Mexican Revolution

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The Mexican Revolution was a major civil war beginning in 1910 initially led by Francisco I. Madero against Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican dictator from 1876 until 1911. The revolution was marked by anarchist, socialist, and agrarian reform movements. Generally lasting until 1920, the revolution resulted in the Mexican Constitution of 1917, cost Mexico 2.1 million lives,[1] and led to the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) political rule over the nation until 2000.

Precursors of the revolution

See also: Mexico, history

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Mexico was considered one of the most stable and precocious countries in Latin America. The United States played a noteworthy role in the revolution, with anti-American sentiments running high in Mexico during these times. Some of the issues at hand were American land and subsoil ownership and investments, labor rights for Mexicans, immigration, and church-state relations. Nevertheless, internal calamities proved to be the driving factor of the Mexican Revolution.[2]

The Porfiriato

For more information, see: Porfirio Díaz.

In 1876, Porfirio Díaz overthrew Benito Juárez's successor, Sabastián Lerdo de Tejada, under the slogan "Sufragio Efectivo, No Reelección" ("Effective Suffrage, No Reelection") found in his Plan de Tuxtepec. Ironically, Díaz would become the nation's president ruling from 1876 to 1880 and from 1884 to 1911. This long dictatorship is known as the Porfiriato.

Under Díaz's rule, Mexico became prosperous through railroading, financing, mining, commerce, and industrialization. Foreign investors from the United States, Great Britain, and France—previously weary of the country's banditry, disorder, and violence—began saturating Mexico with capital. With a rapidly growing economy and surplus, Mexico was able to pay off its debts and increase the standard of living for many of Mexico's elites. This amazing success and stability came at the cost of social and economic inequality, perpetuated by coerciveness and sometimes brutal violence. This system of ascendancy was known as pan y palo (bread and clout),[3] but was emblematic of positivist thinking that stressed both order and progress. Through the progress, the rural laborers, or peons, became more impoverished, and Díaz's Rurales (rural police) would repress any strikes or opposition that arose. Meanwhile, many Porfirian policies led to great acquisition and usurpation of lands to hacendados (hacienda owners), resulting in large disparities in land ownership.

The disparity and inequality finally culminated in the early twentieth century. A recession in 1907 and 1908 ravaged Mexico, with rampant unemployment and class struggles reaching all time highs. Díaz, however, paid scant attention. Growing old and nonchalant, Díaz wanted to retire to Europe. Díaz figured the election of 1910 would be his last, following the typical pattern of rigging the election and silencing opponents.

Ricardo Flores Magón

For more information, see: Ricardo Flores Magón.

Ricardo Flores Magón was one of Díaz most vocal critics. Flores Magón, an anarchist and staunch anti-capitalist, is seen by many as a harbinger of the Mexican Revolution. In 1900, he founded Regneración (renamed to Revolución in 1907), one of the most critical papers of the Porfiriato.[4] Soon after, he would become a founder of the Liberal Party of Mexico. After being jailed by the Díaz government, Flores Magón and his brothers fled to the United States and Canada in 1904. It was there that he became an anarchist and anti-American, conspiring with others to revolt against the Mexican government. Though he constantly was being quelled by Mexican and American authorities, his calls for revolt and social change inspired and frenzied rural workers and dissidents of the Porfiriato, keeping the radical opposition movement animate.

Francisco I. Madero's rise to power

For more information, see: Francisco I. Madero.

Francisco I. Madero was young scion from a very rich family in the northern state of Coahuila. In 1910, he decided to challenge Díaz for the presidency. Something of a mystic, Madero believed he had a calling to rid the country of dictatorship, to provide honest democratic government, and to modernize the economy through education and better administration. Although he was not in touch with the Amerindian masses, Madero addressed some issues that matter to millions of Mexicans. In all, he offered hope for a better future. His candidacy grew as 1910 wore on.

Díaz decided to eliminate Madero's threat by the usual methods, by having Madero jailed and rigging to vote count in his own favor. Election officials declared Díaz the winner of the 1910 election by a landslide. It looked like business as usual for the 1910~1915 term.

Madero made his way to San Antonio, Texas, before unleashing a protest, in the form of a "letter from jail." He called it his Plan de San Luis Potosí.[5] Its main slogan called for "free suffrage and no re-election." He made vague reference to restoring despoiled lands to the Amerindians and the need to end political bossism. He decried the lack of schools and widespread illiteracy.

The Plan de San Luis Potosí was not a major blueprint for radical socioeconomic reform, but its most important clause was a call to military arms, rallying all Mexicans to overthrow the Díaz dictatorship on November 20, 1910.


  1. McCaa, Robert (2003). "Missing Millions: The Demographic Costs of the Mexican Revolution". Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos 19 (2): 367–400. Retrieved on 2008-03-12.
  2. Clayton, Lawrence A.; Conniff, Michael L. (2005). A History of Modern Latin America. United States: Wadsworth Publishing, 285. ISBN 0534621589. 
  3. Schelling, Vivian (2000). Through the Kaleidoscope: The Experience of Modernity in Latin America. London: Verso, 188. ISBN 1859842623. Retrieved on 2008-03-12. 
  4. Raat, W. Dirk (2008-01-17). FLORES MAGÓN, RICARDO. The Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved on 2008-03-12.