The Mexican Revolution and the United States in the Collections of the Library of Congress
Álvaro Obregón’s Vision for Mexico
President Álvaro Obregón wanted Mexico to rejoin the world after its bloody Revolution and its struggle with the “Spanish” flu. He realized that reestablishing relations with its neighbor to the north while stressing Mexican sovereignty would not be easy, but in signing the Bucareli Agreements in 1923, he laid the groundwork for better relations and peace between the two nations.
Revolt against Carranza, His Death, and Obregón’s 1920 Presidential Campaign
On 1 June 1919, Obregón began his campaign for the presidency because he believed Carranza had lost touch with state governments and the Mexican people. Obregón’s neutrality after he left the government earned him widespread support, while his main rival, General Pablo González, gained the enmity of the agrarian sector by fighting the Zapatistas, and assassinating their leader. Obregón presented himself as a liberal-centrist trying to unite the country against repressive and egotistical “war-lords.”
Carranza had picked Ignacio Bonillas, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., to succeed him in 1920, and paid for an expensive campaign. Tensions erupted on 11 April 1920, when Carranza tried to arrest Obregón, after jailing several Obregonistas. By 23 April 1920, Obregón, Adolfo de la Huerta, and other revolutionaries signed the Plan of Agua Prieta, which reaffirmed the 1917 Constitution, demanded the reinstituting of law and order, the resignation of Carranza and a provisional government to run Mexico until elections were held. Obregón, de la Huerta, and Plutarco Elías Calles became known as the Sonoran Triangle or Dynasty because all hailed from Sonora. They incited uprisings in the north of Mexico and forced Carranza to flee Mexico City for Veracruz in early May 1920.
Carranza never arrived; he met with rebel deserter Rodolfo Herrero in the mountains of Puebla. Herrero offered to protect Carranza who was unaware that his subordinate Governor Alfonso Cabrera Lobato had recently ordered that Herrero’s father be executed. In the early hours of 21 May 1920, Herrero attacked Carranza’s camp and Carranza was killed. Herrero was later arrested in Mexico City but he was released because of lack of evidence. On 1 June, Adolfo de la Huerta took over as interim-president and planned national elections. Pancho Villa surrendered during de la Huerta’s interim presidency now that Carranza was gone. In return, de la Huerta gave Villa a ranch and a guard of 50 men. Obregón accepted that de la Huerta’s negotiations promoted peace with Villa, Zapatista leaders, and other revolutionaries.
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Obregón Assumes the Presidency
Mexico reached a cease-fire in time for the July 1920 election, and in September, it was announced that Obregón had won with 1,131,751 votes; while his opponent, Alfredo Robles Domínguez, received only 47,442 votes. Obregón took the oath of office at midnight on 30 November 1920 and reshaped Mexico. The country still had little infrastructure, no means of economic support and was bankrupt. Obregón crushed remaining rebellions; he is thought to have ordered Pancho Villa’s assassination in July 1923, and put down de la Huerta’s revolt in Sonora. He knew he had to cut the military to save money; its forces declined from 61% in 1921 to 36% by 1923.
Obregón established the Ministry of Public Education to create a national culture, started national beautification projects, mural painting, and other educational reforms, all aimed at enriching the lower classes of Mexico. In 1921, Obregón’s Ministry of Public Education, under José Vasconcelos, opened 1,000 rural schools across the country. During his presidency, Obregón gave 3,250,000 acres of land back to 400,000 citizens, but large estates, such as Luis Terrazas’ 2.5 million acre property, continued as before. Obregón returned Mexican currency to the gold standard and invited foreign visitors and companies to invest in Mexico’s infrastructure, revitalized Mexico’s economy and increasing Mexican oil exported abroad. Under de la Huerta and Obregón after him, oil exports rose from 77,703,289 barrels in 1919 to 190,000,000 by the end of 1921. The Obregón government signed the Bucareli Agreements with the U.S. in 1923, normalizing relations between the two nations.
Obregón encouraged U.S. and European intellectuals and journalists to come to Mexico to see the Revolution up close. In 1921, Obregón commissioned a number of muralists, including Diego Rivera, to paint the walls of various empty buildings around Mexico to tell the story of the Revolution. Obregón served as president until 1924, promising not to run for reelection because he supported the clause in the 1917 Constitution forbidding a president from serving a second term. In 1923, Adolfo de la Huerta, Obregón’s Finance Secretary, launched a rebellion because Obregón backed Plutarco Elías Calles for president in 1924 and not him. Obregón quickly quashed the rebellion and executed many of his former allies. When his term was over, Obregón left power and returned to Sonora, the first peaceful transition of the presidency since Porfirio Díaz was overthrown 14 years before. The Mexican Revolution was finally over.
This photograph shows President Álvaro Obregón addressing the people of Mexico City from a balcony near the National Palace around 1920. To add to his stature, the president wore a false beard.
Gen. Obregón (wearing beard) addresses great crowd in Mexico City. c1920. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-125081
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The Return Home
As the violent phase of the Mexican Revolution ended, Mexican immigration to the U.S. slowed. Throughout the Revolution, Mexicans often returned home when stability permitted. For example, when the Madero government took control from the Díaz regime in 1911, the border re-opened and Mexicans went back. States in the U.S. helped Mexican refugees return with repatriation projects along the border. The railroads previously used to transport Mexican products were employed to ship its residents back home. Although this happened sporadically it became a solution in the near future. The biggest return took place just after the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929 when the states of California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas worked in conjunction with the federal government. The end of the Mexican Revolution meant an end to the mass entry of Mexican immigrants, but it did not close the border with Mexico. Instead, the government created new agencies and with them a Border Patrol to regulate migration and illegal shipments of alcohol during Prohibition. This began a new chapter in U.S. immigration.
In the years after the Revolution, Mexico would gradually take back its economic sovereignty. In an effort to show solidarity for Mexican citizenry, President Lázaro Cardénas, in 1938, expropriated Mexican oil refineries from various groups of producers in accordance with article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution as well as returned land to its tillers. Efforts like these tried to rescue Mexico from foreign dependency and closed an important chapter of the Mexican Revolution.
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Mexican Murals and Muralists
Many Mexican artists turned to muralism after the Mexican Revolution. In his book Mexican Muralists, Desmond Rochfort writes that Gerardo Murillo (known as “Dr. Atl”) introduced muralism as a nationalist response to a contemporary Spanish painting exhibit funded by President Porfirio Díaz in 1910. President Díaz’s exhibit exemplified Mexico’s ruling class’s preoccupation with European culture, whereas Dr. Atl’s exhibit highlighted the significance of indigenous Mexican art.
Three muralists in particular, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, became significant figures in this art movement. Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros were raised during the Porfiriato when land division and wealth in Mexico was exceptionally unjust. For Rivera and Siqueiros in particular, their left-wing political leanings influenced their work; Siqueiros was a prominent Stalinist and Rivera, an on-again/off-again Trotskyist or member of Mexico’s Communist Party. Orozco was more critical of the toll the Revolution took on Mexico.
Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros’ view of this inequality is clear in his manifesto for the Syndicate of Technical Workers and Sculptors (1922), stating, “We repudiate so-called easel painting and every kind of art favored by ultra-intellectual circles, because it is aristocratic, and we praise monumental art in all its forms, because it is public property. We proclaim at this time of social change from a decrepit order to a new one, the creators of beauty must use their best efforts to produce ideological works for the people; art must no longer be the expression of individual satisfaction (which) it is today, but should aim to create beauty for all, beauty that enlightens and stirs to struggle.”
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Murals concerning history of Mexico in Escuela Mexico, Chillan, Chile by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-76192
Emiliano Zapata, full-length portrait, standing, with horse by Diego Rivera. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-43639
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Brígido Caro and the Revolution in the Theater
At the turn of the century, Mexican theater companies were operating throughout northwestern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. The demand for plays written by Mexican writers steadily increased during the first few decades of the twentieth century and by 1923 Los Angeles had become the epicenter of the Mexican play-writing community. The demand was higher for comedies; however, there was still a great clamor for more serious dramas.
Brígido Caro was born in Alamos, Sonora and led a politically active life. Caro was often forced to move; first to Zacatecas, then Guadalajara, and finally the U.S., where he settled in Arizona and later Los Angeles. A journalist for the newspaper El Sonorense, Caro supported the Díaz regime and attacked Madero and foreigners. Following the collapse of the Díaz government, he was dragged from his home and sent to the U.S. border. Granted amnesty, Caro returned to Sonora where he continued to publish anti-Madero tabloids until he was expelled again in 1914. Following his arrival in Los Angeles, Caro joined the staff of El Heraldo de México, wrote a number of plays about the social and political situation in Mexico during the decades-long violence of the Revolution. In 1924, Caro also authored a biography of Plutarco Calles, in which he declared that Calles was a Bolshevik Communist and labeled him dictator of Mexico. Caro and others never shied away from the controversial in their plays, including the historical situation of Mexicans in California and the Revolution. Caro and his contemporaries often joined with local theater troops and performed at theaters like the Teatro Hidalgo or the Teatro México, which became known as the protector of Hispanic culture. The Library of Congress holds four of Caro’s plays in the Manuscripts Division, two of which deal directly with the Revolution and the nationalistic sentiments it generated.
“Patria y Bandera,” or “Homeland and Flag” (1923), was written to express nationalism and denounce the violence of the Revolution. Three of the main characters in the play are named for the colors of the Mexican flag: Color Verde (Green), Color Blanco (White), and Color Rojo (Red). Color Blanco is the strongest voice for Mexico and its peaceful citizens. A further character in “Patria y Bandera,” La Patria (The Homeland) also displays considerable nationalistic sentiments. The play closes with a performance of the Mexican National Anthem. Caro’s first play addressing the Revolution opened to great acclaim on 5 May 1923, at the Teatro México in Los Angeles, California.
“Joaquín Murrieta” (1926) looks at identity and the Revolution. On 25 August 1926, Caro’s play lost a competition held by the management at the Teatro Hidalgo to fellow playwright Adalberto Elías González. However, by the end of the season “Joaquín Murrieta” had become a surprise hit and the Hidalgo hosted many repeat performances. The prologue introduces two brothers: Carlos and Joaquín Murrieta. The brothers are Mexicans in California mining for gold when Constable Leary explains that since the brothers are Mexican, an inferior race, they will not be allowed to take advantage of the natural resources the U.S. has to offer. Unfortunately, Carlos and his wife are murdered leaving Joaquín on the run as a bandit. He falls in love with Clara, but the woman who loves him, Mariquita, informs on Joaquín out of spite. Upon finding him, the U.S. army fights and kills Joaquín, who warns those who fought in the Revolution that those who live in violence die in violence.
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Obregón’s Reelection and Assassination
After the election of 1924, Plutarco Elías Calles became president. Once Calles took over, Obregón went back to civilian life in Sonora; however, he continued to exert political and military influence in Mexico City. The cost of continuing national influence put him deeply in debt and, by the time he died in 1928, all his holdings except for two primary properties in Sonora had to be sold. Obregón supported the Calles presidency and, when unrest emerged from October 1926-April 1927, returned to active military service, fighting an uprising of Yaqui Indians.
In May 1927, Obregón announced his candidacy for the presidency in the 1928 election, after the Mexican Congress redefined no-reelection to mean no consecutive terms. Obregón faced two of his former protégés: General Francisco Serrano, who had nursed Obregón when his arm was severed, and General Arnulfo Gómez. Both men were eventually shot by federal forces. Obregón ran for president nearly unopposed. On 17 July, 1928, less than two weeks after his electoral victory, José de León Toral, a member of the Cristero movement rebelling against the anti-clerical laws outlined in Article 3 of the Constitution, shot Obregón five times in the head.
Obregón seated with his second wife, María Claudia Tapia Monteverde and four of his six children. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-89455
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