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|37th President of Mexico|
1 May 1916 – 21 May 1920
|Preceded by||Francisco S. Carvajal|
|Succeeded by||Adolfo de la Huerta|
|Head of the Executive Power|
First Chief of the Constitutionalist Army
14 August 1914 – 30 April 1917
|Governor of Coahuila|
22 November 1911 – 7 March 1913
|Preceded by||Reginaldo Cepeda|
|Succeeded by||Manuel M. Blázquez|
29 May 1911 – 1 August 1911
|Preceded by||Jesús de Valle|
|Succeeded by||Reginaldo Cepeda|
José Venustiano Carranza De La Garza
29 December 1859
Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila, Mexico
|Died||21 May 1920 (aged 60)|
Tlaxcalantongo, Puebla, Mexico
|Cause of death||Assassination|
|Political party||Democratic Party of Mexico & Liberal Constitutionalist Party|
José Venustiano Carranza De La Garza (Spanish pronunciation: [benusˈtjano kaˈransa ðela'ɣaɾsa]; 29 December 1859 – 21 May 1920) was one of the main leaders of the Mexican Revolution, whose victorious northern revolutionary Constitutionalist Army defeated the counter-revolutionary regime of Victoriano Huerta (February 1913 – July 1914) and then defeated fellow revolutionaries after Huerta's ouster. He secured power in Mexico, serving as head of state from 1914 to 1916. With the promulgation of a new revolutionary Mexican Constitution of 1917, he was elected president, serving from 1916 to 1920.
Known as the "Primer Jefe" or "First Chief" of the Constitutionalists, Carranza was a shrewd politician rather than a military man. He supported Francisco I. Madero's challenge to the Díaz regime in the 1910 elections and Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí to nullify the elections and overthrow Díaz by force. He was appointed the governor of his home state of Coahuila by Madero. When Madero was murdered in February 1913, Carranza drew up the Plan de Guadalupe, a purely political plan to oust Huerta. Carranza became the leader of northern forces opposed to Huerta. He went on to lead the Constitutionalist faction to victory and become president of Mexico.
Carranza was from a rich, northern landowning family; despite his position as head of the northern revolutionary movement, he was concerned that Mexico's land tenure not be fundamentally restructured by the Revolution. He was far more conservative than either southern peasant leader Emiliano Zapata or northern revolutionary general Pancho Villa. Once firmly in power in Mexico, Carranza sought to eliminate his political rivals. Carranza won recognition from the United States but took strongly nationalist positions. During his administration, the current constitution of Mexico was drafted and adopted. Carranza did not implement its most radical elements, such as empowerment of labor, use of the state to expropriate foreign enterprises, land reform in Mexico, or suppression of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.
In the 1920 election, in which he could not succeed himself, he attempted to impose a virtually unknown, civilian politician, Ignacio Bonillas, as president of Mexico. Northern generals, who held real power, rose up against Carranza under the Plan of Agua Prieta, and Carranza was assassinated as he fled Mexico City.
Early life and education, 1859–1887
Carranza was born in the town of Cuatro Ciénegas, in the state of Coahuila, in 1859, to an upper middle-class cattle-ranching family. His father, Jesús Carranza Neira, had been a rancher and mule driver until the time of the Reform War (1857–1861), in which he fought against the Indians and on the Liberal side. During the Franco-Mexican War (1861–1867), Jesús Carranza became a colonel and was Benito Juárez's main contact in Coahuila. A strong personal connection existed between the two, with Carranza lending Juárez money while Juárez was in exile. Following the ouster of the French, Juárez rewarded Carranza with land, which became the basis of his fortune in Coahuila.
Because of his family's wealth, Venustiano, the 11th of 15 children, was able to attend excellent schools in Saltillo and Mexico City. Venustiano studied at the Ateneo Fuente, a famous Liberal school in Saltillo. In 1874, he went to the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School) in Mexico City, where he had aspirations to be a doctor. Carranza was still there in 1876 when Porfirio Díaz issued the Plan of Tuxtepec, which marked the beginning of Díaz's rebellion against President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada under the slogan "No Re-election" (Lerdo had served one term as president). Díaz's troops defeated Lerdo's, and Díaz and his armies marched into Mexico City in triumph.
Upon completion of his studies, Carranza returned to Coahuila to raise cattle, since he had an eye disease that prevented him from becoming a doctor. He married Virginia Salinas in 1882, and the couple had two daughters.
Introduction to politics, 1887–1909
The Carranzas had high ambitions for Venustiano, who would use the family money to advance his political career. In 1887, at the age of 28, he became municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas. Carranza remained a Liberal who idolized Benito Juárez. At the same time, he grew disillusioned with the increasingly authoritarian character of the rule of Porfirio Díaz during this period.
In 1893, 300 Coahuila ranchers organized an armed resistance to oppose the "re-election" of Porfirio Díaz's supporter José María Garza Galán as Governor of Coahuila. Venustiano Carranza and his brother Emilio participated in this uprising. Porfirio Díaz quickly dispatched his "man in the north", Bernardo Reyes, to defuse the situation. Venustiano Carranza and his brother, who had now gained power and influence in the area, were granted a personal audience with Reyes in order to explain the justification for the uprising and the ranchers' opposition to Garza Galán. Reyes agreed with Carranza and wrote to Díaz recommending that he withdraw support for Garza Galán. Diaz accepted this request and appointed a different governor.
The events of 1893 allowed Carranza to make some friends in high places, including Bernardo Reyes. After winning a second term as municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas (1894–1898), Reyes had Carranza "elected" to the legislature. In 1904, Reyes's protégé Miguel Cárdenas, Governor of Coahuila, recommended to Porfirio Díaz that Carranza would make a good senator. As such, Carranza entered the Senate of Mexico later that year. Although Carranza was sceptical of the Científicos whom Porfirio Díaz was relying on to run Mexico, Carranza was a dutiful Porfirian senator.
By 1908, it was widely assumed that Carranza would be the next governor of Coahuila. In 1909, Carranza received Porfirio Díaz's permission to declare himself as the candidate to replace Miguel Cárdenas as Governor of Coahuila. Miguel Cárdenas supported Carranza's candidacy, as did the wealthiest landowner in the region, Evaristo Madero (grandfather of Francisco I. Madero). However, for reasons never made entirely clear, Porfirio Díaz ultimately did not support Carranza in this race, with the result that Carranza lost the election. This left Carranza angry with Porfirio Díaz.
Supporter of Francisco Madero, 1909–1911
Carranza followed Francisco Madero's Anti-Re-election Movement of 1910 with interest, and after Madero fled to the US and Díaz was reelected as president, Carranza traveled to Mexico City to join Madero. Madero named Carranza provisional Governor of Coahuila. The Plan of San Luis Potosí, which Madero issued at this time, called for a revolution beginning 20 November 1910. Madero named Carranza commander-in-chief of the Revolution in Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. Carranza, however, failed to organize a revolution in these states, leading some of Madero's supporters to speculate that Carranza was still loyal to Bernardo Reyes. Nevertheless, following the revolutionaries' decisive victory at Ciudad Juárez, Carranza travelled to Ciudad Juárez and Madero named Carranza his Minister of War on 3 May 1911, despite the fact that Carranza did not contribute much to Madero's rebellion. The revolutionaries were split on how to deal with Porfirio Díaz and Vice President Ramón Corral. Madero favored having Díaz and Corral resign, with Francisco León de la Barra serving as interim president until a new election could be held. Carranza disagreed with Madero, arguing that allowing Díaz and Corral to resign would legitimate their rule, while an interim government would merely be a prolongation of the dictatorship and would discredit the Revolution. Madero's view prevailed, however.
Governor of Coahuila, 1911–1913
Carranza returned to Coahuila to serve as governor, shortly holding elections in August 1911, which he won handily. As governor Carranza began a wide-ranging program of reform, including the judiciary, the legal code, and tax laws. He introduced regulations to bring safety in the workplace, to prevent mining accidents, to rein in abusive practices at company stores, to break up commercial monopolies, to combat alcoholism, and to rein in gambling and prostitution. He also made large investments in education, which he saw as the key to societal development. At the same time, he was concerned to promote law and order in the countryside and had Porfirio Díaz's rurales re-enlist into his security forces. Carranza also did not favor reform the way Madero and most of the army did and felt that a firmer hand (preferably his) was needed to rule Mexico.
The relationship between Carranza and Madero deteriorated in this period. Carranza had been a supporter of Bernardo Reyes, and Madero was suspicious of him. Carranza opposed Madero's plan to have an interim presidency, laid out in the terms of the May 1911 Treaty of Ciudad Juárez. Once Madero was inaugurated president following the October election, Carranza criticized Madero for being a weak and ineffectual as president. Madero in turn accused Carranza of being spiteful and authoritarian. Carranza believed that there would soon be an uprising against Madero, so he formed alliances with other Liberal governors: Pablo González Garza, Governor of San Luis Potosí; Alberto Fuentes Dávila, Governor of Aguascalientes; and Abraham González, Governor of Chihuahua.
Carranza was unsurprised in February 1913 when Reyes, Victoriano Huerta, and Félix Díaz overthrew Madero during La decena trágica (the Ten Tragic Days). Carranza offered Madero refuge in Coahuila, but was unable to prevent his execution.
A passionate student of history, Carranza believed that Madero had made the same mistakes in 1912 that Ignacio Comonfort had made in 1857-58: by being weak and overly humanitarian, Madero had allowed conservative reactionaries to seize power. Carranza now believed that he could fill the role that Benito Juárez had played in the years after Comonfort's downfall. Seeing an opportunity to gain power, Carranza soon rebelled against Huerta.
In late February 1913, Carranza asked the legislature of Coahuila to declare itself formally in a state of rebellion against Huerta's government. Carranza, however, only had a small number of troops who largely sat out during the early part of the rebellion. In his first battle with federal troops, in early March 1913, Carranza was defeated and forced to retreat to Monclova. On the way, he stopped at his Guadalupe hacienda. There he found a group of young officers—Francisco J. Múgica, Jacinto B. Treviño, and Lucio Blanco—who had drawn up a plan modeled on the Plan of San Luis Potosí that disavowed Huerta and called on Carranza to become Primer Jefe ("First Chief") of the Constitutional Army.
Carranza felt that it had been a mistake to include promises of social reform in the Plan of San Luis Potosí because this had created unrealistic expectations in the populace, and had resulted in them growing disillusioned with the Revolution after it failed to deliver on its promises. He then drafted a different constitution, the Plan of Guadalupe. This new proposed constitution only promised to restore the 1857 Constitution of Mexico without the promised social reforms of the Plan of San Luis Potosí. A few weeks after Carranza had issued the Plan of Guadalupe, he met a delegation from Sonora headed by Adolfo de la Huerta in Monclova, and the Sonorans agreed to support the Plan of Guadalupe. Álvaro Obregón, a local teacher and farmer, would also raise an army for Carranza in Sonora.
Primer Jefe of the Constitutionalist Army, 1913–1915
Venustiano Carranza was not a military man himself, but the Constitutionalist Army had brilliant military leaders, especially Álvaro Obregón, Pancho Villa, Felipe Ángeles, and Pablo González Garza. Initially, Carranza divided the country into seven operational zones, though his Revolution was really launched in only three: (1) the northeast, under the command of González Garza; (2) the center, under the command of Pánfilo Natera; and (3) the northwest, under the command of Obregón. The Revolution, launched in March 1913, initially did not go well, and Huerta's troops marched into Monclova, forcing Carranza to flee to the rebels' stronghold of Sonora in August 1913. However, Carranza's army would later grow remarkably. In March 1914, Carranza was informed of Pancho Villa's victories and of advances made by the forces under González Garza and Obregón. Carranza determined that it was safe to leave Sonora, and traveled to Ciudad Juárez, which served as his capital for the remainder of his struggle with Huerta.
Although Pancho Villa was a skilled commander, his tactics throughout the 1913-14 campaign created a number of diplomatic incidents that were a major headache for Carranza in this period. Villa had confiscated the property of Spaniards in Chihuahua and had allowed his troops to murder an Englishman, Benton, and an American, Bauch. At one point, Villa arrested Manuel Chao, the Governor of Chihuahua, and Carranza had to personally travel to Chihuahua to order Villa to release Chao. In Tampico, nine U.S. Navy sailors were arrested by Mexican troops over a misunderstanding about fuel supplies. In response to the Tampico Affair, the United States government sent 2,300 Navy troops to occupy Veracruz, Veracruz. The fighting ended with 22 Navy troops and almost 200 Mexican soldiers being killed, and Veracruz taken. Carranza, in order to keep his nationalistic credentials, threatened war with the United States. In his spontaneous response to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Carranza asked "…that the president withdraw American troops from Mexico and take up its complaints against Huerta with the Constitutionalist government." The situation became so tense that war seemed imminent. On 22 April 1914, on the initiative of Felix A. Sommerfeld and Sherburne Hopkins, Pancho Villa traveled to Ciudad Juarez to calm fears along the border and asked President Wilson's emissary George Carothers to tell "Señor Wilson" that he had no problems with the American occupation of Veracruz. Carothers wrote to Secretary William Jennings Bryan: "As far as he was concerned we could keep Vera Cruz [sic] and hold it so tight that not even water could get into Huerta and …he could not feel any resentment." Whether trying to please the U.S. government or through the diplomatic efforts of Sommerfeld and Carothers, or maybe as a result of both, Villa stepped out from under Carranza's stated foreign policy.
The uneasy alliance between Carranza, Obregón, Villa and Emiliano Zapata would eventually lead the rebels to victory. The fight against Huerta formally ended on 15 August 1914, when Álvaro Obregón signed a number of treaties in Teoloyucan in which the last of Huerta's forces surrendered to him and recognized the Constitutional government. On 20 August 1914, Carranza made a triumphal entry into Mexico City. Carranza (supported by Obregón) was now the strongest candidate to fill the power vacuum and set himself up as head of the new government. This government successfully printed money, passed laws, etc.
The Convention of Aguascalientes: Break with Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata
Zapata, in his Plan of Ayala first issued when Madero was president, demanded sweeping reforms, especially the return of village lands, which Carranza, a member of a wealthy landowning family, had specifically excluded from the Plan of Guadalupe. When it became clear that Carranza was not willing to introduce these social reforms, Zapata broke with Carranza, formally breaking off all connection on 5 September 1914.
As noted in the section above, tensions between Carranza and Pancho Villa were high throughout 1913-14 over both Governor Chao and the diplomatic incidents that Villa provoked. Before Huerta was overthrown, Villa defied Carranza's orders and successfully captured Mexico's strategic silver-producing city of Zacatecas; Villa's successful capture of the city broke the back of Huerta's regime. In addition, Carranza also feared Villa would beat him to Mexico City. In August, Carranza refused to let Villa enter Mexico City with him, and refused to promote Villa to major-general. Villa formally disavowed Carranza on 23 September 1914.
On 8 July 1914, Villistas and Carrancistas had signed the Treaty of Torreón, in which they agreed that after Huerta's forces were defeated, 150 generals of the Revolution would meet to determine the political future of the country. This convention then met at Aguascalientes on 5 October 1914. Carranza did not participate in the Convention of Aguascalientes because he was not a general (but several Zapatista civilian intellectuals were allowed to join the Convention).
At the Convention, José Vasconcelos, then a young philosopher, argued that Article 128 of the 1857 Constitution provided that the revolutionary army now constituted the legitimate government of Mexico; the assembled generals quickly agreed with him. The Convention called on Carranza to resign. Carranza responded with a message sent on 23 November 1914. He agreed to resign, but only if he could be assured that a truly constitutional government would be put in place following his resignation. He listed three preconditions to be met before he would resign: (1) the establishment of a pre-constitutional regime that would make necessary social and political reforms before the re-establishment of constitutional government; (2) the resignation and exile of Villa; and (3) the resignation and exile of Zapata.
A week later, the Convention's joint commissions of war and of the interior (a group that included Álvaro Obregón, Felipe Ángeles, Eulalio Gutiérrez, and Francisco I. Madero's brother Raúl) agreed in principle to Carranza's conditions. The Convention elected Eulalio Gutiérrez as provisional President for 20 days until his position could be ratified, and called on Carranza to resign immediately. Carranza moved his government to Córdoba, Veracruz and sent the Convention a telegram in which he said he would not resign until his conditions had been fully met, noting they had not: Villa remained in control of the División del Norte; Zapata had not resigned; and Gutiérrez was only granted power for 20 days, which hardly made him an effective pre-constitutional government.
With Carranza's withdrawal, Carrancistas controlled only the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas. These states, however, gave Carranza an advantage, as they held Mexico's two main ports. Because he held these two ports, and because Veracruz was the center of Mexican oil production, Carranza was able to collect more revenue than Villa. The rest of the country was under the control of the various generals represented by the Convention. Carranza negotiated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Veracruz, Veracruz in November 1914 following payment for damages following their incursion, and set up his government there.
Generals Álvaro Obregón and Pablo González remained loyal to Carranza and fought on. Although Villa had a larger army, Obregón was a better tactician. With Obregón's help, Carranza portrayed Villa as a sociopathic bandit in the press. In April 1915, Obregón scored a decisive victory over Villa in the Bajío at the Battle of Celaya, in which 4,000 of Villa's soldiers were killed and another 6,000 captured. In the following month González began a campaign against the last remaining Zapatistas. That July, Francisco Lagos Cházaro surrendered; he was the last interim president appointed by the Convention of Aguascalientes. In August, Carranza's troops entered Mexico City a second time. The United States recognized Carranza as President of Mexico in October 1915, and by the end of the year Villa was on the run.
Head of the Preconstitutional Government, 1915–1917
With the defeat of the División del Norte in the Battle of Celaya, and the Zapatistas, by mid-1915, Carranza was President of Mexico as head of what he termed a "Preconstitutional Government". Carranza formally took charge of the executive branch on 1 May 1915.
On 12 December 1914, Carranza had issued his Additions to the Plan of Guadalupe, which laid out an ambitious reform program, including Laws of Reform, in conscious imitation of Benito Juárez's Laws of Reform.
Reforms were to be carried through on many issues, but in practice, Carranza implemented reforms in targeted ways.
- Judicial reform - Carranza introduced important reforms to ensure an independent judiciary for Mexico.
- Labor - in February 1915, the Constitutionalist Army signed an agreement with the Casa del Obrero Mundial ("House of the World Worker"), the labor union with anarcho-syndicalist connections which had been established during Francisco I. Madero's presidency. As a result of this agreement, six Red Battalions of workers were formed to fight alongside the Constitutionalist Army against Villa and Zapata.
- After the defeats of Villa and Zapata, relations between Carranza and organized labor soured. In January 1916, the Red Battalions were dissolved, and throughout 1916, Carranza opposed workers who tried to exercise their right to strike. Carranza used the army against striking workers. In August 1916, the Casa del Obrero Mundial was forcibly disbanded by the police, and an 1862 law was reinstated that made striking a capital offense.
- Land reform. Although Carranza promulgated an agrarian law that might have led to land reform in Mexico, the situation on the ground was complicated. Various warring factions had confiscated landed estates. Confiscated properties (bienes intervenidos) had initially held by revolutionary factions, including the defeated Villa, with the generals making decisions about their subsequent tenure. Once Carranza consolidated his position in mid-1915, he removed jurisdiction over these properties from the revolutionary generals and established the Administration of Confiscated Properties (Administración de bienes intervenidos), making his regime the sole arbiter of their disposal. One effect of this move was to produce a stream of revenue for his government, but more importantly, it meant that estate owners had to petition Carranza for the return of their properties rather than local revolutionary officials. Politically it was a useful move for Carranza since by returning lands to their former owners, it bought their loyalty to the new Carranza regime. Carranza was himself a hacienda owner and in sympathy with them as a group rather than radicals such as Villa and Zapata who sought comprehensive land reform. Following the end of military actions of armies, Carranza returned many estates to their former owners, such as Porfirio Díaz's former cabinet minister José Ives Limantour and head of the Científicos. Carranza did not return the haciendas of Carranza's political enemies, such as José María Maytorena of Sonora, who had aided Villa.
- Struggle against foreign companies for natural resources - under the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, foreign mining and oil companies (chiefly United States companies) had received generous concessions from the government in order to develop natural resources. On 7 January 1915, Carranza issued a decree declaring his intention to return the wealth of oil and coal to the people of Mexico. The two largest oil companies exploiting Mexico's natural resources were the Mexican Eagle Petroleum Company, an English company led by Lord Cowdray and operating mainly in the region of Poza Rica, Veracruz and Papantla, Veracruz; and Mexican Petroleum, an American company led by Edward L. Doheny and operating in the region of Tampico, Tamaulipas. Carranza was constrained in his actions because the region of La Huasteca where they operated was under the control of General Manuel Peláez, who protected the oil companies' interests in exchange for protection money from the oil companies. In terms of mining, Carranza implemented the Calvo Doctrine. He raised taxes on the mining companies, and removed the right of diplomatic recourse for mining companies, declaring their actions subject to the Mexican courts. (Both policies were opposed by the United States and delayed several times at the request of United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing.)
Constitutional Convention of Querétaro, 1916–1917
Carranza convoked a Constitutional Convention in September 1916, to be held in Querétaro. He declared that the liberal 1857 Constitution of Mexico would be respected, though purged of some of its shortcomings.
When the Constitutional Convention met in December 1916, it contained only 85 conservatives and centrists close to Carranza's brand of liberalism, a group known as the bloque renovador ("renewal faction"). Against them were 132 more radical delegates who insisted that land reform be embodied in the new constitution. These radical delegates were particularly inspired by the thought of Andrés Molina Enríquez, in particular, his 1909 book Los Grandes Problemas Nacionales (English: "The Great National Problems"). Molina Enríquez, though not a delegate to the Convention, was a close advisor to the committee that drafted Article 27 of the constitution: it declared that private property had been created by the Nation and that the Nation had the right to regulate private property to ensure that communities that had "none or not enough land and water" could take them from latifundios and haciendas. Article 27 went beyond the Calvo Doctrine, declaring that only native-born or native Mexicans could have property rights in Mexico. It said that although the government might grant rights to foreigners, these rights were always provisional and could not be appealed to foreign governments.
The radicals also exceeded Carranza's program on labor relations. In February 1917, they drafted Article 123 of the Constitution, which established an eight-hour work day, abolished child labor, contained provisions to protect female and adolescent workers, required holidays, provided a reasonable salary to be paid in cash and profit-sharing, established boards of arbitration, and provided for compensation in case of dismissal.
The radicals also established more far-reaching reform of the relationship of church and state than that favored by Carranza. Articles 3 and 130 were strongly anticlerical: the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico was denied recognition as a legal entity; priests were denied various rights and subject to public registration; religious education was forbidden; public religious ritual outside of the churches was banned; and all churches were nationalized as the property of the nation.
In short, although Carranza had been the most ardent proponent of constitutionalism and headed the Constitutionalist Army, the 1917 Constitution of Mexico was more radical than the liberal constitution that Carranza had envisioned. The Carrancistas gained some important victories in the Constitutional Convention: the power of the executive was enhanced and the power of the legislature was diminished. The post of Vice-President was eliminated. Judges were given life tenure to promote judicial independence.
President of Mexico, 1916–1920
Carranza achieved little change while in office, and those who wanted to see a new, liberal Mexico after the revolution were disappointed. Mexico was in desperate stress in 1917. The revolutionary fighting had decimated the economy, destroyed the nation's food supply, and the social disruption resulted in widespread disease.
Carranza also faced many armed, political enemies: Emiliano Zapata continued his rebellion in the mountains of Morelos; Félix Díaz, Porfirio Díaz's nephew, had returned to Mexico in May 1916 and organized an army that he called the Ejército Reorganizador Nacional (National Reorganizer Army), which remained active in Veracruz; the former Porfirians Guillermo Meixueiro and José María Dávila were active in Oaxaca, calling themselves Soberanistas (Sovereigntists) and insisting on local autonomy; General Manuel Peláez was in charge of La Huasteca; the brothers Saturnino Cedillo, Cleophas Cedillo, and Magdaleno Cedillo organized an opposition in San Luis Potosí; José Inés Chávez García led the resistance to Carranza's government in Michoacán; and Pancho Villa remained active in Chihuahua, although he had no significant forces.
After Carranza became president, Obregón retired to his ranch. The fighting continued, particularly against Zapata in Morelos, immediately south of Mexico City. The only two rebel leaders captured by Carranza were Pancho Villa's supporter Felipe Ángeles, and Emiliano Zapata. (Carranza's bounty on Zapata's head resulted in his assassination.)
Carranza maintained Mexican neutrality throughout World War I. He briefly considered allying with the German Empire after German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent Mexico the famous Zimmermann Telegram in January 1917, inviting Mexico to enter the war on the German side. Zimmermann promised German aid to Mexico in re-capturing territory lost to the United States during the Mexican–American War, specifically the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Carranza assigned a general to study the possibility of recapturing this territory from the U.S., but ultimately concluded that war to recapture the land was not feasible. He believed that aid from Germany for such an effort could not be guaranteed due to the blockade by the British Royal Navy.
Carranza remained lukewarm about the anti-clerical Articles 3 and 130 of the Mexican Constitution, both of which he had opposed at the Constitutional Convention. Toleration of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico as an institution could be seen as pragmatic. "The customs of a people do not change overnight; for a people to stop being Catholic, the triumph of the Revolution is not sufficient; the Mexican people will continue to be just as ignorant, superstitious and attached to their ancient customs until one educates them." He proposed an amendment to modify these constitutional provisions, but his proposal was rejected by the state legislatures and 2/3 of the Mexican Congress. The anticlerical articles of the Constitution were not enforced until the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles (1924-1928), sparking a pro-Catholic armed uprising, the Cristero War.
Public corruption was a major problem of Carranza's presidency. A popular saying was that "The Old Man doesn't steal, but he lets them steal", and a new verb, carrancear was coined, meaning "to steal".
Mexican neutrality in World War I
Carranza maintained a policy of formal neutrality during the war, influenced by the anti-American sentiment that the United States' various interventions and invasions during the last century had caused. Victoriano Huerta had conspired with the U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson in February 1913, to oust the democratically elected President Francisco I. Madero and Vice President José María Pino Suárez, in a coup d'état during a period known as La decena trágica. President Woodrow Wilson also ordered the invasion of Veracruz in 1914, resulting in the death of 170 Mexican soldiers and an unknown number of civilians. The assassination of Madero and José María Pino Suárez triggered a civil war that ended when the Constitutional Army defeated the forces of former ally Pancho Villa in the Battle of Celaya in April 1915. The partial peace allowed a new liberal constitution to be drafted in 1916 and proclaimed on February 5, 1917.
Nevertheless, Carranza was able to make the best out of a complicated situation; his government was officially recognized by Germany at the beginning of 1917, and by the United States on August 31, 1917, the latter as a direct consequence of the Zimmermann telegram as a measure to ensure Mexico's continued neutrality in the war. After the United States occupation of Veracruz in 1914, Mexico would not participate with the USA in its military excursion in the Great War, so ensuring Mexican neutrality was the best deal.
Carranza granted guarantees to the German companies so they would keep their operations going, specifically in Mexico City, though he was at the same time selling oil to the British (eventually, over 75 percent of the fuel used by the British fleet came from Mexico).
Carranza, however, stopped short of accepting Germany's proposed military alliance, made via the Zimmermann Telegram, and was at the same time able to prevent yet another military invasion from its northern neighbor, who wanted to take control of Tehuantepec Isthmus and Tampico oil fields. By 1917, Mexico produced over 55 million barrels of crude oil, which had become of crucial strategic importance to the British, and by extension to the Allied, war effort; Carranza threatened to set fire to the oil fields if the Americans invaded. As historian Lester Langley wrote: "Carranza may not have fulfilled the social goals of the revolution, but he kept the gringos out of Mexico City".
Election of 1920 and death
Since Porfirio Díaz's continuous re-election had been one of the major factors in his ouster, Carranza prudently decided against running for re-election in 1920. His natural successor was Álvaro Obregón, the heroic Carrancista general. Believing that Mexico should have a civilian president, Carranza endorsed Ignacio Bonillas, an obscure diplomat who had represented Mexico in Washington, for the presidency. As government supporters suppressed and killed those for Obregón, the general decided that Carranza would never leave the office peacefully. Obregón and allied Sonoran generals (including Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo de la Huerta), who were the strongest power bloc in Mexico, issued the Plan of Agua Prieta. This repudiated Carranza's government and renewed the Revolution on their own.
On 8 April 1920, a campaign aide to Obregón attempted to assassinate Carranza. After the failure, Obregón brought his army to Mexico City and drove Carranza out. Carranza set out towards Veracruz to regroup, but was betrayed; he was killed on 21 May 1920 while sleeping in Tlaxcalantongo in the Sierra Norte de Puebla mountains. His forces were under attack there by General Rodolfo Herrero, a local chieftain and supporter of Carranza's former allies. According to General Francisco L. Urquizo, Carranza's last words after being awoken by gunshots were: "Licenciado, ya me rompieron una pierna" ("Lawyer, they have already broken one of my legs"). (Carranza was referring to his partner, Licenciado Aguirre Berlanga when he was ambushed and shot). Obregón afterward prosecuted Herrero for Carranza's murder, but the general was acquitted.
Historian Aguirre Berlanga has suggested that Carranza committed suicide rather than was assassinated. Critics of the assassination theory say that the holes in Carranza's shirt were too small to have been due to carbine shots, which were the weapons of the attackers. It was reported that Carranza suffered bullet holes in his chest, as well as a bullet wound to two fingers of his left hand. Suicide theorists think he wounded and killed himself by shooting himself in the chest after having had his leg fractured by a carbine shot. Historian Enrique Krauze has analyzed the facts and concludes that suicide is the most probable cause of death. However, his view has not achieved consensus among historians, and the truth will probably never be known.
Carranza was an astute, established politician and had opposed the Díaz regime before the elderly president's ouster. He had urged Madero not to sign the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, which allowed Díaz and his vice president to resign and which put in place an interim government of Porfiristas. In Carranza's view, it conferred legitimacy on the Díaz regime and gave away the power of the revolutionaries who had forced Díaz's resignation. As Carranza said at the time, "A revolution that makes concessions is lost...An interim government will be a vicious, anemic, and sterile prolongation of the dictatorship." Madero had kept the old Federal Army rather than the revolutionary forces who brought him to power; Carranza would not make the same mistake. When the Constitutionalist Army defeated Huerta in 1914, the Federal Army was disbanded.
During the fight against Huerta, he was the first major figure to oppose Huerta, and the first to declare that those who opposed him would be executed. This is consistent with his judgment that "When a revolution makes concessions, it commits suicide." As events showed, Carranza was correct in his assessment of Madero's errors.
Today, he is remembered as one of the "Big Four" of the Revolution, along with Zapata, Villa and Obregón. Although for most of the time period between 1915 and 1920 he was more powerful than any of them, he is today probably the least remembered of the four in popular culture. Even so, Carranza prevented a permanent invasion of Mexico by the USA, which wanted to take control of the Tehuantepec Isthmus and Tampico oil fields. As historian Lester Langley wrote: "Carranza may not have fulfilled the social goals of the revolution, but he kept the gringos out of Mexico City".
Carranza led the broad-based Constitutionalist movement against the Huerta regime, uniting political and armed forces in northern Mexico to the cause of restoring constitutional law in Mexico. Brilliant military leaders served Carranza, most notably Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Lázaro Cárdenas, to name three who became presidents of Mexico. Carranza pursued a policy of fierce nationalism, standing up to enormous economic and political pressure from the U.S. His call for a new constitution was realized, with key matters for which revolutionaries fought, such as land reform, rights of labor, control of foreigners, and nationalism, now the law of the land.
Carranza was a tall and robust man, often a head above those around him. He looked very impressive in his later years with his long white beard and glasses. He was intelligent and stubborn but had very little charisma. A dour man, his lack of sense of humor was legendary. He was not the sort to inspire great loyalty, and his success in the revolution was mainly due to his ability to portray himself as a wise, stern patriarch who was the nation's best hope for peace. His inability to compromise led to several severe setbacks. Although he was personally honest, he seemed indifferent to corruption in those who surrounded him.
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- Newspaper clippings about Venustiano Carranza in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW
Francisco S. Carvajal
| Revolutionary Commander of Mexico
Francisco Lagos Cházaro
| Revolutionary Commander of Mexico
self (as Revolutionary Commander of Mexico)
| President of Mexico
Adolfo de la Huerta