Mexican History: Disputed Election (1910)

Francisco Madero
Figure 1.--Here the people of Mexico City celebrate the successes of Madero. It was clear by April 1911 that Díaz was losing control of Mexico. This photograph was taken April 25. The popilation cramed into the trams and when they filled up scrabled for a space on the roof so they could cheer for Madero. The Díaz forces conceded defeat (May 17). Source: Augustí Víctor Casasla

President Diaz thinking he was in complete control of the country and beloved by his countrymen, told U.S. journalist James Creelman, that his country was ready for democracy and real elections (1908). He indicated that he would step down from the presidency. Precisely what was on his mind is unclear. He indicated that he would permit candidates to compete for the presidency. Several well-known Mexicans were interested and apparently took Diaz's offer at face value. Bernardo Reyes, the Diaz-appointed governor of Nuevo León, announced his candidacy. Diaz was either not serious about allowing an election or changed his mind. He may have expected his country to demand his continued presidency. He delt with Reyes by sending him off on a foreign mission. Unfortunately for Diaz he had let the genie out of the bottle. A political unknown appeared on the Mexican scene. A scholarly hacienda owner and lawyer, Francisco I. Madero, finally challenged Diaz. He was small in stature and an unlikely person to challenge the great man who had dominated the country for four decades. Madero was educated at the University of California, Berkeley. He was not a radical, but believed in democracy. Madero became famous in Mexico for his book--The Presidential Succession of 1910. Diaz was furious when he learned of the book. He ordered the arrest of Madero. Madero fled to the United States, but later returned and was arrested. The Government announced Diaz's reelection by a virtually unanimous vote. The reported Madeo vote was miniscule. There was clearly massive electoral fraud resulting in voter outrage. Madero called for an armed uprising. This was the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, but not the bloody struggle that the Revolution became. Díaz was forced from office and fled the country (1911). He found refuge in France where he is buried.

The Porfiriato (1876-1911)

General Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) was a mestizo from Oaxaca. He opposed Santa Ana, fought for Juarez in the War of Reform, and with his brother fought against Emperor Maximilian. He was one of Juarez's more effective generals. He ran unsuccessfully against President Juarez (1871). He claim electiral fraud and decided to use force and overthrow the government (1876). He introduced a dictatorship which ruled Mexico for nearly 40 years. His iron-fisted rule, which lasted almost 40 years which Mexicans refer to as the Porfiriato. He and his Cientificos ruled Mexico under the banner of "Liberty, Order, and Progress". Díaz had a very specific interpretation of these terms. Liberty was extended to supportive landowners, industrialists, and entrpreneurs to make money. Order was enforced through a policy of pan y palo (bread and club). Progress was rapid economic development. Díaz negotiated arrangements with foreiners in which he and his associates profited personally. Any opposition or even criticism was supressed, often brutally. The Díaz dictatorship introduced a degree of modernization. Mexico in 1910 had a much more developed infrastructure than that of the country he had seized control of in 1876. It was, however, still an underdeveloped country. Díaz did not address Mexico's deep-seeded social problems. Ans a key area that he did not invest in was Mexico's human capital. Mexico was still a country with a small middle-class and a largely illiterate rural peasantry living in essentially feudal conditions. The Mexican Revolution was the first of the great 20th century peasant revolutions. When the Revolution came, it was a surprise to everyone--not the least to Mexicans. Díaz was astonished that the efete little teetoteling lawyer could suceed in overthrowing him. When departing for Mexico he warned, "Madero has unleashed a tiger, let us see if he can control him."

Election Preparations (1908-10)

President Diaz thinking he was in complete control of the country and beloved by his countrymen, told U.S. journalist James Creelman, that his country was ready for democracy and real elections (1908). He indicated that he would step down from the presidency. Precisely what was on his mind is unclear. He indicated that he would permit candidates to compete for the presidency. Several well-known Mexicans were interested and apparently took Diaz's offer at face value. Bernardo Reyes, the Diaz-appointed governor of Nuevo León, announced his candidacy. Diaz was either not serious about allowing an election or changed his mind. He may have expected his country to demand his continued presidency. He delt with Reyes by sending him off on a foreign mission.

Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913)

Unfortunately for Diaz he had let the genie out of the bottle. A political unknown appeared on the Mexican scene. Francisco I. Madero was the son of a wealthy landowner. The Madero family was one of the richest in Mexico. Madero received a through education. He studies at schools in Baltimore, Versailles, Austria and at the University of California, Berkeley. He was more of a scholar than a politican. He was a hacienda owner and lawyer. He was, however, deeply disturbed about Mexico's backward economy and the plight of the poor under President Diaz. He began to take an interest in politics. He joined the Benito Juárez Democratic Club (1904). Madero resented the Porfiriato (Diaz dictatorship) on constitutional and human rights grounds. He also believed that Diaz's conservative politics and alliance with wealthy industrialists and landowners would eventially lead to bloody social revolution. Diaz had him arrested, but he escaped to the United States.

The Election (1910)

Madero decided to challenge Diaz, not fully understanding the danger. He was phyically unimposing man, small in stature, and an unlikely person to challenge the great man who had dominated the country for four decades. He was not a radical, but actually believed in democracy, in part because of his time in France and the United States. Madero under the banner of the Anti-Reelectionist ran against Díaz. Madero's young wife, Sara Pérez Gutiérrez de Madero, played an active part in the campaign--the first woman in Mexico to do so. , His campaigning earned him the title "Apostle of Democracy". Madero became largely famous in Mexico for his book--The Presidential Succession of 1910. Diaz was furious when he learned of the book. He ordered the arrest of Madero. Madero as a professional man and landowner provided a center around which opposition to the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz could coalesce--both progresive forces and conservatives. Díaz had promised a democratic election, but that was when he had wxpected to be lionized by a grateful Mexican people. Sensing that Madero and his supporters were a real challenge, Diaz order the arrest of Madero and about 5,000 other Anti-Reelectionists. Francisco Vázquez Gómez took over the party's nomination With Madero in jail, the election took place. Díaz was declared the winner with an electoral vote of 196 to 187. The public, however, was convinced that there had been massive electoral fraud resulting in voter outrage.

Escape (October 1910)

Madero was loosely held. His father had posted a very large bail. As aresult, Madero was allowed to take daily rides around San Luis Potosí where he was held. Guards accompanied him on these rides. Hecmanaged to escape and crossed the border at Laredo, Texas (October 4, 1910). He settled in San Antonio and wrote his politcal manifesto--Plan de San Luis Potosi.
Armed Rising (1910-11)

Madero was no revolutionary. He simply wanted an honest election and moderate reforms. He had, however, some real revolutionaries on his side. Madero proclaimed the elections of 1910 and Diaz's victory null and void. He called for an armed revolution. This was the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, but not the bloody struggle that the Revolution became. The Revolution against soon spread. Francisco Villa was an ardent supporter of Madero. And his Army of the North took Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua. Zapata in the south joined the growing coalition against Diaz. Madero signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez with the Diaz forces (May 17, 1911) He demanded Díaz resign as a condition for an armistice. Díaz resigned (May 25). He fled the country (May 26). Diaz found refuge in France where he is buried. Madero appointed Francisco León de la Barra as interim president to replace Díaz. León de la Barra was an arch conservative and opposed many of the reforms that Madero had championed. The effect was deeply disappointing to Villa, Zapata, and others who had hoped for real change. Zapata responded with the Plan de Ayala (November 25, 1911).

Madero Presidency (1911-13)

Madero became president after Díaz tried to reverse the results in the 1910 election. Madero had suceeded in forcing Díaz out by temporarily unifying various democratic and anti-Díaz forces. This included elements that were mutually incompatable and that were no committed to democratic government in Mexico. Madero attempted a series of moderate reforms. The reforms were a disappointment to the revolutionaries who wanted more drastic action. They were even more vehemently opposed by the conservatives who were adament about preserving the existing order. Madero was an idealistic lawyer without the political or leadership skills capable of controlling the reaction to his reforms. Madero did not last long as president. Mexico soon spun out of his control. After Díaz was forced from Mexico, Madero did not replace the Porfirista military with his supporters.

La Decena Tragica (February 1913)

Victoriano Huerta, the commander of the armed forces, conspired with Félix Díaz (Porfirio Díaz's nephew) and Bernardo Reyes to get rid of the troublesome president. What followed was a 10-day battle in Mexico City known as La decena tragica (the Tragic Ten Days). Fighting occurred between Madero's suporters and the Díaz/Reyes forces. Madero accepted Huerta's offer of protection. Huerta betrayed him. He had him arrested. Meanwhile. Huerta had Madero's brother and close advisor, Gustavo A. Madero, kidnapped off the street. Huerta had the President's brother tortured and murdered. Huerta had in effect executed a coup d'état (February 18, 1913). He forced Madero to resign. The plotters declared Pedro Lascuráin president, but Huerta claimed the presidency for himself. Huerta ordered Madero shotv On the same day Madero was shot four days later February 22). Huerta claimed that bodyguards were forced to shoot both Madero and his Vice President Pino Suárez as a result of a rescue attempt by Madero's supporters. Few believed the claim. Huerta controlled the capital, but Mexico is a large country and establishing control of the entire country was a very different matter. Madero had many supporters. Madero's death launched the most violent phase of Mexican history since the conquest.

The Revolution (1910-20)

Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. Huerta, after killing Madero, was forced to fight the Revolution on many fronts. He benefitted from a strong central position, but faced a formidable if tenuous alliance including Venustiano Carranza, General Álvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata (in the south) and Pancho Villa (in the north). These are many of the the most esteemed names in Mexican history and both Carranza and Obregon went on the be presidents. The Mexican Revolution was the bloodiest period in Mexicam history since the Conquest. Huerta was eventually defeated. Carranza assumed the presidency. Both Villa and Zapata refused to recognize Carranza. They with their Armies of the North and South drove on Mexico City. Carranza and Obregon with their forces fled the capital. The Villistas and Zapatistas held racous celebrations after reaching Mexico City. They did not, however, have the organizational skills to organize an effective government. Carranza and Obregon retreated to Veracruz, Mexico's major port. There they reorganized and reupplied and launched a new offensive to retake the capital. In the fighting that followed, Obregon largely destroyed Villa's cavalry at Celaya (1915). Obregon lost his right arm, but won the battle. Celaya was actually a series of engagements which cnstitute the most massive battle ever fought in Latin America. Obregon commanded a modern force with artillery and machine guns. As Villa's calvlry was the major force of his army, Villa never seriously threatened the government again, although he was a continuing irritation in the North. Carranza called for a Constitutional convention (1916). He was elected the first president under the new Mexican Constitution of 1917. The Government finally dealt with Zapata. After a vicious anti-guerilla campaign weakened his forces, Zapata was lured into a trap by a government soldier and shot. Carranza tried to hold power by backing the election of a supporter (1920). When it became clear that Obregon would win the election, Carranza attempted a coup. Obregon escaped and organized a military campaign against Carranza. As Obregon approached the capital, Carranza fled, trying to reach the port of Veracruz where he could leave the country, the traditional route for failed Mexican leaders, There Obregon's forces arrested and shot him. A freustrated Villa in the North attempted to punish the United States for supporting Carranza. Villa killed several Americans in Mexico and then crossed the border to attack some U.S. towns. President Wilson ordered an incursion into northern Mexico to arrest Villa. This failed, but Villa finally decided to end his political career and became a rancher in Parral. He still had a following among the poor and was assassinated (1923). This meant of all the major figures of the Revolution, only Obregon survived.






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Created: 2:46 AM 6/20/2008
Last updated: 9:58 AM 3/12/2014