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Porfirio Díaz
Seal of the Government of Mexico.svg
29th President of Mexico
Vice President Ramón Corral

In office
28 November 1876 – 6 December 1876
Preceded by José María Iglesias
Succeeded by Juan N. Méndez

In office
17 February 1877 – 1 December 1880
Preceded by Juan N. Méndez
Succeeded by Manuel González

In office
1 December 1884 – 25 May 1911
Preceded by Manuel González
Succeeded by Francisco León de la Barra
Personal details
Born José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori
(1830-09-15)15 September 1830
Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
Died 2 July 1915(1915-07-02) (aged 84)
Paris, France
Nationality Mexican
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Delfina Ortega Díaz (1845-1880)
Carmen Romero Rubio (1864-1944)

José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (15 September 1830 – 2 July 1915) was a Mexican soldier and politician, who served seven terms as President of Mexico, totaling nearly three decades - one month in 1876, then from 1877 to 1880, and finally from 1884 until he was overthrown in 1911. A veteran of the Reform War and the French intervention in Mexico, Díaz rose to the rank of General, leading republican troops against the puppet Emperor Maximilian. Seizing power in a coup in 1876, Díaz and his allies would rule the country for the next thirty-five years, a period known in Mexico as the Porfiriato.

Commonly considered by historians to have been a dictator, Díaz is a controversial figure in Mexican history. The period of his leadership was marked by significant internal stability (known as the "paz porfiriana"), modernization, and economic growth. However, Díaz's regime grew unpopular due to repression and political stagnation, and he fell from power during the Mexican Revolution, after he had imprisoned his electoral rival and declared himself the winner of an eighth term in office. After his downfall, Díaz fled to France, where he died in exile four years later.

Early years

Birthplace of Díaz in Oaxaca city. It is now a primary school

Porfirio Díaz was born on 15 September 1830, in Oaxaca, Mexico. His mother was a Zapotec Indian and his father a Criollo.[1] His father, José de la Cruz was a modest innkeeper and died when his son was just an infant.[2]

Díaz began training for the priesthood at the age of fifteen when his mother, María Petrona Mori Cortés, sent him to the Seminario Conciliar. In 1850, inspired by Liberal Benito Juárez, Díaz entered the Instituto de Ciencias and spent some time studying law.[1] Having dabbled in many different professions, Díaz discovered what would be his life's calling when he decided to join the armed forces upon the outbreak of war with the United States in 1846.[1] In 1855, Diaz joined a band of liberal guerrillas who were fighting a resurgent Antonio López de Santa Anna.

Life as a military man and path to the presidency

María Mori Cortés, mother of Porfirio Díaz, in a photograph made around 1854 in Oaxaca.

Díaz’s military career is most noted for his service in the Reform War and the struggle against the French. By the time of the Battle of Puebla (5 May 1862), General Díaz had become the brigade general in charge of an infantry brigade.[1]

During the Battle of Puebla, his brigade was placed in the center between the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. From there, he repelled a French infantry attack that was sent as a diversion to distract the Mexican commanders' attention from the forts that were the main target of the French army. In violation of the orders of General Ignacio Zaragoza, General Díaz and his unit fought off a larger French force and then chased after them. Despite Díaz’s inability to share control, General Zaragoza commended the actions of General Díaz during the battle as "brave and notable".

In 1863, Díaz was captured by the French Army. He escaped and was offered by President Benito Juárez the positions of secretary of defense or army commander in chief. He declined both but took an appointment as commander of the Central Army. That same year he was promoted to the position of Division General.

Colonel Porfirio Díaz, 1861. At this time, Díaz was a Federal Deputy and had participated in two wars, namely the Ayutla Revolution (1854–55) and the War of Reform (1857–1861).

In 1864, the conservatives supporting Emperor Maximilian asked him to join the Imperial cause. Díaz declined the offer. In 1865, he was captured by the Imperial forces in Oaxaca. He escaped and fought the battles of Tehuitzingo, Piaxtla, Tulcingo and Comitlipa.

In 1866, Díaz formally declared loyalty. That same year he earned victories in Nochixtlan, Miahuatlan, and La Carbonera, and once again captured Oaxaca. He was then promoted to general. Also in 1866, Marshal Bazaine, commander of the Imperial forces, offered to surrender Mexico City to Díaz if he withdrew support of Juárez. Díaz declined the offer. In 1867, Emperor Maximilian offered Díaz the command of the army and the imperial rendition to the liberal cause. Díaz refused both. Finally, on 2 April 1867, he went on to win the final battle for Puebla.

Five days later, Díaz married Delfina Ortega Díaz (1845-1880), the daughter of his sister Manuela Josefa Díaz Mori (1824-1856). Díaz and his niece would get seven children, but Delfina died due to complications of her seventh delivery.

When Juárez became the president of Mexico in 1868 and began to restore peace, Díaz resigned his military command and went home to Oaxaca. However, it did not take long before the energetic Díaz became unhappy with the Juárez administration.

In 1871, Díaz led a revolt against the re-election of Juárez. In March 1872 Díaz’s forces were defeated in the battle of La Bufa in Zacatecas. Following Juárez's death on 9 July of that year, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada assumed the presidency and offered amnesty to the rebels. Díaz accepted in October and "retired" to the Hacienda de la Candelaria in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz. However, he remained very popular among the people of Mexico.

In 1874 he was elected to Congress from Veracruz. That year Lerdo de Tejada's government faced civil and military unrest, and offered Díaz the position of ambassador to Germany, which he refused. In 1875 Díaz traveled to New Orleans and Brownsville, Texas to plan a rebellion, which was launched in Ojitlan, Oaxaca, on 10 January 1876 as the "Plan de Tuxtepec".

Díaz continued to be an outspoken citizen and led a second revolt against Lerdo de Tejada in 1876. This attempt also failed and Díaz fled to the United States of America.[1] His fight, however, was far from over.

Several months later, in November 1876, Díaz returned to Mexico and fought the Battle of Tecoac, where he defeated the government forces once and for all (on 16 November). Finally, on 12 May 1877, Díaz was elected president of Mexico for the first time.[1] His campaign of "no re-election", however, came to define his control over the state for more than thirty years.

The campaign of "no-reelection"

"Manifestación antireeleccionista" by José Guadalupe Posada

In 1870, Díaz ran as a presidential candidate against President Juárez and Vice President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. In 1871 he made claims of fraud in the July elections won by Juárez, who was confirmed as president by the Congress in October. In response, Díaz launched the Plan de la Noria on 8 November, supported by a number of rebellions across the nation.

After appointing himself president on 28 November 1876, he served only one term—having staunchly stood against Lerdo's re-election policy. During his first term in office, Diaz developed a personalist approach to solve political conflicts. He maintained control through manipulation of votes, but also through simple violence and assassination of his opponents, who consequently were few in number. His administration became famous for their suppression of civil society and public revolts. Instead of running for a second term, he handpicked his successor, Manuel González, one of his trustworthy companions.[1] This surreptitious side-step maneuver, however, did not mean that Díaz was stepping down from his powerful throne.

The four-year period that followed was marked by corruption and official incompetence, so that when Díaz stepped up in the election of 1884, he was welcomed by his people with open arms.[1] More importantly, very few people remembered his "No re-election" slogan that defined his previous campaign. During this period the Mexican underground political newspapers spread the new ironic slogan for the Porfirian times, based on the slogan "Sufragio Efectivo, No Reelección" and changed it to "Sufragio Efectivo No, Reelección”. In any case Díaz had the constitution amended, first to allow two terms in office, and then to remove all restrictions on re-election.

Political career

Porfirio Díaz

Having created a band of military brothers, Díaz went on to construct a broad coalition.[3] He was a cunning politician and knew very well how to manipulate people to his advantage. A phrase used to describe the order of his rule was "Pan, o palo", "Bread or a beating,"(literally "Bread, or stick"), meaning that one could either accept what was given willingly (often a position of political power) or else face harsh consequences (often death). Either way, rising opposition to Díaz’s administration was immediately quelled.[4]

Over the next twenty-six years as president, Díaz created a systematic and methodical regime with a staunch military mindset.[1] His first goal was to establish peace throughout Mexico. According to the late UCLA Spanish professor John A. Crow, Díaz "set out to establish a good strong paz porfiriana, or Porfirian peace, of such scope and firmness that it would redeem the country in the eyes of the world for its sixty-five years of revolution and anarchy."[4] His second goal was outlined in his motto – "little of politics and plenty of administration."[4]

Porfirio Díaz

In reality he started a Mexican revolution; however, his fight for profits, control, and progress kept his people in a constant state of uncertainty. Díaz managed to dissolve all local authorities and all aspects of federalism that once existed. Not long after he became president, the leaders of Mexico were answering directly to him.[1] Those who held high positions of power, such as members of the legislature, were almost entirely his closest and most loyal friends. In his quest for even more political control, Díaz suppressed the media and controlled the court system.[1]

In order to secure his power, Díaz engaged in various forms of co-optation and coercion. He played his people like a board game – catering to the private desires of different interest groups and playing off one interest against another.[1] In order to satisfy any competing forces, such as the Mestizos and wealthier indigenous people, he gave them political positions of power that they could not refuse. He did the same thing with the elite Creole society by not interfering with their wealth and haciendas. Covering both pro and anti-clerical elements, Díaz was both the head of the Freemasons in Mexico and an important advisor to the Catholic bishops.[5] Díaz proved to be a different kind of Liberal than those of the past. He neither assaulted the Church (like most liberals) nor protected the Church.[3] As for the Native American population, who were historically repressed, they were almost completely depoliticized; neither put on a pedestal as the core of Mexican society nor suppressed, and were largely left to advance via their own means. In giving different groups with potential power a taste of what they wanted, Díaz created the illusion of democracy and quelled almost all competing forces.

Díaz knew that it was crucial for him to suppress banditry; he expanded the guardias rurales (countryside police), although it guarded chiefly only transport routes to major cities.[6] Díaz thus worked to enhance his control over the military and the police.[3]

From 1892 onwards, Díaz's perennial opponent was the eccentric Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda, who lost every election but always claimed fraud and considered himself to be the legitimately elected president of Mexico.

Economic development under Díaz

Crow states, "It was the golden age of Mexican economics, 3.2 dollars per peso. Mexico was compared economically to economic powers of the time such as France, Great Britain, and Germany. For some Mexicans, there was no money and the doors were thrown open to those who had."[4] Also, economic progress varied drastically from region to region. The north was defined by mining and ranching while the central valley became the home of large-scale farms for wheat and grain and large industrial centers.[3]

The Juarez Theatre.

One component of economic growth involved stimulating foreign investment in the Mexican mining sector. Through tax waivers and other incentives, investment and growth were effectively realized. The desolate region of Baja California Sur benefited from the establishment of an economic zone with the founding of the town of Santa Rosalia and the commercial development of the El Boleo copper mine. This came about when Diaz granted a French mining company a 70-year tax waiver in return for its substantial investment in the project. In a similar fashion, the city of Guanajuato realized substantial foreign investment in local silver mining ventures. The city subsequently experienced a period of prosperity, symbolized by the construction of numerous landmark buildings, most notably, the magnificent Juarez Theatre.

Because Díaz had created such an effective centralized government, he was able to concentrate decision-making and maintain control over the economic instability.[3] This instability arose largely as a result of the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of peasants of their land. Communal indigenous landholdings were privatized, subdivided, and sold. The Porfiriato thus generated a stark contrast between rapid economic growth and sudden, severe impoverishment of the rural masses, a situation that was to explode in the Mexican revolution of 1910.[7]

Collapse of the regime

Porfirio Díaz and his wife Carmen Romero Rubio with other members of the Porfirian ruling faction

Díaz – Creelman interview, Pearson's Magazine, 1908.

On 17 February 1908, in an interview with the U.S. journalist James Creelman of Pearson's Magazine, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would retire and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency.[1] Without hesitation, several opposition and pro-government groups united to find suitable candidates who would represent them in the upcoming presidential elections. Many liberals formed clubs supporting the governor of Nuevo León, Bernardo Reyes, as a candidate for the presidency. Despite the fact that Reyes never formally announced his candidacy, Díaz continued to perceive him as a threat and sent him on a mission to Europe, so that he was not in the country for the elections.

File:Tumba PD.jpg

Tomb of Porfirio Díaz at Cimetière du Montparnasse

I have no desire to continue in the Presidency. This nation is ready for her ultimate life of freedom.

—Díaz declarations to journalist James Creelman in 1908[8]

According to Crow, "A cautious but new breath entered the prostrate Mexican underground. Dark undercurrents rose to the top."[9] As groups began to settle on their presidential candidate, Díaz decided that he was not going to retire but rather allow Francisco Madero, an aristocratic but democratically leaning reformer, to run against him. Although Madero, a landowner, was very similar to Díaz in his ideology, he hoped for other elites in Mexico to rule alongside the president. Ultimately, however, Díaz did not approve of Madero and had him jailed during the election in 1910. Despite what he had formerly said about democracy and change, sameness seemed to be the only reality.

Despite this, the election went ahead. Madero had gathered much popular support, but when the government announced the official results, Díaz was proclaimed to have been re-elected almost unanimously, with Madero gathering only a minuscule number of votes. This case of massive electoral fraud aroused widespread anger throughout the Mexican citizenry.[1] Madero called for revolt against Díaz, and the Mexican Revolution began. Díaz was forced from office and fled the country for Spain on May 31, 1911.[10]

On 2 July 1915, after two marriages, Díaz died in exile in Paris. He is buried there in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. He was survived by his second wife (María del Carmen Romero-Rubio Castelló, 1864-1944) and two of his children (Deodato Lucas Porfirio Díaz Ortega, 1873-1946, and Luz Aurora Victoria Díaz Ortega, 1875-1965). His other five children died as infants.

In 1938, the 430-piece collection of arms of the late General Porfirio Díaz was donated to the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.[11]

Orders and decorations

List of notable foreign orders awarded to President Díaz:[12]

Country Awards
Austria-Hungary Austria-Hungary Grand Cross of the Royal Hungarian Order of St. Stephen
Belgium Belgium Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold
Qing Dynasty Qing Dynasty (China) First Class Condecoration of the Imperial Order of the Double Dragon
France France Napoleon I, sword
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Kingdom of Italy Kingdom of Italy Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
Empire of Japan Empire of Japan Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum
Netherlands Netherlands Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion
Qajar Dynasty (Persia) First Class Condecoration with Grand Cordon of the Order of the Lion and the Sun
Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Prussia Grand Cross of the Order of the Red Eagle
Portugal Kingdom of Portugal Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword
Russian Empire Russian Empire Star of the Imperial Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Spain Spain Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic
Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit
Sweden Knight of the Order of the Sword
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath
Venezuela Venezuela First Class of the Order of the Liberator
Hawaii Kingdom of Hawaii Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Kalākaua I

In popular culture

The main Mexican holiday is the Day of Independence, celebrated on September 16. Americans are more familiar with the Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the date of the Battle of Puebla, in which Díaz participated, when a major victory was won against the French. Under the Porfiriato, the Mexican Consuls in the United States gave Cinco de Mayo more importance than the Day of Independence due to the President's personal involvement in the events. It is still widely celebrated in the United States, although largely due to cultural permeation.

  • The film The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918) has Díaz played by Pedro Sose
  • The film The Mad Empress (1939) has Díaz played by Earl Gunn
  • The film Juarez (1939) has Díaz played by John Garfield
  • The film México de mis recuerdos (1944) has Díaz played by Antonio R. Frausto
  • The film Sobre las olas (1950) has Díaz by Antonio R. Frausto
  • The film ¡Viva Zapata! (1952) has Díaz by Fay Roope
  • The film Terra em Transe (1967) uses the character metaphorically. It is interpreted by the Brazilian actor Paulo Autran and the character is portrayed as a conservative president supported by revolutionary forces.
  • The Mexican soap opera La Constitución (1970) has Díaz played by Miguel Manzano
  • The Mexican soap opera El Carruaje (1972) has Díaz played by Salvador Sánchez
  • Porfirio Díaz is one of the main characters of the Mexican soap opera El Vuelo del Aguila (1994) with Humberto Zurita as the young Díaz and Manuel Ojeda playing Díaz as President and Fabian Robles as a child
  • The film Zapata - El sueño del héroe (2004) has Díaz played by Justo Martínez
  • Post-hardcore punk band At the Drive-In has a track titled "Porfirio Díaz" on their 1996 debut album Acrobatic Tenement
  • The Novel "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy, central character, Alejandra's aunt is childhood friend of Francisco Madero. The revolution is mentioned in a monologue


  • Díaz is usually credited with the saying, "¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!" (Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!), although there is little evidence that Diaz made this remark. Even Díaz biographer Paul Garner has noted that when the saying is attributed to Diaz, no source is typically given.[13]
  • Referring to his policy of coopting political opponents, Díaz reportedly said, "a dog with a bone neither barks nor bites" or "a dog with a bone in its mouth neither steals nor kills."
  • As he headed for exile in May 1911 following the revolt by Francisco Madero, Díaz reportedly remarked, "Madero has unleashed a tiger; let’s see if he can tame it." Madero was assassinated in 1913, beginning years of upheaval and civil war, and after his death stability would not be restored until the administration of Alvaro Obregon came to power in 1920.
  • Díaz's most infamous quote was the order to Veracruz's governor, Luis Raul Mier y Terán, about a group of followers of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada: "¡Mátalos en caliente!" (Kill them on the spot!).


See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Britannica
  2. "Porfirio Diaz Biography". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved March 15, 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Skidmore
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Crow
  5. Rafael Zayas Enríquez (1908). Porfirio Díaz. p. 31. 
  6. Paul Vanderwood, "Genesis of the Rurales: Mexico's Early Struggle for Public Security," Hispanic American Historical Review (1970) 50#2 pp. 323-344 in JSTOR
  7. Eakin, Marshall C. (2007). The History of Latin America. P. 26 New York: Palgrave.
  8. Creelman, James. "President Díaz Hero of the Americas". Pearson's Magazine. pp. 243. Retrieved December 16, 2008. 
  9. Crow, John A. (1992). The Epic of Latin America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp. 673. ISBN 0-520-07723-7. 
  10. "Gen. Diaz Departs and Warns Mexico". New York Times. May 31, 1911. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  11. Royal Military College of Canada arms of late General Porfirio Díaz
  12. Porfirio Díaz el soldado más condecorado de México
  13. Keyes, Ralph (2006). The quote verifier: who said what, where, and when. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 387. ISBN 0-312-34004-4. 

Additional Sources

  • "Porfirio Díaz". The New Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition: 1993, p. 70
  • Skidmore, Thomas; Peter H. Smith (1989). Modern Latin America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505534-9. 
  • Crow, John A. (1992). The Epic of Latin America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07723-7. 
  • Eakin, Marshall C. (2007). The History of Latin America. P. 226 New York: Palgrave.

Further reading

  • Alec-Tweedie, Ethel. The Maker of Modern Mexico: Porfirio Diaz, John Lane Co., 1906.
  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe. Life of Porfirio Díaz, The History Company Publisher, San Francisco, 1887.
  • Beals, Carleton. Porfirio Díaz, Dictator of Mexico, J.B. Lippincott & Company, Philadelphia, 1932.
  • Creelman, James. Diaz: Master of Mexico (New York 1911) full text online
  • Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: Genesis Under Madero, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1952.
  • Garner, Paul. Porfirio Díaz, Longman Publishing Group, White Plains, NY, 2001.
  • Godoy, José Francisco. Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico, the Master Builder of a Great Commonwealth, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1910.
  • Hart, John Mason. Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989.
  • Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986. vol. 1
  • Perry, Laurens Ballard. Juárez and Díaz: Machine Politics in Mexico, Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, IL, 1978.
  • Villegas, Daniel Cosío. The United States Versus Porfirio Díaz, trans. by Nettie Lee Benson, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1963.


  • Benjamin, Thomas, and Marcial Ocasio-Meléndez. "Organizing the Memory of Modern Mexico: Porfirian Historiography in Perspective, 1880s-1980s," Hispanic American Historical Review (1984) 64#2 pp. 323–364 in JSTOR
  • Gil, Carlos, ed. The Age of Porfirio Díaz: Selected Readings, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1977.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
José María Iglesias
President of Mexico
28 November - 6 December 1876
Succeeded by
Juan N. Méndez
Preceded by
Juan N. Méndez
President of Mexico
17 February 1877 – 1 December 1880
Succeeded by
Manuel González Flores
Preceded by
Manuel González Flores
President of Mexico
1 December 1884 – 25 May 1911
Succeeded by
Francisco León de la Barra

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