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The Constitution of 1917 created a clear demarcation between the policies before the Mexican Revolution and the policies after the revolution. Prior to the Constitution of 1917, the policies formulated by the Mexican government relied on neoliberal principles. After the Constitution of 1917, more specifically Articles 3, 27, and 130, Mexico became influenced by socialist and anarchist policies. The Constitution of 1917, focusing on the articles mentioned above, influenced many events from its formation to the end of Lázaro Cárdenas’s administration. Article 3 paved the way for the improvement of the school system in Mexico. Article 27 influenced the implementation of the ejido system and the beginning of Mexican expropriation. Finally, yet importantly, Article 130 was the fuel for a battle between the Church and state.
First, the inclusion of Article 3 in the Constitution of 1917 heavily influenced the improvement of the Mexican school system. Before the Constitution of 1917, the Constitution mandated that each municipality in Mexico needed a schoolhouse. However, a key part of the revolutionary qualms in the country originated from the fact that the Constitution of 1857 was not being implemented by federal or local leaders.
The Constitution of 1917, specifically Article 3, mandated that education must be compulsory. Pre-school, primary, and secondary education were included in compulsory education. In order to satisfy the Constitution of 1917, the Mexican government dedicated the single largest part of its budget to building schools for rural municipalities and hiring teachers.
The inclusion of this article allowed for José Vasconcelos, the head of the Department of Education from 1920-1924, to implement Communist Russian policies and practices in the Mexican education system. Within this period, 1000 rural schools were opened. Before 1900, less than 15% of the Mexican population was literate. As a result of Article 3 and Cárdenas’s creation of over 8000 more rural schools, by 1940 50% of the population was literate. As a comparison, the National Preparatory School opened in 1868 under Díaz’s presidency did not focus on creating egalitarian education for all, but on creating a school that would cater to the elites and prepare highly educated individuals for bureaucracy.
The rise in literacy in Mexico, and in any country for that matter, is an important development because literacy is a good measure of education for a country. As the population becomes more literate, more people will pursue higher education and advanced careers, allowing Mexico to have a larger pool of professionals to pull from. The advancement of an educated populace in Mexico meant a larger democratic base and a more robust economic system.
Secondly, Article 27 with its strong policy of nationalization of Mexican resources influenced the ejido system and created the long-standing Mexican oil company, PEMEX. Article 27 heavily focused on land reform with Mexico. Article 27, after Article 3, was heavily influenced by socialist values. This article stated, “Ownership of the lands and waters within the boundaries of the national territory is vested originally in the Nation, which has had, and continued to have, the right to transmit title thereof to private persons, thereby constituting private property” (Article Handout). Furthermore, Article 27 also stated, “The Federal Government has the power to establish national reserved and to abolish them” (Article Handout).
Before the Constitution of 1917, land was organized under the hacienda system where wealthy individuals owned large acreage of lands for farming in purposes. However, Article 27 allowed for the use of the ejido system. The ejido system was the traditional Aztec way of owning land. Under this system, individuals did not own land. Under this system, communities owned and maintained the land. This was very close Amerindian or native collectivism, which was similar to the communism in Russia. Under the ejido system, Obregón redistributed over 3 million acres of land to Indian communities between 1920-1924. These individuals were clearly linked to the Porfiriato, and thus we being punished for being a part of a government now considered a dictatorship. Furthermore, Plutarco Elías Calles, president of México from 1924-1928, also redistributed 8 million acres of land in the ejido system. Calles also targeted members of the Porfiriato that managed to escape Obregon’s redistribution plan. Calles, being as anti-religion as he was, also confiscated Church lands. Lázaro Cárdenas, president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940, influenced by the actions of previous presidents and the provisions provided by Article 27, expropriated 49 million acres of land and returned it to Mexican communities.
However, between 1936 and 1938 the strength of Article 27 and the Bucareli Accords Agreement were to be tested. The Bucareli Accords Agreement of 1923 mandated that Article 27 was not retroactive to American companies who had began using the oil reserves in Mexico prior to the Constitution of 1917 because both America and Mexico realized the contributions that America had made to the Mexican economy in the past. This agreement also provided recognition to Obregon’s government and every president after that.
Moreover, this agreement and the Article of 27 influenced the dispute between the Confederation of Mexican workers and the oil companies. The workers demanded $65 million in increased wages and compensation while the oil companies agreed to give only $14 million. The oil companies refused to accept the arbitrator’s middle ground of $26 million. Even after the disagreement reached the Supreme Court, the oil companies refused to pay the unions. On March 18, 1938 Lázaro Cárdenas declared expropriated oil companies in Mexico, declaring they would not be owned by Mexico without compensation. Cárdenas used Article 27 to justify his actions and the obvious fact that the oil companies were not operating in the interest of the Mexican people. Cárdenas, with the help of the Mexican people, agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the oil companies. This is an important development influenced by the Constitution of 1917 because to this day Mexican Petroleum, better known as PEMEX, governmentally owns the oil companies in Mexico.
Last but not least, Article 130 influenced the increased conflict between the Church and the Mexican state. When the Constitution was drafted, heavy nationalist and anarchist sentiments circulated through Mexico. Article 130 of the Constitution created the Church as a non-legal entity. By creating the Church as a non-legal entity, the Church now had less power in dealings against the Mexican state. Thus, the Mexican state could regulate the Church without the Church having a legal means to pose a rebuttal to the states policies and provisions. Article 130 also tried to combat the immigration of foreign missionaries and religious figures. As a key principle, Article 130 reduced Church power.
Underneath the Calles administration, he shut down foreign monasteries and nunneries. He also encouraged governors to enforce the restrictions on the number of clerical members for each state. Furthermore, all priests under 40 had to be married and reject celibacy. Any who did not were arrested and thrown in prison. Calles’ extension Article 130 influenced the Cristero Rebellion form 1926 to 1929. The Cristero Rebellion was the Church’s response to Article 130, the expropriation of its land, and Calles’s anti-church administration. During this rebellion, the Church closed its doors and refused to offer its religious services to the public, meaning that social life in Mexico came to a standstill as all marriages, baptisms, and last rites were performed by the Church. Furthermore, with Archbishop José Mora y del Río leading the charge, Catholics were encouraged to boycott the Mexican government by disrupting its economy by only being the essential goods that they needed. The Cristero Rebellion, like most rebellions was not free form bloodshed. Estimates average the death tool anywhere from 75,000 to 250,000 people. The majority of these numbers come from the violent killing of schoolteachers and priests in armed conflict with the Mexican state. The Cristeros, with their limited numbers and resources, did not have enough strength to fight Cárdenas’s government. Thus, the Church has remained relatively silent throughout the rest of Mexican history even in the face of controversial polices such as free birth control.
In conclusion, if the Constitution of 1917 did nothing else, it certainly provided the fuel for future conflicts between different social groups in Mexican society. Article 3, with its policy of compulsory education, affected Mexico by laying the foundation for an inclusive and egalitarian education system. Land reform under Article 27 would draw the government into conflict with hacienda owners. It resulted in the emergence of the ejido system and the expropriation of natural resources in Mexico. Finally, the secular, anti-Catholic, anti-clerical policies within Article 130 of the Constitution influenced bloodshed during the Cristero Rebellion. Nonetheless, the Mexican Revolution was not in vain, as the Constitution of 1917 transformed Mexico from a imperially controlled nation to a fully autonomous and self-determined state.
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