The Mexican Revolution 1910 - 1920

The history of Mexico is one that has been marked by conflict and frequent

change. The nation's roots are in tribes who's legacies' span all the way back

to the beginning of recorded history. These civilizations shaped the

foundations of Mexico until the first European intrusion by Spain in the 1500's.

In the face of continued Spanish oppression, which lasted well into the 1800's,

these native peoples fought violently to preserve their independence and their

fundamental rights. The 1800's was ridden with coups and revolution, but these

were ultimately only the precursors towards the true Mexican Revolution which

spanned the first quarter of the twentieth century. This revolution is perhaps

one of the most important revolutions that has taken place in recent history

because it was not a revolution led by factions battling for governmental

control, or the bourgeoisie thinkers developing new

ideas. Instead, it was a revolution led by simple men rising up and asserting

their fundamental rights, and succeeding. The revolution was not only essential

to the evolution of human rights and democracy and Mexico, but was

also significant as it was one of the first successful third world revolutions.

To an extent the revolution laid the groundwork for allowing democracy to emerge

from authoritarianism in other third world nations.

The Revolution of 1810

The earliest precursor to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 occurred one

hundred years earlier when two poverty stricken priests, Miguel Hidalgo and Jose

Morelos, led a revolution against the Spanish colonial officials who were

controlling Mexico at the time. On September, 16 1810 Miguel Hidalgo led

Mexico's Indians in a revolt directed against the rich Spanish plantation owners

in northern Mexico. His call to arms, El Grito de Dolores (the cry of

sorrows), was motivated by a desire for a new government and a re-distribution

of both the church's and plantation owner's lands. Hidalgo and his Indian

force, armed with only farm implements, marched towards Mexico City. While

Hidalgo was marching into Mexico City, Jose Morelos organized a guerrilla force

in the south and began raiding Spanish plantations and towns. Hidalgos army was

defeated 1811 and Hidalgo was executed. Jose Morelos took full control of the

revolution. Morelos led guerrilla attacks until the Spaniards captured and

hanged him in 1815. When Morelos died so did the revolution of 1810.

The Revolution of 1821

The second revolution in Mexico's modern history occurred when the rich

Spanish plantation owners began to worry that Spain, who's government was

dominantly liberal at the time, would give in two demands for land distribution.

As a result the plantation owners, led by Augustin de Iturbide, revolted. They

declared their independence in 1821. In 1822 Iturbide was proclaimed Emperor

Augustin I. The newly crowned Emperor couldn't afford to pay his troops. The

Emperor Augustin was overthrown by his starving army, who set up a republic and

placed Guadalupe Victoria as it's first president.

The Age of Santa Anna (1823-1855)

The first Mexican Republic was plagued with political disputes between

Mexico's liberals, who sought free trade and looked to model Mexico after the

United States, and conservatives, who were supported by the army and the church.

Eventually one man, a conservative, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,

emerged as the dominant figure in Mexico. He was faced with the goal of

re-building an economy that was already millions of pesos in debt. Following

the conservative ideals, Santa Anna felt it important that the church and the

military receive plenty of funding. He gave the military so much funding,

however, that their expenses began exceeding Mexico's total revenue. In an

attempt to bring Mexico's economy back to par and keep a powerful military,

Santa Anna looked to foreign countries for funds. These funds were primarily

lost to corrupt government officials and the military. During this time

bankrupt governments rose and fell, the only constant being Santa Anna.

By the 1840's the chaos in Mexico had inflicted disastrous amounts of

damage. Mining was at a stand still, agriculture wasn't producing enough to feed

the Mexican population, the small amount of industry was greatly suffering from

foreign competition, and banditry was common. Mexico was also losing much of

it's land. Texas had declared it's independence in 1836. These problems were

increased three fold in 1846 when Mexico became engaged in war with the United

States. The disunited Mexicans were badly beaten. They were forced to sign the

treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848. This treaty gave more than half of

Mexico's territory, including New Mexico, California, and Texas north of the Rio

Grande River. The situation in Mexico continued to get worse through the early

1850's. By 1853 Santa Anna had no choice but to sell southern Arizona to the

United States, for which Mexico received ten million dollars. This deal was

know as the Gadsden Purchase. The Age of Santa Anna finally came to a close

when he was overthrown by the pure Indian Benito Juarez.

The Liberal Reform (1855-1876)

By 1855, the liberals in Mexico had established a significant force of

radicals in the Mexican populous and leaders. In 1855 a force led by Melchor

Ocampo Ignacio Comonfort, and the Indian Benito Juarez ousted Santa Anna from

power and took control of Mexico. The new liberal government had a

specificagenda to secure democracy and individual rights for all of Mexico.

They shifted governmental policy to the opposite end of the spectrum from the

conservative. The Constitution of 1857 was quickly drafted. It

containedsweeping reforms, and established the framework for later Mexican

Constitutions. One of the most important reforms was severing the church and

military's political ties. The Constitution mandated that the church and the

state would remain fully autonomous authorities. The churches were also forced

to break their holdings of land into small pieces and divide them among the

farmers and lower class people in Mexico. In addition the church could no

longer impose fees or taxes on any person for its services, such as burials. The

funding for the military was severely cut as well, marking a transition from a

military state to a fledgling democracy. The mind set during this time was one

of unity and a common goal, and a common slogan was "liberty, order,


This new liberal government gave rise to a newly united group of

conservatives, and conflict erupted into a civil war. The War of Reform lasted

from 1858-1861. The conservatives, severely outmatched sought help from the

Emperor of France, Napoleon III, who sent an Austrian prince by the name of

Maximilian to establish an empire in Mexico. The liberal army was too strong

and organized, however, and Maximilian could not unite and consolidate an

empire. France withdrew in 1867, and left Maximilian to die in Mexico. After

the war the liberals remained in control under the leadership of Juarez. Juarez

continued to guide Mexico into a strong economic and democratic nation

until in 1872 he died. After his death Mexico entered the era of Porfirio


The Age of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910)

The liberal leaders who followed Juarez were not strong enough to hold

together the Mexican government. In 1876, Porfirio Diaz, an Indian general in

the Mexican Army took control of the nation, and continued to be elected until

1910. This new regime was too centralized and ultimately sparked the Mexican

Revolution. The regime eventually allowed Mexico to spiral into a dictatorship

that spawned a powerful upper class. When Diaz came into power he had the best

intentions for Mexico's future, and established a stable government that rid the

nation of crime. The general quality of life substantially improved. The

network of government was expanded when Diaz dispatched his strong and loyal

provincial governors to rural areas. The military was made stronger by

professionalizing the army and implementing improved methods of training

soldiers. From this military emerged a military police force called the Rurales

comprised of several thousand troops. This police force kept order

and enforced Diaz' laws. Diaz also relied heavily on the Cientificos, a group

of aristocratic intellectuals who acted as advisors. The Cientifico's

philosophy was one of French positivism. They stressed a high rate of growth of

Mexico through scientific advancement regardless of its impact on the people.

Diaz used this philosophy to justify his policies. Diaz kept the old slogan

"liberty, order, progress", however, the word liberty was removed from

the slogan. Other slogans such as "pan o palo" (bread or the club), and "few

politics, much administration also became prevalent. Foreign firms began to

invest in Mexico as it became more structurally and economically stable. These

investments gave Diaz the revenue he needed to construct highways, railroads,

telegraph lines, and new industries. The city of Veracruz used the revenue to

create oil fields, and elsewhere the mining industry was revitalized. Mexico

which just fifty years before was seen as a third-world nation became the

standard for developing countries because of its advanced industry and


Although these were all significant steps for Mexico's economy, in the

end it was responsible for the demise of Porfirio. Those in power became


along with the nation, however, the masses in the cities and the countryside

remained impoverished. Additionally, rich and poor Mexicans began to resent

their reliance on foreign investments. Perhaps more importantly, the new

generation of Mexicans was full of political ambition, and the Diaz regime

exercised such extreme control of the government that no one new was able to

enter their hierarchy. This combination of factors was what prompted the

revolution of 1910. Francisco I. Madero and the Revolution of 1910

In 1908 Porfirio Diaz was interviewed by US journalist James Creelman.

In the interview Diaz stated that he believed Mexico would be ready for free

elections by 1910. When this interview was published it inspired a rich

landowner in northern Mexico to gather supporters around him and attempt to

build a political backing of followers that could defeat Diaz in the 1910

election. The landowner was Francisco I. Madero. Madero and his

Antireeleccionistas' slogan was, "effective suffrage and no re-election".The

people of Mexico were inspired and by the time 1910 came around Madero hada very

good chance of becoming President of Mexico. Diaz, in an attempt tostay in

power, rigged the election and arrested Madero. Madero was soonreleased, and

immediately fled for San Antonio Texas. While in Texas he declared himself

President of Mexico and wrote a revolutionary document, La Plan de San Luis

Potosi. This plan called for a violent revolt on November 20, 1910. The revolt

failed but inspired other revolutionary groups to band together.

1911-Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and Pascual Orozco

One of the Strongest revolutionary groups to band together began in

Mexico's southern province of Morelos. The young leader of this faction was

Emiliano Zapata. Emiliano was the son of a poor Mestizo peasant who trained and

sold horses. Emiliano Zapata attempted to break the hacienda system, which was

very similar to the feudal system. When Emiliano realized he would not be able

to accomplish this task he and his brother, Eufemio, organized a powerful

guerrilla force of poor peasants. This force became known as the Zapatistas and

soon grew to contain over 5,000 men.

In northern Mexico two more revolutionary forces was formed. The first was

led by Francisco "Pancho" Villa (originally named Doroteo Arango), an ex-

bandit, who organized Mexico's cowboys into a powerful army.

The other army was led by Pascual Orozco, another peasant who was

discontented with the political and economic situation in Mexico.

The Fall of Diaz (1911)

In early 1911 Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa began raiding garrisons in

northern Mexico while the Zapatistas took control of the town of Cuautla, in

Morelos. Once Zapata secured the town he cut off the road to Mexico City. A

week later Diaz realized he was doomed and fled Mexico for Europe. In his wake

he left a provisional President and a large federal army that was commanded by

General Victoriano Huerta. Soon after Diaz left Mexico, Zapata took Cuernavaca,

the capital of Morelos. He then rode to Mexico City where he met Madero, who

the revolutionaries declared President. This victory, however, was only the

beginning of the conflict that would arise in Mexico.

The Rise of Victoriano Huerta

Madero's leadership came to end quickly. The first mistake Madero made

during the early days of his presidency was alienating the revolutionaries, or

the Constitutionalists as they would later come to be known. During their first

meeting, Zapata, who wanted to disband the haciendas, attempted to convince

Madero to divide the lands among the nation's farmers. Madero, always the

moderate, attempted to buy Zapata's complacence with a large piece of land and a

hacienda of his own. This offer only succeeded in turning Zapata against him.

In fact, every aspect of Madero's agenda was an attempt to please everyone,

which translated into complete inaction. This inaction caused the activist

revolutionaries in the North, Villa and Orozco, to abandon Madero along with

Zapata. Madero's troubles didn't end there either. The leader of the

conservative federal army, Huerta, and a small opposing faction led by Porfirio

Diaz's nephew, Felix Diaz, fought for ten days in Mexico City. This is battle

known as La Decena Tragica (The Ten Sad Days). On the ninth day of the

conflict, February 8, 1913, Felix Diaz and Huerta met with US ambassador Henry

Lane Wilson. The position of the United States at this time was that Madero was

associated too closely with the "savage revolutionaries". During the meeting,

the three signed a document called "The Pact of the Embassy" which outlined a

plan to stage a coup and install Huerta as the new President of Mexico. A few

days later, Huerta revolted against Madero, who's only defense was the army of

ally General Felipe Angeles. In the process hundreds of civilians were

brutally slaughtered, and Madero's brother, Gustavo, had his one working eye

cut out just before being bayoneted to death. To ensure the coup's success the

US had deployed warships and troops on the coast. Madero, vice-president, Pino

Suarez, and Angeles were arrested. On the night of February 22, 1913, Madero and

Pino Suarez were shot to death behind the prison while allegedly "trying to

escape". Angeles was later set


The Fall Of Huerta

Immediately after Huerta came into power the amount of revolutionary

violence skyrocketed. Huerta was hated because of his drunkenness and

tyrannical rule. Three major forces rose up in the north. These revolutionary

forces were led by Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obrégon, and Venustantio Carranza.

Upon Madero’s death Carranza took control of the remainders of Madero’s army and

began fighting. In the south Zapata continued fighting.

All through 1913 and early 1914 Huerta and his army suffered defeat after

defeat. finally, in the summer of 1914, all four major revolutionary forces

converged on Mexico City. Huerta, realizing he was defeated, was forced to

flee. So ended Victoriano Huerta’s rule. On August 20, 1914, Venustantio

Carranza, despite the objections of Pancho Villa, declared himself President of


Presidante Carranza

A bloody fight between Carranza and Villa began soon after Carranza declared

himself President. Villas forces pushed south, forcing Carranza to flee to

Mexico. Carranza fought back, inflicting fierce casualties to Villa’s army. In

turn, Zapata made the boldest move of all. On November 14, 1914 the Zapatistas

took Mexico City. The fighting continued until Villa, Zapata and Obregon,

realizing order would be impossible without peace, set up a council to solve the

problem. Their solution was installing Eulalio Guitierrez as interim president.

With this, Zapata agreed to withdraw from Mexico City. Although peace was

momentarily achieved, the revolutionaries quickly broke up into alliances.

Villa and Zapata remained loyal to each other and backed Guitierrez, while

Obregon and Carranza allied and supported Carranza’s wish to reclaim the

presidency. In April, 1915 the forces of Obregon and Villa converged in a

battle at the town of Celaya. Obregon emerged victorious and Villa lost some of

his power. Infuriated, Villa rode into the town of Columbus, New Mexico where

he killed eighteen people. In a futile attempt to catch Villa, American

President Woodrow Wilson sent a force led by John J. Pershing into the Mexican

hills. Pershing never even caught a glimpse of Villa, however. With Villa’s

forces badly damaged from their battle with Obregon and running from Pershing,

Carranza re-claimed the Presidency.

Immediately after Carranza assumed the Presidency a period of disorder and

near anarchy ensued, as revolutionaries under Villa fought Carranza. Violence

and bloodshed were frequent. Carranza also dispatched a force and retook the

state of Morelos in December in 1915, an important loss to the Zapatista forces

in the south. During a meeting Obrégon, Zapata, and Villa, attempted to find a

solution to the fighting between Villa and Carranza. They realized that Mexico

could not achieve peace if the feud between Villa and Carranza continued. An

interim president Gutiérrez was then elected and backed by Zapata and Villa.

Unfortunately, Obrégon re-allied with Carranza in an effort to suppers Villa and

gain power, and in late 1915 both Villa and Zapata suffered significant losses

while fighting with the armies of Obregon and Carranza. In early 1917 Zapata

responded by retaking Morelos.

In an effort to restore peace and order, a Constitution was drafted by

Carranza in 1917. This Constitution is functionally the same Constitution that

governs modern day Mexico. Unfortunately, the Constitution granted dictatorial

authority to the President. Despite this shortcoming, it was a landmark

document in that it enabled the state to confiscate and redistribute land from

the wealthy landowners. Additionally, the Catholic Church’s scope of power was

drastically reduced, and possibly most importantly, it guaranteed worker’s


The Death of Zapata

As Carranza’s power rose, Zapata began needing extra troops more and more.

This necessity was greatly hastened when Carranza defeated Zapata once more, and

took back Morelos. In April of 1919 Zapata appeared to receive a stroke of

luck. It seemed one of Carranzas’s generals was interested in defecting and

becoming a Zapatista. On April, 10, 1919 Zapata went to visit the defecting

general. Only after he arrived did Zapata realize that the meeting was an

ambush. Zapata was shot and killed moments after he arrived at the supposed

meeting. With Zapata’s death Mexico and all the Revolutionary fighting for

it’s freedom suffered a great tragedy.

The Fall of Carranza and the Rise of Obragon

Although Carranza had just published a constitution that was fairly

beneficial for the Mexican masses he became hated for murdering Zapata. In 1920

he tried to break up railroad strike in Sonora. This furthered the people’s

contempt of Carranza to the point where he lost nearly all his supporters,

including the powerful Obragon. Realizing his political career was spiraling,

Carranza attempted to flee Mexico. He was killed just outside of Mexico City

on May, 21, 1920. A politician by the name of Adolfo de la Huerta was installed

as interim President. Until Elections could be held.

When elections finally took place in November, Alvaro Obragon won by a

landslide. Although sporadic violence continued for the most part peace was

achieved. With Alvaro Obregon election as President the Mexican Revolution came

to a close.