The Mexican Revolution and the United States in the Collections of the Library of Congress
U.S. Involvement Before 1913
Nations always seek to preserve peace in neighboring countries, if only to limit immigration to their shores from people seeking to escape the violence at home. Further, the United States had large-scale investments in Mexico to protect. Although it might not seem so, presidents in the U.S. play a substantial role in developing foreign policy. During the Taft Administration (1909-1913), officials protected investors’ interests rather than helping end the brutalities of the Díaz regime.
Strike at the Cananea Copper Mine (June 1906)
Although this northwest corner of Sonora had had small-scale mining operations since the 18th century, it wasn’t until 1896 that the U.S. entrepreneur William Greene made the Cananea copper mine into one of the largest in Mexico. Greene also owned land, cattle, lumber, and railroad interests, which dominated the economy of that area thanks to favors from both state and national governments. By 1906, the mine boasted 5,400 Mexican workers, many of whom were sympathetic to the opposition Mexican Liberal Party. Employees from the United States, alarmed by the labor action, incited widespread violence and brought in Mexican troops and “volunteers” from neighboring Arizona to quell the disturbance. The use of U.S. troops launched an inquiry into foreign control of natural resources and strike leaders Manuel Diéguez and Esteban Baca Calderón went on to become important revolutionary leaders.
[Cananea, Mexico: Col. W.C. Greene addressing a crowd of Mexicans, who shortly afterward fired the lumber yard. In the rear are seen American employees lined up in front of the company store.] Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-88749 (b&w film copy neg.)
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Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders (1898)
Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City in 1858. He suffered from severe asthma and nearsightedness, and spent a lifetime trying to toughen himself up. Following the death of his first wife, Alice Lee, in 1884, Roosevelt managed a cattle ranch in the Dakotas, where he developed strong ties with the outdoorsmen he met there. After his marriage to his childhood sweetheart Edith Kermit Carow in 1886, Roosevelt took up residence in his new estate at Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. He became head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission in 1889, leaving only in 1895 to assume the post of president of the Police Commission of the City of New York. In 1897 he returned to Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, trying to get the U.S. to make war on Spain.
Once war was declared, Roosevelt resigned his post to become a lieutenant colonel in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, otherwise known as the “Rough Riders.” He recruited horsemen from the West to join him in fighting the Spaniards in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Their exploits, particularly their charge up Kettle Hill, usually called San Juan Heights, so captured the U.S. imagination that the event was often staged for popular entertainment. This illustration is taken from a stereograph, meant to be looked at through a special device that let the viewer see two images at once, giving an illusion of depth to the picture.
When he returned to New York in 1898, he was elected governor of the state. Partly because party bosses wanted to get rid of an energetic governor and partly because of his own ambitions, Roosevelt was nominated to be Vice-President for William McKinley’s second successful presidential run in 1900. Six months later, President McKinley was assassinated, and Roosevelt was sworn in as President at age 42, the youngest person ever to hold the office. One of his most notable actions was to encourage a revolution in Panama in 1903 leading to the construction of the Panama Canal. He served two terms as President, and then ran for the office again in 1912 on the Bull Moose ticket, splitting the Republicans and enabling Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, to win. Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to be intimately involved with Latin America and helped focus U.S. interest there.
Col. Roosevelt and officers of the Rough Riders [on horseback during Spanish-American War]. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-75155 (b&w film copy neg.)
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Following the discovery in 1513 that the Pacific Ocean was a separate and distinct body of water from the Atlantic, explorers and engineers dreamed of finding or making a way to unite the seas. At first Tehuantepec, Mexico, was seen as the ideal site, but Mexican nationalism blocked the venture. Next, Nicaragua was favored as a potential location, but Colombians campaigned hard for a chance to build the canal there. They even made sure that a Nicaraguan stamp showing an active volcano circulated among opinion makers in the United States to gain further support.
But the Colombians drove a hard bargain and the U.S. government preferred to work with an easier partner. So, in late 1903, people from western Colombia revolted in favor of independence, became the nation of Panama and negotiated a treaty with the United States. This map, which is titled “Profile of the Panama Canal,” dates from 1904.
Both Presidents Roosevelt and Taft were very involved in canal building. The U.S. public followed the progress of the canal attentively and kept their attention focused on Latin America.
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Transoceanic Trade, Railroads and Oil in Veracruz
U.S. and British companies each hoped to build a transcontinental railroad from the port of Veracruz across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Pacific Ocean to save on the expense of having to transport goods over land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. President Díaz struggled to attract foreign capital while maintaining Mexican sovereignty granted both the Tehuantepec Railroad concession and substantial ownership in the Mexican oil industry including its largest holding, El Aguila, to the British.
The U.S. government had wanted to control both, but failed. In 1902, it shifted its focus to the Isthmus of Panama where the French effort to build a canal remained unfinished. President Theodore Roosevelt offered the Colombian government $40,000,000 for the rights to complete the canal. Colombia, in the midst of a civil war against Panamanian revolutionaries, refused. The U.S. helped the revolutionaries win and in 1903, the newly established Panamanian government gave the U.S. the rights to the canal where construction began in 1904. In 1914 the Panama Canal opened, stealing away considerable trade from the British railroad in Mexico, much to the delight of U.S. businessmen in Latin America.
Ownership of these railroad lines promoted hostility between the U.S. and the British who vied for control of Mexico. President Díaz played on American-British tensions to get the best offer on railroad construction, which encouraged foreign investment in Mexican infrastructure.
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President William Howard Taft Writes to His Wife after Meeting with Mexican President Porfirio Díaz
A hundred years ago, it was unusual for U.S. Presidents to meet respective heads of state on their own territory, and this meeting between U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Díaz in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez was the first and last time the two leaders met. In fact, it was the first meeting of a Mexican and U.S. President ever up to that time. As this letter shows, President Taft was quite worried that once the 80 year old president died, “there would be a revolution growing out of the selection of his successor. As Americans have about $2,000,000 of capital invested in the country, it is inevitable that in case of a revolution or internecine strife we should interfere, and I sincerely hope that the old man’s official life will extend beyond mine, for that trouble would present a problem of the utmost difficulty.”
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Newspaper Coverage of the Revolution
Chronicling America, an online directory of newspapers published in the U.S. from 1836-1922, contains a variety of different titles which mention the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. The directory, funded by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, includes digitized newspapers that report on a variety of subjects, ranging from advertisements to major international events. Newspapers from the U.S.-Mexican border, such as the Bisbee Daily Review from Bisbee, Arizona, and the El Paso Herald from El Paso, Texas, often includes information about the Revolution obtained from interviews or other firsthand accounts.
Texas was very important in the revolution as many of the insurgents crossed into that state including Francisco Madero and Pancho Villa. Victoriano Huerta attempted to stage a new revolution from Texas before the U.S. captured and imprisoned him. Due to its proximity to the fighting in northern Mexico, El Paso newspapers provide important firsthand accounts of events. Reporters for the El Paso Herald went into Mexico and published information directly from the warring factions. This article is taken from a Texas based newspaper digitized as part of the Chronicling America website of the Serial and Government Publication Division at the Library of Congress. The article displays the knowledge gathered by Texas reporters about the fighting, the elections to be held after peace was restored, the reception of rebel envoys in Washington, D.C., and the towns captured by federal or rebel forces.
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Mexican Refugees Immigrate into the Southwest of the United States
President Porfirio Díaz envisioned a future for Mexico with greater economic prosperity and enhanced global respect. He made use of foreign investment, international industry, and infrastructural improvements to bring long-sought peace to the country, By the 1880s President Díaz began Mexico’s transformation. This evolution benefitted both countries as U.S. corporations needed labor and resources while Mexico benefitted from greater job possibilities and new infrastructure.
Yet this progress created internal conflicts of its own. It benefitted a small group of elites, while the majority saw its well-being diminish. When Francisco Madero challenged Díaz in the North and Emiliano Zapata defied him in the South, the potential for revolution spread. Over time, the conflict knew no quarter forcing farmers, miners, intellectuals, and elites to flee to the United States to escape the violence. Immigrants passed over the border on wagons, on horseback, and on bare feet to start fresh or as a temporary solution to the Revolution’s uncertainty.
The new immigration had a profound impact on the Southwest of the United States. Since the migrants spoke a different language and were often of a different race and religion, the United States enacted new laws to handle the influx and safe guard the population. Because Mexico’s future was uncertain, it was unclear how long the new residents would stay in their new surroundings. In the interim, however, the immigration provided a new pool of labor for U.S. industries.
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Starting in 1910, a conflict that was initially begun in part to help campesinos ended up forcing many to flee. Refugees in the thousands would flood over the border searching to find peace and security as towns such as El Paso and Laredo, Texas, became their new homes.
Mexican refugees also arrived at the port of San Francisco, rode trains into Union Stations in Los Angeles and Chicago, and settled in the southern agricultural areas of the U.S. The flow of Mexican refugees into these places would alter the U.S. perspective on immigration and would affect generations of immigrants to come. The enormity of this stream would inundate the southwest as it reinvigorated old roots and threw solidarity with the populations they lived with into question.
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Mexicans Seek Asylum
The Mexican Revolution hurt all social classes. When Porfirio Díaz and his government resigned, it affected many of the wealthy, stripped of their riches and entered some cities, such as San Antonio, Texas, with the bare minimum. The once powerful and influential class, now in poverty, had to fend for itself. The American southwest became their equalizer, as formerly rich and poor were viewed as just Mexican.
Journalists like Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magón, contributing writers and editors of the Spanish language newspaper Regeneración in such U.S. cities as St. Louis, Missouri and Los Angeles, California, denounced the Porfiriato and President Díaz. The Flores Magón brothers would eventually be forced to flee Mexico along with other political exiles, such as Antonio Villarreal and Librado Rivera. As founding members of the Mexican Liberal Party, they would become an important part of the Mexican Revolution.
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Mexican Revolution Newspaper Clippings Archive
The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress holds a wide range of English-language newspaper clippings from February 1911 until February 1913. The articles, donated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, capture many of the important events that spurred the Revolution, including the rise of the revolutionaries and the fall of President Porfirio Díaz. The publications included in the archive include the New York Times, the New York Sun, the New York Tribune, the New York Herald, the New York World, the New York Press, the New York American, the Brooklyn Eagle, the Brooklyn Citizen, the Washington Post, the Washington Herald, the Washington Star, the London Times, the Kansas City Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Buffalo Courier, and the Financial Times. Although the majority of the clippings come from New York publications, sources from other states appear.
The archive includes daily updates on the Revolution, and many events are covered multiple times in a variety of different newspapers and views. Some articles were written with headlines to incite fear and anger, while others were phrased to calm the reader.
This article from the New York Herald claims that Mexican rebels in Parral have killed U.S. citizens, that the U.S. has bitter feelings towards Mexico, and that these murders worsen the situation. While another from the New York Times says that readers should be calm about Mexico and that claims of rebel victory are overstated.
“Americans Shot Down in Parral by Rebel Sentence.” New York Herald, 14 April 1912. Collection of newspaper clippings donated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress
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José Yves Limantour
José Yves Limantour was the Secretary of the Treasury during the Porfiriato. As a member of President Díaz’s cabinet, he was responsible for the success of Mexico’s economy, and monitoring international investors and their property. U.S. citizens owned many businesses in Mexico, and so they were interested in its Revolution.
Limantour is frequently featured in the Mexican Revolution Newspaper Clippings Archive. At first, the articles discuss favorable meetings with Limantour and U.S. heads of state, but later, the articles start to reflect Limantour’s uncertainty about Mexico’s direction. On 9 March, 1911, one journalist in particular wrote of the situation in Mexico that, “[Ambassador Wilson] had informed President Taft that conditions in Mexico were far worse than the American [the U.S.] people had been lead to believe, and that the 75,000 American citizens and the other $1,000,000,000 of property they owned would be in great jeopardy in the event of the spread of the revolution.”
A later article entitled “Limantour Steals Away: The Mexican Finance Minister Leaves Secretly,” quotes Limantour as saying, “I am nevertheless convinced that, except for the sensational articles relative to Mexico which were printed in your newspapers and magazines for a year or more before the insurrectionary movement developed, there never would have been the trouble that has existed in my country for several months.”
“Limantour Steals Away: The Mexican Finance Minister Leaves City Secretly.” New York Tribune, 16 March 1911. Page 2. Collection of newspaper clippings donated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress
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Francisco I. Madero
The Mexican Revolution Newspaper Clippings Archive includes articles that discuss the transition from the Díaz regime to the Madero administration. Madero, the son of a wealthy hacendado, was determined to create a democratic regime in Mexico. Following the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, however, he could not eliminate the institutions of the previous government. The U.S., fearing for the property of U.S. citizens in Mexico, did not support the aspirations of the new president initially.
The following article describes the inauguration of President Madero. In “General [sic] Madero Inaugurated Amidst Cheers of Great Throng,” the author highlights Madero’s tardiness, a “common” trait among Mexicans. More information on Francisco Madero is available on The Fall of the Porfiriato and the Rise of Francisco Madero sections.
“General [sic] Madero Inaugurated Amidst Cheers of Great Throng.” New York Herald, 7 November 1911. Collection of newspaper clippings donated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress
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U.S. Arms Trade with Villa Prior to World War I
The U.S. played a substantial role in the evolution of the Mexican Revolution. It supported the anti-reelectionist movement, agreed with Bernardo Reyes and Félix Díaz’s revolt against Francisco I. Madero, helped the revolutionaries defeat Huerta, and invaded Veracruz in 1914. At the same time, it had independent negotiations and trade agreements with Pancho Villa. During the Madero presidency (1911-1913), when Taft was President, the United States used both Villa and Luis Terrazas to supply arms to Orozco. When Orozco lost, the U.S. knew of Bernardo Reyes and Félix Díaz’ plans to overthrow President Madero. Officials in Washington, D.C. met with Huerta, and supported the Reyes-Díaz rebellion, because U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson believed Huerta could better protect U.S. interests in Mexico.
The nature of U.S. involvement in the Revolution changed when Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913. President Wilson did not support Huerta and General Hugh Lennox Scott, commander of the Army on the U.S.-Mexican border, recommended Pancho Villa with whom the U.S. resumed independent contact. Wilson appointed George Carothers U.S. representative to Villa. It supplied Villa’s army with khaki uniforms and modern rifles, sometimes for free, sometimes for very reduced prices throughout 1914. On 30 August 1914 when Villa broke with Carranza, the U.S. celebrated.
During its occupation of Veracruz, the U.S. officially stopped all arms trade into Mexico, but continued to supply Carranza. The U. S. asked Villa to recommend someone to take the city after their troops left in November, but all of his men were too far away, so Wilson handed the city to Carranza.
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Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (1857–1932)
Wilson was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana where he attended public school and Wabash College. He became an attorney in Indiana and Seattle, Washington before he was selected to be U.S. Minister to Chile in 1897 and then was posted to Belgium. In 1909 he became ambassador to Mexico, the only representative in Latin America who held that rank. During his tenure in Mexico City, he became the most controversial ambassador since Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Minister to Mexico.
Wilson opposed President Madero and the Revolution, and recommended U.S. intervention to restore order. Mexicans have assumed that Wilson knew of Huerta’s intention to overthrow the government and supported his plans. He is identified with the Pact of the Embassy, whereby Huerta would become president and restore calm in Mexico City. Wilson explained that he had to protect Americans residing in the capital and support whatever force offered stability. However, Mexicans believe he was partially responsible for the shooting deaths of President Madero and Vice President José María Pino Suárez. Ambassador Wilson argued that the U.S. should recognize Huerta, but President-elect Woodrow Wilson rejected this opinion, and removed him from his post in July 1913. Wilson published a recollection of his days as Ambassador, Diplomatic Episodes in Mexico, Belgium, and Chile (New York, 1927). General Collections, F1234 .W727, Library of Congress.
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The U.S. Presidential Election of 1912
Three men ran for president in 1912: William Howard Taft, the incumbent (Republican), ex-president Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose), and Woodrow Wilson (Democrat).
Taft was born on 15 September 1857 to an old-money family in Ohio. He rode Roosevelt’s popularity into the White House in 1908. While Taft could pass his agenda and implement reforms, his caution alienated many of his closest supporters. Roosevelt spoke out against increasing tariff and Taft’s policy known as “dollar diplomacy,” which protected U.S. interests abroad through investment and sanctions, rather than force. With the creation of the Bull Moose Party in 1911, Roosevelt divided the Republicans and gave Democrats an opening in 1912. The Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson was different from his Republican opponents. Wilson had none of the social connections of Roosevelt or Taft, and when he decided to seek the 1912 nomination, was relatively unknown. Nevertheless, he won the presidency.
The Presidential Election of 1912 shifted U.S. Mexican policy. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson’s behavior during the rebellion, Huerta’s seizure of power and the assassinations of President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez affected Taft’s situation. Few doubt that had Taft been reelected, he would have recognized Huerta, but with only two weeks left in office, he preferred to leave that matter to President Wilson.
This political cartoon, published in the Washington Star in 1912 was drawn by Clifford Kennedy Berryman. It shows Wilson sneaking into the presidency on the back of a donkey, the symbol of the Democratic Party, while Taft, riding the elephant of the GOP, is detained by Roosevelt, whose Bull Moose prevents Taft from moving forward.
Race to the White House with Wilson on a donkey and Taft on an elephant being bitten by T. Roosevelt on a bull moose. Clifford Kennedy Berryman, artist. Published in the Washington Star, 1912. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
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President Taft Writes another Letter
Republican President William Howard Taft had been defeated in his bid for a second term in November 1912, but his successor, Democratic President-elect Woodrow Wilson would not take office until 4 March 1913. In the meantime, Generals Bernardo Reyes, Félix Díaz, and ultimately Victoriano Huerta rose up against President Francisco Madero on 9 February 1913, a revolt that would be settled with the “Pact of the Embassy” on 20 February.
That same day, President Taft wrote to his brother Charley, “I am very much pleased that the tension in Mexico City has been resolved so that the prospect of any necessity for my submitting the question of intervention to Congress has passed away. I shall, however, send troops down into the neighborhood with a view to turning the opportunity over to my successor to act as he will as occasion arise hereafter.” Did he know anything about Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson's plans to support Huerta in advance?
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