The Differences and Betrayals during the Mexican Revolution


By Lynne Ann Hartnett, Villanova University

In October 1910, Francisco Madero issued the Plan de San Luis Potosí, calling for a Mexican revolution. Madero argued that for too long Mexico’s “administrative, judicial, and legislative machinery” had obeyed “the caprice of General Porfirio Díaz, who during his long administration has shown that the principal motive that guides him is to maintain himself in power and at any cost”.

Image of Mexican revolutionists crossing Platros Street
Mexico’s revolution had leaders with different agendas. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

Revolutionary Insurrections

In Plan de San Luis Potosí, Madero characterized the recent elections as fraudulent, and called on the Mexican people to revolt a few weeks later, on November 20, 1910. Plans for a general insurrection were thwarted, though, and Díaz was inaugurated again in early December. But thousands of revolutionary guerrillas responded to Madero’s call to arms. 

In spring 1911, revolutionary insurrections gripped much of Mexico. The most concerted efforts were in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Sonora, where American financial interests were concentrated; and in the central state of Morelos, where Emiliano Zapata led the revolutionary charge.

With unrest spreading, US President William Howard Taft ordered US forces to mobilize along the border. Fears of an American intervention put pressure on Díaz to negotiate with the revolutionaries. By this point, he probably saw the writing on the wall.

Photo of American soldiers taking position in a desert.
The mobilization of US forces along the border put pressure on General Porfirio Díaz to negotiate with the revolutionaries. (Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Porfirio Díaz’s Resignation

Francisco Madero, and the Zapatista guerrillas, a popular uprising led by the northern muleteer Pascual Orozco, and the notorious bandit Pancho Villa, tipped the scales against Díaz in the north. 

On May 21, 1911, Díaz signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez. It provided for his resignation as well as the appointment of Foreign Minister Francisco de la Barra as provisional president, and the cessation of hostilities, along with new elections to be held in October 1911.

Madero agreed to leave the existing federal army untouched, however, even while assenting to the dissolution of revolutionary forces. Díaz’s judges, congressmen, and members of the state bureaucracy also remained in place, and unmolested. 

Madero himself had taken the lead on the revolutionary side in negotiating the agreement. And the concessions he’d made struck some as overly magnanimous and potentially treacherous. Also, the failure to push out individuals hostile to the revolution doomed the government’s near-term prospects.

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Differences within the Mexican Revolution

While Madero’s primary objective was to abolish the Díaz dictatorship, many of the peasants and workers who’d answered the revolutionary call had their own priorities in mind.

Men such as Emiliano Zapata in the south, and Pancho Villa in the north, might have temporarily united behind Madero’s effort to overthrow Porfirio Díaz. but once the long-time dictator was gone, irreparable differences arose between the revolutionary factions.

It was during this period that Zapata visited Madero at his Mexico City home, hoping to convince him to redistribute agricultural lands to Mexican peasants.

A Revolution within a Revolution

Madero handily won the October 1911 presidential election. But by the time he assumed office in November, his revolutionary alliance had crumbled. And one reason for its failure was Madero’s refusal to restore the formerly communal lands of Morelos state to the villages. Instead, he called for more gradual measures. To Zapata, this was the ultimate betrayal.

As a result, Zapata put forth a revolutionary plan of his own—the Plan de Ayala—in November 1911. In it, Zapata called for the overthrow of Madero, and for the northern revolutionary general, Pascual Orozco, who had turned against Madero, to assume direction of the revolution.

General Victoriano Huerta

Image of General Victoriano Huerta
General Victoriano Huerta (above) tricked Madero into trusting him and later had him murdered. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

Pancho Villa, however, remained loyal to Madero. Instead of joining the resistance, Villa and his men allied with the federal army led by General Victoriano Huerta. In 1914, they defeated Orozco’s forces, who fled north of the border. The American journalist John Reed witnessed Villa’s charms and conceits first-hand and described him as a Mexican Robin Hood. 

Villa was charismatic, ruthless, and tactically astute. He became so popular and respected after Orozco’s defeat that General Huerta began to view him as a rival. He cooked up a false charge of insubordination and had Villa imprisoned. Only President Madero’s personal intercession saved him from the firing squad.

In November 1912, Villa escaped prison and fled to the United States. In the meantime, Madero’s brother, Gustavo, discovered that despite General Huerta’s expressions of loyalty, he was conspiring with a nephew of the deposed dictator Porfirio Díaz to overthrow the president. 

The accomplice was Félix Díaz, a minor politician from the southern state of Oaxaca. Gustavo Madero immediately ordered Huerta’s arrest. But once in custody, Huerta convinced the president of his loyalty. This faith in General Huerta would prove to be fatal.

Huerta’s Regime

Huerta had Gustavo Madero murdered, and then placed the president and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez, in custody.

Huerta had promised to save the lives of Madero and Suarez both if they resigned. And Madero, believing that he was staving off more bloodshed, agreed to step down. But days later, the two men were executed by guards, presumably at Huerta’s instigation.

Huerta’s regime enjoyed the backing of foreign business interests as well as of many Mexican elites. But Huerta also had many adversaries, including the newly inaugurated US President Woodrow Wilson, and his secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan.

Common Questions about the Differences and Betrayals during the Mexican Revolution

Q: What was Plan de San Luis Potosí?

Issued by Francisco Madero in October 1910, Plan de San Luis Potosí called on the Mexican people to revolt against the current regime. Madero claimed that the recent presidential elections had been fraudulent and that General Porfirio Díaz only cared about his own power, no matter the cost.

Q: What led to General Victoriano Díaz’s resignation?

The Mexican Revolution, inspired by Francisco Madero’s plans, Emiliano Zapata’s guerilla warfare, and other uprisings were causes of concern for Victoriano Díaz. The fact that US troops had taken position across the border didn’t help either. For fear of being invaded, he eventually resigned.

Q: Why did the alliance between Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata fall apart?

After Madero won the October 1911 presidential election, he refused to restore the formerly communal lands of Morelos state to the villages. Instead, he called for more gradual measures. To Zapata, this was the ultimate betrayal. As a result, Zapata put forth a revolutionary plan of his own, in which he called for the overthrow of Madero.

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