The economic crash of 1907 must have disillusioned Don Porfirio as sorely as it did the coterie of cronies and advisors with whom he had surrounded himself. After nearly three decades of "peace and progress", the bubble had burst, and Mexico was facing a host of seemingly insurmountable problems. When an American journalist interviewed Díaz in 1908, he clearly was speaking as a tired old man, confiding that he would retire at the end of his current term and not seek re-election. Moreover, he announced that the time had also come to welcome an opposition party into the political life of Mexico.
Coming from the "horse's mouth", these were indeed encouraging words, at least for potential dissidents. One of these was a general by the name of Reyes from Monterrey who promptly announced his candidacy for the presidency. However, when Porfirio was "entreated" by his finance minister to change his mind and run for an eighth term, General Reyes realized that he would not receive the support of the army that he had anticipated and so quickly departed the country on an extended trip to Europe.
In the neighboring state of Coahuila, Francisco Madero, the 37-year old son of a wealthy landowner, was so disappointed by General Reyes "chickening-out" that he decided to run for the presidency himself. Considering himself a "friend" of Díaz, Madero was no "flaming revolutionary" but at best could be termed a "moderate reformer" who fully expected to run a polite and gentlemanly contest against the venerable "Old Man". On a campaign swing around the country, he found support in the adjacent border states of the North and also in the Yucatán and was formally nominated by a convention in Mexico City in April 1910. However, Don Porfirio was no more happy about his "young friend" running for his office that he had been about the general, so he had Madero jailed on a trumped up charge and went on to win re-election by an "overwhelming" mandate of the Mexican people, along with his hand-picked Vice-President.
When Madero was released on bail, he escaped to Texas where he declared the election null and void and called for a rebellion to be launched on November 20. Having taken note of sweeping political changes throughout the hemisphere, notably in Argentina, Uruguay, and in the United States itself, Madero was more convinced than ever that the time had come to put an end to the Díaz regime. Madero's call to arms was taken up in several parts of the Republic, by disparate individuals, groups, and factions that each had their own special bones to pick with the "establishment". In Puebla, the Serdán brothers, scions of a once wealthy land-owning family themselves, took up arms on November 20 and promptly became victims of the army's reprisal. Only in the more remote areas of the country, far from the centralized power of the goverrment, did the up-start rebels win any victories of consequence. Among them were the bands of guerrillas led by Pascual Orozco in the mountains of western Chihuahua, who were soon joined by the unruly troops commanded by Francisco Villa, whose first fame was as an outlaw. (Although Villa's initial crime was killing the landowner who ravished his sister, once on the run, he soon expanded his attacks on the hated establishment to include cattle rustling.) When government troops came north to crush them, Orozco and Villa massed their rag-tag army near Ciudad Juárez to meet them in battle. Madero attempted to dissuade his allies from fighting so near the U.S. frontier, lest stray bullets end up in El Paso and give the Americans an excuse to intervene. Fortunately, such fears not only turned out to be unfounded, but the rebel army also managed to decisively defeat the federal troops. In the resultant Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, signed in May 1911, Madero revealed how limited his expectations for change really were. Both Díaz and his new vice-president were "invited" to take an extended tour of Europe themselves, all federal troops were to be removed from the three northern states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora, which clearly had been identified as the rebels' stronghold, and finally, fourteen of the state governors were to be appointed by the new government, replacing Díaz' old cronies and/or their family members who had occupied these offices for an entire generation. Madero further agreed that Díaz' former foreign minister, de la Barra, who was constitutionally empowered to serve as Don Porfirio's successor, should be named interim president until a new election could be held. He also agreed, quite naively, that the federal army could keep its weapons and that the rebel armies should be disbanded, now that "victory" had been secured. The following November, when the results of the election were tallied, Madero assumed the office of President, confident that his "rebellion" had fully accomplished its mission.
There were, however, many Mexicans who did not share this view. For them, the real struggle had not yet begun. Among them was Emiliano Zapata, a campesino from the state of Morelos, who had watched as the large, commercial sugar plantations had swallowed up the lands of the small farmers and Indian ejidos during the boom-days of the Díaz era. For Zapata, the Revolution would not be complete until land-reform had taken place, and for him, this meant that all the haciendas should be obliged to surrender one-third of their acreage, in return for proper compensation. Only those hacendados who did not agree to this formula would have their lands seized without payment. In Zapata's view, large landowners and small farmers should be able live in peace alongside of one another as long as they respected each other's rights -- hardly an extreme or radical stance for a "revolutionary."
Yet, such thinking was completely alien to a hacendado like Madero, who regarded Zapata and his confederates as "perverse vandals." Díaz had attempted to put down Zapata's rebellion by ordering General Venustiano Huerta into the field against him, and de la Barca had continued the struggle with Madero's blessing. Now, acting as President in his own right, Madero called upon Huerta to continue his campaign to destroy the Morelos uprising. Indeed, in June, 1912, Madero went out of his way to disassociate himself from any commitment to land-reform, making only a token effort to defuse the Morelos conflict by setting up a commission to examine the claims of the Indian ejidos to their lost lands. Similarly, when Orozco, his colleague in arms in Chihuahua, proposed the expropriation of unused hacienda lands in his state, Madero totally disregarded his suggestion. And, when it came to righting the wrongs of the overworked and underpaid factory workers, Madero answered their concerns with nothing more than florid rhetoric.
Not content with such meaningless dribble, craftsmen in various parts of the country began to become more vocal in their struggle for social justice and gradually the foundations for a genuine labor movement began to take shape in Mexico. From its headquarters in Mexico City, the "House of the World Worker" soon had a network linking the major industrial centers of central and northern Mexico. When strikes broke out in the textile industry, the Madero government found itself obliged to react by means other than crushing the dissent with armed intervention. It was at this time that the first faltering steps were taken to create what eventually became a system of government-controlled unions.
Needless to say, the Madero government quickly disillusioned not only the campesinos like Zapata and the mine and factory workers like Orozco, but soon found itself espousing the philosophy and promoting the objectives of little more than the miniscule middle-class. The cultural backgrounds of the Madero and Díaz cliques and their "friendship" for one another forestalled any but minor cosmetic changes from taking place. The old bureaucracy was still largely intact and the army still had its guns. Moreover, all too often Madero turned to the Porfiristas for advice on how to govern.
When the Zapatista uprising spread from Morelos into the adjacent areas of central Mexico, reaching even the outliers of the capital itself, it looked to some of the old guard Porfiristas as though they might have a chance to regain power themselves. One of these was General Reyes, who had returned from his trip to Europe and was keeping anxious eyes on the Mexican situation from a vantage point in Texas. However, when he crossed over the border to start his revolt, he was quickly seized by the local authorities, charged with treason, and sent off to jail in Mexico City. In Chihuahua, Orozco also rebelled, not only defeating an army hurriedly dispatched against him by Madero, but also starting a march southward toward the capital. In desperation, Madero sent another detachment against him under the command of Huerta, who this time put the rebels to flight. However, shortly thereafter, the situation became further confused when the nephew of Díaz started a revolt in Veracruz. Although he too was quickly captured and sentenced to death for treason, Madero once more showed his "affection" for his old friend by commuting his nephew's sentence and putting him in jail in Mexico City instead.
At this point Madero was literally "sitting on a time bomb." With two of Díaz' "generals" languishing in a Mexico City jail and others chafing at Madero's ineptness from the Military College just a few miles away, it was a simple matter for the latter to march in, set their colleagues free, and then descend on the National Palace. After Reyes was killed leading the attack on the Palace, Dîaz' nephew pulled his forces back to an old army barracks in the center of the city while Madero once more enlisted Huerta to save his government from destruction. For the next ten days opposing elements of the army exchanged artillery fire in the middle of the capital city, killling hundreds of civilians and destroying many of its buildings. Then suddenly, on February 18, the shelling ended, for Huerta, in a perfidious about-face, arrested both Madero and his vice-president, having been "bought off" by the American ambassador, Henry Wilson, in a secret meeting the night before. When Huerta inquired of the ambassador whether he should exile Madero or commit him to an "insane asylum", the answer he received was to "do whatever you think is best for the country." Three days later both Madero and his vice-president were shot to death as they purportedly "tried to escape."
Feeble and misguided as Madero's attempts to rectify Mexico's post-Porfirio problems had been, they were no match for the behind-the-scenes power exerted by the United States in this matter. President Taft was thoroughly unhappy with the jeopardy in which American investments in Mexico had been placed and he had reacted by sending more troops to the frontier, dispatching warships to Mexican waters, and warning American citizens to leave the northern border states lest their lives and property be threatened. The fact that the Madero government had levied a twenty centavo tax on each ton of crude oil exported from Mexico was seen as an ominous indicator of the '"frivolous", anti-capitalist policies of the new regime. Ambassador Wilson had even gone to the length of warning Madero that American troops were poised to land in Mexico if it became necessary to protect American lives in the capital and had strongly "recommended" that Madero resign the Presidency. It was when Madero refused to resign that Wilson contacted Huerta.
Once Huerta assumed the presidency, he was in no hurry to give it up. Yet, to try to govern under the circumstances confronting him was virtually impossible. The governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, quickly rose in revolt against him, as did Villa in Chihuahua and Obregón in Sonora, and of course Zapata already was fighting against the "government" in the center of the country. In desperation Huerta instituted a draft, swelling the size of the army a dozen-fold, conscripting Indians to serve as privates and mestizos to form his officer corps. The lure of the army was money, not "patriotism" or "ideology". Promising the hordes of unemployed campesinos a living wage to shoulder guns, even if it meant risking their lives, seemed a far more "sporting" alternative than simply starving to death in the fields.
Of course, having been enticed into office by the Americans, Huerta fully expected that they would come to his assistance. But such was not to be. President Taft dumped the Mexican problem into Woodrow Wilson's lap when the latter moved into the White House in March 1913. For his part, Wilson not only removed his namesake from the embassy in Mexico but also refused to give his support to Huerta, accusing him of having taken office by "an unconstitutional act." This moralistic approach to foreign relations did not prevent President Wilson from selling arms to the rebels in the north and of openly taking the side of Carranza, however. Huerta then turned to England for financial assistance to buy arms and for a time the English were happy to provide whatever guns and ammunition he required. In April 1914, an American warship landed troops at Veracruz, claiming that they were interdicting a shipment of arms from Germany. In the resultant struggle with Mexican authorities, hundreds of civilians were killed, while the Germans quietly landed their cargo of armaments farther down the coast at Coatzacoalcos. By August of that year, however, the English halted all shipment of arms to Mexico, in return for having been granted special concessions by the Americans in using the newly opened Panama Canal. At that juncture, with all access to guns and ammunition cut off, Huerta realized that the jig was up. Once again, the destiny of Mexico had been decided by the machinations of the Great Powers, and the armies of Carranza and Villa triumphantly marched into the capital later that month.
Once Carranza had seized the reins of power in Mexico City, he called a convention of the various leaders of the anti-Huerta forces in an effort to unify the government. Although they were invited to meet in the capital, Villa was wary of venturing into a part of the country where he personally was not in control, so at his insistence the convention was moved to the western city of Aguascalientes. Besides Villa, Obregón also attended but Zapata only sent some representatives. It soon emerged, to no one's great surprise, that Carranza, the hacendado, had no real sympathy for the notions of land reform espoused by Villa and Zapata, and once Obregón realized that the convention was deadlocked, he quickly withdrew. Although Carranza had fully expected to be named the interim president until new elections could be held, Villa and the Zapatistas chose General Gutiérrez instead. As tensions rose between the rival factions, Villa, with a substantially greater army under his command, advanced southward and drove Carranza out of the capital, The latter was obliged to take refuge in the port city of Veracruz which was then under the military control of the U.S. marine corps. It was here, literally with his back to the sea, that Carranza reluctantly agreed to issue a decree that would nullify all the land surveys and expropriations of smallholdings that had occurred since the beginning of the Díaz era.
Even so, this decree still did not go far enough to satisfy Zapata. Villa was likewise disappointed, and even though he vowed to join Zapata in crushing Carranza,
he soon started pulling his army back to the safety of his northern base as Carranza's re-equipped forces began regrouping. As he worked his way northward, he was met by Obregón, Carranza's ally, near the town of Celaya in April 1915. Although Villa's cavalry had won repute as one of the most formidable military units in Mexico, two bold charges against Obregón's strongly fortified positions were repulsed with heavy casualties, and Villa was forced to abandon control over the central part of the country to the Carranza government.
Ironically, the outbreak of war in Europe in late 1914 worked to the further advantage of Carranza. Although the United States had attempted to remain "neutral" as the various rebel factions fought for control of the government, President Wilson tended to favor Villa because the latter had supposedly guaranteed American investments. After Villa's bloody defeat at Celaya, Wilson warned the rebels that if they couldn't settle their differences, he would be obliged to "help Mexico save itself." Carranza scoffed at the warning while the Villa and Zapata camps signaled their willingness to talk with the "mediators." However, when Washington realized that Germany seemingly was interested in "keeping the Mexican pot boiling", it made an abrupt about-face and not only extended diplomatic recognition to the Carranza government but also began selling arms to it.
Naturally, this move infuriated Villa and in March 1916 he swept into the mining camp of Santa Isabel, Sonora and killed sixteen American workers. A few days later he and his men crossed the U.S. border into southern New Mexico and attacked the town of Columbus, burning buildings and killing more Americans. Carranza immediately issued a warrant for his arrest, but the Americans were intent on capturing Villa themselves. General John J. Pershing was dispatched to Columbus with a detachment of mechanized troops using newly developed half-track vehicles and airplanes. The half-tracks proved to be of little use in the sandy and rocky desert terrain, and the airplanes, with their fixed-pitch wooden propellers, were unable to take off in the rarified atmosphere of the plateau; as a result, Pershing's expeditionary force had to resort to horses to follow Villa's trail into Mexico. This incursion lasted for eleven months and cost $130 million, only to be stopped by Carranza's army after it had pushed some four hundred miles into Mexican territory. The U.S. agreed to withdraw only if Mexico would "respect the life and property of foreign nationals", to which Carranza replied that he would not compromise the national sovereignty of Mexico under the duress of such a demand. Finally, the Americans reluctantly decided that there was nothing more to be gained by their fruitless attempt to capture Villa, and they gave up the mission.
With Zapata cornered in the mountains of Morelos and Villa on the run in the northern desert, Carranza convened a constitutional convention in Querétaro in the winter of 1916. Since only the moderate wings of the rebel movement were in attendance, the document that the delegates produced was devoid of any far-reaching or fundamental reforms. Even so, it went a lot farther than Carranza had hoped, because he would have been content with some minor re-wording of the Constitution of 1857.
In Article 3 of the new document, it was stated that "public instruction in public institutions shall be free", but beyond that, no provision was made for either building schools or making attendance mandatory. Indeed, the Ministry of Public Instruction, which had been created by the Díaz regime, was dismantled, and the financing and administration of schools was made the responsibility of the local and state governments instead. The old arguments of church versus state-sponsored education so dominated the convention's deliberations that a compromise finally made all primary education the purview of the government but allowed the church to maintain secondary schools, if it wished.
Most of the delegates were also resigned to the fact that the land-reform issue was not going to go away, so they had to make at least a token effort to face up to that at well. They insisted that the sanctity of private property was to be put ahead of public need, and, if any land changed hands, it would have to be paid for. So, when Article 27 was drafted, provisions were made for subdividing large properties but also for recompensing the hacendados. (Since the individual states were given authority to write the laws as to how this was to be accomplished, not a single state made any move to implement this provision until a half a dozen years later.) In keeping with the "Mexico for Mexicans" philosophy, the ownership of land and its sub-soil rights was restricted to Mexican citizens, although foreigners who agreed to abide by Mexican laws could also acquire property. The government was given the further power to review all contracts and concessions made during the Díaz era to confirm that they accorded with the best interests of the Mexican state.
Nearly one hundred articles farther along in the constitution, in Article 123, the concerns of the workers were addressed. An eight-hour day was called for, limitations were placed on the kinds of tasks expected of women and children, Sundays were to be guaranteed as 'days of rest', a minimum wage was to be established based on local living conditions, workers were to be entitled to health and accident insurance, and their children were to be given education in company schools. Mexican workers were to be paid the same wages paid to foreigners, and women's wages were to be equal to those of men. Workers not only had the right for form unions but the right to strike was also guaranteed. However, like Article 27, implementation of this provision was likewise left up to the individual states, so enforcement of the code was less than uniform across the country.
Article 130 of the new constitution re-examined the role of church and state, made necessary, it was felt, because the Church had enjoyed such a 'special' position vis à vis the Díaz regime. While freedom of worship was guaranteed, the church was to be subordinate to civil authority. Among the rights reserved to the individual states, for example, was the authority to determine what proportion of the priests within their jurisdiction must be native-born citizens of Mexico. Naturally, given to addressing such issues as these, the resulting document became inordinately lengthy and detailed.
Nevertheless, the constitution produced in Querétaro in 1917 was hardly the radical document that Mexico required to address the multitude of problems the country faced. In the words of one delegate to the convention, it represented the will of a people who "wanted revolution but not much." How adequate it would prove to be in meeting the challenges of the post-Díaz era was yet to be demonstrated, and it fell to Carranza, who was elected the country's president in May 1917, to initiate the great experiment.