This paper is about one of the most famous and significant figures in the history of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915), and the Mexican Revolution. Diaz was a victorious military general, Mexican-American War volunteer, revolutionist, dictator, politician, and also president of Mexico whose term was longer than anyone else’s in Mexican history. The period of his rule, which lasted for thirty-five years and is usually called Porfiriato, is known for great progress, especially in the development of the Mexican economy. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief biography of Porfirio Diaz, discuss the Mexican Revolution, his participation in it, and the way this Revolution affected Diaz and other people of Mexico.
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José de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori was born in Oaxaca on September 15, 1830. He was a mestizo, as his father, Jose Diaz Orozco, was a Spanish European, and his mother, Maria Mori Cortes, was mixed Spanish and Native American. Their family was not wealthy, but after his father’s death, Porfirio Diaz and his mother became extremely poor. When he turned fifteen, Maria Mori Cortes sent Diaz to study theology at a local seminary. During that time, the church had an influence on politics, and being a priest meant having power, that is why Diaz’s mother dreamed that one day her son would become a priest. Porfirio Diaz obeyed and started studying, although he felt it was not his real vocation. About a year later, when the Mexican American War began, Porfirio Diaz left the seminary and accompanied other young people to join the army. However, the war was over before Diaz got to the battlefield, so in 1848 he returned home and decided to go to an Arts school to study law.
At the Arts school, Porfirio Diaz met Benito Juarez, a liberal-minded lecturer who influenced Diaz’s future. Later after that, Porfirio Diaz dropped out of the school and became a local activist. In 1855 he finally got to see military action in the fight against the government of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Diaz soon realized that military service was his true calling and decided to stay in the army. He continued fighting in the civil wars and against the French invaders, which threatened Mexico in the second half of the 19th century. On May 5, 1862, outside the city of Puebla, Mexican forces defeated an invading French army, which was larger and better armed. This battle, which is now known as The Battle of Puebla, made the young general Porfirio Diaz famous among those who served under Juarez.
In 1871, Benito Juarez, current president of Mexico, was preparing for reelection for a second term in office. Diaz did not want that to happen, so he organized an armed rebellion against Juarez which was not successful. In 1872, after the death of Juarez, his deputy, Sebastian De Tejada, became a new president. Porfirio Diaz tried twice to overthrow him, but failed and had to escape to the United States and stay there for several years. His plan to seize power became successful only in November 1876, when he returned from America and defeated the governmental army at the Battle of Tecoac. Almost six months later, in May 1877, Diaz won the elections and became a president of Mexico, promising to improve and stabilize the state of the country.
Porfirio Diaz remained in power until 1911, re-electing himself several times and not letting anyone else be in charge. The only exception was made in 1880 when Diaz decided to let his successor, Manuel González, become a president but got dissatisfied with him and won the elections again four years later. Porfirio Diaz was president of Mexico much longer than anyone else in its history and is remembered for both good and bad deeds. According to Schaefer, Porfirio Diaz was “the nation’s only hope for preventing a descent into chaos” (162). It is true that, during his presidential reign, Diaz instituted some significant reforms into the country’s economy. He knew exactly what to do to help his homeland become powerful. His government cleared the national debt and, by encouraging foreign countries to invest in Mexico, spurred the growth of the economy. Moreover, Diaz developed the infrastructure sector as he built new factories, roads, schools, railway lines, mining regions, and improved the electrification of many cities in Mexico. Mexico became a well-developed country with strengthened national security, a modern economy, and a promising future.
However, Diaz is remembered not only for his good deeds and improvements, and he can hardly be called an ideal ruler. Schaefer claims that “under the Diaz regime perceptions of race and class organized central aspects of social life, nominally-upheld personal rights became a sham, private interests hijacked the legislative process” (5). Moreover, “ethnically-inflected systems of labor coercion reappeared in parts of the country” (Schaefer 5). While supporting and encouraging some privileged classes, giving them more freedom and sometimes even positions in the administration, Diaz completely ignored the needs of the low classes and the Indians. He never tried to fight racial divides, or establish a free and just society, or reduce poverty and inequality. He did not pay attention to improving the education and health system for poor people because only wealthy Mexicans could support him and help him stay in power.
Many critics were imprisoned or killed during his presidential reign; the courts and press were totally under his control. Some leading thinkers and those people who did not agree with the president were forced to leave the country. Moreover, willing to please the United States and some other great countries, Porfirio Diaz took land from the people of Mexico and gave it to wealthy non-nationals. Many farmers were left helplessly without any land and had to suffer from a lack of food and money. In addition to that, a new law prescribed that no one in Mexico was able to own land without official permission. These were the poor hopeless conditions in which the low classes had to live for many years.
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The Mexican Revolution was a horrible bloody conflict that continued for about two decades and took the lives of nearly a million people. Citizens of Mexico felt a lack of freedom; they wanted to be heard and taken care of, they needed their land back, that is why riot was the only way for them. The Revolution started on November 20, 1910, with Francisco Madero’s call to armed riot to overthrow Porfirio Diaz and put an end to his dictatorial rule.
Madero was a reformist writer and politician who nowadays is known for being the father of the Mexican Revolution. He was born in a very wealthy family and got a good education in the United States. After his graduation, Francisco Madero returned home and started working on a family farm, where he improved working conditions and introduced some new farming methods. After becoming politically interested and involved, Madero tried to do something significant for his country. That is when he started claiming to have spiritual contact with a dead liberal reformer Benito Juarez, who told him to overthrow Porfirio Diaz. One can say that this very thought led him to decide to become a leader of a revolution.
Francisco Madero’s attempt to overthrow Porfirio Diaz was not successful, but at least helped many desperate people find hope and understand that it was time to change the situation. All over the country, workers and farmers began uniting in groups and organizing riots. Tension in the country rose from day to day; the number of dissatisfied people was growing. According to Knight, it was Diaz’s dictatorial reign that “proved crucial in the gestation of the revolution” (8). Finally, in 1911, armed revolutionaries forced Porfirio Diaz to resign, and Francisco Madero was declared president of Mexico. As a result, Diaz moved to Paris and died there four years later, leaving his country and nation, which were completely different from the ones he inherited decades ago.
While the Mexican Revolution aimed to ensure a better way of life for the working and farming classes, one may say that it barely achieved something more than the constant change of government in the country. Knight says that there are two possible years of the end of the Mexican Revolution: 1917, on the day when the Constitution of Mexico was created, and 1920 (2). However, the fighting and civil wars continued for another decade, making innocent people suffer and wish for peace.
Although Porfirio Diaz moved to France, one may suppose that he was also influenced by the Mexican Revolution. First of all, he started his presidential career with a riot as he knew that people were not happy with the current government. The fact that after thirty-five years of his presidential reign Porfirio Diaz was overthrown could make him understand that it was time for him to pay for his mistakes. It is not easy to decide whether defeating Diaz was the right decision. Probably if he continued ruling the country, he would do many more good deeds and make Mexico one of the greatest countries. However, one can also agree that the overthrow of Porfirio Diaz was like a breath of fresh air for the Mexican people.
To conclude, one may say that being a political figure is not easy. A leader of a country has to make difficult decisions, choose from among many problems the one that must be solved first. Unfortunately, it is not rare that a leader gets a lot of criticism during and after his reign. People talk about leaders’ mistakes and failures, but the truth is that ordinary people cannot understand the complexity of being a leader of the whole country. Undoubtedly, during his entire presidential reign, Porfirio Diaz made mistakes and wrong choices. At the same time, it is quite evident that he tried his best to make Mexico, his home country, develop and prosper.
Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Schaefer, Timo H. Liberalism as Utopia: The Rise and Fall of Legal Rule in Post-Colonial Mexico, 1820-1900. Cambridge University Press, 2017.