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Cárdenas, Lázaro

LÁzaro CÁrdenas

Born: May 21, 1895
Jiquilpán de Juárez, Michoacán, Mexico
Died: October 19, 1970
Mexico City, Mexico

Mexican president and revolutionary

Lázaro Cárdenas was a Mexican revolutionary leader and president. During his administration he carried out major land reforms that benefited the Mexican people and brought the country's oil industry back under Mexican control, thus restoring the people's faith in the revolution.

Early life

Lázaro Cárdenas was born of mixed white and Tarascan Indian ancestry in Jiquilpán de Juárez in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, on May 21, 1895. The oldest son of a shopkeeper, he left school after fourth grade to work in a tax office. As a young man Cárdenas was quiet and serious. After his father died in 1911, he became the father figure for his seven brothers and sisters, several of whom would follow him into military and political careers.

Cárdenas was a fierce and ambitious patriot and was greatly affected when the Mexican Revolution (191011) broke out. During this time Cárdenas was working at a local jail in order to support his family. In 1913 he released his prisoners and together they joined the maderistas, the rebels resisting the government of General Victoriano Huerta (18541916).

Military career

After the Convention of Aguascalientes, Cárdenas fought briefly in the army of Pancho Villa (18781923), who also was fighting against Huerta. In 1915 Cárdenas joined the Constitutionalists, and in the revolt of Agua Prieta he sided with Álvaro Obregón (18801928) against Villa. In 1923 he was captured. He later escaped, and was then forced to hide out in Guadalajara, Mexico, for several months. Soon afterwards Cárdenas quickly rose through the military ranks.

During the 1923 rebellion he commanded loyal forces in Michoacán. The following year he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of military operations in Huasteca, Michoacán, and the Isthmus. Cárdenas's rise to military power was greatly helped by his friendship with his commanding general, Plutarco Elias Calles (18771945).

Political career

By 1924 Calles had become president of Mexico. Thanks in part to his relationship with the president, in 1928 Cárdenas became governor of Michoacán, his home state. He served there until 1932. As governor he actively supported land reform, developed education, and aided labor and peasant organizations through his radical group, Confederacion Revolucionaria Michoacana de Trabajo. To his reputation as an honest military serviceman he added a similar reputation of serving the people of Mexico.

During the following years, Cárdenas served as minister of the government and as minister of war. Cárdenas showed great support for Calles during these years and his loyalty would soon pay off. In 1934 Calles effectively nominated Cárdenas as the presidential candidate for the National Revolutionary Party (PNR). Calles thought he would be able to control his old friend. By this time, however, the Depression (an extended period of economic hardship) had settled in across Mexico. People rallied Cárdenas as a reformer (someone pushing to change social policies) and he gained support for the presidency.

President of Mexico

Cárdenas won and entered office with a radical mandate, or command, in the new Six Year Plan. He proceeded to carry it out and gave the people personal attention and patience. His six-year term was marked by maintaining his revolutionary faith. Much of his term was spent on the road visiting remote villages and listening to the complaints and ideas of the people of Mexico.

When Calles challenged his tolerance toward labor, Cárdenas forced him to leave Mexico. Labor gained new power as it reorganized under Lombardo Toledano (1894 1968) in the Mexican Confederation of Labor. Cárdenas confiscated forty-five million acres of land and distributed them to the ejidos, or peasant communities. The lands included new collective types with large financial and technical support in the cotton region of La Laguna and the henequen (a fiber that comes from the agave plant) area of Yucatán. The nationalization of the railroads was completed and turned over to governmental control. In 1938 petroleum holdings in Mexico owned by foreign countries were also nationalized. This action would be described as Mexico's declaration of economic independence.

Ending his career

In 1938 Cárdenas crushed the last significant regional revolt, which was led by Saturnino Cedillo in San Luis Potosi. Mexico then opened its doors to political exiles (those forced to leave a country for political reasons). These exiles included the Russian revolutionist Leon Trotsky (18791940) and a considerable number of Republican Spanish refugees. In the presidential election of 1940 Cárdenas backed moderately conservative Manuel Ávila Camacho (18971955) and served him as secretary of defense in 1943. For more than a quarter century Cárdenas remained a political force in Mexico.

In 1960, during the Bay of Pigs episode, where there was a failed attempt to assassinate Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro (1926), Cárdenas took a strong pro-Castro position, but avoided getting involved in the matter. Cárdenas consistently disappointed those who wanted to link his name with violence and the disruption of the political process. In October 1968 he strongly urged the students to end violence. He remained a supporter of rapid reform, but by peaceful means. He died on October 19, 1970, in Mexico City, Mexico.

For More Information

Ashby, Joe C. Organized Labor and the Mexican Revolution under Lázaro Cárdenas. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

Cárdenas, Lázaro. Epistolario de Lázaro Cárdenas. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1974.

Townsend, William Cameron. Lázaro Cárdenas: Mexican Democrat. 2nd ed. Waxhaw, NC: International Friendship, 1979.

Weyl, Nathaniel, and Sylvia Weyl. The Reconquest of Mexico: The Years of Lázaro Cárdenas. London: Oxford University Press, 1939.

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Lázaro Cárdenas

Lázaro Cárdenas

Lázaro Cárdenas (1895-1970) was a Mexican revolutionary leader and president. During his administration he revitalized the people's faith in the revolution by implementing extensive land reforms, expropriating foreign-owned properties, and nationalizing the oil industry.

Lázaro Cárdenas was born of mixed white and Tarascan Indian ancestry in Jiquilpán de Juárez, Michoacán, on May 21, 1895. In order to support his family he worked in the local jail. When the Madero revolution broke out, he released his prisoners and together they went to join the maderistas.

After the Convention of Aguascalientes, Cárdenas fought briefly in the army of Pancho Villa but in 1915 joined the constitutionalists. In the revolt of Agua Prieta he took the side of Álvaro Obregón. During the 1923 rebellion he commanded loyal forces in Michoacán. The following year he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of military operations in the Huasteca, Michoacán, and the Isthmus. In 1928 he became governor of Michoacán, serving until 1932. He actively supported land reform. To his reputation for honest service in the military he added a comparable reputation in civil administration.

During the succeeding years Cárdenas served as president of the government party, minister of interior, and secretary of war and marine. In 1934 the Calles group, intending him to play the straw man for their continued control of the government, misjudged Cárdenas and selected him as the presidential candidate. Cárdenas, however, won and entered office with a radical mandate in the new Six Year Plan and proceeded to carry it out. He gave the people personal attention and patience. His 6-year term was marked by a reaffirmation of revolutionary faith and a revitalization of revolutionary processes.

When Calles challenged his leniency with labor, Cárdenas forced him to leave Mexico. Labor reached unprecedented power as it reorganized under Lombardo Toledano in the Mexican Confederation of Labor. Cárdenas expropriated 45 million acres of land and distributed them to the ejidos, including new collective types with large financial and technical support in the cotton region of La Laguna and the henequén area of Yucatán. The nationalization of the railroads was completed, and in 1938, in an action described as Mexico's declaration of economic independence, foreign petroleum holdings were expropriated and nationalized.

A Department of Indian Affairs was established, and Mexico hosted the First Inter-American Indigenist Congress. After some initial friction a conciliatory policy was adopted toward the Church, and Bassol's strongly socialistic educational program was moderated with greater stress on nationalistic goals. In 1938, Cárdenas crushed the last significant regional revolt which was led by Saturnino Cedillo in San Luis Potosi. Mexico opened its doors to political exiles, including Leon Trotsky and a considerable number of Republican Spanish refugees.

In the presidential election of 1940 Cárdenas backed moderately conservative Manuel Á vila Camacho and served him as secretary of defense in 1943. For more than a quarter century Cárdenas remained a political force to be reckoned with. In 1960, at the time of the Bay of Pigs episode, he took a strongly pro-Castro position, consistent with his noninterventionist sentiments. However, Cárdenas consistently confounded those who have tried to associate his name with violence and the disruption of the political process. In October 1968 he strongly urged the students to end violence, and he remained an advocate of rapid reform, but by peaceful means. He died on Oct. 19, 1970, in Mexico City.

Further Reading

The definitive biography of Cárdenas remains to be written. A sympathetic view is William C. Townsend, Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexican Democrat (1952). An equally sympathetic account of the early years of his administration, written from a Marxist viewpoint, is Nathaniel and Sylvia Weyl, The Reconquest of Mexico: The Years of Lázaro Cárdenas (1939). Frank Tannenbaum, who was closely associated with Cárdenas, wrote one of the best analyses of his character and achievements in Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread (1950). A specialized study of the labor movement is Joe C. Ashby, Organized Labor and the Mexican Revolution under Lázaro Cárdenas (1967).

Additional Sources

Townsend, William Cameron, Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexican democrat, Waxhaw, N.C.: International Friendship, 1979. □

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Cárdenas, Lázaro

Lázaro Cárdenas (lä´särō kär´dānäs), 1895–1970, president of Mexico (1934–40). He joined the revolutionary forces in 1913 and rose to become a general. He was governor (1928–32) of his native state, Michoacán, and held other political posts before he was, with the support of Plutarco E. Calles, elected president. After a bitter conflict Cárdenas sent (1936) Calles into exile and organized a vigorous campaign of socialization of industry and agriculture based on the constitution of 1917. Large landholdings were broken up and distributed to small farmers on the ejido system, and many foreign-owned properties, especially oil fields, were expropriated. Cárdenas, determined to make Mexico a modern democracy, became anathema to large landowners, industrialists, and foreign investors, but—himself a mestizo—became a hero to native peoples and the Mexican working classes. He relinquished his office at the end of his term, acting in accord with his desire for democratic and orderly constitutional processes. Cárdenas was recalled to public service as minister of national defense (1942–45). His political influence as the leader of the Mexican left continued in the years after World War II.

See biography by W. Townsend (2d ed. 1979); study by J. C. Ashby (1967).



His son Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano (kōō-outā´môk, sōlôr´sänō), 1934–, seen since the 1980s as his father's political heir, held posts within the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) before 1988, when he formed the leftist Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD) in opposition. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988 (when he lost as a result of vote fraud) and 1994, but in 1997 he became the first elected mayor of Mexico City. He resigned in 1999 to make a third attempt at winning the Mexican presidency, running on a leftist nationalist platform that opposed free trade. Cárdenas lost to Vicente Fox Quesada in the elections of July, 2000.

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