By Cari Casteel
Emilio Portes Gil was born in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas in 1890. He entered law school in
Mexico City where he found his revolutionary roots. He took part in the revolutionary movement
of 1909 and after law school he began to move up the political ladder. Portes Gil started out as a
civil employee in the Department of Justice and was later moved up to become a Supreme Court
Justice in the state of Sonora.(1) But Emilio Portes Gil's claim to fame came during the
revolutionary times of the 1920's. On May 17th, 1924, Portes Gil founded the Border Socialist
Party. In 1925 he was elect governor of the same organization. This position allowed him to
make important legislative decisions promoting the organization of workers and farmers. It
exerted strong influence in the governments and the policy of Tamaulipas. Portes Gil left this
position in 1928 when he was offered a new position, the position of Interim President of
In 1928, Alvaro Obregón
was serving as the head of Mexican government and his tenure was up.
Obregón, in defiance of the "no-reelection" principle that had been one of the key political cries of
the Revolution, tried to recapture the presidency in 1928. Beginning with the 1928 election, the
presidential term was increased from four to six years this was called the sexenio. After that, the
sexenio formed the basis for regular and orderly political succession. Obregón won the election
but was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic, who was later tried and convicted of the crime, before
taking office on July 17, 1928. Seeking to ensure political stability, the Mexican government
opted not to violate the "no-reelection" principle and instead chose, Emilio Portes Gil, as interim
president from December 1928 to February 1930 until new elections could be held. Many people
were skeptical about the provisional government and rightly so. (3)
During his short tenure as president, Portes Gil faced many obstacles. The Cristero Revolution
was carried out with intense revolting.
General José Gonzalo Escobar led the revolt against the
government. The revolt was short lived but it showed how venerable and unstable the
government was. The election was scheduled for November 17th but it seemed that November
was not soon enough. The Mexican Communist Party led a march of students through the streets
of the capital in late March 1929.(4)
Meanwhile the elections were taking place and Mexican citizens were losing faith in their
government Due to these problems, soon the National University students went on strike
in 1929 against the government.
Portes Gil and his advisors passed legislation and tired
to calm the strikers down but when that didn't work the government decided to use force and this
decision worked. The strikers backed down and Emilio Portes Gil was given credit for keeping
the government intact. During his government Mexico also breaks diplomatic relations with the
Soviet Union due to their Communist Government and Mexico's close ties with other nations
opposed to communism. Soon after this on February 5, 1930, Portes Gil handed over the
Presidency to Pascual Ortiz Rubio
who had won the election in November. (5)
After serving as interim President, he was later named Secretary of Interior to President Pascual Ortiz
Rubio, President of the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary National Party, Minister
Plenipotentiary in France, General Solicitor of the Republic and Secretary of Outer Relations, all
positions that reached out to other governments. Portes Gil although he did not officially hold the
Presidency made a huge impact on the way that Mexican citizens viewed their government. His clear
intelligence attributed these important appointments to him; and so he was also named a consulting
party on the National Railroads of Mexico.(6)
After leaving the political scene Portes Gil became an avid writer. He opened a publishing company
and this company published many works not only by Portes Gil but by other writers as well. The
company published journalistic articles and Portes Gil would go and speak during conferences,
consecrating a great part of his activity, in the last years of his life, to leave testimony written of the
interesting experiences of his extensive performance in the public life of Mexico. His works include
the Autobiografía de la Revolucíon and Raigambre of the Revolution in Tamaulipas. Portes
Gil passed away in the City of Mexico the 10 of December of 1978, at the age of 88 years. (7)
In the final analysis, Emilio Portes Gil was an important person for the history of
Mexico, due to the great amount of accomplishments, as well as by his anger and persistence to reach
the goals that he set out. An outstanding quality was the one of orator, book lecturer and writer,
where it showed his feelings of patriotism and his mission of untiring fighter. Emilio Portes Gil left
a large legacy in Mexican history.
Bailey, David C. Viva Cristo Rey! The Cristero Rebellion and the Church-State Conflict in Mexico. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1974.
Brenner, Anita, The Wind That Swept Mexico; The History of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1942. Text by Anita Brenner. 184 historical photos. assembled by George R. Leighton.
Austin, University of Texas Press, 1971.
Cumberland, Charles C. The Meaning of the Mexican Revolution. edited with an introd. by
Charles C. Cumberland. Boston, Heath, 1967.
1. Brenner, Anita, The Wind That Swept Mexico; The History of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1942.
(Austin, University of Texas Press 1971), 45.
2. Ibid. 47-50.
3. Bailey, David C. Viva Cristo Rey! The Cristero Rebellion and the Church-State Conflict in Mexico,
(Austin, University of Texas Press 1974), 20-30.
4. Ibid. 40-44.
5. Ibid. 100-105.
6. Cumberland, Charles C. The Meaning of the Mexican Revolution ( Boston, Heath 1967), 59-61.
7. Ibid. 70-3.