Madero the Soldier of Liberty
A Brief Biography of Francisco I. Madero, Part 2
So let’s fast forward a few years past the leaving off point of Part 1. Madero, as the overreaches of the Porfirio Diaz dynasty began to really take a toll, started what was termed an antireelectionsit campaign in Mexico. His radical idea was that a president of Mexico should - after having been elected - not be able to be re-elected. One term, then away with you. This, he felt, would protect Mexico from the problems of the “democratically elected” dictator that Diaz had come to embody. To this end, Madero began pouring his personal funds into this campaign: he traveled all over Mexico preaching his antireelectionist gospel, and people began to listen. He was making converts and building a true coalition. It is at this point that people began to refer to Madero as the Apostle of Democracy. Multiple tens of thousands of supporter would greet him when he arrived in larger cities such as Veracruz, Puebla, and Orizaba. Madero was a rising star in the hearts of those who still believed in the original liberal ideals of the Wars of the Reform and the French Intervention.
Thanks for reading Mexico Listo! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
And this was a problem. President Diaz didn’t need agitators messing up the works of his political machine, especially not well-educated, wealthy, and popular ones. So, in the city of Monterrey, Diaz had Madero arrested, and then imprisoned in San Luis Potosí. But, again, Madero did not lose his resolve: in prison, he continued writing letters and pamphlets in support of his cause. And this just inspired and inflamed his followers more. Eventually, Madero, with the help of his father and some sympathetic politicians, escaped from prison on horseback. He made it to a train and headed for the northern border, where he slipped into the United States. He ended up in San Antonio, Texas, where he finished a document that he had started while imprisoned - his famous Plan de San Luis.
Plan de San Luis and the Revolution
Madero’s radical plan called for nothing less than a revolution. It called on citizens to refuse to recognize the authority of Mexico’s federal government. It called for the restitution of land taken from indigenous communities. It called on the people of Mexico to take up arms against the tyranny of non-democratic rule.
His freedom in the U.S. also gave Madero access to one more thing: his vast stock market holdings. These he began to sell in order to purchase arms. He coordinated with allies in Mexico, and on November 20, 1910, Madero crossed back into Mexico to meet up with an army of supporters to start the revolution. But the expected army didn’t show up, and Madero retreated back to the U.S., this time ending up in New Orleans. As always, Madero was completely undeterred. While in New Orleans, he wrote letters to his wife and read the Bhagavad Gita. The great battle conjured by Krishna and Prince Arjuna in that ancient Indian text further impassioned Madero to choose action over inaction (it would later inspire Mahatma Gandhi as well). Above all else, the concept of duty as set forth by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita reinforced within Madero the belief that saving Mexico from tyranny was his duty and his destiny.
In February of 1911, Madero re-entered Mexico, this time with a larger contingent of fighters at his side. The Revolution had begun (although history actually records the start of the Mexican revolution on that November 20, 1910 date when Madero first crossed into Mexico from Texas).
There are few events in Mexican history as romanticized and glorified in memory, places, and names as the Revolution of 1910. Fellow revolutionaries and compatriots of Madero - Francisco “Poncho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata - are figures who have particularly struck a cultural chord - and for various reasons unrelated to the final outcome of the Revolution, have eclipsed the name of Francisco Madero in the popular imagination.
I don’t want to write an account of the events of the Revolution (not yet, at least 😉), so let’s skip to the end: Madero and his allies won. Diaz conceded, resigned, and left for exile in Paris. And Madero, the conquering hero, did what few conquering heroes in his position would do: he deferred to the Mexican constitution to determine who the new leader of Mexico would be. He handed Mexico back to the people.
Failure in Success
Madero was not a vengeful person. On the contrary, he exhibited a level of compassion that often shocked his fellow revolutionaries, both during the conflict and after: letting captured enemy commanders go free instead of allowing the mobs to execute them; allowing Diaz cronies to retain positions of power in the new government. Madero believed that the will of the people would overwhelm any retrograde undemocratic urges that his former enemies might possess.
While the apparatus for fair elections was being put into place, Francisco León de la Barra was named the interim president of Mexico. The political and military double-crosses and secret maneuvers typical of post-revolutionary governments were no exception in Mexico. The new government got off to a shaky start, but it did manage to put in place the freest election in Mexico’s history: the election of 1911, in which Madero won the presidency. But his term would last only 15 months, and by any reasonable measure it would be declared a disaster. Madero was no politician, and he was too eager to be inclusive and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Old school politicians and revolutionary absolutists couldn’t tolerate this, and Madero ended up angering all sides. He became politically isolated, and soon a coup against him was brewing - aided (of course) by misguided meddling by the United States, along with its reprehensibly immoral ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson - a completely duplicitous and self-serving man who hated Madero, probably because Madero actually possessed moral convictions.
Next week: the events which are indelibly inscribed upon the collective conscience of Mexico: La Decena Trágica - The Ten Tragic Days, and the death of an apostle.
Most of the biographical information is taken from the following excellent sources:
Krauze, Enrique (1998). Mexico: Biography of Power. Harper Perennial.
Ross, Stanley R. (1955). Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy. Columbia University Press.