Today in Mexican history: the shortest presidency ever (1913)

I’ve been doing this blog for a while now, so it should be pretty clear that Mexican history is not my area. But some stories are too absurd to pass up. To wit, everybody meet Pedro Lascuráin:

Hi, Pedro!

Pedro Lascuráin is, to my knowledge, not a household name in the US. He’s probably not even a household name in Mexico, although I have no was of actually knowing that. But my point is that he should be. In this electoral season, when we’re deciding who will spend at least the next four years–ideally–in the White House, when there are presidents in other parts of the world working the system to give themselves a third, fourth, or even fifth term in office, Pedro Lascuráin has the distinction of heading the shortest-lived presidential administration in history. Ever. Anywhere.

His entire term lasted somewhere between 15 and 55 minutes.

If you don’t know anything about Lascuráin, your first instinct is probably that the guy died or something, but I wouldn’t be making such light of his sub-one hour term if there were a death involved. Then you might be thinking, “man, what did this guy do in those ~30 minutes in office to get himself tossed out so fast?” But it’s not like that either. Lascuráin’s short term was arranged that way.

This all happened within the context of the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution, which began as a rebellion against the never-ending presidency of Porfirio Diaz (d. 1915) in November 1910. Diaz was forced to abdicate in May 1911 (forgive me for going light on the details, but again, Mexican history is not my thing) and was replaced by revolutionary leader Francisco Madero (d. 1913) in an election that was held in October. Madero governed the country for a bit over 2 years, which was just long enough for him to alienate pretty much everybody. He tried to chart a moderate political course, which in that polarized environment meant that he was too revolutionary for the Mexican establishment and not revolutionary enough for his former fellow revolutionaries.

Madero increasingly turned to the conservative establishment, particularly the military, to help him fend off a series of local rebellions by various revolutionary leaders. He made the special mistake of turning to General Victoriano Huerta (d. 1916), who was happy to put down revolutionaries for Madero but really had no loyalty to Madero himself. On February 9, Madero ordered Huerta to put down a revolt in Mexico City itself, led by a couple of Huerta’s fellow generals, and Huerta accepted his mission but eventually turned on Madero and joined the rebels. In a deal brokered by US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who was deeply sympathetic (to say the least) to Huerta and the rebels, Madero agreed to resign the presidency in favor of Huerta and go into exile. In this case, it was a very distant exile, because after he stepped down Huerta had him murdered.

The presidency was now Huerta’s, but for some reason at this point, after having led a successful coup d’etat, he decided to stick to the rule of law under the terms of Mexico’s constitution. The line of succession was supposed to run from the vice president to the attorney general (who had also resigned with Madero) to the foreign minister to the interior minister. Enter Lascuráin, who happened to be Madero’s foreign minister. He was advanced to the presidency and was allowed to hold the office just long enough to make Huerta his interior minister. Then he too resigned, and Huerta legally became president. I’d like to imagine that Huerta let him give an order or two, or let him sit in the president’s chair for a couple of minutes, or something, but probably not.

Lascuráin’s reward for cooperation was that he was allowed to stay alive, which is more than Madero and his VP had gotten–both of them were killed on Huerta’s orders. Huerta even offered him a role in the new government, but Lascuráin wisely declined. He lived a nice long life as a civilian, dying in 1952 at the age of 96.

Huerta’s presidency/dictatorship lasted a little over a year before he was forced to flee the country, after suffering a series of defeats in battles against the reinvigorated rebels, especially the forces of Pancho Villa in Chihuahua. He eventually wound up in the US, where he apparently began conspiring with a German agent to arrange German support for an invasion of Mexico. If the Germans put Huerta back in power, he promised to go to war with the United States, which the Germans figured would put an end to American arms shipments to the Allies. Instead of German weaponry, Huerta’s negotiations got him a jail cell, as he was arrested by American authorities for sedition in 1915. He died in jail in January 1916.

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