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IB I.A History Emiliano Zapata

Free essay example:

Adrian Gonzalez

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 embodied the ideals of the native peons that were oppressed for hundreds of years under the colonization of Europeans and the economical control of foreign imperialistic powers. Historians have routinely pointed out the main key players in the development of this multi sided revolution and the organizers of these peasant ideological believes; Emiliano Zapata is consider to be one of the main leaders that have carried out the believes of the masses in the Mexican revolution. However, how effective was Emiliano Zapata in organizing and carrying out the demands of the peasant farmers during the Mexican revolution? To effectively answer the given question one must analyze the leadership skills of Zapata, analyze the role that Emiliano Zapata played in the south during the Revolution, analyze the Plan de Ayala, and analyze the effectiveness of the application of the Plan de Ayala in the actions of Zapata. The method of this investigation should follow primary and secondary historical accounts of Zapata and his leadership actions, a primary source of the Plan de Ayala, and a description of his leadership qualities by a secondary source.


During the Porfirian regime there was vast economic growth and stabilization of Mexico due to an influx of foreign investment and the creation of a railroad system that physically unified the country. New industries were created in order to extract the abundant natural resources Mexico had to offer in order to export them to imperialistic powers like the U.S. However, the price for this industrialization and stabilization was being paid by the native people of Mexico and most of its inhabitants. In order to attract foreign investment Porfirio needed to accumulate prospective land that wasn’t  being cultivated to the fullest extent by the domestic workers and owners. Consequently much of the land was being taken away from the natives by federal laws like the Common Land Act that auction off the land to wealthy land owners. This fully accelerated that by 1909 “1 per cent of the population owned 97 percent of the arable land" (Lee 455-457). The main concern of the masses during the revolution was to obtain the land that once was theirs in order to cultivate it and live off of it.

        Tensions were being raised and the stabilization of a nation that once was run ruthlessly by one man for over 20 years was being question as hesitation to run for another term went into the mind of Porfirio. The famous interview between an American special correspondent James Creelman and Diaz in February of1909 was due to the idea that Diaz wouldn’t run for another term. This created instability in the fragile nation because many of the caudillos wanted more power and an open Presidential election signified more power. (Womack 11-12). Due to this instability many of the small towns across Mexico were demanding the return of the land that once was theirs. This was especially true in the small village of Anenecuilco were elections were held in order to find a younger man who would stand up for the injustice. Emiliano Zapata was quickly nominated and elected on September 12th, 1909 he was only 30 years old. The reason for his appointment was because he was active in protecting communal land organizing protest and actively working with the council. “he (Zapata) had been one of the leaders in the group of young men active in the village defense, signing protest, taking a junior part in delegations to the jefe politico, generally helping to keep up village morale” (Womack 5). He also was seen as a defender of the voices of the peasants and stood against the injustice of Diaz’s government. He was described as a quite man that didn’t like to talk that much but his actions talked for him. As one man shouted during his appointment “We just want a man with pants on, to defend us!” (Womack 9). After his appointment he moved away for a few months due to a job offer as horse minder in Mexico City. While he was away in April 1910, the Anenecuilco village leaders sent a petition letter to the governor of Morelos asking to please let them cultivate the land of a wealthy hacienda owner name Hospital because the rainy season was going to start and they needed to start as soon as possible in order to provide for their families. The governor replied weeks later asking for proper bureaucratic procedures. When Zapata returned from Mexico city in September of 1910 he gathered together his men, armed them, and went to the disputed fields in order to obtain the disputed land. This was the way Emiliano accumulated the land in disput for many occasions in the future. (Gilly 68-69)

        Due to the main concern of the peasants to get back the land they deserved, Zapata quickly allied with Maderos insurrection because of the plan of San Luis Potosi. The reason for this was because the plan contained a point where Madero asked for a redistribution of land from the wealthy hacendados to the peasants that lost land. Due to this Zapata and his followers has a legitimate reason to support a Revolution led by Madero and continually ransacked the estates of the local hacienda owners. Madero’s rise to power was eminent and Porfirio knew that so he they both made in an agreement to transfer power and the revolution will end. This was called the Ciudad de Juarez Accords that was signed on May 21st, 1911. However no talks about land reform or any other issues were mentioned in the Plan of San Luis. (Gilly 62). This infuriated Zapata and his followers because they saw this as an extension of the oligarchy that represented Diaz’s government. Madero tried to negotiate with Zapata and asked him to lay down his weapons for promises for future land reforms but Zapata pointed at his rifle and said “Strikes me, there won’t be more laws than there are guns” (Gilly 73). Zapata knew that Madero couldn’t keep his promise and needed his followers to be armed in order to carry out the land accumulation. Due to a betrayal by Madero and his men, Zapata and his followers created the Plan of Ayala on November 28th 1911. They called for the resignation of Madero as President of the Republic, called him a traitor and anyone who supported him, called for quick land redistribution in the hands of the peasant by any means necessary, and asked for nationalization of the lands owned by the cientificos and anyone against the cause. The Ayala plan made it possible to gain support of the peasants who first supported Madero, thus continuing the bandit actions of his people in taking over the whole state of Morelos, Puebla, Guerrero, Tlaxcala and Mexico by the end of 1911. Zapata’s troops never actually took full control of the land because they were unorganized and quickly retreated due to poor ammunition and guerilla tactics that forced them to retreat. While in the north Orozco and Villa were fighting Madero’s army and effectively overthrew him in February 1913. Orozco then gave support to general Huerta forcing him to put down the southern revolt. Consequently Orozco sent his father to talked with Zapata to disarmed himself and give support to the new government. In reply “Zapata erased Pascual Orozco’s name from the Ayala Plan, and shot his father-cum-emissary in order to show beyond doubt that he would not negotiate with traitors” (Gilly 88).

Evaluation of Sources

        The purpose for the Plan of Ayala written by Emiliano Zapata on November 28th, 1910 was to obtain public support, denounce Madero as a leader because of his betrayal to the cause, embody the ideals of the Plan of San Luis Potosi, and carried out specific instructions on how to redistribute land for the masses. This primary resource contains the ideals of the revolution during that time, given the reader an insight on the ideas of the working class during that time. Zapata was considered to be a simple man but strongly approved for land reform in Mexico even before the revolution started. Like many of his followers the plan de Ayala signifies the believes of the southern Revolution and this plan was followed by many. However Zapata had no educational experience thus he was unable to create this plan on his own. A teacher by the name of Otilio Montano wrote the final text and some scholars say he was a socialist with past knowledge on Marx and his ideas. Also this source does not show the ideas of Madero and if he stood against land reform. The source calls him a traitor but there is no rebuttal for Maderos side.

        Adolfo Gilly’s book The Mexican Revolution depicts the revolution as a class struggle between proletariats and the wealthy land owners. The purpose for the book was to inform readers about the Mexican revolution and to gain profit. “Gilly wrote La revolución interrumpida (1971) while serving a six-year sentence in Mexico City’s Lecumberri prison. Gilly, a man of the left who participated in several revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, was imprisoned for breaking the Law of Social Dissolution”. (Ruiz 247). The value of this book is that he author has a greater sense of history than the people during the time of the Revolution, thus he created a framework where a class struggle is eminent. Much information is concentrated in this book giving the reader ample amount of information to work with. However the author seems to be on one side and that is eminent in his ideological ideas. He is a socialist which probably distorted some of the data he found for his book. Also because it is secondary the information interpreted is in the perspective of the author and not on pure facts. Lastly the author gives little information on the battles of the Mexican Revolution.


        Due to climate before the Revolution to appointment of Zapata as leader gives a significant statement of the personal qualities he had as a leader. The whole town had respect for this man even when he was young. His ability to connect with the peasants even though he wasn’t a peasant himself shows that he was a man of the people. He was able to defended his people as its seen in the first case when he comes back from Mexico City and takes over the Hospital Hacienda; before no one in his town had the ability to fight back. He had the pants and the cojones to stand up for his people.

        Zapata’s decision making skills served him well during the start of the revolution. He knew he needed to ally with a stronger caudillo in order to obtain the necessary land requested by his people. He was able to gain support of the caudillos by becoming a good guerilla strategist. He was able to rise up the ranks and ultimately controlled over 40,000 men at the peak of his reign. When he saw that Madero wasn’t going to keep his promises he quickly disbanded with him and created a Plan de Ayala necessary for public support. Due to this he was able to carry out land reform across the southern part of Mexico.

        During his time many of the caudillos only wanted power but did know how to effectively have public support and alliances. He was able to ally himself with the right people at the right time. Some called this luck others called good decision making skill. For example when Orozco told him to lay down his weapons he refused because he knew Huerta wanted a dictatorship without any reform.

        However, Zapata lacked organization and a strong centralized entity. His grouped of men were always called bandits because they only raided towns and got drunk. His inability to fully organize a government ultimately led to his failure. There where land reforms but later were taken away because of his guerilla tactics. At the time there wasn’t any other way to fight because he didn’t have any economical support from any government. The imperialistic powers needed a stabilize Mexico and Zapata was depicted as the Mexican Attila. Without an organize military and government Zapata couldn’t do much, but for what he had he did a lot. At one point he controlled Mexico City showing his ability to rally the masses.

        The Plan de Ayala depicts the fundamental ideologies of Zapata. Since he was a kid he fought for the same reason of obtain back the land that was stolen from him. It signifies the soul of the southern movement. He was able to capture it in a piece of paper and used it as the reason to revolt. Without it he wouldn’t be able to legitimized his actions.


The ability of Zapata to rallied the masses for a greater cause gave him an upper hand in the Revolution. He stuck to his ideals even in times when it all seemed it was doomed for failure. Due to his grassroots he was able to gain public support and respect of the regional caudillos. However his inability to structure a government, organized an effective military, and ally with legitimate governments abroad ultimately caused him his death. However, he was the embodiment of the ideals of the peasantry in Mexico and that’s why he will always be remember as one of the greatest leaders in Mexican history.


  • Gilly, Adolfo. The Mexican Revolution. Mexico City: El Caballito, 1971.
  • Lee, Stacy. Mexico and the United States. Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2003
  • Ruiz, Luis F. "From Marxism to Social History:." University of Oregon (2005): 243-253.
  • Womack, John. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: John Womack, 1969.

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