Collage of the Mexican Revolution
| Counter-revolutionary forces:
Federal troops led by Porfirio Díaz
Forces led by Bernardo Reyes
Forces led by Félix Díaz
Army of Victoriano Huerta
United States (Until 1918)
British Empire (1916–18)
| Revolutionary forces:
German Empire (1917–18)
|Commanders and leaders|
Pascual Orozco, fought own revolution after Díaz was overthrown and later sided with Huerta after Huerta took power
Bernardo Reyes, lead 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
Victoriano Huerta, sided with Reyes until Reyes died in 1913. After Reyes died, Huerta launched his own revolution and took power
Venustiano Carranza †
Francisco I. Madero
Pascual Orozco, fought against Díaz
Bernardo Reyes, fought against Díaz
Francisco I. Madero †
Emiliano Zapata †
|Casualties and losses|
| 500,000–1,000,000 (estimated)
| 500,000–1,000,000 (estimated)
2 soldiers killed
|A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution (Spanish: Revolución mexicana) or Mexican Civil War (Spanish: Guerra civil mexicana) was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz, and lasted for the better part of a decade until around 1920. Over time the revolution changed from a revolt against the established order to a multi-sided civil war with frequently shifting power struggles. This armed conflict is often categorized as the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century, which saw important experimentation and reformation in social organization.
After prolonged struggles, its representatives produced the Mexican Constitution of 1917 during Venustiano Carranza's term. The revolution is generally considered to have lasted until 1920, although the country continued to have sporadic, but comparatively minor, outbreaks of warfare well into the 1920s. The Cristero War of 1926 to 1929 was the most significant relapse into bloodshed.
The revolution led to the creation of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario ("National Revolutionary Party") in 1929; it was renamed the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) (PRI) in 1946. Under a variety of leaders, the PRI monopolized power until the general election of 2000.
- 1 Porfirio Díaz
- 2 Information about Francisco Madero
- 3 Victoriano Huerta
- 4 Pancho Villa
- 5 Venustiano Carranza
- 6 Emiliano Zapata
- 7 Agrarian land reform
- 8 Role of the United States
- 9 Role of the Catholic Church
- 10 Youth in the revolution
- 11 End of the revolution
- 12 Legacy
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Part of a series on the
|History of Mexico|
After Benito Juárez's death in 1872, liberal General Porfirio Díaz attempted to gain the presidency, but failed as Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada succeeded Juárez. As liberal allies Juárez and Díaz had opposed the French Intervention. Porfirio Díaz was one of the military heroes of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 Cinco de Mayo, which briefly impeded the French invasion of Mexico. Following the ouster of the French in 1867, Juárez who had been president in exile but supported and recognized as the legitimate political leader of Mexico, returned to exercise power. Díaz tried to unseat him, but failed. When Juárez died in office, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada succeeded him, but when he ran for the presidency, Díaz ousted him, coming to power as president in 1876 and ruled until May 1911 when Francisco I. Madero succeeded him, taking office in November. Díaz's regime is remembered for the advances he brought in industry and modernization, at the expense of human rights and liberal reforms.
Díaz's rule from 1876 to 1911 has become known as the era of the Porfiriato. Díaz had a strict "No Re-election" policy whereby presidents could not serve consecutive terms in office. He followed this rule when he stepped down (1880) after his first term and was succeeded by Manuel González Flores. González was controlled by Díaz and was commonly known as Díaz's puppet. The new president's period in office was marred by political corruption and official incompetence. When Díaz ran in the next election (1884), he was a welcome replacement. In future elections Díaz put aside his "No Re-election" slogan and ran for president in exercises that were widely seen as fraudulent.
Díaz was an early liberal, but changed his views after Juárez took office. He became the dictator against whom he had warned the people. Through an armed police force directly under control of the president, the Rurales—a paramilitary force that kept order in the countryside—and gangs of thugs, Díaz frightened people into voting for him. When bullying citizens into voting for him failed, he simply rigged the votes in his favor. He justified his stay in office by claiming that Mexico was not yet ready to govern itself; 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.
Díaz's presidency was characterized by promotion of industry and development of infrastructure by opening the country to foreign investment. The pacification of the country was the order that would 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, roads, dams, industries and better farms. This resulted in the rise of an urban proletariat and the influx of foreign capital (principally from the United States and Great Britain).
Part of his success in maintaining power came from mitigating U.S. influence through European investments—primarily from Great Britain and Imperial Germany. Progress came at a price, however, as basic rights such as freedom of the press were suspended under the Porfiriato. The growing influence of the U.S. was a constant concern for Díaz.
Wealth, political power and access to education were concentrated among a handful of elite land holding families, overwhelmingly of European descent, known as hacendados, who controlled vast swaths of the country by virtue of their huge estates (one family, the Terrazas, had one estate in Sonora alone that comprised more than a million acres). Most people in Mexico were landless, laboring on the vast estates or in the mines for little more than slave wages. Foreign companies, mostly from the United Kingdom, France and the U.S., also exercised influence in Mexico.
Díaz changed land reform efforts that were begun under previous leaders. His new "reforms" virtually undid all the work by leaders such as Juárez. No peasant or farmer could claim the land he occupied without formal legal title. Helpless and angry small farmers and landless peasants saw no hope for themselves and their families under a Díaz regime, and came to the conclusion that a change of leadership would be the only route that offered any hope for themselves and their country. Such famous figures in Mexican history as Francisco I. Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata would launch a rebellion against Díaz, all of which eventually coalesced into what became known as the Mexican Revolution. More than 95% of Mexico's land was owned by less than 5% of the population. This vastly unequal distribution of land—and, therefore, wealth—had plagued Mexico for many years, to the anger and dismay of the working classes. Workers on the vast "haciendas" were often treated like slaves, being beaten for the slightest infraction—real or imagined—and murders of workers by their "masters" were common. Another way to ensure that farmers and workers were kept under the thumb of the wealthy classes was to make sure that any debt incurred was passed down from generation to generation, thereby ensuring that it would never be paid off and the farmers would be kept in perpetual debt bondage.
Most historians mark the end of the Porfiriato in 1911 as the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. In a 1908 interview with U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would step down to allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Growing "old and careless", Díaz figured he would retire to Europe and allow a younger man to take over his presidency. Because of the turmoil this caused, Díaz decided to run again in 1910 for the last time, with an eye toward arranging a succession in the middle of his term.
In 1909, Díaz and Taft planned a summit in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, an historic first meeting between a U.S. president and a Mexican president and also the first time an American president would cross the border into Mexico. Diaz requested the meeting to show U.S. support for his planned eighth run as president, and Taft agreed to support Diaz in order to protect the several billion dollars of American capital then invested in Mexico. At the meeting, Diaz explained, "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." Both sides agreed that the disputed Chamizal strip connecting El Paso to Ciudad Juárez would be considered neutral territory with no flags present during the summit, but the meeting focused attention on this territory and resulted in assassination threats and other serious security concerns. The Texas Rangers, 4,000 U.S. and Mexican troops, U.S. Secret Service agents, FBI agents and U.S. marshals were all called in to provide security. An additional 250 private security detail led by Frederick Russell Burnham, the celebrated scout, were hired by John Hays Hammond, a close friend of Taft from Yale and a former candidate for U.S. Vice-President in 1908 who, along with his business partner Burnham, held considerable mining interests in Mexico. On October 16, the day of the summit, 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 only a few feet of Díaz and Taft.
Madero ran against Díaz in 1910. Díaz thought he could control this election as he had the previous seven. Although similar overall to Díaz in his ideology, Madero hoped for other elites to rule alongside the president. Díaz did not approve of Madero and had him jailed on election day in 1910. Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a "landslide", providing the initial impetus for the outbreak of the Revolution. When it became obvious that the election was fixed, Madero supporter Toribio Ortega took up arms with a group of followers at Cuchillo Parado, Chihuahua on November 10, 1910.
Information about Francisco Madero
In 1910 Francisco I. Madero, a young man from a wealthy family in the northern state of Coahuila, stated that he would be running against Díaz for the presidency in the next election. To ensure Madero did not win, Díaz had him thrown in jail, then declared himself the winner. Madero soon escaped and fled for a short period to San Antonio, Texas. On October 5, 1910, Madero issued a "letter from jail" called 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 regime illegal and called for revolt against Díaz, starting on November 20. Though Madero's letter was not a plan for major socioeconomic revolution, it offered the hope of change for many disadvantaged Mexicans.
Madero's vague promises of agrarian reforms attracted many peasants throughout Mexico. He received the support from them that he needed to remove Díaz from power and raised an army consisting mostly of ordinary farmers, miners, and other working-class Mexicans, along with much of the country's Indian population. Madero's army fought Díaz's forces with some success, and he attracted the forces of other rebel leaders like Pancho Villa, Ricardo Flores Magón, Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza, and they eventually joined together to fight Díaz. Díaz's army suffered several major defeats, and his administration started to fall apart..
In late 1910 revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero's letter. Pascual Orozco, along with governor Abraham González, formed a powerful military union in the north, and took Mexicali and Chihuahua City, although they were not especially committed to Madero. 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, along the Rio Grande. Madero's action also mobilized revolutionary organization and opened up the way for the Baja California Rebellion, against his intentions.
After Madero defeated the Mexican federal army, on May 21, 1911 he signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez with Díaz. It stated that Díaz would abdicate his rule and be replaced by Madero. Insisting on a new election, Madero won overwhelmingly in late 1911. Some supporters criticized him for appearing weak by not assuming the presidency and failing to pass immediate reforms, but Madero established a liberal democracy and received support from the United States and popular leaders such as Orozco, Villa and Zapata.
Madero was a weak leader and quickly lost much of his support while in power. He angered both the more radical revolutionists and the conservative counter-revolutionists, including the unpopular Congress elected during Díaz's rule. His refusal to enact land reforms caused a break with Zapata, who announced the Plan de Ayala, which called for the return of lands "usurped by the hacendados" (hacienda owners) and demanded armed conflict against the government. Zapata then sided with Orozco.
Soon after this, Orozco also broke away from Madero's government and led a rebellion against him. He organized his own army, called "Orozquistas"—also called the Colorados ("Red Flaggers")--after Madero refused to agree to social reforms calling for better working hours, pay and conditions. The rural working class, which had supported Madero, now took up arms against him in support of Zapata and Orozco, further diluting what little support Madero had.
Madero's time as leader was short-lived and was ended by a coup d'état in 1913 led by Gen. Victoriano Huerta. Madero had appointed Huerta as army commander when he first claimed power, but Huerta had turned against him after a stalemate between Madero's forces and those of Félix Díaz, a relative of the former dictator. This stalemate encouraged Huerta to plot against Madero which culminated in the last day of the Decena Tragica. Following Huerta's coup, Madero was forced to resign. He and vice president José María Pino Suárez were both shot dead less than a week later by two army officers who were transporting them to a penitentiary. Both killers were quickly promoted—one to the rank of general—confirming suspicions, in most eyes, that they were acting on Huerta's orders. Even though Madero had lost much support among the people, his murder ruptured the country, and he was gradually lionized as a martyr of the revolution.
In early 1913, Gen. Victoriano Huerta, who commanded the armed forces, conspired with Mexican politicians Félix Díaz and Bernardo Reyes and the rogue-acting U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to remove Madero from power. La decena trágica was an event in which ten days of sporadic fighting in a faked battle occurred between federal troops led by Huerta and Díaz's conservative rebel forces. This fighting stopped when Huerta, Félix Díaz and Ambassador Wilson—the latter still representing lame duck U.S. President William Howard Taft—met and signed the Embassy Pact in which they agreed to move against Madero and install Huerta as president. After this was accomplished, however, Zapata reunited with Villa and the other revolutionaries. Orozco, however, sided with Huerta and Huerta made him one of his generals. When Huerta ascended to the presidency, he was acknowledged by most world governments. However, Taft left the decision to recognize the new government to the incoming U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who refused to recognize Huerta's government. In the summer of 1913 Wilson recalled Henry Lane Wilson as U.S. Ambassador and sent as his "personal representative" John Lind, a Swedish-American progressive who sympathized with the Mexican revolutionaries and who was tasked with convincing Huerta to resign. Wilson and his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan—and many Mexicans—saw Huerta as a usurper of presidential power in violation of the Constitution of Mexico.
Venustiano Carranza, a politician and rancher from Coahuila, was at the forefront of opposition to Huerta, and organized his own rebel army, called the Constitutionalists, with the secret support of the United States. On March 26, 1913, Carranza issued the Plan de Guadalupe, which refused to recognize Huerta as president and called for war between the two factions. Leaders such as Villa, Zapata, Carranza and Álvaro Obregón led the fight against Huerta. In April 1914, U.S. opposition to Huerta had reached its peak when American forces seized and occupied the port of Veracruz, resulting in the death of 170 Mexican soldiers and an unknown number of civilians. In late July the situation worsened for Huerta, and after his army suffered several defeats, he stepped down and fled to Puerto México.
After Huerta vacated the presidency he moved to Spain in an attempt to establish a new home. Later he returned to Mexico to try to lead another counter-revolution within the post-revolutionary Mexican state.
Germany, which favored Huerta while he was in power, considered him an important factor in their plans for war in Europe. Knowing that the U.S. government was firmly opposed to Huerta's leading Mexico, the Germans saw him as a distraction to keep the Americans' attentions away from Europe. They funded Huerta's move to the U.S., from where he began planning another revolution in Mexico that would put him back in power. The German government gave him funding and advice.
The U.S government and Carranza, the newly elected President of Mexico, were understandably concerned when Huerta showed up in the US. They kept him under surveillance to ensure that he did not gain entry into Mexico, as neither government wanted another counter-revolution. Fortunately for both of them, Huerta was stopped at the border in El Paso, Texas by U.S. border guards as he tried to enter Mexico and was kept there under house arrest. He died in early 1916.
José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Francisco "Pancho" Villa, came from the northern state of Durango. With his army, known as "Villistas", he joined the ranks of the Madero movement. He led his Villistas in many battles, including the attack on Ciudad Juárez in 1911, which led to the defeat of Mexican President Gen. Porfirio Díaz.
In March 1912, in Chihuahua, Gen. Pascual Orozco revolted. In April, President Francisco Madero commanded Gen. Victoriano Huerta of the Federal Army, to put down the revolt. The governor of Chihuahua mobilized the state militia to supplement General Huerta. Pancho Villa was a colonel in the Chihuahua state militia, and he was called up at this time. In mid-April, Villa, at the head of 400 irregular troops, joined the forces commanded by General Huerta. In May, one of Villa's subordinates appropriated an expensive horse. When the owner complained to Huerta, Huerta ordered Villa’s subordinate to be executed. Villa objected, and Huerta relented, but Huerta nursed a grudge. In June, Villa notified Huerta that inasmuch as the Orozco revolt has been put down, he and his irregulars would consider themselves no longer under Huerta's command, and would depart. Huerta became furious, and ordered that Villa be executed. Raúl Madero, Madero's brother, intervened to save Villa's life. Jailed in Mexico City, Villa fled to the United States. Soon after the assassination of President Madero he returned to Mexico to fight Huerta, although he had only a handful of companions with him. However, by 1913 his forces had swelled into an army of thousands, called the División del Norte (Northern Division). Villa and his army, along with Carranza and Obregón, joined forces to fight against the Huerta dictatorship.
Villa and Carranza had different goals. Because Villa wanted to continue the revolution, he became an enemy of Carranza. After Carranza took control in 1914, Villa and other revolutionaries who opposed him met at what was called the Convention of Aguascalientes. The convention deposed Carranza in favor of Eulalio Gutiérrez. In the winter of 1914 Villa's and Zapata's troops entered and occupied Mexico City. Villa's treatment of Gutiérrez, and the citizenry in general, outraged more moderate elements of the population, and Villa was forced from the city in early 1915.
In 1915 Villa took part in two of the most important battles of the revolution, that together are known as Battle of Celaya, which occurred from April 6–7 and from April 13–15. He attacked the forces of Gen. Obregón but was badly defeated in what became one of the bloodiest battles of the revolution, with thousands dead. With his forces' defeat of Villa, Carranza seized power. A short time later the United States recognized Carranza as president of Mexico. On March 9, 1916, Villa crossed the U.S.–Mexico border and raided Columbus, New Mexico, in order to exact revenge on an American arms dealer who sold ammunition to Villa that he used in the Battle of Celaya and which turned out to be useless. During this attack, 18 Americans died but 90 of Villa's men were killed by U.S. troops and civilians who repelled the attack.
Under heavy pressure by public opinion (stoked mainly by the papers of ultra-conservative publisher William Randolph Hearst who owned a large estate in Mexico) to punish these Mexican attacks, U.S. President Wilson sent Gen. John J. Pershing and around 5,000 troops into Mexico in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to capture Villa. It was known as the Punitive Expedition. After nearly a year of pursuing Villa, the hunt was called off, the forces returned to the U.S. and Pershing was given command of the American Expeditionary Force in WWI. The American intervention had been limited to the western sierras of Chihuahua. It was notable as the first time the U.S. Army used airplanes in military operations. With the Americans always in pursuit of him, Villa had the advantage of intimately knowing the inhospitable terrain of the Sonoran Desert and the almost impassable Sierra Madre mountains and always managed to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.
Even though Villa's forces were badly depleted by his loss at Celaya, he continued his fight against the Carranza government. Finally, in 1920, Obregón—who had defeated him at Celaya—finally reached an agreement with Villa, who "hung up his guns" and retired to his farm. In 1923 Villa was assassinated by a group of seven gunmen who ambushed him while he was sitting in the back seat of his car—he never learned to drive—in Parral (According to the Pancho Villa Museum in Chihuahua City, Pancho Villa was personally driving the car that day, accompanied by his body guards --- the car is on display there, complete with bullet holes and all). It is presumed the assassination was ordered by Obregón, who feared a bid for the presidency by Villa.
Venustiano Carranza became president in 1914, after the overthrow of the Huerta government. He was driven out of Mexico City by Villa and Zapata in December 1914, but later gained the support of the masses by the development of a program of social and agrarian reform. He was elected president in 1917. To try to restrain the revolutionary slaughter, Carranza formed the Constitutional Army to try to bring peace by the adoption—albeit reluctantly—of the majority of the rebels' social demands into the new constitution. The socialist constitution addressed foreign ownership of resources (Article 27), an organized labor code (Article 123), the role of the Roman Catholic Church in education (Article 3), and land reform.
During his presidency he 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.
Although his intentions were good, Carranza was not able to stay in power long enough to enforce many of the reforms of the Constitution of 1917. There was greater decentralization of power because of his weakness. He had appointed Gen. Obregón as Minister of War and of the Navy. In 1920 Obregón, with Gens. Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo de la Huerta, led a revolt against Carranza under the Plan of Agua Prieta. Their agents assassinated Carranza on May 21, 1920.
Emiliano Zapata was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution. He is 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. People have long held polarized views of Zapata and his followers: some considered them bandits, but to others they were true revolutionaries who worked for the peasants. Presidents Porfirio Díaz and Venustiano Carranza called Zapata a womanizer, barbarian, terrorist and bandit. Conservative media nicknamed Zapata "The Attila of the South".
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 Mexico. Zapata's trademark saying was, "It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." 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 indigenous population, which had mostly lost its land to the wealthy elite of European descent.
The majority of Zapata's supporters were indigenous peasants from Morelos and surrounding areas, but intellectuals from urban areas also joined the Zapatistas and played a significant part in their movement, specifically the structure and communication of the Zapatista ambitions. Zapata 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 city boys 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 city boys. 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 city boys 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 July 12, 1911, he was accompanied by his troops. Among them were female soldiers, including officers. Some women also led bandit gangs before and during the Revolution. 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. Women fought bravely as Zapatista soldiers and some 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.
Agrarian land reform
Under the Porfiriato, rural peasants suffered the most. The regime confiscated large sections of land, which caused a major loss by the agrarian work force. In 1883 a land law was passed that gave 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 families also 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. This rapid and brutal uprooting of the peasantry contributed greatly to the fury 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. The large landed estates were confiscated, and the land was then redistributed to the liberated peasants.
Role of the United States
The first time the United States became involved in the revolution was in 1914, during the Ypiranga incident. When United States intelligence agents discovered that the German merchant ship Ypiranga was carrying illegal arms to Huerta, President Wilson ordered troops to the port of Veracruz to stop the ship from docking. He did not declare war on Mexico. The United States forces then skirmished with Huerta's troops in Veracruz. The Ypiranga managed to dock at another port, which infuriated 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 raid 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 was forced to abandon the mission and return to the United States. This event, however, further damaged the already strained United States–Mexico relationship and caused Mexico's anti-United States sentiment to grow stronger.
Role of the Catholic Church
From 1876-1911 relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican government were stable. Porfirio Díaz had a keen interest in keeping good relations with the Church, since he was worried about the American expansionist threat. Díaz addressed the issue thus:
- "Persecution of the Church, whether or not the clergy enter into the matter, means war, and such a war that the Government can win it only against its own people, through the humiliating, despotic, costly and dangerous support of the United States. Without its religion, Mexico is irretrievably lost."
However, Díaz was not completely supportive of the Church. Before his own presidency Díaz had supported the Juárez regime, which implemented anti-clerical policies, such as expropriation of large tracts of Church-owned property and the forced laicization of Mexican clergy. Indeed, many Roman Catholic clergy, including the Blessed Miguel Pro, were executed during the anti-clerical Cristero War of Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles during the latter part of the Revolution.
Youth in the revolution
As the Revolution progressed, the status of the University in relation to it changed several times; each time its students took different positions as well. Under different university directors, different revolutionary ideals were forced upon the student body. In many cases the curriculum would change as well. With each change, however, the importance of youth groups became more crucial. The university's students made up the bulk of the youth movement, chiefly composed of educated youth. During the Revolution, some viewed students as anti-revolutionary because of the image of the university as a safe haven for the rich and privileged. People engaged in the Revolution urged the university and students to become more involved and to accept the ideals and beliefs of the revolution.
The youth movements of the revolution were mainly confined to higher schools and especially the National University of Mexico. Young men used art, music, and poetry to speak out on the Revolution and encourage support. The leaders in government often made efforts to suppress such outlets. After the Revolution, new governments in turn gradually tried to suppress the freedoms of the University. By the 1920s, student protests were against the government.
End of the revolution
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. Obregón, a reformist general 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.
One of the major issues that faced 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 American pressures, 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 memorialising 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 Plutarco 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 Cardena’s 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.
The legacy of the Mexican Revolution is mixed between scholars. Marxists claim it was a worker’s revolution betrayed by the government bureaucratic class that never wanted reforms to begin with. They believe the regime was Bonapartist, meaning it was co-opted by other forces, not the workers who fought for it, ending up as a political rather than social revolution.
Functionalists argue it was essentially an inevitable occurrence, citing that it was a collapsing civil society and a government elite that was unable to reform itself. The old Porfiran system was bound to collapse and some force was going to improve upon the old system or replace it.
There is even debate on whether it was a civil war or a revolution, or some combination of the two. The old Porfirian system was removed and replaced with a new dynamic system that rotated leadership and appealed to multiple social groups yet still operated on similar foundations. The old Díaz regime was replaced with a younger and more dynamic leadership representing different national interests, one able to mobilize popular support but still maintain stability and control. It is commonly agreed the new government was largely populist only for political stability. This is evident in post revolution rule of the PNR, now PRI.
Rise of the PRI
The PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party is one of the major lasting legacies of the Mexican revolution. It was formed in 1929 under Calles as the PNR, or National Revolutionary party, then changed to PMR (Party of the Mexican Revolution) in the 1930s during Cárdenas’ reign, and to its modern name in the 1940s.
It was established to build stability in the post revolution period. The PRI was built up as a big tent corporatist party, to bring every political faction and interest group together. To funnel the populace into the party, Calles and his supporters built various delegations composed of popular, agrarian, labour, and military groupings. This was an attempt to control people from all walks of life to keep political order. However, the leadership merely wished to make it appear the public was in power. In reality, most power came from a Central Executive Committee, which budgeted all government projects. This effectively turned the Parliament into a rubber stamp body 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 PRI's new power.
The Party was 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 bourgeoisie.
Transformation of the political landscape
The other major immediate part of the revolution’s legacy is the 1917 constitution. It was pushed forward by populist generals within Carranza’s government to gain popular support. It was not written by liberal elites or the military itself, but rather young populist professionals, giving the document some authenticity for the peasantry. The document brought numerous reforms demanded by populist factions of the revolution, most importantly the banning of the semi-feudal Hacienda system. It also introduced major labour 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 labour and company stores.
It also streamlined the federal government, empowering it, but adding term limits to prevent a personal dictatorship. One article, article 27, specifically allows the federal government to intervene in all matters it deemed essential to national security, such as labour strikes. 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 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 patriomonialist 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 on the name Zapatista, in reference to the populist revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata. The 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 favour 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 movement draws heavily from early revolutionary rhetoric. It is inspired by many of Zapata’s policies, including a call towards decentralized local rule.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mexican Revolution.|
- Mexican Revolution from the Library of Congress at Flickr Commons
- Library of Congress--Hispanic Reading Room portal, Distant Neighbors: The U.S. and the Mexican Revolution
- Encyclopaedia Britannica's article on The Mexican Revolution
- EDSITEment's Spotlight: The Centennial of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-2010 from EDSITEment, "The Best of the Humanities on the Web"
- U.S. Library of Congress Country Study: Mexico
- Mexican Revolution of 1910 and Its Legacy, latinoartcommunity.org
- Women and the Mexican Revolution on the site of the University of Arizona
- Stephanie Creed, Kelcie McLaughlin, Christina Miller, Vince Struble, Mexican Revolution 1910–1920, Latin American Revolutions, course material for History 328, Truman State University (Missouri)
- Mexico: From Empire to Revolution, photographs and commentary on the site of the J. Paul Getty Trust
- Mexican Revolution, ca. 1910-1917 Photos and postcards in color and in black and white, some with manuscript letters, postmarks, and stamps from the collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
- Papers of E. K. Warren & Sons, 1884–1973, ranchers in Mexico, Texas and New Mexico, held at Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University
- Mexican Revolution, in the "Children in History" website. This is an overview of the Revolution with a treatment of the impact on children.
- SMU's Mexic : graphs from the DeGolyer Library contains dozens of photographs related to the Mexican Revolution.
- Time line of the Mexican Revolution