Story of Mexico - Charles Morris

President Madero and his Policy

On the 10th of May, 1911, as stated in the last chapter, the frontier city of Juarez, the most important place in Mexico on the United States border, fell before the arms of the Madero revolutionists. The occasion of its capture is of importance in our narrative, since it was that of the definite appearance of Francisco I. Madero in the role of President of the Mexican Republic. He had previously proclaimed himself provisional president, but the approaching fall of the Diaz regime gave signal import to the fact that Madero's present claim was backed by a series of victories and the fast approaching fall of the Diaz rule. He now made the town-hall of Juarez the palace of his new dignity, gathering there his freshly appointed cabinet and beginning the active functions of a government in the field. The north of Mexico, in fact, had been conquered and was settling down under the rule of the victor. Peace negotiations with Diaz were under way, and the time was close at hand when all Mexico would be under Madero's control. That time was very near indeed. The occupation of Juarez took place, as stated, on the 10th of May. On the 31st of the same month Porfirio Diaz left the city of Mexico, where he had so long held autocratic rule, as an exile, to seek a home and shelter beyond the Atlantic's waves. On the 7th of June the victor entered the capital city in triumph amid the plaudits of the populace. Yet in the early morning of that day a severe earthquake had shaken the city, leaving much disaster in its track. Was this an omen of the dire events to occur less than two years later, when Madero's career was to end on another day of disaster?

Yet victor as he had been, and popular as he had become, Madero's permanent occupation of the presidency had to await the assent of the people. Coming as he did with a halo of success from the battlefield, resolute, courageous, clean-handed and supported by a host of enthusiastic partisans and plenty of money, there were, however, other men in Mexico to be considered and powerful forces to be placated. The most important of these forces was the Church. For years this powerful organization, with wealth in abundance and widespread influence over the lower class of the Mexican people, had been under the shadow of executive disapproval, and had a host of foes tong the higher classes. But now, with a break of the non-existing government, now that all things were at sea and a complete remodeling was to take place, the influence of this strong body could not fail to make itself felt. Madero recognized this fact and felt the necessity of putting himself in good standing with the Catholic clergy, lest, with their control over the great body of illiterates and the use of the Australian ballot and a broader franchise, they might compass his defeat at the polls. It was his view to place the Church in the same position which it occupies in the United States. But that this degree of liberty would satisfy its demands was another question.

In addition there were two men of great prominence in the field for the presidency, Francisco de la Barra and General Bernardo Reyes, men with aspirations and strong followings. De la Barra had held the positions of Ambassador at Washington and Foreign Secretary under Diaz, and had been selected, on the resignation of Diaz, as provisional president, to hold this office until a free election should be held on October 1st. Reyes, an old soldier of much prominence, had formerly been governor of Nuevo Leon and recently Secretary of War in the Diaz Cabinet, from which he had been ignominiously dismissed by the President and banished to Europe in disgrace. He was now back in Mexico, and like de la Barra was in the running for the presidency.

Despite the prestige of Madero as the leader in a successful revolution, therefore, he was now in the position of a private citizen, and his election to the presidential office was not assured. He had acted the soldier with ability. Now needed to act the politician. To secure himself on one side he entered into a compact with the Church and obtained its support, an act which lost him a considerable following. To placate Reyes he offered him the position of Secretary of War in the coming Cabinet. This idea was flouted by the Maderist party, who hated Reyes, and when the latter offered his name as a candidate for the presidency the outbreak of opposition was so strong that before the election he was forced to flee from the country. De la Barra, on the contrary, was shrewd enough to refuse the nomination for the executive office, being well assured that he had no chance of winning.

Madero, meanwhile, was taking steps to keep himself prominently in the minds of the people and to indicate the kind of government he proposed to institute. In July he made public a plan for the equalization of the taxes, and another providing for national irrigation, of the type of that recently instituted in the United States. He proposed the construction of dams and canals, the reclamation of waste lands, and the prevention of periodical failures in the crops. A further proposition was to remove from office the officials who had been active under the discredited Diaz administration, including judges, army officers, legislators, postal employees, and the like. His purpose in this was to guarantee peaceful conditions for the new government.

The election, which took place on October 1, 1911, showed that the people regarded him as the man of the day, since they gave him an almost unanimous vote. For Vice-President Jose Pino Suarez was elected. The result was not an unanimity of the former kind, due to police supervision of the polls and corrupt returns of the ballots. On the contrary the election was conducted in a conspicuously fair and just manner. One writer tells us that Mexico has had only two fair elections in her history, those of Arista in 1851 and of Madero in 1911. We may go farther and say that this was the first election of a really popular kind, and in which all classes of the people were able to participate freely, ever held in Mexico.

Yet when Madero entered upon the office of President it was to find that the existing conditions were not calculated to yield him a peaceful administration. Congress was not in sympathy with him, and was little disposed to aid him in the measures of reform which he had in mind and had promised the people. Nor did the country as a whole show a disposition to co-operate with him actively in these measures. He did not propose to grasp the scepter with the iron hand of President Diaz, but looked for sympathy and support from the people whose will he had been chosen to execute. But the country stood aloof, leaving to him the whole burden of the regeneration of Mexico.

All the partisans of the old regime, and they were many and influential, were opposed to what they considered Madero's idealistic schemes. They were apparently combined to bring discredit upon him and his rule. On the other hand, many of the lower class, who had imbibed the idea that the lands of the rich were to be freely distributed among the poor, and that wages were to be largely increased, were soon discontented. Nothing of the kind had been promised, but the peons expected it and resented the lack of the extreme socialistic measures they had anticipated.

While this feeling of dissatisfaction was gathering and growing, General Reyes, the late candidate for the presidency, attempted to inaugurate the old system of a resort to arms. He sought to make Texas a safe field to organize a military expedition against Mexico, but the United States authorities had their eyes upon him and put a stop to his plots, arresting him on November 18th on the charge of seeking to involve this country in an act of international wrongdoing.` Reyes continued to plot, however, after reaching Mexican soil, but his incipient revolt was definitely crushed on December 25th, he being seized and sent as a prisoner to Mexico City.

The imprisonment of Reyes did not put an end to the reign of anarchy, other local disorders breaking out. Bands of brigands haunted the mountain fastnesses of Guerrero and Morelos in the south, while a new center of rebellion developed in the north. The agent in this was Pascual Orozco, who had been Madero's chief support in the northwest, and now commanded the Federal troops in the State of Chihuahua. Reports of his disloyalty got abroad, rebel bands were in the field which he made no effort to crush, and in late February, 1912, he threw off the mask, declaring himself an enemy of Madero, and vowing to keep in arms until the new President was deposed.

Meanwhile President Madero and his cabinet were actively working for the public benefit, devising legislation of a creditable and beneficial character. Most important of his measures was a plan for a gradual division of the land among the rural population, and one for making long loans at low rates of interest for the benefit of the farming class.

Such movements in the direction of reform and progress had no effect upon the revolutionists, who became so active upon the United States border region that President Taft sent warning alike to Madero and Orozco that he would hold them responsible for loss of life or injury to property of American citizens. Battalions of American troops were stationed at suitable points along the border, laws were passed to prevent the shipment of arms or military supplies to the rebels, and the equipment of expeditions on American soil was strictly forbidden.

It is said that the rebellion of Orozco was owing to the work of political agitators, who misled him by claiming that Madero had no intention of carrying out the reforms promised in his platform. However that be, his activity soon became a serious detriment to the purposes of the administration and the necessity of strenuous efforts to put him down grew apparent. Orozco began his movement against the Madero forces February 2, 1912, with a force estimated at 5,000. The troops available to fight him numbered but 1,600, the result being that the latter were almost annihilated. Their commander, General Salas, was so mentally affected by the result that he committed suicide.

General Huerta, the only Federal commander accustomed to handle large forces, was now placed at the head of operations in the field, and given a free hand. He had been operating against Zapata in the south, his campaign there proving ineffective, through, as some thought, lack of celerity and decision in his movements. In his northward campaign he got together 8,000 men, with twenty field pieces, at Torreon. This army was accompanied, in the Mexican fashion of operations, with about 7,500 camp followers, consisting largely of women engaged in preparing food and performing other duties. His force and impedimenta were so great that it needed railroad trains four miles long to convey them, the cost of the movement being estimated at $175,000 daily.

Leader of the 'Zapatistas', bandits.


Orozco was encountered near the place at which Salas had been defeated. He had 3,500 men and few gunsĄ and was driven back, his men boarding trains and going north, tearing up the rails as they went. This engagement was spoken of by Huerta as a victory of great importance, and brought him promotion to the rank of major-general. As the loss on both sides was estimated at only two hundred, Orozco not attempting to make head against his superior enemy, it does not seem to have been a victory of much note.

Huerta next advanced to Jimenez, and halted there for a week. While there a quarrel broke out between the regular and some irregular forces attached to the main body, which led to a result of some interest in the light of future events. Prominent among the irregulars was Colonel Villa, a noted ex-bandit. He was arrested by order of the commander, who ordered his execution. Fortunately for Villa there was present Emiliano Madero, a brother of the President, who sent news of the incident to the capital. The president wired back, staying the execution and ordering Huerta to send his captive to Mexico City, where his insubordination would be fully considered. The final result of this affair was the imprisonment of Villa for a period and his final release. The case gains its importance from the leading part which the released captive has taken in more recent events.

The northward march was continued with deliberation, Chihuahua being occupied on July 7th, and Juarez somewhat later, the rebel bands not being again encountered. The insurgents were not pursued far from the line of railway and easily kept out of touch with the regulars. Meanwhile they were raiding American mining camps, holding Americans and other foreigners to ransom, and apparently' playing the part of brigands instead of soldiers. One of these guerrilla chiefs who may be named as an associate of Orozco was Inez Salazar, an old mine worker, who had raised a band and joined the insurgents as an active enemy of the administration.

It would seem as if, under the circumstances here described, an active campaign would have dispersed the rebel bands and ended the war. None such took place, and the campaign moved onward with a deliberation that must have been annoying to the administration, in view of the great expense of this policy of procrastination.

Execution of a Federal officer by rebels.


The current rumor was that the Federals did not want to put down the insurrection. The regular army was that which had supported the old Diaz administration. There had been little change in its organization, and it was lukewarm in the Madero cause. In fact, there was reason to believe that the regulars were playing into the hands of the rebels. and seeking to protract the war, alike from disinclination to strengthen the administration and also to enjoy as long as possible the increased pay they were receiving. As evidence of this the following instance of their mode of operations may be adduced.

A Federal force at Agua Prieta, in the State of Sonora, remained so long inactive that the authorities became exasperated and the commander felt himself obliged to do something that would satisfy the public. Orders were accordingly given to Colonel Obregon, commanding a regiment of Maya Indians, to get in touch with Salazar, then engaged in raiding operations farther south, and "remain in observation."

Obregon found Salazar with his following on the ranch of one of his friends, the band of rebels being occupied in killing cattle and other depredations. They has been so long undisturbed in their operations as to have grown careless about posting sentries, and made their camp without setting guards anywhere. Obregon took advantage of the easy opportunity, charged on the unguarded camp, killed some forty of the guerrillas and dispersed the remainder. On his return Obregon received a severe reprimand from his superior and narrowly escaped being court-martialed for disobeying the order to "remain in observation."

The inactivity of Huerta had meanwhile led the President to distrust him, and finally to order him to report at the capital. This order Huerta seemed reluctant to obey, moving southward with such slowness as to increase the suspicions of Madero. When he finally appeared he proved to be in a very bad condition, his eyes being in such a state that he was almost blind. This doubtless aided to dispel the suspicions of the President, and the delinquent commander was sent to a hospital for treatment.

The worst state of affairs at this period was in the southern State of Morelos, where the bandit chief, Emiliano Zapata, created much disorder and suffering by his depredations. He and his followers entered upon a course of barbarous activity, destroying property, abducting women, slaying prisoners and practicing other atrocities. On July 21st a train from Mexico to Cuernavaca was held up and eighty-four persons slaughtered. This deed caused a universal outbreak of condemnation, Madero being severely blamed for his temporizing policy in dealing with the savage brigand.

Zapata brothers


From July to October affairs in Mexico were comparatively quiet. The lack of success of Orozco in his rebellion had lost him the support of the better class of his followers, and his movement degenerated into one of brigandage, the States of Chihuahua, Durango and Sonora being his field of operation. By October matters in general seemed much improved, the government had taken a firmer hold on affairs, the finances were in good condition, the army was strong and appeared loyal, the cabinet was harmonious, while the more important section of the local press supported the administration. Hopes were widely entertained that the crisis was at an end, yet many who were familiar with the condition of affairs freely prophesied that Madero's overthrow was only a question of time. While his integrity and good intentions were acknowledged, his administration was not giving satisfaction. The charges against him were that he had not carried out the promised system of reforms, he had filled the important offices with his own relatives, he had selected and forced the election of an unpopular man for Vice-President, he had intimidated Congress. That he meant well was admitted, no one questioned his honesty, but he was looked upon as a weak and unpractical man, unfitted to conduct a government like that of Mexico. All this led to a loss of public confidence. The Mexican people had been too long accustomed to a vigorous administration of affairs to be satisfied with a weak hold upon the helm of state.

No one knew what was taking place under the surface. But it was known that the partisans of the old Diaz government were generally hostile to the new administration, and little confidence was felt in the seeming tranquillity. The revolt dreaded by the friends of peace and order came on the 16th of October, in a sudden movement of General Felix Diaz, a nephew of the former President and his chief of police at the time of his overthrow. The fact that it was led by a Diaz led many to believe that the movement would be formidable and probably successful in overthrowing the Madero government, but the opposite proved the case.

Diaz, with a small following of soldiers, seized on that day the port of Vera Cruz and issued a pronunciamento  inviting all opponents of the government to join him in the effort to overthrow Madero. The hope that lay at the bottom of his movement was that the Federal troops in the State of Vera Cruz would revolt and join him. He was confident of this, but his confidence was misplaced. For a few days he held control of the city, going so far as to have himself named as provisional president and to select a cabinet. But the support in which he had trusted failed him. The troops remained loyal to their colors, and on the 23rd the city was taken by the Federal troops and Diaz and his followers became prisoners of war. The seven days' revolution was at an end.

Speedy action was taken by the victors. On the day following their arrest Diaz and several of his officers were tried by court-martial and sentenced to death. This verdict was not carried out. Some one in power, doubtless the President himself, interfered, and the captive revolutionist was brought to Mexico City and held in prison until his case could be considered and disposed of.. It was an act of clemency of the kind that was native to Madero's disposition, one such as he had previously exercised in the case of General Navarro. In this instance it was to prove fatal to himself. Yet so far as appeared there was nothing to fear. With the two leading revolutionists, Diaz and Reyes, in prison, and Orozco and Zapata thrown back to their old trade of brigandage, affairs looked well, and to all appearances the quiet which had reigned from July to October might continue indefinitely. But this was only on the surface. Disloyalty to the government mined deeply beneath. Diaz, even in prison, continued to plot and succeeded in communicating with his adherents. The clemency of Madero was bearing fatal fruit. He was to pay bitterly for the fault, not a common one in Mexico, of granting life to a dangerous enemy.