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Mexico: Constitution of 1917
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Constitutional History > Constitution of 1917


The constitution of 1917, proclaimed on February 5, 1917, is considered by many to be one of the most radical and comprehensive constitutions in modern political history. Although its social content gave it the title of the first modern socialist constitution -- it preceded the constitution of the former Soviet Union -- the Mexican document replicates many liberal principles and concepts of the constitution of the United States. The liberal concepts include federalism, separation of powers, and a bill of rights. In addition to reaffirming the liberal principles of the nineteenth-century documents, the 1917 constitution adds a strong nationalist proclamation, asserting Mexico's control over its natural resources. It also recognizes social and labor rights, separation of church and state, and universal male suffrage. Reflecting the varied social backgrounds and political philosophies of its framers, the constitution of 1917 includes various contradictory provisions, endorsing within the same text socialism, capitalism, liberal democracy, authoritarian corporatism, and a host of unimplemented provisions for specific social reforms.

Formally, the constitution prescribes a federal republic consisting of thirty-one states and a federal district. The federal government is divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but these branches do not have comparable powers. Only the president may promulgate a law, by signing it and ordering its publication. The executive can veto bills passed by the legislature, either in whole or by item, and although a veto may be overridden, there is no constitutional way in which the president may be forced to sign a bill into law. In addition, executive-sponsored bills submitted to the Congress take precedence over other business, and the constitution gives the president broad authority to issue basic rules (reglamentos). Reglamentos have the same legal force as laws and are the source of most statutory regulations.

The constitution treats many matters of public policy explicitly. For example, before being amended in 1992, Article 27 placed stringent restrictions on the ownership of property by foreigners and the Roman Catholic Church and declared national ownership of the country's natural resources. Religious groups were excluded from any kind of political activity and were not allowed to participate in public education, conduct services outside churches, or wear clerical dress in public. In its original form, Article 27 also granted the government broad powers to expropriate private property in the public interest and to redistribute land.

The constitution prescribes an activist state that will ensure national autonomy and social justice. Thus, in addition to a charter of individual rights, the constitution provides for a number of social rights for workers and peasants and their organizations. In Article 123, the constitution provides what has been described as "the most advanced labor code in the world at its time." It guarantees the right to organize, as well as an eight-hour workday, and provides for the protection of women and minors in the workplace. It mandates that the minimum wage "should be sufficient to satisfy the normal necessities of life of the worker," and establishes the principle of equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. In addition, Article 123 clarifies the right to strike. Strikes are legal when their purpose is to "establish equilibrium between the diverse factors of production, harmonizing the rights of labor with those of capital." The article further establishes arbitration and conciliation boards made up of equal numbers of management, labor representatives, and one government representative. Although many of these provisions were not implemented until 1931, Article 123 mandates the incorporation of organized labor into the formal political process and serves as a basis for labor's claim to a preeminent status in national politics.

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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