Mexican Revolution: Carranza Seizes Control (1914-20)

Mexican Revolution boy soldier
Figure 1.-This proud boy looks to be a new recruit in the regular Mexican Army. Unfortunately he is not identified. We think it was during the Carranza presidency. We have not yet, however, been ab;le to identify or date the image.

Venustiano Carranza with the Maderoista defeat of Huerta assumed the presidency. The Maderoistas were, however, by no means unified. Both Villa and Zapata refused to recognize Carranza. They with their Armies of the North and South drove on Mexico City. Carranza and Obregón with their forces fled the capital. The Villistas and Zapatistas held raucous celebrations after reaching Mexico City. They did not, however, have the organizational skills to organize an effective government. Carranza and Obregón retreated to Veracruz, Mexico's major port. There they reorganized and resupplied and launched a new offensive to retake the capital. In the fighting that followed, Obregón largely destroyed Villa's cavalry at Celaya (1915). Obregón lost his right arm, but won the battle. Celaya was actually a series of engagements which constitute the most massive battle ever fought in Latin America. Obregón commanded a modern force with artillery and machine guns. As Villa's cavalry 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. This was the major accomplishment of the Carranza presidency. It was an effort to finally destroy the essentially feudal system imposed on Mexico by the Spanish and which operated in Mexico for four centuries. The Government finally dealt with Zapata. After a vicious anti-guerrilla campaign weakened his forces, Zapata was lured into a trap by a government soldier and shot.

Venustiano Carranza

Resistance to Huerta was organized by the Constituionalists. The most immportant figure here was Venustiano Carranza, a politician and rancher from Coahuila. He called his movement the Constitutionalists. He like Madero was a middle class lawyer. He wanted a kinf of liberal reform that would install the middle-class formly in power in a democratic Mexico. He understood where Madero did not that this could only be realized by dismateling the Porfirio system and officials that Huerta was fighting to retain. He was not, however, in favor of any deep-seated reform program such as breaking up the large estates. Certainly not Zapata's Plan de Ayala. He received covert support from the United States. Carranza issued his manifesto--the Plan de Guadalupe (March 26, 1913). He refused to recognize Huerta and called for armed rebellion. Leaders such as Villa, Zapata, and Álvaro Obregón joined the fight against Huerta. Where Carranza led the liberal wing of the Constitutionalists, Obregón came to lead the Radical wing which did want major reforms. Obregón understood where Caranza did not that the dymamic of the Revolution required reform, although opinions as to the precise chracter of those reforms varied. Carranza brought organization to the fight against Huerta. Obregón brought a first class military mind.

Defeat of Huerta (1914)

Cut off from foreign military supplies, Huerta's military situation rapidly deteriorated. Obregón and Villa played major roles in the Constitutionalists military campaign. The Constitutionalists won a series of military victories. The most important was the Toma de Zacatecas (Battle of Zacatecas), the bloodiest engagements of the Mexican Revolution (June 23). The city was an old mining town held by Huerta's Federal Army. As a railway junction, it barred the way south to Mexico City. Huerta's commander, General Medina Barrón was confident that he could hold the town. He held the hills surrounding the town that posed a serious challenge to any attacking force. His infantry was supported with artillery. In particular the position seem to preclude the use of calvalry which was Villa's principal force. Garr'n also expected support from General Orozco in Aguascalientes. Zacatecas was taken after fierce fighting taking by Pancho Villa's Division del Norte fighting under the Constititutionalist banner. [Katz, pp. 348-53] Not only did Villa take the city, but the Federal firces there were descimated. After Zacatecas, Huerta saw that defeat was inevitable. He resigned the presidency (July 15, 1914).

Aguascalientes Convention (October-November 1914)

With Huerta's resignation, Mexico was essentially left without a government. The victors had very different ideas about Mexico's future. They held an extended Convention at Aguascalientes in central Mexico to settle their differences (October 10 - November 18, 1914 a Convention was held at Aguascalientes. The convention settled nothing. In fact it resulted in the the break up of the victorious coalition by making it clear just how much they differeed on major issues. Neither Villa or Carranza attended. Obregón did and did attempt to reach compromises. Caranza was disturned by the radical ideas expressed. The fifferenced between Caranza and Villa which was only cosmetically bridged during the fighting against Huerta were permanently broken at the comvention. The Zapatistas and Villistas despite their very real differences reached an informal alliance. Finally the Convention chosen a virtually unknown politican, Eulalio Gutiérrez to be the country's provisional president. Carranza who saw him as a tool of Villa and at any rate wanted to be president himself, refused to recognize Gutiérrez. The Convention delegates who had taken a radical turn and perhaps intimidated by the Villa's men, declared Carranza an outlaw and Villa commander of the Convention's military forces. This divided Mexico into two warring forces. The Constitutionalists were the men who followed Carranza. The Conventionists were those who followed Villa and Zapata. Ideologically, Obregón stood between the two factions. His decesion to bck Caranza was largely settled on personal issues. Obregón in fact had rservations about what he saw as Carranza's tendency toward authoritarianism as well as his inflexibility. He also saw that Caranza was persinally envious of his military achievements. In the end, however, that between given the choice between Villa and Carranza that Caranza was definitelt the lesser of two evils. Villa was both eratic and ruthless and he shared Caranza's view that he was basically a bandit.

Presidency

Carranza as the principal leader of the Constitunionlists with the defeat of Hueta expected to be Mexico's new president. The Constituionlists were, however, not the only segment of the Maderoista resistance to Huerta. And both Zapta and Villa were not happy with him and his moderate policies. Carranza was thus outraged when the Aguascalientes Convention chosen chose Eulalio Gutiérrez to be the country's provisional president. Carranza saw him as a tool of Villa, but would have opposed virtually anyone as he wanted to be president. He refused to recognize Gutiérrez. The Conventioneers took a radical turn and perhaps intimidated by the Villa's men, declared Carranza an outlaw and Villa commander of the Convention's military forces.

Constitutionalist Military Campaign: Peasant Revolutionaries (1915)

The Maderoistas who defeated Huerta were by no means unified. Both Villa and Zapata refused to recognize Carranza. They with their Armies of the North and South drove on Mexico City. Carranza and Obregón with their forces fled the capital. The Villistas and Zapatistas held raucous celebrations after reaching Mexico City. They did not, however, have the organizational skills to organize an effective government. Carranza and Obregón retreated to Veracruz, Mexico's major port. There they reorganized and resupplied and launched a new offensive to retake the capital. In the fighting that followed, Obregón largely destroyed Villa's cavalry at Celaya (1915). Obregón lost his right arm, but won the battle. Celaya was actually a series of engagements which constitute the most massive battle ever fought in Latin America. Obregón commanded a modern force with artillery and machine guns. As Villa's cavalry was the major force of his army, Villa never seriously threatened the government again, although he was a continuing irritation in the North.

Constitutional Convention (1917)

Mexican President Venustiano Carranza after the Constitulionlists defeated the peasant revolutionaries called for a Constitutional convention (1916). Elections were held to chose the delegatd. The new Constitution was proclaimed what became Mexico's modern constitution (Februry 7, 1917). The new Constitution announced the goal of restoring lands to native peoples, the separation of church and state, and a range of dramatic economic and educational reforms. It was a liberal, but not revolutionary document. It combined land reform with a range of social theories. Mexico was a poor country and huge damahe was done to he existing infrastructure. It would thus be decades before the sweeping reforms envisiomed by the Constitution could become reality. One of the problems Mexico faced was the passins stirred by the Revolution and the spread of Socialist thought. Thus Mexico did not adopt free market capitlism as the basis of the economy. Rather social reformers dallied wih a range of socialist policies. The Constitution was adopted just cas thRusian Revolution began. And many Mexicans were impressed with he Bolshevicks that seized power in Russia and the poliies thry adopted. The results was decades of sub par economic performance, actually widening the ecnomic disparity between Mexico and the United States.

Presidential Election (1917)

Carranza was elected the first president under the new Mexican Constitution of 1917 (March 11, 1917). He was elected the first president under the new Mexican Constitution of 1917. This was the major accomplishment of the Carranza presidency--the precedent of an elected president under a democratic constitution, a precedent that Caranza himself would abandon in an effort to secure an illegal second term. (It would be decades, however, before Mexico conveed the legality into a true democratic election.) He took office a few weeks later (May). Carranza led the Liberal wing which was focused on narrow, legalistic reform. It was an effort to finally destroy the essentially feudal system imposed on Mexico by the Spanish and which operated in Mexico for four centuries. Carranza wanted a liberal, democratic government, but not extensive social reform. Obregón was more realistic in seeing that the dynamic of the Revolution made major reform inevitable. He was not, however, for the wide-spread reform advocated by Zapata in the Plan de Ayala.

Ending the Peasant Resistance

The Government finally dealt with Zapata. After a vicious anti-guerrilla campaign weakened his forces, Zapata was lured into a trap by a government soldier and shot.

Obregón Secures his Base (1917-19)

When Carranza became president (May 1917), Obregón resigned as Minister of War and retired to private life. This surprised many in Mexico. They could not understand how a man whjo commsanded the Constitunionalist army and had obvious political ambitions could simply walk away from power. Obregón had a variety of reasons. He was a young man, only 37 years old. He had plenty of time to make his political move. To contest the presidency with Carranza would have nmeant war. Given his role in the Revolution and support within the Constituionalist movement, he would have alear claim to the presidency after Carrranza and the Constitution barred a second term. Thus it was advantageous for him to establish a solid political base in his homestate of Sonora. In addition, his finances had been depleted and focusing on his garbanzo business helped to put him on a better finsncial footing. Health was another concern. In addition, he had been greviously wouded at Leon and needed time to recover. He made headlines throughout Mexico when he made a much accalimed trip to the United states (1917). Col. House, President Wilson's most important political adviser, had been much impressed with Obregón during his military campaigns. He described him to Wilson as the "the man of the hour in Mexico." President Wilson received Obregón as important leader. He was also widely praised in the American press as well as by and by business and political leaders. He even benefitted finanically as aesult of rising food prices resulting from World War I. He sold his 1918 garbanzo crop to the U.S. Food Administration which Wilson had assigned to Herbert Hoover. Carranza was not at all impressed with this he was important in determining his successor. Obregón's approach was to make himself so popular throughout Mexicoi that Carranza would have no choice but to name his as his successor in 1920. Obregón worked diligently to build his ties with labor and agrarian groups. He believed that he wasc in such a strong position that he announce his candidacy (June 1919). This forced Carranza's hand.

Election Campaign (1919-20)

Carranza could not run for reelection. It was barred by the Connstitution. And even worse from his prospective, the rift with Obregón meant that he would be forced to retire from public life. And Carranza unlike Obregón was not a young man. In addition, as president, his authoritative rule had rule had aliennated many Constitutionalists. There were also reports of corruption, although I am not surec to what extent if any this touched Carranza personally. He was losing support as rapidly as Obregón was gaining support. It was clear when he stepped down, it would be the end of his political career. He decided that thec only way that he could retain influence was to hand pick his successor and ram through his choice. He chose Ametrican-educated Ignacio Bonillas. Bonillas was a graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology abnd sornt many years in the United States. At the time Carranza chose him, he was serving as Mexican Ambassador to the United States. The opposition attempted to turn him into a laughing stock. They began calling him "Meester" Bonillas. Other claim thst he did not speak Spanish very well. Pro-Obregón railroad workers derailed his campaign train and when Bonillas had to cancel an important meeting, rumors spread that he was takeing a Spanish lesson. Carranza seeing that Bonillas' campaign was not going well, decided to use force to determine the outcome of the election. He began a campaign of intimidation against Obregón's supporters.

Carranza Coup and Military Campaign (1920)

When it became clear that Obregón would win the election, Carranza attempted a coup. It appears from available information thst Obregón was committed to an honest election. This became increasingly difficult as Carranza's cammpaign of intimidation intensified. Carranza finally sent troops into Obregón's home state of Sonora. Obregón at the time was in Mexico City, testifying in court for a subordinate who Carranza had accused of plotting armned rebellion. Believing with good reason that he would be targeted next, Obregón fled the city and his in the country. Given Obregón's popularity within the Army, it seems strange that Carranza would have attempted to use it against him. It is probably a reflection of his desire to retain power. His move in Sonora backfired. The Sonora state government withdrew recognition of Carranza as president (April 10). Obregonistas in Sonora announced the Plan of Agua Prieta which called for Carranza's overthrow (April 23). Obregón no only escaped from Mexico City, but he began organizing a military campaign against Carranza. Obregón was supported by most leading generals, including Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo de la Huerta. The lack of support for Carranza was quickly evident. As Obregón's forces approached the capital, Carranza and his followers evacuated Mexico (May 7). The left on what has become known as the Golden Train because of all the valuables packed board. The destination was Veracruz. This had used as a base against Villa and Zapata, but by then it must have been clear that there was not future for Carranza in Mexico. Hec surely was now thinking about leaving the country and exile. The route to Veracruz was traditional route for failed Mexican leaders. Attacks along the rail line forced Carranza to leave the train. There a local commander offered him shelter and then ordered him shot (May 21, 1920). There is no evidence that this was ordered by Obregón, but he may well have done so if had the oppoprtunity.

End of the Revolution

Historians debate just when the Revolution ended. The execution of Carranza is the most commonly accepted end of the military phase of the Revolution. The social reforms that Madero has cought, however did not come until later.

Election (1920)

Obregón got his election. It was, however, no longer a contested election. He was elected (September 5, 1920). Sonoran Govdenor Adolfo de la Huerta served as interim president between Carranza's execution and Obregón's installation as president.







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Created: 12:34 AM 7/26/2011
Last updated: 2:53 AM 5/25/2014