MEXICAN REVOLUTION 1910-1920
Pedro Páramo and The Death of Artemio Cruz
Summary of the Mexican Revolution
The history of Mexico is one that has been marked by conflict
and frequent change. The nation's roots are in tribes who's legacies' span all
the way back to the beginning of recorded history. These civilizations shaped
the foundations of Mexico until the first European intrusion by Spain in the
1500's. In the face of continued Spanish oppression, which lasted well into
the 1800's, these native peoples fought violently to preserve their independence
and their fundamental rights. The 1800's was ridden with coups and revolution,
but these were ultimately only the precursors towards the true Mexican Revolution
which spanned the first quarter of the twentieth century. This revolution is
perhaps one of the most important revolutions that has taken place in recent
history because it was not a revolution led by factions battling for governmental
control, or the bourgeoisie thinkers developing new ideas. Instead, it was a
revolution led by simple men rising up and asserting their fundamental rights,
and succeeding. The revolution was not only essential to the evolution of human
rights and democracy and Mexico, but was also significant as it was one of the
first successful third world revolutions. To an extent the revolution laid the
groundwork for allowing democracy to emerge from authoritarianism in other third
The Age of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910)
In 1876, Porfirio Diaz, an Indian general in the Mexican Army took control of the nation, and continued to be elected until 1910. In 1908 Porfirio Diaz was interviewed by US journalist James Creelman. In the interview Diaz stated that he believed Mexico would be ready for free elections by 1910. When this interview was published it inspired a rich landowner in northern Mexico to gather supporters around him and attempt to build a political backing of followers that could defeat Diaz in the 1910 election. The landowner was Francisco I. Madero. Madero and his Antireeleccionistas' slogan was, "effective suffrage and no re-election".The people of Mexico were inspired and by the time 1910 came around Madero hada very good chance of becoming President of Mexico. Diaz, in an attempt tostay in power, rigged the election and arrested Madero. Madero was soonreleased, and immediately fled for San Antonio Texas. While in Texas he declared himself President of Mexico and wrote a revolutionary document, La Plan de San Luis Potosi. This plan called for a violent revolt on November 20, 1910. The revolt failed but inspired other revolutionary groups to band together.
1911-Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and Pascual Orozco
One of the Strongest revolutionary groups to band together began in Mexico's southern province of Morelos. The young leader of this faction was Emiliano Zapata. Emiliano was the son of a poor Mestizo peasant who trained and sold horses. Emiliano Zapata attempted to break the hacienda system, which was very similar to the feudal system. When Emiliano realized he would not be able to accomplish this task he and his brother, Eufemio, organized a powerful guerrilla force of poor peasants. This force became known as the Zapatistas and soon grew to contain over 5,000 men. In northern Mexico two more revolutionary forces was formed. The first was led by Francisco "Pancho" Villa (originally named Doroteo Arango), an ex- bandit, who organized Mexico's cowboys into a powerful army. The other army was led by Pascual Orozco, another peasant who was discontented with the political and economic situation in Mexico.
The Fall of Diaz (1911)
In early 1911 Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa began raiding garrisons in northern Mexico while the Zapatistas took control of the town of Cuautla, in Morelos. Once Zapata secured the town he cut off the road to Mexico City. A week later Diaz realized he was doomed and fled Mexico for Europe. In his wake he left a provisional President and a large federal army that was commanded by General Victoriano Huerta. Soon after Diaz left Mexico, Zapata took Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos. He then rode to Mexico City where he met Madero, who the revolutionaries declared President. This victory, however, was only the beginning of the conflict that would arise in Mexico.
The Rise of Victoriano Huerta
Madero's leadership came to end quickly. The first mistake Madero made during the early days of his presidency was alienating the revolutionaries, or the Constitutionalists as they would later come to be known. During their first meeting, Zapata, who wanted to disband the haciendas, attempted to convince Madero to divide the lands among the nation's farmers. Madero, always the moderate, attempted to buy Zapata's complacence with a large piece of land and a hacienda of his own. This offer only succeeded in turning Zapata against him. In fact, every aspect of Madero's agenda was an attempt to please everyone, which translated into complete inaction. This inaction caused the activist revolutionaries in the North, Villa and Orozco, to abandon Madero along with Zapata. Madero's troubles didn't end there either. The leader of the conservative federal army, Huerta, and a small opposing faction led by Porfirio Diaz's nephew, Felix Diaz, fought for ten days in Mexico City. This is battle known as La Decena Tragica (The Ten Sad Days). On the ninth day of the conflict, February 8, 1913, Felix Diaz and Huerta met with US ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. The position of the United States at this time was that Madero was associated too closely with the "savage revolutionaries". During the meeting, the three signed a document called "The Pact of the Embassy" which outlined a plan to stage a coup and install Huerta as the new President of Mexico. A few days later, Huerta revolted against Madero, who's only defense was the army of ally General Felipe Angeles. In the process hundreds of civilians were brutally slaughtered, and Madero's brother, Gustavo, had his one working eye cut out just before being bayoneted to death. To ensure the coup's success the US had deployed warships and troops on the coast. Madero, vice-president, Pino Suarez, and Angeles were arrested. On the night of February 22, 1913, Madero and Pino Suarez were shot to death behind the prison while allegedly "trying to escape". Angeles was later set free.
The Fall Of Huerta
Immediately after Huerta came into power the amount of revolutionary violence skyrocketed. Huerta was hated because of his drunkenness and tyrannical rule. Three major forces rose up in the north. These revolutionary forces were led by Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obrégon, and Venustantio Carranza. Upon Madero’s death Carranza took control of the remainders of Madero’s army and began fighting. In the south Zapata continued fighting. All through 1913 and early 1914 Huerta and his army suffered defeat after defeat. finally, in the summer of 1914, all four major revolutionary forces converged on Mexico City. Huerta, realizing he was defeated, was forced to flee. So ended Victoriano Huerta’s rule. On August 20, 1914, Venustantio Carranza, despite the objections of Pancho Villa, declared himself President of Mexico.
A bloody fight between Carranza and Villa began soon after Carranza declared himself President. Villas forces pushed south, forcing Carranza to flee to Mexico. Carranza fought back, inflicting fierce casualties to Villa’s army. In turn, Zapata made the boldest move of all. On November 14, 1914 the Zapatistas took Mexico City. The fighting continued until Villa, Zapata and Obregon, realizing order would be impossible without peace, set up a council to solve the problem. Their solution was installing Eulalio Guitierrez as interim president. With this, Zapata agreed to withdraw from Mexico City. Although peace was momentarily achieved, the revolutionaries quickly broke up into alliances. Villa and Zapata remained loyal to each other and backed Guitierrez, while Obregon and Carranza allied and supported Carranza’s wish to reclaim the presidency. In April, 1915 the forces of Obregon and Villa converged in a battle at the town of Celaya. Obregon emerged victorious and Villa lost some of his power. Infuriated, Villa rode into the town of Columbus, New Mexico where he killed eighteen people. In a futile attempt to catch Villa, American President Woodrow Wilson sent a force led by John J. Pershing into the Mexican hills. Pershing never even caught a glimpse of Villa, however. With Villa’s forces badly damaged from their battle with Obregon and running from Pershing, Carranza re-claimed the Presidency. Immediately after Carranza assumed the Presidency a period of disorder and near anarchy ensued, as revolutionaries under Villa fought Carranza. Violence and bloodshed were frequent. Carranza also dispatched a force and retook the state of Morelos in December in 1915, an important loss to the Zapatista forces in the south. During a meeting Obrégon, Zapata, and Villa, attempted to find a solution to the fighting between Villa and Carranza. They realized that Mexico could not achieve peace if the feud between Villa and Carranza continued. An interim president Gutiérrez was then elected and backed by Zapata and Villa. Unfortunately, Obrégon re-allied with Carranza in an effort to suppers Villa and gain power, and in late 1915 both Villa and Zapata suffered significant losses while fighting with the armies of Obregon and Carranza. In early 1917 Zapata responded by retaking Morelos. In an effort to restore peace and order, a Constitution was drafted by Carranza in 1917. This Constitution is functionally the same Constitution that governs modern day Mexico. Unfortunately, the Constitution granted dictatorial authority to the President. Despite this shortcoming, it was a landmark document in that it enabled the state to confiscate and redistribute land from the wealthy landowners. Additionally, the Catholic Church’s scope of power was drastically reduced, and possibly most importantly, it guaranteed worker’s rights.
The Death of Zapata
As Carranza’s power rose, Zapata began needing extra troops more and more. This necessity was greatly hastened when Carranza defeated Zapata once more, and took back Morelos. In April of 1919 Zapata appeared to receive a stroke of luck. It seemed one of Carranzas’s generals was interested in defecting and becoming a Zapatista. On April, 10, 1919 Zapata went to visit the defecting general. Only after he arrived did Zapata realize that the meeting was an ambush. Zapata was shot and killed moments after he arrived at the supposed meeting. With Zapata’s death Mexico and all the Revolutionary fighting for it’s freedom suffered a great tragedy.
The Fall of Carranza and the Rise of Obregon
Although Carranza had just published a constitution that was fairly beneficial for the Mexican masses he became hated for murdering Zapata. In 1920 he tried to break up railroad strike in Sonora. This furthered the people’s contempt of Carranza to the point where he lost nearly all his supporters, including the powerful Obregon. Realizing his political career was spiraling, Carranza attempted to flee Mexico. He was killed just outside of Mexico City on May, 21, 1920. A politician by the name of Adolfo de la Huerta was installed as interim President. Until Elections could be held. When elections finally took place in November, Alvaro Obragon won by a landslide. Although sporadic violence continued for the most part peace was achieved. With Alvaro Obregon election as President the Mexican Revolution came to a close.
Mexico and the Future
Although the Mexican Revolution was an important historical as well as ideological victory for Mexico, the revolution is far from over. As you read this a group of Zapatista farmers in the state of Chiapas is fighting for their lands and their survival. The Mexican Army, with aid from the United States government, is killing their people and taking their land, much like the government of the 1800’s did. The Zapatista’s struggle, along with struggles elsewhere in Africa, Asia, and South America are similar in cause and organization to the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican Revolution was not only a significant example of simple people’s ability to fight a structure internally for a true change, but it is also an reminder to all people that all people have the right to be free from oppression of any kind. As Karl Marx would have said, the conflict between the people and the government was not only an example of Dialectical Materialism, but also a structure/agency relationship. Thus the Revolution of 1910-1920 perhaps one of the most influential and prolific revolutions in history.
Important figures of the Revolution
Díaz, Porfirio, 1830-1915, Mexican dictator. In 1876 he lost the presidential election, revolted, and seized power. He ruled MEXICO ruthlessly for 35 years in the interest of the few and at the expense of the peons. He promoted prosperity by encouraging foreign investments. Growing popular discontent culminated in the 1910 revolution led by MADERO. Diaz fled and died in exile.
MADERO, FRANCISCO INDALECIO
Madero, Francisco Indalecio, 1873-1913, president of MEXICO (1911-13). A champion of democracy and social reform, he led (1910) the revolution that swept through Mexico and overthrew (1911) the DÍAZ regime, but he failed to implement notable reforms. Revolts broke out, and Gen. HUERTA treacherously assassinated Madero's brother, seized power, and arrested and imprisoned Madero. He was killed while allegedly attempting to escape.
Huerta Victoriano, 1854-1916, president of MEXICO, (1913-14). As commander of federal forces he overthrew Pres. MADERO and set up a dictatorship marked by corruption and violence. Numerous revolts forced him to resign (1914) as president and to flee into exile.
Villa, Pancho (Francisco Villa), c.l877-1923, Mexican revolutionary; b. Doroteo Arango. A bandit in N Mexico, he joined (l910) the rebels and fought vigorously for Pres. MADERO and later against Gen. HUERTA and Pres. CARRANZA. He and ZAPATA occupied (1914-15) Mexico City, but he was decisively defeated (19l5) by Gen. OBREGÓN. After Villa's men killed (1916) some American citizens at Columbus, N.Mex., a U.S. army expedition pursued Villa in Mexico for 11 months without success. At times a rebel against injustice, but always an undirected, destructive force, Villa became a national hero.
Zapata, Emiliano, c.l879-1919, Mexican revolutionary. An Indian tenant farmer, he tried to recover (1908) expropriated village lands, and he led (1910-19) an army of Indians in the Mexican revolution with the goal of regaining the land. In defense of this program, he fought federal governments and largely controlled S. Mexico. His army occupied Mexico City three times (19l4-15), but he finally retired to Morelos, where he was treacherously killed by a government emissary. Zapata is still revered by Mexican Indians.
Carranza, Venustiano, 1859-1920, Mexican political leader. He fought in the Mexican revolution and helped to overthrow (19l4) Gen. HUERTA. He became president (1914) and, aided by Gen. OBREGÓN, survived a civil war (1915). When he did not enforce the reform constitution of 1917 and tried to prevent Obregón from becoming president, the latter revolted (1920). Carranza fled the capital and was murdered.
Obregón, Álvaro, 1880-1928, president of MEXICO (1920-24). A successful general in the Mexican revolution (1910-17), he rose (1920) against Pres. CARRANZA and became president. His administration enacted agrarian, labor, and educational reforms. Chosen president again in 1928, the anticlerical Obregón was assassinated by a fanatical Roman Catholic before he could take office.
Cárdenas, Lázaro, 1895-1970, president of MEXICO (1934-40). He fought (1913-17) as a general in the Mexican revolution and was elected president. He expropriated foreign-held properties, distributed land to peasants, and instituted reforms to benefit Indians and Mexican workers. His influence in advancing constitutional processes was great.
Map of Mexico by states