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October 16, 1909: So Close to the United States

Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.

Porfirio Diaz

Of all the colorful figures that populate Mexican history, few are more colorful than Porfirio Diaz.   The scion of a devout Catholic family with ambitions to become a priest, he left the seminary to volunteer for service in 1846 in the Mexican War.  Finding life congenial as a soldier, he never returned to the seminary.  In 1846 he first met Benito Juarez and became a Liberal under his example and influence.  His career until he became President intermingled politics with the military, and he served in both the Reform War and the struggle against the French, in which he became one of the chief commanders of President Juarez.  He came to the Presidency in 1877 after leading a successful rebellion, one of several rebellions he led during his career.  He would in effect rule Mexico until the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a period known as the Porfiriato.  Mingling corruption with brute force, Diaz gave Mexico an authoritarian government that spurred rapid economic development.  Diaz remained officially an anti-clerical Liberal, but privately he was a Catholic, and under his regime the anti-clerical laws were largely a dead letter.  After the chaos that was the hallmark of Mexico in the Nineteenth Century, Diaz gave the country stability and peace.  He was a dictator but a shrewd, competent one, skillful at balancing factions and always aware that public opinion was perhaps more important in a dictatorship than in a republic.  In many ways he strikes me as a precursor of Francisco Franco, although the differences in the regimes they led are as pronounced as the similarities.

Most Americans, if they recall him at all, remember his quip about God and the United States.  Diaz did his best to ensure good relations with the Colossus of the North and welcomed American investment.  It was therefore not strange that he was the first Mexican President to meet with his American counterpart.  The meeting between Diaz and President Taft occurred on October 16, 1909 in El Paso and Ciudad Rodriguez, with the Presidents meeting first in the US and then in Mexico.  Diaz wanted the meeting to show American support prior to his eighth run for President and Taft hoped to ensure the security of US private investment in Mexico and to aid in boundary negotiations between the two nations.  By all accounts it was a pleasant meeting and the two men hit it off.

However, if Diaz thought the meeting would aid him in his latest fraudulent election, he was mistaken.  Like most dictators, Diaz simply would not relinquish power.  His continuing to hold on to power in his eighties was intolerable to many factions within Mexico, and when the farcical 1910 presidential election results were announced, the chaotic and incredibly violent Mexican Revolution burst into flame.  Diaz fled Mexico in 1911, ironically choosing France, the nation he had fought against half a century before, as his place of exile,  He died in 1915.  Numerous attempts to have his remains transported to Mexico have been rebuffed by Mexican governments, Diaz being still regarded as a dangerous subject more than a century after his death.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

12 Comments

  1. Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.

    The biggest lie Latin Americans tell themselves about political economy is that the gringo is the source of their problems.

  2. Diaz never denied the utility for Mexico of American investment in Mexico. However during his lifetime he had witnessed the US shear off a fair amount of territory from Mexico, fought against a French effort to transform Mexico into a puppet state and heard periodic calls from North of the border that it was time for the US to acquire more territory from Mexico. Based on that history I can understand why he made his quip.

  3. However during his lifetime he had witnessed the US shear off a fair amount of territory from Mexico,

    Territory bereft of actual Mexicans. The total population of hispanophone peninsualres, criollos, mestizos, and mission Indians was about 3,000 in Texas in 1835. There were some thousands more around Santa Fe and perhaps a 5-digit population in California. The town I grew up in was incorporated in 1833 with 14,000 residents.

  4. California and Texas yes. Santa Fe had a fairly substantial population in an area, which, until the Gold Rush and the Mormons, was still pretty empty except for the Indians who were also rather sparse for such a vast area.

  5. Nonetheless, sovereign Mexican territory to which the US had no rightful claim, unless one accepts Manifest Destiny as a rationale for invasion, conquest, and taking a third of Mexico from it. The Russians can’t take Alaska just because it has a small population.

  6. Ironically, that population in Santa Fe still considered themselves Spanish, not Mexican. Even today, ask any original New Mexican what their heritage is, they will say “Spanish” and scoff at any suggestion that they have Mexican heritage.

  7. Nonetheless, sovereign Mexican territory to which the US had no rightful claim, unless one accepts Manifest Destiny as a rationale for invasion,

    There was no Mexican society there to speak of apart from a scatter of isolated settlements. As for ‘rightful’ claims, ‘international law’ is a set of conventions and courtesies. There is no body to define, enforce, or adjudicate such law. That the territory was ‘Mexican’ was a diplomatic fiction and nothing more than that. If you find it motivating that between 1821 and 1848 people recognized a sparsely populated territory whose principal inhabitants were aboriginals with scant connection to any modern society, that’s you.

  8. ask any original New Mexican what their heritage is, they will say “Spanish” and scoff at any suggestion that they have Mexican heritage.

    I’ll wager the number of people in and around Santa Fe predominantly descended of pre-1848 inhabitants are very few in number.

  9. Well, even the US acknowledged it couldn’t simply occupy California; that there had to be some bogus justification to first wage a war and then extort territory as the price of removing our invading armies from Mexico. If one thinks that’s a fine way for a government of supposedly limited power to act, fine, but even Lincoln, JQ Adams, and Grant and Lee who fought there understood it to be an unjust war. Grant said, “I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” He also stated, “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war…I thought so at the time…only I had not moral courage enough to resign.” Lincoln was called “Benedict Arnold” by some in his district for opposing the war. And of course, the prevailing sentiment in the north was that the war was an excuse to expand slave-holding territory. But other than that, I suppose it was a perfectly fine little war.

  10. Well, even the US acknowledged it couldn’t simply occupy California; that there had to be some bogus justification

    You’re very interested in artifice.

  11. *pokes around* It looks like Mexico got pissy about Texas declaring independence and joining the US, and decided it didn’t want to do diplomacy– then decided to attack the troops put in the area when they refused to even meet for diplomatic offers.
    That is a massively stupid move.

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