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History, The Constitution of 1917

Plutarco Elias Calles, sharp break, land reforms, Carranza, Obregon

Carranza called for a constitutional convention, which met in Queretaro in 1917 to draft a new constitution. Many of the delegates shared Carranza’a belief that political reform combined with some minor social reforms were all that the country needed. Others insisted that social issues needed more attention. In the end, the document that emerged was clearly more radical than the president desired.

The new constitution provided for a labor code that established the right of workers to organize and strike. It also stated that all subsoil minerals, including petroleum and silver, belonged to the people of Mexico. This measure aimed to curb foreign ownership of mineral properties and land and represented a sharp break with Mexico’s past natural resources policies, which had encouraged foreign investment in the nation’s economy. In addition, the constitution prohibited a president from serving consecutive terms, placed severe limitations on the ability of the Roman Catholic Church to own land, and restored communal lands to Native Americans. Many provisions were, for their day, quite radical. The constitution fostered the development of organized labor in Mexico, severely reduced the role of the Catholic Church in education, and laid the groundwork for the nationalization of Mexico’s petroleum industry in the 1930s. It also paved the way for the land reforms that would occur from the 1920s through the 1940s.

Carranza, who was elected president in 1917, did not enforce many of the constitutional provisions, and turbulence continued. In 1920 three leading generals—Plutarco Elias Calles, Obregon, and Adolfo de la Huerta—revolted against Carranza, who was killed in the ensuing conflict. Obregon was elected president in 1920.

Obregon hoped to end the widespread violence, restore the nation’s shattered economy, and make the social reforms necessary to establish class cooperation. He instituted some land reforms and established rural schools, but he also used bribes, concessions, or force to gather support. Obregon secured U.S. recognition for his regime in 1923 when he consented to arbitrate and adjust the claims of U.S. oil companies. Later in the year, the United States supported the Obregon regime during an abortive revolt. Obregon chose Plutarco Elias Calles to succeed him as president.

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