Venustiano Carranza, Liberal Mexican Political Leader(1859- 1920)
By Amanda Layfield
Venustiano Carranza was a man of bold confidence and deliberate character. He
triumphed in a revolution when most men his age were relaxing in retirement.
Though he never fit the conventional image of a revolutionary, he was a man in
contact with the needs of his people. An economist by experience and liberal by
conviction, his vision called for national unity. He jealously guarded Mexico's
sovereignty through his keen intellect and fearless action. His serene nature was
only denoted more emphatically through his unwavering loyalty. His concentration
of power overthrew one of the most feared, cynical, and powerful military
dictatorships in the history of Mexico. What follows is his story.
Venustiano Carranza, born in 1859, was one of fifteen children born to Colonel
Jesús Carranza and María de Jesús Garza. Venustiano Carranza grew up hearing
his father's stories about his life fighting the Indians while serving in the forces for
Benito Juárez. Carranza spent most of his childhood on a large farming ranch in
the state of Coahuila outside the town of Cuatro Ciénegas. He attended school in
Satillo and then the National Prepatory School in Mexico City. Carranza's
schooling was characterized by liberal tradition. Carranza received training in law
and economics but could not pursue a professional career due to abnormal eye
sensitivity. He then returned back home where he continued his study of economics
and dedicated his efforts to ranching and farming.
Carranza did not stay home for long. He heeded the call of political office in 1887
with the support of his family. At the age of twenty-eight, he was elected municipal
president (mayor) of his hometown. Carranza enjoyed his political success. After
serving another term as mayor, Carranza joined his brother Don Emilio on the
warpath against Garza Galán. Garza Galán was appointed as Governor of
Coahuila by Porfirio Díaz. Garza Galán used his power to rob, expropriate lands
and even went as far as to kidnap young girls of wealthy families. After much
growing unrest, the people expected Garza Galán's rule to end at the completion of
his term. However, upon the backing by Romero Rubio, Garza Galán was
mysteriously reelected. Romero Rubio was the father-in-law of President Díaz and
one of his most respected advisors. Upon a fraudulent reelection, Venustiano and
Don Emilio Carranza arose in arms against the state troops of Garza Galán. Díaz
sent federal troops to quiet the revolt, but Venustiano and Don Emilio Carranza had
defeated the state troops repeatedly. Following the advice of his counselors, Díaz
withdrew his troops and recalled the candidacy of Garza Galán. After appointing
another governor more to the Carranzas' liking, Venustiano Carranza politically
aligned himself with General Bernardo Reyes, governor of the neighboring state of
Nuevo León and proconsul to Díaz.
With Reyes's support, Venustiano Carranza became a deputy in the state
legislature, a federal deputy, a federal senator and, in 1908, was appointed
provisional governor of Coahuila. Carranza decisively sought the position of
governor of Coahuila. Seeking Díaz's approval, Carranza publically denounced
Madero's Anti-Reelection Party in 1909. Carranza sought political backing from
Díaz; when he supported another man for governor, Carranza quickly joined
Madero in outrage against Díaz. Carranza's wounded pride and unwavering spirit
prompted the following statement: ' " Tell General Díaz that as long as there is a
single person, who will propose and work in favor of my candidacy, I shall not
renounce it, and I shall accept all the consequences of my conduct" ' ( Fornaro 13 ).
Carranza's deliberate answer placed him in the political spotlight with America and
found his new position under Madero as Minister of War.
Carranza continued the Mexican liberal tradition and wished to steer the
revolutionary movement towards the liberal heritage valued in the Constitution of
1857. Carranza was elected governor of Coahuila in December 1911 where he
assumed leadership of the rebellion against Huerta who had assassinated Madero
and stolen the presidency. In 1913, Carranza drew up the Plan of Guadalupe in
response to Huerta's actions in which he refused to accept the powers of the
dictator. The plan called for the continuity of liberal ideas which highlighted
municipal freedom, independence of the judicial branch, and equality in the eyes of
the law. Calling Huerta's coup unconstitutional, the Plan of Guadalupe became the
charter for the Constitutionalist movement and an open declaration of civil war.
Carranza was quickly named the First Chief of the Constitutionalist movement.
With the clear vision to force Huerta's resignation, Carranza called for the military
support of Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregón, and Emiliano Zapata. As a result of
Huerta's tyrannical rule, Carranza did not have trouble obtaining the backing of
the Mexican people. Huerta made the mistake of confusing cruelty, brutality, and
treachery with power. This false sense of security ultimately led to the victorious
fifteen month campaign that forced Huerta's resignation on July 10, 1914. After
Huerta's flight into exile, division among the Carranza and Villa emerged.
Villa supported the interim president Eulalio Gutiérrez. However, Carranza refused
to give executive power over to Gutiérrez; Carranza did not politically recognize the
Convention that placed Gutiérrez in power. Villa and Zapata declared Carranza
and Obregón in rebellion and quickly resorted to military settlement. Villa and
Zapata's soldiers, overrun by Carranza and Obregón's superior forces, deserted and
returned home. In a divided victory, Carranza and Obregón quickly set their eyes
toward a higher political prize. The presidency would be won independently.
In succeeding fashion, Carranza was elected president on March 11, 1917 with a
wide margin of victory. He quickly got to work enacting the new constitution as the
first order of business. In September 1916, before his presidency, Carranza had
ordered a group of people be convened for the sole purpose of composing a new
constitution. This new charter was adopted on February 5, 1917 and was based on
the liberal 1857 Constitution. The key liberal issues proposed standards for labor,
rights over Mexican territory, and restriction of the power of the Church. This
radical new constitution, in modified form, is still in effect today.
Carranza held optimistic ideals pertaining to the future of Mexico under his
presidency. He believed that in order to strengthen national unity, future reforms
must begin in the family household. By empowering the common citizen, Carranza
proposed that Mexico would lead change throughout Latin America. He held to the
view that under his leadership, Mexico would maintain national sovereignty,
economic development, and basic freedoms. By securing his power from the bottom
up, Carranza sought nationalist characteristics on the regional level. As a former
governor himself, Carranza knew that the Mexican regime would only strengthen by
linking the state governments to the interior. In response to the liberal constitution,
political culture began to take shape beyond the central government. This was
partly due to Carranza's open nature. He commonly met ordinary citizens to talk
with them and understand their life. He was a man in constant contact with his
people. Carranza also sought to increase the Mexican standard of living. He strived
to inject moral virtue into the lives of the Mexican citizens. Venereal diseases,
alcoholism, and prostitution were a common problem in Mexico City and the
countryside. He worked tirelessly to help his people achieve a higher standard. He
valued education and increased classroom budgets to allow more children to attend
school. By the end of his presidency school attendance had increased by 20%.
In regards to national ideals, Carranza was opposed to outside intervention in
Mexican affairs. On November 1, 1918, the Carranza Doctrine was passed which
upheld the equality between the states and condemned all intervention in the
internal affairs of other nations. He securely guarded national interests and called
for internal change in the Mexican government. Carranza intended this change to
be carried out by Ignacio Bonillas, his handpicked successor. However, Obregón
had different intentions and planned to fill the presidency himself. Obregón
sabotaged Bonillas political campaign and became, ironically, a fast enemy of
Carranza. Obregón became the thorn in Carranza's side as he destroyed the
carefully thought out plans of the determined President. On April 30, 1920,
Obregón declared arms against Carranza and the city soon came under heavy fire.
Carranza and his following headed into the Puebla sierra in order to escape the
continuous rebel attacks. However, upon the invitation by a local cacique named
Rodolfo Herrera, Carranza and his men rested the night in huts provided by
Herrera. On the night of May 20, 1920, Carranza was assassinated by Herrera
following a blanket of bullets that bombarded the sleeping President.
Despite all of his obstacles, Venustiano Carranza accomplished much. He defied
tyrants as a time when conformance was the norm. With only a handful of
followers, Carranza changed the history and future of Mexico through his legendary
stubbornness and skillful determination. Furthermore, he is known as the father of
Mexico's constitution. He was the motivating force behind the democratic and
liberal changes. Carranza has not only impacted Mexico's history, he has shaped
her future into what she can become. Carranza was more than a hero; he did what
no one else could or even wanted to do. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of
the Mexican citizen. He jealously guarded the principles that made him proud to be
a Mexican. This determined yet flawed man deserves just regard for his
accomplishments for the Mexican people and for the country he so dearly loved.
Fornado, Carlo. Carranza and Mexico. Mitchell Kennerley. New York, 1915.
Instituto Nacional de Solidaridad. Microbiografía; Personajes en la historia de México, Venustiano Carranza. México, 1993.
Mexico Connect. Venustiano Carranza. www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/vcarranzo.html
Richmond, Douglas W. Venustiano Carranza's Nationalist Struggle, 1893-1920.
University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Stout, Joseph A. Border Conflict. Texas Christian University Press. 1999.