Pedro Lascuráin: The Man Who Was Mexico's President for Only 45 Minutes

Pedro Lascuráin, Mexico's unlikely president.
Pedro Lascuráin, Mexico's unlikely president. / George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When a politician is elected to their country’s highest office, it’s usually for a considerable period of time. Prior to the two-term limit for the presidency of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt served for 12 years from 1933 to 1945. Nursultan Nazarbayev led Kazakhstan from 1990 until 2019. Denis Sassou Nguesso has been president of the Republic of the Congo since 1997—and even served from 1979 to 1992 prior to that.

And then there's Pedro Lascuráin, who was president of Mexico for roughly 45 minutes in 1913. (Though some say his time in office was even shorter than that.)

You Say You Want a Revolution ...

Lascuráin’s abbreviated tenure, which might be the shortest presidential term ever served, was completely intentional. As a onetime mayor of Mexico City and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for President Francisco I. Madero, Lascuráin was in the country's political circles when a Mexican general named Victoriano Huerta decided to use him as a pawn in a political coup. Lascuráin was next in line for presidential succession if anything should happen to Madero. Huerta knew this, and also knew he could persuade Lascuráin to be his accomplice.

Madero was a reformist politician who had opposed the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, a leader who had encouraged an imbalance of wealth among the population that led to the Mexican Revolution in 1910. To avoid being voted out, Díaz had Madero jailed during the 1910 election. After Madero escaped, he argued the election was fraudulent and encouraged an armed revolution that led to Díaz being forced out of office and Madero taking over in 1911.

Huerta had put down rebellions against Madero, but at some point his position changed. Together with Díaz’s nephew, Félix Díaz, Huerta planned a coup. The two staged a mock battle to indicate unrest in Mexico, though the civilian casualties were real. A critical figure in all of this was U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who disliked Madero and was all too eager to see a new regime—by some accounts, even tacitly condoning Madero’s removal and witnessing the signing of a pact between Huerta and Díaz without the knowledge or approval of U.S. President William Howard Taft.

One Day, Three Presidents

According to one version, Lascuráin—as a representative of Huerta—approached Madero and discussed Huerta’s desire to see him out of office. Madero agreed, providing his resignation was held by the Minister of Chile until Madero and vice president José María Pino Suárez were safely aboard a ship, named Cuba, in Veracruz and away from the violent hands of Huerta.

Unfortunately, Lascuráin did not honor the agreement, having been convinced by Huerta that no harm would come to Madero. Once the resignation was written, Lascuráin delivered it to Huerta, leaving Madero without any leverage. Within days, both Madero and Suárez were killed, ostensibly to eliminate any threat of a revolution.

The resignations of Madero and Suárez left Lascuráin next in line to assume the office of the presidency on February 19, 1913. Upon doing so, Huerta ordered Lascuráin to appoint Huerta as cabinet minister, who would be—as you’ve likely guessed—next in line for office.

With his administration’s goals achieved in a speedy 45 minutes, Lascuráin promptly resigned, allowing Huerta to take over as leader at around 11:25 p.m. that evening. Huerta remained in power through 1914 before rebellion led him into exile. He died January 13, 1916, of cirrhosis of the liver. Lascuráin died in 1952.

This startling series of events meant that on February 19, Mexico technically had three presidents holding office within a single day.