Sandwiched between the Madero and Carranza phases of the Mexican Revolution, the Huerta government, despite its manifest importance, has heretofore escaped careful analysis, doubtless because its counter-revolutionary nature tends to invite execration rather than examination. Undeterred by this, however, Professor Meyer undertook a full-scale study of Huerta and his regime. The resultant book is another in the half-dozen valuable contributions to Mexican Revolutionary scholarship from the pens of English-writing authors in the last several years.

For a study of Huerta, two possible routes suggest themselves, both with certain advantages and disadvantages. Henry Bamford Parkes, in describing Huerta as a “villain on an Elizabethan scale,” conjured up one. This approach would view the usurper as another Macbeth, a titan of ruthless and uncontrollable ambition, the murderer of Madero and subsequently of many others who dared to challenge his authority or question his legitimacy. Maximum dramatic impact deriving from the enactment of an eleventh-century monarchical tragedy of brutality and ambition in a more nearly verifiable twentieth-century republican setting would accrue from this treatment. However, the pitfalls would be many and deep. Nevertheless, due to the significance of the subject matter, it might be possible to bring off such an attempt through a combination of thorough research, skill and accuracy in narration, analytical facility, and the risky tactic of drawing inferences from probabilities though not certainties. The second route, that of strict adherence to the canons of contemporary historical scholarship, particularly with regard to great diligence in documentary research and abstention from conclusions that do not go beyond the extant historical record, is the one that Meyer has followed, and followed well. If ever he gave thought to the first possibility, he evidently abandoned it, when, despite extensive effort, he could locate no Huerta personal papers. It may well be that they do not exist.

Meyer subtitltes his work, “A Political Portrait,” indicating his intention to emphasize politics. Thus his treatment of domestic policy, finances, diplomacy, and the war effort are models of clarity and exposition. More particularly, the author presents some reasonably persuasive evidence that Huerta’s social program, especially as regards education and agriculture, was innovative rather than retrogressive, albeit deficient in syncronization and conceptualization. This bears on the author’s larger objective of debunking tire long-held and virtually unchallenged view of Huerta’s government as another Porfirismo sans even the original’s veneer of benevolence.

Meyer has collocated all the data presently known on such often discussed issues as Huerta’s pre-1911 career, his campaigns against Zapata and Orozco, the events of the Decena Trágica, the circumstances of Madero’s assassination, and the ex-dictator’s intrigues after his return from Spain in 1915. Meyer’s skills include the facility for absorbing a vast quantity of material, reliable and unreliable, and synthesizing it effectively. Thus, while sometimes the interpretations drawn from the evidence are arguable and occasionally—as with Huerta’s rise under Porfirio Díaz—the information is unavoidably scanty, no one can say that anything significant is omitted. As a bonus, there is at the close an exhaustive critical analysis of Revolutionary materials in sixteen pages of small type.

The work is criticizable in two interrelated ways. Huerta is not delineated sharply enough save briefly in a chapter entitled “The Man and the Dictatorship.” This stems from the author’s approach. On the issue of Huerta’s responsibility for the plethora of assassinations, Meyer’s reaction is that of a militant defense attorney: anything short of conclusive incriminating evidence means a presumption of legal (and therefore historical) innocence. But if the leader were not the vital force behind the assassinations he becomes somewhat inexplicable, and we are left with insufficient motive to account for so many deaths and so much fear. Due to the limitations of the construction of Huerta as a being, the book falls just short of brilliance. Finally, the writer is concerned to demonstrate that a double standard exists with regard to deaths in a revolutionary time: Huerta is damned for his misdeeds, while a veil of rationalization obscures those of Carranza and Obregón. That there is some truth in this allegation, in the Mexican Revolution and in others, is undeniable. However, the assassinations under Huerta were so numerous as to amount to systematic policy, while those of the revolutionary leaders, though individually no less deplorable, came closer to being isolated acts. Probably it is true that Huerta was not directly responsible for all the murders of his regime, but what is important is that his moral guilt is overwhelming. Thus the twin effort to show that in many instances his personal responsibility is unproved and to hold that he was not substantially worse than the revolutionary leaders may break new interpretive ground, but not in a historiographically helpful way.