The life of Toribio Esquivel Obregón, opponent of the Mexican Revolution

06/05/2021

In studies on the Mexican Revolution, much is known about leaders such as Madero, Carranza, Villa or Zapata, but little or nothing about the political opponents who spoke out against the armed struggle, among them Toribio Esquivel Obregón, a character ignored in the historiographic field, due to his closeness to the government of Victoriano Huerta, a situation that cost him exile in the United States and the rejection of the political class of his time.

Originally from León, Guanajuato, where he lived until he was 50 years old, Toribio Esquivel has been a very stigmatized character; the tip of the iceberg was known about him, but not his complete trajectory. Founding member of the Anti-Reelectionist Party, together with Francisco I. Madero, Esquivel Obregón headed an opposition line within this political organization due to his disagreement with the alliance promoted by Madero with the Reyistas, who had been left without leadership after Bernardo Reyes was sent out of the country by Porfirio Díaz.

Later, he traveled to Ciudad Juarez with businessman Oscar Braniff, at the time when the Maderista movement was being defined and the possibility of taking that border city was being considered. As an envoy of José Yves Limantour, Díaz's Secretary of the Treasury, his interest was to try to avoid war, for which reason his distance from Madero was increasing and their political differences were becoming more pronounced. 

Toribio Esquivel never agreed with the armed struggle, he considered it necessary to wait more time to create a party that would be strengthened and even if the 1910 elections were not won, an alternative political force would be generated, but Madero did not agree with this proposal and they began to distance themselves.

When the coup d'état against "the hero of democracy" took place, Esquivel Obregón was living in Mexico City where he set up a law firm and had distanced himself somewhat from politics. However, some time later, as a member of Victoriano Huerta's cabinet, he was also accused of being responsible for Madero's death, along with the rest of the secretaries of state. 

He defended himself from this accusation saying that it had been Huerta's decision and that the cabinet had nothing to do with it. However, over the years, he acknowledged that he should have resigned from his post in protest against this action.

Toribio Esquivel's decision to join Huerta was, on the one hand, his disillusionment with Maderismo and, on the other, to promote an agrarian project he had been conceiving since 1908, which proposed the division of large estates and the granting of credits by the government, particularly for the benefit of ranchers who would thus have access to small properties.

This is one of the reasons why he joined Huerta, he thought that with him there would be the possibility of carrying out the agrarian project, and although he tried, he only lasted five months as Secretary of the Treasury, because the president had no interest in developing any project of this nature and only wanted to keep the felicistas away. Thus, Toribio Esquivel -linked to Félix Díaz- was left out of the cabinet.

At that time, Huerta's government was assuming an increasingly dictatorial tone and assassinations of important politicians such as Belisario Domínguez took place. Venustiano Carranza rebelled against the regime and civil war broke out. In December 1913, Toribio Esquivel left the country and remained for almost 11 years in exile in New York, where he became a declared counterrevolutionary and allied with groups with this political profile.

Through him, we can appreciate the look of the exiles and of the U.S. government itself towards the revolutionary movement. He never wanted to stay in exile, his first attempt to return to Mexico was in 1920, when he asked the government of Adolfo de la Huerta to allow him to return in order to defend himself against the accusation of having been responsible for the death of Madero, but the president did not allow him to do so. It was not until 1924 when he was able to return to the country.

Upon his return, don Toribio no longer intervened much in politics, he taught at the Free School of Law and at UNAM, and wrote important works, among them the History of Law, which is his greatest legacy. He was of liberal thought, just like his father, and an absolute believer in the power of laws.

Another relevant aspect of Toribio Esquivel is that he was the founder of two of the great parties of the Mexican 20th century: the Anti-Reelectionist Party and the National Action Party, created upon his return from exile in 1939, together with Manuel Gómez Morín.

Towards the end of his life, in 1946, he supported the sinarquista movement and denounced the irregularities in the elections for the municipal presidency of León, Guanajuato, in which the PRI candidate was proclaimed the winner. A very large popular rebellion was generated and the army intervened, resulting in mass murders and the governor was forced to resign. That same year, the Popular Force Party, driven by that movement, nominated Toribio Esquivel as candidate for senator, but soon after, he died in Mexico City.

The history of the Mexican Revolution cannot be understood if only those who triumphed in some way are studied. The other part, the part that was against, must alsobe brought to light. The book, Historia de una utopía written by historian Mónica Blanco, highlights the interest of Toribio Esquivel Obregón (1864-1946) in carrying out transformations that perhaps would have been very important and positive for the country, although unfortunately they never came to fruition.

Source: INAH