Félix Díaz cast a long shadow across the first decade and a half of the Mexican Revolution—seemingly always a threat to unseat the revolutionaries in power, seemingly always at the eye of the swirls of counter-revolutionary activity. At last, Peter Henderson has assessed this symbol of opposition to the Revolution, and has found that Félix Díaz was all symbol, shadow without substance, and no threat.
Díaz had no military talent, little charisma, and less daring. Only his family name gave him standing with those who opposed the Revolution; only his exaggerated ambition covered his shallow abilities. Perhaps this combination of well-known name and limited ability attracted others eager to use Félix as figurehead for their own ends. According to Henderson’s political biography, Díaz seems proof of the old saw that God protects drunks and fools (Félix was no victim of strong drink!). The wonder remains: how did Félix survive with his life and his appeal to dissidents?
The author deserves high praise for finally accounting for this career of the one Porfirista who popped up in virtually every antirevolutionary movement after 1911. Henderson goes farther, however, and strengthens this study by examining the “never-say-die” Porfirians during the years following the Madero revolt. This is a valuable contribution. Henderson has done tedious work to untangle the twisted lines of exile politics and complicated plots. He accomplished this by diligent research in all the major Mexican and United States archival holdings, making especially good use of personal papers, such as the Porfirio Díaz Collection, the previously unused Vázquez Gómez Papers, and the holdings in Condumex. It was indeed unfortunate that he could not obtain permission from the Liceaga family to use the Félix Díaz Papers in its possession. These most likely would confirm the author’s conclusion based on other primary materials.
Henderson reviews Díaz’s role in the Ten Tragic Days and the Madero and Pino Suárez assassinations. He argues against Félix having any complicity in the murders. The evidence of the entire study in fact argues against Díaz being the prime mover. He simply did not have the stomach for quick, bold, or hard decisions.
After reflecting on this biographical account of Félix Díaz, especially his eager ambition with so little ability, one has the feeling that old Porfirio had wisely pushed Félix and others of the dictatorship’s second generation into decorative positions. Porfirio’s “full car” was filled with old men, but men of decision, action, and ability. Mexicans who inherited these talents became revolutionaries after the turn of the century.