The Mexican revolutionary and president Venustiano Carranza (1859-1920) led the constitutionalist movement against the Huerta government and convoked the constituent assembly which drafted the Constitution of 1917.
Venustiano Carranza was born in Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila, on Dec. 29, 1859. He began his political career during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, serving as municipal president, local deputy, and senator of his birthplace. During the political upheavals of 1908-1910 he became an early supporter of the presidential candidacy of Francisco Madero. The support of the Porfirian politico added prestige to the Madero rebellion of 1910. Carranza served in the revolutionary movement's cabinet and, subsequently, as governor of Coahuila. After Madero's assassination Carranza became the chief of the movement against the usurper Victoriano Huerta to restore constitutional government.
The revolutionary coalition of Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata began to dissolve even before Huerta fled into exile in 1914. Carranza sought to consolidate his control through a convention of the revolutionary generals, but the opposition of villistas and zapatistas forced removal of the gathering to Aguascalientes, where a rival regime emerged. Carranza had to evacuate the capital and withdraw to Veracruz.
Under the pressure of events both sides sought popular support. Carranza issued decrees in December 1914 and January 1915 detailing agrarian and other reforms. The tide turned in 1915 culminating in the victory of Carranza's forces under Álvaro Obregón at Celaya, and by autumn the United States had accorded de facto recognition to the Carranza regime.
The years 1913-1917 were characterized by uneasy relations with the United States. Initially, the problem was President Woodrow Wilson's opposition to the Huerta government and the resulting occupation of Veracruz by United States troops. Subsequently, Villa's raid on Columbus, N. Mex., brought the Pershing Punitive Expedition. Carranza's Germanophile neutrality during World War I added to the difficulties. The grounds for differences shifted when the Constitution of 1917 was adopted, with its implied threat to American interests in Mexico.
Carranza had convened a constitutional convention in Querétaro in December 1916. A radical group of revolutionary soldiers revised his draft proposal to include articles strengthening the state and weakening the Church and restricting large landowners and foreign investors through national control of the subsoil, agrarian reform, and protection for labor. Carranza contributed significantly to the Mexican social revolution by his acceptance and promulgation of the Constitution, which provided the movement with its legal framework, even though the document differed so greatly from what he had proposed.
The bearded, stubborn Carranza, his thoughts and emotions masked behind dark lenses, did not aggressively enforce the new fundamental law after he was elected to the presidency. Land distribution was limited, and though the Mexican Regional Labor Confederation was established, the most serious strikes were dealt with by federal troops. Pacification of the countryside continued as guerrilla bands were brought under control and the economy began to revive.
In 1920 Carranza made a serious political error seeking to impose little-known civilian Ignacio Bonillas as his successor instead of the popular Obregón. Under the plan of Agua Prieta of April 1920 the Sonoran triumvirate of Obregón, Plutarco Calles, and Huerta rebelled. Carranza was forced to flee once again toward Veracruz. However, on May 21, 1920, he was assassinated in a peasant hut at Tlaxcalantongo, Puebla, betrayed by forces which had joined his escort.
There is no scholarly study of Carranza in either Spanish or English. However, studies of the revolution throw light on aspects of his career. Charles C. Cumberland describes the epic phase of the Mexican Revolution in Mexico: The Struggle for Modernity (1968). Frank Tannenbaum, Peace by Revolution: An Interpretation of Mexico (1933), contains a penetrating analysis of the 1917 Constitution. Two specialized studies by Robert E. Quirk are particularly significant: The Mexican Revolution, 1914-1915: The Convention of Aguascalientes (1960) and An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz (1962).