Mexico History: Mid 19th Century to Today

Caste War (1847-1901)

On the Yucatán Peninsula, the Maya people began to fight back against their exploitation and oppression. Supported by the British from British Honduras (now Belize), they started a war against the Mexicans. At first they had the upper hand, but in the end the Mexicans won. Many Maya fled south to the British.

Gadsden purchase (1853)

In 1853 the United States bought the southern part of today’s US states Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico. So a cheaper route for a planned railway line to California should be possible. However, it was never built.

Constitution from 1857 and Civil War until 1861

In 1857 a new constitution came into force. Many reforms were carried out in it that curtailed the rights of the Catholic Church. The later President Benito Juárez, as Minister of Justice, played a major role in these reforms. The church did not want to accept this and a bloody civil war broke out against the conservatives that lasted until 1861. The Liberals won, but Mexico was economically on the brink.

French Intervention (1861/62) and Second Empire (1864-1867)

Mexico’s economy was doing poorly and it was unable to repay its overseas debt. So the French, Spaniards and British landed in Mexico and occupied it. While the British and Spanish withdrew, the French stayed, defeated the Mexican troops and occupied Mexico City.

The French Emperor Napoleon III. installed Maximilian, the brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, as Emperor of Mexico. Resistance in the country and pressure from the USA led France to withdraw its troops in 1867. Maximilian stayed in the country, but his remaining troops were defeated and he himself was captured and executed.

The Second Republic: Benito Juárez (1867-1872) and Porfirio Diáz (1876-1910)

Benito Juárez was elected President of Mexico in 1861. After the interruption by the Empire, he continued his presidency as well as new reforms.

After Juárez’s death in 1872, his successor was overthrown by a general: Porfirio Díaz. In 1876 he became Mexico’s new president and remained so with one interruption when Manuel González was president from 1880 to 1884. His reign is also known as Porfiriat.


PRI is the abbreviation for the Party of Institutionalized Revolution. For decades it was the ruling party in Mexico. It is a political leftist party. The PRD is the party of the Democratic Revolution. It is moderately left. PAN stands for the Party of National Action. It is oriented towards Christian democracy and conservative. From 2012 to 2018 the PRI ruled again under President Enrique Peña Nieto. Since 2018 there has been a president who does not belong to any of these parties.

Mexican Revolution (1910-1929)

Porfirio Díaz ruled as dictator. Few empires owned the land and power. Riots were bloodily suppressed. Díaz’s rule was based on the military and large landowners. Most of the population, however, was poor, hardly owned any land and hired themselves out as farm workers.

In 1911, however, the revolution succeeded: Díaz had to resign. But the revolutionaries themselves were at odds. The country was shaken by constant unrest. In 1929 the PRI, the Party of Institutional Revolution, was founded. The PRI convinced the revolutionary armies to disband and the Mexican Army was founded. The revolution was finally over.

Mexican Revolution

Rule of the PRI and Mexican Miracle

The PRI remained the dominant party in Mexico from 1929 to 2000. In the Second World War, Mexico entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1941. Mexico’s economy grew rapidly between the 1940s and 1970s. It was called a Mexican miracle. Important branches of industry emerged. To get more information on Mexico and Central and North America, check diseaseslearning.

An earthquake in Mexico City in 1985 killed 20,000 people. In 1995 the North American Freedom Agreement NAFTA came into force (see also Economy).

President since 2000

In 2000 Vicente Fox Quesada was elected President of the PAN. This ended the 71-year rule of the PRI. He was followed from 2006 to 2012 by Felipe Calderón, also a member of the PAN.

In 2012, however, Enrique Peña Nieto was another PRI candidate for the presidency. In 2018 Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected. It is also called AMLO for short. He belongs to the Movement of National Renewal, or MORENA for short. Politically, he is on the left and announced that he will fight corruption in the country.

Drug war (since 2006)

Under Felipe Calderón, the state took up the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico after having remained passive for a long time. The war of the police against the drug traffickers, but also the war of several drug-dealing organizations (drug cartels) against each other, is called a drug war. The cartels earn money not only from drug trafficking, but also from other criminal activities: They extort protection money, kidnap people and engage in smuggling.