Mexican Revolution Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Aimed against the ruling classes, the violent Mexican Revolution overthrew a dictatorship that had lasted thirty-four years and ushered in more than a decade of political and social disorder that impelled many Mexicans to seek sanctuary in the United States.

Mexico experienced a violent revolution from 1910 to 1928. Initially, rebels sought to overthrow the dictator Díaz, PorfirioPorfirio Díaz, who had been in power since 1876. The disparity between rich and poor was significant in the country, with 75 percent of the population living off agriculture but owning only 5 percent of the land. Díaz had essentially placed control of the country in the hands of the landed class, foreign companies, and the Roman Catholic Church, which was allowed to control its extensive landholdings. The revolution erupted in 1910 under the leadership of an idealistic banker named Madero, Francisco I.Francisco I. Madero, whose supporters included the famous peasant warriors Zapata, EmilianoEmiliano Zapata and Villa, PanchoPancho Villa. Those surrounding Díaz were primarily white elitist Mexicans who rejected the contributions of the 80 percent majority of the population who were Indians or mixed-blood mestizos. The goal of the revolution was to implement land reform, expel dominant foreign companies, and limit the power of the Church. Díaz was quickly defeated,but Madero’s assassination in 1913 was followed by a violent struggle among the remaining leaders.Mexican RevolutionMexican Revolution[cat]WARS;Mexican Revolution[03480][cat]REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS;Mexican Revolution[03480][cat]MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS;Mexican Revolution[03480][cat]PUSH-PULL FACTORS;Mexican Revolution[03480][cat]EVENTS AND MOVEMENTS;Mexican Revolution[03480]

During a decade and a half of almost constant civil war–resulting in the death of more than 250,000 Mexicans, the burning of farms and factories, and the destruction of villages and cities–Mexico’s economic stability was shattered. Both revolutionaries and those of the former ruling classes were left in disarray. As a result, a wave of immigrants began to cross into the United States. In 1909, fewer than 5,000 Mexicans had immigrated to the United States. However, after the revolution began during the following year, that figure jumped to nearly 90,000 immigrants per year. The revolution caused a state of constant turmoil in Mexico, especially among the landless peasants, but from 1914, when the fiercest period of fighting began, even the upper classes began to immigrate in significant numbers. By 1920, more than 900,000 Mexicans had fled north.

U.S. Reaction

During this same period, the U.S. Congress was concerned with the mass of immigrants coming into the United States from southern and eastern Europe. As a result, Congress passed the [a]Immigration Act of 1917;literacy testImmigration Act of 1917, which required immigrants over the age of sixteen to be literate in English or in their own languages. American agricultural interests successfully lobbied the government to exempt Mexican immigrants from the law’s provisions; thus, the flow of Mexicans to serve as agricultural laborers and railroad workers continued unimpeded. Because the Immigration Act of 1921 did not set quotas for immigrants from Latin America, thousands of Mexicans entered the United States on permanent visas annually, with 1924 being the peak year, when 100,000 Mexican immigrants arrived.

In 1917, Mexico’s revolutionary government enacted a new constitution that gave to the state control of all land distribution and outlawed foreign ownership of land. It also severely limited the rights of the Roman Catholics;and Mexican constitution[Mexican constitution]Roman Catholic Church. It nationalized all Church lands, prohibited the Church from any role in education, and limited the power of the clergy, requiring priests to register with the state. Under revolutionary president Calles, Plutarco ElíasPlutarco Elías Calles (1924-1928), the new constitution was harshly implemented, resulting in a revolt of the clergy and their followers in a second stage of the revolution that became known as the Cristero War (1926-1929). This conflict continued the large emigrant flow into the United States, with many immigrants considering themselves to be religious refugees.

The eighteen years of the Mexican Revolution resulted in the first major wave of Mexican immigrants into the United States, totaling nearly two million. These immigrants found life in the United States somewhat natural, as the Southwest, where most of them eventually settled, had for two hundred years been part of Spain or Mexico.Mexican Revolution

Further Reading
  • Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
  • Meyer, Jean A. The Cristero Rebellion: The Mexican People Between Church and State, 1926-1929. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  • Womack, John. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.

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