UA Scholars Observe 100th Anniversary of Mexican Constitution

Mexican Constitution Lecture Series

The lecture "The Constitution of 1917: 100 Years Making Mexico's Political, Social and Economic Goals Into Law," featuring UA history professor William Beezley, will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, in Room 311 of the Science and Engineering Library, 744 N. Highland Ave. 

For more information or to register, contact Jesús Arnoldo Bautista Corral, UNAM-Tucson coordinator of public affairs and management, at 520-626-8694 or


The current Mexican constitution, commonly known as the Constitution of 1917, was born from revolution, the product of a decade-long conflict that abolished dictatorship and incited dramatic societal change in Mexico.

The constitution, a trailblazer of its time, was the most socially advanced statement in the world on the rights of workers, the separation of church and state, and land reform, according to William Beezley, professor of history at the University of Arizona.

Now, as the accord nears its 100-year anniversary, UA scholars and partners are weighing the historical significance of the document as they consider how it will weather a shifting political and social climate.

Beezley, a prominent scholar of Mexican history, will host "Mexico and the United States: A Shared Past, Present and Future," the first lecture in a series commemorating the constitution's centennial.

The series is an effort to advance the understanding of Mexican culture by the Center for Latin American Studies at the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, with support from the Tucson branch of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM-Tucson) and the UA Office of Global Initiatives.

The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, served as the direct catalyst for the constitution, as it put into law many of the social and political changes for which the revolutionaries fought.

Between 1914 and 1915, divergent revolutionary forces led by legendary figures such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata demanded social reforms and distanced themselves from Venustiano Carranza, the first chief of the revolution.

In a sign of the rift, Carranza faced immense challenges as he sought to reform the old Constitution of 1857 by using a conservative approach to the revolutionary agenda. In late 1916, Carranza called for a convention to simply modernize the accord, but delegates produced a sweeping document with socially progressive overtones that was issued on Feb. 5, 1917.

Labor Reform and Equal Rights

Rights of workers were not put into law in the United States until the New Deal of the 1930s. But the Constitution of 1917 created a minimum wage, the right to strike and form unions, and an eight-hour workday. It also established individual rights, prohibiting the government from infringing on the liberties of anyone. All were deemed equal, regardless of social stature.

As pointed out by Luis E. Coronado Guel, a research associate at the UA's SBS Mexico Initiative, the Bolsheviks were inspired in part by Zapata's vision for land reform, with their own revolution taking place in the months after the Constitution of 1917 was ratified.

Land-reform measures sought to divide large estates into smaller land holdings in Mexico, although the actual process of distributing land didn't commence systematically until some years after the constitution was approved. These changes eventually gave way to the Ejido system, in which property was devoted to a peasant for as long as the peasant toiled the land. According to Guel, this system remained in place for more than 70 years.

"In the U.S. Constitution, property ownership is a right. In the Mexican constitution, property ownership is a social responsibility," Beezley noted.

The Constitution of 1917 brought about cultural secularization in Mexico, proclaiming that the Catholic Church was under control of the government and had no legal personality. Clergy members were banned from running for office or even speaking about political matters in church.

Legal enforcement of these regulations was loosened after the Cristero Rebellion in the late 1920s, when the church and Mexican government agreed to ease the religious stipulations set forth in the constitution. Further reforms came in 1994, when the Mexican government restored some rights to churches, such as the authority to own and operate schools.

Modern-Day Challenges

Upon its inception, the Constitution of 1917 established a four-year term limit for the presidency — a carefully orchestrated reaction to the longstanding dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the main impetus for the revolution.

The term limit would later be extended. Beezley points to this as one of the main points of difference between the U.S. and Mexican constitutions.

"The Mexican constitution now provides for the direct election, after a limited campaign period, of the president for one six-year term," Beezley said, noting the contrast to two four-year terms in the United States.

While the constitution paved the way for dramatic change, challenges remain in aligning the document with the current social and political atmosphere in Mexico.

"The constitution calls for both a nation governed by the rule of law through transparency and without corruption," Beezley said. "These goals have not been completely achieved."

The lecture series seeks to explore these challenges, while examining the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in both historical and modern contexts.

"Mexico and the United States have maintained a special relationship for 100 years based on shared commitment to democracy, environmental resources, trade, arts, as well as family and friendship networks," said Scott Whiteford, professor at the Center for Latin American Studies and director of the SBS Mexico Initiative at the UA.

"Inherent to this relationship is the responsibility of all of us to learn more about the ties that bind us together and the opportunities created by cooperation."


Story by Jordyn Stinnett, UA Office of Global Initiatives

Original story here


Published Date: 

02/03/2017 - 9:38am