Casasola. Mexico, July of 1913.
20th of November is the date on which Mexico celebrates the Revolution
of 1910, the beginning of the armed struggle which went on for
many years and gave birth to modern Mexico.
Díaz was President of Mexico for seven terms, ruling the country
for over 30 years and rigging elections to give a semblance of
democracy. But, although discontent was bought off or repressed,
it continued to grow. Land was taken from the peasants and sold
to international interests; the workers were exploited and did
not share in the fruits of their labor; and the rising middle
class was discontented with the lack of political opportunity.
As Díaz aged -we must remember he was 80 in 1910- he became less
adept at juggling his political opponents and was strongly influenced,
if not dominated, by José Limantour, his Minister of Finance,
who balanced the budget and helped his friends become richer,
but did not improve the lot of the common man. Even Diáz' longstanding
friends suggested he name a successor, but he refused.
1908, Díaz gave an interview to United States reporter James Creelman.
In order to win approval abroad, Díaz said that the time had come
for Mexico to advance toward democracy and offered to help an
opposition party. Various political factions within the country
took these declarations to mean that he was ready to step down,
and began to campaign actively. General Bernardo Reyes was the
main opposition leader. He disagreed with the "scientific" or
Positivist policies of Limantour and others; he had even approved
a workmen's compensation law in the state of Nuevo León, where
he was governor. Díaz sent him on a diplomatic mission to Europe
to get rid of him.
other main opposition leader was Francisco I. Madero. He came
from one of the richest families in the country and was an enlightened
entrepreneur. He was concerned with the condition of the common
man, and politics seemed the best way to make a difference. Madero,
who studied in the United States and France, became convinced
that the prolonged dictatorship was the main cause of Mexico's
problems. He wrote a book on the Presidential Succession, which
was a call for greater democracy.
granted him an interview in 1910, but, when Madero told him of
his ambition to be Vice President, Díaz praised his civic spirit
and flatly refused him as running mate. Madero was horrified at
how aged and distant from the nation's problems he found the dictator.
After discussing the situation, the Anti-Reelectionist party decided
to make him their candidate for President.
June 14, Díaz had Madero jailed so that he could carry out his
electoral fraud. Madero was released on bail shortly after the
election results were ratified by Congress. He fled to San Antonio,
Texas, where he immediately published his San Luis Potosí Plan,
proclaiming the principles of "effective suffrage, no reelection",
and declaring Díaz' presidency illegal. Madero called upon the
citizens to rise up against the government on November 20th, 1910,
at six o'clock in the afternoon. This is probably the only revolution
in history that had such a specific start.
Madero was very disappointed to find only a handful of poorly
armed men at the rendezvous, and returned to the United States.
He was tempted to give up, but Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa
began to defeat the Federalist forces in the north. Madero's revolution
broadened into a many-faceted struggle. Emiliano Zapata took up
arms in Morelos for "Land and Liberty", which became the battle
cry of the agrarian revolution. Villa and Zapata have become inseparable
images of the Revolution, among the best-loved and most controversial
of national figures.
On February 14, 1911, Madero returned to take his place at the
head of the revolutionary forces. In an attempt to halt the fighting
which was gaining ground in many states, Díaz made changes in
his cabinet, and even offered agrarian reforms and to ban reelection.
But the Revolution continued to win many important victories such
as that of Ciudad Juárez over Federal commander Navarro. Porfirio
Díaz resigned on May 25th and retired to France to die a natural
Don Francisco I. Madero rode into Mexico City on June 7th, 1911,
the victorious "Apostle of Freedom". One of his first acts, as
promised, was to hold elections. In October, Madero was elected
President. He immediately set to work enacting reforms: granting
freedom to the press and labor unions, but he was slow to act
on distributing land to the peasants, wanting this to be confirmed
by congress. Zapata, distrustful and not seeing immediate results,
took up arms again. Bernardo Reyes attempted to raise an army
and was arrested. On the other hand, the law Madero did pass limiting
property extension irked landowners, such as the Terrazas family.
Pascual Orozco renewed fighting. Victoriano Huerta defeated him,
but was demoted by Madero for drinking and not accounting for
the monies entrusted to him.
Indeed, Madero, who generally believed the best of people, was
not very effective at purging and reforming the government. His
labor and land reforms, and the new oil tax conflicted with foreign
interests. The United States Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane
Wilson, decided Madero must go. He sent home exaggerated reports
of the dissatisfaction in the country. Madero waited, hoping Woodrow
Wilson would deal with this Ambassador, who was so obviously out
of line, even after he was informed of Lane Wilson's conspiring
with Bernardo Reyes. Felix Díaz, nephew of Don Porfirio, began
a revolution in Veracruz, was arrested, and would have been shot,
but Madero intervened and also imprisoned him in Mexico City.
Reyes and Felix Díaz were freed from prison by Miguel Mondragón's
forces, and began an uprising. This started what become known
as the Decena Trágica or Tragic Ten Days, in February of 1913.
Reyes was killed in the initial assault on the National Palace,
and Díaz occupied the Ciudadela. Victoriano Huerta, again in charge
of Madero's troops, challenged Díaz to an artillery duel and shells
rained on the city killing many civilians. In fact, hardly any
hit their targets. On February 17th, Díaz and Huerta signed the
Ciudadela Plan, calling for Madero's resignation -at the United
States Embassy with the scheming Henry Lane Wilson.
Huerta forced Congress at bayonet-point to accept Madero's resignation
and his presidency. On February 22nd, Madero was assassinated.
Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregón, Pancho Villa, and Pablo González
took up arms against the illegitimate government. Huerta killed
and jailed members of Congress, and generally acted outrageously.
Wilson was indignant at the news of Huerta's behavior and sent
arms to Carranza. In April of 1914, he ordered marines to occupy
Veracruz rather than allow German arms to reach Huerta. This intervention
backfired, however, when Huerta's men withdrew and the people
of Veracruz rose up against the foreign invaders. International
arbitration was called in, and Wilson withdrew his ships.
Obregón and Villa converged on the capital, and Huerta, his pockets
filled with the national treasury, fled to the United States on
July 15th, 1914. The army was dissolved by the Treaties of Teoloyucan.
Carranza held up one of Villa's trains so that he would not reach
the capital first. This so incensed Villa, that he declared war
on Carranza. The rivalry between these two revolutionary leaders
and the lack of a constitution, brought chaos to the country.
Villa, who once said he was "not educated enough to be President
of Mexico", went so far as to suggest they both commit suicide
for the good of the country. The Aguascalientes Convention was
called to seek a solution, and decided to make Eulalio Gutiérrez
interim president. Carranza refused to recognize the Convention
and went to Veracruz, where he was later joined by Obregón. This
marks the end of the Revolution proper and the beginning of a
civil war between the supporters of Carranza and Villa. Carranza
lobbied in the United States and obtained Wilson's support. Villa
felt betrayed by the US, and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. In
yet another ill-fated intervention, Woodrow Wilson sent a punitive
expedition, which won neither battles, nor the support of the
people on both sides of the border, who attacked him for meddling.
Carranza lost face for allowing the intervention, and Pancho Villa
became an even greater popular hero. However, he was defeated.
Carranza was elected President in 1917, and called for a constitutional
congress to be held in Querétaro to draw up a document embodying
the ideals of the Revolution. The Constitution of 1917 proved
more radical than Carranza's proposals. It was based on the democratic
principles of Juárez' constitution of 1857, but Obregón and others
added two very significant new articles: Article 27 says that
the use of land and natural resources can be regulated by the
nation. This opened the door for confiscation of foreign-owned
lands and oil companies. And Article 123 grants workers a series
of rights and benefits, which also interfered with the plans of
industrialists, local and foreign, to exploit the workers. Article
3 called for lay education for everyone, paving the way for José
Vasconcelos to found the modern educational system in Mexico.
In 1920, at the end of his term, Carranza tried to appoint his
own successor. This led Obregón to take up arms again. Carranza
fled from Mexico City and was killed. Obregón was elected in November
of the same year.
had been through a harrowing experience. The Revolution spread
all across the land and dragged on for ten long years. The population
actually decreased by about one million people. But during that
time, Mexico discovered many of the elements of its own identity.
The many plans published during the period to define what each
one believed and was fighting for, set the tone of political discourse
in Mexico. Madero's slogan of "effective suffrage, no reelection"
still graces the bottom of government documents, lest the lesson
be forgotten. And the resulting Constitution of 1917 is one of
the most progressive of its time and well beyond.
Revolution was not only expressed in violence and politics, but
set imaginations aflame and ignited a passionate sense of identity.
All of Mexican art has been profoundly influenced by the events
of those bloody and idealistic years. According to Octavio Paz
in his Laberinto de la Soledad (Labyrinth of Solitude) (1950),
"… the cultural and artistic fertility of the Revolution depends
on the depth with which its heroes, its myths and its villains
have forever marked the sensibility and the imagination of all
Mexicans. The Revolution is a sudden immersion of Mexico in its
own self." Let us mention just a few examples of this cultural
literary references to the Revolution are far too numerous to
include here; in fact "Revolutionary" is considered a separate
genre in Mexico. One of many early examples is Los de Abajo (The
Underdogs) (1915), by Mariano Azuela; and Carlos Fuentes' Gringo
Viejo (Old Gringo) looks back from 1985 to tell of Ambrose Bierce's
experiences with Villa.
Rivera - Germination, Revolution; The Burial (detail), 1927. Escuela
Nacional de Agricultura, Chapingo, México. Copyright © 1990. Dover
the 20s to the 50s, the three great Mexican muralists, José Clemente
Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfredo Siquieros, developed a
powerful visual style representing the conquest and the revolution.
This vision continues to live with us on the walls of many of
our public buildings.
Cucaracha", one of the most popular songs during the Revolution,
is perhaps the best known Mexican music outside our borders. It
and the broad brimmed hats and crossed ammunition belts these
men wore have become not only part of our national self-image,
but a stereotype abroad. While "Adelita", a love song to one of
the brave women who took care of the Revolutionary soldiers and
fought alongside them, remains a national favorite.
flourished during the Revolution, both in stills and motion pictures.
Indeed, the archives of the Toscano family and the Casasola collection
are world famous. Fernando de Fuentes, one of our greatest film
directors, paid homage to the Revolution with two classic movies
during the 30s: "Vámonos con Pancho Villa" and "El Compadre Mendoza".
This November 20th, Mexico will celebrate the Revolution of 1910
with a national holiday and a parade. But it is also an occasion
to rejoice in the wealth of cultural expressions it has inspired.