Francisco Indalecio Madero (1873-1913) was a Mexican political leader who led the rebellion which overthrew Porfirio Díaz and made possible the later far-reaching social revolution.
Francisco Madero was born in Parras, Coahuila, on Oct. 30, 1873, the son of a wealthy landowning and industrialist family. After studying in the United States and France, he settled on a farm in San Pedro de las Colonias, where he introduced modern farming techniques and improved the educational, housing, and health facilities of his workers. A devotee of homeopathy and spiritism, Madero was influenced by the latter system of beliefs to enter politics at first locally and then nationally as the means of serving his fellowmen. Beginning in 1905, he backed several local candidates and supported journalists opposing the Díaz regime.
The Creelman interview, in which President Díaz promised free elections, encouraged Madero to write his book Presidential Succession in 1910 and to participate in the organization of independent political groupings—both efforts being directed toward assuring the return of Mexico to the path of democracy. At first willing to compromise with Díaz if an acceptable vice-presidential choice could be obtained, Madero moved first to a political and then a military challenge of the aging dictator.
Madero's courageous campaign, in which he was aided by his wife, Sara Pérez de Madero, earned him the title "Apostle of Democracy." Imprisoned, he escaped to the United States and initiated the armed movement under the Plan of San Luis Potosí(dated Oct. 5, 1910). The document was directed principally at political change, containing but a single paragraph on the land problem and nothing on labor. November 20 was set as the date for initiating the armed movement.
After several months of sporadic and ineffective efforts, the forces of Pascual Orozco in the north and those of Emiliano Zapata in the south began to force the Díaz regime to negotiate. Finally, the fall of Ciudad Juárez in May 1911 brought the relinquishment of power by Díaz, and a provisional, compromise government was set up under Francisco de la Barra. Venustiano Carranza warned that the "revolution that compromises, must be refought."
Madero was elected president in a truly popular election and took office on Nov. 6, 1911. His 15 months in office were marred by serious political opposition, the effort to accommodate both revolutionaries and the old regime in the government, the excessive influence of Madero's family, and four serious rebellions which threatened the existence of the regime, absorbed its attention and resources, and finally destroyed it.
In the south Zapata and his agrarians impatiently rebelled under the Plan of Ayala 3 weeks after Madero took office. In the north Gen. Bernardo Reyes headed a still-born movement, and the revolutionary Orozco, with conservative backing, posed a serious military threat for 5 months. Félix Díaz seized the port of Veracruz in an abortive move, and he and Reyes initiated the uprising in Mexico City on Feb. 9, 1913, which after the "Ten Tragic Days" and the betrayal by Gen. Victoriano Huerta brought the first revolutionary government to an end.
Despite the hectic conditions, under the Madero government press and political freedom was maintained, reform proposals were freely discussed in the Chambers, an agrarian commission began to study the land problem, and an important labor organization, the Casa del Obrero Mundial, was established. However, freedom bred license. Mexico was not ready for political democracy, but fundamental reforms were urgently needed. Internal disorder, vested interests, the opposition of U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, and the betrayal by Huerta, who had been given command against the rebels in Mexico City, brought defeat and tragedy to the Madero government.
The diminutive, bearded Madero and his vice president Pino Suárez were forced to resign their posts and while being transferred from the palace to prison were shot by their escort (Feb. 22, 1913). The martyred Madero became a symbol for revolutionary unity against the usurper Huerta. He had achieved in death what he had been unable to do while alive.
The standard English-language biography of Madero is Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy (1955). A fine companion work is Charles C. Cumberland's monographic study of the initial phase of the Mexican Revolution, Mexican Revolution: Genesis under Madero (1952). There are a number of works written with a different focus which constitute useful reading on the maderista period and on those who opposed Madero: the revisionist effort of William L. Sherman and Richard E. Greenleaf, Victoriano Huerta: A Reappraisal (1960); Michael C. Meyer, Mexican Rebel: Pascual Orozco and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1915 (1967); John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (1969); and Kenneth J. Grieb, The United States and Huerta (1969). Madero is discussed in a popular history of the period by Ronald Atkin, Revolution! Mexico, 1910-1920 (1970). Useful for the precursory period is James D. Cockcroft, Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1913 (1968).