The Mexico Podcast: History & Present











October 2020
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31


Francisco Madero is described by all my sources as a spiritualist rather than a revolutionary or a military leader or political theorist or philosopher. He came from a wealthy family. As a boy he was often sick.

He studied in the US, lived in France for a few years, and traveled through Europe. It was there that he adopted the ideas of Spiritualism (with a capital S). Spiritualism was based on communicating with spirits of the dead.

It was big. By 1854 there were more than 3 million Spiritualists worldwide. Madero writes the he didn’t just read Spiritualist books, he devoured them.

He finished business school in Paris and then studied a year in Berkeley, improving his English and learning agriculture. The constant illnesses of his childhood had made him deliberately work on becoming physically strong. He wrote a pamphlet on water rights that Porfirio Diaz praised him for. He did charity work as well, giving out homeopathic…..concoctions as well as money to sick people.

At his hacienda he fed about 60 kids, and he paid his staff well. He married in 1903, and they gave out scholarships and created schools, hospitals, and community kitchens.

He felt his mission as a Spiritualist was to be a medium for the spirits of the dead. Specifically a writing medium. He wanted the spirits to speak through him in his writings. Soon he was claiming that his brother Raul, who had died at age four in a fire, was visiting him daily. Francisco gave up smoking, became a vegetarian, and destroyed his wine cellar. His wrote, by way of Francisco, “You can have the only happiness there is in this world solely through practicing charity in the broadest sense of the word.” He later wrote, “Aspire to do good for your fellow citizens . . . working for a lofty ideal that will raise the moral level of society, that will succeed in liberating it from oppression, slavery, and fanaticism.

As government repression in Mexico increased in the first decade of the 1900s Madero came to believe that “charity in the broadest sense” meant politics. He was now seeing his future a little more clearly.


Revolution begins


In the previous episode, Francisco Madero had called for a revolution. He said it would happen on November 20, 1910. Photo ops on November 20 made it look like spontaneous uprisings were happening all over Mexico, and there were, but they were mostly small, isolated groups. In fact, it began so gradually that by January 1911 the government thought the danger had passed.

The Revolution was on though, especially in Chihuahua, a northern state. The armies of Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa were winning battles against the federal army.

Revolutionary fever slowly spread thanks to a weak federal army and widespread social discontent. Small groups of men on horseback rode into villages and towns. They went to the town square and read aloud Madero’s Plan of San Luis, inviting the men of the town to join them. They took the local government’s cash reserves, guns, and horses. They freed the prisoners. Then they went to the next town and did it again. And again.

The Federal army was weak. It relied on conscription – the draft – and didn’t have a single full battalion or regiment. The leaders didn’t know the terrain. Corruption was everywhere. And they were not prepared to fight small, nimble forces. By the time they arrived at a place that was being attacked, the attackers had already disappeared and were in a different area.

As the months wore on, the army had become concentrated in the areas with the most fighting, which left other places basically free of soldiers. In the states of Nayarit, Colima, and Michoacan, the revolutionaries took over the government without firing a single shot.

By May 1911 there was fighting in 26 states and the Federal District – Mexico City.

Earlier, in March, Madero attacked Casas Grandes with about 100 men. He left the battle with a wounded arm and had lost several soldiers. Historian Earl Shorris says the attack was a fiasco that showed Madero to be a poor military commander. Nonetheless, he was the last man to retreat and he earned a reputation for courage.


 Battle of Juarez


If I went into much detail on the battles of the Revolution this series would basically never end. So I’m really glossing over a lot. This is episode 2 and I’m already leaving tons of things out. But the battle of Juarez deserves some attention.

Madero was encouraged by news of more and more uprisings throughout Mexico. He decided to take Ciudad Juarez, partly to control traffic to and from the United States.

The Revolutionary army marched on Juarez on April 7, 1911. It was headed up by two columns of 500 riders each. Leading the columns were Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco. Behind the columns was a force of 1,500 riders led by Francisco Madero. Until this point the army had mostly used guerrilla tactics, attacking swiftly and disappearing into their surroundings. This march was much more conventional.

They surrounded the city on three sides. The Federal Army, which had about 700-1000 soldiers, and the city itself was cut off from communication with the outside world.

Madero hesitated. If he attacked, there was a chance that stray bullets would fly into the neighboring American city of El Paso, possibly killing civilians and forcing the US to intervene. Plus, the Diaz government was now on a peace offensive, and Madero’s own family was asking him to reach some kind of compromise with the President/Dictator, whichever term you prefer.

Madero wanted to avoid bloodshed, and he thought he actually could reach an agreement with Diaz. He came from the upper class, too, and shared their fear of anarchy and possible US intervention.

He accepted a ceasefire that would allow Diaz to stay in power. That specific part of the ceasefire wasn’t made public, but rumors were circulating in the US media that a deal had been struck.

The leaders of the revolutionary army were angry at Madero for the ceasefire. Both sides were now basically in limbo. The ceasefire had been going on for days now, and Madero’s men were getting less enthusiastic and optimistic. Food was running out and they weren’t receiving the pay they had been promised.

Madero met with one of his military leaders, Pascual Orozco. He asked whether he should accept a proposal that would leave Diaz in power, or whether the president’s resignation should be a precondition for peace.

Orozco said, “Don’t ask me these things, since I understand nothing about them. Tell me that the enemy is coming from somewhere, and I shall see what I can do; but these things I know nothing about. You know what you should do.”

When Madero met with government representatives, he said he could no longer accept the terms. The peace negotiations ended, and so did the ceasefire. But Madero still hesitated to attack.

Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa had had enough. They decided to attack without telling Madero. So they ordered their men to start shooting, and the Federal army returned fire.

Madero sent a message to the Federal commander, Juan Navarro, asking him to order his men to stop shooting. He agreed, and his men stopped. But the revolutionary army did not. They advanced on the city. Madero sent an emissary with a white flag and orders to stop. But they ignored him. The federal army was now returning fire again.

Orozco eventually had to face Madero. So he simply told him the fighting was now impossible to stop.

Not only was that probably true, but by now there were thousands of American spectators right across the river. Both the revolutionaries and the Federal army had to be careful not to accidentally send stray bullets across the border. One of those American onlookers, Timothy Turner, was a reporter. He had crossed into Juarez to watch. He wrote about the battle:


“We sat up there on the hill and saw the river oaks swarming with insurrectos moving into Juarez. They moved in no formation whatsoever, just an irregular stream of them, silhouettes of men and rifles.

Thus they began to move in and to move out along that road throughout the battle. They would fight a while, and come back to rest, sleep, and eat, returning refreshed to the front.

The European-trained soldiers raved at this, tried to turn them back, to make everybody fight at one time. But that was not the way of these chaps from Chihuahua. They knew their business and they knew it well.

That way of fighting, I think, more than any other thing, took Juarez. For by it, the insurrectos were always fresh with high spirits, while the littler brown federals with no sleep and little food or water, with their officers behind them ready with their pistols to kill quitters, soon lost their morale.”


Later Turner actually joined the……. insurrectos….. and reported on their tactics to avoid machine gun fire from the Federal army:


“I heard somebody calling me, and in the doorway was an insurrecto officer I knew, an erstwhile schoolteacher from the state capital, and I ran to where he was and then to the house. He was with some men who carried axes and crowbars in their hands, with their rifles swung onto their backs, and I saw what they were up to. They were cutting their was from one house to the other, chopping through the adobe walls dividing the structures. Thus one could walk a whole block without ever going outside a house. This made a fairly safe way of moving through the center of the town, except, of course, when one had to run across three intersections to the next block of buildings. Nobody was in any hurry.”


Navarro surrendered after two days of fighting. His men were concentrated in a few buildings and were cut off from water.

In previous battles Navarro had ordered his men to execute captured enemy soldiers with bayonets. The revolutionaries wanted to avenge the dead, so they asked Madero to execute Navarro. The request was denied. Now they demanded it, but Madero still refused.

Orozco took out his pistol and pointed it at Madero’s chest. An officer then pointed his gun at Orozco. And now it’s a standoff.

Madero walked right between the two men and out to the street. He got up on a railroad car and gave an impromptu speech that moved Pancho Villa to tears. Villa begged Madero for forgiveness. In other accounts he merely shook Madero’s hand.

It’s not clear what Madero said, just that nobody killed him and he won people to his side.

Then after winning the day with his speech, Madero angered his generals again by taking Navarro in his own car to the US border, and to safety.

Before the battle, the revolutionary soldiers wanted Navarro dead. But it wasn’t just because of the brutal way he executed their comrades. When the revolutionaries had captured federal soldiers, they had made a point of sparing their lives. Plus, Madero’s Plan of San Luis called for federal generals who violated rules of war to be executed. So Madero was going against the desires of his men as well as his stated intentions in the document where he called for revolution.

Before the meeting, Orozco told Pancho Villa to disarm Madero’s guard if Madero didn’t acquiesce to Orozco’s demands. Villa never did that, though. Instead he ran outside to get his 50 men. Later he said that he found out why Orozco wanted him to disarm the guard.


“Orozco, expecting a sum of money from Don Porfirio’s agent, promised to assassinate Senor Madero and wished to involve me. At the last moment, Orozco lacked the courage to go through with it, or to go all the way, and knowing my violent character, he planned for me to disarm the guard, so that I would appear to the be principal instigator of the shooting and the president would challenge me face to face and I would draw my gun and kill him, and everything would be done with Pascual Orozco uninvolved, and me, Pancho Villa, apparently the true and only assassin.”


The allegations are unproven, but what we do know is that Orozco met with representatives of the Diaz government at least four times between the sacking of the city and the confrontation with Madero. And Madero himself wrote a letter speaking of outside influences on Orozco.

Historian Enrique Katz says money probably played a smaller part in Orozco’s alleged assassination scheme than power, since he was the most popular revolutionary figure at the time, behind Madero, and would have had a good shot at the presidency with Madero out of the way.

If Orozco himself had murdered Madero, things might have turned out badly for him. But if a man like Pancho Villa killed Madero, Orozco’s hands would be clean and would have a chance to avenge Madero’s murder.

It’s possible that this whole complicated plot was the reason behind Orozco’s insistence that Madero court martial and execute the enemy general.

Then we come to Madero’s reasons for not court marshalling Navarro. There are a lot of theories on that as well, but one possible explanation is that he wanted to have the Federal army’s loyalty when he took office.

As the revolutionaries racked up win after win throughout Mexico, President Diaz knew it was only a matter of weeks or months before his army was completely defeated. His representatives met with Madero, and they signed the Treaty of Juarez on May 21, 1911.

Many revolutionary leaders strongly opposed the Treaty. They felt it was unnecessary. The revolutionaries already controlled most of the contested regions, and they understood what Diaz understood, that the federal army could not hold out for much longer. The revolutionaries could have a total victory on their terms without any need for negotiation. They felt the Treaty only weakened them while giving more power to people loyal to Diaz.

Pancho Villa opposed the Treaty as well. He wrote about a confrontation that happened just before the signing:


“I attended because he asked me to.” [He meaning Madero.] “But I already felt a deadly hatred for all those perfumed dandies. They had started in with speeches, and that bunch of politicians talked endlessly. Then Madero said to me, ‘And you, Pancho, what do you think? The war is over. Aren’t you happy? Give us a few words.’ I did not want to say anything, but Gustavo Madero who was sitting at my side nudged me, saying, ‘Go ahead, Chief. Say something.’

So I stood up and said to Francisco, ‘You, sir, have destroyed the Revolution.’ He demanded to know why, so I answered, ‘It’s simple: This bunch of dandies have made a fool of you and this will eventually cost us our necks, yours included.’ Madero kept on questioning me. “Fine, Pancho. But tell me, what do you think should be done?’ I answered, ‘Allow me to hang this roomful of politicians and then let the revolution continue.’”


Villa himself is the only person who reported the exchange, so it’s not likely that it took place, but you get a glimpse into his mind there. Not much later he resigned and went back to private life.


Porfirio Diaz Surrenders


After the Treaty of Juarez, Diaz surrendered. All sides would agree to stop fighting and Diaz would step down. He resigned on May 25.

The interim president, Francisco Leon de la Barra, was in charge of organizing new elections. As part of the negotiations, 14 unpopular governors were replaced.

Madero continued angering supporters by distancing himself from them. He broke away from the National Antireelectionist Party and his vice presidential candidate, forming a new party and picking a new VP.

Elections were held on the 1st and 15th of October. Madero won with 99% of the vote. His Vice President, Jose Maria Pino Suarez got 53%.

The antireelectionists had achieved their main goal, but they weren’t the only group participating in the Revolution. The middle classes had goals, the unionists had goals, the anarcho-syndicalists had goals, the land reformers had goals…They were all attached to a vague idea of democracy, but they couldn’t agree on specifics.

In any case the country finally had free elections. They didn’t remain too free for too long, but for now the system appeared to be working properly.

You might think this is where the series ends. We’ve deposed a dictator, we’ve forced out 14 governors, and we have the new President we’ve been fighting for. We’ve blown up the Death Star. Princess Leia gives everybody a medal. The Revolution is over, right?

Well… Madero’s gonna try to disarm the revolutionary army and depend entirely on the Federal army for his protection…. The army he’s just been fighting against.

How do you think that’s gonna go?



Direct download: Revolution_1.2_2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:06pm EDT

Adding comments is not available at this time.