[Why did I undertake to write a short version of the story of Francisco I. Madero, fascinating and–let us be plain spoken–strange man that he was? Who the hell knows? But I did. All three parts are posted on this date. For something lighter you can always go back to 31 May and watch me lip sync to Erykah Badu.]
Before Francisco Madero rode victorious into Mexico City 100 years ago next month on 7 June 1911, an earthquake struck the city in the morning. The people later said that the earth shook when he came into the city. Jesus Christ did not receive a more adoring reception on Palm Sunday than did Francisco Madero when he rode into Mexico City that day. One hundred thousand people came out into the streets. They shouted out to him as their savior.
If ever a man had the mandate of the street, this man had it that day. I hope he was a man capable of living in the moment. I think he was. If so, this was a good moment for him. It was a brief one as moments go.
On 18 February 1913, twenty months later, troops under the command of General Victoriano Huerta entered the Presidential Palace and “arrested” President Francisco Madero and his Vice-President. General Huerta was the very man who had been charged with the defense of Madero and his government. In return for a promise of safe conduct out of the country to exile for himself, his Vice-President, and their families, Madero then wrote out his resignation. He may have been a naïve man, a man of fallible political judgment, but he had never before shown personal weakness. His fear for his family’s safety was his only weakness then.
What had brought about this plummet? In spite of the pleas of colleagues further to his left politically, Madero had compromised with Porfirio Diaz in negotiating Diaz’s departure into exile. First, Madero agreed to demobilize the revolutionary armies. He and his government, therefore, later had to rely upon Diaz’s army, the army in which Huerta served, for their protection.
One of the revolutionary generals refused to disarm his army by the way. Emiliano Zapata, leader of a distinctively self-contained, anarchist, Indian revolt in the south, declined. A wise man he. Someday I will write something of my own about Emiliano Zapata, another of the few truly admirable men of power in this era.
Second, Madero agreed that Diaz’s Foreign Minister, a man named De la Barra, would serve as interim President and Diaz’s hand-picked representatives in the legislature would remain in office until general elections in November 1911, five months later. Madero remained very much outside the government during that time with only his bully pulpit. This afforded the Porfiristas a valuable respite within which to regroup for their counter-revolution.
Francisco Madero was a bipartisan kind of guy. He simply could not appreciate a simple truth demonstrated repeatedly in human history. Powerful, entrenched individuals of enormous wealth and powerful, entrenched institutions of enormous wealth—and institutions of enormous power and wealth are always simply conspiracies of groups of individuals of enormous power and wealth—will turn to violence without conscience before they will politically negotiate themselves into positions of only moderate power and wealth. In this case the individuals and institutions in question were the large landholders, the capitalists with the bit in their teeth, and the Church, each of which had their own rackets going.
If you undertake revolution against the interests of the immensely powerful and wealthy, and if you are lucky enough to get on top, get your boot on their throat, you must “consolidate the revolution” in that moment, to use a euphemism. You must kill some people. If you do not, that moment shall surely pass. That is Machiavelli at his most basic. Madero was in a moment such as that when the ground shook in Mexico City on 7 June 1911. Unfortunately, Francisco Madero was no Machiavellian.
Lest you shudder too much at those statements, consider this. Most Mexican historians agree that had Madero engaged in a relatively small blood bath at that point, he then would have had a good chance at averting the long, destructive blood bath of the civil war for an additional seven years that followed.
Notwithstanding all that, when elections were held in November 1911, Francisco Madero was elected President in the fairest, most honest general election in the history of Mexico up to that time.
Now here is the most interesting part to me. We cannot look only to the counter-revolutionary activities of the Porfiristas as the cause of the downfall of Madero. In fact that downfall probably would not have come about had it not been for another phenomenon that developed after his election. Madero had come into Mexico City with the promise of hope and change. His tumultuous welcome was some measure of the unreasonable expectations that he had aroused in the people.
After he became President, he was unable to wave a magic wand and fix Mexico’s many serious problems over night. By reason of everything he stood for he had to work slowly toward those changes democratically and consistently with the law and the constitution. The people soon become impatient with him and then disillusioned with him.
A vivid illustration of this can be found in the activities of the press, which previously had simply been a paid propaganda arm of Porfirio Diaz. Madero gave them complete freedom. In return the press devastated him. Pilloried and mocked him as a man without any balls.
Certainly, a valuable role of a free press is criticism of the government. But this went further than that. These were vicious, personal attacks on Madero. And nobody within the profession of the press could find it within themselves to defend the man who had given them freedom of the press.
Madero lost his mandate from the street.
This is a photo of General Victoriano Huerta, a despicable man who plotted for his own ends with Porfiristas while ostensibly defending Madero from them. A drunk. Madero should have had Victoriano Huerta shot early on. Madero was confronted repeatedly with evidence of Huerta’s treasonous activities, once by Madero’s own brother who caught out Huerta. Madero’s mother also warned him to get rid of that man.
Toward the end Huerta knew that some units in the federal army under his command were nevertheless loyal to Madero. He chose those units for suicide missions in order to purge his army of Madero loyalists before completing his coup.
This is a photo of another despicable man, Henry Land Wilson, American ambassador to Mexico at the time. He coordinated the conspiracy between Huerta and the Porfirista counter-revolutionaries. He promised them American support and recognition when they prevailed. He sent completely misleading dispatches to President Wilson about Madero and the situation in Mexico. He relentlessly lobbied the ambassadors from the other powers in the service of his cause. When President Wilson later learned something of the truth of matters, too late, he recalled Henry Lane Wilson for his “indiscretions.” Very few Americans know who Henry Lane Wilson was. Most educated Mexicans do.
President Madero and Vice-President Piño Suárez
On the night of 22 February 1913, Huerto had already cleared his intentions regarding his captive, Madero, with Henry Lane Wilson. Wilson consented even after Señora Madero’s frantic pleas to him to use his influence to save her husband’s life. In spite of Huerta’s previous promise of safe conduct out of the country, one of his officers, Major Cárdenas, dispatched Francisco Madero with one pistol shot to the neck after Madero stepped out of a car that he thought was transporting him to his exile. Vice-President Suárez was marched to a wall and shot there.
The neutral historians that I have read pass quickly over Madero as simply an inept politician. An example is the author of the third book that I cited in the beginning of this. Leftist historians are hostile to him and paint him as a ridiculous figure. An example would be the authors of the second book that I cited in the beginning. Enrique Krauze gives the more nuanced portrait of Madero in the first book that I cited.
Krauze is of the opinion that the people of Mexico carry a guilt complex to this day regarding the death of Madero and the events leading up to it. Mexicans refer to those days as the Decena Trágica, the tragic ten days. Decena is a word used to refer to one of the groups of ten beads in a rosary. Legend has it that Madero had his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita in his pocket when he was shot.
I do not know if Mexicans have a guilt complex about it. I can say, based upon what I have seen in the celebrations of the centennial of the Revolution, that even in death Mexicans ask this Apostle of Democracy to carry more weight than he alone can bear. Perhaps their ancestors could have better helped him carry it back when he was still alive.