiefs) were still fighting each other in small skirmishes. The populace was demanding reforms, promised by the 1917 constitution. Many issues faced the working poor, such as debt peonage and company stores that kept the populace poor. The military had generals who wanted to overthrow the regime and take power for themselves. There were also foreign governments, primarily the United States, who feared Mexico would take a communist turn such as Russia was to do in 1918. Obregón was in a difficult position; he had to appeal to both the left and the right to ensure Mexico would not fall back into civil war.
With regard to the masses, Obregón, who was conservative but still a reformer, started listening to demands to appease the populace. Obregón’s first focus, in 1920, was land reform. He had governors in various states push forward the reforms promised in the 1917 constitution. These were, however, quite limited. Former Zapatistas still had strong influence in the post-revolutionary government, so most of the reforms began in Morelos, the birthplace of the Zapatista movement.
Despite pressures from the U.S., Obregón flirted with the newly formed USSR. To appeal to intellectuals and left-leaning peasants, official Mexican propaganda began having a very Marxist spin. Murals with Lenin and Trotsky began to appear in government buildings. Despite the sympathy towards socialism, the government began to ferment nationalism amongst the peasantry. This was accomplished by memorializing revolutionary figures and creating anti-western murals. Among the artists employed was Diego Rivera, who had a Mexican nationalist and Marxist tinge to his government murals. Despite these moves towards an anti-western and pro-socialist regime, Obregón did not separate the Mexican economy from foreign capitalists, allowing free trade with some restrictions.
Regarding the military, one of his first moves was to incorporate the irregulars who fought in the revolution. He tried to weaken the powers of the ultra-conservative officer corps, who were not friendly to his regime. Some of his reforms began to anger the officer corps, leading to an attempted coup in 1924 that Obregón was able to crush with relative ease.
Shortly after the failed coup, Obregón’s term ended and Sonoran revolutionary Plutarco Elías Calles took power. In an attempt to buffer his regime against further coups, Calles began arming peasants and factory workers with surplus weapons. He continued other reforms pushed by his predecessor, such as land reform and anti-clerical laws to prevent the Catholic Church from influencing the state.
One such move, in regard to land reform, was to nationalize most farmland and give it to the peasants across Mexico. He also put into effect a national school system that was largely secular to combat church influence in late 1924. After two years the church protested the movement by refusing to give the blessed sacrament to the populace. Some peasants also joined in the protests, adding greater land reforms to the list of demands by the rebelling priests. The rebellion was openly supported by the Catholic Church and received funding, beginning the Cristero War.
Meanwhile, in 1927, another military coup was attempted, this time receiving support from land owners. Calles quickly crushed the rebellion with help from the newly mobilized peasant battalions, who later on were used to fight against the Church. In the midst of the mobilized worker’s militias, land reform, and anti-church actions, the American government began to openly declare Mexico a Bolshevik regime. To recover from the backlash, Calles began to tone down the radical rhetoric and slowed land reform policies in 1928. A year later, Calles defeated the church ending the rebellion.
After the war ended in 1929, supporters of Calles and Obregón began to form a united political party called the National Revolutionary Party or PNR. This was to unite the various revolutionary factions of the civil war to prevent further Cristero revolts and build stability.
After a series of interim presidents controlled by the party, Lázaro Cárdenas took power in 1934. Cárdenas was a socialist and began to base government policy on class struggle and empowering the masses. However, not all of his reforms were completely socialist, making him somewhat more centrist than purely socialist. Regardless, his rule was the most radical phase of the post revolution, social revolution.
His first acts of reform in 1935, were aimed towards peasants. Former strongmen within the land owning community were losing political power, so he began to side with the peasants more and more. He also tried to further centralize the government’s power by removing regional caciques, allowing him to push reforms easier. To fill the political vacuum, Cárdenas helped the formation of PNR sponsored peasant leagues, empowering both peasants and the government.
Other reforms included nationalization of key industries such as petroleum, land, and the railroads. To appease workers, Cárdenas furthered provisions to end debt peonage and company stores, which were largely eliminated under his rule, except in the most backwater areas of Mexico. To prevent conservative factions in the military from plotting and to put idle soldiers to work, Cárdenas mobilized the military to build public works projects. That same year another Cristero revolt occurred. This was partially caused by Cárdenas’ mandate for secular education early in his presidency in 1934. The revolt was quickly put down due to lack of official support from the Catholic Church, who told rebels to surrender themselves to the government.
The next year, 1936, to further stabilize his rule, Cárdenas further armed the peasants and workers and begins to organize them into formal militias. This proved to be useful later in his presidency as the militias came to his aid in the final military coup in revolutionary Mexico in 1938.
Seeing no opposition from the bourgeoisie, generals, or conservative landlords, in 1936 Cárdenas began building collective farms called ejidos to help the peasantry, mostly in southern Mexico. These appeased the peasants, creating long-lasting stability; however, they were not very good at feeding large populations, causing an urban food crisis. To alleviate this, Cárdenas co-opted the support of capitalists to build large commercial farms to feed the urban population. This put the final nail in the coffin of the feudal hacienda system, making Mexico a mixed economy, combining agrarian socialism and industrial capitalism by 1940. Cárdenas left office in 1940, marking the end of the social revolution and ushering in half a century of relative stability.
Mexico continues to consider the meaning of the Revolution. The construction of historical memory is manifested in the built landscape, such as the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, names of Mexico City Metro stations, and names of towns and neighborhoods of major cities. Mexican banknotes also commemorate Mexican revolutionaries, most prominently Plutarco Elías Calles, revolutionary general, president of Mexico, and founder of the political party that has dominated Mexico almost continuously from 1919. Lázaro Cárdenas, revolutionary general and president of Mexico, who is often credited with revitalizing the Revolution, is commemorated on a banknote. In 1996, low denomination Mexican peso notes were printed with the image of peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The banknotes were withdrawn in 1997. The obverse of the withdrawn banknote depicted the Zapata statue erected in Cuautla in 1932 by Oliverio Martínez showing Zapata in full charro attire seated on a fine horse, placing his hand on the shoulder of a peasant with a machete.
The Monument to the Revolution was created from the partially built Palacio Legislativo, a major project of Díaz's government. The construction was abandoned with the outbreak of the Revolution in 1910. In 1933 during the Maximato of Plutarco Elías Calles the shell was re-purposed to commemorate the Revolution. Buried in the four pillars are the remains of Francisco I. Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Plutarco Elías Calles, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Francisco [Pancho] Villa. In life, Villa fought Carranza and Calles, but his remains were transferred to the monument in 1979 during the administration of President José López Portillo.
Emiliano Zapata is buried in Cuautla, Morelos, near where he was assassinated in 1919. Since 1920 yearly ceremonies commemorate his assassination at his grave. In 1923, as president of Mexico, Álvaro Obregón sent an envoy to the ceremony in Cuautla and paid the expenses of other officials from the capital to attend.
Another revolutionary monument is to General Álvaro Obregón, who defeated Villa in the 1915 Battle of Celaya; the monument is on the site of the restaurant La Bombilla, where he was assassinated in 1928. Obregón's preserved arm was entombed there, in "the world's tallest mausoleum", a "huge Stalinist chimney commissioned by Aarón Sáenz," located off Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City. The Monument to Álvaro Obregón was completed in 1935, during the presidential term of fellow revolutionary general Lázaro Cárdenas and contained Obregón's arm, preserved in formaldehyde container. In 1989, the government announced the arm would be cremated.
The Mexico City Metro has stations commemorating aspects of the Revolution and the revolutionary era. When it opened in 1969, with line 1 (the "Pink Line"), two stations alluded to the Revolution. Most directly referencing the Revolution was Metro Pino Suárez, named after Francisco I. Madero's vice president, who was murdered with him in February 1913. The other was Metro Balderas, whose icon is a cannon, alluding to the Ciudadela armory where the coup against Madero was launched. In 1970, Metro Revolución opened, with the station at the Monument to the Revolution. As the Metro expanded, further stations with names from the revolutionary era opened. In 1980, two popular heroes of the Revolution were honored, with Metro Zapata explicitly commemorating the peasant revolutionary from Morelos. A sideways commemoration was Metro División del Norte, named after the Army that Pancho Villa commanded until its demise in the Battle of Celaya in 1915. The year 1997 saw the opening of the Metro Lázaro Cárdenas station. In 1988, Metro Aquiles Serdán honors the first martyr of the Revolution Aquiles Serdán. In 1994, Metro Constitución de 1917 opened, as did Metro Garibaldi, named after the grandson of Italian fighter for independence, Giuseppi Garibaldi. The grandson had been a participant in the Mexican Revolution. In 1999, the radical anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón was honored with the Metro Ricardo Flores Magón station. Also opening in 1999 was Metro Romero Rubio, named after the leader of Porfirio Díaz's Científicos, whose daughter Carmen Romero Rubio became Díaz's second wife. In 2012, a new Metro line opened with a Metro Hospital 20 de Noviembre stop, a hospital named after the date that Francisco I. Madero in his 1910 Plan de San Luis Potosí, called for rebellion against Díaz. There is no Metro stop named for Madero, or for Carranza, Obregón, or Calles, and only an oblique reference to Villa in Metro División del Norte.
In Mexico City, there are colonias (boroughs) named for Alvaro Obregón, Venustiano Carranza, and Gustavo A. Madero, brother of murdered president Francisco I. Madero. There is a portion of the old colonial street Calle de los Plateros leading to the main square zócalo of the capital named Francisco I. Madero.
The popular heroes of the Mexican Revolution are the two radicals who lost: Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Dynamic equestrian statues of popular revolutionaries Zapata and Villa were erected in their respective strongholds. Zapata's name was appropriated by the rebels of Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) while those who took and held power have a far more muted historical remembrance. Venustiano Carranza led the victorious Constitutionalist faction, but his attempt to impose a civilian presidential successor unacceptable to northern revolutionary generals prompted Carranza's flight from Mexico City in 1920 and then murder. Carranza is now buried in the Monument to the Revolution and there is a museum in his honor. In that museum, "are the bullets taken from the body of Francisco I. Madero after his murder. Carranza had kept them in his home, perhaps because they were a symbol of a fate and a passive denouement he had always hoped to avoid." Revolutionary general Plutarco Elías Calles founded the single-most political party in Mexico's twentieth century, but his attempt to continue his control to the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas resulted in Cárdenas expelling him from Mexico. Neither Carranza nor Calles has much of note named for them in Mexico, although both are significant figures in the country's history.
The role of women in the Mexican Revolution has been an important aspect of historical memory. In the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution, there is a recreation of Adelita, the idealized female revolutionary combatant or soldadera. The typical image of a soldadera is of a woman with braids, wearing female attire, with ammunition belts across her chest. There were a few revolutionary women, known as coronelas who commanded troops, some of whom dressed and identified as male, who do not fit the image stereotypical soldadera and are not celebrated in historical memory at present.
Constitution of 1917
An important element the Revolution’s legacy is the 1917 Constitution. It was pushed forward by populist generals within Carranza’s government to undermine the popular support that Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata held. It was not written by liberal elites or the military itself, but rather young radicalized professionals, giving the document some authenticity for the peasantry. The document brought numerous reforms demanded by populist factions of the revolution, with article 27 empowering the state to expropriate resources deemed vital to the nation. These included expropriation of hacienda lands and redistribution to peasants. Article 27 also empowered the government to expropriate holdings of foreign companies, most prominently seen in the 1938 expropriation of oil. In Article 123 the constitution codified major labor reforms, including an 8-hour work day, a right to strike, equal pay laws for women, and an end to exploitative practices such as child labor and company stores. The constitution strengthened restrictions on the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. In the early 1990s, the government introduced reforms to the constitution that rolled back the government's power to expropriate property and its restrictions on religious institutions. Just as the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari was amending significant provisions of the constitution, Metro Constitución de 1917 station was opened.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party
The PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party is one of the major lasting legacies of the Mexican Revolution; its first iteration was the Partido Nacional Revolucionario founded in 1929 under Northern revolutionary general and president of Mexico (1924–1928) Plutarco Elías Calles, following the assassination of president-elect (and former president) Álvaro Obregón in 1928. The establishment of the party created an enduring structure that managed not only presidential succession but also groups with competing interests. Initially, Calles remained the power behind the presidency during a period known as the Maximato, but his hand-picked presidential candidate, Lázaro Cárdenas, won a power struggle with Calles, expelling him from the country. Cárdenas reorganized the party that Calles founded, creating formal sectors for interest groups, including one for the Mexican military. The reorganized party was named Party of the Mexican Revolution. In 1946, the party again changed its name to the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The party under its various names held the presidency from 1929 to 2000 and since 2012, is the party again in power.
The PRI was built as a big tent corporatist party, to bring many political factions and interest groups (peasantry, labor, urban professionals) together, while excluding conservatives and Catholics, who eventually formed the opposition National Action Party in 1939.
To funnel the populace into the party, Calles and his supporters built various delegations composed of popular, agrarian, labor, and military groupings (the military was dropped from the party when it reorganized as the PRI in 1946), which channeled both political patronage and limited political options of those sectors. This structure strengthened the power of the PRI and the government. Union and peasant leaders themselves gained power of patronage, and the discontent of the membership was channeled through them. If organizational leaders could not resolve a situation or gain benefits for their members, it was they who were blamed for being ineffective brokers. There was the appearance of union and peasant leagues' power, but the effective power was in the hands of the PRI. Under PRI leadership before the 2000 elections which saw the conservative National Action Party elected most power came from a Central Executive Committee, which budgeted all government projects. This effectively turned the legislature into a rubber stamp for the PRI’s leadership.
The Party's name expresses the Mexican state's incorporation of the idea of revolution, and especially a continuous, nationalist, anti-imperialist, Mexican revolution, into political discourse, and its legitimization as a popular, revolutionary party. The Revolution was a powerful memory and its slogans and promises were utilized to bolster the party's power. Latterly, some historians have written of the "myth" of the revolution, namely the memory of the revolution was exploited by the party to legitimatize its rule with one historian Macario Schettino writing: "the twentieth century is for Mexico, the century of the Mexican revolution. But this is a concept, not a fact. The Revolution which marks the twentieth century...never happened. The Mexican Revolution, on which was founded the political regime which ruled from 1928 and for nearly seventy years is a cultural construction". In 1975, the political scientist Rafael Segovia wrote that "the mythification of the Mexican Revolution is an omnipresent and indisputable fact" of Mexican life with the memory of the revolution becoming in the words of the British historian Alan Knight a sort of "secular religion" that justified the Party's rule. In particular, the memory of the revolution was used as justification for the party's policies with regard to economic nationalism, educational policies, labour policies, indigenismo and land reform.
The Party has been very authoritarian and hierarchical, leaving little room for opposition. However, it was not interested in oppression for its own sake. Its main goal was to keep order, preferring pragmatism over ideology. Throughout its rule in post-revolutionary Mexico, it avoided empowering one faction too much, preferring to build its own ruling caste rather than side with another. It tended to play off both sides of the political spectrum, both the populists and the emerging middle class.
The tradition of strong-man rule was not completely thrown away, presidentialism (presidencialismo), the political arrangement of a powerful executive branch centered in the presidency, became the favored style of post-revolutionary politics.
In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of president Lázaro Cárdenas, broke with the PRI, forming an independent leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. It is not by chance that the party used the word "Revolution" in its name, challenging the Institutional Revolutionary Party's appropriation of the Mexican Revolution. Earlier, there was a leftist party the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution, which never functioned as a full political party fielding presidential candidates, but asserted its legitimacy as the party of Revolution in Mexico until its demise.
In this the Mexican Revolution was not revolutionary, only making the mechanisms of power less autocratic and more efficient in the attainment of its interests. Octavio Paz wrote that the revolution strengthened the Mexican state more than ever, making Mexico a very state-centered and patrimonialist society. In such a development they betrayed their acknowledged liberal predecessors of the Restored Republic of 1867–1876 which saw the most significant break from authoritarian politics in Mexico's history.
A more modern legacy is that of another insurgency from the 1990s, taking its name from Emiliano Zapata, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejécito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). The neo-Zapatista revolt began in Chiapas, which was very reliant and supportive of the revolutionary reforms, especially the ejido system, which it had pioneered before Cárdenas took power. Most revolutionary gains were reversed in the early 1990s by President Salinas, who began moving away from the agrarian socialist policies of the late post revolution period in favor of modern finance capitalism. This culminated in the removal of the ejido system in Chiapas. The destruction of what little the poor starving peasants had caused them to revolt. Calling to Mexico’s revolutionary heritage, the EZLN draws heavily from early revolutionary rhetoric. It is inspired by many of Zapata’s policies, including a call for decentralized local rule.
The Mexican Revolution brought about various social changes. First, the leaders of the Porfiriato lost their political power (but kept their economic power), and the middle class started to enter the public administration. “At this moment the bureaucrat, the government officer, the leader were born […]”. The army opened the sociopolitical system and became the main institution of the Revolution. Its importance can be observed in the percentage of government positions occupied by the military: while during Madero’s administration it was 0%, during Calles’ government it was from 50% to 60%. The new ruling class increased its economic power through the possession of real estate and businesses. Nonetheless, they did not become a long-investment type of bourgeoisie, but rather one that amassed a significant number of real estate and spent their money on luxuries and pleasure.
On the other hand, although the proportion between rural and urban population, and the number of workers and the middle class remained practically the same, the Mexican Revolution brought substantial qualitative changes to the cities. Big rural landlords moved to the city escaping from chaos in the rural areas. Some poor farmers also migrated to the cities and they settled on neighborhoods where the Porfiriato elite used to live. The standard of living in the cities grew: it went from contributing to 42% of the national GDP to 60% by 1940. However, social inequality remained.
The greatest change occurred among the rural population. The agrarian reform allowed the revolutionary fighters to own lands, thus creating a new social class known as “ejidatarios”. However, the structure of land ownership did not help rural development and impoverished even more the rural population. “From 1934 to 1940 wages fell 25% on rural areas, while for city workers wages increased by 20%”. “There was a lack of food, there was not much to sell and even less to buy. […] the habit of sleeping in the floor remains, […] diet is limited to beans, tortilla, and chili pepper; clothing is poor”. Peasants temporarily migrated to other regions to work in the production of certain crops where they were frequently exploited, abused, and suffered from various diseases. Others decided to migrate to the United States.
- Battle of Tierra Blanca
- Factions in the Mexican Revolution
- Index of Mexico-related articles
- La Adelita
- La Cruz Blanca
- List of wars involving Mexico
- Partido Revolucionario Institucional
- Wenseslao Moguel a man that survived execution by the victors in the war. He was charged with participation in the civil war and sentenced to death.
- Robert McCaa, "Missing millions: the human cost of the Mexican Revolution." Mexican Studies 19#2 (2001). online
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- John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1986, p. 327.
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- "MEXICAN REVOLUTION 1910–1920".
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- Photograph by Antonio Gomes Delgado El Negro, Casasola Archive, Mexico
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- Perhaps enough time had passed since the Revolution and Romero Rubio was just a name with no historical significance to ordinary Mexicans. In 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the presidential election to the candidate of the National Action Party, Mexico.
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- Many portions of this article are translations of excerpts from the article Revolución Mexicana in the Spanish Wikipedia.
Mexican Revolution – general sources
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- Ross, Stanley R. Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press 1955.
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Memory and the cultural dimension
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