DIAZ, PORFIRIO (1830- ), president of the republic of Mexico (q.v.), was born in the southern state of Oaxaca, on the 15th of September 1830. His father was an innkeeper in the little capital of that province, and died three years after the birth of Porfirio, leaving a family of seven children. The boy, who had Indian blood in his veins, was educated for the Catholic Church, a body having immense influence in the country at that time and ordering and controlling revolutions by the strength of their filled coffers. Arrived at the age of sixteen Porfirio Diaz threw off the authority of the priests. Fired with enthusiasm by stories told by the revolutionary soldiers continually passing through Oaxaca, and hearing about the war with the United States, a year later he determined to set out for Mexico city and join the National Guard. There being no trains, and he being too poor to ride, he walked the greater part of the 250 m., but arrived there too late, as the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) had been already signed, and Texas finally ceded to the United States. Thus his entering the army was for the time defeated. Thereupon he returned to his native town and began studying law. He took pupils in order to pay his own fees at the Law Institute, and help his mother. At this time he came under the notice and influence of Don Marcos Pérez and Benito Juárez, the first a judge, the second a governor of the state of Oaxaca, and soon to become famous as the deliverer of Mexico from the priesthood (War of Reform). Diaz continued in his native town until 1854, when, refusing to vote for the dictator, Santa Anna, he was stung by a taunt of cowardice, and hastily pushing his way to the voting place, he recorded his vote in favour of Alvarez and the revolutionists. Orders were given for his arrest, but seizing a rifle and mounting a horse he placed himself at the head of a few revolting peasants, and from that moment became one of the leading spirits in that long struggle for reform, known as the War of Reform, which, under the leadership of Juárez, followed the overthrow of Santa Anna. Promotion succeeded promotion, as Diaz led his troops from victory to victory, amid great privations and difficulties. He was made captain (1856), lieutenant-colonel and colonel (1859), brigadier-general (1861), and general of division for the army (1863). Closely following on civil war, political strife, open rebellion and the great War of Reform, came the French invasion of 1862, and the landing of the emperor Maximilian in 1864. From the moment the French disclosed their intentions of settling in Mexico in 1862, Diaz took a prominent part against the foreign invasion. He was twice seriously wounded, imprisoned on three different occasions, had two hairbreadth escapes, and took part in many daring engagements. So important a personage did he become that both Marshal Bazaine and the emperor Maximilian made overtures to him. At the time of Maximilian's death (with which Diaz personally had nothing to do) he was carrying on the siege of Mexico city, which ended in the surrender of the town two days after the emperor was shot at Quérétaro between his two leading generals. Diaz at once set to work to pay up arrears due to his soldiers, proclaimed death as the penalty of plunder and theft, and in the few weeks that followed showed his great administrative powers, the officers as well as the rank and file receiving arrears of pay. On the very day that he occupied Mexico city, the great commander of the army of the east, to everyone's surprise, sent in his resignation. He was, indeed, appointed to the command of the second division of the army by President Juárez in his military reorganization, but Diaz, seeing men who had given great and loyal service to the state dismissed from their positions in the government, and disgusted at this course, retired to the little city of Oaxaca; there he lived, helping in the reorganization of the army but taking no active part in the government until 1871.
On Juárez' death Lerdo succeeded as president, in 1872. His term of office again brought discord, and when it was known that he was attempting to be re-elected in 1876, the storm broke. Diaz came from retirement, took up the leadership against Lerdo, and after desperate struggles and a daring escape finally made a triumphal entry into Mexico city on the 24th of November 1876, as provisional president, quickly followed by the full presidentship. His term of office marks a prominent change in the history of Mexico; from that date he at once forged ahead with financial and political reform, the scrupulous settlement of all national debts, the welding together of the peoples and tribes (there are 150 different Indian tribes) of his country, the establishment of railroads and telegraphs, and all this in a land which had been upheaved for a century with revolutions and bloodshed, and which had had fifty-two dictators, presidents and rulers in fifty-nine years. In 1880 Diaz was succeeded by Gonzalez, the former minister of war, for four years (owing to the limit of the presidential office), but in 1884 he was unanimously re-elected. The government having set aside the above-mentioned limitation, Diaz was continually re-elected to the presidency. He married twice and had a son and two daughters. His gifted second wife (Carmelita), very popular in Mexico, was many years younger than himself. King Edward VII. made him an honorary grand commander of the Bath in June 1906, in recognition of his wonderful administration as perpetual president for over a quarter of a century.
See also Mrs Alec Tweedie, Porfirio Diaz, Seven Times President of Mexico (1906), and Mexico as I saw it (1901); Dr Noll, From Empire to Republic (1890); Lieut. Seaton Schroeder, Fall of Maximilian's Empire (New York, 1887); R. de Z. Enriquez, P. Diaz (1908); and an article by Percy Martin in Quarterly Review for October 1909.
(E. A. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)