The Beginning of the End: Porfirio Díaz
© 2002 Donald J. Mabry
In the late Díaz period, there were efforts to anticipate the
succession in 1910. Arguments were made that the nation should return to having a
vice president. This interested both the anti-Díaz partisans and some Díaz
collaborators, for the latter hoped to get in position to succeed the old man. Díaz never
lost his grasp of politics, however. He knew who among his supporters were threats.
Bernardo Reyes, governor of Nuevo León and commander of the Armies of the Northeast, was
one possible vice presidential candidate. Another was José Yves Limantour,
Secretary of Finance and the leader of the Científicos. Both had support but Díaz chose
Ramón Corral, who had no following and, in fact, was unpopular.
The anti-Díaz sentiment or just plain ambition led to the formation of
democratic clubs and anti-Díaz publications. In 1908, Francisco I. Madero, a rich
hacendado from a very powerful family, published The Presidential Succession in 1910,
a book in which he praised Díaz and supported him for the presidency in 1910 but argued
that the nomination for the vice-presidency should be democratic. Madero was hoping to be
that candidate but Díaz never took him seriously. In 1910, Madero had decided to oppose
Díaz for the presidency. He was a very "un-Mexican" candidate for he was a
teetotaling, vegetarian, spiritualist. Moreover, his upper class origins in Coahuila and
his foreign university education (California and France) made him atypical as well. His
family opposed his desire to run but gave him some support out of family loyalty. They
were not very happy with his idea that the peasants should be helped out of their poverty.
Opposition also came from workers. In the first decade of the 20th
century, there was labor agitation with major strikes at the Orizaba, Veracruz textile
mill in 1906-07 and in copper mines at Cananea, Sonora in 1906. In the latter
strike, Díaz allowed foreigners, Arizona state rangers, to cross the border to quash the
strike, killing workers. For many workers, Mexicans were ill-treated compared to
foreigners. Ricardo Flores Magón fostered this resentment as he tried to foment social
revolution. He failed but he popularized some of the ideas which would be adopted by the
soldiers who ran the Mexican Revolution.
The July, 1910 election was won easily by Díaz. He had jailed Madero
before the election. The results said that Madero had only gotten 196 votes, unlikely
since his family network was larger than that! No doubt he continued to think that Madero
was a zero. When he began the massive celebration of the 100 years since the Hidalgo
revolt (what was erroneously celebrated as Independence), he paroled prisoners. Madero was
one. Madero escaped to the United States. Díaz had his great celebration with foreign
dignitaries flocking to Mexico to celebrate the man who had tamed the Mexican tiger.
No wonder foreigners liked Díaz. He helped them take land from the
Indian villages. He had put Mexico on the gold standard even though Mexico was the largest
silver-producing nation in the world, because it suited foreigners. They were favored in
employment. They got tax concessions. When foreign companies wanted to buy ore and
petroleum deposits so they could mine or drill and sell abroad, Díaz changed the
centuries-old law which reserved subsoil rights to the nation. He revised the mining
statutes and strengthened the mining school. He provided order and stability even
though the vast majority of Mexicans did not benefit from his policies. Foreigners did.
Who could ask for anything more?
Madero did not demand anything but liberal democracy, a fair vote; the
nationalistic explosion intermixed with demands for social justice came from elsewhere,
from men less fortunate than he. Madero had gone to San Antonio, Texas.
He then announced the Plan de San Luis Potosí (as if he were in Mexico) in which he
declared Díaz' election null and void and himself as president. He called for a popular
uprising against Díaz to begin on November 20th. He crossed into Mexico on that day to
lead the insurrection but nothing happened. He high-tailed it back into Texas. The
Revolution would begin at different times in different places for different reasons, but
Chihuahua was the epicenter. There were good guerrilla leaders such as Pascual Orozco and
Pancho Villa there and people who thought revolt had a chance of success. These two
lower-class leaders cleaned up the back country of Chihuahua. They then prepared to attack
the barracks at Ciudad Juárez. Madero crossed the border in February, 1911 to join them.
They had no love for this effete meddler. South of Mexico City another rebellion was
taking place led by the horse trader Emiliano Zapata. Villagers in the states of Morelos
and Guerrero needed a champion to continue their court battles to recover the lands taken
from them by the favored of Díaz. Zapata took the duty but found that his efforts were
ignored by the establishment. He began to fight and he would continue to fight until he
was murdered in 1919. Other rebellions erupted across Mexico.
Limantour returned from his Paris exile in March, 1991; he was called
back because Díaz was getting desperate. On his way to Mexico City, he stopped off in New
York City and consulted with the Madero family, trying to arrange a deal. That he was
negotiating with the Maderos was significant for several reasons. The Maderos were not the
Revolution; he would not deign to talk to anyone below is social class. The fact that he
was negotiating was a sign of weakness on the part of Díaz. It encouraged the
Díaz issued a manifesto hoping to stop the rebellion. He promised
reform and offered to step down if the fighting would stop. Madero was willing to accept
his terms but Villa and Orozco had the army garrison pinned down and knew they were
winning. They refused. When they took the garrison, Madero tried to get them to not shoot
the commander. They almost shot him for meddling. He was not the revolution. Díaz also
faced the zapatista rebellion only 55 miles south of Mexico City.
Many supporters became opponents. Recognizing the inevitable, Díaz
resigned on May 25, 1911 and sailed to Europe. Legend has it that his parting words were
that "Madero has unleashed the tiger; let's see if he can tame it." He died in
Paris on July 2, 1915.