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What were the long-term consequences of Liberal-Conservative Conflicts in Mexico?

The Liberal-Conservative conflicts that emerged in Mexico after the 1830s reflect a pattern found in many other countries in South and Central America during the nineteenth century. Basically, these two parties represented opposing political and economic views as to how Mexico should be governed and how it should best pursue economic and social development. Two major ideological differences distinguished Liberals and Conservatives in Mexico, and these had serious consequences for Mexico in the twentieth century. The most important difference concerned which political model would best serve Mexico: one that concentrated power in the hands of a strong executive leader (similar to the Spanish colonial practices) or one based on the decentralization of power, reflecting the distribution of power in the evolving revolutionary American model (and in Spain shortly before independence). In theory, the Liberals favored the American and Spanish liberal models. Led by Benito Juarez, they eventually established themselves permanently in power after the defeat of a French-Conservative alliance in 1867. Juarez, according to many critics, failed to strengthen the legislative and judicial branches. Instead, he legitimized the practice of continuous leadership, a significant cause of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. When Porfirio Diaz replaced Juarez's successor by waging a rebellion, he too followed his former mentor and remained ensconced in power through seven undemocratic reelections. The revolution had been fought on the political principles of effective suffrage and "no reelection." General Alvaro Obregon, president from 1920 to 1924, following in the footsteps of Juarez and Diaz, changed the Constitution of 1917, incorporating numerous Liberal principles, and won the presidential election of 1928. He was assassinated before taking office. Revolutionary leaders led by General Plutarco Elias Calles revoked a constitutional amendment allowing reelection and created a dominant national party whose members would control the political system for the next seven decades, thus reflecting both liberal and conservative principles.

The second major ideological difference between Liberals and Conservatives had to do with their views of the Catholic Church. Unlike the Conservatives, the Liberals believed that the Church's social, economic, and political role was an impediment to Mexico's political and economic development, a view that was incorporated into the Constitution of 1857. Severe constitutional restrictions placed on the Church were not enforced during the later years of the Porfiriato, but the revolutionaries, many of whom were products of hundreds of Liberal clubs in the 1900s that wished to revive basic Liberal principles from the nineteenth century, incorporated equally harsh restrictions in the 1917 Constitution. They limited the Church's educational role, its economic influence, and its impact on politics. Some of these restrictions were eliminated in 1992 reforms to the Constitution, while others remain in effect today.

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