This first part of the internal political life of the Porfiriato covers only the eight-year period 1877 to 1884, or in other words the first administration of Porfirio Díaz followed by that of Manuel González. In a sense this volume is simply an introduction to the Díaz regime that most people have in mind when they think of the Mexican president with absolute power, though Cosío would prefer the term “unsurmountable” rather than absolute. In the years covered in this volume Díaz had not achieved that power, however; he had achieved only the presidency under questionable circumstances and had no real assurance that he would be able to reassume it after a four year interval.
The volume is divided into two parts: “Those Who Left”—José María Iglesias and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada—and “Those who Remained”—Porfirio Díaz and Manuel González. The space devoted to those who left is reduced as it should be, for in it Cosío skillfully analyzes why first Iglesias and second Lerdo failed in their struggle with Díaz and with each other, and then why their attempts to maintain their position after their departure, and in the case of Iglesias to return ultimately to regain it, also failed. The action of each from 1876 to death is traced here and concluded with an evaluation of the role of each in the eyes of their contemporaries and in those of the author.
The second part about those who remained is meaningfully divided into two parts “The Tuxtepec Age” and “The González Era,” for as Cosío clearly demonstrates, neither of these periods was a time when Díaz had the power that he is generally supposed to have had. During the Tuxtepec period (1877-1880) many new, unknown faces appeared· some not so well-known took on a new look; and still others moved off the stage. This changing of actors occurred not only on the national stage but also on the state and local scene, and the competition for the star role was fiercely contested.
The Tuxtepec Age was Porfirio’s hard school of political-administrative learning at which in the beginning he did not seem to know how to get his foot on the ball, but his sure political instinct saved him in many situations which less endowed persons would not have been able to handle.
A most important occurrence during Díaz’ first presidency, and one that caused him the most uneasiness, was the rapid breakup of the Tuxtepec group. Its very heterogeneity caused its rapid dissolution. Its cohesion stemmed from aversion to Lerdo, the principle of “freedom of suffrage” without any knowledge of how it was to be secured, and the principle that governing officials should not remain indefinitely in office. This anti-reelection tenet was the only one that resulted in constitutional reform. It did reduce belligerence but at the same time it posed the even more serious problem of contention for the presidential chair, which during the years 1878 to 1880 splintered the Tuxtepec group even more. In this struggle six different factions were competing and two others were lost along the way. The same splintering occurred also in the provinces, where, though less spectacular, it was more serious, because Díaz in his intervention in these state affairs had to resort to the naming of unknowns, who might prove to be unpopular, stupid, or even disloyal and, even more important, might decide to enter the elections for constitutional governor, thus prolonging the error of choice for four more years, that is to say, for the term of his own presidency.
Porfirio lacked not only proven candidates with whom to fill offices but also men of ideas, for those men he had displaced were experienced ones, the inheritors of ideas distilled in the long ideological struggle between the liberals and conservatives and incorporated into the Laws of Reform and the Constitution of 1857. Although Porfirio and his Tuxtepecans declared themselves to be liberals and reformers, no one can doubt that they were quite different from those they had replaced. Díaz himself had little more than a clear notion about the authority a man in office should have and demand and a manifest inclination toward the concrete and ordered. The men around him added little more other than Ignacio L. Vallarta’s exalted belief in the federalism which had not been respected by the Restored Republic and would not be by the new government, his idea of “less politics and more administration” that became the new administration’s symbol, and his strengthening of faith in constituted authority rather than armed uprising to resolve political conflicts. Vicente Riva Palacio had nothing to contribute to solving the economic and financial problems, but thought mainly of promoting culture. Protasio Tagle and Justo Benítez thought only of exclusion from the government of the non-Tuxtepecans. Fortunately there arose to fill the ideological vacuum, however, a group of young writers of the newspaper La Libertad, founded by Telesforo García and directed by Justo Sierra, who began to present ideas that would sustain ideologically all the Porfirian Regime, and Díaz not only subsidized the paper but respected the editors’ demands for complete freedom of expression of their ideas. The tenacious and intelligent attack on La Libertad by its adversary, José María Vigil in El Monitor Republicano, contributed furthermore, to the greater diffusion of the ideas of the former.
The fact that Díaz unquestionably favored the candidacy of Manuel González as his successor in 1880 gave rise to the idea that González was simply the former’s stand-in. Cosío, however, in “La Era Gonzalina,” very successfully demonstrated that Díaz did not invent or create from nothing González’ aspirations for the office. Rather there was a coincidence between Porfirio’s personal interests that saw in González the candidate most addicted to him, and a series of circumstances which contrary to Díaz’ desires made González the major viable aspirant politically and militarily. The author shows the vicissitudes through which each of González’ opponents passed and how this strengthened his position without even the minimum intervention of Díaz.
González was one of the most loyal and useful supporters of Díaz, and like him was ill-prepared for the office. The idea of his imposition by Díaz made more difficult his problem of gaining visible independence by getting his supposed mentor out as Minister of Development without turning Díaz against him. González did accomplish this very well, however. Manuel, furthermore, was an innovator who attacked problems that Porfirio had not touched and that would enormously facilitate his task when he returned to office in 1884. González practiced the “politics of conciliation” to a marked degree, for he realized the necessity of bringing the largest possible number of liberals back into the life of the nation and recognized that he was better able to do this than Díaz had been. Even more audacious and more useful to Porfirio was González’ work of demolishing the local caciques in Puebla, Jalisco and Zacatecas and bringing those important entities under the direct control of the central government. The great political ability of González paralleled his incompetency and misfortune in the management of public finances, the cause of his loss of prestige during his last two years. But even this failure had its good side, for González gave such vigorous impulse to the construction of railroads that Porfirio was not able to surpass this achievement in his subsequent administrations. Certainly the author gives US a new appreciation of González, one quite different from that we have been shown in the past.
Cosío states very clearly in his introduction that in this work he will give facts in both number and meaning heavy predominance over interpretation and opinion. This he certainly accomplishes admirably. It is not that there is no interpretation or judgment to be found; the interpretation follows naturally from the facts so skillfully and abundantly presented.