Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War

Porfirio Díaz led two rebellions against the Mexican government. The first, against Benito Juárez, was unsuccessful, but the second, against Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, led to Díaz’s heavy-handed presidency, Mexico’s economic riches and its modernization, and, ultimately, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

Summary of Event

The Republic of Mexico experienced several decades of fratricidal warfare after achieving its independence from Spain in 1821. The two opposing parties, the liberals and the conservatives, fought each other for the control of the country’s political and economic future. The liberals sought to introduce democratic government to Mexico while the conservatives hoped to preserve power in the hands of an elitist group that would guide the country to economic development without interference from the general public. Mexico;civil war
Juárez, Benito
Díaz, Porfirio
[kw]Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War (1871-1876)
[kw]Drives Mexico into Civil War, Díaz (1871-1876)
[kw]Mexico into Civil War, Díaz Drives (1871-1876)
[kw]Civil War, Díaz Drives Mexico into (1871-1876)
[kw]War, Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil (1871-1876)
Mexico;civil war
Juárez, Benito
Díaz, Porfirio
[g]Central America and the Caribbean;1871-1876: Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War[4480]
[g]Mexico;1871-1876: Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War[4480]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1871-1876: Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War[4480]
[c]Government and politics;1871-1876: Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War[4480]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;1871-1876: Díaz Drives Mexico into Civil War[4480]
Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián

By December, 1860, the liberals, under the Zapotec Indian Benito Juárez, finally seized control of the central government. As president, Juárez sought to break the power of the Roman Catholic Church Mexico;and Roman Catholic Church[Roman Catholic Church]
Roman Catholic Church;in Mexico[Mexico] by confiscating its tremendous wealth. The conservatives responded by seeking to establish a Mexican monarchy. European powers Spain, France, and Great Britain, owed money by the Mexican government, joined conservatives in late 1861, persuading an Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian Maximilian Joseph van Habsburg, to become emperor of Mexico. French emperor Napoleon III furnished Maximilian with an army to help him secure the throne. At first the imperialists succeeded, winning several pitched battles against the poorly armed and poorly led Mexican regulars. Juárez, however, did not give up.

Using guerrilla tactics, Juárez began a war of attrition against the French. Napoleon became disenchanted with the struggle and ultimately withdrew the French army. Lacking support among the Mexican population, Maximilian was forced to abdicate in 1867 and was executed by Juárez in June. Finally, Juárez once again resumed his leadership of the country and continued with his democratic reforms.

Porfirio Díaz.

(R. S. Peale/J. A. Hill)

Mexico did not remain at peace long, however. Porfirio Díaz, one of Juárez’s most successful generals, chose to run against him in the presidential elections of 1867. A mestizo (of mixed race), Díaz enjoyed tremendous popularity with the Mexican people. He had beaten French invasion forces in three open-field battles in May, 1862, and had confused them with his hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Nevertheless, Juárez won the presidential election with 72 percent of the popular vote. He won again in 1871, when he was again opposed by Díaz, who split the remaining votes with Sebastián Lerdo Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián de Tejada, another of Juárez’s followers.

Arguing that the 1871 election was not an honest one, Díaz attempted to organize a revolt, called the Plan de La Noria, named for his hacienda in Oaxaca. Díaz began organizing the insurrection months before. Despite his appeal to his old comrades-in-arms, Díaz garnered little support among the military. Federal forces defeated the Díaz forces at Puebla in 1871 and at Zacatecas in 1872.

Fortunately for Díaz and his political future, Juárez, regarded by many Mexicans as their greatest hero because of his defeat of Maximilian and the French, died after a heart attack in mid-1872. The followers of Juárez and Lerdo quickly secured Lerdo’s appointment as interim president. Lerdo, who had held the office of president of the Mexican supreme court to this point, quickly granted amnesty to Díaz’s followers, and they accepted the offer. Lerdo added to his laurels by winning the 1872 presidential election as well. Although the new president had the reputation for being an intellectual, he lacked, as it turned out, both the perception of what needed to be done as well as the necessary charisma to manage the presidency itself.

In December, 1875, while Díaz was headquartered in what is now Brownsville, Texas, he began a carefully planned rebellion (now called the revolution of Tuxtepec) to overthrow the Lerdo government. He and his followers asserted that Lerdo Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián had violated the tenets of the sacrosanct constitution of 1857 and, therefore, should be removed from office. On November 16, 1876, Díaz commanded the insurrectionist army that defeated the federal troops at Tecoac, Puebla.

Díaz was to hold the office of president until 1911, with the exception of the 1880 to 1884 period, when he permitted a subordinate, General Manuel Gonzalez Gonzalez, Manuel , to hold the office. Gonzalez, however, proved unequal to the task of running the country, so Díaz assumed the presidency once more. From 1884 until forced out of office by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Díaz maintained tight political control over the country, allowing no civil disruption of any consequence to interrupt Mexico’s strong economic growth. The days of frequent rebellions had come to an end.

Sensing an investment opportunity, foreign interests began to pour money into what had become a peaceful and well-governed country. Soon Mexico had a thriving import-export trade, with hundreds of factories, a countrywide railway system, and modern port facilities to move the exports. The president made it a point to reward those of his followers who helped him build and maintain the country’s industrial growth. He also selected the candidates for appointment as electors to ensure his continuation in office. He sought and supported the candidacy of governors, who were prepared to work within his program as well. The Díaz government also maintained a balanced budget, ensured sustenance by an effective system of taxation. Under the pragmatic political management system of the Díaz regime, Mexico became a modern nation.


Although Porfirio Díaz’s administration played a major role in ushering Mexico into the modern world of the twentieth century, its activities also led to the country’s greatest upheaval, the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Mexican Revolution (1910) The major cause of the revolution, an economic and political disaster, lay in the uneven distribution of wealth generated by the administration’s recently established economic program. Only a chosen few derived the program’s benefits. Factory owners repressed their workers, plantation owners exploited the rural peasants under their control, and political power was concentrated solely in the hands of Díaz and his supporters.

During the presidential elections of 1910, Francisco Madero Madero, Francisco , a wealthy landowner from the northern state of Coahuila, launched a movement to open Mexico to democracy. He formed the Antireelectionist Party, seeking to defeat Díaz at the polls. The government arrested and jailed Madero for his stand, and the incumbent Díaz again won the presidency in an election that he closely controlled.

Escaping to the United States the same year, Madero began to organize an armed revolution to break Díaz’s hold on the country. Soon the armies of the revolution, led by now-legendary figures such as Francisco (Pancho) Villa and Emiliano Zapata, defeated the federal armies in the field. Soon thereafter, in 1911, Díaz was forced to resign and leave the country. Madero had started Mexico on the road to democracy.

Further Reading

  • Beals, Carleton. Porfirio Díaz, Dictator of Mexico. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1932. The author conducted extensive interviews with Porfirio Díaz, providing an intimate look at the personality of the president
  • Creelman, James. Díaz, Master of Mexico. New York: D. Appleton, 1911. A pro-Díaz study written prior to the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
  • Garner, Paul. Porfirio Díaz: Profiles In Power. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2001. A modern biography based on previously unreleased archival documents.
  • Godoy, Jose F. Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910. Published during the 1910 Mexican Revolution and at the end of the Díaz presidency.
  • Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. A history of modern Mexico that includes an overview of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
  • Perry, Laurens Ballard. Juárez and Díaz: Machine Politics in Mexico. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1978. One of the better biographies on Díaz.
  • Turner, John Kenneth. Barbarous Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969. A biased and extremely negative view of Díaz, his presidency, and the state of Mexico during his administration.
  • Wasserman, Mark. Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth Century Mexico: Men, Women, and War. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000. Part 2, “The Age of Civil Wars,” describes Mexican history, politics, economics, and everyday life from 1848 through 1876.

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