The 1910 Elections
Díaz had promised that there would be free elections in 1910. Taking him at his word, Madero organized the “Anti-Re-electionist” (referring to Díaz) Party to challenge the old dictator. He wrote and printed a book entitled The Presidential Succession of 1910 which became an instant best-seller. One of Madero's key platforms was that when Díaz had originally come into power in 1876 he had claimed he would not seek re-election, a promise conveniently forgotten later. Madero claimed that no good ever came of one man holding absolute power and pointed out Díaz' shortcomings, including the massacre of Maya Indians in the Yucatan and Yaquis in the north, the crooked system of governors and the incident at the Cananea mine.
Madero's campaign hit a nerve. Mexicans flocked to see him and hear his speeches. He began publishing a new newspaper el anti-reelectionista (the no re-electionist), which was edited by José Vasconcelos, who would later become one of the most important intellectuals of the Revolution. He secured the nomination of his party and selected Francisco Vásquez Gómez as his running mate.
When it became clear that Madero would win, Díaz had second thoughts and had most of the Anti-Reelectionist leaders jailed, including Madero, who was arrested on a falsified charge of plotting armed insurrection. Because Madero came from a wealthy family and was extremely well-connected, Díaz could not simply kill him, as he already had with two generals (Juan Corona and García de la Cadena) who had previously threatened to run against him in the 1910 election.
The election was a sham and Díaz naturally “won.” Madero, bailed out of jail by his wealthy father, crossed the border into Texas and set up shop in San Antonio. There, he declared the election null and void in his “Plan of San Luís Potosí” and called for armed revolution, ironically the same crime he had been charged with when it appeared he would easily win any fair election. The date of November 20 was set for the revolution to begin, and although there was some fighting before that, November 20 is considered the starting date of the revolution.
The Revolution Begins
Once Madero was in open revolt, Díaz declared open season on his supporters, and many maderistas were rounded up and killed. The call to revolution was heeded by many Mexicans. In the State of Morelos, Emiliano Zapata raised an army of angry peasants and began creating serious trouble for wealthy landowners. In the state of Chihuahua, Pascual Orozco and Casulo Herrera raised sizable armies: one of Herrera's captains was Pancho Villa. The ruthless Villa soon replaced the cautious Herrera and together with Orozco captured cities up and down Chihuahua in the name of the revolution (although Orozco was far more interested in crushing business rivals than he was in social reform).
In February 1911, Madero returned to Mexico with about 130 men. Northern leaders such as Villa and Orozco did not really trust him, so in March, his force swollen to about 600, Madero decided to attack the federal garrison at the town of Casas Grandes. He led the attack himself, and it turned out to be a fiasco. Outgunned, Madero and his men had to retreat, and Madero himself was injured. Although it ended badly, the bravery Madero had shown in leading such an attack gained him a great deal of respect among the northern rebels. Orozco himself, at that time leader of the most powerful of the rebel armies, acknowledged Madero as leader of the Revolution.
Not long after the Casas Grandes battle, Madero first met Pancho Villa and the two men hit it off in spite of their obvious differences. Villa knew his limits: he was a good bandit and rebel chief, but he was no visionary or politician. Madero know his limits, too: he was a man of words, not action, and he considered Villa a sort of Robin Hood and just the man he needed to drive Díaz out of power. Madero allowed his men to join Villa's force: his days of soldiering were done. Villa and Orozco, with Madero in tow, began a push towards Mexico City, repeatedly scoring important victories over federal forces along the way.
Meanwhile, in the south, Zapata's peasant army was capturing towns in his native state of Morelos. His army fought bravely against federal forces with superior arms and training, winning with a combination of bravery and numbers. In May of 1911, Zapata scored a huge win with a bloody victory over federal forces in the town of Cuautla. These rebel armies caused a great deal of trouble for Díaz. Because they were so spread out, he could not concentrate his forces enough to corner and annihilate any one of them. By May of 1911 Díaz could see that his rule was falling to pieces.
Díaz Steps Down
Once Díaz saw the writing on the wall, he negotiated a surrender with Madero, who generously allowed the former dictator to leave the country in May of 1911. Madero was greeted as a hero when he rode into Mexico City on June 7, 1911. Once he arrived, however, he made a series of mistakes that would prove fatal. His first was to accept Francisco León de la Barra as an interim president: the former Díaz crony was able to coalesce the anti-Madero movement. He also erred in demobilizing the armies of Orozco and Villa in the north.