United States involvement in the Mexican Revolution
The United States involvement in the Mexican Revolution was varied and seemingly contradictory, first supporting and then repudiating Mexican regimes during the period 1910-1920. For both economic and political reasons, the U.S. government generally supported those who occupied the seats of power, whether they held that power legitimately or not. A clear exception was the French Intervention in Mexico, when the U.S. supported the beleaguered liberal government of Benito Juárez at the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Prior to Woodrow Wilson's inauguration on March 4, 1913, the U.S. Government focused on just warning the Mexican military that decisive action from the U.S. military would take place if lives and property of U.S. nationals living in the country were endangered. President William Howard Taft sent more troops to the US-Mexico border but did not allow them to intervene in the conflict, a move which Congress opposed. Twice during the Revolution, the U.S. sent troops into Mexico.
The U.S. recognized the government of Porfirio Díaz in 1878, two years after Díaz's coup d'état brought him to power. Díaz's long rule of Mexico brought close economic cooperation between the two countries, especially since Díaz imposed political order that allowed business to flourish. In 1908, however, Díaz gave an interview to a U.S. journalist, James Creelman, in which Díaz stated he would not run for re-election in 1910; the statement gave rise to politicking of potential candidates. Díaz reversed himself, ran for re-election, and jailed the leading opposition candidate, Francisco I. Madero. Mexican revolutionaries prior to the 1910 events had sought refuge on the U.S. side of the border, a pattern Madero continued. He escaped Mexico and took refuge in San Antonio, Texas and called for nullification of the 1910 elections, himself as provisional president, and revolutionary support from the Mexican people. His Plan of San Luis Potosí did spark revolutionary uprisings, particularly in Mexico's north. The U.S. stayed out of the unfolding events until March 6, 1911, when President William Howard Taft mobilized forces on the U.S.-Mexico border. "In effect this was an intervention in Mexican politics, and to Mexicans it meant the United States had condemned Díaz."
Although the United States appears to have pursued an inconsistent policy toward Mexico, in fact it was the pattern for the U.S. "Every victorious faction between 1910 and 1919 enjoyed the sympathy, and in most cases the direct support of U.S. authorities in its struggle for power. In each case, the administration in Washington soon turned on its new friends with the same vehemence it had initially expressed in supporting them." The U.S. turned against the regimes it helped install when they began pursuing policies counter to U.S. diplomatic and business interests.
When Díaz was forced to resign in 1911 and Francisco I. Madero was elected president in October 1911, the U.S. president was a lame duck. The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson was initially sympathetic to the new regime, but quickly came into conflict with it. Ambassador Wilson conspired with General Victoriano Huerta to oust Madero. The United States government under newly inaugurated president Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize Huerta's government.
Under President Wilson, the United States had sent troops to occupy Veracruz. President Wilson's government recognized the government of Venustiano Carranza in 1915, which allowed arms from the U.S. to flow to Carranza's forces. When former Carranza ally, Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, the U.S. Army under Gen. John J. Pershing pursued him in a punitive mission, known as the Pancho Villa Expedition. The U.S. failed in the main objective of that raid, which was to capture Villa. Carranza forced the U.S. to withdraw across the border.
|A graphical timeline is available at|
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution
Anglo-American attitudes and U.S. diplomacy in Latin America
U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America was to assume the region was the sphere of influence of the U.S., initially articulated in the Monroe Doctrine. In the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the United States' right to intervene militarily in the region to restore order if in the U.S. view a nation could not or would not do it itself. Thus there was a long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America prior to the Mexican Revolution.
Underpinning these U.S. foreign policies was the assumption that Latin American countries and Latin Americans themselves were lesser. Many Protestant Anglo-Americans believed Catholic Latin Americans were the antithesis of all they themselves represented; Latin Americans were seen to be lazy to Anglo-American industriousness, sluggish to their progress, violent to their peaceful, and genetically debased. These attitudes originated in Catholic Spain's colonial-era political rivals, the Protestant English, who articulated anti-Spanish rhetoric, collectively known as the "Black Legend". Protestant Anglo-Americans believed Spanish Americans dangerously misguided with their "anti-Christ" Pope. One political cartoon during the Mexican Revolution expressed the opinion that former Spanish colonies were only able to advance as they had, due to U.S. intervention.
The press in the U.S. portrayed Mexicans as innately violent and consistently missing opportunities for advancement, as seen in a 1913 San Francisco Examiner cartoon. Rather than considering the Revolution as a legitimate means of forcing change, it served merely to reinforce the perception of lawless Mexicans. Many contended it was only through dictator Porfirio Díaz that Mexico had previously been kept out of chaos. Land redistribution undertaken by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa were condemned as "offer[ing] evidence...of the barbarity of Mexican politics," to which President Woodrow Wilson replied, "the revolution was out of control and...only U.S military intervention could stabilize [the state]." Constant oversight by the U.S. is effectively depicted in a cartoon where watchful American cannon "eyes" are directed on Mexico.
These ideas led to the belief that the United States ought to militarily resolve the situation, reinforced by the second motivating factor of industrial interests in Mexico. Indeed, eighty percent of all investment linked to the railroads were attributed to the US, leading many to conclude, "by the dawn of the new century, the United States controlled the Mexican economy." The railroads, mining and consolidated cash-crop farms were all designed to maximize American interests.
US corporations were thus alarmed at the possibility of radical resource redistribution and elimination of the status quo previously maintained by Diaz, and demanded that their interests be secured. This fear was fanned with that under the Mexican Constitution of 1917, the national government would be able to regulate foreign-owned operations. Many deemed that "Mexico...was the doorway to all of Latin America's riches, but only if the neighbor remained under U.S economic tutelage." The U.S. government's intervention would merely be safeguarding its interests and continuing its "informal imperialism" whereby threats of military involvement and economic pressures were used to keep Mexico in line with U.S. goals.
Díaz opened Mexico to foreign investment of Britain, France, Germany, and most especially the United States, creating the conditions of "order and progress" that promoted Mexico's modernization. Mexico-United States relations during Díaz's presidency were generally strong, although he began to strengthen ties with Great Britain, Germany, and France to offset U.S. power and influence. U.S. President William Howard Taft recognized the role that Díaz played in transforming Mexico, saying "Certainly no people have made greater relative progress than the Mexican people have made under the administration of Porfirio Díaz...[he] has done more for the people of Mexico than any other Latin American has done for any of his people; ...the truth is they need a firm hand in Mexico and everybody realizes it." Mexico was extremely important to U.S. business interests and Taft saw Díaz as key to protecting those investments. Taft met Díaz in person on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1909, an historic event in itself since it was the first trip of a sitting U.S. president to Mexico. It was a way for the U.S. to signal its continuing support of Díaz, despite his advancing age. Taft was pragmatic, saying "we have two billions American capital in Mexico that will be greatly endangered if Díaz were to die and his government go to pieces."
Despite the importance of Mexico to U.S. business interests and the long border between the two countries that could make the U.S. vulnerable to unrest in Mexico having repercussions in the U.S., the U.S. had "a history of incompetent diplomatic representation." According to one scholar, the Taft administration's appointment of Henry Lane Wilson as ambassador "continued the tradition of incompetence."
During the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, documents conveyed from the U.S. Consulate in Mexico kept the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. informed about Mexican affairs. The Secretary of State told President Taft of the buildup to possible regime change in Mexico, when Díaz was unable to control rebellions in various areas of Mexico. Initially, Taft did not want to intervene but wanted to keep the Díaz government in power to prevent problems with business relations between the two countries, such as the sales of oil between Mexico and the United States.
The U.S. and the overthrow of Madero, 1912–1913
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico H.L. Wilson helped to plot the February 1913 coup d'état, during the Ten Tragic Days (la decena trágica), which overthrew Francisco I. Madero. However, the Ambassador might have done this without the explicit approval of lame duck President Taft, but Ambassador Wilson had secured the support of the foreign diplomatic corps in Mexico, especially the British, German, and French envoys, for the coup and lobbied for U.S. recognition of the new head of state, General Victoriano Huerta.
U.S. and Huerta regime 1913–1914
Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated president in March 1913, but the coup d'état in Mexico was an established fact, with the democratically elected president Madero murdered and his family in exile. President Wilson recalled Ambassador Wilson to Washington and later replaced him. President Wilson was horrified at the murders of President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez and breaking from long-standing practice to recognize de facto regimes did not recognize the Huerta as the legitimate head of the Mexican government. A series of rebellions broke out in Mexico against Huerta's regime, especially in the North (Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila), and continuing fighting in Morelos under Emiliano Zapata. Unlike the brief rebellions that helped bring Madero to power in 1910–1911, Mexico descended into civil war. However, the involvement of the U.S.in larger conflicts with its diplomatic and economic rivals in Mexico, particularly Great Britain and Germany, meant that foreign powers affected the way the Mexican situation played out.
When U.S. agents discovered that the German merchant ship, the Ypiranga, was carrying arms to Huerta's regime, President Wilson ordered troops to the port of Veracruz to stop the ship from docking. The U.S. did not declare war on Mexico city but the U.S. troops carried out a skirmish against Huerta's forces in Veracruz. The Ypiranga managed to dock at another port, which infuriated Wilson.
On April 9, 1914, Mexican officials in the port of Tampico, Tamaulipas, arrested a group of U.S. sailors — including at least one taken from on board his ship, and thus from U.S. territory. After Mexico refused to apologize in the terms that the U.S. had demanded, the U.S. navy bombarded the port of Veracruz and occupied Veracruz for seven months. Woodrow Wilson's actual motivation was his desire to overthrow Huerta, whom he refused to recognize as Mexico's leader; the Tampico Affair did succeed in further destabilizing Huerta's regime and encouraging the revolutionary opponents. The ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) arbitrated, in the Niagara Falls peace conference, held in Ontario, Canada, and U.S. troops left Mexican soil, averting an escalation of the conflict to war.
An increasing number of border incidents early in 1916 culminated in an invasion of American territory on 8 March 1916, when Francisco (Pancho) Villa and his band of 500 to 1,000 men raided Columbus, New Mexico, burning army barracks and robbing stores. In the United States, Villa came to represent mindless violence and banditry. Elements of the 13th Cavalry regiment repulsed the attack, but 14 soldiers and ten civilians were killed. Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing immediately organized a punitive expedition of about 10,000 soldiers to try to capture Villa. They spent 11 months (March 1916 – February 1917) unsuccessfully chasing him, though they did manage to destabilize his forces. A few of Villa's top commanders were also captured or killed during the expedition.
The 7th, 10th, 11th, and 13th Cavalry regiments, 6th and U.S. 16th Infantry Regiments, part of the U.S. 6th Field Artillery, and supporting elements crossed the border into Mexico in mid-March, followed later by the 5th Cavalry, 17th and 24th Infantry Regiment (United States), and engineer and other units. Pershing was subject to orders which required him to respect the sovereignty of Mexico, and was further hindered by the fact that the Mexican government and people resented the invasion. Advance elements of the expedition penetrated as far as Parral, some 400 miles (640 km) south of the border, but Villa was never captured.
The campaign consisted primarily of dozens of doughnut skirmishes with small bands of insurgents. There were even clashes with Mexican Army units; the most serious was on 21 June 1916 at the Battle of Carrizal, where a detachment of the 10th Cavalry was nearly destroyed. War would probably have been declared but for the critical situation in Europe. Even so, virtually the entire regular army was involved, and most of the National Guard had been federalized and concentrated on the border before the end of the affair. Normal relations with Mexico were restored eventually by diplomatic negotiation, and the troops were withdrawn from Mexico in February 1917.
Minor clashes with Mexican irregulars, as well as Mexican Federales, continued to disturb the U.S.-Mexican border from 1917 to 1919. Although the Zimmermann Telegram affair of January 1917 did not lead to a direct U.S. intervention, it took place against the backdrop of the Constitutional Convention and exacerbated tensions between the USA and Mexico. Military engagements took place near Buenavista, Sonora, on 1 December 1917; in San Bernardino Canyon, Chihuahua, on 26 December 1917; near La Grulla, Texas, on 9 January 1918; at Pilares, Mexico, about 28 March 1918; at the town of Nogales on the Sonora–Arizona border on 27 August 1918; and near El Paso, Texas, on 16 June 1919.
Foreign mercenaries in Mexico
Many adventurers, ideologues and freebooters from outside Mexico were attracted by the purported excitement and romance of the Mexican Revolution. Most mercenaries served in armies operating in the north of Mexico, partly because those areas were the closest to popular entry points to Mexico from the U.S., and partly because Pancho Villa had no compunction about hiring mercenaries. The first legion of foreign mercenaries, during the 1910 Madero revolt, was the Falange de los Extranjeros (Foreign Phalanx), which included Giuseppe ("Peppino") Garibaldi, grandson of the famed Italian unifier, as well as many American recruits.
Later, during the revolt against the coup d'état of Victoriano Huerta, many of the same foreigners and others were recruited and enlisted by Pancho Villa and his División del Norte. Villa recruited Americans, Canadians and other foreigners of all ranks from simple infantrymen on up, but the most highly prized and best paid were machine gun experts such as Sam Dreben, artillery experts such as Ivor Thord-Gray, and doctors for Villa's celebrated Servicio sanitario medic and mobile hospital corps. There is little doubt that Villa's Mexican equivalent of the French Foreign Legion (known as the "Legion of Honor") was an important factor in Villa's successes against Huerta's Federal Army.
U.S. military decorations
The U.S. military awarded the Mexican Service Medal to its troops for service in Mexico. The streamer is yellow with a blue center stripe and a narrow green stripe on each edge. The green and yellow recalls the Aztec standard carried at the Battle of Otumba in 1520, which carried a gold sun surrounded by the green plumes of the quetzal. The blue color alludes to the United States Army and refers to the Rio Grande separating Mexico from the United States.
- Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1981, p. 563.
- John Womack, Jr. "The Mexican Revolution" in Mexico Since Independence, ed. Leslie Bethell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991, p. 131.
- Katz, Secret War in Mexico, p. 564.
- Anderson, Mark. C. "What's to Be Done With 'Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915", Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1998):30-31.
- Anderson, Mark. C. "What's to Be Done With 'Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915", Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1997):28.
- Rayund A. Paredes, "The Origins of Anti-Mexican Sentiment in the United States", New Scholar Vol. 6 (1977):139, 158
- Anderson, Mark. C. "What's to Be Done With 'Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915", Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1997): 27-28, also known as the Leyenda Negra.
- Rayund A. Paredes, "The Origins of Anti-Mexican Sentiment in the United States", New Scholar Vol. 6 (1977):140.
- John A. Britton, "A Search for Meaning" in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995):29.
- Britton, John. A. "Revolution in Context" in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995):5.
- Anderson, Mark. C. "What's to Be Done With 'Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915", Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1997):40.
- Anderson, Mark. C. "What's to Be Done With 'Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915", Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1998):40-41.
- Gonzalez, Gilbert G. and Raul A. Fernandez. "Empire and the Origins of Twentieth-Century Migration from Mexico to the United States" in A Century of Chicano History, New York, Routledge (2003):37.
- Gonzalez, Gilbert G. and Raul A. Fernandez. "Empire and the Origins of Twentieth Century Migration from Mexico to the United States" in A Century of Chicano History, New York, Routledge (2003):31.
- Britton, John. A. "Revolution in Context" in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995):6.
- Gonzalez, Gilbert G. and Raul A. Fernandez. "Empire and the Origins of Twentieth Century Migration from Mexico to the United States" in A Century of Chicano History, New York, Routledge (2003):35, emphasis mine.
- Britton, John. A. "Revolution in Context" in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995):8.
- Katz, The Secret War in Mexico.
- quoted in Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1998, pp. 237-38.
- Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 238.
- Anderson, Mark. C. “What’s to Be Done With ‘Em? Images of Mexican Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations and Moral Decrepitude in the United States Press 1913-1915”, Mexican Studies, Winter Vol. 14, No. 1 (1998): 23-70.
- Britton, John. A. “A Search for Meaning” in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995): 25-49.
- Britton, John. A. “Revolution in Context” in Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky (1995): 5-23.
- Gonzalez, Gilbert G. and Raul A. Fernandez. “Empire and the Origins of Twentieth Century Migration from Mexico to the United States” in A Century of Chicano History, New York, Routledge (2003): 29-65.
- Paredes, Rayund A. “ The Origins of Anti-Mexican Sentiment in the United States”, New Scholar Vol. 6 (1977) : 139-167.