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Biography of Francisco Madero

Father of the Mexican Revolution

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Biography of Francisco Madero

Francisco Madero

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Madero's Presidency

After an election which was a foregone conclusion, Madero assumed the Presidency in November of 1911. Never a true revolutionary, Madero simply felt that Mexico was ready for democracy and that the time had come for Díaz to step down. He never intended to carry out any truly radical changes, such as land reform. He spent much of his time as president trying to reassure the privileged class that he would not dismantle the power structure left in place by Díaz.

Meanwhile, Zapata's patience with Madero was wearing thin. He eventually realized that Madero would never approve real land reform, and took up arms once again. León de la Barra, still interim president and working against Madero, sent General Victoriano Huerta, a violent alcoholic and brutal remnant of the Díaz regime, down into Morelos to put a lid on Zapata. Huerta's strong-arm tactics only succeeded in making the situation much worse. Eventually called back to Mexico City, Huerta (who despised Madero) began conspiring against the president.

When he finally was elected to the presidency in October of 1911, the only friend Madero still had was Pancho Villa, still in the north with his army demobilized. Orozco, who had never gotten the huge rewards he had expected from Madero, took to the field and many of his former soldiers eagerly joined him.

Downfall

The politically naïve Madero did not realize that he was surrounded by danger. Huerta was conspiring with American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to remove Madero as Félix Díaz (Porfirio's nephew) took up arms along with Bernardo Reyes. Although Villa rejoined the fight in favor of Madero, he ended up in a sort of military stalemate with Orozco in the north. Madero's reputation suffered further when United States President William Howard Taft, concerned at the strife in Mexico, sent an army to the Rio Grande in a conspicuous show of force and warning to confine the unrest to south of the border.

Félix Díaz began conspiring with Huerta, who had been relieved of command but still counted on the loyalty of many of his former troops. Several other generals were also involved. Madero, alerted to the danger, refused to believe that his generals would turn on him. The forces of Félix Díaz entered Mexico City, and a ten-day standoff known as la decena trágica (“the tragic fortnight”) ensued between Díaz and federal forces. Accepting Huerta's “protection,” Madero fell into his trap: he was arrested by Huerta on February 18, 1913 and executed four days later. According to Huerta, he was killed when his supporters tried to free him by force, but it is far more likely that Huerta gave the order himself. With Madero gone, Huerta turned on his fellow conspirators and made himself president.

Legacy

Although he was personally not very radical, Francisco Madero was the spark that set off the Mexican Revolution. He was just clever, rich, well-connected and charismatic enough to get the ball rolling and drive off an already weakened Porfirio Díaz, but could not manage or hold onto power once he had attained it. The Mexican Revolution was fought out by brutal, ruthless men who asked and received no quarter from one another, and the idealistic Madero was simply out of his depth around them.

Still, after his death, his name became a rallying cry, especially for Pancho Villa and his men. Villa was very disappointed that Madero had failed and spent the rest of the revolution looking for a replacement, another politician in whom Villa felt he could entrust the future of his country. Madero's brothers were among Villa's staunchest supporters. Madero was not the last to try and fail to unite the nation: other politicians would try only to be crushed just as he had. It would not be until 1920, when Alvaro Obregón seized power, that anyone would be able to impose his will on the unruly factions still fighting in different regions.

Today, Madero is seen as a hero by the government and people of Mexico, who see him as the father of the revolution that eventually would do much to level the playing field between the rich and the poor. He is seen as weak but idealistic, an honest, decent man who was destroyed by the demons he helped unleash. He was executed before the bloodiest years of the revolution and his image is therefore relatively unsullied by later events. Even Zapata, so beloved by Mexico's poor today, has a lot of blood on his hands, much more than Madero.

Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.

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