The Revolution, 1910-20

Mexico Table of Contents

The Early Phase

In the political arena, the Porfiriato was marked by the systematic violation of the principles of the constitution of 1857. Díaz courted foreign interests, allowed the clergy again to become openly influential in temporal matters, and gave the army a free hand to violate guaranteed civil liberties while opponents of the regime were either coopted or sent to jail.

Meanwhile, liberal writers and journalists began to challenge the regime. These attacks became more coordinated with the organization of liberal clubs and a liberal convention at San Luis Potosí in 1900 and 1901 that defended the principles of the constitution of 1857. For the next two years, liberal congresses were held, but the persecution of representatives led many liberals to seek asylum in the United States. The exiles (especially the Flores Magón brothers, Juan Saraia, Antonio I. Villareal, and Librado Rivera) issued a liberal proclamation on July 1, 1906, from St. Louis, Missouri, that called for the overthrow of Díaz. They then started a publication, Redención, to set forth their ideas. The program presented in the proclamation of St. Louis introduced new concepts in education, labor relations, land distribution, and agricultural credit. These ideas reached Mexico through issues of Redención smuggled across the border.

In 1908 an unexpected development brought hope of political change to the anti-Díaz political opposition. In an interview with a United States reporter, Díaz stated that he would not seek reelection in 1910. Liberals and dissident intellectuals immediately seized the opportunity and nominated Francisco I. Madero, the scion of a wealthy family in Coahuila, to run in the upcoming election. In June 1910, relying on harsh measures, including the imprisonment of thousands of opposition activists, Díaz was reelected. Madero, himself imprisoned, was released from jail and went into exile in the United States.

Díaz began preparing a joint celebration--the one-hundredth anniversary of Mexican independence and his eightieth birthday--in September 1910. Mexico City went through a full refurbishing. Buildings were dedicated, monuments were unveiled, and numerous balls and celebrations were attended by the entire diplomatic corps. The streets of the capital were cleared of refuse and undesirables in order to present foreigners with a positive picture of the society created by the Porfiriato.

In October 1910, Madero drafted the Plan of San Luis Potosí, which called for the people to rise on November 20 to demand the restoration of the democratic principles of the constitution of 1857 and the replacement of Díaz with a provisional government. Although it was mainly a political document with scant reference to redressing Mexico's many social ills, the Plan of San Luis Potosí was enthusiastically received among the widespread, but uncoordinated movements that were already on the verge of rebellion against their respective state governments. Copies of the plan, which Madero had drafted in St. Louis, soon reached Mexico and were widely distributed. On the appointed day, Madero and a small band of rebels crossed into Mexico, but finding no rebel armies with which to rendezvous, they soon turned back.

By January 1911, however, a large-scale insurrection had broken out in the northern state of Chihuahua, led by Pascual Orozco, a local merchant, and Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Madero, who had declared himself provisional president in the Plan of San Luis Potosí, returned to Mexico to lead the nascent revolution. The successes of the rebel bands in Chihuahua sparked similar uprisings throughout the country. As early as 1909 in Morelos, the peasant leader, Emiliano Zapata, had recruited thousands of hacienda laborers and landless peasants to attack the haciendas and reclaim lost lands.

In April Díaz sent finance minister Limantour to negotiate an armistice with the northern rebels, who were besieging Ciudad Juárez. When Limantour refused to negotiate Díaz's resignation, Villa and Orozco renewed their attack on Ciudad Juárez and captured the town. By May several state capitals had been lost to the rebels, and mobs filled the streets of Mexico City shouting for Díaz to resign. On May 25, 1911, the eighty-year-old dictator submitted his resignation to congress and turned power over to a provisional government. The following day Díaz quietly sailed for exile in France.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress