- Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War
The statistics are staggering. No fewer than 164 United States citizens or corporations owned more than 100,000 acres of land in Mexico in 1910-1913. By that time 15,000 North Americans controlled 130,000,000 acres, twenty-seven percent of Mexico's land. Some of the holdings were astonishingly large. J. P. Morgan operated an investment group that controlled 18 million acres in Baja California. The Hearsts (of the newspaper chain) owned over one million acres in Chihuahua alone. American Chicle had three million acres in Yucatan and Quintana Roo. North Americans controlled the Mexico's railway system (even after government consolidation), its banks, and its largest mining and smelting operations. United States investments and investors, according to John Mason Hart, overwhelmed the Mexican government and people. The North American presence, moreover, led directly to the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920. Despite the enormous damage to U.S. interests during the decade of disruptions and violence and twenty years more of sporadic harassment and worrisome uncertainty, North American corporations have maintained their stranglehold on Mexico to the present day.
Hart has relentlessly documented his hypotheses over two decades of meticulous, wondrously resourceful research in every imaginable archive. He has hunted down hitherto unknown private papers, little-consulted libraries, and obscure government documents. His forays into the archive of the United States and Mexican Claims Commission were true feats of dedicated investigation. Professor Hart even involved me in one of his searches. I trekked through the dark basement of a local gun seller in search of the record books of a New York arms and munitions trading company that conducted business with Mexican revolutionaries, which the merchant had salvaged from a trash pile years ago. The trip was ultimately unsuccessful. I can only imagine how many wild goose chases took place for every successful hunt.
Hart's most important finding is that Porfirio Diaz, who ruled Mexico from 1877 to the Revolution in 1911, probably the most successful Latin American dictator of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries in terms of longevity and economic development under his auspices, owed his ascension to a coterie of New York City financiers and Texas entrepreneurs, among whom were General William S. Rosecrans, James Stillman, the railroad magnate, and Richard King, the rancher. Hart traces $534,000 in funds sent to Diaz to finance his Tuxtepec rebellion in 1876. With these funds Diaz put his army (which included 800 North Americans) in the field.
The rewards for the North Americans were enormous: gigantic land grants, railroad concessions with lucrative terms, and an open door for investments in mining and other sectors. Hart scrupulously uncovers these vast holdings. He relates the fascinating stories of obscure business people, such as John Sheppard McCaughan, who went to Mexico in the 1880s to make his fortune in real estate and mining. One after another these entrepreneurs come alive in one rags to riches tale after another. [End Page 426]
As he did in his earlier book Revolutionary Mexico, Hart maintains that the North American presence was a major cause of the Revolution of 1910. Anti-Americanism was at the core of the upheaval. While he is most certainly right in saying that the U.S. involvement was important, Hart overestimates North American power and influence. Local and state ruling cliques, and even some federal officials consistently opposed the North Americans, when it suited their interests. The Mexican Revolution grew out of internal political and economic problems, some related, some unrelated to the North American presence.
The book is strongest in delineating the awesome North American stake in Mexico before 1910. It also provides an excellent, though less comprehensive, view of U.S. interests during and after the Revolution (1910-1940). It is less successful in the last one hundred pages when analyzing the post-1940 era. The first two sections employ vast archival sources. The last, however, relies heavily on contemporary...