Mexican Revolution: Huerta's Coup and Presidency (1913-14)

Victoriano Huerta
Figure 1.--Huerta benfitted from control of aubstantial part of the Federal Army and atrong central position in Mexico City. From the capital, Federal troops could be rushed to trouble spots where Federal positions were threatened. These Federal troops in 1914 were dispatched from the Burna Vista train station in Mexico City. Notice the boy with the soldiers. Source: Augustí Víctor Casasla

Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. General Victoriano Huerta, after killing President Madero, was forced to fight the Revolution on many fronts. He benefitted from a strong central position. He incorporated the Rurales into his Federal military forces. He faced a formidable if tenuous alliance including Venustiano Carranza, General Álvaro Obregón, 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 Obregón went on the be presidents. The Mexican Revolution was the bloodiest period in Mexicam history since the Conquest. Resistance to Herta was led by Venustiano Carranza, a politician and rancher from Coahuila. He called his movement the the Constitutionalists. He received covert support from the United States. Carranza issued his manifesto--the Plan de Guadalupe (March 26, 1913). He refused to recognize Huera and called for armed rebellion. Leaders such as Villa, Zapata, and Álvaro Obregón joined the fight against Huerta. While the United States supported Carranza, Huerta also had foreign supporters--the German Empire which was providing him arms and equipment. He also imported arms from other countries. U.S. opposition to Huerta developed to the point that the United States seized the port of Veracruz (April 1914). Veracruz was Mexico's primary port supplying Huerta's forces based in Mexico City. This cut off Huerta from the arms hev needed. Cut off from foreign military supplies, Huerta's military situation rapidly deteriorated. He resigned and fled abroad (July 1914). Eventually Huerta attempted to renter Mexican politics by organizing acounter-revolution. The Germans provided some funding, hopeing that Huerta back in the presidency would distract the United States and discorage Anerican intervention in World War I. Huerta attemoted to enter Mexico through the United States. American authorities arrested him in El Paso as he tried to enter Mexico.

Victoriano Huerta (1850-1916)

There are two great villans in Mexican history. One is Maliche, the slave girl Cortez used as an interpretor. The other is Victoriano Huerta. Mexican historians commomnly refer to his as "El Chacal" -- "The Jackal". One author summarized how Mexicans view Huerta, "Victoriano Huerta was a man almost too bad to be true. Described by one historian as an 'Elizabethan villain', he was a drunkard and repressive dictator who guaranteed himself a permanent spot in Mexico's hall of infamy by overthrowing and then conniving at the murder of the liberator Francisco Madero." Victoriano Huerta was born in Colotlán, a town in Jalisco (1850). His parents were Jesús Huerta and Refugio Márquez They were both of Mestizo descent. His parents traced their ancestry to the Huichol tribe which dominated northern Jalisco. He began his education in a rural primary school. He was employed as a secretary by Donato Guerra, an importahnt Juarista general who distrusted civilian authority over the military. It was here that Huerta began to conceive of a military career. He decided to join the Mexican Army when he was 17 years old. He impressed his superiors and won admission to the Colegio Militar de Chapultepec (Military Academy at Chapultepec). He caught the eye of President Diaz who was also of mestizo origins. Huerta won rapid promotion, reaching the rank of general. For a man of mestizo origins, this was an impressive achievement. His detractors have depicted him as an illiterate. druken brute. This is not accurate. He was a brutal man and a heavy drinker, but he was neither iliterate or incompetent. Díaz promoted him for his competency. He was a competent professional soldier. He is said to have excelled in astronomy and mathematics at the Military College. Other sources describe him as having some skill as an engineer, cartographer, surveyor and railroad specialist. Like many 19th century military men, he closely studied Napoleon's campaigns. He fought a major campaign for Díaz against Chan Santa Cruz Maya people in Yucatán. He also fought the Yaqui in Sinaloa. The fact that he was a mestizo with Native American origins did not prevent him from waging these campaigns with considerable brutality. He fought against Emiliano Zapata in Guerrero even before the outbreak of the Revolution.

Disputed Election (1910)

President Díaz 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 Díaz's offer at face value. Bernardo Reyes, the Díaz-appointed governor of Nuevo León, announced his candidacy. Díaz 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 Díaz 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 Díaz. 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. Díaz 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 Díaz'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. Huerta was a strong supporter of President Díaz. Huerta commanded the honor guard that accompanied him to Veracruznd foreign into exile. Huerta on saying farewell to the fefeated dictator was reportedly moved to tears.

Madero and Huerta

It is difficult to think of two men as different as Madero and Huerta. Madero was the reformer who wanted to imprive the lot of the rural poor. Yet he was waealty landowner. Personally he was teetotler and vegetarian. Huerta was a conservative even though he came out of background of rural poverty. Huerta was a heavy drinker. Huerta described himself "as suspicious as a rat". Madero's nature was trusting and taking a man for his word.

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. Huerta pledged allegiance to the Madero administration. Huerta was one of many officers whob supported Díaz that Madero retained. Huerta was instrumental in supressing revolts by rebel generals.

Orozco Rebellion (March 1912)

The most important rebellion against Madero was launched by General Pascual Orozco. Orozco had been one of Madero's chief lieutenants in the campaign to overthrow Díaz. Orozco who thoughthe was entitled to be governor of Chihuahua, launched a rebellion when he felt slighted (March 1912). Orozco received financial assistance from the Chihuahua cattle barons who feared that Madero would break up the large haciendas. American publisher William Randolph Hearst also aided Orozco. The first Federal force to put down Orozco was mauled. The commander committed suicide. Madero turned to Huerta who has a reputation as a competent commander, despite his ties to Díaz and distate for heavy drinkers. Huerta's campaign in the north was brilliantly executed. He defeated Orozco well supplied forces in five consecutive engagements. His forces boken, Orozco was forced to seek refuge in the United States (September 1912). Huerta expected to be treated as a hero when he returned to Mexico City. When he was asked to account for funds, he was infuriated. He is reported to have said that he was not a bookkeeper. It is unclear just when he began to plot against President Madero. This may have been the deciding moment.

La Decena Tragica (February 1913)

General 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.

Military Situation

Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. General Victoriano Huerta, after killing President Madero, was forced to fight the Revolution on many fronts. He benefitted from control of a substantial part of the Federal Army. He also had a strong central position in Mexico City. He baddly under estimated Madero's popularity with the Mexican people. He soon faced a formidable if tenuous alliance including Venustiano Carranza, General Álvaro Obregón, 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 Obregón went on the be presidents. The Mexican Revolution was the bloodiest period in Mexicam history since the Conquest.

Federal Army

Huerta to remain in power was dependent on the Federal Army, commonly referred to as the Federales. It was the Army built by Díaz. The Porfirista army was badly dispirited by the conflict with Madero's forces. Madero attempted to rebuild the Federal Army to deal with insurections that threatened his government. . Huerta took extensive steps to rebuild the Army, but was hampered by the public revulsion for his seizure of power and the murder of President Madero. Huerta had been Madero's most effective general. The Federal Army under Madero had 32,594 regulars and 15,550 irregulars (February 1912). This was far below the authorized level of 80,000 men. The Army reported it had 85,000 men under arms (September 1912). It is unclear how reliable these numbers were. The Federal Government also commanded 16,000 Rurales, 4,000 Urban Police and 16,200 Militia, rural guards and various other pro-government forces. Huerta after the coup claimed that he had increased the Federal army to 250,000 men (April 1914). This apparently included 31 regiments of Rurales and 31,000 militia men. This appears to have been aild over statement. One independent assessment was about 71,000 men (JUly 1914). An American observers estimated 40,000 men. It is clear that Huerta did expand the Federal Army. This had, however, some negative consequences in that many of the new recruits were untrained and because if the reccritment methods had no desire to be in the Army or fight for Huerta. Huerta ordered a mass levy. There were forced conscription from the streets by press-gangs. They used various methods, picking concripts up at railway stations, churches, movie theaters, and other locations where there were aggregations of men. Many youths and even boys were conscripted. All this affectedcboth the fighting spirit of the men and reliability of Federal units. Desertion rates were very high. To stiffen morale, conscripts were told various lies such as they were going to fight American invaders. Military cadets were given commissions and assigned to Army units. Huerta attemppted to increase morale in the Federal Army by increasuing salaries 50 percent (May 1913). His efforts were often undetmined by his own generals. They were of widely different competency and coruption was rife. Thus monry designed to exoand the Army went into the pockets of his gebnerals. Some even sold arms and supplies to the Constitulionalists. Two of the most corupt generals were his sons (Victoriano Jr. and Jorge). Huerta had placed them in key positions overseeing Army procurement. Huerta attempted to build a more reliable Army, understanding that only the Federal Army could keep him in power. Understanding thay defeatism was rife in the Porfirista army, he createdc brand new units. He attempted to create a martial spirit among the civilian population, using Prussia as a model. Government employees were required to wear military-style uniforms. Military-styled schjool uniforms were adopted. There were military drills on Sundays after church. He also attempted to expand the very small Mexican airforce, sending 31 cadets to Europe to study aviation. Huerta's most notable success was in recruiting former rebels. Benjamin Argumedo, "Cheche" Campos, as well as Pascual Orozco joined Huerta. Orozco brought with him 3,000-4,000 veteran fighters who effectively engaged the Constitutionalist armies. Orozco's mounted soldiers operated effectively as guerrillas, but when it came to releaving beleagured Federal garisons, such as Zacatecas, Orozco was of little use.

The Rurales

The Rurals was the popular name for thev Mexico's Guardia Rural. It was a force of mounted police established as a Federal constabulary by President Benito Juárez (1861). It became an important force during the extended rule of President . It might be likened to the Texas Rangers, although it was a national force. The purpose was to comat the widespread banditry that existed in rural Mexico. The Rurales were incorporated into the Republican forces fighting the French intervention, often fighting as irregulars (1861-65). After the French intervention, the Rurales were reconstituted as aeparate force. Under vresident Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), the Rurales were expanded from a few hundred to 2,000 men as part of a modernization effort. Recruitment coud be unconventional, in some cases forcing captured bandits into the service. Eventually it became more conventional. Officers were commonly recruited from the Federal Army. The Rurales developed the repulatioin as both brutal and efficent. There carefully constructed reputation was to use the ley fuga and ratrely taking prisoners. Modern scholarship has called this into question, suggesting that the Rurales were neither as efficent or as brutal as commonly believed. The Rurales never had more than 4,000 men. A force this size can not be expected to maintain orderin a country the size of Mexico and with the rugged geography. The Rurales were, however, of some importance in central Mexico around the capital where Díaz and his Cientifico advisers wanted stability to present an aura of stability to promote foreign investment. Díaz often relied on the Federal Army to maintain order in Mexico City and the major industrial cities. The Rurales were used to mauntain order in rural areas, unless rebelions reached a level beyonf their capavility and the Federal Army needed to intervene. The Rurales had a striking grey uniform with elaborate silver braid modelled on a kind of national costume--the charro. And it was topped with a wide sombrero and red or black necktie. Díaz often used them in ceremonial parades. Some states set up their own force of Rurales. Madero maintained the Rurales afyer overthrowing Díaz. He saw it as necesary for law enforcement in rural areas. He apparently wanted its brutality curbed. He allowed the force to induct a substantial number of his fighters as a temporary expedient which appears to have disrupted the organization. Huerta had aore expansion vision for the Rurales. He used a detachment to murder Madero during the Decena Tragica (1913). Huerta incorporated the Rurales into his Federal military forces. He envisioned expanding the Rurales to a hard hitting calvalry force of more than 10,000 men. The Rurales were also useful in his efforts to maintain control by installing a police regime that would carry out his orders without any legal scruples. The police" force in general and the Rurales in particular were notorious for brutality in the use of force. The problem of recritment that faced the overall Federal Army prevented Huerta from expanding the Rurales as he had hoped. Carranza and the Constitutionalists after forceing Huerta into exile, disbanded both the Federal Army and the Rurales (August 1914).

The Constitutionalists

Resistance to Herta 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.

Peasant Leaders

A major factor in the campaign against Huerta were the two key peasant leaders, Emiliano Zapata in the south and Francisco (Pancho) Villa in the north. The are the two induividuals that come to the popular mind in association with the Mexican Revolution. They played a major role in the defeat of Huerta, but they did not have the education or governing skills to form a government. And they were two very different people with widely different goals. While Zapata was fairly consistent in supporting the Plan de Ayala and land reform, Villa was much less committed to comprehensive social reform. This was in part because, Villa turned large estates over to his grnerals and not the peasants who worked them. They were used to finance his operations. The cowboys who rode with Villa were not committed to lnd reform like the peasants who backed Zapata. Most men were defeated and did not play a major role in the Revolutiin after the defeat of General Huerta. Zapata's Plan de Ayala, resonated throughout the Revolutionary period and influenced the Land Reform of the PRI Givernment which followed it. Villa left not permanent influence on Mexico except for his image in the populsr imsginsation in confronting the United states.

Fighting

The fighting mostly took place in the north. The primary Constitutionlist commanders were Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregón. one of Huerta's most important allies proved to be Pascual Orozco, the Chihuahua rebel he had defeated in the service of President Madero. Huerta and Orozcon reconciled. Huerta put him in command of a militia known as the Colorados ("Red Flaggers"). The Colorados were employed in brutal campaigns in rural areas that supported the Constitutionalists.

Political Tyranny

Huerta's presidency was notable for political corruption. He essentially ruled by imprisoning preceived enemies and killing a number of them. While fighting in the north, Huerta moved against preceived enemies in Mexici City. He arrested 84 Congressmen. Several were murdered. Belisario Dominguez, a Congressman from Chiapas after denouncing Huerta, was seized, taken into a garden and shot. This reign of terror threw the Mexican government in chaos. Through it all, Huerta himself accompanied by a heavy body guard was observed frequeting Mexico City cantinas, drinking heavily. He was partial to foreign brandy.

Foreign Involvement

Huerta set about recreating the Porfiriato only under his control. He set up a military dictatorship and was not about to make Díaz's mistake of allowing an election. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson came to oppose Huerta when it became clear that there would be no new elections. He recalled Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson who had participated in the conspiracy to overthrow Madero. Wilson demanded that Huerta step aside so that democratic elections could be held. Huerta refused. While the United States supported Carranza, Huerta also had foreign supporters--the German Empire which was providing him arms and equipment. He also imported arms from other countries. U.S. opposition to Huerta developed to the point after the Tampico Affairv that the United States seized the port of Veracruz (April 1914). Veracruz was Mexico's primary port supplying Huerta's forces based in Mexico City. This cut off Huerta from the arms he needed to right the rebel forces arayed around him.

Huerta's Defeat (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).

Exile

Huerta followed Díaz into exile. The German cruiser SMS Dresden took him to Jmaica. (World War I had not yet broken out in Europe and Germany was not yet at war with Britain.)

Huerta's Army Disbanded

Carranza and the victorious Constitutionlists disbanded what was left of the Huerta's Federal Army (August 13, 1914). The Army at the time included 10 Generals of Division, 61 Generals of Brigade, 1,006 Jefes, 2,446 Officers, 24,800 other ranks and 7,058 horses. There were also 21 regiments of Rurales with about 10,500 men. The Constitutional Army of Venustiano Carranza became the Army of Mexico. As a result, in subsequent fighting, they became known as the Federal Army or Federales. While they inhereted the name of the Díaz/Huerta Army, Carranza's and Obregon's new Federal Army was a very different force.

Attempted Counter-Revolution (1915)

Eventually Huerta attempted to return to Mexico by organizing a counter-revolution. He sought refuge in Spain and then moved on to the United States, presumably because there was a border with Mexico. He began plotting agaunst the Mexican Government while still in Spain. He met with German agents in an effort to secure the Kaiser's support for another coup d'état. The Germans provided some funding, hopeing that Huerta back in the presidency would distract the United States and discorage Anerican intervention in World War I. He is known to have met with German agent Franz von Rintelen, who would later organize sabatoge attacks in the United States. We are unsure about the level of German involvement, but is one more example of how thec Kaiser's Government failed to assess the the importance of the United States. Huerta attempted to enter Mexico. American authorities decided to act before he croissed into Mexico. They arrested him in Newman, New Mexico near the Mexican border (June 27, 1915). Another Díaz general, Pascual Orozco, who with him was also arrested. Authorities charges him with conspiracy to violate U.S. neutrality laws. They were held in a U.S. Army prison at Fort Bliss. He was released on bail, but later inprisoned again as he was seen to be a flight risk. His health deteriorated in prison. Just before he died, former-ambassador Henry Lane Wilson sent him a telegram. Wilson expressed concern for Huerta's health and treatment by the U.S. Army. He died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver (January 13, 1916).

Sources

Katz, Frederich. The Life and Times of Pancho Villa

Tuck, Jim. "Usurper: The Dark Shadow of Victoriano Huerta (1999).







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Created: 4:09 AM 6/22/2008
Last updated: 4:09 AM 6/22/2008