George Vining (1811 - 1881) was the seventh President of the United States of Mexico, serving from December 1879 to September 1881. He was the second Mexican President to succeed to the office after his predecessor's death, the third to die in office, and the first to die from natural causes.
Vining was born in the State of Jefferson on 15 September 1811. Governor Alexander Hamilton was a friend of the family who agreed to serve as his godfather. Sobel makes little mention of Vining's political career before 1879, except to note that he was "an unambitious man."
Vining was serving as a member of the Mexican Senate from Jefferson in December 1879 when President Omar Kinkaid was killed by a thrown bomb during a parade. When choosing Kinkaid's successor, the Senate deadlocked between supporters and opponents of Liberty Party leader Thomas Rogers. Although Rogers was a suspect in Kinkaid's death, he refused to withdraw from the selection process, or concede defeat. Instead, he was able to win the support of most of his fellow Libertarians along with a few members of the ruling Continentalist Party to gain a plurality of votes.
When several ballots were held without any nominee winning a majority, Rogers finally agreed to the choice of Vining, who only agreed to accept the office for the sake of unity. It was widely believed that Vining would serve as a figurehead until the 1881 Mexican elections, and that the real power in his administration would be exercised by his Secretary of State. Sobel initially indicates that Vining named Rogers as his Secretary of State, but evidently this was only an attempt by Vining to nominate Rogers, which failed to pass the Senate. Vining eventually selected Marcos Ruíz for the office.
Unlike Raphael Blaine, who had been chosen to fill out the remainder of President Pedro Hermión's term in 1851, and contrary to the expectations of observers in Mexico City, Vining did not intend to remain an "acting President" or a mere figurehead. The first act of his administration was to receive Cabinet and Senate recognition of his full powers as president.
Vining's accession coincided with the outbreak of revolution in France, which saw the French royal family murdered by the Paris mob and the monarchy replaced by a radical revolutionary republic. A wave of violent radicalism swept through Europe and the Confederation of North America in the early months of 1880. This prompted North American Governor-General John McDowell to transform the Confederation Bureau of Investigation from a small agency aimed at uncovering government corruption into a vast national police force designed to expose and combat political radicalism.
Mexico itself had been suffering from a growing guerrilla movement called the Moralistas for several years, and in a speech to the Senate, Vining said, "We shall uproot the Moralistas, and destroy them and any other group that threatens the republic. I shall not shrink from the use of any weapon at my disposal to keep order in the U.S.M."
Vining requested McDowell's assistance in creating a Mexican version of the C.B.I. called the Constabulary, an elite corps of police and soldiers operating undercover. McDowell agreed, sending the number two man at the C.B.I., Colonel Mark Forsyth, to Mexico City. Forsyth made Superintendant Geoffrey Prentice's text The Nature of Rebellion required reading for Constabulary agents, and he worked closely with Benito Hermión, Vining's choice for Commandant of the Constabulary.
Vining's choice of Hermión to head the Constabulary was dictated by political considerations. Hermión was the son of Pedro Hermión, the idolized former President and Continentalist Party leader. In addition, as President of the Jefferson & California Railroad, Hermión was a partner of Continentalist business magnates Bernard Kramer and Monte Benedict.
In spite of the political nature of his selection, Hermión proved to have a knack for investigation, and did well as Commandant. As the Moralistas were driven back from the cities into their bases in the Sierra Madre, Hermión's popularity increased, and politicians in Mexico City began to speculate that he would be chosen by the Continentalists to succeed Vining in 1881. Kramer himself favored the idea, and he planned to have Hermión nominated at the Continentalist caucus on 15 April 1881.
Unknown to Kramer, Vining had decided to seek the nomination for himself. He told the convention that he was prepared "to assume the burdens of the presidency if the Almighty and this Convention so desires." Kramer wished to avoid a divisive convention fight, and he was satisfied with Vining's administration of the government, so he ordered Hermión to refuse the nomination if it was offered, and to do nothing to encourage his supporters. Senator Patrick Mahoney of Jefferson did indeed nominate Hermión, but the Commandant declined to appear at the convention, and Vining won the party's nomination.
Three months later, the Workers' Coalition, the political arm of the Moralistas, held its own convention in Palenque, Chiapas. The Palenque Convention was raided by the Constabulary, resulting in a gun battle that cost the lives of 23 delegates, including Coalition leader José Godoy. The result was a massive uprising by the country's Mexicano majority which soon spread from Chiapas to the rest of the U.S.M.
In the wake of the Mexicano uprising, Vining called a special meeting of the Cabinet to which he invited Rogers and other Libertarian leaders. He and Rogers agreed to postpone the upcoming elections from 14 August to 21 September and place the U.S.M. under martial law. Constabulary officers were given power over the regular army, and Hermión was given control of the effort to end the uprising.
Over the next month, a series of edicts were issued curtailing civil liberties in the U.S.M. On 1 August the newspapers were closed down "in the interest of public safety." On 10 August internal passports were required, and on 21 August curfews were established in Mexico's ten largest cities. Vining excused these measures in the name of the great emergency.
On the morning of 12 September, a delegation of Libertarian Senators visited Vining to protest the abuses of the Constitution. Vining told them, "Have no fear of the Constitution. I have it here in the Palace, and will release it once peace returns to our land." Whether Vining meant to abide by his promise would never be known, since he suffered a major heart attack that afternoon, and was dead by nightfall.
Sobel's sources for the political career of George Vining are Earl Watson's The Right Man: The Vining Administration (Mexico City, 1943); Linda Carlista's The Heir: The Life of Benito Hermión (Mexico City, 1946); Robert Kerr's The Life and Times of George Vining (New York, 1955); William Berry's The Dead Are Unburied in the Plaza: The Mexican Repression of 1881 (Mexico City, 1956); Orrin Macon's The Palenque Convention in Mexican History (Mexico City, 1960); Francis McGovern's They Stuck in Their Thumbs! The Selection of Vining (London, 1967); and Robert Kinsolving's Feet of Wood: The Life of Benito Hermión (New York, 1969).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 15 June 2014.
|Heads of State of the U.S.M.|
|Andrew Jackson • Miguel Huddleston • Pedro Hermión • Raphael Blaine • Hector Niles • Arthur Conroy • Omar Kinkaid • George Vining • Benito Hermión • Martin Cole • Anthony Flores • Victoriano Consalus • Emiliano Calles • Pedro Fuentes • Alvin Silva • Felix Garcia • Vincent Mercator • Raphael Dominguez|