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The Mexican Revolution, 1910 to 1917

Overthrowing Dictatorship | The Madero Presidency, 1911-13 | The Huerta Presidency and Civil War in 1914 | More Civil War, a Liberal Constitution and the Pershing Expedition

Revolution, mural by David Siqueiros

The Revolutionaries , a mural by David Siqueiros

Overthrowing Dictatorship

In the year 1910, people in Mexico were discontented. Three-fifths of the population were Indian, and they had been losing traditional lands to whites. During the rule of President Porfirio Diaz (in power since 1876), a few had the power to take control of vast amounts of land that had belonged to common Mexicans. It was more of Diaz' free enterprise that favored those with the power of wealth. The great bulk of Mexico's land had been taken over by about a thousand men, their great estates reaching thousands and sometimes millions of acres, while ninety-seven percent of the population in the countryside owned no land.

In Mexico's Yucatan peninsula was debt serfdom. Conditions akin to slavery existed on some tropical plantations, and Mexico's middle-class was unhappy about the amount of favoritism that their government was giving to foreign businessmen. They were unhappy over inconveniences that they blamed on government neglect of public services. Middle-class discontent and the discontent of the poor could not be expressed in elections. Porfirio Díaz was, in reality, a dictator. He was eighty years-old in 1910, and he had ruled Mexico for thirty years. His power had become endangered as Mexico's young elite and middle-class youth were less tolerant of Díaz than had been their parents.

The Zapata Brothers, Eufemio and Emiliano

Eufemio and Emiliano Zapata. In the movie Viva Zapata the greedy Eufemio was played by Anthony Quinn and the saintly Emiliano by Marlon Brando.

President Diaz

Porfirio Diaz. See PBS biographical sketch "Faces of the Revolution."


Francisco Madero. See PBS biographical sketch "Faces of the Revolution."

Poncho Villa the boy

Pancho Villa. Angry boy. He grew up fighting big landowners. See PBS biographical sketch "Faces of the Revolution."

One young man opposed to the Díaz regime was Don Francisco Madero – a man 5'3", with a high-pitched voice and from a family of great wealth. He was from of Coahuila – a state bordering Texas. He had attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he had studied agriculture, and he had finished his education in France in 1895. From the age of twenty-one to the age of thirty-two Madero had been running his own cotton plantation in Coahuila, using advanced agricultural methods and helping to create a successful cotton industry in Coahuila.

Madero had sympathy for common people. He raised the wages of his workers above that which others paid. He gave them hygienic living quarters and saw to it that they received free medical attention. In his home he sheltered dozens of children, and he was paying for the education of a number of orphans. And Madero criticized the Díaz government for its laxity in building schools, for not providing better water distribution and other amenities for common people, and he criticized Diaz for bloody repression against dissent. He joined the Benito Juarez Democratic Club in a nearby town: San Pedro. He wrote political pamphlets, and in 1908 he wrote a book titled The Presidential Succession in 1910.

Madero's book attracted a lot of attention. When he visited clubs around Mexico that favored honest elections, large crowds gathered to get a glimpse of the little man who had the courage to raise his voice. One month before the election Diaz had Madero and some of allies jailed on charges of inciting people to riot.

Díaz won the election with a ridiculously large number of votes. Then he had Madero released from prison under bail and on condition that he remain in the same town as his prison, San Luis Potosí, in central Mexico. In October, Madero sneaked out of town and made his way to Texas where, later that month, he published a new book. In his previous book, Madero had described violence as counter-productive. In his latest book he expressed the need for a counter force against the Díaz regime other than massive pleadings. He called for an armed revolution.

Madero was in a hurry. He laid plans for his rising to take place on November 22, less than a month after his new book had been published. From his Texas headquarters, he strategized with allies. He intended to cross the border and put himself at the head of an army that would march to the capital, Mexico City .

His new book created a stir in Mexico, and when the assigned day of uprising arrived, Madero crossed the border as planned, got lost, then finally found the men promised him. But rather than the initial 800 men that he had been promised, there were only a few, half of whom were unarmed. Madero returned to Texas devastated. He was now without money, and he considered giving up politics.

The idea that an uprising was taking place remained alive among many in Mexico, and it was still alive in the newspapers in Mexico and the United States. The expectations turned into a reality as armed rebellions occurred independent of Madero. In the state of Chihuahua (just west of Coahuila), a band of men led by a former sharecropper, bandit, bank and train robber, mine laborer and shopkeeper, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, attacked and defeated a contingent of Díaz' federal troops. And in Chihuahua another former miner, Pascual Orozco, took power in the town of Guerrero, and he became a local hero like Villa. An armed uprising was also underway in the state of Morelos – a state in the tropics with a lot of sugar cane, located southeast east of Mexico City. The leader of this rebellion was a bright but illiterate young Indian named Emiliano Zapata. He had been outraged at the arrogance of the rich hacendados of his area who for decades had been stealing land belonging to Indian villages and getting away with it.

President Díaz denounced the rising against him as banditry, and he sent a federal force against Villa and Orozco in Chihuahua. The federal army jailed unarmed people there whom its officers suspected of supporting the rebellion, and the federal army attempted to recruit local men to fight for Díaz and law and order. Instead, many men went over to the side of the rebels. And Madero, forced to leave the United States for having violated US neutrality laws, joined the Chihuahua rebels.

The failure of Díaz to crush the rebellion in Chihuahua encouraged revolts in six other states. And with rebellion occurring through much of Mexico and terrorizing Díaz' local officials, Díaz was overwhelmed. Díaz resigned his presidency and sailed for France. And news of his departure brought celebrations across the country that lasted three days and nights.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.