Short History of Mexico - Arthur H. Noll

Porfirio Diaz and Mexico of To-Day

Juarez was immediately succeeded in the Presidency of Mexico by his virtual Vice-President and President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, who was confirmed in his office by a special election and began a constitutional term of four years in December, 1872. Lerdo was a gentleman and scholar, and had been a friend of Juarez, and especially influential in his cabinet throughout the trying period that has been sometimes sneeringly termed "the Government of Paso del Norte." He attempted to continue the policy of Juarez, and in 1873 the "Reform Laws" became a part of the Constitution, and the Sisters of Charity (the last remaining religious order) were suppressed.

The "Plan de Noria" collapsed upon the death of Juarez, and for three years the administration of Lerdo was tolerated if not popular, and the country was quiet and progressive. But as the expiration of his term of office drew near, a strong opposition to his re-election was developed, and culminated in the "Plan de Tuxtepec," in January, 1876. This was put forth in the State of Oaxaca; and General Porfirio Diaz, who had been regarded by Lerdo as a dangerous rival and had been virtually expatriated, now emerged from the place of his exile on the Rio Grande, and not only endorsed the "Plan de Tuxtepec," but became the head of the revolutionary army supporting the Plan. By midsummer the entire country was in a state of revolution, and it seemed that Mexico had gone back to its former days of restlessness and lawlessness.

General Jose Maria Iglesias likewise "pronounced," claiming the Presidency upon a principle similar to that of Ortega in 1865. He attempted to set up his government in Guanajuato. The struggle became tripartite, therefore; and between the "Lerdistas," the "Porfiristas," and the "Iglesistas," it seemed for a time that the lives of Juarez, Ocampo, Gomez Farias, and the other advocates of Constitutional government had been spent in vain. But in the autumn of 1876 a decisive battle was fought at Tecoac, and the victory was with the "Porfiristas." Lerdo fled to the United States, and the "Iglesistas " soon afterwards collapsed. General Juan N. Mendez became Military Governor of the country long enough to be numbered in its list of rulers; but General Porfirio Diaz was proclaimed Provisional President, and in April, 1877 was duly elected Constitutional President for a term ending November 30, 1880. This was with the distinct understanding that he was to be ineligible to an immediate second term, and that the Constitution of 1857 was to be amended to that effect. Consequently he was succeeded on that date by General Manuel Gonzalez, who, out of eight presidential aspirants, was elected for a Constitutional term of four years.

General Gonzalez was not the kind of man to assist in the work of regenerating Mexico and giving it good government. But for the influence of Porfirio Diaz, his administration would have been reactionary, and much of the good that had been done there would have been lost. As it was, certain charges of maladministration and corruption, brought against General Gonzalez and his government, have never been satisfactorily answered. It was a great blessing to the country, therefore, when in 1884, General Porfirio Diaz was, practically without opposition, elected President for a Constitutional term of four years.

With his installation in the Presidency, on November 30, 1884, began a new era in the history of Mexico,—an era of prosperity, of progress, of good government, of real national greatness. This remarkable man, for whom Mexico had waited for many years to complete the tasks which Juarez had begun, was born in Oaxaca, on the anniversary of Hidalgo's "grito de Dolores," in 1830. He inherited some Indian blood through his mother. He was at first designed for the Church, but decided for himself upon a career at the bar. In the arts of both war and politics he received early lessons in the war with the United States and in the revolt against Santa Anna's dictatorial government. He received honorable wounds and promotion to a lieutenant-colonelcy in the wars waged in and around Oaxaca in the interests of good government, and was ready to be made Chief of Brigade when the War of the Reform broke out. The bare record of his military exploits, wounds, adventures, and escapes in that war and in the later opposition to the French Interventionists and Mexican Imperialists, would read like a romance. He was one of the heroes of Cinco de Mayo.

As the Empire of Maximilian fell to pieces, an effort was made by Imperialists to reorganize the government with Diaz at the head of the nation in place of Juarez. But Diaz was loyal to the Republic and to the Constitutionally chosen chief of the Republic, After the fall of Queretaro, in May, 1867, he secured the surrender of the City of Mexico and prepared for the return of Juarez to his rightful capital. He then retired to his estate in the state of Oaxaca. The "Progresistas" made him a candidate for the Presidency, against his old friend Juarez, in 1867, and again in 1871; but he made little effort on his own behalf in either election. When, however, he was formally installed as Constitutional President in 1877, he began to make the Constitution of 1857 effective, and to plan and labor for the prosperity of his country and for the development of its national greatness.

His plans for national regeneration were held somewhat in abeyance during the administration of Manuel Gonzalez, but he improved the opportunities afforded him during those four years to cultivate for Mexico the friendship of the United States and to study American institutions. Hence, when he was re-elected in 1884, he returned to the task of building up the nation with a mind broadened by what he had learned; and he has pursued his task with vigor and with astonishing success.

He at once instituted reforms which placed the finances of Mexico upon a firm and satisfactory basis. The tariff system was revised and immensely improved. Home industries were encouraged, and agricultural resources were developed. Railroads and telegraph lines were established, thus enhancing the facilities for maintaining peace in the land. Immense sums were expended upon public improvements. The prison system was overhauled and improved. The army was reorganized in such manner as to greatly increase its efficiency. Law and order have been established to such an extent that there is no safer country in which to travel anywhere in the world than Mexico. The drainage of the Mexican Valley, begun three centuries ago, has been finally accomplished by the construction of an immense drainage canal,—one of the greatest engineering works of modern times. But probably the work which has most favorably marked the successive administrations of Porfirio Diaz, the work of which he has the right to feel most proud, is the system of public schools, built up out of absolutely nothing, until it is unsurpassed anywhere in the western hemisphere.

All this was not possible of accomplishment during one presidential term of four years; nor was it possible for another man to execute schemes so vast as those which Porfirio Diaz formulated for the regeneration of his country. Diaz himself had the good sense to see, and the leaders of public opinion in Mexico were able to see also, in 1888, that the work of building up a great nation under such conditions as existed in Mexico was not to be served by a change of administration and of policy every four years.

The Constitution of 1857, which had been amended under the "Plan de Tuxtepec" to render the President ineligible for an immediate second term, was now again amended to permit the President to hold two terms in succession; and under this provision Diaz was reelected in 1888 without opposition. In 1892 all limitations of this kind were stricken from the Constitution and it was made in that respect to conform to the document adopted in 1857. Diaz was again elected in 1892, again in 18961 and again in 1900, in order that he might continue the work of developing the national greatness of Mexico, and of securing to his people a fuller measure of the blessings of independence and peace which he had done so much to establish among them.