Biography of Francisco Madero, Father of the Mexican Revolution

Francisco Indalecio Madero
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Francisco I. Madero (Oct. 30, 1873—Feb. 22, 1913) was a reformist politician and writer and president of Mexico from 1911 to 1913. This unlikely revolutionary helped engineer the overthrow of dictator Porfirio Díaz by kick-starting the Mexican Revolution. Unfortunately for Madero, he was caught between remnants of Díaz's regime and the revolutionaries he unleashed and was deposed and executed in 1913.

Fast Facts: Francisco Madero

Known For: Father of the Mexican Revolution

Born: Oct. 30, 1873, in Parras, Mexico

Parents: Francisco Ignacio Madero Hernández, Mercedes González Treviño

Died: Died Feb. 22, 1913, in Mexico City, Mexico

Spouse: Sara Pérez

Early Life

Francisco I. Madero was born on Oct. 30, 1873, in Parras, Coahuila, Mexico, to wealthy parents—by some accounts, the fifth-richest family in Mexico. His faher was Francisco Ignacio Madero Hernández; his mother was Mercedes González Treviño. His grandfather, Evaristo Madero, made lucrative investments and was involved in ranching, wine-making, silver, textiles, and cotton.

Francisco was well educated, studying in the United States, Austria, and France. When he returned from the U.S., he was placed in charge of some family interests, including the San Pedro de las Colonias hacienda and farm, which he operated at a profit, introducing modern farming methods and improving worker conditions. In January 1903, he married Sara Pérez; they had no children.

Early Political Career

When Bernardo Reyes, governor of Nuevo León, brutally broke up a political demonstration in 1903, Madero became politically involved. Although his early campaigns for office failed, he funded a newspaper that he used to promote his ideas.

Madero had to overcome his image to succeed as a politician in macho Mexico. He was small with a high-pitched voice, making it difficult to command respect from soldiers and revolutionaries who saw him as effeminate. He was a vegetarian and teetotaler, considered peculiar in Mexico, and an avowed spiritualist. He claimed to have contact with his dead brother Raúl and liberal reformer Benito Juarez, who told him to maintain pressure on Díaz.

Díaz

Porfirio Díaz was an iron-fisted dictator in power since 1876. Díaz had modernized the country, laying miles of train tracks and encouraging industry and foreign investment, but at a cost. The poor lived in abject misery. Miners worked without safety measures or insurance, peasants were kicked off their land, and debt peonage meant that thousands were essentially slaves. He was the darling of international investors, who commended him for “civilizing” an unruly nation.

Díaz kept tabs on those who opposed him. The regime controlled the press, and rogue journalists could be jailed without trial for libel or sedition. Díaz played politicians and military men against one another, leaving few threats to his rule. He appointed all state governors, who shared the spoils of his crooked but lucrative system. Elections were rigged and only the foolish tried to buck the system.

Díaz had fought off many challenges, but by 1910 cracks were showing. He was in his late 70s, and the wealthy class he represented worried about his successor. Years of repression meant the rural poor and urban working class loathed Díaz and were primed for revolution. A revolt by Cananea copper miners in 1906 in Sonora had to be brutally suppressed, showing Mexico and the world that Diaz was vulnerable.

1910 Elections

Díaz had promised free elections in 1910. Taking him at his word, Madero organized the Anti-Re-Electionist Party to challenge Diaz and published a best-selling book titled "The Presidential Succession of 1910." Part of Madero's platform was that when Díaz came to power in 1876 he claimed he wouldn't seek re-election. Madero insisted that no good came from one man holding absolute power and listed Díaz's shortcomings, including the massacre of Maya Indians in the Yucatan, the crooked system of governors, and the Cananea mine incident.

Mexicans flocked to see Madero and hear his speeches. He began publishing a newspaper, El Anti-Re-Electionista, and secured his party's nomination. When it became clear that Madero would win, Díaz had most of the Anti-Re-Electionist leaders jailed, including Madero, arrested on a false charge of plotting armed insurrection. Because Madero came from a wealthy, well connected family, Díaz could not simply kill him, as he had two generals who had threatened to run against him in 1910.

The election was a sham and Díaz “won.” Madero, bailed out of jail by his wealthy father, crossed the border and set up shop in San Antonio, Texas. He declared the election null and void in his “Plan of San Luís Potosí” and called for armed revolution. Nov. 20 was set for the revolution to begin.

Revolution

With Madero in revolt, Díaz rounded up and killed many of his supporters. The call to revolution was heeded by many Mexicans. In the state of Morelos, Emiliano Zapata raised an army of peasants and harassed wealthy landowners. In the state of Chihuahua, Pascual Orozco and Casulo Herrera raised sizable armies. One of Herrera's captains was ruthless revolutionary Pancho Villa, who replaced the cautious Herrera and, with Orozco, captured cities in Chihuahua in the name of the revolution.

In February 1911, Madero returned from the U.S. Northern leaders including Villa and Orozco didn't trust him, so in March, his force swollen to 600, Madero led an attack on the federal garrison at Casas Grandes, which was a fiasco. Outgunned, Madero and his men retreated, and Madero was injured. Although it ended badly, Madero's bravery gained him respect among the northern rebels. Orozco, at that time leader of the most powerful rebel army, acknowledged Madero as leader of the revolution.

Not long after the battle, Madero met Villa and they hit it off despite their differences. Villa knew he was a good bandit and rebel chief, but he was no visionary or politician. Madero was a man of words, not action, and he considered Villa a Robin Hood, just the man to oust Díaz. Madero allowed his men to join Villa's force: His days of soldiering were done. Villa and Orozco pushed toward Mexico City, scoring victories over federal forces along the way.

In the south, Zapata's peasant army was capturing towns in his native state of Morelos, beating superior federal forces with a combination of determination and numbers. In May 1911, Zapata scored a huge, bloody victory over federal forces in the town of Cuautla. Díaz could see that his rule was crumbling.

Díaz Quits

Díaz negotiated a surrender with Madero, who generously allowed the former dictator to leave the country that month. Madero was greeted as a hero when he rode into Mexico City on June 7, 1911. Once he arrived, however, he made a series of mistakes.

As interim president he accepted Francisco León de la Barra, a former Díaz crony who coalesced the anti-Madero movement. He also demobilized Orozco's and Villa's armies.

Madero's Presidency

Madero became president in November 1911. Never a true revolutionary, Madero simply felt that Mexico was ready for democracy and Díaz should step down. He never intended to carry out radical changes, such as land reform. He spent much of his time as president trying to reassure the privileged class that he wouldn't dismantle the power structure left by Díaz.

Meanwhile, Zapata, realizing that Madero would never approve real land reform, took up arms again. León de la Barra, still interim president and working against Madero, sent Gen. Victoriano Huerta, a brutal remnant of Díaz's regime, to Morelos to contain Zapata. Called back to Mexico City, Huerta began conspiring against Madero.

When he became president, Madero's only remaining friend was Villa, whose army was demobilized. Orozco, who hadn't gotten the huge rewards he had expected from Madero, took to the field, and many of his former soldiers joined him.

Downfall and Execution

The politically naive Madero didn't realize he was surrounded by danger. Huerta was conspiring with American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to remove Madero, as Félix Díaz, Porfirio's nephew, took up arms along with Bernardo Reyes. Although Villa rejoined the fight in favor of Madero, he ended up in a stalemate with Orozco.

Madero refused to believe his generals would turn on him. The forces of Félix Díaz entered Mexico City, and a 10-day standoff known as la decena trágica (“the tragic fortnight”) ensued. Accepting Huerta's “protection,” Madero fell into his trap: He was arrested by Huerta on Feb. 18, 1913, and executed four days later, though Huerta said he was killed when his supporters tried to free him. With Madero gone, Huerta turned on his fellow conspirators and made himself president.

Legacy

Although he wasn't a radical, Francisco Madero was the spark that set off the Mexican Revolution. He was clever, rich, well-connected, and charismatic enough to get the ball rolling against a weakened Porfirio Díaz but couldn't hold onto power once he attained it. The Mexican Revolution was fought by brutal, ruthless men, and the idealistic Madero was out of his depth.

Still, his name became a rallying cry, especially for Villa and his men. Villa was disappointed that Madero had failed and spent the rest of the revolution looking for another politician to entrust with the future of his country. Madero's brothers were among Villa's staunchest supporters.

Later politicians tried and failed to unite the nation until 1920, when Alvaro Obregón seized power, the first to succeed at imposing his will on the unruly factions. Decades later, Madero is seen as a hero by Mexicans, the father of the revolution that did much to level the playing field between rich and poor. He is seen as weak but idealistic, an honest, decent man destroyed by the demons he helped to unleash. He was executed before the bloodiest years of the revolution, so his image is unsullied by later events.

Sources

McLynn, Frank. "Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution." Basic Books, 2000.

"Francisco Madero: President of Mexico." https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francisco-Madero.