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General Victoriano Huerta became President of Mexico on 19 February, 1913 following a common pattern in Latin America whereby heads of the military took control over civilian life as well. Although Huerta is generally portrayed as a counter-revolutionary, he significantly increased spending for education particularly for indigenous Mexicans, set up an agricultural ministry, favored British oil interests (they recognized his regime) over those of the U.S., and established a National Labor Office. Some of the roots of subsequent administrations can be found during the 17 months of Huerta’s tenure.

Victoriano Huerta (1854–1916) Becomes Interim President on February 19, 1913

General José Victoriano Huerta Márquez was born on 23 March, 1854 in the western state of Jalisco. He did well at the military academy and later put down many revolts, but he rose in part because of his connections to Bernardo Reyes, the most influential figure in the Porfirian army. President Madero felt Huerta was not completely loyal, but needed his military skills. He ordered the General to pacify three major rebellions - Pascual Orozco in the north, Zapata in South, and Bernardo Reyes and Félix Díaz in the capital. Huerta defeated Orozco, was unable to stop Zapata, and joined the Reyes-Díaz camp, after Reyes’ death.

On 19 February, Generals Huerta and Díaz met with U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson at the U.S. Embassy to design the Pact of the Embassy. Both men agreed to recognize Victoriano Huerta as interim president, but Díaz would run for president with Huerta’s support in 1914. Huerta became President and every governor except Venustiano Carranza of Coahuila recognized him as such. By 21 February the Supreme Court and even Carranza had accepted the new president of Mexico.

Yet later on the same day, President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez were killed. Word of the assassinations inflamed the nation. Many including Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and northerners like Álvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles rebelled against Huerta, whom they dubbed “The Usurper.” Due to the assassinations and the transparency of the cover-up, people around the world began to question Huerta’s legitimacy.

President Victoriano Huerta sitting in the presidential chair in the National Palace in Mexico City. On the president’s right, in the smaller chair, sits former interim president and Secretary of Foreign Relations Francisco León de la Barra. The men standing are the president’s newly appointed cabinet. Bain News Service. [between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915] Prints and Photographs collection, Library of Congress

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The Funeral of Abraham González

Chihuahuan Governor Abraham González was a long-time supporter and political advisor of President Madero and the political mentor of Pancho Villa, having recruited him into the movement against Porfirio Díaz. On 22 February, 1913, the same night President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez were assassinated, the Huerta regime arrested Governor González. The U.S. consul in Chihuahua contacted Huerta’s Governor-General Antonio Rábago, who denied González’s life was endangered and promised to transport him to the U.S. border. González spent nearly two weeks in federal custody and on 6 March 1913 was loaded onto a military train headed south. After 40 miles the train stopped and González got off with his military escort. Federal troops shot González and buried him beside the tracks.

One year later, after Villa managed to recover González’s remains, the people of Chihuahua held a funeral for the slain governor. As the photo demonstrates, González was well liked and became a symbol of the violence of the Huerta regime. Following Huerta’s arrest in New Mexico on conspiracy charges in June 1915, Chihuahua’s governor requested that the former dictator be extradited so that he could be tried for the murder of Abraham González.

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Huerta Goes from Interim President to Dictator

Huerta announced he would hold open presidential elections at an unnamed future date. People thought the elections would be soon because in early March 1913 Félix Díaz proclaimed his candidacy with vice presidential running mate Francisco de la Barra, still well respected for his interim presidency. Their platform was beautifully worded, but vague. Though promising agrarian reform, social reform, electoral reform, honesty and transparency in government and increased freedom for the states, Díaz offered no concrete proposals.

In April 1913, Huerta announced that elections would take place in two months, but Congress first postponed elections indefinitely, and then settled on 26 October. Díaz began campaigning, but Huerta took him out of the running by appointing him ambassador to Japan. Many decided to support an alternative candidate, forming the Junta Unificadora Nacional (the National Unification Party). However, before the party could choose a candidate, Huerta had it suppressed. Many people declared their candidacy: Manuel Calero for the independent liberal movement, David de la Fuente for the Gran Partido Liberal Republicano, Federico Gamboa for the Catholic party, and Francisco Vásquez Gómez for the Anti-reelectionist Party, the political party that began the Revolution. Huerta allowed Félix Díaz to return thinking a credible victory against Díaz would bolster his position. Huerta ordered the Mexican army to vote for him, while telling civilians that he had no plans to run for president. Several of the contenders withdrew, stating that the election would be fraudulent no matter the number of candidates. On 26 October, Election Day, the polls were deserted and the public apathetic. Huerta won the vast majority of the votes because his military supporters were the only ones who voted. Now, he was the legitimate president of Mexico. The Special Electoral Congress confirmed it; Huerta won unanimously.

Published on 23 December 1913 in the New York American, this political cartoon reflects the artist’s disdain for Huerta’s tactics in the election of 1913. Huerta’s military supporters, represented by the mechanical soldiers, hold guns to the heads of Congress members, forcing them to vote in favor of Huerta in fear for their lives. The cartoon was a gift from Caroline and Erwin Swann to the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress in 1974.

Unanimous! Thomas E. Powers, artist. Published in the New York American, 23 December 1913. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-85449

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Huerta's Yaqui Division

Huerta reorganized the federal army creating ten separate divisions each led by a Division General to deal with the threats posed by the Constitutionalists. He added several new divisions specifically for the north. One of these units was the Yaqui Division of Torín, Sonora, commanded by General José María Mier.

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Huerta Goes Bankrupt

The Mexican Revolution incited a downward spiral of economic collapse because the cost of feeding and supplying troops grew while revenues from industry, oil exports, mining, agriculture, and livestock production declined. The fighting destroyed infrastructure, workers became soldiers, and where production continued goods couldn’t get to markets. The U.S. blamed Huerta for the failing economy as showing that Huerta was unfit to lead Mexico to progress and modernization.

Interim President de la Barra used whatever remained in the Treasury to return Mexico to “business as usual,” since former President Madero never implemented policies to increase government income. When Huerta came into office, the Mexican treasury was empty. Huerta had hoped to revive and expand Mexican infrastructure, but these projects had to be deferred as the money was used instead to rebuild the railways needed to transport troops to the front. When stocks in mining and oil, on which the country’s economy depended, plummeted. Mexican bankers panicked, limited loans, raised interest rates to prevent bankruptcy, stopped paying interest on deposits, and changing bank notes for hard cash. Huerta printed more money and the price of basic necessities skyrocketed. In response, the rebels released their own paper currency, but by early 1914, the over 25 different paper currencies in circulation were all worthless.

In May 1913, Huerta negotiated loans from France and England. He needed the money immediately because he wanted to repay President Madero’s loan of 41 million from New York’s Speyer and Company on 10 June. On 8 June, French and English diplomats agreed to lend Huerta 20 million British pounds sterling, almost 60 million pesos. Huerta could repay Mexico’s debt to the U.S. and shore up the domestic economy, but the civil war continued to disrupt Mexican economic production. France and England stopped lending to Mexico and in January 1914 Huerta defaulted on his international interest payments and lost the support of the governments that had sympathized with his regime. U.S. President Wilson used the default to discredit the Huerta government and isolate him from international backers whom he convinced to leave Mexico. Arms manufacturers now demanded hard cash in advance before shipping munitions to Mexico as the peso dropped to an exchange rate of 20 cents to the dollar in March 1914.

The political cartoon, “Leaving his Troubles Behind Him,” drawn by Merle De Vore Johnson in 1914, was published in the New York Journal. The image reflects Mexico when Huerta negotiated an international loan as well as his resignation.

Leaving his troubles behind him. Merle De Vore Johnson, artist. Published in the New York Journal, [1914]. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-acd-2a09752

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Huerta Resigns on July 15, 1914

Huerta’s last hope for his presidency died with Villa’s victory at Torreón. As the Constitutionalists marched down from the north and inland from the east, Zapata pushed north from Morelos surrounding Huerta in Mexico City. Huerta had made a deal with the U.S. at Niagara Falls - to get U.S. troops out of Veracruz, he had to resign. So, on 8 July 1914, the president decided to leave office, named Secretary of Foreign Relations Francisco S. Carbajal as interim president and prepared to take his family to Spain. Finally, on 15 July, Huerta presented his letter of resignation to Congress with an idealistic, but bitter, speech. He had promised Mexico peace at any cost, the president said, even if that cost was his own resignation. He provided for a peaceful transition of power to Carbajal and had created the nation’s strongest army so that Congress could pursue the path towards peace. Huerta and his family then quietly left the country and the Constitutionalists marched victoriously to the capital.

Soon after Huerta departed, Francisco Cárdenas and Pascual Orozco rebelled against interim president Francisco S. Carbajal. The Constitutionalists put down the revolt, but Cárdenas and Orozco both escaped. Orozco fled to San Antonio and contacted Huerta in Spain with the news that a group of Mexican expatriates in Texas - including Enrique Creel, Félix Díaz, Francisco S. Carbajal, Jesús Flores Magón, José Refugio Velasco and Joaquín and Gustavo Maas -- wanted to overthrow the Constitutionalists in Mexico City. Orozco would lead the counter-revolution, but Huerta would be its political head. Orozco could also count on the support of a substantial number of Mexican-American Texans who wrote their own pro-Huerta manifesto. The conspiracy called for Huerta to retake Mexico, and for the restoration of land annexed by the U.S. in the Mexican-American War.

Huerta accepted the offer, sending Enrique Creel to Germany for financial help. Germany readily agreed, hoping that Huerta’s movement would keep the U.S. out of World War I. On 12 April 1915, Huerta, sponsored by the German Embassy, joined Orozco and his supporters in Texas. Germany gave Huerta and Orozco’s movement $895,000, 11 million rounds of ammunition, and ten thousand rifles to be delivered by U-boat as soon as Huerta was ready. Orozco already had agents stirring up unrest in Chihuahua. Huerta scheduled the invasion for 28 June 1915, but decided to meet Orozco at Newman, New Mexico, the day before to cross the border together at Bosque Bonito. The U.S. Department of Justice learned of Huerta’s plans and arrested Huerta and Orozco at the Newman Railroad Station and imprisoned them at Ft. Bliss, just outside El Paso. On 3 July, Orozco escaped and returned to Mexico with a band of supporters. On 30 August, he returned to Big Bend, Texas to pick up supplies for his movement, but ran into the U.S. 13th Cavalry unit which killed everybody in Orozco’s party. It is said that the news of Orozco’s death broke Huerta’s heart. He was released from prison on 5 November 1915, but on 12 January 1916, Huerta died as did many counterrevolutionary dreams.

This cartoon, drawn by Thomas E. Powers was donated to the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in 1974 by Caroline and Erwin Swann. The original venue of publication is unknown. The image shows Huerta falling through a chute to join a group of other political bosses and dictators who had all been ousted from power, the proverbial “Down and Out Club.”

Down & Out Club chute. Thomas E. Powers, artist. Published [ca. 1914]. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-85445

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