Mexico        Rêve Mexicain en français
The Independence of Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Once settled, the spanish adapted themselves to the country which knew relatively quiet centuries. The young men were passionate. They made love more often than war and the mestizo population is more numerous every generation. This new race was irritated with the social statute formerly imposed by the Conquerors. In late eighteenth century, there were more and more unhappy people. Time has come for New Spain to step aside for Mexico.

From Independence to Mexican Revolution

Hidalgo, the father of Independence

Portrait of Miguel HidalgoThe first sparks of the Mexican insurrection shot out in Valladolid (today Morelia) in 1809, and the following year in Querétaro, where a small group of Creole organized an uprising. This uprising, projected for late 1810, was prematurely discovered because of a denunciation. Miguel Hidalgo, priest of the village Dolores, was part of the conspiracy. On September 16th, he rang the church bells to lead his flock to a rebellion. Indians and peasants , together under the Banner with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, shouting “ Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe, Long Live Independence” started a march and took possession of Celaya, Guanajuato, Guadalajara and Valladolid. One month later, Hidalgo was leading an army with 80,000 men. The uprising spread rapidly; a former student of Hidalgo, father Morelos, roused the region of Acapulco and the actual state of Guerrero. But the Creoles didn’t appreciate the orientation taken by the uprisings (Hidalgo abolished slavery and promised to the Indians the restitution of their lands and the suppression of the tribute) and rallied the Spanish. General Calleja recaptured the Northern cities and crushed Hidalgo’s army on the bridge of Calderon. Betrayed and turned over to the Spanish, Hidalgo was sentenced and shot to death in Chihuahua on July 31st, 1811.

     Right picture : Portrait of Miguel Hidalgo


Morelos’s armies, well organized, stayed in the mountains of Guerrero. Morelos occupied the regions south of Mexico City area to the Pacific Coast and even threatened the capital, in early 1812.
On November 6th, 1813, after taking possession of Acapulco and Orizaba, the revolutionary leader called together the Congress in Chilpancingo and the Congress published “the solemn act of declaration of Independence”. In October 1814, in Apatzingan, the Congress voted, still under the patronage of Morelos and passed the Constitution that establishes the Mexican Republic.
But Viceroy Calleja started a counter offensive. The military campaign, led by General Iturbide, dispersed the rebel troops. Morelos, held prisoner, was shot to death on December 22nd, 1815.
The rebellion then entered a latent period. The cadres stayed in the mountains, especially in Guerrero. In Spain, Ferdinand VII reestablished the Liberal Constitution of 1812. This worried the Creole aristocracy in Mexico. This aristocracy, feeling threatened, considered Independence as a way to keep its privileges. Iturbide, sent by the viceroy against Guerrero, allied with him and together, in September 1821, they established the principles of the Plan of Iguala (maintaining catholic religion as a state religion, melting of the races, Independence of Mexico under a constitutional monarchy). O’Donoju, the last viceroy of Spain in Mexico was obligated to negotiate with Iturbide (Treaty of Orizaba). The Spanish withdrew themselves, leaving face to face creoles, Indians and meztizos. Independent Mexico had to face problems whose solutions went beyond the bounds. The result has been a country governed in a despotic way during a long period.

Emperor Iturbide

Intriguing and ambitious, Iturbide, supported by the conservators, was proclaimed emperor on July 1st, 1822. His reign didn’t last even one year. He governed in a dictatorial way and provoked the uprising of the army, which made him abdicate on March 19th, 1823.
The following years were a succession of pronunciamientos between liberal and conservator partisans, who had elected and overthrown quickly various presidents.

Santa Anna

Santa Anna played a large role in the overthrow of Iturbide. He was a young officer whose ambition and greed caused big losses to the emerging Mexico.
Mastering the art of intrigue, plot and treason, this “acrobat of politics” seized power in 1833. His politic of outrageousness centralization provoked the revolt of Texas, whose population, in majority Anglo-Saxon, aspired to independence. Santa Anna conducted himself the military operations against the rebels but he lost and was held prisoner. In order to buy his liberty he signed, in 1836, an act admitting the independence of Texas. The Mexican government disclaimed it but couldn’t do anything to recapture the territory. Back in power, the conservators didn’t improve the situation in the country. Revolts succeeded to mutinies. These almost permanent troubles were the excuse for a French intervention in 1838. During several weeks, the French fleet blocked the harbor of Veracruz in order to obtain indemnities for the endured damages. Because one of the victims was a baker whose bakery had been looted, the Mexicans called this intervention “Pastry War”. Santa Anna took advantage of this intervention to defend Veracruz, but he lost a leg, torn off by a French cannonball; this cannonball brought him back his popularity and the serial of the pronunciamientos started again... Reelected President in 1841, he compiled wasting, demands and extravagances (for example, he had his amputated leg buried with pomp and circumstances in the Cathedral of Mexico in 1838).
One year later, a pronunciamiento evicted him and forced him to exile.

War with the United States

The annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 led inevitably to a conflict between the two countries. In less than one year, the American troops of General Taylor conquered the Northeastern States. The Mexicans tried vainly to resist in Los Angeles. Called back by the garrison of Veracruz and nominated President, thanks to the liberals, Santa Anna marched against Taylor, but needed to withdraw. In August 1846, the American troops arrived on Mexico City’s door step. The Mexican bravely resisted in the suburbs of the Capital but they were beaten up and had to sign a peace treaty. In 1848, through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico gave up Texas and yielded to the United States, California and half of New Mexico (meaning half its territory) in exchange for 15 million dollars. The country is devastated and debased but also profoundly divided. Rebellions and prononciamientos impressed the following years. In 1863, elected again President, Santa Anna came back to Mexico City, where he declared himself perpetual dictator. After long fights, Juan Alvarez and lgnacio Comonfort ended up evicting him from the country for good.

The reform

Assisted by a new generation of liberals concerned with renovating the economic, social and politic structure of the country, Ignacio Comonfort was appointed President. He tried to reconcile all the parties and to liquidate the colonial past. This trend, called the Reform, was linked to an intellectual movement inspired by the French philosophy.
Comonfort abolished the religious and military tribunals in 1856 and suppressed all collective land property. The clergy had to sell its lands but only rich people could afford these haciendas and pay the taxes.
The reform program created furor and provoked rebellions sometimes led by fanatic Catholics (like Miramon and Mejia). In 1857, a new Constitution was exclaimed but General Zuloaga, partisan of conservators, was declared President. He abrogated the laws of Reform, which led to a new civil war. After three years of violence, Benito Juárez is elected President. He left a deep impact on the future of Mexico. His projects and visions for the future were successful during several decades. He decided to confiscate the clergy’s goods, to separate the Church and State and to suppress the religious Orders. As the treasury was almost empty, he decided to suspend payment on all foreign debts. France, England and Spain then decided to interfere.

Another Empire

England and Spain were finally satisfied with a compromise but the French army, after having landed in Veracruz, marched up to Orizaba, then to Puebla in order to assault it. And the French army suffered a serious defeat on May 5th, 1862. This victory is now celebrated every year in Mexico as well as in The U.S. as the "Cinco de Mayo". The following year, with reinforcements, General Forey took Puebla, and finally captured Mexico City. But Juárez was already organizing the defense in the North.
In 1864, Archduke Maximilian, the Austrian emperor’s brother, accepted the throne that the Mexican conservators offered to him. Napoléon III agreed and promised in exchange to assist them in a military way. Everywhere, the forces of the Empire were stopped by the guerillas of Juárez, helped by the Yankees. Facing the criticisms of the Legislative council in Paris, Napoléon had to finally give up and withdraw his troops. With his small army of Mexican partisans, Maximilian tried to resist but, surrounded with the generals Mejia and Miramon in Querétaro, he was forced to surrender. He was executed in 1867. It was the triumph of the Reform.
Juárez died in 1872, after having outdone an uprising fomented by General Porfirio Diaz, but the Reform laws were incorporated to the Constitution in 1874.

Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg, younger brother of Emperor François-Joseph, and his wife, Belgian Princess Carlota Amalia, could have spent a nice life but Napoléon III, decided differently.
On May 24, 1864, the imperial couple landed in Veracruz, under the protection of the French troops. But, blinded by their luxurious mission, Maximilian and Carlota didn’t realize that they were entering a random process of a conquest war.
Although liberal, Maximilian proved to be a Habsburg. Filled with etiquette and sure of his politic talents, he was blocked by a Mexican reality that he didn’t understand. The misunderstanding grew over the years. Driven by Bazaine, he accepted to support the violence against Benito Juárez’s followers.
When she realized the seriousness of the situation, Empress Carlota left for Europe in order to obtain military and financial support, but she failed. Betrayed by some of his closest, Maximilian was arrested, tried by a court-martial and shot to death on June 19th, 1867. Carlota then lapsed in madness.

The dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz

This veteran of the Reform war and the fight against the French aspired also to the Presidency. Failing to overturn Juárez, he attacked his successor, Lerdo de Tejada, when he announced his candidature for a second presidency (1876). With the slogan : “Elective suffrage, no reelection”, Diaz occupied Mexico City and became President from 1876 to 1880, then from 1884 to 1911. His government had been a long enlightened dictatorship which gave the country a time of peace and an apparent prosperity. A secret agreement with the Church put an end to the hardest anticlerical laws. And the Church became one of the more powerful allies of the government. The Indian groups (Yaquis from Sonora and Mayas from Quintana Roo), who had been resisting to the central government and disagreeing the confiscation of their lands, were mercilessly repressed and subjected to slavery.

portrait of Porfirio DiazFrom 1890, Diaz relied his government, to some extent, on the ‘Cientificos’, a group made with intellectual and business men, followers of Auguste Comte. This group, lead by the Minister of Finances Jose Yves Limantour (French descendent), elaborated a program of State reforms in accordance with the new technical methods. In 1894, for the first time since the Independence, the budget is balanced. The foreign capitals poured in. The development of banks and railroads (most of the main lines from Mexico to the borders, to the coasts and the inland cities date from this time), the prodigious boom of the production, the incitement to business given by the Cientificos eased this brilliant recovery. But at what price! Favored with privileges, concessions and benefits of every kind, the foreign capitals collared the city to the detriment of the Mexican interests. In 1910, three quarts of the mines and more than half of the oilfields were in the hands of the big foreign companies, mainly from North-America.

Left picture : portrait of Porfirio Diaz

The American investments in Mexico reached more than one billion of dollars, rising over the total capital owned by the Mexicans. The foreign colonies of settlement lived isolated, collecting wealth and sending it outside the country. During the same time, the agriculture was totally neglected and abandoned at the mercy of the big landowners which concentrated the lands even more than during the colonial time. In 1910, 97 % of the total area of the farmable lands was in the hands of some one hundred people. Almost half of Mexico belonged to less than three thousands families. More than 9 million of the 10 million of inhabitants composing the agricultural population were landless. The peasants were resolved into peonage, the Indians were abandoned, and the factory workers were badly paid : this was the result of the “prosperity” obtained during the Diaz’s dictatorship. Many rebellions as well as movements of strike in factories broke out but they were strangled by the army and rural police, composed mainly of past outlaws.

From Mexican Revolution of the contemporary time

The Revolution

The Mexican Revolution was the first of the big revolutionary movements of the twentieth century. It expanded rapidly in 1910 on the border with the United States, under the impulse of a young man from a wealthy and powerful family from the North, Francisco Madero, who devoted himself to making liberty and democracy reign in Mexico. Taking refuge in Texas, he wrote, in October 1910, the Plan of San Luis Potosi, calling for a rebellion. Uprisings broke out in November in the Northern states. Pancho Villa, who built himself a solid reputation by stealing cattle from the big landowners of the area, defeated the federal troops. The city of Ciudad Juárez was occupied and an armistice concluded in May 1911. A few days later, on May, 25th, Diaz resigned and left the same day for Europe. He died in Paris in 1915.

the mexican revolutionRight picture : the mexican revolution (source : presidency of     Mexico)

Francisco Madero was elected president in October 1911. This big Northern landowner acceded easily to the head of the State. He was a convinced democrat but didn’t have the authority needed to resolve the crucial problem of the redistribution of the lands. He was attacked by the followers of the methods of porfiriat on the right side and the peasant rebellion symbolized by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa on the left side. It was the beginning of the Revolution. During about 20 years, violence and anarchy reigned in Mexico.

Video about the time of the Revolution in Latin America (comments in French)
SUPERB VIDEO - Che Guevarra in the middle
Taking advantage of a rebellion of the garrison of Mexico City, General Huerta, minister of the war, killed Madero and seized power in 1913.
He governed as a bloody dictator, murdering the senators who criticized him, putting in jail everyone that didn’t truly obey him.


The governor of the State of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, was the minister of Madero when Madero was murdered. He refused to recognize Victoriano Huerta as President and, with few followers as Obregon, in Sonora, and Pancho Villa, he led the Constitutionalist Movement. The rebellion spread throughout the country. On April 21st, the American troops invaded Veracruz without preliminary warning or declaration of war. Convinced of his defeat, Huerta took flight. On August, 15th, Obregon entered Mexico City with part of his army, followed, a few days later, by Carranza, the Leader of the Revolution. But rival ambitions caused dissensions between Carranza, Villa and Zapata.
Evicted from Mexico City by the followers of Villa and Zapata, Carranza established his government in Veracruz. On December 12th forced by the circumstances, he published a decree promulgating the land reform.
The Constitutionalist Revolution became the Social Revolution. Its crowning was the elaboration of a new Constitution promulgated in Querétaro on February 5th, 1917. This Constitution is still effective today.
Reelected President, Carranza didn’t have time to have this Constitution implemented. Supported by the Americans (whose oil companies were threatened by Carranza’s politics) and helped by General Calles, Obregon organized a revolt against Carranza in 1920. Carranza died, shot (as well as Zapata in 1919 and Villa in 1923).
Log on to the site :

murder of Zapata (1919)

Left picture : murder of Zapata (1919)

Obregon and Calles

The presidency of Obregon (1920-1924) signaled a new step of the government : the objectives of the Mexican Revolution were partly applied. Obregon, with a brutal energy, knew how to reestablish a stable government, the first one since Diaz. Obregon is also the one who put into practice several dispositions of the Constitution of 1917. His politics as well as his presidential procedures had served as a base to the following presidents. During his presidency the distribution of the lands started to be applied on a large scale (971 thousand hectares were parted among the peasants), but the government didn’t give the peasants the means to cultivate the lands.
The other very important action that allowed Obregon to govern more easily was his alliance with the CROM (Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana, or Regional Confederation of Mexican workers). Subsidized by the Federal district, this powerful organization supported a lot of the governmental activity.
On December 1, 1924, Obregon left the power to his closest associate, General Calles and retired in his property in Sonora. In 1928, he ran again for office winning a second term as President after having changed the law prohibiting the reelection. He returned to Mexico to celebrate his victory but he was assassinated in a restaurant on July 17, 1928.
Succeeding Obregon in 1924, Plutarco Calles governed officially until 1928, and then via other persons until 1934.

He rose to the power of the presidency and consolidated the prerogatives of the Executive Authority. His indomitable energy and his self confidence allowed him to dominate the country. The CROM, main labor confederation became more powerful than ever.
Since there was no party to represent the national currents, Calles proclaimed the establishment of an official party, the National Revolutionary Party (PNR). And it is via this party that he kept governing the country after 1928 : for the presidential elections, he offered the candidatures of the PNR to the men ready to execute obediently his politic (this party will become later the Institutional revolutionary Party - PRI -, whose role is not predominant in Mexico since 2000).

Lázaro Cárdenas

The presidency of General Cárdenas (1934-1940) opened the era of the pacific realization of the objectives formulated by the Revolution.
The break between Cárdenas and Calles occurred in June 1935 when he condemned the protection given by the government to the strikers.
This break led to the creation of a labor coalition that will give birth, in February 1936, to the Confederation of Mexican workers (Spanish: Confederacion de trabajadores de Mexico : CTM). Cárdenas relied on it to get rid of Calles (he was deported to the US). For Cárdenas, the weapon of the politic renovation was the trade unionism, whose job consisted in shaping the conscience and responsibility of the working class in order to link it efficiently to the direction of public affairs. Under his presidency, he applied the land Reform : he expropriated and redistributed 17, 890 hectares of land to peasants. He helped them also by reorganizing the banking system. Cárdenas took another measure : the promulgation of the “Law of Expropriation” of November 23, 1936. This law gave the President big powers in order to expropriate the private goods “for the public interest and the well being of the Nation”. On June 23, 1937, Cárdenas ordained the expropriation of the railways but the most important move concerned the British and American oil companies; they organized collections in the whole country in order to reimburse these companies. Mexico, united like never before, experienced emotional scenes : the women without money brought their rings and bracelets, peasants brought pigs and chicken. The country was at the edge of a war with the USA which was just avoided.
At the end of his Presidential term, even if they beg him to run again for office, Cárdenas declined the possibility of being reelected, showing a beautiful example of the respect of the laws.

The successors

In 1940, Manuel Avial Camacho (1940-1946) succeeded to him : his Presidency marked, two decades after the Revolution, the transition towards a more conservative government. He sent the Mexican troops to the Pacific during World War II. It was the triggering factor of the development of heavy and light industry.
Under the Presidency of his successor, Miguel Aleman (1946-1952), the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) is renamed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He pursued industrial development, developed the road network and created the UNAM, National Autonomous University of Mexico. He allowed the development of tourism, the modernization of farming, the launch of big infrastructure works like the Hydroelectric plants and brought to fruition the irrigation works. He also allowed the middle-class to go to University.
The following President, Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952-1958) gave women the right to vote in 1953. He proceeded to the devaluation of the peso to obtain the parity of the dollar.
Adolfo Lopez Mateos (1958-1964) redistributed 120,000 km2 ( 30 million acres) of lands to the small farmers and created a system of medical and social assistance.
The conservator President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz (1964-1970) favored the world of business : important development in tourism and education. Annual growth: 6%.

A State-Party: the P.R.I. "Institutional Revolutionary Party"

After the Mexican Revolution and the million of dead (1910-1920), the Mexican Constitution instituted the “mono-party”. The Institutional Revolutionary Party commanded alone the country for 70 years. State-Party, the PRI progressively integrated every social family in the country, from the peasant to the labor unions. The whole social body melted into an infinity of clans that formed the State-Party which ruled, without sharing, the human activity and the 31 States of this federation and its Federal District, where is located the capital : Mexico City. Ever since, the opposition has been a fiction barely tolerated. However, since 1987, under the action of ex governor of Michoacán, Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, son of Lázaro Cárdenas, a democratic current bringing together the leftwing and extreme left parties or democrats dissidents from PRI, became a party. This formation led by M. Cárdenas almost won the elections of 1988, losing to Salinas de Gortari, the candidate of PRI. According to many observers, it looks like there were electoral manipulations and frauds to favor the candidate of the State-Party. The abstention rate is close to 50 % in this country. The rumors of electoral fraud tarnished the image of a party which lost its representativeness in front of the rising party : the “National Action Party”, the PAN, a rightwing party whose candidate V.Fox won the elections of 2000 as well as his successor, President Calderón elected in July 2006. Their elections put a stop to more than 70 years of « revolutionary politics » and witnessed the lassitude of the population in front of the corruption and impunity of the PRI.

In order to resolve the crisis, the government changed drastically the politics :
Soon the country opened its borders to foreign investors. Its economy returned to the GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs which since became the OMC- World Trade Organization-), softened and progressively the State chose the diversity of the productive machinery : on one side, a nationalized sector “closed” and on the other side an industrial sector “open” to private and foreign investors. In 1988, the new President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) began a vast plan of development of the country supported by the politic modernization of the system. For this plan, he had to ”negotiate” the exterior debt. His program was based on private initiatives and free-trade. In July 1989, Mexico obtained an “erasing” of 54 billion dollars from its debt, meaning 35 % of what the country owed to the World Bank system.
This ”discount” brought oxygen to a suffocated country but it was the first time that an agreement publicly acknowledged that the debt would never be totally reimbursed, without declaring the debtor insolvent and preventing it from receiving new credits. The FMI and the USA saved Mexico from bankruptcy. The highlight of the Presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari had been the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA or TLCAN) which took effect on January 1st, 1994.

When taking office, the new President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), from the PRI had to devaluate the peso. The money lost half its value. Thousands of Mexicans ended up having debt. Many small businesses had to close. The unemployment was on the rise. Prices of consumer goods rose to more than 50%. As a consequence, there was a spectacular rise in criminality, a growing mistrust towards the PRI, a massive emigration to the USA (an estimation of more than 2.5 million Mexicans). The politics of rigor of President Ernesto Zedillo allowed the country to get slowly out of the recession. The State began new economic politics : privatizations, deregulations and opening of the country towards foreign investors, modernization of farming, reform of social security system, and accession of industrial production. At the end of his mandate, the national buying power had almost reached the 1994 level.

Remarks :

ALENA : NAFTA or TLCAN (Tratado de Libre Comercio de America del Norte) : This Free Trade Agreement came into effect on January 01, 1994 between USA, Canada and Mexico on a vast market of more than 440 million inhabitants over a period of 15 years : gradual elimination of barriers cross-border investments and to the movement of goods and services among the signatory countries.


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