It progressed into a protracted and multi-sided civil war. It produced the Mexican Constitution of 1917. The Revolution is generally considered to have lasted until 1920, although the country continued to have sporadic but comparatively minor outbreaks of rebellion in the 1920s, with the major exception of the Cristero War. The Revolution triggered the creation of the National Revolutionary Party in 1929 (renamed the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI in 1946). Putting forward a variety of leaders, the PRI held power and led the country until the general election of 2000.
After Benito Juárez’s death in 1872, Porfirio Díaz wanted to take over as Mexico’s leader. The two men were allies and had fought against the French in the Battle of Puebla, but once Juárez rose to power, Díaz tried to unseat him. Díaz began his reign as president in 1876, and ruled until 1910 when Francisco I. Madero succeeded him, taking office in 1911. Díaz’s regime is remembered for the advances he brought in industry and modernization, but at the expense of human rights and liberal reforms. He worked to reduce the power of the Catholic Church and expropriated some of their large property holdings.
The era of Porfirio Díaz’s government from 1876–1910 is known as the Porfiriato. Díaz had a strict “No Re-election” policy in which presidents could not serve consecutive terms in office. He followed this rule when he stepped down after his first term and was succeeded by Manuel González, one of his underlings. The new president’s period in office was marked by corruption and official incompetence. When Díaz ran in the next election, he was a welcome replacement. In future elections, Díaz would conveniently put aside his "No Re-election" slogan and run for president in every election.
Díaz became the dictator he had warned the people against. Through the army, the Rurales, and gangs of thugs, Diaz frightened people into voting for him. If bullying citizens into voting for him failed, he simply rigged the votes in his favor. Díaz knew he was violating the constitution, as well as his own liberal beliefs, by using force to stay in office. He justified his acts by claiming that Mexico was not yet ready to govern itself; only he knew what was best for his country, and he enforced his belief with a strong hand. "Order followed by Progress" were the watchwords of his rule.
While Díaz’s presidency was characterized by promotion of industry and the pacification of the country, it came at the expense of the working class, farmers and peasants, who suffered extreme exploitation. The economy took a great leap during the Porfiriato, especially through the encouragement of construction such as factories, roads, dams, industries, and better farms. This resulted in the rise of an urban proletariat and the influx of foreign capital (principally from the United States). Progress came at a price though, since civil liberties such as freedom of the press were suspended under the Porfiriato. The growing influence of the United States was a constant problem for Díaz, since a major portion of Mexico's land had earlier been lost to the United States in the Mexican-American War.
Wealth, political power, and access to education were concentrated among a handful of families, overwhelmingly of European descent, who controlled much property in large estates. Most of the people in Mexico were landless. Foreign companies, mostly from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, also exercised power in Mexico.
Díaz changed land reform efforts started under previous leaders. Díaz’s new land laws virtually undid all the hard work by leaders such as Juárez. No peasant or farmer could claim the land he occupied without formal legal title. Small farmers were helpless and angry; change of power would be necessary if Mexico was to continue being successful. From this cause, many leaders including Francisco I. Madero, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata would launch a rebellion against Díaz, escalating into the eventual Mexican Revolution.
Most historians mark the end of the Porfiriato in 1911 as the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. In a 1908 interview with the U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would step down to allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Growing "old and careless," Díaz figured he would retire to Europe and allow a younger man to take over his presidency. Because of the dissidence this caused, Díaz decided to run again in 1910 for the last time, with an eye toward arranging a succession in the middle of his term.
Madero decided to run against Díaz in 1910. Diaz thought he could control the election as he had the previous seven. Although similar overall to Díaz in his ideology, unlike Díaz, Madero hoped for other elites to rule alongside the President. Díaz, however, did not approve of Madero and had him jailed on election day in 1910. Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a landslide, providing the initial impetus for the outbreak of the Revolution.
Francisco I. Madero, a young man from a wealthy family in the northern state of Coahuila, stated in 1910 that he would be running in the next election against Díaz for the presidency. In order to ensure that Madero did not win, Díaz had Madero thrown in jail and then declared himself the winner. Madero soon escaped and fled for a short period of time to Texas, United States. On October 5, 1910, Madero issued a "letter from jail" called the Plan de San Luis Potosí, with its main slogan "free suffrage and no re-election." It declared the Díaz regime illegal and called for revolt against Díaz to overthrow the Porfiriato, starting on November 20. Though Madero's letter was not a plan for major socioeconomic revolution, it offered the hope of change for many disadvantaged Mexicans.
Madero's vague promises of agrarian reforms attracted many of the peasants throughout Mexico. He was able to gain much needed support from them in order to remove Díaz from power. With the support of the mostly peasant Indians, Madero's army fought Díaz's army and had some success. Díaz's army gradually lost control of Mexico and his administration started to fall apart. The desire to remove Díaz was so great that many natives and different leaders supported of Madero and fought on his side.
In late 1910, revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero's letter. Pascual Orozco along with governor Abraham González formed a powerful military union in the north and took Mexicali and Chihuahua City, although they were not especially committed to Madero. These victories encouraged other military and political alliances, including Pancho Villa. Against Madero's wishes, Orozco and Villa fought for and won Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso, Texas, along the Rio Grande.
After Madero defeated the weak federal army, on May 21, 1911, he signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez with Diaz. It stated that Díaz would abdicate his rule and be replaced by Madero. Insisting on a new election, Madero won overwhelmingly in late 1911. Some supporters criticized him for appearing weak by not assuming the presidency and failing to pass immediate reforms. But Madero established a liberal democracy and received support from the United States and popular leaders such as Orozco, Villa, and Zapata.
Madero was a weak leader and quickly lost much of his support while in power. He angered both the more radical revolutionists and the conservative counter-revolutionists, including the unpopular Congress elected during Díaz's rule. His refusal to enact land reforms caused a break with Zapata who announced the Plan de Ayala, which called for the return of lands "usurped by the hacendados" (hacienda owners) and demanded an armed conflict against the government.
Soon after, Orozco also broke away from Madero's government and rebelled against him. He created his own army of Orozquistas, who were also called the Colorados ("Red Flaggers") after Madero refused to agree to social reforms calling for better working hours, pay, and conditions. The rural working class, who had supported Madero, now took up arms supporting Zapata and Orozco. The people's support for Madero quickly deteriorated.
Madero's time as leader was short lived and came to an end after General Victoriano Huerta set in motion a coup d'état. Madero had appointed Huerta as commander-in-chief when he first claimed power, but Huerta had turned against him. Following Huerta’s coup d'état, Madero was forced to resign in 1913. Madero and vice president José María Pino Suárez were both assassinated less than a week later. The murder of Madero ruptured the country, but he became honored as a martyr of the revolution.
In early 1913, Victoriano Huerta, who commanded the armed forces, conspired with U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, Félix Díaz and Bernardo Reyes, to remove Madero from power. La decena trágica was an event, in which ten days of sporadic fighting in a faked battle occurred between federal troops led by Huerta and Díaz’s conservative rebel forces. This fighting would stop when Huerta, Félix Díaz, and Henry Lane Wilson met and signed the "Embassy Pact" in which they agreed to conspire against Madero to install Huerta as president.
When Huerta gained power and became president, most powers around the world acknowledged him as the rightful leader. However, incoming-president of the United States Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize Huerta's government. Henry Lane Wilson was withdrawn as U.S. Ambassador by Woodrow Wilson and his secretary of state William Jennings Bryan, to be replaced by John Lind, a Swedish-American socialist. Bryan, President Wilson, and many Mexicans saw Huerta as an illegal usurper of presidential power in violation of the Constitution of Mexico.
Venustiano Carranza, a politician and rancher from Coahuila, was forefront in the opposition against Huerta, calling his forces the Constitutionalists, with the secret support of the United States. On March 26, 1913, Carranza issued the Plan de Guadalupe, which was a refusal to recognize Huerta as president and called for a declaration of war between the two factions. Leaders such as Villa, Zapata, Carranza, and Álvaro Obregón led the fighting against Huerta. In April 1914, U.S. opposition to Huerta had reached its peak when American forces seized and occupied the port of Veracruz, cutting off arms and money supplies from the German Empire. In late July, this situation worsened for Huerta. He vacated his office and fled to Puerto México.
The German Empire, which favored Huerta while in power, considered him an important factor related to the war breaking out in Europe (World War I). If Huerta could establish himself again as leader of Mexico, which was the German government's goal, the United States would be distracted on its homefront, giving the Germans an advantage in Europe. Huerta moved to the United States where he began to work toward another revolution in Mexico. The German government gave him funding and advice.
The U.S government and Carranza, the newly elected President of Mexico, were worried when Huerta arrived. They set up surveillance to watch Huerta and try to ensure he did not gain entry into Mexico. The United States government and Carranza wanted to prevent another counter-revolution. .
Huerta did not survive long enough to re-enter into Mexico. He was stopped at the border in El Paso, Texas, by the United States government and kept there under house arrest. He died in early 1916.
José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Francisco "Pancho" Villa, came from the northern state of Durango. He was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution. Villa with his army of Villistas joined the ranks of the Madero movement. He led the Villistas in many battles, such as the attack of Ciudad Juárez in 1911 (which overthrew Porfirio Díaz and gave Madero power), the Battle of Celaya.
In 1911, Victoriano Huerta appointed Villa his chief military commander. During this period Huerta and Villa became rivals. In 1912 when Villa's men seized a horse and Villa decided to keep it for himself, Huerta ordered Villa’s execution for insubordination. Raúl Madero, brother of the former president, intervened to save Villa's life. Jailed in Mexico City, Villa escaped to the United States. Soon after the assassination of President Madero, Villa returned with a group of companions to fight Huerta. By 1913 the group had become Villa's División del Norte (Northern Division). This army led by Villa had numerous American members. Villa and his army, along with Carranza and Obregón, joined in resistance to the Huerta dictatorship.
Villa and Carranza had different goals. Because Villa wanted to continue the revolution, he became an enemy of Carranza. After Carranza took control in 1914, Villa and other revolutionaries who opposed him met at what was called the Convention of Aguascalientes. The convention deposed Carranza in favor of Eulalio Gutiérrez. In the winter of 1914, Villa and Zapata's troops entered and occupied Mexico City. Villa's treatment of Gutiérrez and the citizenry outraged more moderate elements of the population, who forced Villa from the city in early 1915. He was replaced as head of the country by Obregón and Carranza.
In 1915, Villa took part in two of the most important battles during the revolution, the two engagements in the Battle of Celaya, on April 6–7 and from April 13–15. Obregon defeated Villa in the Battle of Celaya, one of the bloodiest of the revolution. Carranza emerged as the winner of the war and seized power. A short time after, the United States recognized Carranza as president of Mexico. On March 9, 1916, Villa crossed the United States–Mexico border and raided Columbus, New Mexico in a desperate attempt to have the United States intervene and weaken the Carranza administration. During this attack, 18 Americans were killed as well as 90 of Villa's men. The United States began to look at Villa as more of a bandit than a revolutionary.
Pressured by Texans to confront Mexican lawlessness, US President Wilson sent General John J. Pershing and 10,000 U.S. troops on an unsuccessful pursuit to capture Villa. It was known as the Punitive Expedition. After nearly a year of fighting local rebels, Pershing was called off and given command of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.
In 1920, Obregón finally signed a peace treaty with Villa, who retired from the revolution. In 1923 Villa was assassinated by gunfire while traveling in his car.
Venustiano Carranza became president in 1914, after the overthrow of the Huerta government. He was driven out of Mexico City by Villa and Zapata in 1915, but later gained the support of the masses by the development of a program of social and agrarian reform. He was elected president of Mexico in 1917. To try to restrain the revolutionary slaughter, Carranza formed the Constitutional Army to try to bring peace by adoption of the majority of rebel social demands into the new constitution. He reluctantly incorporated most of these demands into the new Constitution of 1917. The socialist constitution addressed foreign ownership of resources, an organized labor code, the role of the Roman Catholic Church in education, and land reform.
Although his intentions were good, Carranza was not able to stay in power long enough to enforce many of the reforms in the Constitution of 1917. There was greater decentralization of power because of his weakness. He had appointed General Obregón as Minister of War and of the Navy. In 1920, Obregón with other leading generals Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo de la Huerta led a revolt against Carranza. Their forces assassinated Carranza on May 21, 1920.
Emiliano Zapata Salazar was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution. He is considered one of the outstanding national heroes of Mexico: towns, streets, and housing developments called "Emiliano Zapata" are common across the country. His image has been used on Mexican banknotes. People have long taken different sides on their evaluation of Emiliano Zapata and his followers. Some considered them bandits, but to others they were true revolutionaries who worked for the peasants. Presidents Porfirio Díaz and Venustiano Carranza called Zapata a womanizer, barbarian, terrorist, and a bandit. Conservative media nicknamed Zapata "The Attila of the South."
Peasant and indigenous Mexicans admired Zapata as a practical revolutionary whose populist battle cry "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Liberty) was elaborated in the Plan de Ayala for land reform. He fought for political and economic emancipation of the peasants in Southern Mexico. Zapata was killed in 1919 by General Pablo González and his aide Colonel Jesús Guajardo in an elaborate ambush. Guajardo set up the meeting under the pretext of wanting to defect to Zapata's side. At the meeting, Gonzalez's men assassinated Zapata.
The majority of Zapata’s supporters were indigenous peasants from Morelos and surrounding areas. But intellectuals from urban areas also joined the Zapatistas and played a significant part in their movement, specifically the structure and communication of the Zapatista ambitions. Zapata had received only a few years of limited education in Morelos. Educated supporters helped express his political aims. The urban intellectuals were known as "city boys" and were predominantly young males. They joined the Zapatistas for many reasons, including curiosity, sympathy, and ambition.
Zapata agreed that intellectuals could work on political strategy, but he had the chief role in proclaiming Zapatista ideology. The city boys also provided medical care, helped promote and instruct supporters in Zapatista ideology, created a plan for agrarian reform, aided in rebuilding villages destroyed by government forces, wrote manifestos, and sent messages from Zapata to other revolutionary leaders. Zapata's compadre Otilio Montaño was one of the most prominent city boys. Before the Revolution, Montaño was a professor. During the Revolution he taught Zapatismo, recruited citizens, and wrote the Plan de Ayala for land reform. Other well-known city boys were Abraham Martínez, Manuel Palafox, Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Pablo Torres Burgos, Gildardo Magaña, Dolores Jiménez y Muro, Enrique Villa, and Genaro Amezcua.
Many women were involved with and supported the Zapatistas. Since Zapata's political ambitions and campaign were usually local, the women were able to aid the Zapatista soldiers from their homes. There were also female Zapatista soldiers who served from the beginning of the revolution. When Zapata met with President Madero on July 12, 1911, he was accompanied by his troops. Amongst these troops were female soldiers, including officers. Some women also led bandit gangs before and during the Revolution. Women joined the Zapatistas as soldiers for various reasons, including revenge for dead family members or to perform raids. Perhaps the most popular Zapatista female soldier was Margarita Neri, who was a commander. Women fought bravely as Zapatista soldiers and some were killed in battle. Many survivors continued to wear men's clothing and carry pistols long after the Revolution ended. Colonel María de la Luz Espinosa Barrera was one of the few whose service was formally recognized with a pension as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution.
The 1884 Civil Code restricted women at home and in the workplace. The Code created inequalities amongst women and ethnic minorities who suffered politically, socially, economically and religiously under the Porfirian regime. For decades myths portrayed Mexican women as passive beings who contributed minimally to the Mexican Revolution. Mexican women were in fact active participants in the Mexican Revolution, one of the recognized social uprisings of the twentieth century.
Women's involvement in the revolution had an immense impact on shaping Mexican society during the revolutionary period. Mexican women were essential to the revolution in a number of ways. They were involved in politics, were strong advocates for the causes, and participated in life on the battlefields. The female political figures were probably the most important and influential women in the Mexican Revolution. They were prominent political activists, thinkers, writers, figures, role models, and were fearless in their pursuit of their goals, which often resulted in their being jailed. The Mexican Revolution included many movements focusing on dealing with the urban and middle class societies, whose ascent resulted in a new Revolutionary Constitution in 1917.
The U.S. relationship with Mexico has often been turbulent. During the Mexican independence movement, the U.S. assisted the Mexican insurgents in achieving independence, using the Monroe Doctrine as the justification. With the reign of dictators such as Iturbide and Santa Anna, the U.S.-Mexico relationship deteriorated. When the liberal president Benito Juárez came to power with his agenda for a democratic Mexican society, President Lincoln personally commended him and sent supplies to help Juárez overthrow emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. This support during the US Civil War ended with the upheaval following Lincoln's assassination. After the death of Juarez, Mexico reverted to a dictatorial government under the rule of Porfirio Díaz.
At the turn of the 20th Century, United States owners, including major companies, held about twenty-seven percent of Mexican land. By 1910 American industrial investment was 45 percent, which was why presidents Taft and Wilson decided to intervene in Mexican affairs. For both economic and political reasons, the U.S. government generally supported the man in power(President Wilson did condemn Huerta's murders of Madero and Pino Suarez). Twice during the Revolution, the U.S. sent troops into Mexico.
The first time was in 1914, during the Ypiranga incident. When US agents discovered that the German merchant ship Ypiranga was carrying illegal arms to Huerta, President Wilson ordered troops to the port of Veracruz to stop the ship from docking. He did not declare war on Mexico. The U.S. troops then carried out a skirmish against Huerta's forces in Veracruz. The Ypiranga managed to dock at another port, which infuriated Wilson. The ABC Powers arbitrated and U.S. troops left Mexican soil, but the incident added to already tense U.S.-Mexico relations.
In 1916, in retaliation for Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and the death of 16 American citizens, President Wilson sent Brigadier General John J. Pershing into Mexico to capture Villa. Villa was deeply entrenched in the mountains of northern Mexico, and knew the terrain too well to be captured by the U.S. forces. General Pershing was forced to abandon the mission and return to the U.S. This event, however, further damaged the strained U.S.-Mexico relationship and caused Mexico's anti-American sentiment to grow stronger. Some historians believed the United States government invested too much in the Mexican issue and violated its own avowed neutrality.
However, Porfirio Díaz was not completely supportive of the Catholic Church. Before his own presidency, Diaz had supported the Juarez regime, which implemented anti-clerical policies, such as expropriation of large tracts of Church-owned property.
As the Revolution progressed, the status of the University in relation to it changed several times; each time its students took different positions as well. Under different university directors, different revolutionary ideals were forced upon the student body. In many cases the curriculum would change as well. With each change, however, the importance of youth groups became more crucial. The university’s students made up the bulk of the youth movement, chiefly composed of educated youth. During the Revolution, some viewed students as anti-revolutionary because of the image of the university as a safe haven for the rich and privileged. People engaged in the Revolution urged the university and students to become more involved and to accept the ideals and beliefs of the revolution.
The National University of Mexico was founded by Gabino Barreda, who served as the Secretary of Public Instruction under Porfirio Díaz. Despite the school's support for higher education for Mexicans, it was continually attacked during the revolution. In 1912 porfiristas and liberals joined in an attempt to suppress the students' influence. The first to organize were the medical students in 1910, the year the revolution began.
The youth movements of the revolution were mainly confined to higher schools and especially the National University of Mexico. Young men used art, music, and poetry to speak out on the Revolution and encourage support. The leaders in government often made efforts to suppress such outlets. After the Revolution, new governments in turn gradually tried to suppress the freedoms of the University. By the 1920s, student protests were against the government.
Historians debate the exact end of the "revolutionary period". From a military standpoint, it ended with the death of the Constitutional Army's primer jefe (First Chief) Venustiano Carranza in 1920, and the ascension to power of General Álvaro Obregón. Coup attempts and sporadic uprisings continued, for instance in the Cristero Wars of 1926-1929. Effective implementation of the social provisions of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico and near cession of revolutionary activity did not occur until the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940).
Cárdenas also abolished capital punishment, better known in Mexico as fusilamiento, death by firing squad. Cárdenas and the PRM's ability to control the republic without summary executions showed the revolutionary period was at its end.
Another major step was in 1940, when Cardenas voluntarily relinquished all power to his successor Manuel Ávila Camacho, a legal transition that was unprecedented in Mexican history. In 1942, Ávila Camacho and all living ex-Presidents appeared on stage in the Mexico City Zócalo, in front of the Palacio Nacional, to encourage the Mexican people to support the Americans and British in World War II. This demonstration of political solidarity among diverse elements signaled the true end of the Revolution. Given its importance in national history, Mexican politicians and political parties refer frequently to the Revolution in their political rhetoric.