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THE IRON HAND OF THE LIBERALS
 MEXICO long remained a country with a single political party, that of the Diaz autocracy.
Liberalism and any objection to the Diaz plan of government were repressed with a strong
hand and antagonism not permitted to lift its head. The motto of Louis XIV, "L'Etat c'est
moi" (The State, it is myself), might as well have been assumed as his own by President
Diaz, since it would have closely applied to his system of rule. No one will deny that
under Diaz a notable progress was made in Mexico. The government did not lack patriotic
views and measures, and the progress of the country appeared to be the President's sincere
desire. But its pretense to derive its power from the people's will was a transparent
sham. Any expression of the popular will, any voice lifted in opposition to the
President's purpose or decrees, was promptly stifled. The country changed under his rule
from a republic to a military autocracy, and the emperors of old Rome itself were little
more absolute. Of course, in these days of liberal ideas, such a system cannot safely be
declared; the ruler must at least pretend that he has the public good at heart, but
freedom of speech soon reaches its limit.
In our times the newspaper is the voice of the people, the channel by which private
opinion is made public property. There were numbers of papers in Mexico when Diaz became
President, and political criticism was as free as the winds. They appealed to the people
openly, much too openly to be satisfactory to the new ruler, especially as some of them
were so violent in their editorials as to encourage the regime of revolution by which
Mexico had long been cursed.
President Diaz did not counsel the Congress to make laws
 curbing these over-radical journalists. That would have been a constitutional method, but
his method was the personal one; that of the leader of an army, not that of the ruler of a
state. He sent the police to arrest some of the most out-spoken editors and had them
locked up in Belem Prison—a place of terror intended only for the lowest class of
criminals, not for gentlemen of culture and standing in the community. Here they were kept
for a week on a diet of bread and water.
This week of discipline ended, they were brought before the President.
"Now, gentlemen," he asked, "what do you think of my government?"
"Senor President," the replied, "we look upon it as the finest government upon the earth."
"Just continue to think so, gentlemen, and I think we shall get along splendidly."
After this lesson in practical politics there was no more trouble with the newspapers of
Mexico. But what would happen if a president of the United States should adopt such a
method of stilling newspaper criticism? Most likely something approaching a political
earthquake would be the immediate result. The Emperor of Russia himself would probably
have hesitated before taking such autocratic measures for the stifling of editorial
A DETACHMENT OF MEXICAN FEDERAL CAVALRY MARCHING THROUGH THE STREETS OF MEXICO CITY.
THESE MEN ARE MAGNIFICENT HORSEMEN AND WELL-TRAINED FIGHTERS.
The Diaz government, in fact, did not rest upon public opinion or congressional action.
Under the Constitution the republic of Mexico has its three governmental bodies, the
executive, the legislative, and the judicial, but the first of these had now outgrown and
hidden the others from view. Diaz did not govern through the force of legislative
sanction, but through the iron hand of military force. Congress was fully in accord with
him and supported him in all his measures, though what would have been the case had there
been any real representative government, any full and open suffrage of the people, is not
easy to say. Not the Congress, but the
 army, the police, the secret agents of the executive authority were the real powers in
Mexico, and these seem to have been used more for the repression of democratic movements
among the people than for protection against common criminals.
As for the Mexican Congress, for many years before the election of Madero it was little
more than a debating club. That Mexico had a president was always in evidence; that it had
a parliament nobody troubled themselves to remember. The subjects in which the members
were chiefly concerned were such as the minutes of the last meeting, decision as to
whether a Mexican citizen should waive his antipathy to such trifles as stars or orders,
and measures of like character. Chosen by the president, or elected under his auspices,
they were there to put the stamp of approval upon his decrees; to stand up and wave their
hands—their method of voting. When the president and cabinet had no special work for
them to do, they indulged in literary declamations upon subjects that served to pass the
time, but that were utterly destitute of political significance.
That a country of many millions of inhabitants could be unanimous in the choice, for eight
successive terms, of a single candidate for the presidency is unthinkable; especially a
country with the record of Mexico, in which rebellion against the parties in power had
long been chronic. After President Diaz came into power a hand of iron was laid upon the
old method and anarchy repressed wherever it dared show its head. But this did not prevent
difference of opinion as to political matters. Repression did not confine itself to acts
of rebellion, but was used against opposition to the government in any way. Cases of this
kind were shown throughout the Diaz period.
Near the end of Porfirio Diaz's first term as president a movement was started in favor of
Lerdo, the preceding president, who was then in voluntary exile in the United States. This
movement was brought to a sudden and violent end.
 Vera Cruz was its center, a number of the prominent citizens of that city taking part in
it. The result was the seizure of nine of these leaders as conspirators and traitors and
their summary shooting without the shadow of a trial. "Kill them in haste" was the order
said to have been telegraphed from Mexico City. "The Massacre of Vera Cruz" this act is
called. That the attempt to bring back a former president and nominate him as a candidate
was an act of treason deserving to be dealt with in this summary manner no one is likely
On three subsequent occasions in the latter part of the nineteenth century Mexican
citizens became candidates for the presidency, one being the governor of Jalisco, a second
the ex-governor of Zacatecas. Who ordered the murder of these venturesome aspirants no one
can say, but they both fell victims to assassins, one being stabbed, the other shot while
seeking to escape to the United States. In 1891 Diaz announced his candidacy for a fourth
term. An opposition movement was organized, but it was not suffered to gain any headway.
Its nominee for president was Dr. Ignacio Martinez. The nomination was quickly followed by
the imprisonment of its chief advocates and the flight of Martinez, who sought refuge in
Europe. He subsequently came to the United States, where he started a paper opposing Diaz
at Laredo, Texas. His end came from the bullet of a horseman, who crossed the river to
Mexico before he could be seized. These successive assassinations of candidates for the
presidency are certainly significant.
The only political party that was allowed to appear during the Diaz period was the Liberal
Party, organized in 1900. Its career proved a disastrous one. It came into existence after
the sixth "unanimous" election of President Diaz was assured, its formation having no
connection with political affairs. Fear of the outcome of an effort to regain the Church
ascendency led to its organization. The instigating cause was a speech made in Paris by
the bishop of San Luis Potosi, in which he
 declared that the Church of Mexico was in a highly flourishing state, despite the
Constitution and the restrictive laws. This utterance alarmed many Mexicans, who read
between the lines of the address evidence of a purpose to endeavor to restore the old
The alarm became general and Liberal clubs were founded in all parts of the country, one
hundred and twenty-five of them in less than five months. Newspapers in aid of the cause
were also started, fifty or more within a brief period, and the whole country seemed on
the alert against any effort at political restoration of the Church. A call for a
convention of Liberals was issued, to be held January 5, 1901, in San Luis Potosi. This
was held in the Teatro de la Paz (Peace Theater), the delegates being careful
to avoid any criticism of the President or offer any suggestion of an armed movement
against Church or State. The resolutions adopted pledged the Liberals to peaceful means in
the campaign for reform which was their avowed purpose.
This meeting was held under the watchful eye of the governing powers. Gendarmes mingled
with the spectators in the hall and a battalion of soldiers was drawn up in readiness in
case of any need for their services arising. No such need appeared, and the convention
quietly adjourned. But it was soon evident that the ideas of the Liberals were broadening
and it became manifest that some of them were planning a political campaign for the next
presidential election, three years later. No names of candidates were mentioned, yet the
purpose became apparent and the administration took alarm. That hydra-headed monster, a
new political party, was growing out of the movement against Church ascendency, and the
autocracy scented danger in the air.
MEXICAN FEDERAL SOLDIERS RESTING ON THE MARCH.
Certainly the career of the Liberals from that time forward was a hazardous one. The
police received secret orders, and all over the country Liberal clubs were broken up on
flimsy pretexts. Charges, apparently manufactured for the
 occasion, were brought against their leading members, some of whom were put into prison,
others forced into the army. The public meetings held by the clubs were interrupted by
violent interference on the part of the police. The history of the Liberal clubs has
already been briefly given in Chapter IX, including the violent breaking up of a meeting
held in 1902, and the imprisonment of its officers and many of its members.
Most of the other clubs were disposed of in a similar manner, in spite of the quietness
and peacefulness of their proceedings. As for the Liberal newspapers, their plants were
destroyed or confiscated in the slightest pretext, and their editors imprisoned for mild
remarks concerning the oppression of the Liberals. Very few of them were left in
circulation, and those only that were so cautious as to be innocuous. In the years that
followed these journals were subjected to incessant persecution. One writer gives a list
of thirty-nine that were thus dealt with in 1902, apparently to prevent agitation against
the coming seventh election of President Diaz. In later years this continued, six
newspapers being directly suppressed in 1908 for too great freedom of utterance.
The whole story of the suffering endured by the Liberals in the eight or ten years of
their existence cannot here be told. On all sides they were thrown into prison or forced
into the army, in the latter case being sent to the torrid and pestilential district of
Quintana Roo, a fate almost equivalent to a sentence to death. All the sufferings these
political agitators endured would need a volume to describe, the means taken to suppress
the Liberal party being so drastic that no party could have survived them.
A state of affairs like this can scarcely be comprehended in a country like the United
States, where political parties start up like mushrooms in the night, and grow unimpeded
to the fullest possible extent. The idea of their suppression by
 violent means, when no act or advocacy of violence could be justly charged against them,
would be preposterous in this liberty loving country. In Mexico, on the contrary, no
opposition party, however mild its principles and utterances, was permitted to develop
during the Diaz regime, and there seems to have been no crime more heinous than the
holding of political opinions not in accordance with those of the executive powers.
That a party could have existed as long as did the Liberal party under circumstances like
those described is evidence, of the vital earnestness of its membership, and indicates a
very strong support in public opinion. There can be no doubt that opposition to the
autocratic methods of the President was steadily growing, and that the time was
approaching in which armed opposition could no longer be kept down.
Measures of suppression like those described—and we have avoided going into the
tyranny of details given by some writers—could not be continued without provoking
movements of insurrection; especially in a country like Mexico, in which armed rebellion
has long been the favorite method of political opposition. Twice the Liberal party adopted
this method, taking up arms in support of its principles, but on each occasion the
precaution and vigor of the government put down the movement before it could grow
dangerous. These outbreaks have been mentioned in Chapter IX, but the story of them is
here given more in detail.
In 1906 an attempt at insurrection was put in train, the month of September being fixed
for the outbreak. The claim is made that the revolutionists had thirty-six military groups
organized and partly armed, awaiting the prearranged signal. They were well advised of the
breadth of liberal sentiment in the country, and expected a general desertion from the
army to their ranks and widespread support from the citizens at large.
Whether they were justified in their hopes of general
 support cannot be told, for the government had its spies in their midst and kept well in
touch with the whole movement. The national day of independence, September 16th, was fixed
for the projected outbreak, but it did not take place except in very small measure. When
the day arrived the leaders in the movement were either dead or behind prison doors. The
executive powers had struck quickly and strongly, and the rebellion died before at had an
opportunity to declare itself.
In two cities, indeed, there were minor outbreaks. One party took possession of the town
of Jimenez, in the State of Coahuila; a second broke out at Acayucan, in Vera Cruz, the
military barracks here being besieged. In both these cities the rebel ranks were augmented
by citizens, and for a day or two they held control. Then soldiers rushed in by train-load
and the insurrection was nipped in the bud. The authorities did not mince matters. In less
than twenty-four hours after the outbreak began four thousand soldiers were in Acayucan.
Not long after their appearance in arms the would-be revolutionists were on their way to
prison, and the dove of peace once more waved its wings over the republic.
The second attempt at insurrection came two years later, July, 1908, being the month
chosen for the explosion. The military groups of the Liberals at this time are claimed to
have been forty-six, all prepared for a simultaneous rising. But as before, the government
was on the alert and had previous information of what was in train. In fact nearly all the
fighting took place near the United States border, by refugees who crossed the border at
various points, armed with guns purchased in American towns.
The government, meanwhile, was using its information in arresting the leaders and members
of various groups. One such act took place at Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, and was given such
publicity that the groups from the United States acted before the appointed time. The
"Rebellion of Las Vacas," as this affair has been called, had a very brief period
 of existence. The government soon dispersed the invading bands, though a month passed
before the fugitives were all hunted down and taken, powder and ball ending their careers,
in the ordinary Mexican custom, wherever they were found.
Before this attempt at insurrection took place President Diaz had defined his position in
a way that should have satisfied the Liberals if they had had confidence in his words. In
March, 1908, as we are told by Mr. James Creelman, a correspondent of Pearson's Magazine,
he had expressed himself as follows:
"No matter what my friends and supporters say, I retire when my present term of office
ends, and I shall not serve again. I shall be eighty years old then. I have waited
patiently for the day when the people of the Mexican Republic would be prepared to choose
and change their government at every election without danger of armed revolutions, and
without injury to the national credit or interference with national progress.
"I welcome an opposition party in the Mexican Republic. If it appears, I shall regard it
as a blessing, not an evil, and if it can develop power, not to exploit but to govern, I
will stand by it, support it, advise it and forget myself in the successful inauguration
of complete democratic government in the country."
As the presidential term had been extended from four to six years in 1904, this would
bring President Diaz's seventh term forward to 1910, in which he proposed to withdraw. The
statement made was widely reprinted in Mexico, where, as may be supposed, it created a
profound sensation. The people who desired a change of administration, and these formed a
large majority of the nation, were overjoyed, and a discussion as to the most desirable
candidate to succeed him was begun. Various questions relating to popular government were
also debated. But all this suddenly ceased when it was whispered about that the
President's promise to withdraw was
 not to be taken as final. Talk about a successor to the presidency was no longer a safe
proceeding, and a new idea took its place. This was to urge the President to retain his
seat, but to ask for the privilege of a free election of a vice-president, with the
purpose of having some one fitted to succeed him in case of his death during a succeeding
six years term.
As President Diaz let this plan pass in silence, his assent to it was taken for granted,
and an agitation in this new direction began. The idea was discussed in public, was dealt
with in the newspapers, and clubs to act upon it were widely formed. It is said that in a
brief time these numbered fully five hundred. A convention was held in January, 1909, to
organize a central body to be called the Central Democratic Club. This convention met,
elected officers, and adopted a platform of which the chief features were:
Abolition of the jefes politicos and the creation of municipal boards of
aldermen in their place.
The extension of primary education.
The suffrage to be placed on a mixed educational and property basis.
Greater freedom for the press.
Stricter enforcement of the reform laws dealing with church matters.
Greater respect for life and liberty and better administration of justice.
Laws for the benefit of the working people.
Laws for the encouragement of agriculture.
Other steps taken—in April, 1909—were nominations for the coming election. The
Re-electionist Club, a body of office-holders, renominated the existing executive
officials, President Porfirio Diaz and Vice-President Ramon Corral. The Democratic party
followed, also nominating Diaz for the presidency, but naming General Bernardo Reyes,
Governor of Nuevo Leon, for Vice-President.
The campaign that was launched in favor of this ticket
 was a temperate and inoffensive one. There was no hint of rebellion, no severe criticism
of existing institutions, nothing reflecting in any way on President Diaz. The people had
learned that discretion in public utterance was the part of wisdom. Yet it quickly
appeared that a large majority of the people favored Reyes, and it became evident that the
Democratic party was popular. Diaz, smelling danger afar, quickly made it appear that he
did not propose to have an opposition party in the country, however moderate in its
seeming views. He had experience of the development of the Liberals, and distrusted the
Fire was opened upon the Democrats by transferring to distant sections of the country
certain army officers who favored Reyes. Next came the dismissal of some Democrats who
held governmental positions. At a meeting in July in favor of Corral some of the audience
hissed one of the speakers. At once companies of police were ordered to clear the
building, and this they did in the Mexican manner, with sabre, pistol and club. As a
result forty or fifty of the audience were killed and wounded, while the number arrested
approached a thousand. Autocracy was clearly in the saddle again.
This was only the beginning. Arrests of Democrats were made in all sections of the
country, prominent men being. chosen. The charge against them usually was "sedition,"
though nothing that could fairly be given this name was in evidence. Of these captives
some were kept in jail for months, others were sentenced to long prison terms. At the same
time the newspapers which supported the Democratic cause were suppressed, the editors
being imprisoned or exiled, the printing plants seized. In this way all public advocacy of
the new party movement was sternly and definitely checked.
As for General Reyes, the Democratic candidate for Vice-President, he was wise or cautious
enough to decline the honor offered him. It was a dangerous gift, and on four separate
occasions he refused to accept it. Yet this did not satisfy
 Diaz. A military force was sent to Nuevo Leon and its governor brought to the capital.
There he found it expedient to resign his position as governor, and to accept a "military
mission" to Europe. It was a virtual act of banishment, and was so generally regarded.
Such were some—not all—of the steps taken by Diaz to suppress the Democratic
party. He doubtless expected them to be adequate, but they were not so. The sentiment of
opposition had now grown too strong to be thus dealt with. Instead of intimidating the
Democrats he simply infuriated them. The half-opposition party grew into a whole one. No
longer satisfied with nominating a vice-president, the Democrats now nominated a candidate
for president. Their candidate was Francisco I. Madero. Diaz had dug his own political