Porfirio dÍaz


Porfirio Díaz was born on September 15, 1830 in the city of Oaxaca; he was the sixth child of a local innkeeper and his wife.  Díaz’s father died at the age of three and since his mother could not care for him Díaz was sent to an apprenticeship with a carpenter until he was fifteen years old.[1] After he gathered basic schooling during his time as an apprentice Díaz went to Concliar Seminary, but in 1846 the United States invaded Mexico and Díaz began to work for a local battalion, never seeing much action.  After his work with the battalion, Díaz returned to seminary school but dropped out and began to study law at the Institute of Arts and Sciences of Oaxaca in 1849.[2] Díaz remained in law school till 1855, but never attained a degree.  However, in 1855 Díaz was given his first political position by liberal leaders as the jefe politico of the Ixtlán District because Díaz supported their Plan de Ayutla that would eventually lead to the removal of Antonio López de Santa Anna.[3] In 1856 Díaz joined the Oaxaca National Guard and fought for the liberals in the Wars of Reform (1858-1861) and was promoted to brigadier general. During the French Intervention, Díaz joined forces with Benito Juárez, and helped to achieve victory at Puebla on May 5, 1862, Cinco de Mayo.[4]

            Díaz first ran for the presidency of Mexico in 1871 against his military partner, Juárez, and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, but the results of the election were so close that it was sent to the congress to decide.  Juárez’s party held the majority of seats and consequently was awarded the presidency, however Díaz would not accept the results and threw the unsuccessful Plan de Noria, a revolt to overthrow Juárez.[5]  During the revolt Juárez was killed and therefore the presidency was then given to Lerdo de Tejada.  This would not be the last Lerdo de Tejada would have to deal with Díaz, because in 1876 he charged Lerdo de Tejada with violations to the constitution and that the upcoming elections were going to be fraudulent.  Díaz then, marched soldiers into Mexico City to make sure that the elections were as accurate as possible.  Díaz organized a constitutional amendment that would limit the President of Mexico to just one term, which Díaz himself violated, after being elected to the presidency eight times.[6]  Díaz ran for office of president and was sworn in on May 5, 1877.

            In his first term political and economic power was more centralized in the federal government and he decreased the power of the provincial and local governments.  Díaz negotiated new economic and border arrangements with the United States.  Lerdo de Tejada led many revolts near the US border; these revolts were put down quick and violently with many executions to Lerdo de Tejada’s rebels being executed on the spot.  In 1880 Díaz did not run for reelection but basically appointed Manuel González.[7] Díaz ran and won the presidency from 1884 to 1910, with barely being contested at all.  In these terms Díaz brought many improvements to Mexico and the capital.  Throughout Mexico, Díaz dedicated many buildings, parks and monuments and bettered the sewer system of Mexico City.  Under Diaz, Mexico moved from the silver standard to the gold standard, lowered or got rid of most tariffs and import payments, and negotiated many loans with favorable interest.  Díaz’s goal was to make Mexico as appealing as possible, he wanted many foreign investors to come in to make the rich richer, but at the same time the poor would get poorer.  Díaz built the railroad system of Mexico from 400 miles in 1876 to over 15,000 in 1911; including a line from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas.  The railroad increased production throughout the entire nation, and made it easier to transport goods from across the entire country.  Díaz used force to keep the country inline.  He gave a lot of power to the rurales, the rural militia, and to city police; they were given the power to execute or arrest anyone that was causing civil unrest or threatened Díaz’s presidency.[8] The threat of force kept most Mexicans from causing much trouble, but also the lack of uprisings made Díaz and Mexico look even better to outside investors.  Díaz based his power on authority, tradition, and the conservative ideology of Positivism.  Positivism was warmly embraced because it provided them with a “political theory that advocated economic progress and social planning under the control of a technocratic elite and bolstered by an authoritarian government.”[9] Positivism was Díaz’s ideology because it allowed him to become more dictatorial while hiding it under economic optimism and the prospering of Mexico as a country, but it denied the poor and uneducated any chance of improvement.  

On November 20, 1910 Díaz won his eighth election, and on this same day Francisco I. Madero began the first phase of the first Mexican revolution.[10] Díaz would not be able to end this revolt before it gained strength and on May 21, 1911 Díaz would flee to Paris; this would end the reign of Díaz as president/dictator of Mexico.  Díaz died in Paris on July 2, 1915 after traveling the world and visiting several heads of state.

Díaz is painted as the terrible dictator of Mexico by the revolutionaries of the time, who were trying to justify their actions towards the President.  He has been subject to this point of view ever since, but in recent years historians are beginning to look at the benefits and positive changes Díaz did bring to the country.  He was very harsh and determined to stay in power and to keep any opposition from gaining to much power that could overthrow him.  Díaz did bring very beneficial changes to Mexico; he attracted many foreign investors, lowered tariffs, created an extensive railroad system, and created parks all to better Mexico.  However, Díaz did not look to the best interest of the people all the time, and this eventually led to his loss of power in 1910.




[1] Barbara A. Tenenbaum, ed., Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996) 1, 378.

[2] Micheal S. Werner, ed., Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Science, and Culture (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997) 1, 406.

[3] Ibid., 406.

[4] Ibid., 406.

[5] Ibid., 406.

[6] Ibid., 406.

[7] Ibid., 406.

[8] Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Science, and Culture, 407.

[9] Ibid., 409.

[10] Ibid., 407.