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Title: Porfiriato  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: History of Mexico, Yucatán, Mexican Revolution, Durango, China Poblana, Zamora, Michoacán, Sexenio (Mexico), Economic history of Mexico, Santa Fe, Mexico City, Colonia del Valle
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Template:Culture of Mexico The history of Mexico, a country located in the southern portion of North America, covers a period of more than two millennia. First populated more than 13,000 years ago,[1] the country produced complex indigenous civilizations before being conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century.

Since the Spanish conquest, Mexico has fused its long-established native civilizations with European culture. Perhaps nothing better represents this hybrid background than Mexico's languages: the country is both the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and home to the largest number of Native American language speakers in North America. From 1519, the Spaniards absorbed the native peoples into Spain's vast colonial empire. For three centuries Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, and during this period the current Spanish-speaking, Catholic and Westernized Mexican culture was born. After a protracted struggle Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1810. In 1846, the Mexican American War broke out, ending two years later with Mexico ceding almost half of its territory to the United States.

Later in the 19th century, France invaded Mexico (1861) and set Maximilian I on the Mexican throne, which lasted until 1867. A half-century of economic stagnation and political chaos ended as Porfirio Díaz held power and promoted order and the modernization of the society and economy. Mexico's infrastructure was modernized by a strong, stable central government. Increased tax revenues and better administration brought dramatic improvements in public safety, public health, railways, mining, industry, foreign trade, and national finances. Little had been done for the nation's poor, and they revolted in the Mexican Revolution (1910–1929). Roaming armies killed a tenth of the nation's population, but the Revolution freed the peons from the system of large haciendas that had originated with the Spanish Conquest.

The center-left Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) controlled national and state politics after 1929, and nationalized the oil industry in the 1930s. The population grew rapidly even as millions moved to the United States. Mexico's economy was further integrated with the U.S. after the NAFTA agreement began lowering trade barriers in 1994. Seven decades of PRI rule ended in the year 2000 with the election of Vicente Fox of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). In the face of extremely violent drug wars, the PRI returned to power in 2012, promising that it had reformed itself.


Prehistory and pre-Columbian civilizations

Main article: Pre-Columbian Mexico

The pre-history of Mexico is known through the work of archaeologists and epigraphers.

Accounts written by the Spanish at the time of their conquest (the conquistadores) and by indigenous chroniclers of the post-conquest period constitute the principal source of information regarding Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

While relatively few parchments (or codices) of the Mixtec and Aztec cultures of the Post-Classic period survive, progress has been made in the area of Maya archaeology and epigraphy.[2]


The presence of people in Mesoamerica was once thought to date back 40,000 years, an estimate based on what were believed to be ancient footprints discovered in the Valley of Mexico; but after further investigation using radiocarbon dating, it appears this date may not be accurate.[3] It is currently unclear whether 23,000-year-old campfire remains found in the Valley of Mexico are the earliest human remains uncovered so far in Mexico.[4]

The first people to settle in Mexico encountered a climate far milder than the current one. In particular, the Valley of Mexico contained several large paleo-lakes surrounded by dense forest. Bison and deer roamed in large numbers. Such conditions encouraged the pursuit of a hunter-gatherer existence.

Corn, squash, and beans

The diet of ancient Mexico was varied, including corn (or maize), squashes such as pumpkin and butternut squash, common or pinto beans, tomatoes, peppers, cassava, pineapples, chocolate, and tobacco. The Three Sisters (corn, squash, and beans) constituted the principal diet.

Indigenous peoples in western Mexico began to selectively breed maize (Zea mays) plants from precursor grasses (e.g., teosinte) around 8000 BC,[5] and intensive corn farming began between 1800 and 1500 BC.


The Mesoamerican had the concept of god and religion, but were very different from Abrahamic concepts. The Mesoamericans had a belief where everything, every element of the cosmos, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, which mankind inhabits, everything that forms part of nature such as animals, plants, water and mountains all represented a manifestation of the supernatural. In most cases gods and goddesses are often depicted in stone reliefs, pottery decoration, wall paintings and in the various Maya, Aztec and Mixtec codices.

The spiritual pantheon was vast and extremely complex. However, many of the deities depicted are common to the various civilizations and their worship survived over long periods of time. They frequently took on different characteristics and even names in different areas, but in effect they transcended cultures and time. Great masks with gaping jaws and monstrous features in stone or stucco were often located at the entrance to temples, symbolizing a cavern or cave on the flanks of the mountains that allowed access to the depths of Mother Earth and the shadowy roads that lead to the underworld.[6]

Cults connected with the jaguar and jade especially permeated religion throughout Mesoamerica. Jade, with its translucent green color was revered along with water as a symbol of life and fertility. The jaguar, agile, powerful and fast, was especially connected with warriors and as spirit guides of shamans. Despite differences of chronology or geography, the crucial aspects of this religious pantheon were shared amongst the people of ancient Mesoamerica.[6]

Thus, this quality of acceptance of new gods to the collection of existing gods may have been one of the shaping characteristics for the success during the Christianization of Mesoamerica. New gods did not at once replace the old; they initially joined the ever growing family of deities or were merged with existing ones that seemed to share similar characteristics or responsibilities.[6]


Mesoamerica is the only place in the Americas where indigenous writing systems were invented and used before European colonization. While the types of writing systems in Mesoamerica range from minimalist "picture-writing" to complex logophonetic systems capable of recording speech and literature, they all share some core features that make them visually and functionally distinct from other writing systems of the world.[7]

The major pre-Columbian civilizations

During the pre-Columbian period, many city-states, kingdoms, and empires competed with one another for power and prestige. Ancient Mexico can be said to have produced five major civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan,Toltec, and Aztec. Unlike other indigenous Mexican societies, these civilizations (with the exception of the politically fragmented Maya) extended their political and cultural reach across Mexico and beyond.

They consolidated power and exercised influence in matters of trade, art, politics, technology, and religion. Over a span of 3,000 years, other regional powers made economic and political alliances with them; many made war on them. But almost all found themselves within their spheres of influence.

The Olmec (1400–400 BC)

Main article: Olmec

The Olmec first appeared along the Atlantic coast (in what is now the state of Tabasco) in the period 1500-900 BC. The Olmecs were the first Mesoamerican culture to produce an identifiable artistic and cultural style, and may also have been the society that invented writing in Mesoamerica. By the Middle Preclassic Period (900-300 BC), Olmec artistic styles had been adopted as far away as the Valley of Mexico and Costa Rica.

The Maya

Main article: Maya civilization

Mayan cultural characteristics, such as the rise of the ahau, or king, can be traced from 300 BC onwards. During the centuries preceding the classical period, Mayan kingdoms sprang up in an area stretching from the Pacific coasts of southern Mexico and Guatemala to the northern Yucatán Peninsula. The egalitarian Mayan society of pre-royal centuries gradually gave way to a society controlled by a wealthy elite that began building large ceremonial temples and complexes.

The earliest known long-count date, 199 AD, heralds the classic period, during which the Mayan kingdoms supported a population numbering in the millions. Tikal, the largest of the kingdoms, alone had 500,000 inhabitants, though the average population of a kingdom was much smaller—somewhere under 50,000 people. When the Spaniards came, they brought disease, guns, and steel. With those tools they wiped out most of Mayan civilization.

The Teotihuacan

Main article: Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramidal structures, Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the Avenue of the Dead, and numerous colorful, well-preserved murals. Additionally, Teotihuacan produced a thin orange pottery style that spread through Mesoamerica.[8]

The city is thought to have been established around 100 BCE and continued to be built until about 250 CE.[9] The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries CE. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. At this time it may have had more than 200,000 inhabitants, placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period. Teotihuacan was even home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate this large population.[9]

The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano. Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacano presence can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The Aztecs may have been influenced by this city. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multiethnic state.

The Toltec

Main article: Toltec

The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology (ca 800–1000 CE). The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tollan (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization, indeed in the Nahuatl language the word "Toltec" came to take on the meaning "artisan".

The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec empire giving lists of rulers and their exploits. Among modern scholars it is a matter of debate whether the Aztec narratives of Toltec history should be given credence as descriptions of actual historical events. While all scholars acknowledge that there is a large mythological part of the narrative some maintain that by using a critical comparative method some level of historicity can be salvaged from the sources, whereas others maintain that continued analysis of the narratives as sources of actual history is futile and hinders access to actual knowledge of the culture of Tula, Hidalgo.

Other controversy relating to the Toltecs include how best to understand reasons behind the perceived similarities in architecture and iconography between the archaeological site of Tula and the Maya site of Chichén Itzá – no consensus has emerged yet about the degree or direction of influence between the two sites.

The Aztec Empire (1325–1521 AD)

Main article: Aztec Empire

The Nahua peoples began to enter central Mexico in the 6th century AD. By the 12th century, they had established their center at Azcapotzalco, the city of the Tepanecs.

The Mexica people arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1248 AD. They had migrated from the deserts north of the Rio Grande over a period traditionally said to have been 100 years. They may have thought of themselves as the heirs to the prestigious civilizations that had preceded them. What the Aztec initially lacked in political power, however, they made up for with ambition and military skill. In 1325, they established the biggest city in the world at that time, Tenochtitlan.

Aztec religion was based on the belief of the constant offering of human blood to continue functioning; to meet this need, the Aztec sacrificed thousands of people. This belief is thought to have been common throughout Nahuatl people. To acquire captives in times of peace, the Aztec resorted to a form of ritual warfare called flower war. The Tlaxcalteca, among other Nahuatl nations, were forced into such wars.

In 1428, the Aztec led a war of liberation against their rulers from the city of Azcapotzalco, which had subjugated most of the Valley of Mexico's peoples. The revolt was successful, and the Aztecs became the rulers of central Mexico as the leaders of the Triple Alliance. The alliance was composed of the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan.

At their peak, 350,000 Aztec presided over a wealthy tribute-empire comprising 10 million people, almost half of Mexico's estimated population of 24 million. Their empire stretched from ocean to ocean, and extended into Central America. The westward expansion of the empire was halted by a devastating military defeat at the hands of the Purepecha (who possessed weapons made of copper). The empire relied upon a system of taxation (of goods and services), which were collected through an elaborate bureaucracy of tax collectors, courts, civil servants, and local officials who were installed as loyalists to the Triple Alliance.

By 1519, the Aztec capital, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the site of modern-day Mexico City, was one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of 30,000 (estimates range as high as 60,000).

The Spanish conquest

Mesoamerica on the eve of the conquest

The first mainland explorations were followed by a phase of inland expeditions and conquest. The Spanish crown extended the Reconquista effort, completed in Spain in 1492, to non-Catholic people in new territories. In 1502 on the coast of present day Colombia, near the Gulf of Urabá, Spanish explorers led by Vasco Núñez de Balboa explored and conquered the area near the Atrato River.[10]

The conquest was of the Chibchan speaking nations, mainly the Muisca and Tairona indigenous people that lived here. The Spanish founded San Sebastian de Uraba in 1509—abandoned within the year, and in 1510 the first permanent Spanish mainland settlement in America, Santa María la Antigua del Darién.[10]

The first Europeans to arrive in what is modern day Mexico were the survivors of a Spanish shipwreck in 1511. Only two managed to survive Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero until further contact was made with Spanish explorers years later. On 8 February 1517 an expedition led by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba left the harbor of Santiago de Cuba to explore the shores of southern Mexico.

During the course of this expedition many of Hernández' men were killed, most during a battle near the town of Champotón against a Maya army. He himself was injured, and died a few days shortly after his return to Cuba. This was the Europeans' first encounter with an advanced civilization in the Americas, with solidly built buildings and a complex social organization which they recognized as being comparable to those of the Old World. Hernán Cortés led a new expedition to Mexico landing ashore at present day Veracruz on 22 April 1519, a date which marks the beginning of 300 years of Spanish hegemony over the region.

There is a difference in the 'Spanish conquest of Mexico' between the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest of Yucatán. The former is conquest of the campaign, led by Hernán Cortés from 1519–21 and his Tlaxcala and other 'indigenous peoples' allied against the Mexica/Aztec empire. The Spanish conquest of Yucatán is the much longer campaign, from 1551 to 1697, against the Maya peoples of the Maya civilization in the Yucatán Peninsula of present day Mexico and northern Central America.

The aftermath

Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs, and the Tlaxcalteca

Tenochtitlan had been almost totally destroyed by fire and cannon shots. Those Aztecs who survived were forbidden to live in the city and the surrounding isles, and they went to live in Tlatelolco.

Cortés imprisoned the royal families of the valley. To prevent another revolt, he personally tortured and killed Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec Emperor; Coanacoch, the King of Texcoco, and Tetlepanquetzal, King of Tlacopan.

The Spanish had no intentions of turning over Tenochtitlan to the Tlaxcalteca. While Tlaxcalteca troops continued to help the Spaniards, and Tlaxcala received better treatment than other indigenous nations, the Spanish eventually disowned the treaty. Forty years after the conquest, the Tlaxcalteca had to pay the same tribute as any other indigenous community.

  • Political. Apparently, Cortes favored maintaining the political structure of the Aztecs, subject to relatively minor changes.
  • Religious. Cortes immediately banned human sacrifice throughout the conquered empire. Evangelization began in the mid-1520s and continued in the 1530s. Many of the evangelists learned the native languages and recorded aspects of native culture, providing a principal source for our knowledge about them. By 1560, more than 800 clergy were working to convert Indians in New Spain. By 1580, the number grew to 1,500 and by 1650, to 3,000.
  • Economics. The Spanish colonizers introduced the encomienda system of forced labor. The indigenous peoples would be grouped onto collective-like plantations where they would become serfs. The encomienda system successfully prevented any upward, social mobility for the indigenous peoples. The Spanish also used forced labor, often outright slavery, in mining. Indigenous peoples would be enslaved and often worked to death mining for gold and silver. Spain discouraged foreign investment by countries other than Spain. As a result, the Mexican economy remained relatively backwards and lethargic until the end of the Spanish colonization.

Analysis of the defeat

Military Tactics. The Alliance's use of ambush during indigenous ceremonies allowed the Spanish to avoid fighting the best Aztec warriors in direct armed battle, such as during The Feast of Huitzilopochtli.

Smallpox and its Toll. Smallpox (Variola major and Variola minor) began to spread in Mesoamerica immediately after the arrival of Europeans. The indigenous peoples, who had no immunity to it, eventually died in the hundreds of thousands. A third of all the natives of the Valley of Mexico succumbed to it within six months of the arrival of the Spanish.

The colonial period (1521–1810)

Main article: New Spain

The capture of Tenochtitlan marked the beginning of a 300-year-long colonial period, during which Mexico was known as "New Spain".

Period of the conquest (1521–1650)

Contrary to a widespread misconception, Spain did not conquer all of the Aztec Empire when Cortes took Tenochtitlan. It required another two centuries to complete the conquest: rebellions broke out within the old Empire and wars continued with other native peoples.

After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it took decades of sporadic warfare to subdue the rest of Mesoamerica. Particularly fierce was the Chichimeca War (1576–1606) in the north.

Economics. The Council of Indies and the mendicant establishments, which arose in Mesoamerica as early as 1524, labored to generate capital for the crown of Spain and convert the Indian populations to Catholicism. During this period and the following Colonial periods the sponsorship of mendicant friars and a process of religious syncretism combined the Pre-Hispanic cultures with Spanish socio-religious tradition.

The resulting hodgepodge of culture was a pluriethnic State that relied on the "repartimiento", a system of peasant "Republic of Indians" labor that carried out any necessary work. Thus, the existing feudal system of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican culture was replaced by the encomienda feudal-style system of Spain, probably adapted to the pre-Hispanic tradition. This in turn was finally replaced by a debt-based inscription of labor that led to widespread revitalization movements and prompted the revolution that ended colonial New Spain.

Evolution of the Race. During the three centuries of colonial rule, less than 700,000 Spaniards, most of them men, settled in Mexico. The settlers intermarried with indigenous women, fathering the mixed race (mestizo) descendents who today constitute the majority of Mexico's population.

The colonial period (1650–1810)

During this period, Mexico was part of the much larger Viceroyalty of New Spain, which included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America as far south as Costa Rica, the southwestern United States including Florida, and the Philippines. The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés had conquered the great empire of the Aztecs and established New Spain as the largest and most important of all Spanish colonies. Spain during the 16th century focused its energies on areas with dense populations that had produced Pre-Columbian civilizations, since these areas could provide the settlers with a disciplined labor force and a population to catechize.

Territories populated by nomadic peoples were harder to conquer, and though the Spanish did explore a good part of North America, seeking the fabled "El Dorado", they made no concerted effort to settle the northern desert regions in what is now the United States until the end of 16th century (Santa Fe, 1598).

Colonial law with Spanish roots but native originalities was introduced, creating a balance between local jurisdiction (the Cabildos) and the Crown's, whereby upper administrative offices were closed to the natives, even those of pure Spanish blood. Administration was based on the racial separation of the population between the Republics of Spaniards, Indians and Mestizos, autonomous and directly dependent on the king himself. The population of New Spain was divided into four main groups, or classes. The group a person belonged to was determined by tho things: racial background and place of birth. The most powerful group was the Spaniards, people born in Spain and sent across the Atlantic to rule the colony. Only Spaniards could hold high-level jobs in the colonial government.

Members of the second group, called creoles, were people of Spanish background who had been born in Mexico rather than Spain. Many creoles were prosperous landowners and merchants. But even the wealthiest of the creoles had very little say in the government, which was controlled by Spaniards. The third group, the mestizos, had a much lower position in colonial society. The word mestizo means "mixed." A person was a mestizo if some of his ancestors were Spanish and some were Indians. The mestizos were looked down upon by both the Spaniards and the creoles, who held the racist belief that people of pure European background were superior to everyone else.

The poorest, most oppressed group in New Spain was the Indians, the original people of the land. The other groups constantly mistreated and took advantage of them. Indians were forced to work as laborers on the ranches and farms (called haciendas) of the Spaniards and creoles. In addition to the four main groups, there also some black Africans in colonial Mexico. These black African were imported as laborers and shared the low status of the Indians. They made up about 4 to 5 percent of the population, and their mixed-race descendants, called mulattoes, eventually grew to represent about 9 percent.

From an economic point of view, New Spain was administered principally for the benefit of the Empire and its military and defensive efforts (Mexico provided more than half of the Empire taxes and supported the administration of all North and Central America). Competition with the metropolis was discouraged, and for instance the cultivation of grapes and olives, introduced by Cortez himself, was banned out of fear that these crops would compete with Spain's.

In order to protect the country from the attacks of English, French and Dutch pirates, as well as the Crown's revenue, only two ports were open to foreign trade—Veracruz on the Atlantic and Acapulco on the Pacific. The pirates attacked, plundered and ravaged several cities like Campeche (1557), Veracruz (1568) and Alvarado (1667).

Education was encouraged by the Crown from the very beginning, and Mexico boasts the first primary school (Texcoco, 1523), first university (1551) and the first printing house (1524) of the Americas. Indigenous languages were studied mainly by the religious orders during the first centuries, and became official languages in the so-called Republic of Indians, only to be outlawed and ignored after independence by the prevailing Spanish-speaking creoles.

Mexico produced important cultural achievements during the colonial period, like the literature of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Ruiz de Alarcón, as well as cathedrals, civil monuments, forts and colonial cities such as Puebla, Mexico City, Querétaro, Zacatecas and others, today part of Unesco's World Heritage.

The syncretism between indigenous and Spanish cultures gave way in New Spain to many of nowadays Mexican staple and world-famous cultural traits like tequila (first distilled in the 16th century), mariachi (18th), jarabe (17th), charros (17th) and the highly prized Mexican cuisine, fruit of the mixture of European and indigenous ingredients and techniques.

The creoles, mestizos, and Indians often disagreed. But all three resented the small minority of Spaniards who had all the political power. By the early 1800s many native-born Mexicans were beginning to think that Mexico should become independent of Spain, following the example of the United States. The man who finally touched off the revolt against Spain was the Catholic priest Father Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla [ee-DAHL-go ee coss_TEE-ya]. He is remembered today as the Father of Mexican Independence.

Mexican independence and the 19th century (1807–1910)

  Treaty of Córdoba
  Acquisitions (1821-1822)

After independence, Mexican politics was chaotic, with the presidency changing hands 75 times in the next 55 years (1821–76).[11] Mexico was poorer (in per capita terms) in 1876 than it was in 1821. Some commentators explain Mexico's slow economic growth before 1876 in terms of the negative impact of Spanish rule, the concentration of landholding in the hands of a few families, and the reactionary role of the Catholic Church. Coatsworth rejects those arguments and says the chief obstacles were poor transportation and inefficient economic organization. Under the Porfiriato regime (1876–1910), economic growth was much faster.[12]

War of Independence

Insurgents, inspired by the record of the American and French Revolutions, saw their opportunity in 1808 as the king abdicated in Madrid and Spain was overwhelmed by war and occupation. The rebellion began as an idealistic peasants' and miners' movement led by a local priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla who issued "The Cry of Dolores" on 16 September 1810; the day is celebrated as Independence Day. Shouting "Independence and death to the Spaniards!" they marched on the capital with a very large, poorly organized army. It was routed by the Spanish and Hidalgo was executed.[13]

Another priest Jose Maria Morelos took over and was more successful in his quest for republicanism and independence. Spain, its reactionary monarchy restored in 1814 after Napoleon's defeat, fought back. Spain executed Morelos in 1815; the scattered insurgents formed guerrilla bands. In 1820 the creoles, led by Augustin de Iturbide, joined the rebellion. The rebels formulated the "Plan of Iguala", demanding an independent constitutional monarchy, a religious monopoly for the Catholic Church, and equality for Spaniards and creoles. On Sept. 27, 1821, Iturbide and the viceroy signed the Treaty of Cordoba whereby Spain granted the demands and withdrew.

After independence (1821–1846)

Mexican Empire

Mexico now had its own government, but at first it was not a good one. Iturbide quickly became a dictator. He even had himself proclaimed emperor of Mexico, copying the ceremony used by Napoleon when he had proclaimed himself emperor of France. No one was allowed to speak against Iturbide. He filled his government with corrupt officials, who became rich by taking bribes and making dishonest business deals.

By 1823, Mexicans of all classes were fed up with Iturbide's corrupt and oppressive rule. They overthrew the emperor and sent him into exile. In 1824, Mexico was proclaimed a republic. The new government adopted a new constitution partly modeled on the constitution of the United States, which guaranteed basic human rights and divided the responsibilities of government between a central government and a number of smaller units known as states.

Mexican Republic

Further information: First Mexican Republic

The United Mexican States (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos), was established on 4 October 1824, after the overthrow of the Mexican Empire of Agustin de Iturbide. In the new constitution, the republic took the name of United Mexican States, and was defined as a representative federal republic, with Catholicism as the official and unique religion.

However, most of the population largely ignored it. When Guadalupe Victoria was followed in office by Vicente Guerrero, gaining the position through a coup after losing the 1828 elections, the Conservative Party saw an opportunity to seize control and led a counter-coup under Anastasio Bustamante, who served as president from 1830 to 1832, and again from 1837 to 1841.

Political developments in the South and North

Santa Anna

The federalists asked Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna to overthrow Bustamante; he did, declaring General Manuel Gómez Pedraza (who won the electoral vote in 1828) as president. Elections were held, and Santa Anna took office in 1832.

Constantly changing political beliefs, as president (he served as president 11 times),[14] in 1834, Santa Anna abrogated the federal constitution, causing insurgencies in the southeastern state of Yucatán and the northernmost portion of the northern state of Coahuila y Tejas. Both areas sought independence from the central government. Negotiations and the presence of Santa Anna's army brought Yucatán to recognize Mexican sovereignty, Santa Anna's army turned to the northern rebellion.

The inhabitants of Tejas, calling themselves Texans and led mainly by relatively recently arrived English-speaking settlers, declared independence from Mexico at Washington-on-the-Brazos on 2 March 1836, giving birth to the Republic of Texas. At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Texan militias defeated the Mexican army and captured General Santa Anna.

In 1845, the U.S. Congress ratified Texas' petition for statehood.

Comanche raids

The northern states grew increasingly isolated, economically and politically, due to prolonged Comanche raids and attacks. New Mexico in particular had been gravitating toward Comancheria. In the 1820s, when the United States began to exert influence over the region, New Mexico had already begun to question its loyalty to Mexico. By the time of the Mexican-American War, the Comanches had raided and pillaged large portions of northern Mexico, resulting in sustained impoverishment, political fragmentation, and general frustration at the inability—or unwillingness—of the Mexican government to discipline the Comanches.[15]


Soon after achieving independence, the Mexican government, in an effort to populate its northern territories, awarded extensive land grants in Coahuila y Tejas to thousands of families from the United States, on condition that the settlers convert to Catholicism and become Mexican citizens. The Mexican government also forbade the importation of slaves. These conditions were largely ignored.[15]

A key factor in the decision to allow Americans in was the belief that they would (a) protect northern Mexico from Comanche attacks and (b) buffer the northern states against U.S. westward expansion. The policy failed on both counts: the Americans tended to settle far from the Comanche raiding zones and used the Mexican government's failure to suppress the raids as a pretext for declaring independence.[15]

The Texas Revolution or Texas War of Independence was a military conflict between Mexico and settlers in the Texas portion of the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas.

The war lasted from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836. However, a war at sea between Mexico and Texas would continue into the 1840s. Animosity between the Mexican government and the American settlers in Texas, as well as many Texas residents of Mexican ancestry, began with the Siete Leyes of 1835, when Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna abolished the federal Constitution of 1824 and proclaimed the more centralizing 1835 constitution in its place.

War began in Texas on October 2, 1835, with the Battle of Gonzales. Early Texian Army successes at La Bahia and San Antonio were soon met with crushing defeat at the same locations a few months later. The war ended at the Battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston led the Texian Army to victory over a portion of the Mexican Army under Santa Anna, who was captured shortly after the battle. The conclusion of the war resulted in the creation of the Republic of Texas in 1836.

The Mexican-American War (1846–1848)

In response to a Mexican massacre of an American army detachment in disputed territory, the U.S. Congress declared war on May 13, 1846; Mexico followed suit on 23 May. The Mexican–American War took place in two theatres: the western (aimed at California) and Central Mexico (aimed at capturing Mexico City) campaigns.

In March 1847, U.S. President James K. Polk sent an army of 12,000 volunteer and regular soldiers under General Winfield Scott to the port of Veracruz. The 70 ships of the invading forces arrived at the city on 7 March and began a naval bombardment. After landing his men, horses, and supplies, Scott began the Siege of Veracruz.[16]

The city (at that time still walled) was defended by Mexican General Juan Morales with 3,400 men. Veracruz replied as best it could with artillery to the bombardment from land and sea, but the city walls were reduced. After 12 days, the Mexicans surrendered. Scott marched west with 8,500 men, while Santa Anna entrenched with artillery and 12,000 troops on the main road halfway to Mexico City. At the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Santa Anna was outflanked and routed.

Scott pushed on to Puebla, Mexico's second largest city, which capitulated without resistance on 1 May—the citizens were hostile to Santa Anna. After the Battle of Chapultepec (13 September 1847), Mexico City was occupied; Scott became its military governor. Many other parts of Mexico were also occupied. Some Mexican units fought with distinction. One of the justly commemorated units was a group of six young Military College cadets (now considered Mexican national heroes). These cadets fought to the death defending their college during the Battle of Chapultepec.

The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which stipulated that a) Mexico must sell its northern territories to the United States for US $15 million; b) the United States would give full citizenship and voting rights, and protect the property rights of Mexicans living in the ceded territories; and c) the United States would assume $3.25 million in debt owed by Mexico to Americans.[17] The war was Mexico's first encounter with a modern well-organized and well-equipped army. The primary reason for Mexico's defeat was its problematic internal situation, which led to a lack of unity and organization for a successful defense.

After the war Washington discovered that a much easier railroad route to California lay slightly south of the Gila River, in Mexico. In 1853, President Santa Anna sold off the Gadsden Strip to the US for $5 million in the Gadsden Purchase. This loss of still more territory provoked considerable outrage among the Mexican populace, but Santa Anna claimed that he needed money to rebuild the army from the war. In the end, he kept or squandered most of it.[18]

The struggle for liberal reform (1855–1872)

Main article: La Reforma

La Reforma was a period halfway through the 19th century characterized by liberal reforms and the transformation of Mexico into a nation state.[19] Mexico had a largely rural population of eight million, half of them poorly educated Indians. The reformers, based in the cities, knew they had to reach out to the countryside. The younger generation of political leaders were shocked at the poor fight Mexico against the United States in 1848, and saw modernization as a way to strengthen the nation.[20]

Notable liberal politicians in the reform period include Benito Juárez, Juan Álvarez, Ignacio Comonfort, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, Melchor Ocampo, José María Iglesias and Santos Degollado. Their strategy was to sharply limit the traditional privileges land holdings of the Catholic Church and thereby revitalize the market in land. However, no class of small peasants identified with the Liberal program emerged. Many merchants acquired land (and control over the associated tenant farmers). Many existing landowners expanded their holdings at peasant expense, and some upwardly mobile ranch owners, often mestizos, acquired land.[20]

The Reforma began with the final overthrow of Santa Anna in the Revolution of Ayutla in 1855. The moderate Liberal Ignacio Comonfort became president. The Moderados tried to find a middle ground between the nation's liberals and conservatives. There is less consensus about the ending point of the Reforma.[21]

Common dates are 1861, after the liberal victory in the Reform War; 1867, after the republican victory over the French intervention in Mexico; and 1876 when Porfirio Díaz overthrew president Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. Liberalism dominated Mexico as an intellectual force into the 20th century. Liberals championed reform and supported republicanism, capitalism, and individualism; they fought to reduce the Church's reactionary roles in education, land ownership and politics.[21]

The 1857 Constitution

Colonel Ignacio Comonfort became president in 1855 after a revolt based in Ayutla overthrew Santa Anna. Comonfort was a moderate liberal who tried to maintain an uncertain coalition, but the moderate liberals and the radical liberals were unable to resolve their sharp differences. During his presidency, the Constitution of 1857 was drafted creating the Second Federal Republic of Mexico. The new constitution restricted some of the Catholic Church's traditional privileges, land holdings, revenues and control over education.[22]

It granted religious freedom, stating only that the Catholic Church was the favored faith. The anti-clerical radicals scored a major victory with the ratification of the constitution, because it weakened the Church and enfranchised illiterate commoners. The constitution was unacceptable to the clergy and the conservatives, and they plotted a revolt. With the "Plan of Tacubaya" in December 1857, Comonfort tried to regain the popular support from the growing conservative pro-clerical movement. The liberals failed, however, as conservative General Félix Zuloaga succeeded in a coup in the capital in January, 1858.[22]

The War of Reform (1857-1861)

The revolt led to the War of Reform (December 1857 to January 1861), which grew increasingly bloody as it progressed and polarized the nation's politics. Many Moderates, convinced that the Church's political power had to be curbed, came over to the side of the Liberals.

For some time, the Liberals and Conservatives simultaneously administered separate governments, the Conservatives from Mexico City and the Liberals from Veracruz. The war ended with a Liberal victory, and liberal President Benito Juárez moved his administration to Mexico City.

French intervention and the Second Mexican Empire (1861–1867)

In the 1860s, the country was invaded by France, which installed Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, with support from the Church, conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities. Although the French suffered an initial defeat (the Battle of Puebla—now commemorated as the Cinco de Mayo holiday), they eventually defeated the Mexican army and set Maximilian on the throne. The Mexican-French monarchy set up administration in Mexico City, governing from the National Palace.[23]

Maximilian's consort was Empress Carlota of Mexico. The Imperial couple chose as their home Chapultepec Castle. The Imperial couple noticed how the people of Mexico (and especially the Indians) were mal-treated, and wanted to ensure their human rights. They were interested in a Mexico for the Mexicans, and did not share the views of Napoleon III, who was more interested in exploiting the rich mines in the northwest of the country, and the possibility of growing cotton.[23]

Maximilian was a liberal: he favored the establishment of a limited monarchy, one that would share its powers with a democratically elected congress. This was too liberal to please Mexico's conservatives, while the liberals refused to accept any monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico. Meanwhile Juárez kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention.

France never made a profit in Mexico and increasingly the Mexican expedition grew unpopular. Finally in the spring of 1865, with the Civil War over, the United States demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico; Napoleon III quietly complied. In mid-1867, following repeated losses in battle to the Republican Army and ever decreasing support from Napoleon III, Maximilian was captured and executed. Juárez remained in office until his death in 1872.

Juarez and the restoration of the republic (1867–1872)

In 1867, the republic was restored and Juárez reelected; he continued to implement his reforms. In 1871, he was elected a second time, much to the dismay of his opponents within the Liberal party, who considered reelection to be somewhat undemocratic. Juárez died one year later and was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada.

Part of Juarez's reforms included fully secularizing the country. The Catholic Church was barred from owning property aside from houses of worship and monasteries, and education and marriage were put in the hands of the state.

The Porfiriato (1876–1910)

The dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911) was dedicated to order—which meant the rule by law and the suppression of violence—and modernization of all aspects of the society and economy.[24] Diaz was an astute politician who built a national base of supporters; to avoid antagonizing Catholics he avoided enforcement of the anticlerical laws (but they remained on the books.) During this period, the country's infrastructure was greatly improved, thanks to increased foreign investment from Britain and the U.S., and a strong, stable central government.[25]

Increased tax revenues and better administration brought dramatic improvements in public safety, public health, railways, mining, industry, foreign trade, and national finances. He modernized the army and suppressed some banditry. After a half-century of stagnation, where per capita income was merely a tenth of the developed nations such as Britain and the U.S., the Mexican economy took off and grew at an annual rate of 2.3% (1877 to 1910), which was quite high by world standards.[25]

Mexico moved from ridicule to international pride. As traditional ways were under challenge, urban Mexicans debated national identity, the rejection of indigenous cultures, the new passion for French culture, and the challenge of creating a modern nation by means of industrialization and scientific modernization.[26]

Order, progress, and dictatorship

In 1876, Lerdo was reelected, defeating Porfirio Díaz. Díaz rebelled against the government with the proclamation of the Plan de Tuxtepec, in which he opposed reelection, in 1876. Díaz managed to overthrow Lerdo, who fled the country, and was named president. Díaz became the new president. Thus began a period of more than 30 years (1876–1911) during which Díaz was Mexico's strong man. He was legally elected president eight times, turning over power once, from 1880 to 1884, to a trusted ally, General Manuel Gonzailez.[27]

This period of relative prosperity and peace is known as the Porfiriato. He remained in power by rigging elections and censoring the press. Possible rivals were destroyed, and popular generals were moved to new areas so they could not build a permanent base of support. Banditry on roads leading to major cities was largely suppressed by the "Rurales", a new police force that he controlled. Banditry remained a major threat in more remote areas, for the Rurales comprised fewer than 1000 men.[27]

The Army was reduced in size from 30,000 to under 20,000 men for such a large country. However the army was modernized, well-trained, and equipped with the latest technology. It was top-heavy with 5,000 officers, many of them elderly but politically well connected veterans of the wars of the 1860s.[28]

The political skills that Diaz used so effectively before 1900 faded, as he and his closest advisors were less open to negotiations with younger leaders. His announcement in 1908 that he would retire in 1911 unleashed a widespread feeling that Diaz was on the way out, and that new coalitions had to be built. He nevertheless ran for reelection but was overthrown in 1911 and forced into exile when Army units rebelled.

Population and public health

Under Díaz, the population grew steadily from 11 million in 1877 to 15 million in 1910. Because of very high infant mortality (22% of new babies died) the life expectancy at birth was only 25.0 years in 1900.[29] Few immigrants arrived. Diaz gave enormous power and prestige to the Superior Health Council, which developed a consistent and assertive strategy using up-to-date international scientific standards. It took control of disease certification; required prompt reporting of disease; and launched campaigns against tropical disease such as yellow fever.[30]


Fiscal stability was achieved by José Yves Limantour (1854–1935) Secretary of the Finance of Mexico from 1893 until 1910. He was the leader of the well-educated technocrats known as Científicos, who were committed to modernity and sound finance. Limantour expanded foreign investment, supported free trade, and balanced the budget for the first time and generated a budget surplus by 1894. However, he was unable to halt the rising cost of food, which alienated the poor.[31]

The American Panic of 1907 was an economic downturn that caused a sudden drop in demand for Mexican copper, silver, gold, zinc, and other metals. Mexico in turn cut its imports of horses and mules, mining machinery, and railroad supplies. The result was an economic depression in Mexico in 1908–09 that soured optimism and raised the level of discontent with the Diaz regime, thus helping to set the stage for revolution in 1910.[32]

Mexico was vulnerable to external shocks because of its weak banking system. The banking system was controlled by a small oligarchy, which typically made long-term loans to their own directors. The banks were the financial arms of extended kinship-based business coalitions that used banks to raise additional capital to expand enterprises. Economic growth was largely based on trade with the United States.

Mexico had few factories by 1880, but then industrialization took hold in the Northeast, especially in Monterrey. Factories produced machinery, textiles and beer, while smelters processed ores. Convenient rail links with the nearby U.S. gave local entrepreneurs from seven wealthy merchant families a competitive advantage over more distant cities. New federal laws in 1884 and 1887 allowed corporations to be more flexible. By the 1920s American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), an American firm controlled by the Guggenheim family, had invested over 20 million pesos and employed nearly two thousand workers smelting copper and making wire to meet the demand for electrical wiring in the U.S. and Mexico.[33]


The modernizers insisted that schools lead the way, and that science replace superstition.[34] They reformed elementary schools by mandating uniformity, secularization, and rationality. This followed international trends in teaching methods. There was an emphasis on punctuality and assiduity as well as the health of children in order to break the traditional peasant habits that hindered industrialization and rationalization.[35] In 1910, the National University was opened as an elite school for the next generation of leaders.

Cities were rebuilt with modernizing architects favoring the latest European styles, especially the Beaux-Arts style, to symbolize the break with the past. A highly visible exemplar was the Federal Legislative Palace, built 1897–1910.[36]

Rural unrest

Tutino examines the impact of the Porfiriato in the highland basins south of Mexico City, which became the Zapatista heartland during the Revolution. Population growth, railways and concentration of land in a few families generated a commercial expansion that undercut the traditional powers of the villagers. There was anxiety and insecurity among the young men regarding the patriarchal roles they had expected to fill. The first signs came in violent crime within families and communities. However, after the defeat of Diaz in 1910 villagers expressed their rage in revolutionary assaults on local elites who had profited most from the Porfiriato. on those who presumed to rule and profit. The young men were radicalized, as they fought for their traditional roles regarding land, community, and patriarchy.[37]

The Mexican Revolution (1910–1929)

The Mexican Revolution was based on popular participation. At first it was based on the peasantry: they demanded land, water, and a more sympathetic national government. Wasserman finds that:

"Popular participation in the revolution and its aftermath took three forms. First, everyday people, though often in conjunction with elite neighbors, generated local issues such as access to land, taxes, and village autonomy. Second, the popular classes provided soldiers to fight in the revolution. Third, local issues advocated by campesinos and workers framed national discourses on land reform, the role of religion, and many other questions."[38]

The Revolution grew increasingly broad based, radical and violent. The Revolution sought far-reaching social and economic reforms by strengthening the state and weakening the conservative forces represented by the Church, the rich landowners, and the foreign capitalist. Different strong men fought bitterly for control of regions; millions of people were uprooted; many died or fled to the United States. The United States intervened and was on the verge of war by 1917, but drew back. Finally in 1920 after many leaders were assassinated peace returned under presidents Álvaro Obregón (1920–24) and Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–28).[39]

First Phase: The Constitution of 1917 (1910–1921)

The election of 1910

In 1910, the 80-year-old Díaz decided to hold an election for another term; he thought he had long since eliminated any serious opposition. However, Francisco I. Madero, an academic from a rich family, decided to run against him and quickly gathered popular support, despite his arrest and imprisonment by Díaz.

When the official election results were announced, it was declared that Díaz had won reelection almost unanimously, with Madero receiving only a few hundred votes in the entire country. This fraud by the Porfiriato was too blatant for the public to swallow, and riots broke out.

On November 20, 1910, Madero prepared a document known as the Plan de San Luis Potosí, in which he called the Mexican people to take up weapons and fight against the Díaz government. Madero managed to flee prison, escaping to San Antonio, Texas, where he began preparations for the overthrow of Díaz—an action today regarded as the start of the Mexican Revolution.

Diaz attempted to use the army to suppress the revolts, but most of the ranking generals were old men close to his own age and they did not act swiftly or with sufficient energy to stem the chaos.

Revolutionary force—led by, among others, Emiliano Zapata in the South, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza—defeated the Federal Army, and Díaz resigned in 1911 for the "sake of the peace of the nation." He went into exile in France, where he died in 1915 at the age of 85.

Violent disagreements (1911–1920)

The revolutionary leaders had many different objectives; revolutionary figures varied from liberals such as Madero to radicals such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. As a consequence, it proved impossible to reach agreement on how to organize the government that emerged from the triumphant first phase of the revolution. This standoff over political principles lead quickly to a struggle for control of the government, a violent conflict that lasted more than 20 years.

Although this period is usually referred to as part of the Mexican Revolution, it might also be termed a civil war. Presidents Francisco I. Madero (1913), Venustiano Carranza (1920), and former revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata (1919) and Pancho Villa (1923) all were assassinated during this period.

Following the resignation of Díaz and a brief reactionary interlude, Madero was elected president in 1911, only to be ousted and killed in 1913 by Victoriano Huerta, one of Diaz' generals. This coup had the support of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, but not that of U.S. President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Huerta's brutality soon lost him domestic support, and the Wilson Administration actively opposed his regime, for example by the naval bombardment of Veracruz.

In 1915, Huerta was overthrown by Venustiano Carranza, a former revolutionary general. Carranza promulgated a new constitution on February 5, 1917. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 still governs Mexico.

On 19 January 1917, a secret message (the Zimmermann Telegram) was sent from the German foreign minister to Mexico proposing joint military action against the United States if war broke out. The offer included material aid to Mexico to assist in the reclamation of territory lost during the Mexican-American War, specifically the American states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Carranza consulted with his generals about this, and was told Mexico was certain to be defeated by its much more powerful neighbor. Zimmermann's message was intercepted and published, and outraged American opinion, leading to a declaration of war in early April. Carranza then formally rejected the offer, and the threat of war with the U.S. eased.[40]

Carranza was assassinated in 1919 during an internal feud among his former supporters over who would replace him as president.

Obregon, Calles and liberalization (1921–1926)

In 1920, Álvaro Obregón, one of Carranza's allies who had plotted against him, became president. His government managed to accommodate all elements of Mexican society except the most reactionary clergy and landlords. As a result, he was able to successfully catalyze social liberalization, particularly in curbing the role of the Catholic Church, improving education, and taking steps toward instituting women's civil rights. Ineligible for reelection, Obregón chose his interior minister Plutarco Elías Calles as his successor. The 1924 Calles presidential campaign was the first populist presidential campaign in the nation's history, as he called for land redistribution and promised equal justice, more education, additional labor rights, and democratic governance.[41] Calles indeed tried to fulfill his promises during his populist phase (1924–26), but entered a repressive anti-Catholic phase (1926–28). Obregon would be assassinated in 1928. The Cristero Wars of 1926–1929, erupted in reaction to the intense official anti-Catholism.

Second Phase: The Cristero War (1926–1929)

Main article: Cristero War

The Cristero War of 1926 to 1929 was a counter-revolution against the Calles regime set off by his persecution of the Catholic Church[42] and specifically the strict enforcement of the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and the expansion of further anti-clerical laws.

A number of articles of the 1917 Constitution were at issue: a) Article 5 (outlawing monastic religious orders); b) Article 24 (forbidding public worship outside of church buildings); and c) Article 27 (restricting religious organizations' rights to own property). Finally, Article 130 took away basic civil rights of the clergy: priests and religious leaders were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press.

The formal rebellions began early in 1927,[43] with the rebels calling themselves Cristeros because they felt they were fighting for Jesus Christ himself. The Cristeros used terrorism, kidnapping, and murder and leaned on the "just war" concept as a rationale for assassination. The laity stepped into the vacuum created by the removal of priests, and in the long run the Church was strengthened.[44] The Cristero War was resolved diplomatically, largely with the help of the U.S. Ambassador, Dwight Whitney Morrow.[45]

The conflict claimed about 90,000 lives: 57,000 on the federal side, 30,000 Cristeros, and civilians and Cristeros killed in anticlerical raids after the war's end. As promised in the diplomatic resolution, the laws considered offensive by the Cristeros remained on the books, but the federal government made no organized attempt to enforce them. Nonetheless, persecution of Catholic priests continued in several localities, fueled by local officials' interpretation of the law.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (1929–2000)

One-party rule

In 1929, the National Mexican Party (PNM) was formed by the president, General Plutarco Elías Calles. The PNM convinced most of the remaining revolutionary generals to hand over their personal armies to the Mexican Army; the party's foundation is thus considered by some the end of the Revolution.

Later renamed the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the new party ruled Mexico for the rest of the 20th century.

The PRI set up a new type of system, led by a caudillo.

The party is typically referred to as the three-legged stool, in reference to Mexican workers, peasants, and bureaucrats.

After its establishment as the ruling party, the PRI monopolized all the political branches: it did not lose a senate seat until 1988 or a gubernatorial race until 1989.[46] It was not until July 2, 2000, that Vicente Fox of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president. His victory ended the PRI's 71-year hold on the presidency.

President Lázaro Cárdenas

President Lázaro Cárdenas came to power in 1934 and transformed Mexico. Cárdenas managed to unite the different forces in the PRI and set the rules that allowed his party to rule unchallenged for decades to come without internal fights. He nationalized the oil industry (on 18 March 1938), the electricity industry, created the National Polytechnic Institute, and started land reform and the distribution of free textbooks to children.[47] In 1936 he exiled Calles, the last general with dictatorial ambitions, thereby removing the army from power.

On the eve of World War II, the Cárdenas administration (1934–1940) was just stabilizing, and consolidating control over, a Mexican nation that, for decades, had been in revolutionary flux,[48] and Mexicans were beginning to interpret the European battle between the communists and fascists, especially the Spanish Civil War, through their unique revolutionary lens. Whether Mexico would side with the United States was unclear during Lázaro Cárdenas' rule, as he remained neutral. "Capitalists, businessmen, Catholics, and middle-class Mexicans who opposed many of the reforms implemented by the revolutionary government sided with the Spanish Falange"[49] i.e., the fascist movement.[50]

Nazi propagandist Arthur Dietrich and his team of agents in Mexico successfully manipulated editorials and coverage of Europe by paying hefty subsidies to Mexican newspapers, including the widely read dailies Excélsior and El Universal.[51] The situation became even more worrisome for the Allies when major oil companies boycotted Mexican oil following Lázaro Cárdenas' nationalization of the oil industry and expropriation of all corporate oil properties in 1938,[52] which severed Mexico's access to its traditional markets and led Mexico to sell its oil to Germany and Italy.[53]

President Manuel Ávila Camacho

Manuel Ávila Camacho, Cárdenas's successor, presided over a "bridge" between the revolutionary era and the era of machine politics under PRI that lasted until 2000. Ávila, moving away from nationalistic autarchy, proposed to create a favorable climate for international investment, favored nearly two generations earlier by Madero. Ávila's regime froze wages, repressed strikes, and persecuted dissidents with a law prohibiting the "crime of social dissolution." During this period, the PRI shifted to the right and abandoned much of the radical nationalism of the early Cardenas era. Miguel Alemán Valdés, Ávila's successor, even had Article 27 amended to protect elite landowners.[54]

Mexico in World War II

Mexico played a minor role militarily in World War Two, but the heavy demand for its exports created a degree of prosperity.[55] In Mexico and throughout Latin America, Franklin Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy" was necessary at such a delicate time. It led to the Douglas-Weichers Agreement in June 1941 that secured Mexican oil only for the United States,[56] and the Global Settlement in November 1941 that ended oil company demands on generous terms for the Mexicans, an example of the U.S. putting national security concerns over the interests of American oil companies.[57]

Following losses of oil ships in the Gulf (the Potrero del Llano and Faja de Oro) to German submarines (U-564 and U-106 respectively) the Mexican government declared war on the Axis powers on 22 May 1942. Perhaps the most famous fighting unit in the Mexican military was the Escuadrón 201, also known as the Aztec Eagles.[58]

This group consisted of more than 300 volunteers, who had trained in the United States to fight against Japan. The Escuadrón 201 was the first Mexican military unit trained for overseas combat, and fought during the liberation of the Philippines, working with the U.S. Fifth Air Force in the last year of the war.[58]

Although most American countries eventually entered the war on the Allies' side, Mexico and Brazil were the only Latin American nations that sent troops to fight overseas during World War II.

With so many draftees, the U.S. needed farm workers. The Bracero Program gave the opportunity for 290,000 of Mexicans to work temporarily on American farms, especially in Texas.[59]

The Mexican Economic Miracle (1930–1970)

During the next four decades, Mexico experienced impressive economic growth (albeit from a low baseline), an achievement historians call "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Economic Miracle. Annual economic growth during this period averaged 3–4 percent, with a modest 3-percent annual rate of inflation.

The miracle, moreover, was solidly rooted in government policy: 1) an emphasis on primary education that tripled the enrollment rate between 1929 and 1949; 2) high tariffs on imported domestic goods; and 3) public investment in agriculture, energy, and transportation infrastructure. Starting in the 1940s, immigration into the cities swelled the country's urban population.

The economic growth occurred in spite of falling foreign investment during the Great Depression. The assumption of mineral rights and subsequent nationalisation of the oil industry into Pemex during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a popular move.

The economic crisis (1970–1994)

Although PRI administrations achieved economic growth and relative prosperity for almost three decades after World War II, the party's management of the economy led to several crises. Political unrest grew in the late 1960s, culminating in the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. Economic crises swept the country in 1976 and 1982, leading to the nationalization of Mexico's banks, which were blamed for the economic problems (La Década Perdida).[60]

On both occasions, the Mexican peso was devalued, and, until 2000, it was normal to expect a big devaluation and recession at the end of each presidential term. The "December Mistake" crisis threw Mexico into economic turmoil—the worst recession in over half a century.

1985 earthquake

On 19 September 1985, an earthquake (8.1 on the Richter scale) struck Michoacán, inflicting severe damage on Mexico City. Estimates of the number of dead range from 6,500 to 30,000.[61] Public anger at the PRI's mishandling of relief efforts combined with the ongoing economic crisis led to a substantial weakening of the PRI. As a result, for the first time since the 1930s, the PRI began to face serious electoral challenges.

Contemporary Mexico

NAFTA and economic resurgence (1994–present)

On 1 January 1994, Mexico became a full member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joining the United States and Canada.[62]

Mexico has a free market economy that recently entered the trillion-dollar class.[63] It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports.

Per capita income is one-quarter that of the United States; income distribution remains highly unequal. Trade with the United States and Canada has tripled since the implementation of NAFTA. Mexico has free-trade agreements with more than 40 countries, governing 90% of its foreign commerce.

President Ernesto Zedillo (in office, 1994–2000)

In 1995, President Ernesto Zedillo faced the "December Mistake" crisis, triggered by a sudden devaluation of the peso. There were public demonstrations in Mexico City and a constant military presence after the 1994 rising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Chiapas.[64]

The United States intervened rapidly to stem the economic crisis, first by buying pesos in the open market, and then by granting assistance in the form of $50 billion in loan guarantees. The peso stabilized at 6 pesos per dollar. By 1996, the economy was growing, and in 1997, Mexico repaid, ahead of schedule, all U.S. Treasury loans.

Zedillo oversaw political and electoral reforms that reduced the PRI's hold on power. After the 1988 election, which was strongly disputed and arguably lost by the government, the IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral – Federal Electoral Institute) was created in the early 1990s. Run by ordinary citizens, the IFE oversees elections with the aim of ensuring that they are conducted legally and impartially.

The end of the PRI's rule

Accused many times of blatant fraud, the PRI held almost all public offices until the end of the 20th century. Not until the 1980s did the PRI lose its first state governorship, an event that marked the beginning of the party's loss of hegemony.[65][66]

President Vicente Fox Quesada (in office, 2000–2006)

Emphasizing the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system and labor laws, integrate with the U.S. economy, and allow private investment in the energy sector, Vicente Fox Quesada, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), was elected the 69th president of Mexico on 2 July 2000, ending PRI's 71-year-long control of the office. Though Fox's victory was due in part to popular discontent with decades of unchallenged PRI hegemony, also, Fox's opponent, president Zedillo, conceded defeat on the night of the election—a first in Mexican history.[67]

A further sign of the quickening of Mexican democracy was the fact that PAN failed to win a majority in both chambers of Congress—a situation that prevented Fox from implementing his reform pledges. Nonetheless, the transfer of power in 2000 was quick and peaceful.

President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006–2012)

President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (PAN) took office after one of the most hotly contested elections in recent Mexican history; Calderón won by such a small margin (.56% or 233,831 votes.)[68] that the runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) contested the results.

Despite imposing a cap on salaries of high-ranking public servants, Calderón ordered a raise on the salaries of the Federal Police and the Mexican armed forces on his first day as president.

Calderón's government also ordered massive raids on drug cartels upon assuming office in December 2006 in response to an increasingly deadly spate of violence in his home state of Michoacán. The decision to intensify drug enforcement operations has led to an ongoing conflict between the federal government and the Mexican drug cartels.

President Enrique Peña Nieto (incumbent)

On July 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto was elected president of Mexico with 38% of the vote. He is a former governor of the state of Mexico and a member of the PRI. His election returned the PRI to power after 12 years of PAN rule. He was officially sworn into office on December 1, 2012.[69]

Mexican Drug War

Main article: Mexican Drug War

Mexico is a major transit and drug-producing nation: an estimated 90% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States every year moves through Mexico.[63] Fueled by the increasing demand for drugs in the United States, the country has become a major supplier of heroin, producer and distributor of ecstasy, and the largest foreign supplier of marijuana and methamphetamine to the U.S.'s market. Major drug syndicates control the majority of drug trafficking in the country, and Mexico is a significant money-laundering center.[63]

After the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004 in the United States, the Mexican President Calderon Hinojosa decided to use brute force to combat some drug lords and in 2007 started a major escalation on the Mexican Drug War.[70] Mexican drug lords found it easy to buy assault weapons in the United States.[71] The result is that drug cartels have now both more gun power, and more manpower due to the high unemployment in Mexico.[72]

Drug cultivation has increased too: Cultivation of opium poppy in 2007 rose to 17,050 acres (69.0 km2), yielding a potential production of 19.84 tons of pure heroin or 55.12 tons of "black tar" heroin. Black tar is the dominant form of Mexican heroin consumed in the western United States. Marijuana cultivation increased to 21,992 acres (89.00 km2) in 2007, yielding a potential production of 17,416.52 tons.

The Mexican government conducts the largest independent illicit-crop eradication program in the world, but Mexico continues to be the primary transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America.[73]

See also


Further reading


  • Alisky, Marvin. Historical Dictionary of Mexico (2nd ed. 2007) 744pp
  • Batalla, Guillermo Bonfil. (1996) Mexico Profundo. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70843-2.
  • Beezley, William, and Michael Meyer. The Oxford History of Mexico (2nd ed. 2010) excerpt and text search
  • Beezley, William, ed. A Companion to Mexican History and Culture (Blackwell Companions to World History) (2011) excerpt and text search
  • MacLachlan, Colin M. and William H. Beezley. El Gran Pueblo: A History of Greater Mexico (3rd ed. 2003) 535pp
  • Fehrenback, T.R. (1995 revised edition) Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico. Da Capo Press.; popular overview
  • Kelly, Joyce. (2001) An Archaeological Guide to Central and Southern Mexico. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3349-X.
  • Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico (Greenwood, 2000) online edition
  • Meyer, Michael C., William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds. The Course of Mexican History (7th ed. Oxford U.P., 2002) online edition
  • Werner, Michael S. ed. Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture (2 vol 1997) online edition

Primary sources

  • Jaffary, Nora E.. et al. eds. Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader (2009) 480pp
  • Joseph, Gilbert M. and Timothy J. Henderson, eds. The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (2003) 808pp excerpt and text search

Prehistory and Pre-Columbian civilizations

  • Adams, Richard E.W. Prehistoric Mesoamerica: Revised Edition. University of Oklahoma Press. 1996. ISBN 0-8061-2834-8.
  • Austin, Alfredo Lopez and Leonardo Lopez Lujan. Mexico's Indigenous Past. University of Oklahoma Press. 2001. ISBN 0-8061-3214-0.
  • Aveni, Anthony. Skywatchers: A Revised and Updated Version of Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico. University of Texas Press. 2001. ISBN 0-292-70502-6.
  • Coe, Michael. Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Thames & Hudson. 2004. 5th edition. ISBN 0-500-28346-X.
  • Diehl, Richard A. The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-02119-8.
  • Knight, Alan. Mexico: Volume 1, From the Beginning to the Spanish Conquest (v. 1 of 3 vol history of Mexico) (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Knopf. 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4006-X.
  • Porterfield, Kay Marie and Emory Dean Keoke. American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. Checkmark Books. 2003. Paperback edition. ISBN 0-8160-5367-7.
  • Schele, Linda and David Friedel. A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. William Morrow. 1990.
  • Soustelle, Jacques. Daily Life of the Aztecs, on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. Stanford University Press. 1970. ISBN 0-8047-0721-9.


  • Hassig, Ross.Mexico and the Spanish Conquest (2nd ed. 2006) excerpt and text search
  • Leon-Portillo, Miguel. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Beacon Press. 1992. excerpt and text search
  • Thomas, Hugh. Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico (1995) excerpt and text search

Primary sources

  • Cortes, Hernan. Letters from Mexico. Yale University Press. Revised edition, 1986.
  • Diaz, Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain. Penguin Classics,

The Colonial era

  • Bakewell, P. J. Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico, Zacatecas 1546–1700 (Cambridge Latin American Studies) (2002)
  • Chevalier, François. Land and Society in Colonial Mexico (1982)
  • Glasco, Sharon Bailey. Constructing Mexico City: Colonial Conflicts over Culture, Space, and Authority (2010)
  • Knight, Alan. Mexico: Volume 2, the Colonial Era (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Ouweneel, Arij. An Ecological Interpretation of Crisis and Development in Central Mexico, 1730–1800 (1996)
  • MacLachlan, Colin M., and Jaime E. Rodriguez O. The Forging of the Cosmic Race: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Mexico (1980)
  • Taylor, William B. "Landed Society in New Spain: A View From the South," Hispanic American Historical Review (1974) 54#3 pp 387–413.

Mexican Independence and the 19th century (1807–1910)

  • Coatsworth, John. Growth against Development: The Economic Impact of Railroads in Porfirian Mexico (1980)
  • Coatsworth, John H. "Obstacles to Economic Growth in Nineteenth-Century Mexico," American Historical Review (1978) 83#1 pp. 80–100 in JSTOR
  • Coatsworth, John H. "Indispensable Railroads in a Backward Economy: The Case of Mexico," Journal of Economic History (1979) 39#4 pp. 939–960 in JSTOR
  • Fowler, Will. Santa Anna of Mexico (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Fowler-Salamini, Heather, and Mary Kay Vaughn, eds. Women of the Mexican Countryside, 1850–1990: Creating Spaces, Shaping Transition (1994).
  • Hamnett, Brian R. Juarez (1994)
  • Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle For Independence, 1810–1830 (John Murray, London, 2000). ISBN 0-7195-5566-3
  • Henderson, Timothy J. The Mexican Wars for Independence (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Riguzzi, Paolo, "From Globalisation to Revolution? The Porfirian Political Economy: An Essay on Issues and Interpretations," Journal of Latin American Studies (2009) 41#2 pp 347–368. DOI:
  • Rodríguez O., Jaime E. "We Are Now the True Spaniards": Sovereignty, Revolution, Independence, and the Emergence of the Federal Republic of Mexico, 1808–1824 (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Scholes, Walter V. Mexican Politics during the Juárez Regime 1855–1872 (University of Missouri Press, 1957)
  • Sinkin, Richard N. The Mexican Reform, 1856–1876:A Study in Liberal Nation-Building (University of Texas Press, 1979)

Primary sources

  • Raat, W. Dirk, ed. Mexico: From Independence to Revolution, 1810–1910 (1982), 308pp; 26 scholarly articles & primary documents


  • Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution, Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants (1990); The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-revolution and Reconstruction (1990)
  • Knight, Alan. "The Mexican Revolution: Bourgeois? Nationalist? Or Just a 'Great Rebellion'?" Bulletin of Latin American Research (1985) 4#2 pp. 1–37 in JTSOR
  • Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo. The Great Rebellion: Mexico, 1905–1924 (1980).
  • Snodgrass, Michael. Deference and Defiance in Monterrey: Workers, Paternalism, and Revolution in Mexico, 1890–1950. Cambridge University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-521-81189-9.
  • Womack, John. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (1968)

Since 1940

  • Bratzel, John, et al. eds. Latin America during World War II (2006) ch 2
  • Camp, Roderic Ai. Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation (5th ed. 2006)
  • Coerver, Don M., Suzanne B. Pasztor, and Robert Buffington, eds. Mexico Today: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary History and Culture (2004) 621pp excerpt and text search
  • Contreras, Joseph. In the Shadow of the Giant: The Americanization of Modern Mexico (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Dent, David W. Encyclopedia of Modern Mexico (2002); since 1940; 376pp
  • Hamilton, Nora. Mexico, Political Social and Economic Evolution (2011)
  • Niblo, Stephen R. Mexico in the 1940s: Modernity, Politics, and Corruption (2000)
  • Preston, Julia, and Samuel Dillon. Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy (2005) in-depth narrative by American journalists on post 1960 era. excerpt and text search

Historiography and memory

  • Benjamin, Thomas, and Marcial Ocasio-Meléndez. "Organizing the Memory of Modern Mexico: Porfirian Historiography in Perspective, 1880s-1980s," Hispanic American Historical Review (1984) 64#2 pp. 323–364 in JSTOR
  • Boyer, Christopher R., ed. Land between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico (U. of Arizona Press, 2012). 328 pp. online review
  • Brienen, Rebecca P., and Margaret A. Jackson, es. Invasion and Transformation: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico (2008)
  • Chorba, Carrie C. Mexico, From Mestizo to Multicultural: National Identity and Recent Representations of the Conquest (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Garrigan, Shelley E. Collecting Mexico: Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity(University of Minnesota Press; 2012) 233 pages; scholarly analysis of Mexico's self-image, 1867–1910, using public monuments, fine-arts collecting, museums, and Mexico's representation at the Paris world's fair
  • Knight, Alan. "Patterns and Prescriptions in Mexican Historiography," Bulletin of Latin American Research (2006) 25#3 pp 340–366
  • Knight, Alan. "The Mexican Revolution: Bourgeois? Nationalist? Or Just a 'Great Rebellion'?" Bulletin of Latin American Research (1985) 4#2 pp. 1–37 in JSTOR
  • Pick, Zuzana M. Constructing the Image of the Mexican Revolution: Cinema and the Archive (University of Texas Press, 2011) online review
  • Young, Eric Van. Writing Mexican History (Stanford University Press; 2012) 338 pages

External links

  • "Historical Text Archive" 160 articles by scholars
  • Hernán Cortés: Página de relación
  • Brown University Library: Three for Three Million –-Information about the Paul R. Dupee Jr. '65 Mexican History Collection in the John Hay Library, including maps and photos of books.
  • Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • Life magazine
  • Mexico: From Empire to Revolution –-Photographs from the Getty Research Institute's collections exploring Mexican history and culture though images produced between 1857 and 1923.
  • A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, the University of Texas at Arlington
  • US-Mexican War –-U.S. political context and overview of the military campaign that ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1816–1848. Provides links to U.S. military sources.
  • Civilizations in America –- An overview of Mexican civilization.
  • Time Line of Mexican History –- A Pre-Columbian History timeline and a timeline of Mexico after the arrival of the Spanish.
  • History of Mexico at The History Channel
  • C.M. Mayo's blog for researchers of Mexico's Second Empire, a period also known as the French Intervention

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