The Mexican Revolution

A brief overview of the Mexican Revolution 1910-1920

Statue of Mexican Revolutionary Morelos
Danny Lehman/Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

Mexico went through great political and social unrest between 1910 and 1920. The Mexican Revolution took place at this time, beginning with efforts to oust president Porfirio Diaz. A new constitution that incorporated many of the Revolution's ideals was promulgated in 1917, but the violence didn't really come to an end until Álvaro Obregón became president in 1920. After the Mexican Revolution, and in many ways because of it, a new Mexican identity was forged. Understanding this part of Mexico's complicated history can give us some insight into why the country is the way it is today. Here are some of the reasons behind the revolution and information about its outcome.

Opposition to Diaz

Porfirio Diaz had been in power for over thirty years when he gave an interview with American journalist James Creelman in 1908 in which he stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and that the president to follow him should be elected democratically. He said that he looked forward to the formation of opposing political parties. Francisco Madero, a lawyer from Coahuila, took Diaz at his word and decided to run against him in the 1910 elections.

Diaz (who clearly hadn't really meant what he said to Creelman) had Madero imprisoned and declared himself the winner of the elections. Madero wrote the Plan de San Luis Potosi which called for the people of Mexico to rise up in arms against the president, with the date of the uprising set for November 20th, 1910.

Causes of the Mexican Revolution

  • The dictatorship-like rule of Porfirio Diaz for over 30 years
  • Exploitation and poor treatment of workers
  • Great disparity between rich and poor

The Serdan family of Puebla, planning to join with Madero, had arms stockpiled in their home when they were discovered on November 18th, two days before the revolution was to begin. The first battle of the revolution took place in their home, now a museum dedicated to the revolution.

Madero, along with his supporters, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, who led troops in the North, and Emiliano Zapata, who led troops of campesinos to the cry of "¡Tierra y Libertad!" (Land and Freedom!) in the South, were victorious in overthrowing Diaz, who fled to France where he remained in exile until his death in 1915.

Madero was elected president. Up to that point, the revolutionaries had had a common goal, but with Madero as president, their differences became obvious. Zapata and Villa had been fighting for social and agrarian reform, whereas Madero had mainly been interested in making political changes.

On November 25th, 1911, Zapata proclaimed the Plan de Ayala which stated that the goal of the revolution was for land to be redistributed among the poor. He and his followers rose up against Madero and his government. From February 9th to 19th, 1913, the Decena Tragica (the Tragic Ten Days) took place in Mexico City.

General Victoriano Huerta, who had been leading the federal troops, turned on Madero and had him imprisoned. Huerta then took over the presidency and had Madero and vice-president Jose Maria Pino Suarez executed.

Venustiano Carranza

In March 1913, Venustiano Carranza, governor of Coahuila, proclaimed his Plan de Guadalupe, which rejected Huerta's government and planned a continuation of Madero's policies. He formed the Constitutionalist army, and Villa, Zapata, and Orozco joined in with him and overthrew Huerta in July 1914.

In the Convencion de Aguascalientes of 1914, the differences between the revolutionaries again came to the forefront. Villistas, Zapatistas, and Carrancistas were divided. Carranza, defending the interests of the upper classes was backed up by the United States. Villa crossed the border into the U.S. and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. The U.S. sent troops into Mexico to capture him but they were unsuccessful. In the south Zapata divided up land and gave it to the campesinos, but he was eventually forced to seek refuge in the mountains.

In 1917 Carranza formed a new Constitution which brought about some social and economic changes. Zapata maintained the rebellion in the south until he was assassinated on April 10, 1919. Carranza remained president until 1920 when Älvaro Obregón took office. Villa was pardoned in 1920 but was killed on his ranch in 1923.

Día de la Revolución on November 20th in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Craig Lovell / Getty Images

Results of the Revolution

The revolution was successful in getting rid of Porfirio Diaz, and since the revolution, no president has governed for longer than the prescribed six years in office. There was a program of land redistribution and the ejido system of community land ownership that was instituted as a result of the revolution. The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucionalizado - the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party) political party was a fruit of the revolution and maintained the presidency from the time of the revolution until Vicente Fox of the PAN (Partido de Accion Nacional - National Action Party) was elected president in 2000.

The Mexican Revolution is commemorated every year on November 20th as the Día de la Revolución.

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