Life and times of Venustiano Carranza: Revolutionary and President

Discover how Venustiano Carranza managed to become president during the most difficult period of Mexico's history in the 20th century.

Life and times of Venustiano Carranza: Revolutionary and President
President Venustiano Carranza, oil on canvas, Salvador R. Guzmán, 1960, Museo Casa de Carranza Collection. Photo: Héctor Montaño. INAH

Venustiano Carranza was the leader of the Revolution that ended Victoriano Huerta's military dictatorship and brought together the Congress that gave Mexicans the Constitution that governs to this day. Learn how he achieved these triumphs and succeeded as president during the most difficult period in the history of Mexico in the 20th century.

Venustiano Carranza was born in the north of the country, in the state of Coahuila; he began his studies in the Ateneo Fuente de Saltillo. He came to the capital to study at the National Preparatory School, but due to an illness in his eyes, he could not continue. As he was a responsible person, he was elected municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas, the town where he was born. Venustiano Carranza did his job so well that he was re-elected several times and then became a deputy and senator. He wanted to be governor of his state but was prevented from doing so by the group of dictator Porfirio Diaz.

He joined the Revolution led by his fellow countryman Francisco I. Madero to end the Porfirian dictatorship. Although they triumphed, the counter-revolution ended the government and Madero's life. It was then that Carranza led the second stage of the Revolution to reestablish the constitutional order, which was broken by the Huerta garrison.

Carranza managed to make the constitutionalist revolution triumph. Then he defeated the villagers and Zapatistas who were united in the government of the Convention that wanted to take power away from him. He passed a series of laws to resolve social demands. These were later incorporated into the new Constitution.

After a prolonged revolutionary process and civil war, amidst pressure from the United States and Germany to enter World War I, President Carranza stood firm, not giving in to pressure. He took on the task of pacifying and rebuilding the country, bringing it forward. He gave Mexico the first Constitution that guaranteed the rights of rural and urban workers in the world.

Childhood and education

Venustiano Carranza Garza was born on December 29, 1859, in Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila. He was the eleventh child in a family of 15: 10 girls and five boys. At that time, the municipality of Cuatro Ciénegas was still a very isolated region in the arid north of Mexico. About 2000 people lived in the municipal capital with very few means of communication and life was difficult. Attacks by nomadic indigenous people were the main threat.

A hotel business, two billiards, and two tortilla mills served all the inhabitants. After daily work in the countryside, the only thing people could do was walk around the central square, go to the billiards tables, meet as a family or take trips to the nearest crystal-clear water pools. There were only three doctors, and no other professionals lived there. For a person in Cienfuegos in those years, only politics, agriculture, and stockbreeding were respectable occupations.

Jesús Carranza Neira and María de Jesús Garza, his parents, were never rich. Don Jesús was the true head of the family until he died in 1899. His sons Sebastián, Emilio, Venustiano, and Jesús followed his path and entered politics. Jesús Carranza Neira was a friend of the most important people in the region, had a good relationship with President Benito Juárez, and was a friend of General Mariano Escobedo.

Don Jesús and Doña María did everything possible to send their children to school because they were convinced that education was something very important. Venustiano began his training at the school in Cuatro Ciénegas. He was quiet, austere, sober, and thoughtful. In 1872, the family moved to the state capital, Saltillo, so that he could continue his studies at the prestigious Ateneo Fuente, where he received a liberal education, which he learned to appreciate and later became very important during his government. Venustiano was only able to complete the first year there; after the second year, which he had to repeat, he moved with his brother Emilio, in 1874, to Mexico City to conclude his studies at the National Preparatory School. He was less than 15 years old at the time.

Gabino Barreda, the great educator of Mexico in the 19th century, was then the head of the National High School. Mexico City and the school environment must have had a big impact on a boy from a town as small as Cuatro Ciénegas. National politics, the urban life of the capital, as well as social relations with boys with a different education than he was surely very important to the young Carranza. Venustiano had a strong personality and an outstanding memory, but he was not an outstanding student. Furthermore, he had to abandon his studies to treat severe eye disease and was unable to return to Mexico City to finish his education.

Farming and agriculture

Five years after his return to Coahuila, in 1882, Venustiano married Virginia Salinas, also from Cuatro Cienegas. With her, he had three children: Virginia, Julia, and Leopoldo, who died when still a child. Very little is known about Venustiano Carranza's private sphere, as he always kept his family away from public life. There are some photographs from the day of his daughter Virginia's wedding ( the few photographs in which Venustiano appears smiling). And some accounts from people close to the family say that Carranza liked to eat surrounded by his family and take a short nap immediately afterward. He did not drink alcohol and did not smoke.

In Cuatro Ciénegas, Venustiano was completely dedicated to agriculture. The most famous and extensive ranch that belonged to him was called Las Ánimas and was located three days away from his village on horseback. The lands of that ranch were not worth much and were never really prosperous, as they were arid and were divided into sections of the Caballo and San Antonio mountain ranges; there were no permanent bodies of water and they were very far from the centers of population. But Venustiano built a small dam to collect the little rainwater that came down, as well as that from a stream that formed from time to time.

After 1900 the demand for guayule fiber to make rubber increased considerably. It was then that Carranza was able to make a profit for the first time. However, when he left the property to pursue politics, Las Ánimas ranch was almost abandoned. By this time, the Carranza family had made great economic progress and had become important to local politics. However, they were never part of the economic groups that pulled the strings at the regional level.

First years in politics

Venustiano Carranza began his political career in 1882 when he was only 22 years old. He was on the verge of holding an electoral office but became ill. Afterward, he was a local judge for a short time, as he resigned a year to attend to his private business. It was not until 1887 when Porfirio Díaz decided to support the candidacy of José María Garza Galán for the government of Coahuila, that Carranza began to participate seriously in politics. At the age of 27, he won his first political post by being elected municipal president of Cuatro Cienegas.

By most accounts, Venustiano was a good city president and an excellent administrator. According to Jesús Carranza Castro, his uncle Venustiano was interested in the education of young people of both sexes and in the development of moral values, both government officials and the people in general. He frequently met with local teachers and tried to convince them of the advantages of teaching history. Unfortunately, he had to leave the municipal presidency in May 1887, after a problem with Governor Garza Galán. To avoid a fight that he knew he would not win, he resigned from his position and returned to private life, working on his ranch.

In 1893, Garza Galan was up for re-election for the second time. Bernardo Reyes, governor of Nuevo León, and Emilio Carranza decided to back Miguel Cárdenas, Garza Galán's rival. The Carranza's had several businesses with Cárdenas, who was a friend of the family since childhood and had been Venustiano's partner in the Ateneo Fuente. Everyone knew Governor Garza Galán used his political power to do business. When it became clear that the elections were not going to be democratic, Emilio Carranza, along with his father and his brothers Jesus and Sebastian, decided to take up arms. That was the only armed revolt that was successful during the Porfiriato.

After several weeks of fighting, Porfirio Díaz ordered Garza Galán to resign. Once this happened, Bernardo Reyes ordered the release of the political prisoners, Miguel Cárdenas and Emilio Carranza became local deputies, and Venustiano, with Reyes' support, was elected as the new municipal president of Cuatro Ciénegas. In this episode, Venustiano was very close to Bernardo Reyes.

Brothers Venustiano and Emilio Carranza had very successful political careers. Emilio was the municipal president of Ocampo and local deputy but died in 1898. Venustiano was president of his municipality for three consecutive periods, from 1894 to 1898. After his brother's death, he was elected local deputy. This position made it easier for him to enter national politics.

Municipal president

Venustiano requested resources for the schools. When he was not given them, he made changes in the budget and dismissed unnecessary civil servants so that he could spend less and pay more teachers. He proposed to Miguel Cardenas, already governor, to update the list of properties in Coahuila to distribute the taxes more fairly; he also asked him to approve and send to the local Congress a reform proposal that included charging a one percent tax on anyone earning more than 40 pesos (except teachers and public employees), as well as abolishing the milk tax.

He also suggested that the state Congress reform the law to prevent doctors from abusing the poor. When Porfirio Díaz ordered Bernardo Reyes to watch over Emilio Carranza after the 1893 rebellion, Reyes replied that he should rather worry about Venustiano, as he was more intelligent and demanding than any of his brothers.

Deputy and Senator

Just before Venustiano finished his third term as municipal president he was elected local deputy for the district of Monclova, a position he had held since 1898. Then, almost immediately, he entered the Senate of the Republic for the state of Coahuila. In 1903, Venustiano wrote to the governor of his entity and told him:

Local governments should not spend so much on municipal governments. Also, there is a great need to hire more rural teachers to teach children to write. For me, public officials should be the first to enforce the law and respect the authorities, otherwise, they should be seriously punished.

Although Carranza was in Congress in Mexico City, he continued to express his opinion on local politics. In the city, he had the opportunity to learn about the legislative process and the way politics are done in the center of the country.

Temporary Governor of Coahuila

In September 1908, Miguel Cárdenas decided to travel to the capital to talk to Porfirio Díaz, probably because of the conflict in Coahuila between the group of Scientists and the followers of Bernardo Reyes, the most popular general in the army and one of the favorites to be the next president, had hardened. The Scientists were followers of Finance Minister Jose Yves Limantour, who was also a candidate to replace President Diaz. While Governor Cardenas was out of state, the local Congress appointed Carranza as a temporary governor. During his time in office, he pushed for some reforms and organized a political movement to support them.

The temporary government lasted only a couple of months. Carranza held office from September 25 to November 21, 1908. By that time, he was already an experienced politician and had been a local judge, municipal president, local deputy, and senator. During that time, he continued with the policies that Miguel Cárdenas had put in place, that is, everything related to education, the autonomy of municipal presidents, and income distribution. Francisco Madero considered Carranza to be an honest man, and even though he did not agree with him, he told a friend:

At least he made the judges and other public employees fulfill their obligations. He also improved the food for prisoners and the food for children in schools.

As a temporary governor, Carranza used the support of Miguel Cardenas, his contacts, and his family in Coahuila and all his experience to build his way of doing politics and showed that, without being a revolutionary, some political and social reforms could be made. After Cárdenas announced that he was not going to be reelected, the newspapers in Saltillo reported that the important people of Coahuila supported Carranza, who had finished his two months of provisional government a few weeks earlier. Even Francisco Madero said:

In the short time that Carranza was governor of the state, he proved to be an upright man and a true Coahuilan, a true guardian of the independence and dignity of his state.

Madero and Carranza were never good friends or partners, but they worked together to face the local elections, in which Venustiano would run for governor. Unfortunately, though no one would have thought so, that alliance weakened them. Porfirio Díaz had no problem imposing his candidate, Jesús de Valle, as he had done in so many other elections in the country. When Carranza lost, the Anti-Reelectionist political party was founded by Francisco I. Madero inherited the organization and strength of the political party. They had lost their leader, General Bernardo Reyes because Porfirio Díaz had sent him to France to do military studies.

After losing the election, Carranza returned to the Senate in Mexico City. There he waited for the 1910 presidential election. Porfirio Díaz was seeking his sixth reelection and was facing Madero, who was a skilled politician, very charismatic, and popular. Diaz decided to put him in jail, so Madero wrote to Carranza to tell him that he was going to revolt and that when he did so he would demand that Carranza be recognized as the provisional governor of Coahuila.

Carranza and the Madero Revolution

The revolution Madero had called for on November 20, 1910, was a failure. Madero had escaped to the United States and had to wait until February 1911 to cross the border. When he established his provisional government in the customs building outside Ciudad Juarez, he appointed Carranza as Secretary of War. And on May 29 of that same year, when Jesús de Valle resigned, Congress appointed Carranza governor, which had been one of Madero's demands on Porfirio Díaz's envoys.

After the fall of Diaz, Mexico experienced very profound changes. No one imagined a country "in the absence of Don Porfirio". The Revolution raised hopes that everyone in Mexico would be equal before the law, something that had never happened before, which generated specific demands and attitudes. In Coahuila, the peons refused to work and demanded to become owners of the land and water, as well as to be forgiven their debts.

Ranchers demanded the reopening of roads to transport their cattle and sell them across the border. The small landowners wanted their property back. The indigenous people demanded that their communal lands and water rights be returned to them. Sometimes these demands led to attitudes of hate or discrimination. The latter occurred throughout the country, even in places that had not experienced revolutionary violence.

Since several middle-class groups were organized and active, political competition in Coahuila increased greatly, which generated a fierce fight between Maderistas and Reyistas, especially after Bernardo Reyes returned from Europe and accepted a presidential candidacy to compete against Madero. Furthermore, between 1911 and 1912 there were many labor conflicts in Coahuila, especially around the mines. Expressions against foreigners and demands for better living conditions also became very frequent.

For all these reasons, Carranza decided to concentrate on the restoration of peace. He also did his best to ensure that the Constitution was respected and justice worked in his state. However, he recognized that to restore peace, some of the demands of the revolutionaries would have to be put off. For him, the most important thing was to carry out educational and tax reforms.

Carranza authorized an increase in the budget for basic and intermediate education; he opened nine evening schools for adults and supported education inside prisons. He also eliminated personal taxes and other obligations he considered unfair or inefficient. To serve workers, he created special commissions to mediate between employees and industries. Furthermore, he began a campaign to improve health conditions in the state, which yielded its first results by the fall of 1911.

Constitutional Governor of Coahuila

Carranza resigned from the governorship again to compete in the gubernatorial elections. He campaigned all over the state, promising a strong government, capable of collecting taxes, but always respectful of the law; a government that could help solve the problems between workers and capitalists; that was capable of educating and moralizing society, and that respected individual liberties, but with order and progress.

Carranza won the election and became governor of the state on November 22, 1911, just over two weeks after Madero became president. During his 15 months at the helm of Coahuila's government, he implemented educational, tax, labor, and political reforms; took steps to improve the state's health and justice systems, military recruitment, and the efficiency of the economy; and tackled some of the problems in the countryside and water use in Coahuila.

Important changes during his government

Carranza's priority was education. He was willing to sacrifice other programs to cover the costs of rebuilding the educational system: he increased the number of schools, renovated and equipped the existing ones, and opened evening schools for working adults. He also signed a law to ensure that municipalities could appoint their academic and administrative staff, provided financial support to help rural schools, and ensured that teachers were always well paid. Moreover, he ensured support and offered that municipalities with programs to improve the conditions of the education system would not have to pay a part of their taxes. Finally, he reformed the curricula at Ateneo Fuente and at the state's Escuela Normal, which he also expanded to train more teachers.

To finance all this, Carranza forgave taxes to those who invested from 20,000 pesos in the state but revised all the privileges that had been granted to other governments and canceled those of urban property owners. At the same time, he created new taxes for professionals and financial investors, as well as a detailed revision of the state's tax code to establish that people with more income would pay more. He allowed judges to confiscate the land or property of those who did not pay what they owed. He also gave more power to municipal presidents to collect taxes and supported efforts by local authorities to force mining companies to pay the property tax, so that municipalities would have more resources.

Following the example of Bernardo Reyes in Nuevo Leon, Carranza approved a comprehensive workers' compensation law for Coahuila and supported the government in helping to resolve conflicts between workers and capitalists. He allowed workers to form unions but tried to keep strikes to a minimum. He supported the formation of non-profit insurance companies and proposed to Congress that these companies should not pay taxes.

He also forbade the hiring of children under 16 to work in the mines or on Sundays, as well as strip stores and the payment of wages in coupons or on credit. The strip mall was a credit establishment for the basic supply, located next to the factories or farms and where the workers or peasants were forced to make their purchases. Carranza had long had a good relationship with the workers, especially the miners. This relationship would be important during the constitutionalist revolution that overthrew Victoriano Huerta.

His reforms to the local constitution

Another relevant change was the reform of the local constitution. This fact is very important to understanding his later project to reform the federal Constitution. Both reforms are based on the same basic principles: to protect the rights of the people by transforming them into guarantees and to strengthen the individual in the face of the power of the State; to establish how the people could exercise their freedom; to strengthen the Executive Branch in the face of the other branches of the State; to simplify and order the Constitution so that it would be easier to apply it. This reform was based on the principles of liberalism that Carranza had learned since he was young, both with his family and in the classroom, which placed the individual as the foundation of society, so he had to be protected by limiting the powers of the state.

Carranza also implemented other policies to improve the economy and the standard of living of the general population. To moralize society and improve health conditions in the state, he cleaned up and regulated the food industry, established alcohol taxes, banned gambling and opium use, regulated prostitution, and began a vaccination campaign. Finally, he started up electrical service in Saltillo and Matamoros, in La Laguna.

A coup d'état by Victoriano Huerta

The relationship between Madero and Carranza did not improve much after the triumph of the 1910 Revolution. They had learned to collaborate to achieve certain common goals because they were both against Diaz, but their relationship was never very good. Moreover, Madero's government was never stable: in the 15 months he was president, from November 6, 1911, to February 1913, he had to face the rebellions of Bernardo Reyes and Emiliano Zapata, Pascual Orozco, Félix Díaz (Don Porfirio's nephew) and the one that would finally cost him his life, led by Félix Díaz and Bernardo Reyes, which began on February 9, 1913. The latter allowed Victoriano Huerta to take power.

Unlike Madero, who trusted the federal army completely and was suspicious of his revolutionary army, Carranza thought that to strengthen the Revolution, the revolutionary army had to be maintained. So Venustiano decided to keep some of the state forces and maintain communication with the state commanders who had always been loyal to him. But Madero's regime collapsed overnight when Huerta betrayed him and cowardly murdered him.

When the usurper had the power, he sent a telegram to all the governors informing them that he had taken over the government. Before learning of Madero's death, Carranza was unaware of Huerta's government. The deputies of Coahuila gave the order to Venustiano to create an army to confront the military coup leader and thus re-establish constitutional order.

The constitutionalist army

Carranza had to evade the federal forces, since all the state governments, except for his and Sonora's, immediately recognized Huerta. For Venustiano, the challenge was not only to find the necessary men and money to pay for a revolution but to convince the country and the United States that he had not taken up arms: it was Huerta who had rebelled. For Carranza it was fundamental to defeat the federal army and initiate a profound reform of the political system, respecting the Constitution of 1857.

Carranza had to flee north. On the night of March 25, he and his men arrived at the Hacienda de Guadalupe, where they decided to stop and rest. The next day, Venustiano decided to draw up the Guadalupe Plan, to explain to the country's inhabitants what was being sought: restore the Constitution and punish the assassins of President Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez. The plan was mainly political, and it did not mention the social problems that persisted in many parts of the country despite the Madero revolution. Carranza did not intend to initiate a social revolution, although his family had links with workers' organizations and other popular groups.

After drafting the Plan de Guadalupe, Carranza continued north and settled in Piedras Negras, on the border with the United States. There he had space and time to strengthen his movement, and he met with the few revolutionaries who supported him. Although the Sonora government had also ignored Huerta, he was going through a political crisis because his governor, José María Maytorena, upon learning of Madero's death, asked the local Congress for permission to leave the country. Carranza had to seek an alliance with all the revolutionaries in the northwest, because both Sonora and Chihuahua, with its powerful Pancho Villa Northern Division, had what he lacked: an army capable of successfully confronting the federal army.

After a while, Carranza had no choice but to leave Coahuila and seek to establish his government in Sonora. The Sonoran revolutionaries and those in Chihuahua accepted his leadership. That union of revolutionaries from different social classes, as well as Carranza's experience as governor, explains why, after the victory, the Constituent Congress had to combine Carranza's project with the social reforms for which many had fought.

Once Carranza arrived in Sonora and secured acceptance of the Plan de Guadalupe, in just nine months, from September 1913 to July 1914, the Huerta government collapsed. The constitutionalists cornered him to the south, where Zapatista troops also fought him. The powerful Northern Division, which Pancho Villa commanded almost alone, was very important for the triumph and greatly influenced the direction the Revolution took after the fall of Huerta. But it was the military organization of Carranza, the First Chief, that allowed the victory.

The Aguascalientes Convention

On August 20, 1914, when Venustiano arrived in the capital and became head of the Executive Branch, he called a revolutionary convention that was to begin on October 1 in Mexico City. However, the convention moved to Aguascalientes, declared itself sovereign, ignored Carranza's authority, and appointed Eulalio Gutiérrez as provisional president, to begin the process of restoring the Constitution. Venustiano, in turn, disowned the autonomy of the convention and moved to Veracruz, where he established his headquarters to continue the struggle, now against the armies of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

By the spring of 1915, the lack of coordination between villagers and Zapatistas made it easier for General Álvaro Obregón to win his military victory over Villa. Meanwhile, in Aguascalientes, the Villa and Zapatista representatives were unable to define a government program, so Carranza defeated them politically by decreeing the first revolutionary reforms. However, if the objective was to make the reforms definitive, it was indispensable to modify the Constitution. That is why he called for a Constituent Congress.

The Constituent Congress

When most of the country was under the control of the constitutionalist army, the elections were verified to determine who the constituent deputies would be. All those who opposed the Plan de Guadalupe, including villagers and Zapatistas, were not taken into account. Those who collaborated with the Huerta government were also excluded. Thus, on December 10, 1916, as planned, Congress began.

Carranza presented a project consistent with the ideals of Mexican liberalism to which he had been attached all his life, just as he had done in Coahuila in 1912. He proposed making the necessary reforms to protect the rights of the individual, changing the concept of "individual rights", which raised general principles that could not be put into practice in real life, to that of "guarantees", which allowed any individual to resort to the courts to prevent the government from violating their rights. He also sought to strengthen the executive branch, as the president's powers to distribute power evenly among the various branches of government needed to be more clearly established. Carranza argued for federalism and a free municipality. Specifically, this meant giving the municipal president political freedom and economic means to make decisions.

As for social reforms, Carranza left out of his project the labor and agrarian legislation, although he did propose as a guiding principle the separation of the Church and the State. Carranza was in favor of freedom of worship, although the 1916 Constituent Assembly rejected that part of the proposal. In labor matters, Don Venustiano considered that it was the task of each state to create laws to protect the rights of workers. In agrarian matters, he considered that the government had sufficient powers to acquire land and distribute it without the need to modify the Constitution. Furthermore, for that purpose he had already decreed the Agrarian Law of January 6, 1915, which protected small property, allowed restitutions and endowments of land to people who needed it for their subsistence, and gave landowners the right to go to court to request compensation.

On 31 January 1917, the Constituent Congress approved the new Constitution with all the modifications it had considered necessary, both to ensure peace and to establish the basis for a new social pact. This is why Articles 3, 27, 123, and 130 were included.

The Carta Magna was not Carranza's imposition, but his initiative. The main demands for which different revolutionary groups had joined the struggle against the dictatorship were engraved in the Constitution, which Carranza swore to uphold and defend. It was promulgated on February 5, 1917. A few months later, Carranza won the election that finally brought him to the presidency of the Republic, from which he took office on May 1.

President of Mexico

As president, Venustiano Carranza concentrated his greatest energy on restoring constitutional order. This would allow the judiciary to function normally again, elections for local governors and congresses to be held, diplomatic relations with Mexico's main allies to be re-established and the economy to recover. However, he did not achieve much during his three years in office, until he lost his life defending his principles.

On the military side, Carranza reorganized the armed forces so that the constitutionalist troops became the Mexican National Army, which to this day defends the country. The Legion of Honor, the General Staff Academy, the Artillery School, the Troop School, and the Naval School were integrated into it. However, he faced rebellions in several states of the Republic, and it cannot be said that he achieved peace in all the territory. When the time came for the presidential succession, Venustiano lost the loyalty of the army, which practically cost him his life.

His economic policy was not very successful either, partly because of the terrible conditions left by the Revolution, and partly because of the lack of international loans that would have made it possible to relieve the shortage of resources a little. The application of some taxes, including on oil production, did not help to obtain international support either.

The Revolution left damage all over the country. The year 1917 was marked by famine, a shortage of money, and an uncontrolled rise in prices. Carranza proposed to create a bank to issue currency, but the project could not be carried out due to a lack of resources. It was not until 1925 that the Bank of Mexico was born. His relationship with the workers was never good. On the one hand, the workers had not forgotten the repression of strikes in Mexico City during the constitutionalist revolution; on the other hand, inflation and currency shortages constantly affected wages.

The agrarian distribution advanced very slowly, and the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation protected on countless occasions the landowners who requested protection when their properties were expropriated. In the Valley of Mexico, for example, reparations were made, but in many areas of the country where peasants had taken up arms to demand the return of their land, reparations never arrived during the Carranza government. This was one of the reasons the Zapatistas supported General Alvaro Obregon when he took up arms against Carranza.

Venustiano, like all his life, continued to support education, and although he established the general directorates of Public Education, Fine Arts, Technical Education, and the National University, he is best remembered for having eliminated the Secretariat of Public Education, which would later be re-established by Álvaro Obregón with José Vasconcelos as its head. Carranza always thought that education should be in charge of the municipalities since they were the government bodies closest to the people, and who, supposedly, knew more about the needs in each locality and region.

For this reason, he did not consider it necessary to have a federal secretariat in charge of public education. However, he supported the National University and integrated faculties of the National School of Chemistry and the Superior School of Commerce, for example. It also supported the exploration of archaeological ruins and the work of anthropologist Manuel Gamio, as well as the establishment of the Museum of Colonial Art.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the defense of national sovereignty. Before he was sworn in as president of the Republic, he defended the integrity of the country and demanded that the U.S. Army, which occupied Veracruz in 1914 and invaded Chihuahua between March 1916 and February 1917, leave the territory without preconditions.

He kept Mexico neutral towards the countries involved in the First World War despite the pressure of the United States and formulated the Carranza Doctrine, which demanded respect for the sovereignty of all countries equally, large and small, strong and weak militarily, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for the laws of each country by nationals and foreigners, and the use of diplomacy before the war to resolve conflicts.


It is said that Carranza always carried with him the bullets that took the life of Francisco Madero because he wanted to keep in mind the mistakes that a good politician had to avoid. He probably thought about that while riding to Tlaxcalantongo on the rainy night of May 20, 1920. After governing for three years, it had been impossible for him to achieve pacification; he had lost the support of the United States; he had not been able to control the political process or change a single comma to the constitutional text.

The political party that had brought him to the presidency, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, now would not allow his initiatives to be approved in Congress. In trying to stop the campaign of his most successful general, Álvaro Obregón, he had to confront the government of Sonora, which provoked a rebellion by most of the army. In early May he had to flee the capital, seeking to reach Veracruz, where he planned to start the fight again.

But in the mountains of Puebla, he had to abandon the railway track and continue, on horseback, through the mountains. While camping in Tlaxcalantongo, in the middle of heavy rain, an ambush surprised him, and he died riddled with bullets by his enemies when he was President of the Republic.

Final reckoning

Isidro Fabela, one of Mexico's most distinguished politicians and diplomats of the 20th century, described him as follows:

Carranza was a stout and energetic man, with a broad back, strong chest, noble head, and a white, bearded face. Venustiano was honest, intelligent, cunning, and well-meaning.

On the other hand, Zapata said:

Carranza was capricious and selfish. He was always a Porfirian senator, a stout, authoritarian old man with a red face, dark glasses, and goatee, who sat in his saddle as if he were sitting in an armchair.

Even one of Madero's brothers once said:

Carranza is a lazy old man who asks permission from one foot to move the other.

Don Venustiano has probably been the most nationalistic president Mexico has ever had. He did not allow the great powers to intervene even a little in internal affairs. But his ties to the Porfiriato, his idea that change happens little by little, as well as his agreement with the conservative project of Bernardo Reyes, have left him out of the history of revolutionary change in Mexico.

Carranza was a bridge between the old regime and the Revolution. He was always sure that it was essential to control the armed forces to maintain the reins of the country; for the same reason, he never accepted to be a general, because he believed that the army always had to remain under civilian control. He was convinced that it was necessary to mobilize the popular sectors and the middle classes of society (workers, peasants, students, women, and young professionals, for example) who during the Porfiriato had remained on the sidelines of political participation, but without giving them the power to initiate social and political change.

Venustiano Carranza wanted to be a strong president to lead change, but he never tolerated riots, strikes, peasant organizations, or independent labor, and he limited freedom of the press. In a way, he wanted a completely new state, one that was capable of preserving the social order that the Revolution had sought to destroy; he did not want a social revolution, nor did he consider himself a revolutionary. He was, rather, a nationalist reformer whose project consisted in the preservation of the social order as he understood it: a country of great capitalists and educated men who could lead it to progress, leaving the responsibility to the State to protect Mexico's sovereignty, to moralize society and to educate the lower classes.

He organized an army that defeated Huerta and defeated Villa, and Zapata, but he did not have the economic resources, the support of the United States, or the commitment to the Revolution to stop the fall of his government and his regime. When the army rebelled, when bureaucrats and Congress decided to back Alvaro Obregon, Carranza finally fell. But he left a great legacy by laying the foundations of the modern Mexican state.

By Patricia Galeana and Luis Barrón Córdova, Source: National Institute of Historical Studies of the Mexican Revolutions, Secretariat of Culture