A Tiger Unleashed

Madero enables revolution

The era directly preceding the Mexican Revolution was an absolute tinderbox of discontent, repression, and widespread social inequity. The republic had been living under the oppressive era of the Porfiriato, the 34 year dictatorial rule of Porfirio Diaz. In this time, political stability had been upheld through coercion, the Mexican economy was invaded by foreign capitalists, traditional landholdings were destroyed in the name of modernization, and a small group Mexicans elite made fortunes at the expense of the common Mexican citizen. If the actions taken by the Diaz regime provided the fuel for the tinderbox, Francisco Madero’s Plan de San Luis de Potosí was the ember that ignited the flame of revolution.

Diaz vs. Madero

Late in the Porfiriato, Francisco Madero emerged as a strong challenger to the Diaz presidency. Madero’s challenge came at a time of uncertainty for the future of Mexican politics. After three decades of rule, the question of presidential succession arose from the Cientificos, a group the Mexican elite who had advised the president throughout the Porfiriato. Diaz, now entering his 80’s, gave mixed signals regarding his eventual succession. In an interview with James Creelman published in Pearson’s Magazine just two years before the election, Porfirio Diaz declared:

“The principles of democracy have not been planted very deep in our people, I fear. But the nation has grown and it loves liberty. Our difficulty has been that the people do not concern themselves enough about public matters for a democracy…Yet I firmly believe that the principals of democracy have grown and will grow in Mexico…It is enough for me that I have seen Mexico rise among the peaceful and useful nations. I have no desire to continue in the presidency.” (Wasserman, 35)

Madero, born on a hacienda to a wealthy family who had made a fortune “almost unrivaled in Mexico from shrewd investments in cotton, livestock, and industrial production”, represented the Mexican elite who had grown disillusioned by the rule of the aging dictator. The foundation of Madero’s platform was the promise of democracy with little social or economic change. He founded or funded many Anti-Reelection movements, and passionately championed the principles of democracy. The Anti-Reelection Party, of which Madero was the candidate, used the slogan “Sufragio Efectivo, No-Re-Elección”, effective suffrage, no re-election. Madero gained traction on most fronts, appearing to the upper and middle classes as a respectable, moderate alternative to Diaz, while simultaneously addressing some social woes of the lower class, such as a legal process for reinstating illegally bought, or stolen, native lands.

As Madero’s campaign was gaining momentum, Diaz announced that he would once again run for president in the 1910 election. On June 6, 1910, just prior to election day, Madero was arrested on the orders of Diaz and imprisoned in the city of San Luis Potosí.

Plan de San Luis Potosí

While Mexico had seen instances of violent social upheavals before, the situation at the start the Mexican Revolution was another beast entirely. Porfirian abuses failed to wane in intensity. Provincial Mexican elite, corralled into political obscurity through Diaz’s ironclad rule, supported anti-Diaz or anti-reelection movements. The fragility of the economy and wholesale support of foreign interests over domestic labor and capital created widespread economic crises. Stolen lands, unfair wages, and abuse by employers, both foreign and domestic, alienated the urban and rural poor who were not only left to fend for themselves, but violently suppressed in the midst of turmoil.

Any hope for political reprieve was quashed with the arrest of Madero. On June 26, 1910, Diaz “won” the 1910 presidential race by a wildly one-sided margin. “On election day, the official count gave Porfirio Diaz more than one million votes, and Francisco Madero less than two hundred” (Gonzales, 73) With yet another rigged election, Porfirio Diaz remained president of Mexico. Meanwhile, the hopeful candidate, the representation of Mexican democracy, presided over nothing in a San Luis Potosí jail cell.

Mexico was primed for revolution.

Released from jail following the rigged election, Madero fled to the United States where he issued the Plan de San Luis Potosí. The plan, bearing the name of his place of internment, urged for several actions on behalf of the Mexican people. First, the plan called for a nullification the 1910 election and a rejection of the authority of Porfirio Diaz. Next, it called for the citizens of Mexico to take up arms against the Porfirian government, with Madero as the provisional president, to overthrow the dictatorship. Lastly, with Diaz out of power, Madero called for an extraordinary general election for the office of president. Madero appealed to all Mexicans that this should be done not for his sake, but for the sake of Mexico.

“Fellow citizens, if I call upon you to take up arms and overthrow the government of Gen. Diaz, it is not only because of the unwarranted act he committed during the last elections, but to save the country from the gloomy future that awaits it under his dictatorship…In so far as concerns me, I have a tranquil conscience, and no one can accuse me of promoting the revolution for personal ends, for it is within the knowledge of the nation that I did everything possible to reach a peaceable arrangement…” (Wasserman, 37)

Although Madero’s political goals were not in direct accordance with every section of society, the Plan de San Luis Potosí acted as a rallying call to all disenfranchised Mexicans. A series of sporadic uprisings broke out across Mexico. “Madero stood as titular head of a revolutionary movement tenuously and temporarily held together by the common goal of overthrowing the dictator” (Gonzales, 74) Separate regional revolutionary groups answered Madero’s call in the hopes of eventually solving their own particular social woes. A symbiotic relationship formed where loyalty depended on reciprocal actions.

Madero’s precarious revolutionary movement gained momentum with a series of victories against federal troops. Alarmed by the empowerment of the lower classes with the act of revolution, Madero’s provisional government compromised with the Porfirian regime with the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez in an attempt to end hostilities and disband the revolutionary force summoned by Madero. Under the treaty, Diaz would be removed from power, with a provisional president taking his place and elections held soon after. Diaz resolved himself to spend the rest of his life in exile. Upon leaving Mexico, Porfirio Diaz purportedly mused, “Madero ha desatado un tigre; veamos si puede controlarlo”, Madero has unleashed a tiger; let’s see if he can control it.



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