What was the influence of Plutarco Elias Calles on the formation of a modern Mexican state?
Plutarco Elias Calles was one of a generation of self-made revolutionaries who were born in the 1870s and supported the Constitutionalist Army during the revolution. From Sonora, he became involved during the initial phase of the revolution in support of Madero. Calles reached the rank of brigadier general by 1914, having joined the Constitutionalists in February 1913. He then served as the military commander and provisional governor of his home state from 1915 to 1917, and then as the constitutional governor from 1917 to 1919. He did not become a senior general during the revolution, only reaching the rank of division general in 1920. He served as a cabinet member five times and twice as secretary of war, defeating antigovernment forces during an army rebellion in 1929. The political disciple of Alvaro Obregon, Calles ran for the presidency in 1923-24, becoming president in 1924 and serving a full term.
Calles made three notable contributions to the modern Mexican state, two while in the presidency and the third after leaving office. Historians correctly attribute many of the basic public financial institutions to the Calles presidency. Calles surrounded himself with capable individuals, including Alberto J. Pani, the treasury secretary, and Manuel Gomez Morin, later the cofounder of the National Action Party (PAN). Gomez Morin was instrumental in devising important financial legislation, including that which established the Bank of Mexico, Mexico's equivalent of the US Federal Reserve Bank. The creation of the bank and other credit institutions helped stabilize the economy and encourage economic growth.
In contrast to his institutional support for economic stability, Calles, an orthodox revolutionary who initially believed in the radical articles incorporated into the Constitution of 1917, decided to impose severe restrictions on the Catholic Church. As a result, the Catholic clergy decided to boycott masses, and a popular rebellion arose among practicing Catholics in many states, known as the Cristero War (1926-29). Calles's successor, Emilio Portes Gil, negotiated a secret agreement with the Church to bring an end to the conflict, but the relationship between church and state remained strained for decades. More important, these events reinforced state superiority over the Catholic Church. The state nevertheless moderated the application of some restrictions until definitive reforms were enacted in the early 1990s, eliminating the most offensive restrictions.
Finally, Alvaro Obregon won the presidential election as Calles's successor in 1928 but was assassinated before taking office, leaving Mexico in a highly vulnerable political situation. Calles persuaded a top group of generals and civilian politicians to create a national party, the National Revolutionary Party (PNR), to provide Mexico's political leadership and maintain control over the political system, an institution that grew into the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party that dominated the political scene for the rest of the twentieth century.