Childhood & Early Life
Díaz was born on September 15, 1830, in Oaxaca, Mexico.
He was the sixth of the seven children of Maria Petrona Mori Cortés and José de la Cruz Díaz, alias José Faustino Díaz. He had a mixed parentage of Spanish and Mixtec Indian.
He lost his father to cholera when he was 3 years old. He grew up in a religious Catholic family. He attended school until he was 15 and was sent to the ‘Colegio Seminario Conciliar de Oaxaca’ to undergo training to become a priest.
Meanwhile, the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846 prompted him to enlist voluntarily in the army.
After the Mexican–American War in 1849, he decided against a religious career and enrolled at the ‘Instituto de Ciencias’ to study law.
He was politically inclined to radical liberals such as Benito Pablo Juarez Garcia and supported the ‘Plan of Ayutla’ to ouster the then-president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Due to his political allegiance, an arrest warrant was issued against him. Following this, he fled and became a member of a group of liberal guerrillas who fought to oust Santa Anna.
After Santa Anna was exiled, he was handed the position of a subprefect, a minor administrative role, of the city of Ixtlan de Juarez, Oaxaca.
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During the Reform War of the late 1850s and the early 1860s, Díaz led the troops of the ‘Liberal’ government as a captain
Throughout the war, he rose to the ranks of lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general. The war ended with the victory of the liberals over the conservatives.
As a recognition for his exploits in the Battle of Puebla for temporarily holding the French army from advancing to Mexico City, he was promoted to the post of general.
He led the ‘Eastern Command’ of the army from October 1863 until the French imprisoned him in a Puebla prison in February 1865.
However, he escaped and regrouped his army. Following this, he recaptured Puebla in April 1867. In June that year, they took over Mexico City.
During the war, he was offered to switch his allegiance multiple times, but he remained loyal to the liberals.
He played a significant role in the victory over the French and in bringing back peace to Mexico.
Díaz was a strong proponent of the principle of no re-election and was outspoken about his opposition to the presidency of Benito Juarez.
He lost the elections to Benito Juarez in 1870. However, he continued to rebel against the government and made several attempts to overthrow it. Nevertheless, the ‘Plan de la Noria’ against Benito Juarez failed.
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Although the ‘Plan of Tuxtepec’ had initially failed, Díaz successfully overcame the resistance offered by the troops of the former president, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, with the aid of his loyal ally Manuel del Refugio González Flores in 1876.
He appointed himself as the president for a few days and then gave the position up to Juan M Mendez. However, he returned to power after winning the elections in 1877. He continued till 1880.
The U.S. was initially reluctant to recognize Díaz as the president. However, after Díaz paid US$300,000 and contained the attacks of Apache across the borders, his relationship with the U.S. improved and brought in a lot of investments.
This period witnessed a lot of public protests but he handled them deftly.
Due to the policy of no re-election, he abstained from contesting in 1880. His close friend Manuel Gonzalez was elected as the president. It is reported that he was Díaz’s “puppet.”
Winning the elections in 1884, he resumed as the president. He stayed in power until he was compelled to resign in 1911. This span of time was famously dubbed as “Porfiriato.”
During his reign, he was advised by Matias Romero and his father-in-law, Manuel Romero Rubio, who were initially loyal to Juarez and Lerdo, respectively.
The period witnessed marked economic progress. There was a considerable capital inflow from the American and European economies. Mexico became an attractive investment destination, and its currency became stable.
Although he was liberal, he chose not to follow anticlerical policies. However, he did not publicly renounce liberal anti-clericalism. Nevertheless, his relationship with the Church improved. He thus helped it regain its influence and power.
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He kept the military under control by placing people loyal to him in critical positions.
He appeased the opposition into supporting him and suppressed them if they did not.
His allies reaped profits, while his critics and detractors suffered.
The indigenous population lost rights to their lands due to the new laws and the corruption that was rampant during the period. Indians were persecuted, tortured, and sold as slaves. Additionally, the living conditions of the peasants deteriorated.
The death of Matias Romero in 1898 led to marked cracks in his relationship with the U.S.
In 1909, he survived an assassination attempt during the historic meeting between William Taft and himself in El Paso.
During the election of 1910, Díaz won against Francisco Ignacio Madero González. However, the latter claimed that the election was rigged. The citizens were also convinced
Madero, who was imprisoned by Díaz as the elections neared, jumped prison and laid down plans for the revolt, which was called ‘Plan of San Luis Potosí.’ It led to widespread protests, ultimately culminating with the resignation of Díaz and the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. He was exiled to Paris, France.
During his tenure, he had been honored with numerous recognitions from the then-rulers and empires, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, China’s Qing Dynasty, the Kingdom of Italy, the Empire of Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Spain, and Venezuela.
Family & Personal Life
Díaz’s parents operated an inn. His father also worked as a veterinarian and blacksmith for additional income.
Diaz got married to Delfina Ortega Díaz, his first wife, in 1867. She passed away in 1880. They had seven children.
He had a daughter, Amanda Díaz, through a relationship with Rafaels Quinones.
In 1881, he married Carmen Romero Rubio, daughter of Manuel Romero Rubio. The couple did not have any children together.
In 1909, he survived an assassination attempt during his historic meeting with William Taft, the then-president of the U.S., in El Paso.
Díaz died in exile on July 2, 1915, in Paris.