The Mexican Revolution was a violent social and cultural movement, colored by socialist, nationalist, and anarchist tendencies, that began with the popular rejection of Dictator Porfiri Díaz Mori in 1910 and continued even after the promulgation of a new constitution seven years later. Violence continued until the late 1920s, ending only when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) sealed its monopoly on political power in and after 1928. Even after that, the idea that the Revolution was "ongoing" was reinforced in party doctrine and national thought with its notional division into an "armed phase" and an "institutional phase". The "institutional phase" meme only began to disappear from official discourse under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the late 1980s.
This revolution had an impact on those associated with labor, agriculture, and anarchism at the international level, as the Mexican Constitution of 1917 was the first in the world to recognize social guarantees and collective labor rights; moreover, it produced international leftist icons such as the painter Diego Rivera, the rebel Emiliano Zapata, and the journalist Ricardo Flores Magón.
The armed conflict began over alleged electoral fraud perpetrated by General Porfirio Díaz in 1910; Díaz had been president virtually uninterruptedly since 1876. While his presidency was characterized by promotion of industry and the pacification of the country, it came at the expense of the working and farmer/peasant classes, which generally suffered extreme exploitation. As a result, wealth, political power, and access to education were concentrated in just a handful of families with large estates as well as some companies of foreign origin (mostly from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States).
In 1908, Díaz committed a political blunder when he told a U.S. journalist that he would like to retire and would welcome opposition parties. This article was translated and reprinted throughout Mexico. Díaz later denied his statements and decided to run for president in 1910. By this time, his opponent in that election was Francisco I. Madero of the Liberal Party. Madero was a foreign-educated industrialist who sympathized with the social reforms that had been promoted by such intellectuals as Antonio Horcasitas or the Flores Magón brothers. In order to ensure his reelection, Díaz ordered Madero and his supporters thrown in jail. The next day, Díaz declared himself the winner, claiming Madero had only received 221 votes. In the prevailing discontent and after a brief period of exile in the United States, Madero promulgated the San Luis Plan, which declared the election to be null and void and called for an armed uprising by the populace against the Díaz government, to begin at 18:00 on November 20, 1910.
Assorted rebels and popular leaders — including Emiliano Zapata, Pascual Orozco and Aquiles Serdán — responded to the clarion call, but they were never able to form a unified movement nor did they even possess the same ideals. Farmers led by Zapata fought to reclaim their ancestral lands in the South, while the troops of the guerrilla Francisco "Pancho" Villa fought all the way up to and across the border of the United States as well as far south as Mexico City.
The fight against the federal army lasted for only a short time as Díaz resigned and went into exile five months later; after his fall, however, infighting between rebels and ideologies cost a million Mexican lives, or ten percent of the entire population at the time.
A provisional government headed by Francisco León de la Barra was formed, which made efforts to disband the revolutionary troops — such as sending forces in Morelos against the Zapatistas for their confiscation and distribution of hacienda land.
In 1911, Madero was elected overwhelmingly. However, Madero enjoyed neither support from his former allies, who claimed the revolution's goals had been betrayed, nor from the members of the old regime. Madero's refusal to enact land reforms caused a break with Zapata who announced the Plan of Ayala, which called for the return of lands "usurped by the hacendados" (hacienda owners).
In 1911, counterrevolutionary revolts — the most serious led by Pascual Orozco — were crushed under General Victoriano Huera. This led to a dependency on the disloyal army. In 1913, Madero was overthrown and killed, along with vice president José María Pino Suárez, in a coup d'état headed by the army's commander-in-chief, the same General Victoriano Huerta.
With Madero dead, Huerta seized power. This usurpation of power was supported by the landed aristocracy, who saw this as an effort to restore the Díaz system.
Local leaders redirected their efforts, this time fighting against the new government and accusing Huerta of plotting Madero's murder in cahoots with the United States ambassador, Henry Lane Wilson. Leaders such as Villa, Zapata, Carranza and Obregón led the fighting against Huerta. Pressure from the United States, brought to bear with the occupation of Veracruz after the Tampico incident, combined with the assaults of the rebels, eventually led to the fall of Huerta.
In an attempt to restrain the slaughter, the governor of the northern state of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, formed the Constitutional Army with an eye towards bringing peace via adoption of the majority of the rebel social demands into a new constitution. He managed to incorporate most of the demands into the Constitution of 1917. The Constitution addressed foreign ownership of resources, an organized labor code, the role of the Roman Catholic Church in education and land reform.
The Carranza government also did not last or enforce many of the reforms in the Constitution of 1917. In 1920, General Álvaro Obregón, who had served as Minister of War and of the Navy, revolted against him along with two other leading generals — Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo de la Huerta.
He was succeeded by the extremely anticlerical General Plutarco Elías Calles, who would later promote anti-religious laws that provoked the Cristero War. Calles also started the PRI (initially known as the National Revolutionary Party — Partido Revolucionario Nacional, PRN), which would hold the presidency for the next seventy years. The PRN succeeded in convincing most of the remaining generals to dissolve their personal armies and create a single Mexican Army.
The triumph of the PRN/PRI marked the beginning of a political tradition of loyalty (some claim submission) to the current president, a tradition that lasted approximately seventy years, as each president distributed patronage and effectively chose the state governors and named his successor, through the PRI's monopoly on power.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, was involved in plotting the February 1913 coup d'état that overthrew Francisco I. Madero and installed Victoriano Huerta.
On April 9, 1914, officials in the port of Tampico, Tamaulipas, arrested a group of U.S. sailors — including, crucially, at least one taken from on board his ship, and thus from U.S. territory. Mexico's failure to apologize in the terms demanded led to the U.S. navy's bombardment of the port of Veracruz and the occupation of that city for seven months; see Tampico Affair.
In 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the U.S. border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico; this was the sole invasion by a foreign armed corps of the continental U.S. in the 20th century. This raid led the U.S. to send a force under General John Pershing into Mexico, which spent 11 months unsuccessfully chasing him in the punitive Pancho Villa Expedition (March 1916 – February 1917).
The Zimmermann Telegram affair of January 1917, while it did not lead to direct U.S. intervention, also took place against the backdrop of the Constitutional Convention and exacerbated tensions between the USA and Mexico.