Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Memoirs of Rafael L. Hernández Madero (Memorias de Rafael L. Hernández)

In the past few years a passel of vitally important biographies and memoirs of the Mexican Revolution have been published in both the US and Mexico-- though in Mexico, alas, these have been mainly in very small print runs, making it difficult if not impossible to find a copy outside of a few libraries. (I am  pining for the day more Mexican works can be made available as Kindle and print-on-demand editions from the likes of

For my recent book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, I thought I had unturned every bibliographic stone, as it were. But no. Yet another book has come to my attention, and just the other day, thanks to a Mexican friend and aficionado of Mexican history: Memorias de Rafael L. Hernández, edited and introduced by Fernando Serrano Migallón (Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México, 2009).* It also boasts a prologue by the great historian of Mexico, Friedrich Katz.
The cover shows a portrait of President Madero
with his cabinet. His first cousin Rafael Hernández
is second from left.

From the back cover (my translation):

A conservative businessman, Rafael L. Hernández Madero was born in Parras de la Fuente in Coahuila, Mexico, in 1875. He served as a federal congressman representing the state of Puebla until 1908. In February 1909 he formed the Reelection Club [in support of Porfirio Díaz]. Nevertheless, he later came to support the political ideals of his first cousin, Francisco I. Madero. During the Revolution, in February 1911, he traveled to Corpus Christie, Texas to help negotiate an agreement between the Maderistas and the Porfirian regime. After the fall of Porfirio Díaz, during the interim government of Francisco León de la Barra, Hernández Madero served as Secretary of State and then, Secretary of Justice and Development. When Francisco I. Madero assumed the presidency on November 6, 1911, Hernández continued in Development until November 27, 1912. After Jesús Flores Magón stepped down,  Hernández Madero became Secretary of the Interior (Gobernación) in November 1912. During the Tragic Ten Days, Madero and his ministers, among them Hernández Madero, were taken prisoner by Aureliano Blanquet. Once Madero and [Vice President] Pino Suárez were assassinated, Hernández Madero was freed, and he retired to private life. He died in Mexico City in 1951.
For my book, which focuses on Madero's Spiritism, the memoirs of his conservative cousin shed little light. However, for anyone interested in the Madero family and the politics of the period, the memoirs are important reading.

Here is a bit of what Hernández has to say about Francisco and Gustavo (another key figure in the 1910 Revolution and the Madero regime)-- again, my translation:

Francisco I. Madero, Pancho, as we friends and family called him, just like Gustavo his brother, were brothers to me, comrades since childhood, when there was born among us a great friendship that grew and became stronger, by and by, until it became a truly brotherly and very close friendship. This friendship knew no distance, no jealousies, no envy. It was genuine and it lasted as long as it lasted, until the end of the lives of those two dear and unfortunate friends of mine who were assassinated by those villains and cowards who caused those hateful events in Mexico in the month of February 1913.
As psychological types the two brothers were completely and perfectly different from one another. Pancho was one of deep feelings, an idealist, a profound mystic and in consequence, an exalted one who maintained his ideas with all the vehemence of a true believer. He had a powerful will, and when he adopted an idea, it was with passion and he would take it in practice to its last consequences. 

Later on, Hernández says more about Francisco I. Madero and his political principles, though, notably, without ever mentioning his ardent Spiritism. (again, my translation):

President Madero... was a man who stayed firmly constant in his principles, and on more than one occasion, to an extreme degree. This strict adherence to principles, alas inapplicable in a country in a state of evolution such as Mexico, caused attacks on his government, and he was accused of weakness. Weakness! It was the moral energy of an extraordinary character that did him in. He had the heroic energy to not make himself into a dictator. He had the fortitude  and the greatness of soul necessary to never lose his equanimity. Only the perversity of his enemies,  blinded by their own passions, have been able to argue to the contrary. Neither in adversity nor in the face of death did the President lose his moral equanimity. He believed in in the implicit virtue of his principles and he was not deceived.
His person was sacrificed, but not his principles.  Sooner or later these will triumph and they will move Mexico a step forward. Mexico will have to recognize and confess the debt of gratitude that it has contracted with President Madero. I am comvinced of this and time will show that I am right.

Hernández also talks about the social and political challenges he and his cousins faced as Northerners (norteños) in Mexico City (my translation):
The people of Mexico City felt a certain disdain for the Northerners, for they considered them rough, arrogant, and poorly educated. The fronterizos or frontiersmen, for their part, disdained "Mexican" society, considering it frivolous, courtly, and even hypocritical. They did not enjoy their company and thus the relations between them were very superficial and not at all harmonious. The designation frontiersman included those of the five northernmost states: Coahuila, Nuevo Léon, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Sonora. These formed their own world apart; they celebrated their independent character and they could not care less what people in the capital thought of them. This attitude was held not only by the men, but also the women. The triumphal arrival of the men of the revolution, men of the North, was not well-seen in Mexico City. They saw them as ranchers, upstarts, barging into an elegant salon without looking around and without manners.
The Madero family was divided over the Revolution-- many did not support it and in fact, the head of the family, business magnate and ex-governor of Coahuila Don Evaristo Madero, was dead set against it. For his grandson's Spiritist convictions, Don Evaristo considered Francisco addled in the head and sure to ruin the family's businesses. (Indeed, the first step the dictator Porfirio Díaz took against Francisco I. Madero's call for open elections in 1910 was to strangle financing to the Maderos.) 

Later, when Hernández Madero served in President Madero's cabinet (my translation):

In spite of our closeness, in spite of the great affection and love with which we had always treated each other, and, notably, with the singular exception of Gustavo himself and and one of his brothers and of my uncle [Francisco Madero, father of Francisco I. Madero], became very cold towards me and I knew very well that in the family home and in conversations with "political friends" who came to visit, there was no scarcity of very hard criticisms against me, farther probably than my family members intended, but since that time there began a work of malicious intrigue and propaganda by those "friends" of the family who later turned out to be "pseudo friends" as one could have guessed, making me look like an enemy of President Madero himself. I always despised such attacks, for the President and Gustavo knew me well, as I knew them well, and so, disdaining the attacks, I went on, fulfilling my duty, though one can appreciate how disagreeable my situation was.
Ah, Mexican politics. Nothing new there.

The memoirs also include new details about the survivors' exile to Cuba and then the United States in 1913. The President's once substantial personal fortune had been largely spent by this time, and what remained was illiquid. His widow, Sara Madero, was able to collect a $9,000 dollar life insurance on her husband, thanks to Hernández. 

His memoirs were written in 1918, it seems in a dash, and with feelings still very raw. The memoirs remained with a family member until 2004, when editor Fernando Serrano Migallón, one of Mexico's most distinguished lawyers, took on the project of their publication, realized at last, in 2009.

As Friedrich Katz writes in his prologue (my translation), these memoirs "constitute a very important source for understanding history, but also the conflicts and internal contradictions of the government of Francisco I. Madero."

Other recent biographies of note:

+ Madero family members:

Collado Herrera, Maria, and Laura Pérez Rosales, Sara Pérez de Madero: Una mujer de la Revolución. SEP, 2010. 
Guerra de Luna, Manuel. Los Madero: La saga liberal. Tudor Producciones, 2009. 
 Hernández y Laso, Begoña Consuelo. Gustavo A. Madero:  De activo empresario a enérgico revolucionario (1875-1913). Editorial Los Reyes, 2013.
+ A key general who supported Francisco I. Madero and later Pancho Villa:
Rosas, Alejandro, Felipe Ángeles. Wasteland Press, 2013.
+ President Madero's chief of secret service:
von Feilitzsch, Heribert. In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914. Henselstone Verlag, 2012. (By the way, von Feilitzsch hosts an excellent blog, The Mexican Revolution.)

Not recent, but new on Kindle (and very highly recommended-- essential reading on Francisco I. Madero):

Tortolero Cervantes, Yolia, El espiritismo seduce a Francisco I. Madero.

More anon.


+ + + + + + + + + +

*ISBN 978-970-824-078-9.

My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, is now available in Kindle and paperback on