100 years ago the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, contemplated a solution to the Mexican Revolution. On June 2, 1915 he issued an ultimatum to the warring factions of Venustiano Carranza, Francisco Villa, and Emiliano Zapata to come up with a candidate for the Mexican presidency that all could agree to and who would not be one of the rebel chiefs and who had to be a civilian. He, Wilson, would support this candidate in upcoming meetings of the Pan-American Conference. If the factions could not agree to a candidate, the Pan-American Conference were to choose a president for Mexico, which the United States would recognize diplomatically.
Serious wrangling and lobbying started almost immediately. Carranza refused to even contemplate a proposal since President Wilson's ultimatum infringed on the sovereignty of Mexico. He also wanted to become president and had the upper hand of Villa militarily. Felix Sommerfeld and Sherburne Hopkins floated a list of names for Pancho Villa's faction. Villa had immediately reaffirmed his long standing commitment of not wanting to become president of Mexico.
On top of the list was Felipe Ángeles, Villa's chief military adviser and a close ally of the murdered President Francisco Madero. Ángeles went to Washington officially with Pancho Villa’s approval but in reality because the two men had fallen out over military strategy and tactics in the wake of the battles of Celaya. The exiled general set out to meet with the Secretary of State Robert Lansing and other members of the Wilson administration in the end of June. President Wilson, General Hugh Lenox Scott, as well as Secretaries Franklin K. Lane and Lindley M. Garrison liked Ángeles and thought him to be a viable presidential candidate. Scott wrote in his memoirs, “Ángeles was the most cultivated and loyal gentleman I have known in the history of Mexico and he was Villa’s candidate for president, as he was mine so far as I had a right to have any.” However, fielding Ángeles as a candidate was a non-starter. New York Herald reporter Alexander Williams aptly defined the probability of an Ángeles administration in Mexico a few months later: “Felipe Ángeles is the enemy politically of every faction in Mexico other [than] that headed by Villa. Every other faction considers him a traitor. None of the important Mexicans would under any conditions affiliate with him.”
Ángeles had started his career as a federal officer, and then joined the Madero revolution in 1911. After the president’s murder in 1913, the general sided with the Constitutionalists and became Carranza’s Secretary of War. When Villa and Carranza split, Ángeles sided with Villa. As a result, both the reactionary factions who could not forgive him for joining Francisco Madero, and the Constitutionalists, who Ángeles had dealt devastating military defeats, considered the formidable politician, tactician, and intellectual a traitor. Undoubtedly, President Wilson recognized the fact that Ángeles carried too much baggage to be a viable candidate for the Mexican presidency. His relationship with Villa also played into the decision not to support a Ángeles candidacy. Wilson kept these opinions to himself since the Mexican general remained an important source of information for his administration.
Manuel Bonilla had been Secretary of Communication, then Secretary of Development in the De La Barra and Madero administrations respectively, and thus seemed to have the potential to succeed the slain president as a legitimate successor. Bonilla had joined the Constitutionalists after the murder of President Madero in the spring of 1913. After Villa split with Carranza in 1914, he joined the Villista movement. However, precisely because he identified with Villa, there is no evidence that Bonilla had any real support from the Wilson administration.
Pancho Villa sent another heavy-weight in Mexican politics to Washington: Former Secretary of Education Miguel Díaz Lombardo. Díaz Lombardo spent most of the time the Constitutionalists fought to unseat the usurper president Huerta as their ambassador to France. Díaz Lombardo joined the Villista movement as the Minister of Foreign Affairs when he returned in 1914. A towering intellectual of the Mexican Revolution with an aristocratic background, he was a powerful voice in support of the Villista faction.
Roque Gonzalez Garza, one of the most important intellectuals of “Villismo” and one of Villa’s closest advisers, also joined the team. Gonzalez Garza, Díaz Lombardo, Bonilla, and Ángeles pushed for the candidacy of Vázquez Tagle, a non-descript government official they hoped to be able to control, since all four politicians had personal ambitions for the Mexican presidency. Another intellectual leader in the exile community was José Vasconselos. A philosopher, lawyer, and politician, he had served under the Gutiérrez administration as Secretary of Education until the government collapsed under the weight of Carranza’s military successes. In exile, he maintained close ties with Sherburne Hopkins and the American oil industry. These links came to light in June of 1914, when burglars ravaged Hopkins’ offices and gave sensitive files on the relationship between Mexican revolutionaries and American oil barons to the press. Wholly unacceptable to a host of Mexican factions, he, as well, was not a viable unity candidate for the presidency. Sherburne Hopkins, meanwhile, pushed another potential candidate: Emilio Vasquez Gomez, the Interior Secretary in Madero’s cabinet. He wrote to the exiled politician on June 7, “I think you ought to offer your impartial services… For my part I am ready to do anything whatever [sic] that is reasonable and proper.” However, Vasquez Gomez’ role in destabilizing the Madero presidency in an uprising in the spring of 1912 made him unacceptable to a host of Mexican exiles.
In the end, the warring factions of Mexico could not come up with a viable candidate. Despite his ultimatum Wilson abandoned the idea of imposing a president on Mexico. He realized that the civil war would be fueled rather than smothered. Sometime during July and August of 1915, the American president completely reversed his Mexico policy. He decided to support the most powerful faction of Mexico. The decision would have grave consequences for the United States and Mexico. To learn what happened read Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War. Get it right here or at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other book sellers.