Francisco Madero initiated the first activities of a national revolt in the north of Mexico supported by peasant groups against re-election of the dictatorial Porfirio Diaz to presidency.
The Plan de San Luis Potosi, the basic declaration of the opposition against Porfirio Diaz mentioned that all the lands taken away from the people by force would have to be returned.
Zapata joined forces with Madero to overthrow Porfirio Diaz, in the hope of land reforms being carried out. When this did not come about, Zapata rose in armed rebellion. He took up arms late in 1910, with the cry of land and liberty. His army was made of armed peasants recruited from plantations and villages.
He began to seize the land by force. Zapata supported Madero until he realised that land reform was no longer a concern of the latter. Then he formulated his own agrarian programme. This programme, outlined in the Plan de Ayala (November 22, 1911), called for the return of the land to the indigenous people.
According to Plan de Ayala the people should claim immediate possession of land that they had been illegally deprived of and to which they could still show title.
Those who had difficulty would receive land through expropriation, after indemnification had been paid for one-third of all the hacienda lands. Those hacendados who opposed this move, would have their lands nationalised. In defence of his plan, Zapata held the field against successive federal governments.
The peasants rallied to Zapata’s support, and by the end of 1911 he controlled most of Morelos; later he enlarged his power to cover Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and at times even the Federal District.
Zapata’s forces occupied Mexico City three times in 1914-15. When negotiations about agrarian reform failed with one of the generals, Zapata started to apply Plan de Ayala with speed in 1914. Taking official notice of the importance of agrarian reforms, the government issued a decree in 1914.