Back To CourseWorld History: High School
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Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.
Mexican soap operas, better known as 'telenovelas', are known worldwide for their scandalous plot lines. In this lesson, we are going to learn about a historical Mexican soap opera: the Mexican Revolution. Just like modern day telenovelas, the Mexican Revolution is full of odd characters, hated villains, deception, backstabbing and lies, violence, assassination plots, interventions by meddling neighbors, and unexpected plot twists. So if you like drama, you are in for a treat!
In this video, we will look at:
Although the Mexican Revolution officially started in 1910, you have to go back a few decades to understand why the Revolution happened. During that time, former military general Porfirio Diaz was viewed by some as a national hero because he had helped expel French soldiers who were attacking Mexico. But don't be fooled! In today's Mexico, Diaz is far from being considered a national hero.
In 1870, Diaz ran for president of Mexico. He used a no re-election slogan during the campaign that said no president should serve more than one term. In 1876, Diaz assumed the presidency.
Although he stepped down after one term, Diaz maintained complete control over his successor, Manuel Gonzales Flores. It was as if Diaz was a puppeteer controlling Flores' commands as president.
After Flores was president for four years, Diaz decided to forget his no re-election policy. Diaz had the country's constitution amended to remove all restrictions on re-elections. Diaz basically said, 'I lied. I'm going to be president from now on.' Diaz continued to be president for 35 years.
The 35-year era during 1876-1911, in which Diaz led the government as President, is known as the Porfiriato in Mexico. Diaz brought about economic improvement and was able to draw foreign investors to Mexico to help build the nation's railroad infrastructure, mining industry, and overall economy. Under Diaz, the economy grew at an average rate of 2.5%. Diaz also made improvements to the Mexican military, giving Mexicans a sense of pride nationwide.
But as I said earlier, Diaz is not known as a national hero these days in Mexico. That is because the growth experienced under Diaz was not shared by all. Mexican Indians, in particular, were most hurt under Diaz, who took over native lands, divided them up, and sold them to private companies. So, while Mexico experienced significant growth overall, Mexican Indians - who made up a significant portion of the Mexican population - were hurt under Diaz.
Today, Diaz's presidency is known as a dictatorship because the country was ruled by one person with total power. Diaz went to great lengths to ensure that he was re-elected every term. He used violence and intimidation to get his desired election results. People who criticized the government were viciously beaten. When that didn't work, he would just lie and make up the election results.
Generally, the combination of this ruthless dictatorship and the high levels of inequality in the country are cited by scholars as main long-term causes of the Mexican Revolution.
Have you ever said something that came back to bite you in the butt? Diaz definitely made one of these mistakes. One of his most significant mistakes was an interview with American journalist James Creelman in 1908. In the interview, Diaz suggested that he was open to democratic reform and free elections. Suddenly, Mexicans began to suspect that Diaz's reign was coming to an end and challengers began to appear. Mexico became like a boiling pot of water. Diaz tried to put a lid on the revolutionary fever, but doing that just increased the pressure leading to a massive boiling over. Mexico was ready for a revolution.
By 1910, a clear challenger came to Diaz in the form of Francisco Madero. Madero organized and led the Anti-Re-electionist Party, essentially promising to never let a dictator like Diaz gain re-election. To try and control Madero, Diaz had him jailed and created a mock election, in which, not surprisingly, Diaz won re-election. Many Mexicans were furious about how fake this election was!
Madero was released from jail and exiled to San Antonio in the United States. There, Madero wrote the 'Plan de San Luis Potosi', a political document that called for an end to Diaz's reign and a re-institution of democracy in Mexico. He called for all Mexicans to revolt on November 20th, 1910, against Diaz's government. Madero's plot didn't work as planned, but it did lead to a rise of a new group of revolutionaries in Mexico.
A common proverb says that 'an enemy of my enemy is my friend.' And this was definitely the truth in the Mexican Revolution. Porfirio Diaz became so unpopular that a new set of characters united together in their mutual hate of Diaz. Learning about the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, in many ways, is like learning about the cast of a telenovela. I say this because the Mexican Revolution is full of a bunch of bizarre and intriguing characters.
Two revolutionaries from the north of Mexico are famous in Mexican folklore for their ruthless style of fighting: Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco. In one famous instance, Villa and Orozco defeated soldiers loyal to President Diaz. Orozco ordered the dead soldiers of Diaz's army to be stripped. Orozco sent the uniforms to Diaz with the note, 'Here are the wrappers, now send me more tamales.'
As for Pancho Villa, he became known as the Mexican Robin Hood. He was legendary for robbing trains, seizing lands from rich businessman, and redistributing the wealth to poor peasants.
In the south, the Mexican Revolution was led by Emiliano Zapata. Zapata represented the several Native Americans who suffered under Diaz's policy of allowing a small elite group of landowners to control Mexican peasants. Zapata led the peasants in the South against the Diaz regime. Zapata's group rallied along the slogan, Justicia, Tierra, Libertad, which translates as 'Justice,' 'Land,' 'Liberty': the three main calling cries of Native Americans in Southern Mexico.
Between the armies of Madero, Zapata, Villa, and Orozco, the group was able to rally around their mutual hatred of Porfirio Diaz. After a series of military victories, they were finally able to expel Diaz, who fled to Europe in exile, ending his dictatorship of 35 years. The Revolution was complete! Or, at least, it kind of was. We will see in the next video that the Revolution resulted in total chaos.
In this video, we have seen that the Mexican Revolution started with Mexicans like Madero trying to remove the 35-year reign of Dictator Porfirio Diaz. While Diaz helped the economy grow, many native Mexicans were robbed of their land that Diaz sold to big businesses. Likewise, Diaz used intimidation, violence, and voter fraud to maintain his power. All of these led to Mexicans rising up against Diaz.
We also learned about the odd cast of characters that came together to get rid of Porfirio Diaz. This cast includes Francisco Madero, Pascual Orozco, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata. Although each had different goals, they all united in their hate of Diaz. Together, the four leaders were able to push Diaz out of power. But the telenovela that is the Mexican Revolution does not end there. In the next video on the Mexican Revolution, you will see the massive chaos that broke out in Mexico after Diaz was removed. The drama is just beginning!
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Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons