- Historic Sites
The Emergence Of Modern Mexico
The period between Mexican independence and the constitution of 1917 was turbulent and painful
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
The challenge to Di’az came in 1910 from a gentle aristocrat named Francisco Maclero, whose chances of success looked about as good as David’s against Goliath. But the octogenarian Díaz, no longer the strong man of his youth, went with more of a whimper than a bang. Entering Mexico City on June 7, 1911, Madero was greeted as a messiah. If anything, he fitted the role too well. He saw good in everyone. Instead of firing the decrepit lackies of the Díaz court, he assumed that they would be reborn under his enlightened leadership. Like all mild, idealistic moderates, he infuriated extremists on both sides. He did not move fast enough on land reform to satisfy Emiliano Zapata, who was among the first to break with him. When he did move faster, the conservatives set out to get him. In February, 1913, Madero was assassinated. His own army chief, Victoriano Hucrta, made no attempt to conceal his hand in the plot. Succeeding Madero, Huerta had the backing of the American ambassador as well as the support of every reactionary group in the country. What lie did not have was the support of the masses of Mexican people, or of Woodrow Wilson, the new President of the United States. Alvaro Obreg’n in Sonora, Panciio Villa in Chihuahua, and Venustiano Carranza in Coahuila all led separate rebellions against Hiicrta, and Zapata stepped up his terrorism in Morelos. American marines landed in Tampico. Huerta clearly had to go. But his resignation in July, 1914, solved nothing, lor by this time the rebel groups were fighting each other and total anarchy reigned. Villa, Zapata, and Obregon met in October to resolve differences. They agreed that the hatred between Villa and Carranza was the chief obstacle to peace. Villa, never at a loss for ideas, proposed a double suicide. Carranza, who had refused to attend the conference, declined. The fighting went on, more flitter and more costly than ever. Carranza, however, soon gained the upper hand when Obregon, weary with the shenanigans of both Villa and Zapata, decided to join forces with him. Zapata retreated to his home ground of Morelos, and alter several stunning defeats Villa limped back to his base in Chihuahua. Botli continued as nuisances, but as local rather than national ones. Carranza emerged the victor and architect of the constitution of 1917, even though he scarcely bothered to read it. It was not until the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas, from 1934 to 1940, that many of the aims of the revolution were finally realized. The constitution of 1917, even today, remains the most significant and controversial document in the continuing struggle of modern Mexico.
The mural became the art form most identified with the artists of the revolution. They deliberately went back to Aztec styles and forms, and they put their works in public buildings and factories—out of reach of art galleries and private collectors. There is scarcely an important public building in Mexico today whose entry walls are not splashed with the harsh polemic of these intensely felt works. Many are as brutal and dramatic as the history of Mexico itself, and most identify with the Indian as the enduring spirit and redeemer of the new, proud, nation-conscious Mexico. This one, Diego Rivera’s Impassioned Documentary , which boldly sumniames the issues and figures of the revolution, is in the National Palace. Zapata stands at upper right; at his left a white-garbed follower is holding the Plan of Ayala, Zapata’s manifesto of November 27, 1911. At his left shoulder, Villa hovers benignly above the bearded Carranza, whose right hand grasps the constitution of 1917, emphasixing Article 27 (land redistribution) and Article 123 (rights of labor). Madero, center of the right panel, is the only person in white tie. In the left panel, the arch-villains Díaz and Huerta stand side by side brandishing swords in contempt of the newspapers (below) celebrating social reform. A bishop (far left) looks appropriately sinister. Foreign-owned oil wells and factories as well as grand haciendas loom menacingly in the background—enemies of the people. This nuirai and many others like it have dramatized and familiarized Mexico’s epic struggle lor social justice. The best-known artists of the revolution—Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros—all had successful careers as experimentalists in a variety of art forms. Their murals, although artistically quite conservative, reveal a fiery political conviction for which they will undoubtedly belong remembered.
Left (reading from bottom to top):
(1877-80, 1884 to May 25, 1911). Proud of his medals from Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, etc. Died in Paris in 1915 at the age of eighty-four.
(May 25 to November 5, 1911). A lawyer, former ambassador to Washington, and dean of the Díaz cabinet.