Story of Mexico - Charles Morris

The Madero Revolution and Exile of Diaz

The year 1910 saw the close of the seventh term of office of President Diaz. With the exception of the four years from 1880 to 1884, in which Manuel Gonzalez was President, his era of office-holding had extended over thirty-four years, from 1876 to 1910. During this period some considerable attention had been given to the development of education, and public opinion had grown more earnest and intelligent than it had been in 1876. But any too open expression of popular demands had been vigorously forbidden, no voice rose in protest or opposition, and the general belief in the outside world was that the people of Mexico were ardent adherents of their beneficent and progressive President. The time was at hand, however, when the world at large was to learn that this was a mistaken view of the situation, and that opposition to the Diaz regime had been steadily growing, until now it had fairly reached the point of explosion.

President Diaz had openly expressed his intention of withdrawing from government, and many of the people believed that 1910 would see the end of his long rule. When, therefore, he came before the country in that year for the eighth time as a candidate for the presidency the sentiment of opposition could no longer be suppressed. A letter in the London Times of October 27, 1911, thus gives its view of the state of affairs: "It is estimated by competent observers that 90 per cent. of the population of Mexico were, at the time of the centennial celebration last year, utterly hostile to the administration then in power." It further says: "There can be no doubt that, had Senor Madero been allowed a fair field in the Presidential election of 1910, his success at the polls would have been as decisive as the success of his subsequent appeal to arms."

When Porfirio Diaz made a procession through the streets of Mexico City on the 16th of September, 1910, in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the Grito de Dolores, the Hidalgo rising against Spain on that date in 1810—referred to in the Times article above cited—he was greeted with loud acclaim. Roses were showered into his carriage, and vociferous shouts of "Viva la Republica Mexicana! Viva Don Porfirio Diaz! Viva el General Diaz!" rent the air as he passed in triumph on. It seemed as if the whole population were rising to do him honor. Yet less than a week before, the windows of his private house had been broken by people opposed to his re-election, and the Liberal sentiment was everywhere strong. In the opinion of the Times correspondent it was held by 90 per cent. of the population.

There was another party organized and another candidate in the field, the former being the Constitutional or Democratic party, the latter, Don Francisco I. Madero, a land-holder of Coahuila, and a member of an old and highly respected family. He was a prominent advocate of a change of government in the interests of the people at large, and "Viva Madero" was a war-cry that was beginning to be heard in the streets, much to the discomfiture of the supporters of President Diaz.

Madero was possessed of great wealth, his father having at his death left an estate valued at $25,000,000 to his children. It was composed of large landed properties, with mines of gold and copper, of which he became the active manager, introducing the most advanced methods of farming and mining, opposing the system of peonage, and taking a humane interest in the condition of those under his care. This benevolence at home led to activity in the same direction abroad, and he soon was looked upon as one of the most advanced advocates in the community of human rights and government obligations.

In 1908 Madero took a pronounced step in the political field in a book entitled "The Presidential Succession of 1910." It was a work which showed advanced thought on the situation, and one which ventured to indulge in mild criticism of the President. In its concluding section it went so far as to urge the people to insist on their right to a fair ballot and a candidate of their free choice in the coming election. This book gained wide circulation before the authorities became awake to the situation, when it was hastily and completely suppressed. It dealt with a subject then vital in the minds of the people, and the Democratic party, which soon afterward came into the limelight, was no doubt partly due to the influence it exerted upon the public mind. We have in the last chapter spoken of the nomination of General Reyes for the vice-presidency by the new party. Madero, who had since 1905 been the acknowledged leader of the independent voters, became an active and effective orator in his support. He had considerable facility in public speaking, and rode from place to place in his private car, addressing public meetings, at which he made the principles of popular government his chief theme, saying little about the ticket in the field, much about the rights and duties of the citizen.

Reyes, the Democratic candidate for Vice-President, was disposed of by the administration—not formally, but practically, banished—and the Diaz faction had apparently swept the Democratic plan of operations from the field. But the tide of public opinion had grown too strong to be readily turned back. Madero's campaign of oratory went on, and steps were taken near the end of 1909 to combine the opposition sentiment represented by the Democratic and Reyes movement into an Anti-Re-electionist campaign, a movement in open opposition to Diaz and Corral as candidates. The spirit of liberalism had passed the limits of repression, and in mid-April, 1910, a convention of this new organization was held, a platform was issued, and nominations were made. Francisco I. Madero was named as the candidate for President and Dr. Vasquez Gomez for Vice-President.

Cadets from the military college who mutinied.


It was a bold step, but soon proved to be a popular one. The effect on the people was quick and strong, and was shown in the capital city itself by a great parade inspired with tremendous enthusiasm. Those who took part in it knew well the risk they ran, but the throng was so enormous that even the papers supporting the government had to acknowledge it as a Maderist triumph. Meanwhile Madero and other leaders of his party were in the field as speech-makers, taking care not to indulge in severe criticism of the administration or to stir up any violent demonstration, but mildly seeking to win adherents to their cause.

At first the President paid no open attention to this propaganda, apparently deeming it too insignificant to be worthy of action on his part. But the convention and nomination of opposing candidates, and the evident popularity of the movement, put a different aspect upon the case and the old method of dealing with political opponents was resumed. The police once more began to break up the Democratic clubs, stop political meetings, and put the opposition newspapers out of business, the persecution quickly growing so severe that Diaz was requested to stop it. Among those who wrote to him was Madero himself, who recited the acts of outrage that had come to his attention, including the arrest of delegates on their way home from the convention, the breaking up of meetings, the imprisonment of citizens for exercising the right of private opinion, and like instances of oppression.

"In the city of Zaragoza," he wrote, "many independent citizens were confined in prison, others were consigned to the army, as in the case of Senor Diaz Duran, president of an Anti-Re-electionist Club, and others have felt the necessity of abandoning their homes in order to escape the fury of authority.

"At Cananea," he continued, "the persecutions are extreme against the members of my party, and according to late news received therefrom more than thirty individuals have been imprisoned among them the full board of directors of the Club de Obresos, three of whom were forcibly enlisted into the army. At Puebla, Atlixco and at Tlaxcala, where untold "outrages have been committed against my followers, intense excitement prevails. The last news received shows the condition of the working classes to be desperate, and that they may at any moment resort to violent means to have their rights respected."

In fact, the old methods, which had proved so effective against the Liberal and Democratic parties, were now put into operation against the Anti-Re-electionist cause. These included imprisonment, forcible drafting into the army, and other extreme measures, with in most cases no justification for the act except the assertion of the right of private opinion in political affairs.

As June came on and the date of election, June 26th, drew near, the reign of oppression became more stringent. The authorities went so far as to arrest Madero himself, and with him Roque Estrada, who had also written to the President to beg a cessation of the persecution. The arrest and imprisonment of these leaders were for a time kept secret, they being held in the Monterey penitentiary. Not until the fact had become public were any definite charges brought against the captives. "Sedition" was charged in the case of Estrada. As for Madero, he was at first held on the charge of seeking to protect Estrada from arrest, and afterwards with "insulting the nation," a crime apparently invented for the occasion. He was removed from Monterey to San Luis Potosi, immured in the penitentiary there, and held incommunicado until after the election, no one being permitted to communicate with him.

These high-handed proceedings against an opposition candidate caused outbreaks in various quarters, these being put down with the old severity. Thus when the news reached Saltillo an excited crowd filled the streets. Through the mass furiously charged a company of the rurales, more than two hundred people being ridden down or otherwise injured. The "nation" was so sadly insulted in Saltillo, Torreon and Monterey that a hundred of their citizens were arrested. At Ciudad Porfirio Diaz, a city bearing the name of the President, forty-seven citizens of prominence were seized in one day, and on June 20th more than four hundred arrests are said to have been made in the northern Mexican states.

Election day followed. It was an election conducted in the good old method—that of Diaz and many before him. Election booths were put up, polls were opened, votes were cast. But soldiers closely guarded the polls, the Democratic leaders were in prison and all communication with them cut off, and every one who ventured to cast any but the administration ticket knew he did so at the risk of loss of property and liberty. The election over, the votes were counted—also in the good old way. The result was a "triumph" for Diaz and Corral. They had been elected by a "practically unanimous" vote.

But the opposition candidate and his powerful supporters were in prison for "sedition," "insulting the nation," and similar crimes, soldiers and rurales  held the polls, government agents counted the vote, and Diaz and Corral were announced as the people's choice. The "steam roller" method had once more been effectively used in electing the heads of the Mexican government.

After time had been given for the people to settle down and accept the inevitable, Madero was released on bail fixed at $10,000. His claws had been cut; there was no need to keep him longer behind the bars. At least such was the opinion of the President. It was a mistaken opinion, as he was soon to learn.

The date of Madero's release was October 10th. He was ordered to remain in Mexico. This he did for a brief period, publishing on October 15th a pamphlet entitled a "Call to Arms," containing a political platform which he called the "Plan of San Luis Potosi." The main features of this were "effective suffrage" and "no re-election," and it embraced various demands for reform, including free distribution of land, restitution of lands taken from the Indian tribes, the freeing of political prisoners, and the cessation of putting condemed criminals into the army.

Madero was not content with a literary propaganda. He felt that he had been legally robbed of an election to the presidency and proposed to regain his rights by force of arms. Consultations with Democratic leaders were held and the date of November 26th was fixed for a rising against the government. Such was the first step in the revolution of 1910-11, the only effective insurrection which Mexico had known since 1876.

With little heed to these underground movements preparations were made for a great celebration, that of the hundredth anniversary of the "Grito de Dolores," the beginning of the Mexican war for independence on September 16, 1810. It was to be celebrated by a month of festivities, embracing the whole of September, 1910. The chief features of the celebration were fete days in Mexico City on the 15th and 16th, an imposing pageant on the 19th, and a sham battle on the 25th. Also, a million-dollar palace was dedicated in the city of Chihuahua. The festivities in the capital embraced such agreeable incidents as a ball in the palace, which was lighted by 30,000 electric stars, a fairyland entertainment on the rock of Chapultepec, a mimic firework battle on a lake, a banquet in a cavern by the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and various other spectacles. More permanent were the founding of a university, and the introduction of a more copious supply of drinking water.

While these entertainments were taking place in the south, the agents of anarchy were at work in the north. Madero, despite his order to remain in Mexico, made his way in disguise to Laredo, on the border, and crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. Here he engaged in the purchase of large quantities of arms and ammunition, which he succeeded in shipping over the border. He next made his way to San Antonio, and thence to El Paso, where he founded a revolutionary junta. Learning that a warrant for his arrest had been issued, on the charge of breaking the international laws of the United States, he crossed the Rio Grande to Juarez, and was once more on Mexican soil, where his adherents had been busy in preparing for the proposed insurrection.

This started prematurely on November 18th. The government had got wind of what was in the air, and itself set the ball rolling. On that date the police attempted to break up a mass-meeting in Puebla, called to protest against the fraudulent election of Diaz, and a fight occurred in which twenty-five persons were killed. Tidings of this affair hurried Madero's movements and his crossing of the border, many refugees in Texas doing the same. These were armed and ready to take to the field. Outbreaks quickly followed in Chihuahua and neighboring states, in which the development of large landed estates under government supervision had made a large majority of the population hostile to the administration. An interesting incident in this connection is the fact that on December 1st, when Diaz and Corral took the oath of office for their new term, Madero, then on his estate in Coahuila, had himself at the same hour inaugurated and proclaimed as Provisional President of Mexico. This was decidedly taking time by the forelock.

By this date the insurrection was fully launched, the Maderists having appeared in arms in various localities, in which brushes with the Federal troops. had taken place. Pascual Orozco, formerly engaged in silver mining operations, appeared as military chief of the insurgents in Chihuahua, followed by men who were much less interested in the main question of free suffrage than in the oppressive acts of local officials and the evil of gigantic estates, to the detriment of the small farmers. He proved himself a competent guerrilla leader, one who made the repression of brigandage a special duty. General Navarro had been sent with a Federal army against him, his force being large enough to annihilate Orozco if he could only have found him. But Navarro was a man of infinite caution, one ill fitted for warfare in a country of huge land areas and few towns. His marches were made with great care and deliberation, and while no harm came to him or his men, none was done to the enemy. Thus the opening of December found matters in an undecided state in the rebellious north, and Navarro's campaign making little progress.

He had not only the rebels under Orozco to deal with, but found the whole population of the country hostile. Every man seemed an adherent of the rebel cause. They helped Orozco in every way possible, fired on the Federals from roofs and hill tops, and failed to supply them with food, while acting as spies for Orozco, and keeping him informed of every movement of the enemy. Thus the outbreak went on, with marches and countermarches, taking of villages and burning of archives, in which the rebels seemed to take delight. At the same time desertions from the government to the rebel ranks were very frequent. Many of the Federal soldiers were political prisoners, or men drafted from the jails into the ranks, and numbers of these found their way into the LiberatingArmy, as Madero styled his forces.

By the opening of 1911 the affair had begun to look serious; the insurgents were evidently gaining ground; the government troops had been beaten at Sau Ignacio, Galeana and elsewhere, and were making no visible progress in putting down the rebellion. By February Madero had a large body of well-trained and organized men in the field, who made their appearance at so many points that the Federal commanders had to break up their troops into small bodies. The trouble was not confined to the north, but had extended to the south also, risings taking place in Vera Cruz and Oaxaca, which called for new diversions of the Federal forces. The star of Madero was clearly in the ascendant, and he now declared that he would not lay down his arms until Diaz resigned his ill-gotten office, and a fair and full suffrage was assured to the Mexican people.

Much of the fighting had taken place on the United States frontier, and American troops were hurried in numbers to the border. Many thousands of them gathered at San Antonio and were distributed thence to various threatened points, while four swift cruisers were sent to Galveston, in readiness if naval operations should be needed. In fact, bullets at times crossed the border into American towns, several Americans being wounded by them at Douglas, Arizona. To pacify the Mexican authorities the government at Washington announced that these troops had been sent south simply for practice in military evolutions, but this was too transparent an excuse for their presence to deceive anyone. Madero had a number of American soldiers of fortune among his troops, also some from Australia, South Africa, and even Italy, a grandson of the famous Garibaldi being there to fight for liberty of an oppressed people, as his grandfather had done in former years.

Madero's forces were not yet in condition to attack important towns. Their arms were poor, their ammunition scanty. No munition of war could be had from across the border, and they were obliged to content themselves with taking small places and wearing out the Federal troops in ineffective pursuit. But the task of the government daily grew more difficult, and it was steadily losing prestige. No money could be had from abroad, manufactures had largely declined, powder was made, but other implements of war grew scarce, and week by week Madero's cause made promising headway. Yucatan, Campeche and Guerrero became seats of rebellion, and Zapata, a brigand chief of barbarous character, added to the confusion in the south by his daring raids and frequent acts of vandalism.

Experienced Rebel cavalry.


Navarro remained in command of the Federal forces in the north, but found himself in the midst of a swarm of stinging hornets. Learning that Orozco was besieging Juarez, on the international border, he made a march due north toward that point. But the bridges had been burned, the railway tracks were torn up, and his advance was so deliberate that Orozco had abundant time to take the place. This his poverty in artillery alone prevented.

While all this went on President Diaz feigned to make light of the revolution. He sent troops to deal with it, but spoke in terms of contempt of Madero and his aspirations. But as time passed his tone changed. The condition of affairs had become too serious to disregard and anxiety began to replace his former indifference. His feeling that affairs had grown critical was shown by the changes made in his Cabinet, most of the old members being dismissed and replaced by new ones. Among these was Francisco de la Barra, who had been Mexican Minister at Washington, and who now became Secretary of Foreign Affairs. This change in the Cabinet was but an opening wedge. Congress reassembled on April 1st, and President Diaz read to it a message advocating most of the reforms in the Madero platform. In it he opposed the re-election of presidents, favored safeguards for the suffrage, reform of the Federal judiciary, the abolition of certain old abuses of local officials, the division of large estates among the people, and measures to allay discontent with the land laws. Here was all that had been asked for by the insurrectionists, but it came too late. It indicated apprehension, not conviction, and no one took it seriously.

For the first time for many years Congress now began to legislate. It had hitherto been the mere mouthpiece of the President, obeying his orders with the meekest docility and indulging in rhetorical flourishes of no significance in the intervals. The members, appreciating the imminence of affairs, commenced to talk about matters of real importance without awaiting orders, and the public, astonished at the change, flocked to hear them. It had been so long since there had been a real parliamentary debate on live subjects that the people were taken aback, while the growing trend of opinion was shown by their warm appreciation of any anti-Diaz utterance.

President Diaz had previously requested an armistice with the revolutionists, and one was granted to last five days from April 23rd. The time proved too short for the necessary negotiations and was extended, though only part of the republic was included in the armistice zone, and elsewhere fighting went on. Negotiations for peace began on May 3rd. Madero expressed himself as ready to give up his aspirations for the presidency if Diaz would consent to resign. But he demanded that the Constitution must be enforced, that five members of the Cabinet and fifteen of the governors should be of his party till the time of the next election, and that his soldiers should be paid.

These terms were declined, and the armistice ended on May 6th. The negotiations had taken place outside of Juarez, then occupied by Navarro and besieged by the revolutionists. The attack on this place was resumed, and prosecuted with such energy that it fell on the 10th. It was the first place of leading importance the insurgents had won, and was of the greatest value to them from the large store of rifles, rapid-fire guns and ammunition which it contained. General Navarro was among the prisoners. He had committed acts of bloodshed upon prisoners in the ordinary Mexican fashion, and the victorious troops demanded his execution. But Madero, to whom slaughter of prisoners was repulsive, took him in his motor car to the banks of the Rio Grande and bade him wade across into Texas.

The office of the jefe politico, or mayor, of Juarez now became Madero's seat of government and the meeting place of the Cabinet he had chosen, and here, after the capture of the town, the negotiations for peace were resumed. The position of Diaz had become hopeless. Everywhere the insurgents were victorious. The great mining city of Pachuca, the capital of Guanajuato, was in their hands, and their orderly spirit was shown here by the formal execution of one of their own members for looting. Alike in the north and south they had prevailed. Other cities were being occupied, states were yielding allegiance, the whole country was coming into their hands.

Under these circumstances all hope for the continuance of the Diaz rule was at an end. He yielded to the inevitable with great reluctance, but a peace agreement was finally reached on the 21st of May, the terms of which were that Diaz and Corral should resign, Foreign Secretary de la Barra should be made Provisional President of the Republic, and a free and fair election for new executive heads of the government should be held within six months.

Something very like a riot broke out in Mexico City on May 24th, when the rumor got abroad that Don Porfirio was hesitating about the resignation. The hall of Congress overflowed with excited citizens, who swarmed in the seats of the press and diplomatic bodies, eager for tidings of the resignation. A handbill was passed around saying that Diaz did not intend to resign, and a wild tumult broke out. The chairman's voice was drowned in the din. "Viva Madero! Muera Diaz!  The resignation! The resignation!" rang on all sides. "It will come tomorrow," yelled a member. "No! No! today! now! we demand the resignation!"

Many rushed into the street, full of riotous fury. The office of El Impartial, the administration journal, was bombarded with stones, a pistol shot was fired, and a force of police rushed forward, discharging their revolvers into the struggling mass, many of whom fell before the shower of bullets.

Diaz lay that day in his house in Cadena suffering from an ulcerated tooth, his dwelling strongly guarded by soldiers and police. He was safe from the mob, but their wild cries of "Viva Madero! Muera Diaz!"  could not be kept from his ears, doubtless torturing him as much mentally as his tooth tortured him physically. And so that day of wild excitement passed. The next day he resigned.

When the tidings came that the long rule of President Diaz was at an end, the madness of enthusiasm was equal to that of the fury the day before. Joyous parties paraded the streets, some of them numbering five thousand and more; these led by a military band, lose marching to the music of violins. There were no longer any police bullets to stay them in their demonstration, and all went merrily on, some of the marchers, in the failure of better music, parading to the dulcet strains evoked from tin cans.

On the succeeding day, May 26th, the late President stole secretly out of the city over which he had so long held despotic rule. Dawn was just breaking over the mountains that closed in the Valley of Mexico when his train drew out. With it went two other trains, one before and one after, filled with soldiers under the command of General Huerta, a man destined to succeed him in the presidency in the coming period. The journey was not taken altogether in safety. At Tepechualco the train passed through a rain of bullets fired by a hostile throng, and bringing death to six or seven of the escort. These were the last shots fired for or against General Diaz on the soil of Mexico, Vera Cruz being reached without further show of hostility.

In this seaside city, which had witnessed so many vital comings and goings in Mexican history, the deposed President passed a few days awaiting the sailing of the vessel that was to bear him to Europe, his hosts being the Pearsons, English coal-oil magnates in Mexico, the British flag flying above their mansion, many soldiers guarding it.

On the 31st of May the vessel that bore him from his country set sail, the national anthem being played by a military band at his departure, while General Huerta, affected by the self-exiling of his great chief, made a speech saying, "Whatever people may assert, the troops under my command will always be at your disposal. They are the only portion of the country which has not gone against you."

"If Mexico should be involved in difficulties," replied the old soldier, "then I will return with pleasure. I would place myself there at the head of all the loyal forces, and beneath the shadow of that flag I would know how to conquer once again. If the Fatherland should ever need my services, then solemnly I undertake, as a gentleman and a soldier, to be always at the soldiers' side and underneath their flag, so that I may defend the cherished soil of Mexico until I have poured out my latest drop of blood."

And so from Mexico passed away one of its greatest and ablest men. He had been able as a soldier and great as a ruler, his mind being set on the progress and development of his country. And no one will deny that Mexico had made a noble advance under his rule. Probably when he took hold of it and for years afterwards that turbulent country could not have been ruled except by a strong hand and an imperious will, one that would not let the devious ways of law and legislation stand in the path of immediate action in case of peril to the commonwealth. But the habit of subordinating law to will, of substituting force for legal and judicial control, is apt to lead to despotism, and such was the case in the career of Porfirio Diaz. With the army and the police at his will, his rule passed from the legal one of legislative and constitutional authority to the illegal one of a military oligarchy. He became an irresponsible autocrat, under whom the legislature was a puppet, dissent and opposition were crushed out, the will of the people whom he pretended to represent was utterly ignored, and that dangerous thing, a one-man-power, put at the head of a nation. Such a state of affairs can only lead to ill, however well intentioned and seemingly wise may be the autocrat. And it can only come to one end. Public opinion, however sternly repressed, will grow, and in time cannot fail to overthrow the autocracy, however strongly intrenched. As it had done in many cases before him, in the end it rose against and overthrew Porfirio Diaz.