Senator and Presidential Candidate
Ullman was a history professor at Kinkaid University in San Francisco, California when he was elected by the Liberty Party to the Senate in the 1908 Mexican elections. As a member of the Liberty Party, Ullman was an isolationist, and claimed that the ruling United Mexican Party was backed by Kramer Associates. He favored the abolition of slavery, government encouragement of private enterprise, and a high tarriff to protect infant industries.
Ullman first gained national prominence when he was nominated for President in the 1914 Mexican elections. Sobel describes him as young, able, and intelligent, but no match for his U.M.P. opponent, Secretary of State Victoriano Consalus.
The 1914 elections were dominated by the impending war with France. Less than a week before the election, Ullman and Consalus, met with President Anthony Flores to discuss the situation with France. Ullman agreed with Consalus that French President Henri Fanchon was capable of attacking the U.S.M., but neither man thought an attack would be successful. Ullman thought a conference with Fanchon would prove beneficial, and considered some of Fanchon's criticisms of the U.S.M. partially justified. Details of the meeting were leaked to the press afterwards, in a slanted form that made Ullman appear weak. According to Sobel, this may have contributed to Ullman's poor showing; he won only 39% of the popular vote, and gained majorities in only two states, Arizona and Mexico del Norte. The day after Consalus was inaugurated, the Mexico City Times quoted Ullman saying, "not since 1857 -- over half a century ago -- has a Libertarian occupied the Presidential Palace. Our last successful candidate, Hector Niles, was elected when the public turned against the Rocky Mountain War. Perhaps it will take a similar tragedy to get us back in office."
When President Consalus had 8,000 Negro slaves imprisoned and put on trial for treason for joining the French army in the Hundred Day War, Ullman protested, arguing that their actions were understandable under the circumstances, and that the best solution would be to abolish slavery. He also observed that since the slaves were not considered Mexican citizens, they could not commit treason.
Following the Chapultepec Incident of 4 January 1916, Libertarian politicians known to support manumission were hounded by their opponents. Ullman himself was shot at while entering his home in March 1916, and government guards were assigned to protect him. The 18 January 1917 issue of the Times quoted Ullman as saying, "We are harvesting the crop sown even before the Wilderness Walk. Do the people of Mexico actually believe they can avoid responsibility for their past?"
Secretary of State
In the summer of 1919, General Emiliano Calles made several short political speeches, which led many in Mexico to believe he intended to run for president in the 1920 Mexican elections. Ullman was initially opposed to a possible Calles candidacy, fearing that he would prove to be another Benito Hermión, and launched his own candidacy in order to prevent an attempt to draft Calles. However, the two men met at a government dinner on 15 February 1920, and talked together privately at great length. At the Liberty Party convention later that month, Ullman and Senator Frank Armstrong of Jefferson engineered a "draft Calles" movement, and Calles accepted the nomination. Ullman told Armstrong, "I think I know what we are getting, but I'm not certain. We are throwing dice with destiny."
Despite his poor campaigning skills, and an equally poor performance in a vitavised debate with Consalus, Calles won the election with 54% of the popular vote. He chose Ullman to be his Secretary of State, and for the first two years of his presidency Ullman served as his mentor and chief advisor. Unlike most Libertarian politicians, Ullman neither underestimated Calles' intelligence nor considered him a wonder-worker. He believed Calles to be a man of good instincts who would learn quickly. Later, Ullman said, "Some of my colleagues seemed to consider the President rather stupid and slothful. Had they forgotten the Battle of Chapultepec? They also considered him a poor politician. Did they realize what it takes to rise to field command in an army commanded by Anglos if you are a Mexicano? They were the fools, not Emiliano Calles."
Although Ullman provided Calles with most of his policies in 1920 and 1921, after that Calles had gained enough skill and self-confidence to act on his own behalf. When Josephine Williams of the Jefferson Times compared Calles to a calcified piece of wood in February 1921, Ullman responded, "Miss Williams had better consult some good geology and chemistry texts before she pontificates so wisely!"
Ullman helped write Calles' 21 April 1920 speech to Congress, in which he stated his determination to end slavery in Mexico. Ullman later said, "We had no specific plan worked out in advance. All we knew was that freedom was the only answer. We were willing to allow the defenders of slavery to guide us in the way they would end the institution, and listended carefully in the next two weeks. Then we acted."
On 29 April, Senator Rodrigo de la Casa of Durango, a major pro-slavery leader, asked for a meeting with Ullman, and the two met at noon on the 30th. De la Casa warned Ullman against attempting to abolish slavery via constitutional amendment, and recommended a bill to be submitted to Congress and passed by a voice vote. The Manumission Act was introduced in the Assembly on 13 May 1920, and passed by a voice vote. The following day, the Senate also passed the act by a voice vote, and Calles signed the act into law on 21 May. At the signing ceremony, Ullman described the act as "the removal of a stain, long overdue."
There was a great deal of popular opposition in response to passage of the Manumission Act, which turned violent in the summer of 1920, known as the Bloody Season in Mexican histories. The riots and demonstrations were so severe that Calles was forced to call out the army to separate supporters and oppponents of manumission. Ullman became the administration's chief spokesman, doing his best to calm the anti-manumission movement. He pointed out that although the former slaves would no longer be bound to their masters, "most will doubtless prefer to remain where they are." The Bloody Season reached its climax on 22 September 1920 when President Calles faced down a mob in front of the Mexico City Manumission Bureau.
Ullman attempted to win a mass following for manumission in 1920-1921, but was unsuccessful. By March 1922 it was clear to him that Calles had lost the support of the country's Mexicano majority, and he urged the President to cultivate the Anglos and Hispanos. He also reluctantly advised Calles to seek the support of President Douglas Benedict of Kramer Associates. Calles ignored Ullman's advice, and instead announced a new initiative to offer statehood to the territories conquered during the Hermión dictatorship, which were under K.A.'s economic control.
Ullman retired from public life after Calles' loss to Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes in the 1926 Mexican elections. On 12 October 1929 he was interviewed by Miguel Callendra on his vitavision program I Remember. During the interview, Ullman summed up Calles' feelings by saying, "Calles doesn't care what people think. He lives in his own skull. It isn't that he has contempt for the masses. Having known him all these years, I feel his republican instincts were always strong. It's just that he has always placed personal conviction above all else. Criticize him for this if you will, but without it, the slaves would still be with us and Hawaii and Alaska would not be states."
During the 1932 Mexican elections, Ullman gave an address at the Liberty Party convention in which he accused Fuentes of "monomania of the worst kind" for his attack on K.A., and supported Senator Alvin Silva of Durango for the party's presidential nomination. Four years after Silva was elected president, Mark Jernigan of the Mexico City Herald asked him whether he knew what the future held when he supported Silva. Ullman replied, "We could not guess."
Sobel's sources for the life and career of Albert Ullman are the 1929 Callendra interview, as well as Samuel Slate's The Rise of Emiliano Calles (New York, 1929); Miguel San Martín's The Bloody Season (Mexico City, 1930); De la Casa's Life at Court: An Observer of the Calles Regime (Mexico City, 1934); Harold Walker's The Chapultapec Affair: Doorway to Today (New York, 1958); Charles Adkins' Always the Bridesmaid: The Liberty Party, 1851-1960 (Mexico City, 1961); Dwight Hermon's Albert Ullman and the Calles Conspiracy (Mexico City, 1969); and Stanley Tulin's The Kramer Associates: The Benedict Years (London, 1971).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 10 March 2013.