Mexican Revolution

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Mexican Revolution
Collage revolución mexicana.jpg
Collage of the Mexican Revolution
Date20 November 1910 – 21 May 1920
(9 years, 6 months and 1 day)

Revolutionary victory

Full results

Mexico Forces in power:

Mexico Revolutionary forces:






Supported by
 United States (1910–1913)
 Germany (c. 1913–1919)

Forces led by Aureliano Blanquet
Forces led by Álvaro Obregón

Supported by
 United States (1913–1918)
United Kingdom (1916–1918)
Commanders and leaders
Porfirio Díaz
Ramón Corral
Manuel Mondragón
José Yves Limantour
Francisco I. Madero
Pascual Orozco
Bernardo Reyes
Pancho Villa
Emiliano Zapata
Ricardo Flores Magón
Francisco I. Madero 
José María Pino Suárez 
Pancho Villa
Mateo Almanza
Venustiano Carranza
Victoriano Huerta (Secretly sided with Reyes against Madero until Reyes died in 1913. After Reyes was killed, Huerta launched his own revolution.)
Aureliano Blanquet (Also secretly sided with Reyes until his death.)
Pascual Orozco (Fought own revolution after Díaz was overthrown and later sided with Huerta after Huerta took power.)
Bernardo Reyes  (Led own revolution until his death in 1913.)
Félix Díaz (sided with Reyes and later Huerta after the killing of Reyes in 1913.)
Emiliano Zapata (Sided with Orozco until Orozco sided with Huerta.)
Ricardo Flores Magón (POW)
Victoriano Huerta
Aureliano Blanquet
Pascual Orozco in 1915)
Manuel Mondragón (Until June 1913)
Francisco León de la Barra
Francisco S. Carvajal
Venustiano Carranza
Pancho Villa
Emiliano Zapata
Álvaro Obregón
Plutarco Elías Calles
Pancho Villa
Emiliano Zapata
Eulalio Gutiérrez
Venustiano Carranza
Álvaro Obregón
Venustiano Carranza 
Álvaro Obregón (until 1917)
Pancho Villa
Emiliano Zapata 
Félix Díaz
Aureliano Blanquet 
Álvaro Obregón (from 1917)
Mexico Counter-revolutionary forces:
250,000 – 300,000
Mexico Revolutionary forces:
255,000 – 290,000
Casualties and losses
German Empire 2 Germans killed United States 500 Americans killed
Mexico 1.7?[3] to 2.7[4] million Mexican deaths (civilian and military)
700,000[5] to 1,117,000[5] civilian dead (using 2.7 million figure)

The Mexican Revolution (Spanish: Revolución Mexicana, 1910–1920) was a major revolution that was not a unified struggle, but an extended sequence of armed regional conflicts. It transformed Mexican culture and government through the writing of a new constitution. Although the regime of President Porfirio Díaz (1880-1911) was increasingly unpopular after 31 years, there was no foreboding that a revolution was about to break out in 1910.[6] The regime failed to find a controlled solution to the issue of presidential succession, resulting in a power struggle among competing elites, and between elites and the middle classes that sometimes involved the "masses".[7] This provided the opportunity in some places for agrarian insurrection, most prominently in Morelos under Emiliano Zapata.[8] Although the conflict was primarily a civil war, foreign powers, having important economic and strategic interests in Mexico, figured in the outcome of Mexico's power struggles. The United States played an especially significant role.[9] Northern Mexico, with access to arms from the U.S., saw the most military clashes. With the exception of Zapata, the revolutionary leaders of first rank were all from northern Mexico: Francisco I. Madero (Coahuila); Pancho Villa (Chihuahua); Pascual Orozco (Chihuahua); Venustiano Carranza (Coahuila); and Alvaro Obregón (Sonora).[10] Three revolutionary generals from Sonora came to dominate the period of the 1920s and 1930s, most prominently Obregón, ultimately the most successful revolutionary general. He consolidated political power and became president of Mexico in 1920 after a coup ousting Carranza; he was succeeded by fellow Sonoran, Plutarco Elías Calles in 1924.[11] Social movements emerged during the revolution, but "their defeat or subordination mattered more."[12] At the very least, it was a decade-long civil war, bringing to power a new political elite that ruled Mexico through a single political party until the presidential election of 2000 when the opposition party won. Even the winner of that election, Vicente Fox, claimed the election was heir to the democratic election of Francisco Madero, claiming the heritage and legitimacy from the Revolution.[13]

The sparking event was the 1910 presidential election. Díaz had initially said he would not run again for election, setting off a flurry of political activity, but he then reneged and ran again at age 80. Wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero challenged Díaz and gained considerable popular support. The election, however, was rigged in Díaz's favor, and after he won, Madero called for an armed revolt in the Plan of San Luis Potosí.[14] Armed conflict broke out in earnest in November 1910 starting in northern Mexico, led by Madero, Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa. These Maderista forces received support from portions of the middle class, the peasantry, and organized labor,[14] enabling them to pursue a military campaign in the north, ending with Orozco's capture of Ciudad Juárez in May 1911. Díaz was forced out of office by the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez in which he resigned and went into exile, new elections were scheduled for the fall, and Francisco León de la Barra became the interim president. Madero's advisers warned against allowing the old regime to linger in power, since the revolutionaries had won the contest against it in armed combat. Madero ignored them and the elections took place in October 1911 in a free and fair vote. Madero overwhelmingly won the presidential contest and took office in November. He won a political victory, coming to power via the constitutional process, but he did not make revolutionary changes.

Once in power (November 1911-February 1913), Madero's implemented a number of changes, such as establishing freedom of the press and the right of labor to organize and strike, but he did not move on land reform. angering many peasants. Opposition rapidly grew from old supporters of the Díaz regime, foreign governments, and investors; from revolutionaries who had brought about Díaz's ouster but whom Madero dismissed in favor of the Federal Army they had defeated; from peasants who felt betrayed that Madero did not implement agrarian reform; and from urban workers who did not see Madero helping their interests enough. Peasants revolted, urban workers' strikes grew in number, and the press, newly freed from Díaz's censorship, chronicled Madero's failings. Madero kept his hold on power with the aid of the Federal Army, but in February 1913, the army in a conspiracy with political opponents to Madero and the support of the U.S. ambassador, staged a successful coup d'etat. In the Ten Tragic Days, Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez were forced to resign and were assassinated, with General Victoriano Huerta becoming president of Mexico.

Huerta's counterrevolutionary regime (February 1913-July 1914) came to power supported by elites of the old regime, the army, foreign investors, and many foreign governments.[15] Huerta was almost immediately opposed by the Governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, who assembled a coalition of northerners to oppose Huerta, becoming the "First Chief" of the Constitutionalist Army. A bloody war between Huerta's Federal Army and the northern revolutionary forces broke out. Although Huerta's Federal Army had more troops than the revolutionary forces, the revolutionaries in northern Mexico were increasingly successful, particularly as the U.S. policy tilted toward them, allowing arms sales. The Constitutionalist Army was led by two brilliant generals, Álvaro Obregón of Sonora and Pancho Villa of Chihuahua. Peasant forces in Morelos led by Emiliano Zapata had continuously opposed the regimes of Díaz, Madero, and Huerta, none of whom had been responsive to their demands for land reform. Huerta resigned and went into exile in July 1914, and the Federal Army was dissolved.

The northern revolutionary winners of the conflict with Huerta met in the Convention of Aguascalientes, attempting to reach political agreement about power. The Constitutionalist faction led by Carranza had split, with Villa allying with Zapata and Obregón remaining loyal to Carranza. Mexico was again plunged into a civil war, this time between the winning factions (1914–15). Carranza, with Obregón's military leadership and the support of the urban working class emerged as the victor in 1915. Obregón's army defeated Villa's in a series of battles, most famously the Battle of Celaya in April, ending Villa as an effective opponent to the Constitutionalists. Zapata's armies were defeated as well, and they resumed guerrilla warfare in Morelos.[16]

A constitutional convention was called in late 1916 and held in Querétaro. One historian calls it "the most important single event in the history of the Revolution."[17] The February 1917 promulgation of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 set new nationalist, social, and economic goals for Mexico, curtailed the power of some foreign interests, and enhanced the power of the central state.[18] "Economic and social conditions improved in accordance with revolutionary policies, so that the new society took shape within a framework of official revolutionary institutions," with the constitution providing that framework. Capitalism was retained and bourgeois reform enacted, not dissimilar to what happened in Peru, Chile and Argentina without civil war.[19]

Prelude to Revolution, the Porfiriato and the 1910 election[edit]

General Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico
External Timeline A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution

Liberal general and war hero Porfirio Díaz came to the presidency of Mexico by coup in 1876, and remained almost continuously in office until 1911 in an era called the Porfiriato.[20] During that period, his presidency was only interrupted by that of his close ally, General Manuel González (1880–84), after which Díaz ran for the presidency again and legally served in office until 1911. Under his administration, the constitution had been amended to allow unlimited presidential re-election. Díaz had originally challenged Benito Juárez on the platform of "no re-election."[21] During the Porfiriato there were regular elections, widely considered sham exercises, marked by contentious irregularities.[21] Díaz had publicly announced in an interview with journalist James Creelman for Pearson's Magazine that he would not run in the 1910 election. At age 80, this set the scene for a possible peaceful transition in the presidency. It set off a flurry of political activity. To the dismay of potential candidates to replace him, he reversed himself and ran again.

The contested 1910 election was a key political event that sparked the Mexican Revolution. As Díaz aged, the question of presidential succession became increasingly important. In 1906 the office of vice president was revived, with Díaz choosing his close ally Ramón Corral from among his technocratic Científico advisers to serve in the post.[22] By the 1910, the Díaz regime had become highly authoritarian, and opposition to it had increased in many sectors of Mexican society. The election held the promise for those opposition forces to shape the presidency. But his reversal set off a crisis, since there were viable political candidates.

In the 19th century he had been a national hero, opposing the French Intervention (Spanish: Intervención francesa) in the 1860s and distinguishing himself in the Battle of Puebla (Spanish: Batalla de Puebla) on 5 May 1862 ("Cinco de Mayo").[23] Díaz entered politics following the expulsion of the French in 1867. When Benito Juárez was elected in 1871, Díaz alleged fraud. Juárez died in office in 1872, and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada succeeded him. Díaz unsuccessfully rebelled against Lerdo under the Plan de La Noria,[24] but later accepted the amnesty offered to him. However, when Lerdo ran for the presidency again in 1876, Díaz successfully rebelled under the Plan de Tuxtepec.[25][26]

In his early years in the presidency, Díaz was a master politician, playing factions off one another while retaining and consolidating his own power. Whenever politics were unsuccessful Diaz utilized rurales, an armed police militia directly under his control to expand influence by seizing land from rural peasants. Peasants were forced to make futile attempts to win back their land through courts and petitions. By 1900, over ninety percent of communal lands were sold with an estimate of 9.5 million peasants forced off their lands and into the service of land owning barons.[27] Diaz rigged elections, arguing that 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.[28] Although Díaz came to power in 1876 under the banner of "no re-election," with the exception of the presidency of Manuel González from 1880–84, Díaz remained in power continuously from 1884 until 1911, with rigged elections held at regular intervals to give the appearance of democracy.

Díaz's presidency was characterized by the promotion of industry and development of infrastructure by opening the country to foreign investment. He believed opposition needed to be suppressed and order maintained to 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.[citation needed]

Farmers and peasants both complained of oppression and exploitation. The situation was further exacerbated by the drought that lasted from 1907 to 1909.[29] The economy took a great leap during the Porfiriato, as he encouraged the construction of factories and industries and infrastructure such as roads and dams, as well as improving agriculture. The cultivation of exportable goods such as coffee, tobacco, henequen, and sugar replaced the production of wheat, corn and livestock, that peasants had lived on.[30] Industrialization resulted in the rise of an urban proletariat and attracted an influx of foreign capital from the United States and Great Britain.[citation needed] The concentrated wealth in elites coincided with widespread hunger in the countryside.

Wealth, political power and access to education were concentrated among a handful of elite landholding families, overwhelmingly of European and mixed descent. Known as hacendados, they controlled vast swaths of the country by virtue of their huge estates (for example, the Terrazas had one estate in Sonora that alone comprised more than a million acres). Most people in Mexico became landless peasants laboring on these vast estates or industrial workers toiling for little more than slave wages. Peasants that resisted seizing of their lands were often killed or sold as slaves. Foreign companies—mostly from the United Kingdom, France and the U.S.--also exercised influence in Mexico.[citation needed]

Political system[edit]

A banner (1903) at the office of opposition magazine El hijo de Ahuizote reads: "The Constitution has died..." (La Constitución ha muerto...)

Díaz created a formidable political machine, first working with regional strongmen and bringing them into his regime, then replacing them with jefes políticos (political bosses) who were loyal to him. He skillfully managed political conflict and reined in tendencies toward autonomy. He appointed a number of military officers to state governorships, including General Bernardo Reyes, who became governor of the northern state of Nuevo León, but over the years military men were largely replaced by civilians loyal to Díaz.

As a military man himself, and one who had intervened directly in politics to seize the presidency in 1876, Díaz was acutely aware that the Federal Army could oppose him. He augmented the rurales, a police force created by Juárez, making them his personal armed force. The rurales were only 2,500 in number, as opposed to the 30,000 in the army and another 30,000 in the federal auxiliaries, irregulars and National Guard.[31] Despite their small numbers, the rurales were highly effective in bringing control to the countryside, especially along the 12,000 miles of railway lines. They were a mobile force, often sent on trains with their horses to put down rebellions in relatively remote areas of Mexico.[32]

The construction of railways had been transformative in Mexico (as well as elsewhere in Latin America), accelerating economic activity and increasing the power of the Mexican state. The isolation from the central government that many remote areas had enjoyed or suffered was ending. Telegraph lines constructed next to railroad tracks meant instant communication between distant states and the capital.[33][page needed]

The political acumen and flexibility Díaz exhibited in the early years of the Porfiriato began to decline. He brought the state governors under his control, replacing them at will. The Federal Army, while large, was increasingly an ineffective force with aging leadership and troops dragooned into service. Díaz attempted the same kind of manipulation he executed with the Mexican political system with business interests, showing favoritism to European interests against those of the U.S.[34]

Rival interests, particularly those of the foreign powers with presence in Mexico, further complicated an already complex system of favoritism.[35] As economic activity increased and industries thrived, industrial workers began organizing for better conditions. With the expansion of Mexican agriculture, landless peasants were forced to work for low wages or move to the cities. Peasant agriculture was under pressure as haciendas expanded, such as in the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City, with its burgeoning sugar plantations. There was what one scholar has called "agrarian compression", in which "population growth intersected with land loss, declining wages and insecure tenancies to produce widespread economic deterioration", but the regions under the greatest stress weren't the ones that rebelled.[36]

Opposition to Díaz[edit]

Ricardo Flores Magón (left) and Enrique Flores Magón (right), leaders of the Mexican Liberal Party in jail in the Los Angeles (CA) County Jail, 1917
"Land and Liberty", the slogan of the Mexican Liberal Party

A number of Mexicans began to organize in opposition to Díaz policies that had welcomed foreign capital and capitalists, suppressed nascent labor unions and consistently moved against peasants as agriculture flourished.[37] In 1905 the group of Mexican intellectuals and agitators who had created the Mexican Liberal Party (Partido Liberal de México) drew up a radical program of reform, specifically addressing what they considered to be the worst aspects of the Díaz regime. Most prominent in the PLM were Ricardo Flores Magón and his two brothers, Enrique and Jesús. They, along with Luis Cabrera Lobato and Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, were connected to the anti-Díaz publication El Hijo del Ahuizote. Political cartoons by José Guadalupe Posada lampooned politicians and cultural elites with mordant humor, portraying them as skeletons. The Liberal Party of Mexico founded the anti-Díaz anarchist newspaper Regeneración, which appeared in both Spanish and English. In exile in the United States, Práxedis Guerrero began publishing an anti-Díaz newspaper, Alba Roja (Red Dawn), in San Francisco. Although leftist groups were small in numbers, they became highly influential through their publications, which helped articulate opposition to the Díaz regime. Francisco Bulnes described these men as the "true authors" of the Mexican Revolution for agitating the masses.[38] As the 1910 election approached, Francisco I. Madero, an idealistic political novice and member of one of Mexico's richest families, funded the newspaper Anti-Reelectionista, in opposition to the continual re-election of Díaz.

Organized labor conducted strikes for better wages and just treatment. Demands for better labor conditions were central to the Liberal Party program, drawn up in 1905. Mexican copper miners in the northern state of Sonora took action in the 1906 Cananea strike. Starting on June 1, 1906, 5,400 miners began to organize labor strikes.[39] Among other grievances, they were paid less than U.S. nationals working in the mines.[40] In the state of Veracruz, textile workers rioted in January 1907 at the huge Río Blanco factory, the world's largest, protesting against unfair labor practices. They were paid in credit that could be used only at the company store, binding them to the company.[41]

These strikes were ruthlessly suppressed, with factory owners receiving support from government forces. In the Cananea strike, mine owner William Cornell Greene received support from Díaz's rurales in Sonora as well as Arizona Rangers called in from across the U.S. border.[40] This private military force was ordered to use violence in order to combat the labor uprisings, marking the U.S.'s involvement in suppressing the Mexican working class.[42] In the state of Veracruz, the Mexican army gunned down Rio Blanco textile workers and put the bodies on train cars that transported them to Veracruz, "where the bodies were dumped in the harbor as food for sharks".[43] Government suppression of strikes was not unique to Mexico, with parallel occurrences both in the United States and Western Europe.

Since the press was suppressed in Mexico under Díaz, little was published that was critical of the regime. Newspapers barely reported on the Rio Blanco textile strike, the Cananea strike or harsh labor practices on plantations in Oaxaca and Yucatán. Leftist Mexican opponents of the Díaz regime, such as Ricardo Flores Magón and Práxedis Guerrero, went into exile in the relative safety of the United States, but cooperation between the U.S. government and Díaz's agents resulted in the arrest of some.

Presidential succession in 1910[edit]

General Bernardo Reyes, who later rebelled against President Madero
Francisco I. Madero campaigns from the back of a railway car in 1910.

Díaz had ruled continuously since 1884. The question of presidential succession was an issue as early as 1900, when he turned 70.[44] It was his "undeclared intention to step down from the presidency in 1904."[44] Díaz seems to have considered Finance Minister José Yves Limantour as his successor. Limantour was a key member of the Científicos, the circle of technocratic advisers steeped in positivist political science. Another potential successor was General Bernardo Reyes, Diaz's Minister of War, who also served as governor of Nuevo León. Reyes, an opponent of the Científicos, was a moderate reformer with a considerable base of support.[44] Díaz became concerned about him as a rival, and forced him to resign from his cabinet. He attempted to marginalize Reyes by sending him on a "military mission" to Europe,[45] distancing him from Mexico and potential political supporters.

Díaz re-established the office of vice president in 1906, choosing Ramón Corral. Rather than managing political succession, Díaz marginalized Corral, keeping him away from any decision-making.[45]

In a 1908 interview with U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz said that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would step down to allow other candidates to compete for the presidency.[46][47][48] If Díaz had kept to this, the presidency and vice presidency would have been open in 1910. His later reversal on retiring from the presidency set off tremendous activity among opposition groups.

"The potential challenge from Reyes would remain one of Díaz's political obsessions through the rest of the decade, which ultimately blinded him to the danger of the challenge of Francisco Madero's anti-re-electionist campaign."[45]

In 1910 Francisco I. Madero, a young man from a wealthy landowning family in the northern state of Coahuila, announced his intent to challenge Díaz for the presidency in the next election, under the banner of the Anti-Reelectionist Party. Madero chose as his running mate Francisco Vázquez Gómez, a physician who had opposed Díaz.[49] Although similar overall to Díaz in his ideology,[citation needed] Madero hoped for other elites to rule alongside the president. Díaz thought he could control this election, as he had the previous seven;[50] however, Madero campaigned vigorously and effectively. To ensure Madero did not win, Díaz had him jailed before the election. He escaped and fled for a short period to San Antonio, Texas.[50] Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a "landslide". When it became obvious that the election had been fixed, Madero supporter Toribio Ortega took up arms with a group of followers at Cuchillo Parado, Chihuahua on 10 November 1910.[citation needed]

End of the Porfiriato[edit]

Principal battles during the fight to oust Díaz, November 1910-May 1911. Most action was in the northern border area, with the Battle of Ciudad Juárez being a decisive blow, but the struggle in Morelos by the Zapatistas was also extremely important, since the state was just south of the Mexican capital
Madero and northern revolutionary Pascual Orozco, who rebelled against him in 1912.
Pancho Villa and followers

On 5 October 1910, Madero issued a "letter from jail," known as 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 presidency illegal and called for revolt against him, starting on 20 November 1910. Madero's political plan did not outline major socioeconomic revolution, but offered the hope of change for many disadvantaged Mexicans.[50]

Madero's plan was aimed at fomenting a popular uprising against Díaz, but he also understood that the support of the United States and U.S. financiers would be of crucial importance in undermining the regime. The rich and powerful Madero family drew on its resources to make regime change possible, with Madero's brother Gustavo A. Madero hiring, in October 1910, the firm of Washington lawyer Sherburne Hopkins, the "world's best rigger of Latin-American revolutions", to encourage support in the U.S.[31] A strategy to discredit Díaz with U.S. business and the U.S. government achieved some success, with Standard Oil representatives engaging in talks with Gustavo Madero. More importantly, the U.S. government "bent neutrality laws for the revolutionaries."[51]

In late 1910 revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí. His vague promises of land reform attracted many peasants throughout the country. Spontaneous rebellions arose in which ordinary farm laborers, miners and other working-class Mexicans, along with much of the country's population of indigenous natives, fought Díaz's forces, with some success. Madero attracted the forces of rebel leaders such as Pascual Orozco, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza. A young and able revolutionary, Orozco—along with Gov. Abraham González—formed a powerful military union in the north and, although they were not especially committed to Madero, took Mexicali and Chihuahua City. These victories encouraged alliances with other revolutionary leaders, including Villa. Against Madero's wishes, Orozco and Villa fought for and won Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso, Texas, on the south side of the Rio Grande. Madero's call to action had some unanticipated results, such as the Magonista rebellion of 1911 in Baja California.[52] During the Maderista campaign in northern Mexico, there was anti-Chinese violence, particularly the May 1911 massacre at Torreón, a major railway hub.[53]

Interim presidency May-Nov. 1911[edit]

Francisco León de la Barra, interim president of Mexico, May–November 1911.

With the Federal Army defeated in a string of battles, Diaz's government began negotiations with the revolutionaries. One of Madero's representatives in the negotiations was his running mate in the 1910 elections, Francisco Vázquez Gómez.[54] The talks culminated in the 21 May 1911 Treaty of Ciudad Juárez. The signed treaty stated that Díaz would abdicate the presidency along with his vice president, Ramón Corral, by the end of May 1911, to be replaced by an interim president, Francisco León de la Barra, until elections were held. Díaz and his family and a number of top supporters were allowed to go into exile.[55] When Díaz left for exile in Paris, he was reported as saying, "Madero has unleashed a tiger; let us see if he can control it."[56]

With Díaz in exile and new elections to be called in October, the power structure of the old regime remained in place. Francisco León de la Barra became interim president, pending an election to be held in October 1911. León de la Barra was considered an acceptable person for the interim presidency, since he was not a Científico, not a politician, but rather a Catholic lawyer and diplomat.[57] He appeared to be a moderate, but the German ambassador to Mexico, Paul von Hintze, who associated with the Interim President, said of him that "De la Barra wants to accommodate himself with dignity to the inevitable advance of the ex-revolutionary influence, while accelerating the widespread collapse of the Madero party...."[58] The Federal Army, despite its defeats by the revolutionaries, remained intact as the government's force, while Madero called on revolutionary fighters to lay down their arms and demobilize. The cabinet of De la Barra and the Mexican congress was filled with supporters of the Díaz regime. Madero campaigned vigorously for the presidency during this interim period, but revolutionaries who had supported him and brought about Díaz's resignation were dismayed that the sweeping reforms they sought were not immediately instituted. He did introduce some progressive reforms, including improved funding for rural schools; promoting some aspects of agrarian reform to increase the amount of productive land; labor reforms including workman's compensation and the eight-hour day; but also the right of the government to intervene in strikes. According to historian Peter V.N. Henderson, León de la Barra's and congress's actions "suggests that few Porfirians wished to return to the status quo of the dictatorship. Rather, the thoughtful, progressive members of the Porfirian meritocracy recognized the need for change."[59]

De la Barra's government sent General Victoriano Huerta to fight in Morelos against the Zapatistas, burning villages and wreaking havoc. His actions drove a wedge between Zapata and Madero, which widened when Madero was inaugurated president.[60] Madero had won the 1911 election decisively and was inaugurated as president in November 1911, but his movement had lost crucial momentum and supporters in the months of the Interim Presidency.

Madero Presidency, Nov. 1911–Feb. 1913[edit]

Francisco I. Madero, as President of Mexico.

Madero was an inexperienced politician who had never held office before, but his election as president in October 1911, following the exile of Porfirio Díaz in May 1911 and the interim presidency of Francisco León de la Barra, raised high expectations for positive change. However, the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez guaranteed that the essential structure of the Díaz regime, including the Federal Army, was kept in place.[61] Madero fervently held to his position that Mexico needed real democracy, which included regime change by valid election, a free press and the right of labor to organize and strike.

The rebels who brought him to power were demobilized and Madero called on these men of action to return to civilian life. According to a story told by Pancho Villa (one of those who had defeated Díaz's army and forced his resignation and exile), he told Madero at a banquet in Ciudad Juárez in 1911, "You [Madero], sir, have destroyed the revolution . . . It's simple: this bunch of dandies have made a fool of you, and this will eventually cost us our necks, yours included."[62] Ignoring the warning, Madero increasingly relied on the Federal Army as armed rebellions broke out in Mexico in 1911–12, with particularly threatening insurrections led by Emiliano Zapata in Morelos and Pascual Orozco in the north. Both Zapata and Orozco had led revolts that had put pressure on Díaz to resign, and both felt betrayed by Madero once he became president.

The press embraced its newfound freedom and Madero became a target of its criticism. Organized labor, which had been suppressed under Díaz, could and did stage strikes, which foreign entrepreneurs saw as threatening their interests. Although there had been labor unrest under Díaz, labor's new freedom to organize also came with anti-American currents.[63] The anarcho-syndicalist Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker) was founded in September 1912 by Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Manuel Sarabia and Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara and served as a center of agitation and propaganda, but it was not a formal labor union.[64][65]

Political parties proliferated, one of the most important being the National Catholic Party, which in a number of regions of the country was particularly strong.[66] Several Catholic newspapers were in circulation during the Madero era, including El País and La Nación, only to be later suppressed under the Victoriano Huerta regime (1913–14).[67] From 1876–1911, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican government were stable, with the anticlerical laws of the Mexican Constitution of 1857 remaining in place, but not enforced, so conflict was muted.[68]

During Madero's presidency, Church-state conflict was channeled peacefully.[68] The National Catholic Party became an important political opposition force during the Madero presidency.[69] In June 1912 congressional elections, "militarily quiescent states...the Catholic Party (PCN) did conspicuously well."[70] During that period, the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth (ACJM) was founded. Although the National Catholic Party was an opposition party to the Madero regime, "Madero clearly welcomed the emergence of a kind of two party system (Catholic and liberal); he encouraged Catholic political involvement, echoing the exhortations of the episcopate."[71] What was emerging during the Madero regime was "Díaz's old policy of Church-state detente was being continued, perhaps more rapidly and on surer foundations."[69] The Catholic Church was working within the new democratic system promoted by Madero, but it had its own interests to promote, some of which were the forces of the old conservative Church, while the new, progressive Church supporting social Catholicism of the 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum was also a current. When Madero was overthrown in February 1913 by counter-revolutionaries, the conservative wing of the Church supported the coup.[72]

Madero did not have the experience or the ideological inclination to reward men who had helped bring him to power. Some revolutionary leaders expected personal rewards, such as the young and militarily gifted Pascual Orozco of Chihuahua. Others wanted major reforms, most especially Emiliano Zapata and Andrés Molina Enríquez, who had long worked for land reform.[73] Madero met personally with Zapata, telling the guerrilla leader that the agrarian question needed careful study. His meaning was clear: Madero, a member of a rich northern hacendado family, was not about to implement comprehensive agrarian reform for aggrieved peasants.

Madero and his military staff officers, Mexico National Palace, 1911. Rather than keeping the revolutionary force that had helped bring him to power, Madero in a fatal decision kept the Federal Army intact

In response to this lack of action, Zapata promulgated the Plan de Ayala in November 1911, declaring himself in rebellion against Madero. He renewed guerrilla warfare in the state of Morelos. Madero sent the Federal Army to deal with Zapata, albeit unsuccessfully. Zapata remained true to the demands of the Plan de Ayala and in rebellion against every central government up until his assassination by an agent of President Venustiano Carranza in 1919.

The brilliant northern revolutionary General Pascual Orozco, who had helped take Ciudad Juárez, had expected to become governor of Chihuahua, a powerful position. In 1911, although Orozco was "the man of the hour," Madero gave the governorship instead to Abraham González, a respectable revolutionary, with the explanation that Orozco had not reached the legal age to serve as governor, a tactic that was "a useful constitutional alibi for thwarting the ambitions of young, popular, revolutionary leaders."[74]

Madero had put Orozco in charge of the large force of rurales in Chihuahua, but to a gifted revolutionary fighter who had helped bring about Díaz's fall, Madero's reward was insulting. After Madero refused to agree to social reforms calling for better working hours, pay and conditions, Orozco organized his own army, the "Orozquistas", also called the "Colorados" ("Red Flaggers") and issued his Plan Orozquista on 25 March 1912, enumerating why he was rising in revolt against Madero.[75] This caused considerable dismay among U.S. businessmen and other foreign investors in the northern region. It was a signal to many that Madero's government could not maintain the order that was the underpinning of modernization in the era of Porfirio Díaz.

In April 1912 Madero dispatched General Victoriano Huerta of the Federal Army to put down Orozco's revolt. As president, Madero had kept the army intact as an institution, using it to put down domestic rebellions against his regime. Huerta was a professional soldier and continued to serve in the army under the new commander-in-chief, but his loyalty lay with General Bernardo Reyes rather than with the civilian Madero. In 1912, under pressure from his cabinet, Madero had called on Huerta to suppress Orozco's rebellion. With Huerta's success against Orozco, he emerged as a powerful figure for conservative forces opposing the Madero regime.[76]

During the Orozco revolt, the governor of Chihuahua mobilized the state militia to support the Federal Army and Pancho Villa, a colonel in the militia, was called up at this time. In mid-April, at the head of 400 irregular troops, he joined the forces commanded by Huerta. Huerta, however, viewed Villa as an ambitious competitor. During a visit to Huerta's headquarters in June 1912, after an incident in which he refused to return a number of stolen horses, Villa was imprisoned on charges of insubordination and robbery and sentenced to death.[77] Raúl Madero, the President's brother, intervened to save Villa's life. Jailed in Mexico City, Villa escaped and fled to the United States, later to return and play a major role in the civil wars of 1913-15.

There were other rebellions, one led by Bernardo Reyes and the other by Félix Díaz, nephew of the former president, that were quickly put down and the generals jailed. They were both in Mexico City prisons and, despite their geographical separation, they were able to foment yet another rebellion in February 1913. This period came to be known as the Ten Tragic Days (la decena trágica), which ended with Madero's resignation and assassination and Huerta assuming the presidency. Although Madero had reason to distrust Victoriano Huerta, Madero placed him in charge of suppressing the Mexico City revolt as interim commander. He did not know that Huerta had been invited to join the conspiracy but had initially held back.[76] During the fighting that took place in the capital, the civilian population was subjected to artillery exchanges, street fighting and economic disruption, perhaps deliberately visited on them in order for the rebels to demonstrate that Madero was unable to keep order.[78]

Coup overthrowing Madero, 9–22 Feb. 1913[edit]

Corpses in front of the National Palace during the Ten Tragic Days. Photographer, Manuel Ramos.[79]

The Madero presidency was unraveling, to no one's surprise except perhaps Madero's, whose support continued to deteriorate, even among his political allies. Madero's supporters in congress before the coup, the so-called "Renovadores" ("the renewers"), criticized him, saying, "The revolution is heading toward collapse and is pulling the government to which it gave rise down with it, for the simple reason that it is not governing with revolutionaries. Compromises and concessions to the supporters of the old [Díaz] regime are the main causes of the unsettling situation in which the government that emerged from the revolution finds itself . . . The regime appears relentlessly bent on suicide."[80]

Huerta, formally in charge of the defense of Madero's regime, allowed the rebels to hold the armory in Mexico City—the Ciudadela—while he consolidated his political power. He changed allegiance from Madero to the rebels under Félix Díaz (Bernardo Reyes having been killed on the first day of the open armed conflict). U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who had done all he could to undermine U.S. confidence in Madero's presidency, brokered the Pact of the Embassy, which formalized the alliance between Félix Díaz and Huerta, with the backing of the United States.[15] Huerta was to become provisional president following the resignations of Madero and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez. Rather than being sent into exile with their families, the two were murdered while being transported to prison—-a shocking event, but one that did not prevent the Huerta regime's recognition by most world governments, with the notable exception of the U.S.

Historian Friedrich Katz considers Madero's retention of the Federal Army, which was defeated by the revolutionary forces and resulted in Díaz's resignation, "was the basic cause of his fall." His failure is also attributable to "the failure of the social class to which he belonged and whose interests he considered to be identical to those of Mexico: the liberal hacendados [owners of large estates].[81] Madero had created no political organization that could survive his death and had alienated and demobilized the revolutionary fighters who had helped bring him to power. In the aftermath of his assassination and Huerta's seizure of power via military coup, former revolutionaries had no formal organization through which to raise opposition to Huerta.[82]

Huerta Regime, Feb. 1913–July 1914 and civil war[edit]

General Victoriano Huerta was a Federal Army commander who served President Francisco I. Madero (1911–13) but joined with anti-Madero conspirators in ousting him.
Victoriano Huerta (left) and Pascual Orozco (right).

Huerta's presidency is usually characterized as a dictatorship. From the point of view of revolutionaries at the time and the construction of historical memory of the Revolution, it is without any positive aspects. "Despite recent attempts to portray Victoriano Huerta as a reformer, there is little question that he was a self-serving dictator."[83] There are few biographies of Huerta, but one strongly asserts that Huerta should not be labeled simply as a counter-revolutionary,[84] arguing that his regime consisted of two distinct periods: from the coup in February 1913 up to October 1913. During that time he attempted to legitimize his regime and demonstrate its legality by pursuing reformist policies; and after October 1913, when he dropped all attempts to rule within a legal framework and began murdering political opponents while battling revolutionary forces that had united in opposition to his regime.[85]

Supporting the Huerta regime initially were business interests in Mexico, both foreign and domestic; landed elites; the Roman Catholic Church; as well as the German and British governments. The United States President Woodrow Wilson, did not recognize the Huerta regime.[86] Huerta and Venustiano Carranza were in contact for two weeks immediately after the coup, but they did not come to an agreement. Carranza then declared himself opposed to Huerta and became the leader of the anti-Huerta forces in the north.[87] Huerta gained the support of revolutionary general Pascual Orozco, who had helped topple the Diaz regime, then became disillusioned with Madero. Huerta's first cabinet was composed of men who had supported the February 1913 Pact of the [U.S.] Embassy, among them some who had supported Madero, such as Jesús Flores Magón; supporters of General Bernardo Reyes; supporters of Félix Díaz; and former Interim President Francisco León de la Barra.[88]

During the counter-revolutionary regime of Huerta (1913–1914), the Catholic Church initially supported him. "The Church represented a force for reaction, especially in the countryside."[68] However, when Huerta cracked down on political parties and conservative opposition, he had "Gabriel Somellera, president of the [National] Catholic Party arrested; La Nación, which, like other Catholic papers, had protested Congress's dissolution and the rigged elections [of October 1913], locked horns with the official press and was finally closed down. El País, the main Catholic newspaper, survived for a time."[67]

Initially, Huerta was even able to muster the support of Andrés Molina Enríquez, author of The Great National Problems (Los grandes problemas nacionales), a key work urging land reform in Mexico.[89] Huerta was deeply concerned with the issue of land reform, since it was a persistent spur of peasant unrest. Specifically, he moved to restore "ejido lands to the Yaquis and Mayos of Sonora and [advanced] proposals for distribution of government lands to small-scale farmers."[90][91] When Huerta refused to move faster on land reform, Molina Enríquez disavowed the regime in June 1913,[92] later going on to advise the 1917 constitutional convention on land reform.

Venustiano Carranza, Governor of Coahuila, united northern forces of the Constitutionalist Army, with brilliant generals Obregón and Villa

Within a month of the coup, rebellion began to spread throughout Mexico, most prominently led by the governor of the state of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, along with Pablo González and old revolutionaries demobilized by Madero, such as Pancho Villa. Carranza issued a narrowly political statement, the Plan of Guadalupe. Upon taking power, Huerta had moved swiftly to consolidate his hold in the North. Carranza might have counted on Chihuahua Gov. Abraham González, but Huerta had him arrested and murdered for fear he would foment rebellion.[82] The Northern revolutionaries fought under the name of the Constitutionalist Army, with Carranza as the "First Chief" (primer jefe). When northern General Pancho Villa became governor of Chihuahua in 1914, following the ousting of Huerta, he located González's bones and had them reburied with full honors.

In Morelos, Emiliano Zapata continued his rebellion under the Plan of Ayala (while expunging the name of counter-revolutionary Pascual Orozco from it), calling for the expropriation of land and redistribution to peasants. Huerta offered peace to Zapata, who rejected it.[93] The Huerta government was thus challenged by revolutionary forces in the north of Mexico and in the strategic state of Morelos, just south of the capital.

Constitutionalist Generals Obregón (left) and Pancho Villa (center) with U.S. Army General Pershing, posing after a 1914 meeting at Fort Bliss, Texas. After the ouster of Huerta, Villa split with Carranza, and was defeated by Obregón in 1915. In 1916, Villa attacked the United States and Pershing was dispatched in a failed attempt to capture him.

Lame duck U.S. President William Howard Taft, whose term ended 4 March 1913, left the decision of whether to recognize the new government up to the incoming president, Woodrow Wilson. Despite the urging of U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who had played a key role in the coup d'état, President Wilson not only declined to recognize Huerta's government but first supplanted the ambassador by sending his "personal representative" John Lind, a Swedish-American progressive who sympathized with the Mexican revolutionaries, and then, in the summer of 1913, the president recalled Ambasssador Wilson. Further, under President Wilson, the United States lifted the arms embargo imposed by Taft in order to supply weapons to the landlocked rebels; while under the complete embargo Huerta had still been able to receive shipments from the British.[94] While urging other European powers to likewise not recognize Huerta's government, Wilson also attempted to persuade Huerta to call prompt elections "and not present himself as a candidate."[95] The United States offered Mexico a loan on the condition that Huerta accept the proposal. He refused. Lind "clearly threatened a military intervention in case the demands were not met."[95]

In the summer of 1913 Mexican conservatives who had supported Huerta sought a constitutionally elected civilian alternative to Huerta, brought together in a body called the National Unifying Junta.[96] Political parties proliferated in this period, so that by the time of the October congressional elections there were 26. From Huerta's point of view, the fragmentation of the conservative political landscape strengthened his own position. For the country's conservative elite, "there was a growing disillusionment with Huerta, and disgust at his strong-arm methods."[97] Huerta dispensed with the legislature on 26 October 1913, having the army surround its building and arresting congressmen perceived to be hostile to his regime. Congressional elections went ahead, but given that congress was dissolved and some members were in jail, the fervor of opposition candidates disappeared. The sham election "brought home to [Woodrow] Wilson's administration the fatuity of relying on elections to demonstrate genuine democracy."[98] The October 1913 elections were the end of any pretension to constitutional rule in Mexico, with civilian political activity banned.[99] Prominent Catholics were arrested and Catholic newspapers were suppressed.[67]

Huerta militarized Mexico to a greater extent than it already was. In 1913 when Huerta seized power, the army had approximately 50,000 men, but Huerta mandated the number rise to 150,000, then 200,000 and, finally in spring 1914, 250,000.[67] Raising that number of men in so short a time would not occur with volunteers, and the army resorted to the leva, forced conscription. The revolutionary forces had no problem with voluntary recruitment.[100] Most Mexican men avoided government conscription at all costs and the ones dragooned into the forces were sent to areas far away from home and were reluctant to fight. Conscripts deserted, mutinied and attacked and murdered their officers.[101]

U.S. troops enter Veracruz in April 1914

In April 1914 U.S. opposition to Huerta culminated in the seizure and occupation of the port of Veracruz by U.S. marines and sailors. Initially intended, in part, to prevent a German merchant vessel from delivering a shipment of arms to the Huerta regime, the muddled operation evolved into a seven-month stalemate resulting in the death of 193 Mexican soldiers, 19 U.S. servicemen and an unknown number of civilians. The German ship landed its cargo—largely U.S.-made rifles—in a deal brokered by U.S. businessmen (at a different port). U.S. forces eventually left Veracruz in the hands of the Carrancistas, but with lasting damage to U.S.-Mexican relations.[102][103][104]

Zapata took Chilpancingo in mid-March; he followed this soon afterward with the capture of Acapulco, Iguala, Taxco, and Buenavista de Cuellar. Next he confronted the federal garrisons in Morelos, the majority of which defected to him with their weapons. Finally he moved against the capital, by sending his subordinates into Mexico state.[105]

Meanwhile, in early 1914 Pancho Villa had moved against a huertista army holed up in Ojinaga, sending the federal soldiers fleeing to Fort Bliss, in the U.S. In mid-March he moved against Torreón, a well defended railway-hub city. After bitter fighting for the hills surrounding Torreón, and later point blank bombardment, on April 3 Villa's troops entered the devastated city. The huertista forces made a last stand at San Pedro de las Colonias, only to be undone by squabbling between the two commanding officers, General Velasco and General Maas, over who had the higher rank. As of mid-April, Mexico City sat undefended before the Villista forces.[105]

Contemporaneously with Villa's actions, Obregón moved south from Sonora along the Pacific Coast. When his way was blocked by federal gunboats, Obregón attacked these boats with an airplane, an early use of an airplane for military purposes. In early July he defeated federal troops at Orendain, Jalisco, leaving 8,000 federals dead and capturing a large trove of armaments. He was now in a position to arrive at Mexico city ahead of Villa, who was diverted by orders from Carranza to take Saltillo.[105] These defeats caused Huerta's position to continue to deteriorate and in mid-July 1914, he stepped down and fled to Puerto México. Seeking to get himself and his family out of Mexico, he turned to the German government, which had generally supported his presidency. The Germans were not eager to allow him to be transported into exile on one of their ships, but relented. Huerta carried "roughly half a million marks in gold with him" as well as paper currency and checks.[106] In exile, Huerta sought to return to Mexico via the United States; U.S. authorities arrested him and he was imprisoned in Fort Bliss, Texas. He died in January 1916, six months after going into exile.[107]

Huerta's resignation marked the end of an era, for the Federal Army, a spectacularly ineffective fighting force against the revolutionaries, ceased to exist.[108] The revolutionary factions that had united in opposition to Huerta's regime now faced a new political landscape with the counter-revolutionaries decisively defeated. The revolutionary armies now contended for power and a new era of civil war began after an attempt at an agreement among the winners at a Convention of Aguascalientes.

Meeting of the Winners, then civil war 1914–1915[edit]

Map of zones of control during the Mexico Revolution as of early 1915, before Obregón defeated Villa.

With the departure of Huerta in July 1914, the revolutionary factions agreed to meet and make "a last-ditch effort to avert more intense warfare than that which unseated Huerta."[109] Called to meet in Mexico City in October 1914, revolutionaries opposed to Carranza's influence successfully moved the venue to Aguascalientes. The Convention of Aguascalientes did not, in fact, reconcile the various victorious factions in the Mexican Revolution. The break between Carranza and Villa became definitive during the Convention. "Carranza spurned it, and Villa effectively hijacked it. Mexico's lesser caudillos were forced to choose" between those two forces.[110] It was a brief pause in revolutionary violence before another all-out period of civil war ensued.

Carranza had expected to be confirmed in his position as First Chief of revolutionary forces, but his supporters "lost control of the proceedings".[111] Opposition to Carranza was strongest in areas where there were popular and fierce demands for reform, particularly in Chihuahua where Villa was powerful, and Morelos where Zapata held sway.[112] The Convention of Aguascalientes brought that opposition out in an open forum.

The revolutionary generals of the Convention called on Carranza to resign executive power. Although he agreed to do so, he laid out conditions for it. He would resign if both Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, his main rivals for power, would resign and go into exile, and that there should be a pre-constitutionalist government "that would take charge of carrying out the social and political reforms the country needs before a fully constitutional government is re-established."[113]

Pancho Villa (left), Commander of the División del Norte (Division of the North), and Emiliano Zapata, Commander of the Ejército Libertador del Sur (Liberation Army of the South), joined forces in the Army of the Convention, which fought the Constitutionalist Army of Venustiano Carranza. In practice over the long term, Villa and Zapata fought in different areas, and the Constitutionalists under Álvaro Obregón defeated Villa in 1915

Rather than First Chief Carranza being named president of Mexico at the convention, General Eulalio Gutiérrez was chosen for a term of 20 days. The convention declared Carranza in rebellion against it. Civil war resumed, this time between revolutionary armies that had fought in a united cause to oust Huerta in 1913–14. Although during the Convention Constitutionalist General Álvaro Obregón had attempted to be a moderating force and had been the one to convey the Convention's call for Carranza to resign, when the convention forces declared Carranza in rebellion against it, Obregón supported Carranza rather than Villa and Zapata.

Villa went into a loose alliance with southern leader Zapata to form the Army of the Convention. Their forces moved separately on the capital, Mexico City, and took it—which Carranza's forces had abandoned—in December 1914. The famous picture of Zapata and Villa, with Villa sitting in the presidential chair in the National Palace, is a classic image of the Revolution. Villa is reported to have said to Zapata that the presidential chair "is too big for us."[111]

In practice, the alliance between Villa and Zapata as the Army of the Convention did not function beyond this initial victory against the Constitutionalists. Villa and Zapata left the capital, with Zapata returning to his southern stronghold in Morelos, where he continued to engage in warfare under the Plan of Ayala.[111] Lacking a firm center of power and leadership, the Convention government was plagued by instability. Villa was the real power emerging from the Convention, and he prepared to strengthen his position by winning a decisive victory against the Constitutionalist Army.

Villa had a well-earned reputation as a fierce and successful general, and the combination of forces arrayed against Carranza by Villa, other northern generals and Zapata was larger than the Constitutionalist Army, so it was not at all clear that Carranza's faction would prevail. He had the advantage of the loyalty of General Álvaro Obregón. Despite Obregón's moderating actions at the Convention of Aguascalientes, even trying to persuade Carranza to resign his position, he ultimately sided with Carranza.[114]

Another advantage of Carranza's position was the Constitutionalists' control of Veracruz, even though the United States still occupied it. The United States had concluded that both Villa and Zapata were too radical and hostile to its interests and sided with the moderate Carranza in the factional fighting.[115] The U.S. timed its exit from Veracruz, brokered at the Niagara Falls peace conference, to benefit Carranza and allowed munitions to flow to the Constitutionalists. The U.S. granted Carranza's government diplomatic recognition in October 1915.

The rival armies of Villa and Obregón clashed in April 1915 in the Battle of Celaya, which lasted from the sixth to the 15th. The frontal cavalry charges of Villa's forces were met by the shrewd, modern military tactics of Obregón. The victory of the Constitutionalists was complete, and Carranza emerged as the political leader of Mexico with a victorious army to keep him in that position. Villa retreated north. Carranza and the Constitutionalists consolidated their position as the winning faction, with Zapata remaining a threat until his assassination in 1919. Villa also remained a threat to the Constitutionalists, complicating their relationship with the United States when elements of Villa's forces raided Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916, prompting the U.S. to launch a punitive expedition into Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to capture him.

Constitutionalists in Power under Carranza, 1915–1920[edit]

Mexico at the end of 1915, with the Constitutionalists holding the most territory

Venustiano Carranza had proclaimed the Plan of Guadalupe a month after Victoriano Huerta seized power in February 1913, uniting northern factions into a movement to oust Huerta, especially under generals Álvaro Obregón and Pancho Villa. Huerta went into exile in July 1914 and the revolutionary factions sought to decide Mexico's political future in the Convention of Aguascalientes. Villa broke with Carranza and went into alliance with Emiliano Zapata. General Obregón remained loyal to Carranza and led the Constitutionalist Army to victory over Villa in the Battle of Celaya in April 1915. Although Villa was defeated in battle, he was not a spent force by any means, remaining a threat to the Constitutionalists attempts to consolidate power.

Carranza's 1913 Plan of Guadalupe was narrowly political, but he sought to consolidate his position with support of the masses by policies of social and agrarian reform. Carranza issued an agrarian reform law in 1915, drafted by Luis Cabrera, sanctioning the return of all village lands illegally seized in contravention of an 1856 passed under Benito Juárez. The Carranza reform declared village lands were to be divided among individuals, aiming at creating a class of small holders, and not to revive the old structure of communities of communal landholders. In practice, land was transferred not to villagers, but rather redistributed to Constitutional army generals, and created new large-scale enterprises as rewards to the victorious military leaders.[116]

The decisive defeat by Obregón of the Constitutionalists' main rival Pancho Villa in a series of battles in 1915 blunted the most serious threat from the north. In October 1915, the U.S. recognized Carranza's government as the de facto ruling power, following those military victories. This gave Carranza's Constitutionalists legitimacy internationally and access to the legal flow of arms from the U.S. The Carranza government still had active opponents, including Villa, who retreated north,[117] and Zapata, who remained active in the south. Even though he was losing support, Zapata remained a threat to the Carranza regime until his assassination by order of Carranza on 10 April 1919.[118]

The Constitutionalist Army was renamed the "Mexican National Army" and Carranza sent some of its most able generals to eliminate threats. In Morelos he sent General Pablo González to fight Zapata's Liberating Army of the South.[119] Although the peasants of Morelos under Zapata had not expanded beyond their local region and parts of the adjacent state of Puebla, Carranza sought to eliminate Zapata. Morelos was very close to Mexico City, and not having it under Carranza's control constituted a vulnerability for his government. Agents of the Carranza regime assassinated Zapata in 1919. Carranza sent General Francisco Murguía and General Manuel M. Diéguez to track down and eliminate Villa, but hey were unsuccessful. They did capture and execute one of Villa's top men, General Felipe Angeles, the only general of the old Federal Army to join the revolutionaries.[120]

Carranza did not move on land reform, despite the provisions in the new constitution providing for it. Rather, he returned confiscated estates to their owners.[121] Not only did he oppose large-scale land reform, he vetoed laws that would have increased agricultural production by giving peasants temporary access to lands not under cultivation.[122] In places where peasants had fought for land reform, Carranza's policy was to repress them and deny their demands. In the southeast, where hacienda owners held strong, Carranza sent the most radical of his supporters, Francisco Múgica in Tabasco and Salvador Alvarado in Yucatan, to mobilize peasants and be a counterweight to the hacienda owners.[123] Salvador Alvarado after taking control of Yucatán in 1915, organized a large Socialist Party and carried out extensive land reform. He confiscated the large landed estates and redistributed the land in smaller plots to the liberated peasants.[124] Maximo Castillo, a revolutionary brigadier general from Chihuahua was annoyed by the slow pace of land reform under the Madero presidency. He ordered the subdivision of six haciendas belonging to Luis Terrazas, which were given to sharecroppers and tenants.[125]

Uncle Sam entering Mexico in 1916 to punish Pancho Villa.
Rebel Armies between 1916 and 1920.

Carranza's relationship with the United States had initially benefited from its recognition of his government, with the Constitutionalist Army being able to buy arms. In 1915 and early 1916, there is evidence that Carranza was seeking a loan from the U.S. with the backing of U.S. bankers and a formal alliance with the U.S. Mexican nationalists in Mexico were seeking a stronger stance against the colossus of the north, by taxing foreign holdings and limiting their influence. With Villa's raid against Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916, ended the possibility of a closer relationship with the U.S.[126] Under heavy pressure from public opinion in the U.S. to punish the attackers (stoked mainly by the papers of ultra-conservative publisher William Randolph Hearst, who owned a large estate in Mexico), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent General John J. Pershing and around 5,000 troops into Mexico in an attempt to capture Villa.[127]

The U.S. Army intervention, known as the Punitive Expedition, was limited to the western Sierras of Chihuahua. From the Mexican perspective, as much as Carranza sought the elimination of his rival Villa, but as a Mexican nationalist he could not countenance the extended U.S. incursion into its sovereign territory. Villa knew the inhospitable terrain intimately and operating with guerrilla tactics, he had little trouble evading his U.S. Army pursuers. Villa was deeply entrenched in the mountains of northern Mexico, and knew the terrain too well to be captured. U.S. General John J. Pershing could not continue with his unsuccessful mission; declaring victory the troops returned to the U.S. after nearly a year. They were shortly thereafter deployed to Europe when the U.S. entered World War I on the side of the Allies. The Punitive Mission not only damaged the fragile United States-Mexico relationship, but also gave way to a rise in anti-American sentiment among the Mexicans.[128] Carranza asserted Mexican sovereignty and forced the U.S. to withdraw in 1917.

With the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, foreign powers with significant economic and strategic interests in Mexico—-particularly the U.S., Great Britain and Germany—-made efforts to sway Mexico to their side, but Mexico maintained a policy of neutrality. In the Zimmermann Telegram, a coded cable from the German government to Carranza's government, Germany attempted to draw Mexico into war with the United States, which was itself neutral at the time. Germany hoped to draw U.S. troops from deployment to Europe and as a reward in the event of a German victory to return the territory lost to Mexico to the U.S. in the Mexican American War. Carranza did not pursue this policy, but the leaking of the telegram pushed the U.S. into war against Germany in 1917.

The 1917 Constitution[edit]

The new constitution was approved on 5 February 1917. This picture shows the Constituent Congress of 1917 swearing fealty to the new Constitution

Carranza had consolidated enough power to go forward with the drafting of a revised constitution in late 1916, in order to give his regime legitimacy. Carranza was only acting president at the time, and the expectation was to hold presidential elections. He called for a constituent congress to draft a new document based on liberal and revolutionary principles. Labor had supported the Constitutionalists and Red Battalions had fought against the Zapatistas, the peasant revolutionaries of Morelos. As revolutionary violence subsided somewhat in 1916, leaders of the Constitutionalist faction met in Querétaro to revise the 1857 constitution, under which the faction had fought. Once the convention was in session after disputes about delegates, delegates reviewed Carranza's draft constitution. That document was a minor revision of the 1857 constitution and included none of the social, economic, and political demands for which revolutionary forces fought and died. The convention was divided between conservatives, mostly politicians who had supported Madero and then Carranza, and progressives, who were soldiers who had fought in revolutionary battles. The progressives, deemed radical Jacobins by the conservatives "sought to integrate deep political and social reforms into the political structure of the country."[129] making principles for which many of the revolutionaries had fought into law.

The Mexican Constitution of 1917 was strongly nationalist, giving the government the power to expropriate foreign ownership of resources and enabling land reform (Article 27). It also had a strong code protecting organized labor (Article 123) and extended state power over the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico in its role in education (Article 3).

Villistas and zapatistas were excluded from the Constituent Congress, but their political challenge pushed the delegates to radicalize the Constitution, which in turn was far more radical than Carranza himself.[130] While he was elected constitutional president in 1917, he did not implement its most revolutionary elements, particularly those dealing with land reform. Carranza came from the old Porfirian landowning class, so that repugnant to him peasant demands for redistribution of land and their expectation that land seized would not revert to their previous owners.

Radical reforms were embedded in the constitution, in particular labor rights, agrarian reform, anticlericalism, and economic nationalism. The Mexican state asserted dominion over the nation's territory and resources (Article 27), which enabled land reform and expropriation of land. Labor was rewarded with a strong article in the 1917 constitution protecting labor rights (Article 123). Following the ratification of the constitution, Carranza was formally elected to the presidency of Mexico.[131] Carranza and his political allies were opposed to creating a constitution that went beyond tinkering with the organizational framewor[[k of the 1857 constitution. The progressive faction, pejoratively called Jacobins by their opponents pushed for a constitution that enshrined new rights in the constitution itself, rather than trusting that the head of state and the apparatus of government would honor the gains. Although revolutionary generals were not part formal delegates to the convention, Álvaro Obregón indirectly, then directly, sided with the progressives against Carranza. In historian Frank Tannenbaum's assessment, "The Constitution was written by the soldiers of the Revolution, not by the lawyers, who were there [at the convention], but were generally in opposition.",[132] The constitution was drafted and ratified quickly, in February 1917. In December 1916, Villa had captured the major northern city of Torreón, with Obregón especially realizing that Villa was a continuing threat to the Constitutionalist regime. Zapata and his peasant followers in Morelos also never put down their guns and remained a threat to the government in Mexico City. incorporating radical aspects of Villa's program and the Zapatistas' Plan of Ayala, the constitution became a way to outflank the two opposing revolutionary factions.

Carranza was elected president, and once formally in office, largely ignored or actively undermined the more radical aspects of the constitution. Obregón returned to Sonora and began building a power base that would launch his presidential campaign in 1919, which included the new labor organization headed by Luis N. Morones, the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM). Carranza increasingly lost support of labor, crushing strikes against his government. Carranza did not move forward on land reform, fueling increasing opposition from peasants. In an attempt to suppress the continuing armed opposition conflict in Morelos, Carranza sent General Pablo González with troops. Going further, Carranza ordered the assassination of Emiliano Zapata in 1919. It was a huge blow, but Zapatista General Genovevo de la O continued to lead the armed struggle there.

Emiliano Zapata and the Revolution in Morelos[edit]

Francisco I. Madero, Emiliano Zapata, in Cuernavaca. Zapata rebelled against Madero in 1911 because of Madero's slowness in implementing land reform

From the late Porfiriato until his assassination by an agent of President Carranza in 1919, Emiliano Zapata played an important role in the Mexican Revolution, the only revolutionary of first rank from southern Mexico.[133] His home territory in Morelos was of strategic importance just south of Mexico City. Of the revolutionary factions, it was the most homogeneous, with most fighters being free peasants and only few peons on haciendas. With no industry to speak of in Morelos, there were no industrial workers in the movement and no middle class participants. A few intellectuals supported the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas' armed opposition movement just south of the capital needed to be heeded by those in power in Mexico City. Unlike northern Mexico, close to the U.S. border and access to arms sales from there, the Zapatista territory in Morelos was geographically isolated from access to arms. The Zapatistas did not appeal for support to international interests nor play a role international politics the way the Pancho Villa, the other major populist leader, did. The movement's goal was for land reform in Morelos and restoration of the rights of communities. The Zapatistas were divided into guerrilla fighting forces that joined together for major battles before returning to their home villages. Zapata was not a peasant himself, but led peasants in his home state o in regionally concentrated warfare regain village lands and return to subsistence agriculture. Morelos was the only region where land reform was enacted during the years of fighting.[134]

Zapata initially supported Madero, since his Plan de San Luis Potosí had promised land reform. But Madero negotiated a settlement with the Díaz regime that continued its power. Once elected in November 1911, Madero did not move on land reform, promptinig Zapata to rebel against him and draft the Plan of Ayala (1911).[135][136]

With the overthrow of Madero and murder, Zapata disavowed his previous admiration of Pascual Orozco and directed warfare against the Huerta government, as did northern states of Mexico in the Constitutionalist movement, but Zapata did not ally or coordinate with it. With the defeat of Huerta in July 1914, Zapata loosely allied with Pancho Villa, who had split from Venustiano Carranza and the Constitutionalist Army. The loose Zapata-Villa alliance lasted until Obregón decisively defeated Villa in a series of battles in 1915, including the Battle of Celaya. Zapata continued to oppose the Constitutionalists, but lost support in his own area and attempted to entice defectors back to his movement. That was a fatal error. He was ambushed and killed on 10 April 1919 by agents of now President Venustiano Carranza.[137] Photos were taken of his corpse, demonstrating that he had indeed been killed.

Although Zapata was assassinated, the agrarian reforms that peasants themselves enacted in Morelos were impossible to reverse. The central government came to terms with that state of affairs. Zapata had fought for land and for those who tilled it in Morelos, and succeeded. His credentials as a steadfast revolutionary made him an enduring hero of the Revolution. His name and image were invoked in the 1994 uprising in Chiapas, with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

The last successful coup, 1920[edit]

1920 cartoon published in the U.S. as Carranza was ousted

Even as Carranza's political authority was waning, he attempted to impose a political nobody, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Ignacio Bonillas, as his successor. Under the Plan of Agua Prieta, a triumvirate of Sonoran generals, Álvaro Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Adolfo de la Huerta, with elements from the military and labor supporters in the CROM, rose in successful rebellion against Carranza, the last successful coup of the revolution.[131] Carranza fled to Guerrero but was killed or committed suicide fleeing from Mexico City to Veracruz. Carranza's attempt to impose his choice was considered a betrayal of the Revolution and his remains were not placed in the Monument to the Revolution until 1942.[138]

"Obregón and the Sonorans, the architects of Carranza's rise and fall, shared his hard headed opportunism, but they displayed a better grasp of the mechanisms of popular mobilization, allied to social reform, that would form the bases of a durable revolutionary regime after 1920."[121] The interim government of Adolfo de la Huerta negotiated Pancho Villa's surrender in 1920, rewarding him with an hacienda where he lived in peace until he floated political interest in 1924 election. Villa was assassinated in July 1923.[139] Álvaro Obregón was elected president in October 1920, the first of a string of revolutionary generals -- Calles, Rodríguez, Cárdenas, and Avila Camacho—to hold the presidency until 1946, when Miguel Alemán, the son of a revolutionary general, was elected.

Revolutionary violence[edit]

Revolutionaries seized trains. Photo by Hugo Brehme[140]
Soldaderas were participants in the Revolution, as combatants and support of combatants

Railway lines constructed during the Porfiriato facilitated movement of men, horses, and artillery and were used extensively by all factions. This was much greater in northern Mexico, lesser in the areas controlled by Zapata. When men and horses were transported by rail, the soldiers rode on the tops of boxcars.[141] Railway lines, engines, and rolling stock were targeted for sabotage and the rebuilding of tracks and bridges were an ongoing issue. Major battles in the north were fought along railway lines or railway junctions, such as Torreón. Early on northern revolutionaries also added hospital cars so that the wounded could be treated. Horses remained important in troop movement, either directly ridden to combat zones or loaded on trains. Infantry also still played a role. Arms purchases mainly from the United States allowed northern armies almost inexhaustible access to rifles and ammunition so long as they had the means to pay for them. New military technology, particularly machine guns mechanized death on a large scale.[142] El Paso, Texas became a major supplier of weaponry to the Constitutionalist Army.[143]

Civilians fleeing the danger zone in Mexico City February 16, 1913.[144]

Cities were the prizes in revolutionary clashes, and many were severely damaged. A notable exception is Mexico City, which only suffered damage during the days leading up to the ouster and murder of Madero, when rebels shelled the central core of the capital, causing death of civilians and many animals. The goal was to convince observers in Mexico and the world that Madero had completely lost control. The capital changed hands several times during the post-Huerta period. When the Conventionists held power, Villa and his men exercised violence with impunity against major supporters of Huerta and against those who were considered revolutionary traitors. Villa's terror was not on the scale of the French Revolution or the Bolshevik Revolution, but assassinations, kidnapping of the wealthy for ransom, damaged Villa's reputation and cooled the U.S. enthusiasm for him.[145]

Landed estates, many owned by foreigners, were targeted for looting, with crops and animals sold or used by revolutionaries. Some owners were killed. In the wake of the Revolution, a joint American-Mexican Claims Commission commission of assessed the monetary damage and compensation due.[146]

A major result of the revolution was the dissolution in 1914 of Mexico's Federal Army, which Madero had kept intact when elected in 1911 and Huerta had used to oust Madero. But Federal soldiers were not interned in prisoner of war camps. Often soldiers of a losing faction were incorporated as troops by the ones who defeated them. Revolutionaries were generally not highly ideological, so that there was no "revolutionary terror" targeting rivals after they triumphed, unlike the French and Russian Revolutions. An exception to this historically in Mexico is the aftermath of its nineteenth-century wars against indigenous rebels.[147]

The death toll and displacement of population due to the Revolution is difficult to calculate. The losses amongst Mexico's population of 15 million were high, but numerical estimates vary a great deal. Perhaps 1.5 million people died, and nearly 200,000 refugees fled abroad, especially to the United States.[3][148]

Photo of Zapata's corpse, Cuautla, 10 April 1919[149]

Political assassination became a frequent way to eliminate rivals in the Revolution and afterward. All the major leaders of the Revolution were later assassinated: Madero in 1913, Zapata in 1919, Carranza in 1920, Villa in 1923, and Obregón in 1928. Porfirio Díaz, Victoriano Huerta, and Pascual Orozco had gone into exile. Madero had expected also to go into exile, turning himself into Huerta's custody. Huerta considered that too dangerous a course, since he could have been a rallying point. Huerta did not want to execute Madero publicly. The cover story of Madero and Pino Suárez being caught in crossfire gave Huerta plausible deniability. He needed it, since he had only a thin veil of legitimacy in his ascent to the presidency.[150] The bodies of Madero and Pino Suárez were not photographed or displayed, but pictures of Madero's clothing were taken, showing bullet holes in the back. Zapata's death in 1919 was at the hands of Carranza's military. There was no need for a coverup since he had remained a threat to the Carranza regime. Photos of the dead Zapata were taken and published, as proof of his demise, but Carranza was tainted by the deed.[151]

The economic damage the Revolution caused lasted for years. Population loss due military and civilian casualties, displacement of populations who migrated to safer areas, and damage to infrastructure had significant impacts. The nation would not regain the level of development reached in 1910 for another twenty years.[152]

Consolidation of the Revolution, 1920–1940[edit]

The period 1920–40 is generally considered to be one of revolutionary consolidation, with the leaders seeking to return Mexico to the level of development it had reached in 1910, but under new parameters of state control. Authoritarian tendencies rather than Liberal democratic principles characterized the period, with generals of the revolution holding the presidency and designating their successors.[153] In the late 1920s, anticlerical provisions of the 1917 Constitution were stringently enforced, leading to a major grassroots uprising against the government, the bloody Cristero War.

Sonoran Generals in the Presidency, 1920-1928[edit]

Revolutionary General and President of Mexico Álvaro Obregón 1920-1924
Revolutionary General and President of Mexico Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–1928)

There is no consensus when the Revolution ended, but the majority of scholars consider the 1920s and 1930s as being on the continuum of revolutionary change.[154][155] The end date of revolutionary consolidation has also been set at 1946, with the last general serving as president and the political party morphing into the Institutional Revolutionary Party.[156]

In 1920, Sonoran revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón was elected President of Mexico and inaugurated in December 1920, following the coup engineered by him and revolutionary generals Plutarco Elías Calles, and Adolfo de la Huerta. The coup was supported by other revolutionary generals against the civilian Carranza attempting to impose another civilian, Ignacio Bonillas as his successor. Obregón did not have to deal with two major revolutionary leaders. De la Huerta managed to persuade revolutionary general Pancho Villa to lay down his arms against the regime in return for a large estate in Durango, in northern Mexico. Carranza's agents had assassinated Emiliano Zapata in 1919, removing a consistent and effective opponent. Some counterrevolutionaries in Chiapas laid down their arms. The only pro-Carranza governor to resist the regime change was Esteban Cantú in Baja California, suppressed by northern revolutionary general Abelardo Rodríguez,[157] later to become president of Mexico. Although the 1917 Constitution was not fully implemented and parts of the country were still controlled by local strongmen, caciques, Obregón's presidency did begin consolidation of parts of the revolutionary agenda, including expanded rights of labor and the peasantry.

Obregón was a pragmatist and not an ideologue, so that domestically he had to appeal to both the left and the right to ensure Mexico would not fall back into civil war. Securing labor rights built on Obregón's existing relationship with urban labor. The Constitutionists had made an alliance with labor during the revolution, mobilizing the Red Battalions against Zapata's and Villa's force. This alliance continued under Obregón's and Calles's terms as president. Obregón also focused on 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.[158]

Obregón's government was faced with the need for stabilizing Mexico after a decade of civil war. With the revolutionary armies having defeated the old federal army, Obregón now dealt with military leaders who were used to wielding power violently. Enticing them to leave the political arena in exchange for material rewards was one tactic. De la Huerta had already successfully used it with Pancho Villa. Not trusting Villa to remain on the sidelines, Obregón had him assassinated in 1923.[159] In 1923 De la Huerta rebelled against Obregón and his choice of Calles as his successor as president, leading to a split in the military. The rebellion was suppressed and Obregón began to professionalize the military, reduced the number of troops by half, and forced officers to retire. Obregón (1920-24) followed by Calles (1924-28) viewed bringing the armed forces under state control as essential to stabilizing Mexico.[160] Downsizing the military meant that state funds were freed up for other priorities, especially education.[161] Obregón's Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos, initiated innovated broad educational and cultural programs.

Obregón sought diplomatic recognition by the U.S. in order to be considered legitimately holding power. He believed that once U.S. recognition was secured, other nations would follow suit. The U.S. and foreign interests were alarmed at provision in the new constitution powering the government to expropriate private property, and foreigners also had claims against Mexico for damage to their property during the decade of turmoil. U.S. and British entrepreneurs had developed the petroleum industry in Mexico and had claims to oil still in the ground. Foreigners held extensive agricultural land that was now at risk to be distributed to landless Mexicans. Obregón and the U.S. enterec talks to sort out many issues, the Bucareli Treaty, concluded in 1923, with the U.S. recognizing Obregón's government.[162] In Mexico the agreement was controversial, with it being perceived as making major concessions to the U.S. and undermining revolutionary goals, but Obregón pushed it through the legislature and got U.S. recognition. When his fellow Sonoran general De La Huerta rebelled later in 1923, the U.S. supplied Obregón with arms to put down the challenge.[163]

Conflict zones of the Cristero War. Map of Mexico showing regions in which Cristero outbreaks occurred
  Large-scale outbreaks
  Moderate outbreaks
  Sporadic outbreaks

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, but Calles was virulently anti-clerical and unlike Obregón who largely avoided direct conflict with the Catholic Church, Calles as president enforced the anticlerical provisions of the 1917 Constitution. Calles also put into effect a national school system that was largely secular to combat church influence in late 1924. After two years the state crackdown, the Catholic Church protested by going on its version of a strike, refusing to baptize, marry, give last rites, or give communion to parishioners. Many peasants also joined in opposition to the state's crackdown on religion, beginning the Cristero War, named for their clarion call Viva Cristo Rey ("long live Christ the king"). It was a lengthy, major uprising against the revolutionary vision of the Mexican state in central Mexico, not a short-lived, localized rebellion. Calles's stringent enforcement of anticlerical laws had an impact on the presidential succession, with Calles's comrade and chosen successor, ex-President and President-elect Obregón being assassinated by a religious fanatic in 1928, plunging the political system into a major crisis. By law Calles could not be re-elected, but a solution needed to be found to keep political power in the hands of the revolutionary elite and prevent the country from reverting to civil war.

Political crisis and the founding of the revolutionary party[edit]

Logo of the PNR

With the 1917 Constitution enshrining the principle of "no re-election", revolutionaries who had fought for the principle could not ignore it. Elections were when disgruntled aspirants to the presidency made their move, because it was a period of political transition. The Sonoran triumvirate had done so in 1920. In 1923, De la Huerta rebelled against Obregón's choice of Calles rather than himself as candidate. When Calles designated ex-president Obregón to succeed him, permitted by a constitutional amendment, the principle of no re-elected was technically adhered to, but there was the clear possibility of an endless alternation of the two powerful men. Other rebellions of revolutionary generals broke out in 1927, by Francisco Serrano and Arnulfo R. Gómez, which was suppressed and the leaders executed. Obregón was elected, but assassinated before he took office, plunging the country into a political crisis over presidential succession. Since the Mexican Revolution had been sparked by the 1910 re-election of Díaz, Calles and others were well aware that the situation could spiral out of control. This political crisis came when the bloody Cristero War raged across central Mexico. A managed political solution to the crisis of presidential succession had to the found. The answer was the founding of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario. In 1929 Calles brought together the various factions, mainly regional strongmen. Calles himself could not become president again, but he remained a powerful figure, the Jefe Máximo, in a period called the Maximato. Three men held the presidency in what would have been Obregón second term. To alternation of the presidency by men who had previously held the office, the constitution was revised, reverted to the principle of no re-election.[164]

An achievement in this period was the 1929 peace agreement between the Catholic Church and the Mexican state, brokered by Dwight Morrow, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The church-state conflict went into hibernation following the designation of General Manuel Ávila Camacho to succeed President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1940.

Revitalization under Lázaro Cárdenas, 1934-1940[edit]

Revolutionary general and President Lázaro Cárdenas, pictured after nationalizing the railway system 1937

In 1934, Calles chose Lázaro Cárdenas as the PNR's presidential candidate. Unlike his three predecessors controlled by Calles, Cárdenas threw off the jefe máximo's power and set about implementing a re-vitalilzed revolutionary agenda. He vastly expanded agrarian reform, expropriated commercial landed estates; nationalized the railways and the petroleum industry; kept the peace with the Catholic Church as an institution; put down a major rebellion by Saturnino Cedillo; founded a new political party that created sectoral representation of industrial workers, peasants, urban office workers, and the army; engineered the succession of his hand-picked candidate; and then, perhaps the most radical act of all, stepped away from presidential power, letting his successor, General Manuel Ávila Camacho, to exercise fully presidential power.

Cárdenas came from the southern state of Michoacan, but during the revolution had fought in the north, rising to the rank of general, and becoming a part of the northern dynasty. He returned to Michoacan after the revolution, and implemented a number of reforms that were precursors of those he enacted as president. With Calles's founding of the PNR, Cárdenas became part of the party apparatus. Calles had no idea that Cárdenas was as politically savvy as he turned out to be, managing to oust Calles from his role as the power behind the presidency and forcing him into exile. Calles had increasingly moved to the political right, abandoning support for land reform. Peasants who had joined the revolution with the hope that land reform would be enacted, and the constitution had empowered the state to expropriate land and other resources. During Cárdenas's presidency, he expropriated and distributed land and organized peasant leagues, incorporating them into the political system. Although in theory peasants and workers could come together as a single powerful sector, the PNR ruled that peasant organizations were to be separate from industrial labor, and organizing the countryside should be under the control of the party.[165]

Cárdenas encouraged working class organizations and sought to bring them into the political system under state control. The CROM, an umbrella labor organization, had declined in power with the ouster of Calles. Radical labor leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano helped create the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), a nationalist, autonomous, non-politically affiliated organization. Communists in the labor movement were aligned with the Moscow-controlled Communist International, and Cárdenas sought to strengthen the Mexican labor organization aligned with the Mexican revolutionary state.

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 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 Cárdenas' mandate for secular education early in his presidency in 1934. The Cristeros were not supported by the Catholic hierarchy and Cárdenas quashed the revolt. The Catholic Church told rebels to surrender themselves to the government.[166] In 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 a military coup in revolutionary Mexico in 1938. Seeing no opposition from the bourgeoisie, generals, or conservative landlords, in 1936 Cárdenas began building collective agricultural enterprises called ejidos to help give peasants access to land, mostly in southern Mexico. These appeased some agriculturalists, but many peasants would have preferred receiving individual plots of land to which they had title. The aim of ejidos was to replace the large-scale landed estates, many of which were foreign owned. Andrés Molina Enríquez, the intellectual father of article 27 of the constitution empowering the state to expropriate property, criticized the move, saying that the state itself was replacing private land owners, while the peasants remained tied to the land. Ejidos 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.

Logo of the PRM, the new party created by Cárdenas

Cárdenas dissolved the revolutionary party founded by Calles, and established a new party, the Partido Revolucionario Mexicano, organized by sectors. There were four sectors: industrial workers, peasants, middle class workers, largely employed by the government, and the army. Bringing the military into the party structure was calculated to manage it politically and to remove it from independently intervening in politics, a tradition dating back to independence in the 1820s. This new party organization was a resurrection of corporatism, essentially organization by estates or interest groups.[167] The party was reorganized once again in 1946 as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which kept sectoral representation but eliminate the military as a sector.

Cárdenas left office in 1940 at age 45. His departure marked the end of the social revolution and ushering in half a century of relative stability. However, in the assessment of historian Alan Knight, the 1940 election was "a requiem for Cardenismo: it revealed that hopes of a democratic succession were illusory; that electoral endorsement of the regime had to be manufactured; and that the Cardenista reforms, while creating certain loyal clienteles (some loyal from conviction, some by virtue of co-optation) had also raised up formidable opponents who now looked to take the offensive."[168] He had a long and lustrous post-presidency, remaining influential in political life, and considered "the moral conscience of the Revolution."[169] Cárdenas and his supporters carried "reforms further than any of their predecessors in Mexico or their counterparts in other Latin American countries."[170]

Cultural aspects of the Mexican Revolution[edit]

There was considerable cultural production during the Revolution itself, including printmaking, music and photography, while in the post revolutionary era, revolutionary themes in painting and literature shaped historical memory and understanding of the Revolution.

Journalism and propaganda[edit]

Anti-Díaz publications before the outbreak of the Revolution helped galvanize opposition to him, and he cracked down with censorship. As President Madero believed in freedom of the press, which helped galvanize opposition to his own regime. The Constitutionalists had an active propaganda program, paying writers to draft appeals to opinion in the U.S. and to disparage the reputations of Villa and Zapata as reactionaries, bandits, and unenlightened peasants. El Paso, Texas just across from Ciudad Juárez was an important site for revolutionary journalism in English and Spanish. Mariano Azuela wrote Los de Abajo ("The Underdogs") in El Paso and published in serial form there.[171] The alliance Carranza made with the Casa del Obrero Mundial helped fund that appealed to the urban working class, particularly in early 1915 before Obregón's victories over Villa and González's over Zapata. Once the armed opposition was less of a threat, Carranza dissolved Vanguardia as a publication.[172]

Prints and cartoons[edit]

José Guadalupe Posada. The Calavera Maderista

During the late Porfiriato, political cartooning and print making developed as popular forms of art. The most well known print maker of that period is José Guadalupe Posada, whose satirical prints, particularly featuring skeletons, circulated widely.[173] Posada died in early 1913, so his caricatures are only of the early revolution. One published in El Vale Panchito entitled "oratory and music" shows Madero atop a pile of papers and the Plan of San Luis Potosí, haranguing a dark-skinned Mexican whose large sombrero has the label pueblo (people). Madero is in a dapper suit. The caption reads "offerings to the people to rise to the presidency."[174] Political cartoons by Mexicans as well as Americans caricatured the situation in Mexico for a mass readership.[175] Political broadsides including songs of the revolutionary period were also a popular form of visual art. After 1920, Mexican muralism and printmaking were two major forms of revolutionary art. Prints were easily reproducible and circulated widely, while murals commissioned by the Mexican government necessitated a journey to view them. Printmaking "emerged as a favored medium, alongside government sponsored mural painting among artists ready to do battle for a new aesthetic as well as a new political order."[176] Diego Rivera, better known for his painting than printmaking, reproduced his depiction of Zapata in the murals in the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca in a 1932 print.[177]

Photography, motion pictures, and propaganda[edit]

Child soldier[178]

The Mexican Revolution was extensively photographed as well as filmed, so that there is a large, contemporaneous visual record. "The Mexican Revolution and photography were intertwined."[179] There was a large foreign viewership for still and moving images of the Revolution. The photographic record is by no means complete since much of the violence took place in relatively remote places, but it was a media event covered by photographers, photojournalists, and professional cinematographers. Those behind the lens were hampered by the large, heavy cameras that impeded capturing action images, but no longer was written text enough, with photographs illustrating and verifying the written word.

The Revolution "depended heavily, from its inception, on visual representations and, in particular, on photographs."[180] The large number of Mexican and foreign photographers followed the action and stoked public interest in it. Among the foreign photographers were Jimmy Hare, Otis A. Aultman, Homer Scott, and Walter Horne. Images appeared in newspapers and magazines, as well as postcards.[181] Horne was associated with the Mexican War Postcard Company.[182]

Iconic image of Villa in Ojinaga, a publicity still taken by Mutual Film Corporation photographer John Davidson Wheelan in January 1914[183]

Most prominent of the documentary film makers were Salvador Toscano and Jesús H. Abitía, and some 80 cameramen from the U.S. filmed as freelancers or employed by film companies. The footage has been edited and reconstructed into documentary films, Memories of a Mexican (Carmen Toscano de Moreno 1950) and Epics of the M,exican Revolution (Gustavo Carrera).[184] Principal leaders of the Revolution were well aware of the propaganda element of documentary film making, and Pancho Villa contracted with an American film company to record for viewers in the U.S. his leadership on the battlefield. The film has been lost, but the story of the film making was interpreted in the HBO scripted film And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself.[185] The largest collection of still photographs of the Revolution is the Casasola Archive, named for photographer Agustín Casasola (1874-1938), with nearly 500,000 images held by the Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca. A multivolume history of the Revolution, Historia Gráfica de la Revolución Mexicana, 1900-1960 contains hundreds of images from the era, along with explanatory text.[186]


José Clemente Orozco, The Trench, mural in the San Ildefonso College, Mexico City

Venustiano Carranza attracted artists and intellectuals to the Constitutionalist cause. Painter, sculptor and essayist Gerardo Murillo, known as Dr. Atl, was ardently involved in art production in the cause of the revolution. He was involved with the anarchosyndicalist labor organization, the Casa del Obrero Mundial and in met and encouraged José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros in producing political art.[187] The government of Álvaro Obregón (1920–24) and his Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos commissioned artists to decorate government buildings of the colonial era with murals depicting Mexico's history. Many of these focused on aspects of the Revolution. The "Big Three" of Mexican muralism, Diego Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros produced narratives of the Revolution, shaping historical memory and interpretation.[188][189]


Corrido sheet music celebrating the entry of Francisco I. Madero into Mexico City in 1911.

A number of traditional Mexican songs or corridos were written at the time, serving as a kind of news report and functioned as propaganda, memorializing aspects of the Mexican Revolution.[190][191] The term Adelitas an alternative word for soldaderas, is from a corrido titled "La Adelita". The song "La Cucaracha", with numerous verses, was popular at the time of the Revolution, and subsequently, and is too in the present day. Published corridos often had images of particular revolutionary heroes along with the verses.


Few novels of the Mexican Revolution were written at the time: Mariano Azuela's Los de Abajo (translated as The Underdogs) is a notable one, originally published in serial form in newspapers. Literature is a lens through which to see the Revolution.[192] Nellie Campobello is one of the few women writers of the Revolution; her Cartucho (1931) is an account of the Revolution in northern Mexico, emphasizing the role of Villistas, when official discourse was erasing Villa's memory and emphasizing nationalist and centralized ideas of the Revolution.[193] Martín Luis Guzmán's El águila y el serpiente (1928) and La sombra del caudillo(1929) drew on his experiences in the Constitutionalist Army.[194][195] In the fiction of Carlos Fuentes, particularly The Death of Artemio Cruz, the Revolution and its perceived betrayal are key factors in driving the narrative.

Historical memory[edit]

The Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. It was to be the new legislative palace of the Díaz regime, but construction was interrupted by the Revolution

The centennial of the Mexican Revolution was another occasion to construct of historical of the events and leaders. In 2010, the Centennial of the Revolution and the Bicentennial of Independence was an occasion to take account of Mexico's history. The centennial of independence in 1910 had been the swan song of the Porfiriato. With President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) of the conservative National Action Party, there was considerable emphasis on the bicentennial of independence rather than on the Mexican Revolution.

Heroes and Villains[edit]

Metro Zapata in Mexico City, the icon shows a stylized, eyeless Zapata
Equestrian bronze of Villa in Chihuahua, Chihuahua

The popular heroes of the Mexican Revolution are the two radicals who lost: Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. As early as 1921, the Mexican government began appropriating the memory and legacy of Zapata for its own purposes.[196] Pancho Villa fought against those who won the Revolution and he was excluded from the revolutionary pantheon for a considerable time, but his memory and legend remained alive among the Mexican people. The government recognized his continued potency and had his remains reburied in the Monument of the Revolution after considerable controversy.[197]

With the exception of Zapata who rebelled against him in 1911, Francisco Madero was revered as "the apostle of democracy." Madero's murder in the 1913 counterrevolutionary coup elevated him as a "martyr" of the Revolution, whose memory unified the Constitutionalist coalition against Huerta. Venustiano Carranza gained considerable legitimacy as a civilian leader of the Constitutionalists, having supported Madero in life and led the successful coalition that ousted Huerta. But then Carranza downplayed Madero's role in the revolution in order to substitute himself as the origin of the true revolution. Carranza owned "the bullets taken from the body of Francisco I. Madero after his murder. Carranza had kept them in his home, perhaps because they were a symbol of a fate and a passive denouement he had always hoped to avoid."[198]

Huerta remains the enduring villain of the Mexican Revolution for his coup against Madero. Díaz is still popularly and officially reviled, although there was an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation in the 1990s by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement and amending the constitution to eliminate further land reform. Pascual Orozco, who with Villa captured Ciudad Juárez in May 1911, continues to have an ambiguous status, since he led a major rebellion against Madero in 1912 and then threw his lot in with Huerta. Orozco much more than Madero was considered a manly man of action.


The most permanent manifestations of historical are in the built landscape, especially the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City and statues and monuments to particular leaders. The Monument to the Revolution was created from the partially built Palacio Legislativo, a major project of Díaz's government. The construction was abandoned with the outbreak of the Revolution in 1910. In 1933 during the Maximato of Plutarco Elías Calles the shell was re-purposed to commemorate the Revolution. Buried in the four pillars are the remains of Francisco I. Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Plutarco Elías Calles, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Francisco [Pancho] Villa.[199] In life, Villa fought Carranza and Calles, but his remains were transferred to the monument in 1979 during the administration of President José López Portillo.[200] Prior to the construction of that monument, one was built in 1935 to the amputated arm of General Álvaro Obregón, lost in victorious battle against Villa in the 1915 Battle of Celaya. The monument is on the site of the restaurant La Bombilla, where he was assassinated in 1928. The arm was cremated in 1989, but the monument remains.[201][202]


Names of towns and neighborhoods of major cities. In Mexico City, there are delegaciones (boroughs) named for Álvaro Obregón, Venustiano Carranza, and Gustavo A. Madero, brother of murdered president. There is a portion of the old colonial street Calle de los Plateros leading to the main square zócalo of the capital named Francisco I. Madero.

The Mexico City Metro has stations commemorating aspects of the Revolution and the revolutionary era. When it opened in 1969, with line 1 (the "Pink Line"), two stations alluded to the Revolution. Most directly referencing the Revolution was Metro Pino Suárez, named after Francisco I. Madero's vice president, who was murdered with him in February 1913. There is no Metro stop named for Madero. The other was Metro Balderas, whose icon is a cannon, alluding to the Ciudadela armory where the coup against Madero was launched. In 1970, Metro Revolución opened, with the station at the Monument to the Revolution. As the Metro expanded, further stations with names from the revolutionary era opened. In 1980, two popular heroes of the Revolution were honored, with Metro Zapata explicitly commemorating the peasant revolutionary from Morelos. A sideways commemoration was Metro División del Norte, named after the Army that Pancho Villa commanded until its demise in the Battle of Celaya in 1915. The year 1997 saw the opening of the Metro Lázaro Cárdenas station. In 1988, Metro Aquiles Serdán honors the first martyr of the Revolution Aquiles Serdán. In 1994, Metro Constitución de 1917 opened, as did Metro Garibaldi, named after the grandson of Italian fighter for independence, Giuseppi Garibaldi. The grandson had been a participant in the Mexican Revolution. In 1999, the radical anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón was honored with the Metro Ricardo Flores Magón station. Also opening in 1999 was Metro Romero Rubio, named after the leader of Porfirio Díaz's Científicos, whose daughter Carmen Romero Rubio became Díaz's second wife.[203] In 2012, a new Metro line opened with a Metro Hospital 20 de Noviembre stop, a hospital named after the date that Madero set in 1910 for rebellion against Díaz. There are no Metro stops named for revolutionary generals and presidents of Mexico, Carranza, Obregón, or Calles, and only an oblique reference to Villa in Metro División del Norte.

Mexican banknotes also commemorate Mexican revolutionaries, most prominently Plutarco Elías Calles, revolutionary general, president of Mexico, and founder of the political party that has dominated Mexico almost continuously from 1919. Lázaro Cárdenas, revolutionary general and president of Mexico, who is often credited with revitalizing the Revolution, is commemorated on a banknote. In 1996, Mexican peso notes of low denomination were printed with the image of peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The banknotes were withdrawn in 1997.[204] The obverse of the withdrawn banknote depicted the Zapata statue erected in Cuautla in 1932 by Oliverio Martínez, showing Zapata in full charro attire seated on a fine horse, placing his hand on the shoulder of a peasant with a machete.[205]

Role of women[edit]

The role of women in the Mexican Revolution has not been an important aspect of official historical memory, although the situation is changing. Carranza pushed for the rights of women, and gained women's support. 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.[206] In the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution, there is a recreation of Adelita, the idealized female revolutionary combatant or soldadera. The typical image of a soldadera is of a woman with braids, wearing female attire, with ammunition belts across her chest. There were a few revolutionary women, known as coronelas, who commanded troops, some of whom dressed and identified as male; they do not fit the stereotypical image of soldadera and are not celebrated in historical memory at present.[207]

Interpreting the history of the Mexican Revolution[edit]

There is a vast historiography on the Mexican Revolution, with many different interpretations of the history. Over time it has become more fragmented. There is consensus as to when the revolution began, that is in 1910, but there is no consensus when it ended. The Constitutionalists defeated their major rivals and called the constitutional convention that drafted the 1917 Constitution, but did not effectively control all regions. The year 1920 was the last successful military rebellion, bringing the northern revolutionary generals to power. According to Álvaro Matute, "By the time Obregón was sworn in as president on December 1, 1920, the armed stage of the Mexican Revolution was effectively over."[208] The year 1940 saw revolutionary general and President Lázaro Cárdenas choose Manuel Avila Camacho, a moderate, to succeed him. A 1966 anthology by scholars of the revolution was entitled Is the Mexican Revolution Dead?.[209] Historian Alan Knight has identified "orthodox" interpretation of the revolution as a monolithic, popular, nationalist revolution, while revisionism has focused on regional differences, and challenges its credentials revolution.[210] One scholar classifies the conflict as a "great rebellion" rather than a revolution.[211]

Major leaders of the Revolution have been the subject of biographies, including the martyred Francisco I. Madero. There are many biographies of Zapata and Villa, whose movements did not achieve power, along with studies of the presidential career of revolutionary general Lázaro Cárdenas. In recent years, biographies of the victorious northerners Carranza, Obregón, and Calles have reassessed their roles in the Revolution. Sonorans in the Mexican Revolution have not yet collectively been the subject of a major study.

Often studied as an event solely of Mexican history, or one also involving Mexico's northern neighbor, scholars now recognize that "From the beginning to the end, foreign activities figured crucially in the Revolution's course, not simple antagonism from the U.S. government, but complicated Euro-American imperialist rivalries, extremely intricate during the first world war."[212] A key work illuminating the international aspects of the Revolution is Friedrich Katz's 1981 work The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution.[213]


Strong central government[edit]

Corpses in front of the National Palace in the 1913 coup that ousted democratically-elected but weak president Madero. [214]

Although the ignominious end of Venustiano Carranza's presidency in 1920 cast a shadow over his legacy in the Revolution, sometimes viewed as a conservative revolutionary, he and his northern allies laid "the foundation of a more ambitious, centralizing state dedicated to national integration and national self-assertion."[110] In the assessment of historian Alan Knight, "a victory of Villa and Zapata would probably have resulted in a weak, fragmented state, a collage of revolutionary fiefs of varied political hues presided over by a feeble central government."[110] Porfirio Díaz had successfully centralized power during his long presidency. Carranza was an old politico of the Díaz regime, considered a kind of bridge between the old Porfirian order and the new revolutionary.[198] The northern generals seized power in 1920, with the "Sonoran hegemony prov[ing] complete and long lasting."[215] The Sonorans, particularly Álvaro Obregón, were battle-tested leaders and pragmatic politicians able to consolidate centralized power immediately after the military phase ended. The revolutionary struggle created a new regime that comprised the regional faction of northwest Mexico, willing to make deals with other regions and factions. In the assessment of historian John Womack, "The new state itself would therefore serve as the nation's bourgeois party. Its function forecast its programme, a long series of reforms from above... [from] threats to Mexican sovereignty and capitalism from abroad and from below."[216] The Constitution of 1917 gave the government tremendous power to address issues that brought many into revolutionary struggle. Of key importance is Plutarco Elías Calles's creation of the political party in 1929, which became the means to manage competing groups' demands and to centralize power in the hands of the "Revolutionary family." It is "impossible to separate ... the creation of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) from the formation of a powerful state."[217] By 1940, the government had controlled the power of the revolutionary generals, making the Mexican military subordinate to the strong central government, breaking the cycle of military intervention in politics dating to the independence era. It is also in contrast to the pattern of military power in many Latin American countries.[218]

Constitution of 1917[edit]

Metro Constitución de 1917

An important element the Revolution's legacy is the 1917 Constitution. It was pushed forward by populist generals within Carranza's government to undermine the popular support that Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata held.[130] It was not written by liberal elites or the military itself, but rather young radicalized professionals, giving the document some authenticity for the peasantry. The document brought numerous reforms demanded by populist factions of the revolution, with article 27 empowering the state to expropriate resources deemed vital to the nation. These included expropriation of hacienda lands and redistribution to peasants. Article 27 also empowered the government to expropriate holdings of foreign companies, most prominently seen in the 1938 expropriation of oil. In Article 123 the constitution codified major labor 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 labor and company stores. The constitution strengthened restrictions on the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. However, in the early 1990s, the government introduced reforms to the constitution that rolled back the government's power to expropriate property and its restrictions on religious institutions.[219] Just as the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari was amending significant provisions of the constitution, Metro Constitución de 1917 station was opened.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party[edit]

Logo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which incorporates the colors of the Mexican flag

The creation of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) emerged as a way to manage political power and succession without resorting to violence. It was established in 1929 by President Calles, in the wake of the assassination of President-elect Obregón, who was accused of the act to perpetuate his own power. Initially, Calles remained the power behind the presidency, during a period known as the Maximato, but his hand-picked presidential candidate, Lázaro Cárdenas, won a power struggle with Calles, expelling him from the country. Cárdenas reorganized the party that Calles founded, creating formal sectors for interest groups, including one for the Mexican military. The reorganized party was named Party of the Mexican Revolution. In 1946, the party again changed its name to the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The party under its various names held the presidency uninterruptedly from 1929 to 2000, and again from 2012 to 2018 under President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The PRI was built as a big-tent corporatist party, to bring many political factions and interest groups (peasantry, labor, urban professionals) together, while excluding conservatives and Catholics, who eventually formed the opposition National Action Party in 1939.

To funnel the populace into the party, Calles and his supporters built various delegations composed of popular, agrarian, labor, and military groupings (the military was dropped from the party when it reorganized as the PRI in 1946), which channeled both political patronage and limited political options of those sectors. This structure strengthened the power of the PRI and the government. Union and peasant leaders themselves gained power of patronage, and the discontent of the membership was channeled through them. If organizational leaders could not resolve a situation or gain benefits for their members, it was they who were blamed for being ineffective brokers. There was the appearance of union and peasant leagues' power, but the effective power was in the hands of the PRI. Under PRI leadership before the 2000 elections which saw the conservative National Action Party elected most power came from a Central Executive Committee, which budgeted all government projects. This in effect turned the legislature into a rubber stamp 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.[220] The Revolution was a powerful memory and its slogans and promises were utilized to bolster the party's power. Latterly, some historians have written of the "myth" of the revolution, namely the memory of the revolution was exploited by the party to legitimatize its rule with one historian Macario Schettino writing: "the twentieth century is for Mexico, the century of the Mexican revolution. But this is a concept, not a fact. The Revolution which marks the twentieth century...never happened. The Mexican Revolution, on which was founded the political regime which ruled from 1928 and for nearly seventy years is a cultural construction".[221] In 1975, the political scientist Rafael Segovia wrote that "the mythification of the Mexican Revolution is an omnipresent and indisputable fact" of Mexican life with the memory of the revolution becoming in the words of the British historian Alan Knight a sort of "secular religion" that justified the Party's rule.[222] In particular, the memory of the revolution was used as justification for the party's policies with regard to economic nationalism, educational policies, labour policies, indigenismo and land reform.[223]

Logo for the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution (PARM), with the stylized Monument to the Revolution

The Party has been 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 middle class.

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.[224]

In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of president Lázaro Cárdenas, broke with the PRI, forming an independent leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. It is not by chance that the party used the word "Revolution" in its name, challenging the Institutional Revolutionary Party's appropriation of the Mexican Revolution. Earlier, there was a leftist party the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution, which never functioned as a full political party fielding presidential candidates, but asserted its legitimacy as the party of Revolution in Mexico until its demise.

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 patrimonialist society.[citation needed] 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.[225]

A more modern legacy is that of another insurgency from the 1990s, taking its name from Emiliano Zapata, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). The neo-Zapatista 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 favor of modern 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 EZLN draws heavily from early revolutionary rhetoric. It is inspired by many of Zapata's policies, including a call for decentralized local rule.

Social changes[edit]

Logo for the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution

The Mexican Revolution brought about various social changes. First, the leaders of the Porfiriato lost their political power (but kept their economic power), and the middle class started to enter the public administration. "At this moment the bureaucrat, the government officer, the leader were born […]".[226] The army opened the sociopolitical system and the leaders in the Constitutionalist faction, particularly Álvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles, controlled the central government for more than a decade after the military phase ended in 1920. The creation of the PNR in 1929 brought generals into the political system, but as an institution, the army's power as an interventionist force was tamed, most directly under Lázaro Cárdenas, who in 1936 incorporated the army as a sector in the new iteration of the party, the Revolutionary Party of Mexico (PRM). The old federal army had been destroyed during the revolution, and the new collection of revolutionary fighters were brought under state control.[227]

Although the proportion between rural and urban population, and the number of workers and the middle class remained practically the same,the Mexican Revolution brought substantial qualitative changes to the cities. Big rural landlords moved to the city escaping from chaos in the rural areas. Some poor farmers also migrated to the cities and they settled on neighborhoods where the Porfiriato elite used to live. The standard of living in the cities grew: it went from contributing to 42% of the national GDP to 60% by 1940. However, social inequality remained.[228]

The greatest change occurred among the rural population. The agrarian reform allowed some revolutionary fighters to have access to land, (ejidos), that remained under control of the government. However, the structure of land ownership for ejidetarios did not promote rural development and impoverished the rural population even further.[229][230] "From 1934 to 1940 wages fell 25% on rural areas, while for city workers wages increased by 20%".[231] "There was a lack of food, there was not much to sell and even less to buy. […] the habit of sleeping in the floor remains, […] diet is limited to beans, tortilla, and chili pepper; clothing is poor".[232] Peasants temporarily migrated to other regions to work in the production of certain crops where they were frequently exploited, abused, and suffered from various diseases. Others decided to migrate to the United States.[233]

See also[edit]


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  113. ^ Carranza quoted in Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power, p. 349.
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  141. ^ Katz, Life and Times of Pancho Villa, photo #9 between p.486 and 487
  142. ^ Lomnitz, Death and the Idea of Mexico. New York: Zone Books 2005,, 383.
  143. ^ Harris and Sadler, The Secret War in El Paso, 87-105
  144. ^ Fondo Casasola, Inv. 37311. SINAFO-Fototeca Nacional del INAH.
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  149. ^ Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Archivo Fotográfico, Delgado y García)
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  173. ^ Barajas, Rafael. Myth and Mitote: The Political Caricature of José Guadalupe Posada and Manuel Alfonso Manila. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica 2009
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  189. ^ *Folgarait, Leonard. Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
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  191. ^ Simmons, Merle. The Mexican corrido as a source of interpretive study of modern Mexico, 1900–1970. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957
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  202. ^ Fabrizio Mejía Madrid, "Insurgentes" in The Mexico City Reader, ed. Rubén Gallo. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004, p. 63.
  203. ^ Perhaps enough time had passed since the Revolution and Romero Rubio was just a name with no historical significance to ordinary Mexicans. In 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the presidential election to the candidate of the National Action Party.
  204. ^ Image of the Zapata banknote that was previously on Wiki Commons has been deleted.
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Many portions of this article are translations of excerpts from the article Revolución Mexicana in the Spanish Wikipedia.

Further reading[edit]

There is a huge bibliography of works in Spanish on the Mexican Revolution. Below are works in English, some of which have been translated from Spanish. Some of the works in English have been translated to Spanish.

Mexican Revolution – general histories[edit]

  • Brenner, Anita. The Wind that Swept Mexico. New Edition. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1984.
  • Brewster, Keith. "Mexican Revolution: October 1910 – February 1913" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 850–855. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Crossen, John F. "Mexican Revolution: October 1915 – May 1917" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 859–862. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: Genesis under Madero. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1952.
  • Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: The Constitutionalist Years. Austin, T: University of Texas Press, 1972.
  • Gilly, A. The Mexican Revolution. London, 1983. Translated from Spanish.
  • Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution: 1910–1940. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
  • Hart, John Mason. Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987.
  • Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
  • Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution, Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants (1986); The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-revolution and Reconstruction. University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
  • Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Translated from Spanish.
  • Matute, Alvaro. "Mexican Revolution: May 1917 – December 1920" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 862–864. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Niemeyer, Victor E. Revolution at Querétaro: The Mexican Constitutional Convention of 1916–1917. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974.
  • Quirk, Robert E. The Mexican Revolution, 1914–1915: The Convention of Aguascalientes. New York: The Citadel Press, 1981.
  • Quirk, Robert E. The Mexican Revolution and the Catholic Church 1910–1919. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973
  • Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo. The Great Rebellion: Mexico, 1905–1924. New York: Norton, 1980.
  • Tuñon Pablos, Esperanza. "Mexican Revolution: February 1913 – October 1915," in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 855–859 . Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997
  • Tutino, John. From Insurrection to Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
  • Wasserman, Mark. The Mexican Revolution: A Brief History with Documents. (Bedford Cultural Editions Series) first edition, 2012.
  • Wilkie, James. The Mexican Revolution: Federal Expenditure and Social Change since 1910. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.
  • Womack, John, Jr. "The Mexican Revolution" in The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 5, ed. Leslie Bethell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Biography and social history[edit]

  • Baldwin, Deborah J. Protestants and the Mexican Revolution: Missionaries, Ministers, and Social Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press 1990.
  • Beezley, William H. Insurgent Governor: Abraham González and the Mexican Revolution in Chihuahua. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
  • Brunk, Samuel. Emiliano Zapata: Revolution and Betrayal in Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1995.
  • Buchenau, Jürgen, Plutarco Elías Calles and the Mexican Revolution. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefied 2007.
  • Buchenau, Jürgen. The Last Caudillo: Alvaro Obregón and the Mexican Revolution. Malden MA: Wiley-Blackwell 2011.
  • Caballero, Raymond (2015). Lynching Pascual Orozco, Mexican Revolutionary Hero and Paradox. Create Space. ISBN 978-1514382509.
  • Cockcroft, James D. Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press 1968.
  • Fisher, Lillian Estelle. "The Influence of the Present Mexican Revolution upon the Status of Mexican Women," Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb. 1942), pp. 211–228.
  • Garner, Paul. Porfirio Díaz. New York: Pearson 2001.
  • Guzmán, Martín Luis. Memoirs of Pancho Villa. Translated by Virginia H. Taylor. Austin: University of Texas Press 1966.
  • Hall, Linda. Alvaro Obregón, Power, and Revolution in Mexico, 1911–1920. College Station: Texas A&M Press 1981.
  • Henderson, Peter V.N. In the Absence of Don Porfirio: Francisco León de la Barra and the Mexican Revolution. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000
  • Katz, Friedrich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1998.
  • Lomnitz, Claudio. The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. Brooklyn NY: Zone Books 2014.
  • Lucas, Jeffrey Kent. The Rightward Drift of Mexico's Former Revolutionaries: The Case of Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.
  • Macias, Anna. "Women and the Mexican Revolution, 1910–1920". The Americas, 37:1 (Jul. 1980), 53–82.
  • Meyer, Michael. Huerta: A Political Portrait. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.
  • Meyer, Michael. Mexican Rebel: Pascual Orozco and the Mexican Revolution, 1910–1915. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
  • Poniatowska, Elena. Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution. Texas: Cinco Puntos Press; First Edition, November 2006
  • Reséndez, Andrés. "Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution." The Americas 51, 4 (April 1995).
  • Ross, Stanley R. Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press 1955.
  • Richmond, Douglas W. Venustiano Carranza's Nationalist Struggle: 1893–1920. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
  • Shadle, Stanley F. Andrés Molina Enríquez: Mexican Land Reformer of the Revolutionary Era. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1994.
  • Smith, Stephanie J. Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucatán Women and the Realities of Patriarchy. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2009
  • Womack, John, Jr. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Vintage Press 1970.

Regional histories[edit]

  • Benjamin, Thomas and Mark Wasserman, eds. Provinces of the Revolution. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
  • Blaisdell, Lowell. The Desert Revolution, Baja California 1911. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962.
  • Brading, D.A., ed. Caudillo and Peasant in the Mexican Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
  • Joseph, Gilbert. Revolution from Without: Yucatán, Mexico, and the United States, 1880–1924. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
  • Harris, Charles H. III. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906–1920. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.
  • Jacobs, Ian. Ranchero Revolt: The Mexican Revolution in Guerrero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
  • LaFrance, David G. The Mexican Revolution in Puebla, 1908–1913: The Maderista Movement and Failure of Liberal Reform. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1989.
  • Lear, John. Workers, Neighbors, and Citizens: The Revolution in Mexico City. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 2001.
  • Snodgrass, Michael. Deference and Defiance in Monterrey: Workers, Paternalism, and Revolution in Mexico, 1890–1950. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Wasserman, Robert. Capitalists, Caciques, and Revolution: The Native Elites and Foreign Enterprise in Chihuahua, Mexico, 1854–1911. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

International dimensions[edit]

  • Buchenau, Jürgen, "Mexican Revolution: Foreign Intervention" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, pp. 865–869. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Clendenin, Clarence C. The United States and Pancho Villa: A study in unconventional diplomacy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
  • Cline, Howard F. The United States and Mexico. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.
  • Gilderhus, M.T. Diplomacy and Revolution: U.S.-Mexican Relations under Wilson and Carranza. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977.
  • Grieb, K.J. The United States and Huerta. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.
  • Haley, P. E. Revolution and Intervention: The diplomacy of Taft and Wilson with Mexico, 1910–1917. Cambridge, 1970.
  • Hart, John Mason. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.
  • Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
  • Meyer, Lorenzo. The Mexican Revolution and the Anglo-Saxon Powers. LaJolla: Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies. University of California San Diego, 1985.
  • Quirk, Robert E. An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz. Louisville: University of Kentucky Press 1962.
  • Stefan Rinke, Michael Wildt (eds.): Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions. 1917 and its Aftermath from a Global Perspective. Campus 2017.
  • Smith, Robert Freeman. The United States and Revolutionary Nationalism in Mexico 1916–1932. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
  • Teitelbaum, Louis M. Woodrow Wilson and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Exposition Press, 1967.

Memory and cultural dimensions[edit]

  • Benjamin, Thomas. La Revolución: Mexico's Great Revolution as Memory, Myth, and History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
  • Brunk, Samuel. The Posthumous Career of Emiliano Zapata: Myth, Memory, and Mexico's Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
  • Buchenau, Jürgen. "The Arm and Body of a Revolution: Remembering Mexico's Last Caudillo, Álvaro Obregón" in Lyman L. Johnson, ed. Body Politics: Death, Dismemberment, and Memory in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004, pp. 179–207
  • Foster, David, W., ed. Mexican Literature: A History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
  • Hoy, Terry. "Octavio Paz: The Search for Mexican Identity". The Review of Politics 44:3 (July 1982), 370–385.
  • Gonzales, Michael J. "Imagining Mexico in 1921: Visions of the Revolutionary State and Society in the Centennial Celebration in Mexico City", Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos vol. 25. No 2, summer 2009, pp. 247–270.
  • Herrera Sobek, María, The Mexican Corrido: A Feminist Analysis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
  • Oles, James, ed. South of the Border, Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914–1947. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1993.
  • O'Malley, Ilene V. 1986. The Myth of the Revolution: Hero Cults and the Institutionalization of the Mexican State, 1920–1940. Westport: Greenwood Press
  • Ross, Stanley, ed. Is the Mexican Revolution Dead?. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1975.
  • Rutherford, John D. Mexican society during the Revolution: a literary approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Simmons, Merle. The Mexican corrido as a source of interpretive study of modern Mexico, 1900–1970. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957.
  • Vaughn, Mary K. Negotiating Revolutionary Culture: Mexico, 1930–1940. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.
  • Weinstock, Herbert. "Carlos Chavez". The Musical Quarterly 22:4 (October 1936), 435–445.

Visual culture: prints, painting, film, photography[edit]

  • Barajas, Rafael. Myth and Mitote: The Political Caricature of José Guadalupe Posada and Manuel Alfonso Manila. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2009
  • Britton, John A. Revolution and Ideology Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Louisville: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.
  • Coffey, Mary. How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.
  • Doremus, Anne T. Culture, Politics, and National Identity in Mexican Literature and Film, 1929–1952. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2001.
  • Elliott, Ingrid. "Visual Arts: 1910–37, The Revolutionary Tradition." Encyclopedia of Mexico. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997, pp. 1576–1584.
  • Flores, Tatiana. Mexico's Revolutionary Avant-Gardes: From Estridentismo to ¡30–30!. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.
  • Folgarait, Leonard. Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Ittman, John, ed. Mexico and Modern Printmaking, A Revolution in the Graphic Arts, 1920 to 1950. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2006.
  • Lear, John. (2017) Picturing the Proletariat: Artists and Labor in Revolutionary Mexico, 1908-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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Primary sources[edit]

  • Angelini, Erin. "The Bigger Truth About Mexico"
  • Bulnes, Francisco. The Whole Truth About Mexico: The Mexican Revolution and President Wilson's Part Therein, as seen by a Cientifico. New York: M. Bulnes Book Company 1916.
  • O'Shaunessy, Edith. A Diplomat's Wife in Mexico. New York: Harper 1916.
  • Reed, John. Insurgent México. New York: International Publishers, 1969.
  • Turner, John Kenneth. Barbarous Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press 1984.
  • Wasserman, Mark. The Mexican Revolution: A Brief History with Documents. (Bedford Cultural Editions Series) first edition, 2012.


External links[edit]