The Mexican Revolution and the United States in the Collections of the Library of Congress
Civil War: Constitutionalist Viewpoint
Fortunately several artists documented the process of the Revolution. Shown here is the work of Agustín and Victor Casasola, photographers and Salvador Toscano, film maker. Venustiano Carranza became “First Chief,” in Veracruz while Álvaro Obregón fought many battles in the north to push back the soldiers of Villa and Zapata, who stayed in Morelos. The Constitutionalists simply wanted peace and a return to the days of Madero while Villa and Zapata wanted much more.
The Photography of Agustín Casasola and U.S. Photographers
Flora Lara Klahr writes in Jefes, Héroes y Caudillos that photographs from the Casasola Archive of the Photographic Library of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) were considered the most faithful representation of nature and humanity. When the press used photos, it added a new dimension to the coverage of daily life. Agustín Casasola’s contribution to the visual narrative of the Mexican Revolution shows the ability of a photograph to capture an image of everyday existence.
A brief search of images of the Mexican Revolution at the Library of Congress yields a vast number of photographs. Casasola valued the technical side of photography, but its ability to show social experiences objectively was most important to him.
Robert Runyon, who opened his first commercial photography studio in 1910, is another photographer featured in the Library of Congress’ holdings. Runyon followed General Lucio Blanco’s Constitutionalist army starting in June 1913, and was the only professional taking photographs during two skirmishes on U.S. soil during 1915; one was at the Norias Ranch near Kingsville, Texas and the other was at the site of a train derailment in Olmito, Texas. The Bain News Service, operated by George Grantham Bain, collected photographs of the combatants and events during the Revolution for distribution to newspapers around the world. Approximately 40,000 Bain negatives reside in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
Album histórico gráfico: contiene los principales sucesos acaecidos durante las épocas de Díaz, de la Barra, Madero, Huerta, Carbajal, La Convención, Carranza, De la Huerta y Obregón, en 15 cuadernos de 200 páginas (Vol. 2 of 5. Mexico, 1920). F1231.5 G666 1920. Catalog record. General Collections, Library of Congress.
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Obregón Chooses Carranza over Villa
Because Carranza mistrusted Villa, the First Chief wanted Obregón to move his army between Villa and Mexico City so Villa could not capture the capital first. By late July 1914, Obregón’s army was stationed outside Mexico City, Villa was stuck in the north near Torreón and Obregón was unsure of Carranza’s intentions once he defeated Villa. Therefore, from 14 August through mid-September 1914, Obregón met Villa to hammer out a peace accord, but also allowed Obregón to size up his potential enemy. The two generals reached a tentative agreement; they both urged Carranza to take the title of interim-president to end the extralegal status Carranza enjoyed as First Chief. It also included provisions to prevent the two military commanders and Carranza from running in the election. Villa and Obregón also agreed on land redistribution, but Carranza did not accept these terms and called a convention for 1 October 1914.
When Villa started to show his displeasure with Carranza, Obregón reminded Villa that he had signed the Plan of Guadalupe. By 16 September 1914, however, Obregón was fairly certain that Carranza and Villa would not stay allies much longer and visited the Villista camp again. Once there, Villa accused Obregón of being a traitor and ordered him to be shot. Luckily for Obregón, cooler heads prevailed. Obregón argued that his death would help Carranza, while some Villista generals also argued against killing Obregón. Therefore, Obregón was allowed to leave for Mexico City, but Villa called the train back almost right away. However, after Obregón's train left again Villa, still intent on killing Obregón, ordered it to be stopped on the way. With the help of friendly Villista generals, Eugenio Benavides and José Robles, Obregón escaped on a second train and returned to Mexico City. Villa’s failed attempts to assassinate Obregón may have had a significant impact. Prior to that Obregón and Villa shared much in common; whereas Obregón and Carranza seemed to disagree.
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The Revolutionaries Separate
Villa’s military successes and Carranza’s political abilities led them to split. The disagreement between Villa and Carranza grew so fierce that it seemed to overshadow their shared goal of overthrowing Huerta. The Revolutionaries had to take Zacatecas, one of the key cities to be conquered before troops could march on Mexico City. Nevertheless, Carranza worried about a Villa success at Zacatecas, so he reassigned him to take a less significant city, and chose General Panfilo Natera, which actually delayed its capture.
The revolutionaries won the Battle of Zacatecas despite divisions in leadership. After this crucial victory, Huerta exiled himself to Spain. The newly-vacant presidency left open the question of succession; there were several highly eligible candidates with different agendas. Several conventions were organized, including the Convention of Aguascalientes, where representatives of the major revolutionary leaders met to discuss potential solutions to the leadership issue. The revolutionaries disagreed with Huerta’s policies, but had very little else in common.
The Convention of Aguascalientes selected a provisional president, Eulalio Gutiérrez of Coahuila. Gutiérrez was chosen because attendees saw him as weak. Carranza was particularly displeased because Gutiérrez named Villa head of the Conventionist army. The resulting uproar began a new wave of the Revolution that revealed the diversity of opinions within the rebellion against Huerta.
El Paso Herald, 25 September, 1914, HOME EDITION, Sport and Classified Section, Page 9, Image 9 - “Curt Messages Precede Break,” Newspaper and Current Periodical Division, Library of Congress.
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The Convention of Aguascalientes and the Constitutionalist Breakdown
Even during the fight against Huerta, Pancho Villa chafed at having to obey Carranza’s orders. In an effort to stop Villa’s insubordination, Carranza cut off supplies to his Division of the North. On 22 September 1914 Villa rebelled and Emiliano Zapata joined him. Upon Obregón’s return to Mexico City, he called a meeting of revolutionary commanders in Aguascalientes to remove both Villa and Carranza from leadership, but Carranza instead called for an assembly in Mexico City on 1 October 1914. No delegates honored Carranza’s request; instead the Revolution’s leaders chose to side with Obregón, the apparent peacemaker. Obregón wanted only military men to attend the convention, thus freezing out civilians like Carranza. Military leaders felt they had to exclude civilians, because the Revolution was still going on.
The Convention of Aguascalientes met in late September 1914 and Obregón tried to broker a peace between the Villa-led coalition and the Carrancistas to ease tensions between the two factions. Carranza offered to leave Mexico giving his forces to General Pablo González, if Villa would give his to Convention’s president, Eulalio Gutiérrez, and leave Mexico. Then the Constitutionalist generals would choose a new leader. However, on 18 November 1914, Gutiérrez named Villa chief of the Convention’s armies with many generals taking sides; some for Villa, and others for Carranza. González and Álvaro Obregón allied themselves with Carranza against Villa and Zapata. The Convention eventually dissolved. On 17 November 1914, Obregón issued a manifesto in support of Carranza, declaring Villa, Felipe Ángeles, and José María Maytorena an unholy trinity of monsters bent on crime and treason against Mexico. Because the Constitutionalist forces were outnumbered and out gunned, they abandoned Mexico City, around 20 November 1914 and reestablished a Constitutionalist government in Veracruz, the country’s wealthiest port.
Obregón spent much of December learning what support and resources he could count on during the coming fight against Villa’s Conventionists. On 5 January 1915, Obregón took Puebla, to the southeast of Mexico City, and began a counteroffensive against the Conventionists. By late January, both Zapata and Villa had abandoned the capital, leaving it in the hands of their chosen interim-president, General Eulalio Gutiérrez. On 28 January 1915, Obregón recaptured Mexico City for the Constitutionalsits; he was unopposed because interim president Gutiérrez had fled. While in command of Mexico City, Obregón publicly demanded that the Catholic Church pay the Constitutionalists 500,000 pesos to assist with the situation on-the-ground in the capital. When the clergymen did not produce the money immediately, the General arrested many of them. Obregón also imposed a tax on capital investments in Mexico City to help the poor buy badly needed goods. When the businessmen of the city refused to pay the tax they too were arrested, and had to sweep city streets in humiliation.
On 12 December 1914, Obregón wrote to General Eulalio Gutiérrez, president of the Convention at Aguascalientes, accusing him of acting as “the tool of treason” by aiding Villa.
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Civil War – An Overview
After they defeated Huerta in 1914, rebels fought over who should govern Mexico. Interim president Eulalio Gutiérrez was little known to the public. The Carranza-Obregón Alliance recognized Carranza as First Chief ruling from Veracruz, but the Zapata-Villa Convention alliance was divided among Zapata, who supported land reform advocate Roque González Garza from Durango, while Villa acted like a head of state in Chihuahua, issuing currency and legislation. If Zapata was the left wing of the Villa coalition; the Madero family, Cedillo Brothers, Carrera Torres, José María Maytorena and Felipe Riveros were its conservative branch. Separate civil wars were fought in different states; sometimes coalition forces gained the upper hand in one, only to be defeated in another state. Generals switched their support from one presidential candidate to another and formed and reformed coalitions. Although, the strongest coalitions were Zapata and Villa’s Conventionist and Carranza and Obregón’s Constitutionalist, they were not the only ones.
Carranza’s Constitutionalist coalition had one half in the east and the other in the west. Communications went by sea so that the Conventionists could not intercept the messages. Even in states he controlled, the people saw Carranza as an outsider so that his troops spent as much time pacifying local rebellions as fighting other coalitions. By 1916, even Obregón called for Carranza’s resignation and the coalition split in two.
The Conventionists controlled most of the country along a north-south axis from Chihuahua to Morelos. Villa and Zapata both had large domestic followings, strong international support, and Villa and Zapata’s personal leadership drew many peasant groups to their side. Yet, Villa and Zapata’s interests were regional rather than national, and they lacked a vision for the future. Moreover, the movement was split between those who favored Zapata – an agrarian class predominately from Morelos – and those who followed Villa.
In fact, the Constitutionalists were more united militarily, had more money, and boasted clearer national goals. In February 1915, interim president Eulalio Gutiérrez fled the capital and Obregón took Mexico City unopposed. Gutiérrez established a new government in Nuevo León, still claiming to be the legitimate, authorized president of Mexico, but everyone ignored him. In fact, presidential candidates across Mexico refused to recognize one another and purposely rejected their opponents’ money, notarized documents, and promises to the general public.
The fighting became bloodier as generals -- especially Obregón -- and coalitions adopted new tactics and strategies from World War I. Through 1915, civilian casualties skyrocketed and wartime atrocities became commonplace. Villa stuck to massive cavalry charges that had worked so well before. Some of his generals relished, in particular General Rodolfo Fierro, the newer tactics and were renowned for their cruelty. Obregón became famous both as a wily tactician and as someone known for his fair treatment of prisoners and civilians. Zapata began using new techniques of guerilla uprisings and lightning strikes. The fighting continued from 1914 - 1916 with no one gaining the upper hand.
The map illustrated shows the territories of the different rebel alliances around Mexico.
Mexico: 1913. Atlas of the Mexican conflict : containing detailed maps showing the territory involved, pertinent statistics of Mexico and the United States, summary of recent events in Mexico. Chicago ; New York : Rand McNally & Co., 1913. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress. G1546.S6 R3 1913
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Salvador Toscano: Filming the Revolution
Salvador Toscano Barragán, born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, acquired a Lumière projector in 1897. In the final years of the Porfiriato and throughout the Revolution, Toscano made priceless contributions to film in a manner similar to Agustín Casasola in still photography. One of the greatest contributions to the visual history of the Mexican Revolution is the film Memorias de un Mexicano, produced by his daughter Carmen. Ángel Miquel, author of Salvador Toscano, writes that the film included clips of deserted streets, shooting cannons, destroyed buildings, and trucks transporting casualties. The film was one of the most powerful in its day.
This is a photograph of the Quintano Roo exploratory committee that Salvador Toscano joined in 1916.
Exploratory Committee with Chico Zapote trees, possibly includes Salvador Toscano. Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora de Quintana Roo (Mexico, 1918). Image of the HC137. Q5 A5 1918
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Carranza Assumes the Presidency
The Convention of Aguascalientes had three main concerns: the pre-constitutional government, social reforms that needed to be made before a constitutional government was formed, and how a pre-constitutional government should hand power over to a constitutional government. Since Carranza was the First Chief of the Constitutional Army, he became the leader of the pre-constitutional government. Carranza had already outlined his proposed socioeconomic reforms to the people of Mexico in an effort to appeal to the masses. Carranza’s idea of reform was giving Mexico an independent judiciary and returning control of its natural resources to the Mexican people.
In late 1916, Álvaro Obregón and a number of other high-ranking military leaders formed the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC), which supported the army and helped Carranza achieve the Presidency in 1917. Even though it was a foregone conclusion that Carranza would win the 1917 election, voters still turned out in great numbers; more votes were cast in 1917 than in any previous election.
In May 1917 Carranza was sworn into office in front of the National Congress, the first elected president of Mexico since the assassination of Francisco Madero four years earlier in 1913.
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1916–1919: Governing and Obregón’s Retirement
After the defeat of Villa and Zapata’s Conventionist alliance, Carranza appointed Obregón Secretary of the Army and Navy. Obregón modernized Mexico’s armed forces into a professional fighting machine. He founded a staff college for officer training, and a school of military medicine, as well as a Department of Aviation, including a school for pilot training. Obregón also placed the munitions factories under military control.
As Secretary of the Army and Navy, Obregón had to work with the U.S. when Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico. On 28 April 1916, Obregón met with General Hugh Lennox Scott in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, to discuss the withdraw of U.S. troops from Mexico. Obregón was only allowed to ask for full withdraw of U.S. troops, whereas Scott was not permitted to accept full withdraw until Villa had been caught. On 3 May, Obregón and Scott agreed that the U.S. would gradually withdraw its troops and the Mexican Government would search for Villa. Carranza denied the existence of such a pact since it would help Obregón.
By the later part of 1916, Obregón had split with Carranza, but could not risk an open break with the First Chief. Instead, Obregón tried to outmaneuver Carranza politically. Carranza suspected that Obregón was sending more radical delegates to the 1917 Constitutional Convention. The more radical members of the Constitutional Congress were not, strictly speaking, Obregonistas; Obregón supported them more than they supported him. The 1917 Constitution laid out a specific path for revolutionary leaders to follow forcing them push for the social improvements called for in the document and granting land reform, worker’s rights, and the separation of church and state. Obregón also supported civilian leadership, and in May 1917, Obregón retired from the military after Villa’s final defeat and the withdrawal of Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. Obregón returned to his farming ventures using his considerable power to seize lands from the enemies of the Constitutionalist alliance as well as gathering farmers from Sinaloa and Sonora together into a cooperative. The cooperative became a very lucrative venture for the former General; in 1918 alone, Obregón made $50,000 U.S. exporting his cooperative’s chickpea crop. His small estate in Sonora grew from 180 acres to 3,500 acres. During his time away from the national government, Obregón also cultivated his international image. As World War I drew to a close, he made it clear that he preferred the Western Allies to Germany, in contrast to Carranza.
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