8 Important People of the Mexican Revolution

The Warlords of a Lawless Mexico

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) swept across Mexico like wildfire, destroying the old order and bringing about great changes. For ten bloody years, powerful warlords battled one another and the Federal government. In the smoke, death, and chaos, several men clawed their way to the top. Who were the protagonists of the Mexican Revolution?

The Dictator: Porfirio Diaz

A Escobar C, digital Archive Mexico's hundred years of independece festivity, 1910; president Porfirio Díaz

Aurelio Escobar Castellanos/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

You can’t have a revolution without something to rebel against. Porfirio Diaz had kept an iron grip on power in Mexico since 1876. Under Diaz, Mexico prospered and modernized but the poorest Mexicans saw none of it. Poor peasants were forced to work for next to nothing and ambitious local landowners stole the land right out from under them. Diaz’ repeated electoral fraud proved to common Mexicans that their despised, crooked dictator would only hand over power at the point of a gun.

The Ambitious One: Fernando I. Madero

Foto retocada del ex-presidente mexicano Francisco I. Madero.

r@ge talk/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Madero, the ambitious son of a wealthy family, challenged the elderly Diaz in the 1910 elections. Things were looking good for him, too, until Diaz had him arrested and stole the election. Madero fled the country and declared that the revolution would begin in November of 1910: the people of Mexico heard him and took up arms. Madero won the Presidency in 1911 but would only hold it until his betrayal and execution in 1913.

The Idealist: Emiliano Zapata

Emiliano Zapata en la ciudad de Cuernavaca

Mi General Zapata/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Zapata was a poor, barely-literate peasant from the state of Morelos. He was furious with the Diaz regime, and in fact, had already taken up arms long before Madero’s call for revolution. Zapata was an idealist: he had a very clear vision for a new Mexico, one in which the poor had rights to their land and were treated with respect as farmers and workers. He stuck to his idealism throughout the revolution, breaking ties with politicians and warlords as they sold out. He was an implacable enemy and fought against Diaz, Madero, Huerta, Obregon, and Carranza.

Drunk With Power: Victoriano Huerta

Victoriano Huerta (left) and Pascual Orozco (right).

Unknown/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Huerta, a raging alcoholic, was one of Diaz’ former generals and an ambitious man in his own right. He served Diaz in the early days of the revolution and then stayed on when Madero took office. As former allies like Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata abandoned Madero, Huerta saw his change. Seizing on some fighting in Mexico City as an opportunity, Huerta arrested and executed Madero in February of 1913, seizing power for himself. With the exception of Pascual Orozco, the major Mexican warlords were united in their hatred of Huerta. An alliance of Zapata, Carranza, Villa, and Obregon brought Huerta down in 1914.

Pascual Orozco, the Muleteer Warlord

Orozco circa 1913

Richard Arthur Norton/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The Mexican Revolution was the best thing that ever happened to Pascual Orozco. A small-time mule driver and peddler, when the revolution broke out he raised an army and found he had a knack for leading men. He was an important ally for Madero in his quest for the presidency. Madero turned on Orozco, however, refusing to nominate the uncouth muleteer to an important (and lucrative) position in his administration. Orozco was furious and once again took to the field, this time-fighting Madero. Orozco was still very powerful in 1914 when he supported Huerta. Huerta was defeated, however, and Orozco went into exile in the USA. He was shot and killed by Texas Rangers in 1915.

Pancho Villa, the Centaur of the North

Villa as he appeared in the United States press during the Revolution.

Bain Collection/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

When the revolution broke out, Pancho Villa was a small-time bandit and highwayman operating in northern Mexico. He soon took control of his band of cutthroats and made revolutionaries out of them. Madero managed to alienate all of his former allies except for Villa, who was crushed when Huerta executed him. In 1914-1915, Villa was the most powerful man in Mexico and could have seized the presidency had he so wished, but he knew he was no politician. After the fall of Huerta, Villa fought against the uneasy alliance of Obregon and Carranza.

Venustiano Carranza, the Man Who Would Be King

Portrait of Venustiano Carranza

Harris&Ewing/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Venustiano Carranza was another man who saw the lawless years of the Mexican Revolution as an opportunity. Carranza was a rising political star in his home state of Coahuila and was elected to the Mexican Congress and Senate before the revolution. He supported Madero, but when Madero was executed and the whole nation fell apart, Carranza saw his chance. He named himself President in 1914 and acted as if he were. He fought anyone who said otherwise and allied himself with the ruthless Alvaro Obregon. Carranza eventually reached the presidency (officially this time) in 1917. In 1920, he foolishly double-crossed Obregon, who drove him from the Presidency and had him killed.

The Last Man Standing: Alvaro Obregon


Harris & Ewing/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Alvaro Obregon was an entrepreneur and landed farmer before the revolution and the only major figure in the revolution who prospered during the crooked Porfirio Diaz regime. He was, therefore, a latecomer to the revolution, fighting against Orozco on behalf of Madero. When Madero fell, Obregon joined with Carranza, Villa, and Zapata to bring down Huerta. Afterward, Obregon joined with Carranza to fight Villa, scoring a huge victory at the Battle of Celaya. He supported Carranza for President in 1917, on the understanding that it would be his turn next. Carranza reneged, however, and Obregon had him killed in 1920. Obregon was himself assassinated in 1928.

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Minster, Christopher. "8 Important People of the Mexican Revolution." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/important-people-of-the-mexican-revolution-2136695. Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). 8 Important People of the Mexican Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/important-people-of-the-mexican-revolution-2136695 Minster, Christopher. "8 Important People of the Mexican Revolution." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/important-people-of-the-mexican-revolution-2136695 (accessed June 4, 2023).