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[Mexican insurrection activities: Francisco Madero, with Mrs. Madero and Miss Campa, reading a peace message]

Library of Congress

Mexican insurrection activities: Francisco Madero, with Mrs. Madero and Miss Campa, reading a peace message. , ca. 1911. May 8. Photograph.

Look carefully at how the figures in this image are dressed. Francisco Madero leans against the door, reading; his wife wears a hat and carries an umbrella. The two men in the foreground are Madero’s bodyguards. What do these clothes reveal about social class and ethnicity? When Madero called for armed revolt in the Plan of San Luis Potosí, middle-class people supported him, but most did not pick up a gun and take to the streets. However, rural poor people who were angry about losing their lands took Madero’s message to heart. They took up weapons and attacked wealthy landowners and government officials. The rebellion was strongest in the North and in the state of Morelos in the South, where a local leader, Emiliano Zapata, encouraged campesinos to seize land. As a member of a wealthy landowning family who believed in liberal democracy, Madero did not want peasants attacking their landlords and seizing the land. As president, Madero cracked down on the peasant rebels and sent the army to restore the land to the large landowners. What perspective do you think Madero had on the revolution and about what needed to change in Mexico?

The Madero photograph is particularly rich, since there is a clear contrast between Madero and his wife and his bodyguards, who are not dressed in suits and look much rougher than Madero, the “modern” politician in a Western-style suit. Judging by their dress, the bodyguards can be classified as either urban workers or campesinos. Although the middle class and urban workers supported Madero, the military response came from the rural poor, who interpreted his plan as authorization to seize lands and dispossess large landowners. Madero did not anticipate that the campesinos would take matters into their own hands, and his ineffectual attempts to restore public order caused him to lose the support of the middle class. He was overthrown and murdered in a coup by an army general, Victoriano Huerta.