Obregón Salido, Álvaro (1880–1928)

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Obregón Salido, Álvaro (1880–1928)

Álvaro Obregón Salido (b. 19 February 1880; d. 17 July 1928), president of Mexico (1920–1924). The poor relation of one of southern Sonora's most prominent families, Obregón struggled to achieve a modest prosperity by 1910. Though he initially withheld active support of the Revolution, Obregón soon rose to national prominence through his military exploits outside the state. He built a wide base of popular support through much of the country and joined it to the alliance of revolutionary chiefs in northwestern Mexico in order to challenge successfully the attempt by Venustiano Carranza to establish hegemony over the national government. He was elected president in 1920, and again in 1928, but was assassinated before taking office.

Obregón's birth (he was the last of eighteen children) coincided with the culmination of the gradual loss of his father's small fortune. Francisco Obregón's business partner's affiliation with the empire of Maximilian had resulted in the confiscation of all his holdings in the interior of the country. The great flood of 1868 and Yaqui Indian raids thereafter had ruined his hacienda in the Mayo Valley. His death three months after Álvaro's birth left the family with only one important resource: his wife's family, the Salidos.

The Salidos owned the most important haciendas in the Mayo Valley. Through their close ties to the political circle that controlled the state government as subordinate allies of the Porfirio Día z regime, the Salidos occupied the posts of district political prefect, state legislator, and state school inspector. Three of Obregón's sisters and a brother secured teaching positions in the emerging town of Huatabampo, to which the family moved. Obregón received his schooling from his siblings and from a Salido relative in the district seat of Álamos. As a boy, he worked at odd jobs to help support the family, developing mechanical interests and abilities. He began work as a mechanic at the flour mill of his uncles. In 1898, he moved to central Sinaloa to work in a similar capacity at the largest sugar refinery in that state, owned by an in-law of the Salido family. Two years later he returned to the Mayo Valley, briefly teaching school, then became mill manager on his uncles' hacienda. In 1904, recently married, he struck out on his own. After renting land for a year, he purchased a farm of nearly 450 acres, in part with a loan from the Salidos. He concentrated on chick-peas, a rapidly emerging export crop; and in 1909 he invented a chick-pea planter that eventually was manufactured and marketed by a Mazatlán foundry. He also worked on the extension of railroad lines and irrigation works.

Obregón did not participate in the Maderista movement in Sonora, though his cousin Benjamín Hill urged him to do so. His years of working closely with small farmers, rural workers, and industrial laborers had cultivated in him a concern for their plight. But, finally, after years of struggle, he and his family had achieved a measure of prosperity and stature in Huatabampo. They were considerably beholden to the Salidos for their success. Moreover, he was then a widower with two small children. Though he did not sign an act of adherence to the Porfirista regime, as two of his brothers had done under pressure, he chose not to risk the personal interests of his family. Nevertheless, with the Revolution's triumph and his brother's appointment as interim municipal president, Obregón challenged the candidate of the ruling clique for the town's top office. He won the disputed post (the election was decided by the legislature), largely through the support of small farmers and agricultural workers. They included many Mayo Indians, whose language he spoke and with many of whom he had been friends since boyhood. These groups also formed the majority of armed recruits who enabled Obregón to establish himself in the revolutionary movement. In response to the Orozco Revolt (1912), he raised a local force of 300, the largest in the state and one of the few willing to serve wherever needed. Having distinguished himself militarily, Obregón was named chief of the state's forces to oppose the Huerta coup against Francisco Madero in early 1913. Some of the more veteran Maderista commanders disputed this appointment, but Benjamín Hill proved a valuable intermediary.

Bypassing the Revolution's political struggles in Sonora, Obregón used his military success beyond the state as a springboard to national power, as one of Venustiano Carranza's three leading constitutionalist commanders. He sought to mediate the growing divisions between Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, most notably at the Aguascalientes Convention (1914). But when forced to choose, he allied with Carranza and was named commander in chief. He led a decisive series of battles in the Bajío region (1915), during which the Villistas' military power was broken. The following year he was named secretary of war in response to Villa's raid into New Mexico and the subsequent U.S. military expedition led by General John Pershing. At the same time, Obregón had been working to secure a power base of his own. Unable to establish singular control over Sonora, he was forced to ally with Plutarco Elías Calles and Adolfo De La Huerta. But he was successful in mobilizing support among labor and agrarian movements, young professionals, and revolutionary chiefs across the country, who were joined in the Revolutionary Confederation and the Liberal Constitutional Party in support of major reform. In the Constitutional Convention of 1917, Obregón lent his military protection and accumulated prestige—as the Revolution's most noted military hero, as international negotiator (with the U.S. officials), and as a charismatic supporter of popular grievances—to the more radical group of delegates who prevailed on the major points of the Constitution of 1917.

With Carranza's election as constitutional president, Obregón retired to private life to mend his health (still suffering from the severe wound in 1915 that had led to mental fatigue and the amputation of an arm); to expand his agricultural interests in southern Sonora; and to consolidate political support within the state and the nation for his candidacy in the 1920 presidential elections. As Carranza increasingly concentrated political control and ignored the reforms promised in the new constitution, Obregón's candidacy (announced in June 1919) rose in popularity. Carranza's attempt to impose a successor provoked the Agua Prieta Revolt, which brought the revolutionary faction headed by the Sonoran revolutionary chiefs to power, and Obregón to the presidency (1920–1924).

Throughout his revolutionary career, Obregón had almost always opted for moderation over radical change. Moreover, as president, he, more than the other Sonoran chiefs, recognized that the national regime they now headed possessed neither the internal cohesion, the fiscal capacity, nor the political control to pursue aggressively the reform options which the 1917 Constitution empowered a strong interventionist state to undertake. Obregón pursued with firm resolve only education (and, to a lesser extent, the agrarian option). Instead, he focused his efforts on political consolidation. He made significant strides in depoliticizing the regional armed forces and professionalizing the army. Through the Bucareli Treaty with the United States (1923), he secured diplomatic recognition. The financial and economic instabilities of a decade of civil war and the post-World War I depression were mitigated. However, Obregón's support of Calles as successor galvanized a rebellion led by de la Huerta in 1923.

That revolt was a serious but unsuccessful challenge to Obregón's forging of a personalist governing coalition that to a large degree reestablished the centralized state apparatus of the Díaz regime. And like Díaz, Obregón could not abide the no-reelection principle. By 1928, with Calles's official leadership, Congress reintroduced the six-year term and unlimited (but not immediate) reelection. Though successful, Obregón's candidacy provoked another rebellion and led to his assassination before taking office. Obregón's death initiated the demise of the Sonorans' personalist coalition. To retain control, Calles moved expediently toward the institutionalization of the governing coalition through the National Revolutionary Party.

See alsoCarranza, Venustiano; Díaz, Porfirio; Mexico: 1810–1910; Pershing Expedition; Villa, Francisco "Pancho"; Zapata, Emiliano.


E. J. Dillon, President Obregón: A World Reformer (1923).

Roberto Quiros Martínez, Álvaro Obregón: Su vida y su obra (1928).

Juan De Dios Bojórquez, Obregón: Apuntes biográficos (1929).

Rubén Romero, ed., Obregón: Aspectos de su vida (1935).

Álvaro Obregón, Ocho mil kilómetros en campaña (repr. 1970).

Randall George Hansis, "Álvaro Obregón, the Mexican Revolution, and the Politics of Consolidation, 1920–1924" (Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1971).

Francisco R. Almada, La Revolución en el Estado de Sonora (1971).

Hector Aguilar Camín, La frontera nómada: Sonora y la Revolución Mexicana (1977).

Linda B. Hall, Álvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911–1920 (1981).

Additional Bibliography

Collado, María del Carmen. Empresarios y políticos, entre la restauración y la revolución, 1920–1924. México: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 1996.

Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Sánchez González, Agustín. El general en La Bombilla: Alvaro Obregón, 1928, reelección y muerte. México, D.F.: Editorial Planeta Mexicana, 1993.

                                         Stuart F. Voss