By Henry Harrison Lewis
There is a significance beyond ordinary comprehension in the fact that General Porfirio Diaz, the President of Mexico, ends his fifth term in that office with the present year, and has been re-nominated as a candidate, with a practical certainty of election, for the sixth term. For almost a quarter of a century he has been the ruler of a turbulent and restive people, and in that time has seen the republic grow under his master hand from a condition of anarchy and brigandage into what is considered the most compact and unified nation in the new world.
The American people—those of the United States—have been so occupied with their own affairs during the past two decades that the wonderful transformation undergone by Mexico in that period has attracted comparatively little attention. From time to time articles have appeared in print describing the onward progress of the sister republic, but they have been so mixed with strange and contradictory tales of the alleged despotism and dictatorial actions of President Diaz that they have gained little credence.
Mexico's progress is as marvelous as it is true, nevertheless. Under the Diaz rule she has acquired not only a government which really is a political model for other nations, but, what is far better, her people have learned how to be ruled. The importance of this latter fact can be appreciated by those who have visited Latin American countries or have studied them.
|Senora Diaz, wife of President Diaz|
Twenty years ago Mexico was looked upon as a land of brigands. Foreigners entering the country went armed as explorers into Africa do now. Crime existed unchecked; the republic was one only in name; even the officials robbed with impunity. There were few railways, no manufactories, but one or two commercial enterprises of any magnitude; only the mines—worked indolently and by primitive methods—formed the doubtful riches of the country.
These were the conditions when a young army officer, born of obscure parents in a small mountain hamlet in southern Mexico, took the reins of office. Since that hour—the most fateful in the country's history—the nation has grown into a robust and important manhood. The brigands have been exterminated, dishonesty among public officials completely checked, and commercial prosperity made a settled fact.
There are today in Mexico forty different railroads with nearly eight thousand miles of track and everything that this implies. The country is a network of telegraph and telephone lines, there are fine schools in every city and town, the public buildings are costly, the hospitals and asylums models of their kind. In a word, Mexico has free schools, free speech, and a free press, the proofs of a stable government.
In the majority of the towns everything needed for the benefit of health, wealth, and prosperity—modern water works, modern sewerage, modern lighting, modern transit, modern prisons, markets, and training schools—can be found. Manufactures are multiplying, commerce is increasing, aided by new and costly harbors and subsidized railroads, and agriculture, long neglected, is now being developed through modern methods.
|Senorita Sofia Romero Rubio, Sister of Senor Diaz|
From a country which produced scarcely enough for the requirements of its own people, Mexico has progressed until the balance of trade is now in her favor. Her exports are growing at the rate of ten millions a year, her imports at the rate of four millions. In the list of nations she is by no means the lowest.
And one man has achieved all this.
That man, Porfirio Diaz, who is just rounding out his seventieth year in peace and honor, was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, September 15, 1830. On the maternal side he is descended from the Indians, and by his father from the Spanish race. In his infancy his father died, leaving his early training to be supervised by his Indian mother.
In his youth, after a period of clerkship and service in an inn, he prepared for the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, but gave up his purpose to begin the study of law.
It was at this time that Porfirio Diaz really entered upon a career destined to become one of the most romantic and picturesque in history—a career marked with adventure, adversity, and success almost beyond belief.
As a youth he displayed a passion for war. He hunted, rode fearlessly, craved the open life, and was distinguished as a chief among his schoolfellows. There is a story of his leading, at the age of fourteen, a corps of classmates against the students of another school, which resulted in a battle of sticks and stones as weapons that still forms one of the local traditions of Oaxaca. It was the forerunner of the real military triumph at Pueblo and the City of Mexico.
|President Diaz on horseback|
It was while studying law that young Diaz first met Juarez, the governor of Oaxaca, the same Juarez who was afterwards raised to the Presidency of the republic through the efforts of the orphan boy of Oaxaca. The careers of the two men were to follow the same course through the most romantic and turbulent period in Mexico's history.
The invasion of the country by the American army under General Winfield Scott gave Diaz his first opportunity. Diaz joined a company of lads no older than himself, and used his utmost endeavors to see actual fighting; but to his bitter disappointment, the company was made a home guard. His brief military service, however, confirmed in him the martial inclinations which were to lead to such extraordinary triumphs on the field of battle.
His first real taste of war was under Herrera in revolt against Santa Anna. In this successful revolution he commanded a battalion and fought with such bravery that the attention of the entire country was attracted to him. The elevation to the presidency of his old friend Juarez led to a series of revolts, and Diaz, now a captain in the army, won added renown in the field in aid of the government.
For this he was made jefe of Tehuantepec, an important office for such a young man. In connection with this a writer on Mexico says of Porfirio Diaz:
In this remote corner, unaided by the beset government, and sore pressed by the conservatives, he not only held his own for two years in the field, but began to give earnest of administrative skill, straightening out the sorry tangle of public affairs in his district and trying his prentice hand at public education and better government. During this struggle he set the pattern of tactics always thereafter characteristic of him—the night march and the daybreak assault. In all his military career it was the case that the other man did not get up quite early enough.
At this time Diaz was in his twenty seventh year, and is described as being in perfect health, with extraordinary athletic development, keen intellect; and unquestioned courage. He was far seeing, patient, of martial inclinations, and filled with an overpowering ambition to place his beloved country where she rightfully belonged—as a nation among nations.
|Patio of National Palace, showing President’s Stairway|
The further history of this wonderful man is a chronicle of continual adventures. The exigencies of war had shifted the seat of government to Vera Cruz. In defending Oaxaca, his old home, from an attack by the revolutionists, Diaz was badly wounded. Almost fainting from loss of blood, he was carried upon the shoulders of his soldiers and continued the direction of the battle to a successful conclusion.
He was rewarded with a seat in the national assembly. One day, while in the chamber of deputies, word came to him that General Marquez, a Mexican with a shady record, threatened the town. Colonel Diaz immediately volunteered to take charge of the defense. For this he was made a brigadier and ordered to attempt the destruction of the conservative army. He instituted a campaign of two months in the Mexican mountains, stormed the town occupied by the enemy as headquarters, but failed because of the overwhelming force of the conservatives. His own escape was due to his astuteness and superb horsemanship.
|Interior Court of President Diaz’s private residence|
After an interval of inaction General Diaz again found himself under arms. The sluggishness and bad policy of President Juarez had brought about a dispute with three foreign powers, France, England, and Spain. The actual cause of the differences with such a formidable combination was the suicidal repudiation of the foreign debt.
When, in 1862, the invasion of Mexico began, Diaz bore the brunt of it while President Juarez raised an army in the interior. The young officer's achievements, from the landing of the French troops to that hour of triumph, five years later, when the Mexican capital surrendered to his victorious forces, read like the romances of Dumas or Hugo.
At the very beginning of the campaign Diaz had fought a battle on level ground, matching his own raw men against the trained European soldiers of Lorencez, and not only withstood their charges, but turned their assault into a hurried retreat. Later, when Pueblo was captured- by the French under General Forey, Diaz refused to give his parole with the other officers, and effected his escape. He covered the retreat of the national government from Mexico to San Luis Potosi, and reorganized the army as commander in chief.
Senora Amada Diaz De La Torre.
Daughter of President Diaz
Taking command of the forces at Queretaro, he advanced to Oaxaca, which he occupied, preparing to continue his war upon the French, who then held the City of Mexico. Maximilian and his generals and advisers were endeavoring either to placate or conquer the struggling Mexicans. The so called monarchy was restored and General Forey, the real master of Mexico at that time, caused the assembly to decree an empire and to offer the crown to Maximilian. While this government was in progress of organization, Diaz, the tireless soldier and patriot, was steadily annoying the French troops, avoiding pitched battles, maintaining a guerilla warfare, and endeavoring to wear out the invaders. The final coming of the French general, Bazaine, and the defeat of Diaz at Oaxaca after a defense that will live in history as one of the most remarkable of the century, are twice told tales.
Then followed the intervention of the United States, the withdrawal of the French troops, and, saddest chapter of the war, the execution of Maximilian. Juarez, the long exiled president, returned to the capital, and Diaz, his work completed, retired to private life.
It would seem that even an inexorable fate could not hold further trials and adventures for one who had undergone so many as had General Diaz. His cup of experience was by no means full, however. Indeed, his career had scarcely commenced.
|Senorita Luz Diaz, President Diaz’s youngest daughter|
In 1871 he ran against Juarez for the presidency, but with the political machinery under his own control, Juarez was declared reelected, and Diaz refused to contest the verdict. When Juarez died, in 1872, Diaz put himself at the head of a military insurrection, but was obliged to submit to the chief justice, who, according to the constitution, had succeeded to the office in the interim. Diaz, temporarily under a cloud, retired to the United States, but in a very short time he resolved to return to his native country and again strive for the presidency. Reaching Vera Cruz after a number of misadventures, he made his way into the interior, and, organizing an army, ultimately succeeded in driving Lerdo, the president, from the capital. A few days later Diaz assumed the provisional presidency, and in April, 1877, he was elected constitutional president of the republic. From that hour dates the beginning of Mexico as a prosperous and modern nation.
Peace followed a half century of wreck and chaos, and progress trod upon the heels of peace. The cement of national spirit began to weld together the disjointed factions, and the country realized, for the first time in its existence, that civil war and internal strife make for national poverty and disgrace.
|Porfirio Diaz, Jr.|
With the assumption of office General Diaz only directed his wonderful capacity for leadership and organization through another channel. He had fought for his country on the battlefield; he was now to fight for her in the warfare of commerce and reform. What he has achieved during the twenty odd years of his rule has already been told. How well he has guided the country, what wonders he has accomplished, is written in the Mexico of today.
At seventy years of age Porfirio Diaz is still a young man. His life of adventure and peril and strife has not reduced his vigor of mind or body. His step is springy, his eyes clear, and if the frosts of time have silvered his head, it is only to lend the aspect of dignity.
In his personal life, President Diaz can serve as a model. He rises at four o'clock in the morning—early even for the tropics—and after a light refreshment takes an hour's exercise on horseback. Then he attends to public business until noon, resuming his work shortly after the midday breakfast.
He likes bright, active, and enterprising foreigners, and would be glad to have them become naturalized citizens so that he could utilize them in public office. The whole bent of the work of this great constructive statesman is to build up the modern Mexico, using the best material, home or foreign, it is possible to obtain.
|Wife of Captain Porfirio Diaz, Jr.|
His home life is an ideally happy one. In his early manhood he was married to the daughter of a Mexican planter, who was the mother of all three of his children. After her death he remained a widower for many years. In 1883 he was married to his present wife, Carmen, the daughter of the president's fiercest political enemy, Senor Romero Rubio. This union cemented a friendship that did more to bring about peace between warring factions of the country than a dozen revolutions could have accomplished. Dona Carmencita, as she is universally called, is a great favorite with all classes. Beautiful, gracious, highly educated, she has been wonderfully helpful to her talented husband in his social and political duties.
All of the president's children are married. His eldest daughter, Amada, is the wife of Senor Ignacio de la Torre, one of the foremost statesmen of Mexico. Captain Porfirio Diaz, the president's only son, had a thorough military education, and is now an officer in the Mexican army. The youngest daughter, Senorita Luz, as she was formerly called, is married to the nephew of General Rincon Gallardo, the Mexican envoy to Russia.
President Porfirio Diaz is very happy in his family, and he deserves his felicity. History will note his career as worthy of study, respect, and emulation as that of a ruler who has given his countrymen a government really marvelous in its triumph against adverse circumstances. This "orphan boy of Oaxaca," as he has been termed, must be classed with those other workers for national unity and freedom, Bismarck, Garibaldi, and Kossuth, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Grant. Can there be greater praise?