The armed conflict, that took place in our country between 1910 and 1917, is known as the Mexican Revolution. It emerged as a political protest against the Porfirio Díaz regime, but as it evolved, it became more complex and acquired the imprint, ideas, and aspirations of those who participated in it.
These are some keys to understand this period in our history.
Remember them yourself, so that you can explain them to your little ones.
1. The re-election of Porfirio Díaz, the “villain” in common
In 1910, Porfirio Díaz was re-elected as president of Mexico for the sixth consecutive time, after nearly 30 years of uncontested power, but imminent weakness as he aged.
Mexicans knew that for the 80-year-old leader (caudillo), this would be his last re-election. However, although he proclaimed it so, Díaz was not willing to leave power.
In 1908, before the American journalist Greelman, Porfirio Díaz defined himself as “the last of the necessary men in the history of Mexico” and said that his successor should arise from the organization of Mexicans into political parties and free electoral struggle. The people believed in his words, they thought that he really wanted to lead the country to a democratic transition.
2. Porfiristas (Porfirio’s followers) against democrats
According to Eduardo Blanquel, in the book Historia Mínima de México, from the Colegio de México, many believed in the words of the president and two currents of ideas emerged to run for the presidential succession. On the one hand, the spokesmen, who possessed social and economic strength, postulated themselves as the heirs of the Porfiriato, in a kind of oligarchy (government system dominated by a few people), of an intellectual and scientific nature, very much in the style of the time. On the other hand, the liberals, whose ideological belief lay in the capacity of people for a democratic life. They thought that the Mexicans were capable of exercising their electoral freedom to bring to power someone who deserved the government.
3. Francisco I. Madero and the first electoral campaign
On the liberal line was Francisco I. Madero, who agreed with Díaz that Mexico had a large middle class capable of assuming political responsibilities. In his book, La sucesión presidencial en 1910, (The Presidential Succession in 1910), Madero invited the people to organize themselves into political parties to start an institutional life. Madero assured that this was the only way to guarantee peace and continuity in the government, since “If men are perishable, institutions are immortal.” In a conciliatory attempt, he proposed that the elected man would be vice president and naturally occupy the presidency when Díaz stepped down. The president didn’t respond, so he went on to practice his ideas. He first organized a political party, the Anti-Reelectionist, and then began something unusual in the history of our country: an electoral campaign. In June 1910 he was taken to jail for his deed, and on October 4th the Congress declared Porfirio Díaz President of Mexico. On October 5th, Madero was released on bail and crossed the border into the United States. The Revolution was about to take shape.
4. The report of an electoral fraud and the San Luis Plan
From abroad, Francisco I. Madero formulated his revolutionary plan. He denounced electoral fraud and ignored the constituted powers.
He proposed to correct the abuses to the country committed during the Porfiriato by the enforcement of the law and called for arms on November 20th. These would be the fundamental aspects of the Plan of San Luis Potosí, whose synthesis and motto was: Effective suffrage. No re-election, says the Colmex book.
5. November 20th: Beginning of the Mexican Revolution
On November 18th, 1910, the revolutionary conspiracy was discovered and the movement suffered its first casualties with Aquiles Serdán and his followers. However, it got its first armed members: Pascual Orozco and Francisco Villa.
The Díaz regime struck back and Chihuahua became the scene of the dictatorship’s first major defeats. These battles paved the way for the Revolution. Emiliano Zapata rose in the south.
The armed outbreaks burst throughout the country. After six months of struggle, Porfirio Díaz finally resigned from the presidency and left the country to avoid further bloodshed among Mexicans. At heart he was a great patriot and legitimately believed that he was essential to Mexico. The Madero revolution had triumphed.
6. Francisco I. Madero takes power
After the Treaties of Ciudad Juárez, Madero negotiated power and placed several of his men in government. He wanted his mandate to be democratic. His victory was legally formalized in the 1911 elections.
However, the internship of Francisco León de la Barra caused conflicts among the revolutionaries.
“Some people saw their access to power frustrated; others considered that their commitment was the same as to quit the Revolution; many more succumbed to the intrigue that, from power, men from the old regime would want to divide the movement,” says Blanquel.
Madero assumed power with a weakened party. The clearest proof was the uprising of Emiliano Zapata, protected by the Ayala Plan, just 20 days after he took office.
7. Zapata and the vision of the people
Zapata’s armed uprising was due to something much deeper than merely political power. He emphasized the fairer distribution of land and pointed out that the armed struggle had not affected the social or economic organization of the Porfiriato. Madero asked for calm, to go step by step, but the conditions and poverty in the country were compelling. For the new President of Mexico, the true path was the law and only by enforcing it, the great national problems should find solutions. If things had been done by force, then everything had to be done by law: even the most urgent needs such as land. However, those who had suffered from deprivation and fought for a better life asked for an immediate solution. On the other hand, pieces of the old regime slipped into the new government. “Madero was the victim of his democratic zeal that prevented him from understanding the need for a unilateral government to possibly consolidate victory.” The democratic exercise made both the government and defenders of the Porfirian past become revolutionaries. The former allied to defend themselves and the latter wanted to lead the country down the path they considered best. The national situation became increasingly complex.
8. The fall of Madero
The climate of insecurity in the country worried the owners of economic power. If Madero could not put the country in order, strong action against his rule was required. It got worse when the president dared to correct the illegalities of foreign investors who avoided paying taxes.
Revolutionary defeated Mexicans and representatives of those foreign interests united and used the army of Porfirio Díaz, despite being defeated, to plot a coup. Using the US embassy as their headquarters, they stormed power, assassinated Madero, and installed Victoriano Huerta as president.
After Madero’s death the revolutionaries regrouped. With Venustiano Carranza as caudillo, other famous names were added: Villa, Zapata, Obregón, Gertrudis Sánchez, Rómulo Figueroa, etc. Together they exhausted the resistance of Huerta, who after committing numerous crimes and plunging the country into serious international conflicts, left the country in July 1914.
9. Venustiano Carranza, the new leader
Having learned the lesson, the first thing Carranza did was to dissolve the military machinery of the Porfiriato and insisted on consolidating a powerful government that would carry out great social and economic transformations. Like Madero, he also maintained that only revolutionary unity could resist pressure from abroad.
At first Carranza’s path seemed correct, but the revolution seemed to never stop discovering old and new national ailments. The urgency of the agrarian problem in the country made it impossible to continue waiting.
Carranza had to exert a more energetic government. The old fraternity of revolutionary leaders stopped working. Villa became an enemy of Obregón and Zapata of Venustiano Carranza.
10. Constitution of 1917, the great achievement of the Mexican Revolution
In this political climate, and true to his policy, Carranza proposed to adapt and update the 1857 Constitution to the new Mexican circumstances. The attempt was in vain, but he kept insisting.
He finally summoned a Constituent Congress in September 1916 to draft a new Constitution. The constituents, elected by vote, worked on a plan for the reunification of the revolutionary causes until the beginning of 1917.
After being voted on January 31st, the new Constitution was promulgated on February 5th, 1917, marking the end of the Mexican Revolution.
The violent struggle did not end there. The frictions among sides brought the assassination of the main revolutionary leaders. Zapata in 1919; Carranza in 1920; Villa in 1923 and Obregón in 1928, among others.
Despite this, the 1917 Constitution laid the foundations of the modern Mexican State and consecrated the most important revolutionary causes such as agrarian law, labor rights, freedom of the press, political rights, as well as education and health guaranteed by the state.
Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara