Venustiano Carranza: Wikis


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Venustiano Carranza

President of Mexico
In office
March 11, 1917 – May 21, 1920
Preceded by Victoriano Huerta
Succeeded by Adolfo de la Huerta

Born December 29, 1859(1859-12-29)
Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila
Died May 21, 1920 (aged 60)
Tlaxcalantongo, Puebla
Nationality Mexican
Political party Democratic Party of Mexico & Constitutionalist Liberal Party
Spouse(s) Virginia Salinas
External Timeline A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution

Venustiano Carranza de la Garza (December 29, 1859 – May 21, 1920) was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution. He ultimately became President of Mexico following the overthrow of the dictatorial Huerta regime in the summer of 1914 and during his administration the current constitution of Mexico was drafted. He was assassinated near the end of his term of office at the behest of a cabal of army generals resentful at his insistence that his successor be a civilian.


Early years, 1859–1887

Carranza was born in the town of Cuatro Ciénegas, in the state of Coahuila, to a middle-class cattle-ranching family. His father, Jesús Carranza, had been a rancher and mule-driver until the time of the Reform War (1857-1861), in which he fought against the Indians and on the Liberal side. During the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867), Jesús Carranza became a colonel and was Benito Juárez's main contact in Coahuila.

Venustiano Carranza was born in 1859. He studied at the Ateneo Fuente, a famous Liberal school in Saltillo. In 1874 he went to the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School) in Mexico City. Carranza was still there in 1876 when Porfirio Díaz issued the Plan of Tuxtepec, marking the start of Porfirio Díaz's rebellion against President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada under the slogan "No Reelection" (Tejada had served one term as president). Díaz's troops handily defeated Tejada's and Díaz and his armies marched into Mexico City in triumph.

Upon completion of his studies, Carranza returned to Coahuila to raise cattle with his family. He married Virginia Salinas in 1882 and the couple had two daughters.

Introduction to politics, 1887–1909

Bernardo Reyes (1850-1913), Porfirio Díaz's "man in the north". Carranza formed a personal friendship with Reyes, and Reyes' patronage was responsible for Carranza's election to the Mexican Congress in 1898.

In 1887, at age 28, he became municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas. Carranza remained a Liberal who idolized Benito Juárez, at the same time as he grew disillusioned with the increasingly authoritarian characteristic of the rule of Porfirio Díaz during this period.

In 1893, 300 Coahuila ranchers organized an armed resistance to oppose the "reelection" of Porfirio Díaz's supporter José María Garza Galán as Governor of Coahuila. Venustiano Carranza and his brother Emilio participated in this rising. Porfirio Díaz quickly despatched his "man in the north", Bernardo Reyes, to defuse the situation. Venustiano Carranza was granted a personal audience with Reyes in order to explain the justification of the uprising and the ranchers' opposition to Garza Galán. Reyes agreed with Carranza and wrote to Díaz recommending that he withdraw support for Garza Galán.

The events of 1893 allowed Carranza to forge a personal friendship with Bernardo Reyes. After winning a second term as municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas (1894-1898), Reyes had Carranza "elected" to the legislature. In 1904, Bernardo Reyes's protege Miguel Cárdenas, Governor of Coahuila, recommended to Porfirio Díaz that Carranza would make a good senator. As such, Carranza entered the Mexican Senate later that year. Although Carranza was sceptical of the Científicos whom Porfirio Díaz was relying on to run Mexico, Carranza kept his head down and was a dutiful Porfirian senator.

In 1909, Carranza received Porfirio Díaz's permission to declare himself as candidate to replace Miguel Cárdenas as Governor of Coahuila. Miguel Cárdenas supported Carranza's candidacy, as did the wealthiest landowner in the region, Evaristo Madero (father of Francisco I. Madero). However, for reasons never made entirely clear, Porfirio Díaz ultimately did not support Carranza in this race, with the result that Carranza lost the election. This left Carranza angry with Porfirio Díaz.

Supporter of Francisco I. Madero, 1909–1911

Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913), the father of the Mexican Revolution. Carranza became an early supporter of Madero and the Mexican Revolution, and in 1910, Madero named Carranza commander-in-chief of the Revolution in Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas.

Carranza followed Francisco Madero's Antireelection Movement of 1910 with interest, and after Madero fled to the US and Díaz was reelected as president, Carranza traveled to San Antonio, Texas to join Madero. Madero named Carranza provisional Governor of Coahuila. The Plan of San Luis Potosí, which Madero issued at this time, called for a revolution beginning November 20, 1910. Madero named Carranza commander-in-chief of the Revolution in Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. Carranza, however, failed to organize a revolution in these states, leading some of Madero's supporters to speculate that Carranza was still loyal to Bernardo Reyes. Nevertheless, following the revolutionaries' decisive victory at Ciudad Juárez, Carranza travelled to Ciudad Juárez and Madero named Carranza his Minister of War on May 3, 1911. The revolutionaries were split on how to deal with Porfirio Díaz and Vice President Ramón Corral. Madero favored having Díaz and Corral resign, with Francisco León de la Barra serving as interim president until a new election could be held. Carranza disagreed with Madero, arguing that allowing Díaz and Corral to resign would legitimate their rule, while an interim government would merely be a prolongation of the dictatorship and would discredit the Revolution. Madero's view prevailed, however.

Governor of Coahuila, 1911–1913

Carranza returned to Coahuila to serve as governor, shortly holding elections in August 1911 which he won handily. As governor, Carranza began to reform the judiciary, the legal codes, and tax laws. He introduced regulations to prevent mining accidents, to rein in abusive practices at company stores, to break up commercial monopolies, to combat alcoholism, and to rein in gambling and prostitution. He also made large investments in education, which he saw as the key to societal development. At the same time, he was concerned to promote law and order in the countryside, and had Porfirio Díaz's rurales reenlist into his security forces.

The relationship between Carranza and Madero deteriorated in this period. Carranza, who had opposed Madero's plan to have an interim presidency, now criticized Madero for being a weak and ineffectual president. Madero in turn accused Carranza of being spiteful and authoritarian. Carranza believed that there would soon be an uprising against Madero, so he formed alliances with other Liberal governors: Pablo González Garza, Governor of San Luis Potosí; Alberto Fuentes Dávila, Governor of Aguascalientes; and Abraham González, Governor of Chihuahua.

Carranza was unsurprised in February 1913 when Victoriano Huerta, Bernardo Reyes, and Félix Díaz overthrew Madero during La Decena trágica (The Ten Tragic Days). Carranza offered Madero refuge in Coahuila, but he was unable to prevent Madero's execution.

Location of Coahuila in Mexico. Carranza served as Governor of Coahuila 1911-1913.

A passionate student of history, Carranza believed that Madero had made the same mistakes in 1912 that Ignacio Comonfort had made in 1857-58: by being weak and overly humanitarian, Madero had allowed conservative reactionaries to seize power. Carranza now believed that he could fill the role that Benito Juárez had played in the years after Comonfort's downfall.

In late February 1913, Carranza asked the legislature of Coahuila to formally declare itself in a state of rebellion against Huerta's government. In his first battle with federal troops, in early March 1913, Carranza was defeated and forced to retreat to Monclova. On the way, he stopped at his Guadalupe Hacienda. There he found a group of young officers—Francisco J. Múgica, Jacinto B. Treviño, and Lucio Blanco—who had drawn up a plan modeled on the Plan of San Luis Potosí which disavowed Huerta and called on Carranza to become Primer Jefe ("First Chief") of the Constitutional Army. Carranza felt that it had been a mistake to include promises of social reform in the Plan of San Luis Potosí because this had created unrealistic expectations in the populace, and had resulted in them growing disillusioned with the Revolution after it failed to deliver on its promises. He therefore insisted that the Plan of Guadalupe include only a promise to restore the 1857 Constitution of Mexico, without the promised social reforms of the Plan of San Luis Potosí.

A few weeks after Carranza had issued the Plan of Guadalupe, he met a delegation from Sonora headed by Adolfo de la Huerta in Monclova, and the Sonorans agreed to support the Plan of Guadalupe.

Primer Jefe of the Constitutional Army, 1913–1915

Carranza initially divided the country into seven operational zones, though his Revolution was really launched in only three: (1) the northwest, under the command of Pablo González Garza; (2) the center, under the command of Pánfilo Natera; and (3) the northeast, under the command of Álvaro Obregón. The Revolution, launched in March 1913, initially did not go well, and Huerta's troops marched into Monclova, forcing Carranza to flee to the rebels' stronghold of Sonora in August 1913. In March 1914, Carranza was informed of Pancho Villa's victories and of advances made by the forces under Pablo González and Álvaro Obregón. Carranza determined that it was safe to leave Sonora, and traveled to Ciudad Juárez, which served as his capital for the remainder of his struggle with Huerta.

Although Pancho Villa was a skilled commander, his tactics throughout the 1913-14 campaign created a number of diplomatic incidents which were a major headache for Carranza in this period. Villa had confiscated the property of Spaniards in Chihuahua, and had allowed his troops to murder an Englishman, Benton, and an American, Bauch. At one point, Villa arrested Manuel Chao, the Governor of Chihuahua, and Carranza had to personally travel to Chihuahua to order Villa to release Chao. In response to the Benton Affair, the American government sent 2,000 Marines to occupy Veracruz, Veracruz. The fighting ended with 18 American Marines and 200 Mexican soldiers being killed, and Veracruz taken.

The fight against Huerta formally ended on August 15, 1914, when Álvaro Obregón signed a number of treaties in Teoloyucan in which the last of Huerta's forces surrendered to him and recognized the Constitutional government. On August 20, 1914, Carranza made a triumphal entry into Mexico City.

The Convention of Aguascalientes: Break with Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata

Pancho Villa (left), commander of the División del Norte (Division of the North), and Emiliano Zapata, commander of the Ejército Libertador del Sur (Liberation Army of the South). Villa is sitting in the presidential throne in the Palacio Nacional.

Although the revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata had fought against the Huerta government, they had never signed on to the Plan of Guadalupe.

Zapata, in his Plan of Ayala, demanded sweeping social reforms of the type which Carranza had specifically excluded from the Plan of Guadalupe. When it became clear that Carranza was not willing to introduce these social reforms, Zapata broke with Carranza, formally breaking off all connection on September 5, 1914.

As we saw above, tensions between Carranza and Pancho Villa were high throughout 1913-14, over Governor Chao and over the diplomatic incidents which Villa provoked. In August, Carranza refused to let Villa enter Mexico City with him, and refused to promote Villa to major-general. Villa formally disavowed Carranza on September 23, 1914.

On July 8, 1914, Villistas and Carrancistas had signed the Treaty of Torreón, in which they agreed that after Huerta's forces were defeated, 150 generals of the Revolution would meet to determine the future shape of the country. This Convention went ahead at Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes on October 5, 1914. Carranza did not participate in the Convention of Aguascalientes because he was not a general (several Zapatista civilian intellectuals were allowed to join the Convention, however).

At the Convention, the young philosopher José Vasconcelos argued that Article 128 of the 1857 Constitution provided that the revolutionary army now constituted the legitimate government of Mexico; the assembled generals quickly agreed with him. The Convention therefore called on Carranza to resign. Carranza responded with a message to the Convention sent on November 23, 1914. He agreed to resign, but only if he could be assured that a truly constitutional government would be put in place following his resignation. He therefore listed three preconditions that must be met before he would resign: (1) the establishment of a preconstitutional regime that would make necessary social and political reforms before constitutional government is reestablished; (2) the resignation and exile of Villa; and (3) the resignation and exile of Zapata.

A week later, the Convention's joint commissions of war and of the interior (a group which included Álvaro Obregón, Felipe Ángeles, Eulalio Gutiérrez, and Francisco I. Madero's brother Raúl) agreed in principle to Carranza's conditions. The Convention then elected Eulalio Gutiérrez as provisional President for 20 days until his position could be ratified, and called on Carranza to resign immediately. Carranza responded by moving his government to Córdoba, Veracruz and by sending the Convention a telegram in which he said he would not resign until his conditions had been fully met and they had not: Villa remained in control of the División del Norte; Zapata had not resigned; and Gutiérrez was only granted power for 20 days, which hardly made him an effective preconstitutional government.

With Carranza's withdrawal, Carrancistas now controlled only Veracruz and Tamaulipas. The rest of the country was now under the control of the various generals represented by the Convention. Carranza was at least able to negotiate the withdrawal of American troops from Veracruz, Veracruz in November 1914 and set up his capital there.

Álvaro Obregón and Pablo González remained loyal to Carranza, however, and fought on. In April 1915, Obregón scored a decisive victory over Villa in the Bajío at the Battle of Celaya, and in May 1915, González began a campaign against the last-remaining Zapatistas. In July 1915, Francisco Lagos Cházaro, the last interim president appointed by the Convention of Aguascalientes, surrendered. In August 1915, Carranza's troops entered Mexico City a second time. The United States recognized Carranza as President of Mexico in October 1915.

Head of the Preconstitutional Government, 1915–1917

President Carranza in Piedras Negras, Coahuila in 1915.

With the defeat of the División del Norte and the Zapatistas, by mid-1915, Carranza was President of Mexico as head of what he termed a "Preconstitutional Government." Carranza formally took charge of the executive branch on May 1, 1915.

On December 12, 1914, Carranza had issued his Additions to the Plan of Guadalupe, which laid out an ambitious reform program, including Laws of Reform, in conscious imitation of Benito Juárez's Laws of Reform.

Reforms were carried through in many areas

  • Judicial reform - Carranza introduced important reforms to ensure an independent judiciary for Mexico.
  • Land reform - although Carranza had initially been sceptical about the need for land reform, his interactions with Zapata convinced him that the problem was real. Carranza's solution was the ejido system, by which formerly communal lands which had been privately expropriated were to be returned to villages. In practice, very few lands were returned.
  • Labor - in February 1915, the Constitutionalist Army signed an agreement with the Casa del Obrero Mundial ("House of the World Worker"), the labor union with anarcho-syndicalist connections which had been established during Francisco I. Madero's presidency. As a result of this agreement, six "Red Battalions" of workers were formed to fight alongside the Constitutionalists against Villa and Zapata. However, after the defeat of Villa and Zapata, relations between Carranza and organized labor soured. In January 1916, the Red Battalions were dissolved, and throughout 1916, Carranza opposed workers' who attempted to exercise their right to strike, seeing their actions as disruptive. In August 1916, the Casa del Obrero Mudial was forcibly disbanded by the police, and an 1862 law making striking a capital offense was reinstated.
President Carranza in La Cañada, Querétaro, January 22, 1916.
  • Struggle against foreign companies for natural resources - under the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, foreign mining and oil companies (chiefly American companies) had received generous rights from the government. On January 7, 1915, Carranza issued a decree declaring his intention to return the wealth of oil and coal to the people of Mexico. The two largest oil companies exploiting Mexico's natural resources were the Mexican Eagle Petroleum Company, an English company led by Lord Cowdray and operating mainly in the region of Poza Rica, Veracruz and Papantla, Veracruz; and Mexican Petroleum, an American company led by Edward L. Doheny and operating in the region of Tampico, Tamaulipas. Carranza was largely unable to move against the foreign oil companies because the region of La Huasteca where they operated was under the control of General Manuel Peláez who protected the oil companies' interests in exchange for protection money from the oil companies. Carranza moved more successfully against the mining companies, implementing the Calvo Doctrine. He raised their taxes, and removed the right of diplomatic recourse for mining companies, declaring them now subject to the Mexican courts (both policies were opposed by the United States and delayed several times at the request of United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing).

The Constitutional Convention of Querétaro, 1916–1917

In September 1916, Carranza convoked a Constitutional Convention, to be held in Querétaro, Querétaro. He declared that the liberal 1857 Constitution of Mexico would be respected, though purged of some of its shortcomings.

However, when the Constitutional Convention met in December 1916, it contained only 85 conservatives and centrists close to Carranza's brand of liberalism, a group known as the bloque renovador ("renewal faction"). Against them were 132 more radical delegates who insisted that land reform be embodied in the new constitution. These radical delegates were particularly inspired by the thought of Andrés Molina Enríquez, in particular his 1909 book Los Grandes Problemas Nacionales (English: The Great National Problems). Andrés Molina Enríquez, though not a delegate to the Convention, was a close advisor to the committee that drafted Article 27 of the constitution which declared that private property had been created by the Nation and that the Nation had the right to regulate private property to ensure that communities that had "none or not enough land and water" could take them from latifundios and haciendas. Article 27 also moved much further than the Calvo Doctrine and declared that only native-born or native Mexicans could have property rights in Mexico, and that, though the government might grant rights to foreigners, these rights were always provisional and could not be appealed to foreign governments.

The radicals also moved much further than Carranza approved on labor relations. In February 1917, they drafted Article 123 of the Constitution, which established an eight-hour work day, abolished child labor, contained provisions to protect female and adolescent workers, required holidays, provided a reasonable salary to be paid in cash and profit-sharing, established boards of arbitration, and provided for compensation in case of dismissal.

The radicals also established more radical reform of the relationship of church and state than that favored by Carranza. Articles 3 and 130 were heavily anticlerical: the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico was denied recognition as a legal entity; priests were denied various rights and subject to public registration; religious education was forbidden; public religious ritual outside of the churches was banned; and all churches were became the property of the nation.

In short, although Carranza had been the most ardent proponent of constitutionalism and led the Constitutional Army, the 1917 Constitution of Mexico was very different from the liberal constitution that Carranza had wanted. However, the Carrancistas had gained some important victories in the Constitutional Convention: the power of the executive was enhanced and the executive was enhanced and the power of the legislature was diminished. The post of Vice President was eliminated. And judges were given life tenure to promote judicial independence.

President of Mexico, 1917–1920

Carranza, as depicted on the obverse of the former $100 Mexican peso.

The new constitution was proclaimed on February 5, 1917. In May 1917, Carranza became the constitutional President of Mexico.

Mexico was in desperate straits in 1917. The revolutionary fighting had decimated the economy; destroyed the nation's food supply; and led to widespread disease.

Carranza continued to face many internal enemies: Emiliano Zapata continued his rebellion in the mountains of Morelos; Félix Díaz had returned to Mexico in May 1916 and organized an army that he called the Ejército Reorganizador Nacional (National Reorganizer Army) that remained active in Veracruz; the former Porfirians Guillermo Meixueiro and José María Dávila were active in Oaxaca, calling themselves Soberanistas (Sovereigntists) and insisted on local autonomy; General Manuel Peláez was still in charge of La Huasteca; the brothers Saturnino Cedillo, Cleophas Cedillo, and Magdaleno Cedillo organized an opposition in San Luis Potosí; José Inés Chávez García led the resistance to Carranza's government in Michoacán; and Pancho Villa remained active in Chihuahua. The only two rebel leaders captured by Carranza were Pancho Villa's supporter Felipe Ángeles, and Emiliano Zapata (Carranza had put a bounty on Zapata's head, which led to his assassination).

Carranza maintained Mexican neutrality throughout World War I. He briefly considered allying with the German Empire after German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent Mexico the famous Zimmerman Telegram in January 1917, inviting Mexico to enter the war on the German side. Zimmerman promised Mexico German aide in re-capturing territory lost to the United States during the Mexican–American War, specifically the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Carranza assigned a general to study the possibility of recapturing this territory from the U.S., but ultimately concluded that war to recapture territory from the U.S. was not feasible.

Carranza remained lukewarm about the anti-clerical Articles 3 and 130 of the Mexican Constitution, both of which he had opposed at the Constitutional Convention. He proposed a constitutional amendment to mollify these constitutional provisions, but his proposal was rejected by the state legislatures and 2/3 of the Mexican Congress.

Public corruption was a major problem of Carranza's presidency. A popular saying was that "The Old Man doesn't steal, but he lets them steal," and a new verb, carrancear was coined, meaning "to steal".

Casa-Museo (Museum-House), federal district.

Carranza determined not to run for re-election in 1920. His natural successor was Álvaro Obregón, the heroic Carrancista general. Carranza, however, felt that Mexico should have a president who was not a general, and therefore endorsed Ignacio Bonillas, an obscure diplomat, for the presidency. In response, a group of Sonoran generals (including Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Adolfo de la Huerta), who were the strongest power bloc in Mexico, issued the Plan of Agua Prieta, repudiating Carranza's government and renewing the Revolution on their own.

On April 8, 1920, a campaign aide to Obregon attempted to assassinate Carranza. After the failed attempt, Carranza was forced to flee Mexico City. He set out towards Veracruz but was betrayed and assassinated in Tlaxcalantongo in the Sierra Norte de Puebla by the forces of General Rodolfo Herrero, supporter of Carranza's former allies, on May 21, 1920. According to General Francisco L. Urquizo, Carranza's last words were: "Licenciado, ya me rompieron una pierna" which translates as "Lawyer, they have already broken one of my legs". (Carranza was referring to his partner, Licenciado Aguirre Berlanga, when he was ambushed and shot).[1]


  1. ^ Gen. Francisco L. Urquizo, De la vida militar mexicana (SEDENA, 1991) p. 228


  • Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power (Harper Collins, 1997) pp. 334-373.

External links

Preceded by
Francisco S. Carvajal
Revolutionary Commander of Mexico
Succeeded by
Eulalio Gutiérrez
Preceded by
Francisco Lagos Cházaro
Revolutionary Commander of Mexico
Succeeded by
became President
Preceded by
self (as Revolutionary Commander of Mexico)
President of Mexico
Succeeded by
Adolfo de la Huerta

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