Mexican Revolution: Overview of Its Actors and Chapters

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) was actually a series of civil wars fought between a diverse cast of characters, with widely disparate histories and motivations. The war and its aftermath can be divided into five stages or chapters, each consisting of a number of critical episodes. Each heading listed below links to a fuller account.

The Cast of Characters: Protagonists and Antagonists
The Revolution, as Mexicans would say, was complejo y complicado, complex and complicated, with many key personajes, characters, who, at times, switched from being protagonists to being antagonists. To follow the story, it helps to meet these actors in advance. Here they are introduced in the order they enter the story.
Dictator Porfirio Díaz Triggers a Revolution
Porfirio Díaz kept himself President of Mexico and virtual dictator for over thirty years (1876-1911). In February 1908, at the age of 78, Díaz announced that he thought Mexico was ready for democracy and elections, and that he would retire and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. However, as the 1910 election approached and the possibility of actual competition increased, Díaz changed his mind and announced he would run again. He did consent to an opposition candidate, Francisco Madero, but then had him jailed. Escaping, Madero issued a call for a Revolution to begin in November 1910.
Short and Tragic Presidency of Francisco Madero
In May of 1911, his troops defeated in battles by Pascual OrozcoFrancisco "Pancho" Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Madero, Porfirio Díaz resigned and went to France. In June, Francisco Madero entered Mexico City, but did not assume the Presidency until November. He included Díaz supporters in his cabinet and left in place the Congress that opposed many of the reforms he presented. Various generals rebelled against Madero. In February of 1913, a couple of them, with the help of the U.S. ambassador, were successful.
Battle Against Victoriano Huerta
General Victoriano Huerta's overthrow of President Francisco Madero immediately provoked an uprising by Villa and others. They were joined by Venustiano Carranza, governor of Sonora, who declared himself "Head Boss" of the combined forces but was not a soldier, and Álvaro Obregón, who became his lead general. By July of 1914, their multipronged attacks from the north, together with Zapata's attack from Morelos in the south, brought Huerta's defeat and exile to the U.S.
Venustiano Carranza Wins Against Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata
In October 1914, a Convention of all the generals was convened in Aguascalientes. As he was not a general, Carranza could not attend. Obregón represented him. The Convention called on Carranza to resign. Carranza demanded the resignations of Villa and Zapata. In response, Villa, Zapata and their supporters united their military forces and moved on Mexico City. (View video of their entrance into the city.) Carranza retreated to Veracruz. Zapata returned with his forces to Morelos to continue his fight for land. But by the summer of 1915, Obregón had defeated Villa and Carranza returned to Mexico City as interim President. In the fall of 1916, Carranza convened a Constitutional Convention, which, in February 1917, promulgated the new Constitution. Carranza was then elected President for a term to end in 1920.
Post-War Power Struggles: The End of Almost Everyone
The post-war period was not peaceful. Carranza sent forces to attack Zapata in Morelos. The war went back and forth until, in 1919, Zapata was drawn into a trap and assassinated. Carranza, himself, was overthrown and killed in 1920 by forces led by Obregón, who became president until 1924. Pancho Villa, who continued to carry out sporadic raids in the north, agreed to a peace treaty when Obregón became president but was assassinated in 1923. In 1928 Obregón was assassinated by a Catholic radical opposing government suppression of the Catholic Church. Plutarco Calles, another former revolutionary general, who was president from 1924 to 28, then ran the country as "Jefe Máximo", "Supreme Boss". In 1934 Lázaro Cárdenas, also a general, became president and sent Calles into exile in the U.S.

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