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Mexian Constitution 1917
Carranza, Mexican Constitution, telegraph forcing USA into World War I

     Even as Venustiano Carranza was toasting the assassination of the "gangster", Emiliano Zapata, and while fighting continued in the state of Morelos, a new Mexican state was being shaped by the Constituent Assembly that met in Querétaro in November 1916.  The drafting of a Constitution was proving to be difficult.  Unlike earlier conventions, the Assembly was not dominated by intellectuals or combatants.  It was dominated by members of a rising urban mestizo class - professionals, teachers and bureaucrats whose social mobility had been impeded during the Porfirio Díaz regime.  They were not revolutionaries per se, but they had strong dislikes, not least of which were the Church, foreigners, large landowners, industrialists and dictators of the breed of Díaz and Huerta.  The assembled envisioned a nation ruled by true Mexicans - that is to say, Indians and mestizos - rather than descendants of the conquistadors and other white foreigners.  Through their influence and insistence, Carranza was compelled to accept a liberal Labor Code as well as the basic tenets of Zapata's Plan of Ayala, including revival of the ejido land system. 


     Even more controversial was the federal structure to be adopted.  The ideal appeared to be autonomy for individual states and separation of the powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government along the lines operating in the United States, but this also seemed to be a formula for chaos:  Presidents would be paralyzed by Congress and states would be in a perpetual state of rebellion.  Mexico's democratic dream and authoritarian tradition were therefore fused: a formal democracy was created in the Constitution, but the President was given disproportionately greater power than Congress.  To prevent personal dictatorships, though, he was barred from seeking re-election after a single four-year term.  Each President would personify the system and the system would provide the continuity. 


     With the Constitution in place, however, little improved.  Open pressure and meddling by the United States, Britain and Germany continued, both to protect their local economic interests and to influence events in Europe.*


     Most critically, Carranza himself provided no leadership.  A man of few words, his thoughts well hidden behind tiny round glasses and a long white beard, he was a patriarch at a time when a politician was needed. 


     Meanwhile Obregón was biding his time in Sonora.  México would face ten more years of rebellion. 


     The 1917 Constitution had nationalized churches, established that only Mexican nationals could be priests, banned religious processions and forbade clergy from appearing in public in cassocks, from voting or discussing politics, from owning property and from involvement in education.  The 1917 Constitution also provided for a labor code, prohibited a president from succeeding himself, expropriated all property of religious orders, and restored communal lands to the Indians.  Many provisions dealing with labor and social welfare were exceedingly advanced and, for their day, radical.  Some of the most drastic were intended to curb foreign ownership of mineral properties and land. 


     The new Constitution was inspired on the one written in 1857; however, this one touched on matters that had never been subject to legislation before.  Among its most important principles were articles 27 and 123: the first established that all territorial lands and waters, as well as the air space above them, were the sole property of the nation, which could give concessions in the interest of the country, but could also take them away, emphasizing the national character of the subsoil; the second one, article 123, established guaranties for the workers of the country by regulating hours, salaries, distribution of profits, and the rights of association and strike.  The document remains valid in México to this day.


     During the past two decades, México has taken giant strides toward the 21st Century and appears on the verge of becoming a full fledged economic partner with the United States and Canada.


* The famous Zimmermann telegram that accelerated the United States' entry into World War I in 1917 revealed a German proposal that México attack the United States, thereby tying down American troops who would otherwise be available for the European front.  In exchange, following the German victory over the Allies, México would recover territories lost to the United States in 1848.  The telegram was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and made public by Washington before México had an opportunity to respond.


References: Distant Neighbors, 186 1984 Alan Riding

MEXICO Profile of a Nation, Enstituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Infornática (INEGI) 1989

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia 1971