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Biography of Francisco Madero

Father of the Mexican Revolution


Biography of Francisco Madero

Francisco Madero

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Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913) was a reformist politician and writer who served as President of Mexico from 1911 to 1913. This unlikely revolutionary helped engineer the overthrow of entrenched dictator Porfirio Díaz by kick-starting the Mexican Revolution. Unfortunately for Madero, he found himself caught between the remnants of Díaz' power structure (who hated him for overthrowing the old regime) and the revolutionary forces he unleashed (who despised him for not being radical enough). He was deposed and executed in 1913 by Victoriano Huerta, a general who had served under Díaz.

Life before 1910

Madero was born in the state of Coahuila to extremely wealthy parents: by some accounts they were the fifth-richest family in Mexico. His grandfather Evaristo made many lucrative investments and was involved in, among other interests, ranching, wine-making, silver, textiles and cotton. As a young man Francisco was very well educated, studying in the United States, Austria and France.

When he returned from his travels in the United States and Europe, he was placed in charge of some of the family interests including the San Pedro de las Colonias hacienda, which he operated at a tidy profit while managing to treat his workers very well. When Bernardo Reyes, Governor of Nuevo León, brutally broke up a political demonstration in 1903, Madero decided to become more politically involved. Although his early attempts to be elected to public office failed, he funded his own newspaper which he used to promote his ideas.

Madero had to overcome his personal image in order to succeed as a politician in macho Mexico. He was a small man with a high-pitched voice, both of which made his it difficult for him to command the respect of soldiers and revolutionaries who saw him as effeminate. He was a vegetarian and teetotaler at a time when these were considered very peculiar in Mexico and he was also an avowed spiritualist. He claimed to have regular contact with his brother Raúl, who had died at a very young age. Later, he said he had gotten political advice from none other than the spirit of Benito Juarez, who told him to keep up the pressure on Díaz.

Díaz in 1910

Porfirio Díaz was an iron-fisted dictator who had been in power since 1876. Díaz had modernized the country, laying miles of train tracks and encouraging industry and foreign investment, but at a steep price: the poor of Mexico lived a life of abject misery. In the north, miners worked without any safety or insurance, in Central Mexico the peasants were kicked off their land, and in the south debt peonage meant that thousands worked essentially as slaves. He was the darling of international investors, who commended him for “civilizing” the unruly nation he ruled.

Somewhat paranoid, Díaz was always careful to keep tabs on those who could oppose him. The press was completely controlled by the regime and rogue journalists could be jailed without trial if suspected of libel or sedition. Díaz brilliantly played ambitious politicians and military men off against one another, leaving very few realistic threats to his rule. He appointed all state governors, who shared in the spoils of his crooked but lucrative system. All other elections were blatantly rigged and only the extremely foolish ever tried to buck the system.

In his 30+ years as dictator, the cunning Díaz had fought off many challenges, but by 1910 cracks were beginning to show. The dictator was in his late 70's and the wealthy class that he represented was beginning to worry about who would replace him. Years of toil and repression meant that the rural poor (as well as the urban working class, to a lesser extent) loathed Díaz and were primed and ready for revolution. A revolt by workers in 1906 at the Cananea copper mine in Sonora that had to be brutally put down (in part by Arizona rangers brought across the border) showed Mexico and the world that Don Porfirio was vulnerable.

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