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Monte Benedict

Monte Benedict of Jefferson.

Monte Benedict (1812 - 1883?) was a Mexican businessman, and the founder of the Petroleum of Mexico Corporation. Together with Bernard Kramer, founder of Kramer Associates, Benedict was able to gain control of the Mexican political system, and ultimately create the dictatorship of Benito Hermión.

Military Service and Business Career[]

Benedict was born in Jefferson before that state's merger with the Republic of Mexico, and he shared the typical Anglos disdain for all people of color. Benedict retained this racial prejudice throughout his life, and in later years, when he had become one of Mexico's wealthiest businessmen, he relied on subordinates to deal with his Hispano business contacts.

Sobel writes that Benedict fought in the Rocky Mountain War as a young man, but he was already 33 when the war broke out. Benedict was part of the army that was raised in Mexico City in March 1850 and sent north under General Michael Doheny to Williams Pass, California. Benedict participated in, and survived, the Battle of Williams Pass, which claimed the lives of two thirds of the Mexican troops involved. Sobel speculates that Benedict may have met Kramer in the course of the battle, but that neither man remembered any such meeting.

Although Sobel does not specifically say so, it is likely that Benedict was already a successful businessman when he entered the petroleum business in the mid-1860s. Oil was first discovered in 1863 in the Tiempo de Dios area of Jefferson. Oil production in Jefferson increased from 10,000 barrels in 1865 to 2.1 million in 1870.

Alliance with Bernard Kramer[]

Oscar Barkley

Senator Oscar Barkley.

By 1863, Benedict had already gained control of the Continentalist Party in Jefferson through his financial support of Senator Oscar Barkley. The passage of President Arthur Conroy's Constitutional amendments in 1864 and 1865 convinced Benedict and Kramer that they would have to exercise greater control over the Mexican political process. Their first victory came at the national Continentalist caucus in July 1869, when they were easily able to gain the presidential nomination for Kramer's man, Senator Omar Kinkaid. Aided by the financial support of Benedict and Kramer, Kinkaid went on to win the presidency in the 1869 Mexican elections.

Benedict supported Kramer's attempt to build a canal across the isthmus of Guatemala, since he suspected the region was rich in oil. In 1866, Benedict gave a speech in which he said, "The lands to the south are veritable storehouses of raw materials, but the peoples of these nations lack the resources to extract them. We in Mexico have these resources. A marriage of their land and our people would surely benefit all."

After Kramer instigated the Martinez coup in March 1870, the new President of Guatemala, Vicente Martinez, signed over rights to a canal to K.A. the following month. When Courtney Wymess began supervising work on the canal in April 1871, he was accompanied by Benedict's engineers, who began prospecting the area for petroleum deposits. None was found in Guatemala, but the activity there led Benedict to begin prospecting in Durango and Chiapas. By the time the first important strikes were made in Minatitlán, Chiapas and the Gulf Coast south of Reynosa, Durango in 1880, Benedict was nearing his retirement.


Bernard Kramer.

While work on the canal proceeded and exploratory drillings were made in southern Mexico, Benedict and Kramer were working out the details of a deal allowing Benedict to buy into K.A. Under the terms of the deal, which was finalized in 1874, Benedict and fifteen other Jefferson oilmen were offered additional shares in K.A. at the original price of $200,000 per share. At the same time, the oilmen would form their own consortium, called Petroleum of Mexico, which was capitalized at $200,000,000 from the sale of bonds. Benedict's Paris banking partners would receive 29% of P.M.'s stock, K.A. would receive 20%, and Benedict and his partners would retain 51%. At the time of its formation, Petroleum of Mexico was the largest corporation in Mexico in terms of assets, sales, and profits, exceeding even Kramer Associates. Oil production in Jefferson continued to rise, reaching 8.4 million barrels in 1875, and 8.9 million the following year, surpassing production in the Confederation of North America for the first time.

Kinkaid Reforms and Moralista Movement[]

During the 1875 elections, Benedict sought to increase his control over the Mexican political process by covertly funding Governor Colbert's campaign to win the Libertarian nomination again, though Sobel suggests that Colbert was unaware of Benedict's involvement at the time. In any case, the Libertarians had turned against Colbert's aggressive rhetoric. The two leading contenders for the presidential nomination were Senator Carlos Concepción of Chiapas and Governor Thomas Rogers of Arizona. There was a growing reaction against Benedict and Kramer's corruption of the political process, and both men spoke out against it. Rogers promised that as president he would "investigate big business" and "redirect our effort toward making a better Mexico, for all Mexicans."


Senator Carlos Concepción.

Concepción went further, taking up the cause of small farmers in California who felt victimized by K.A., and criticizing the relation between Mexico City and Guatemala as being one between "thief and assassin." He also spoke of "Mexico's wealth having fallen to a few, while the rest of the nation remains in chains," and demanded the nationalization of K.A. and P.M. Concepción proved to be too radical for the Libertarians, who gave Rogers the nomination. Concepción responded by leaving the Liberty Party and starting his own, the Workers' Coalition.

As the campaign continued, Concepción's rhetoric became more radical, and he shifted from campaigning in English to Spanish. By late July, he had given up on winning the election, and was instead laying the groundwork for a revolutionary movement called the Moralistas aimed at overthrowing the government in Mexico City, which he launched after his loss in August. Rogers, meanwhile, attacked "the plutocracy of the Continentalists, and the hypocrisy of a President who is on a leash, but does not know it, or does not care." Kinkaid did little campaigning, instead relying, as he had in 1869, on an army of paid campaign workers.

John B Weller by William F Cogswell, 1879

President Omar Kinkaid.

Kinkaid won re-election with 54% of the popular vote, just as he had six years earlier, while the remainder was split between Rogers, who received 35%, and Concepción, who received 11%. The bitterness of the campaign, and the outbreak of the Moralista insurgency, shook Kinkaid out of his complacency, and starting in 1876 he began working to free himself and the Continentalist Party from control by Benedict and Kramer. Kinkaid began to invoke Conroy's name, and speak of the need "to complete the reforms begun by that great Arizonan."

Kramer and Benedict both used their influence in the Continentalist Party to oppose Kinkaid's proposed reforms, but with the aid of Rogers, who had entered the Senate and been selected as Senate Minority Leader in November, he was able to gain passage of several reforms increasing government control of railroads, and placing taxes on corporations, in 1877 and 1878. Meanwhile, Concepción's Moralistas carried out a series of attacks on banks, railroads, and government offices.

Assassination and Dictatorship[]

By 1879, there was speculation that Kinkaid intended to run for a third term in the 1881 Mexican elections, or that he intended to support Rogers, who solidified his control of the Liberty Party when Benedict's support for Colbert in 1875 became public knowledge. The speculation ended when Kinkaid was assassinated on 7 December 1879. The assassin was never found, although Benedict and Kramer offered a $1,000,000 reward for information leading to the assassin's conviction. Due to the unknown nature of the assassin's identity or cause, Kinkaid's death was as divisive as his re-election had been, with Rogers blaming Concepción, Concepción blaming Benedict and Kramer, and Kramer blaming Rogers.

George Vining

George Vining of Jefferson.

When the Senate met two days after Kinkaid's assassination to choose his successor, it deadlocked. Rogers was now a suspect in Kinkaid's death, but he refused to withdraw his candidacy. The deadlock finally ended with the selection of a compromise candidate, an elderly, unambitious Senator from Jefferson named George Vining. Although Sobel never says so, it seems reasonable from his subsequent actions to suppose that Vining was under Benedict's control.

Vining established a secret policy force called the Constabulary to fight the Moralista insurgency, choosing Pedro Hermión's younger son Benito Hermión, as its Commandant. Hermión was the President of the Jefferson & California Railroad, a subsidiary of Kramer Associates, and Sobel does make it clear that Hermión's actions were directed by Kramer and Benedict.

Hermión succeeded in bringing the Moralista uprising under control by the summer of 1881. However, a Constabulary raid on the national convention of the Workers' Coalition on 15 July 1881 turned into a bloodbath, with twenty-three Coalitionist delegates killed, including party leader José Godoy. This precipitateed a new uprising among the Mexicanos, and Vining responded by imposing martial law throughtout Mexico and postponing the upcoming elections until September. Then, on 12 September, nine days before the rescheduled elections, Vining suffered a fatal heart attack.


Benito Hermión.

At Kramer's direction, instead of choosing a successor to Vining, the Senate voted to have the Cabinet exercise executive power as a body until the election. When the Cabinet met on 15 September, Hermión claimed that agents of the radical revolutionary republic in France had suborned members of the government, including the Cabinet itself. The Cabinet voted to suspend the elections indefinitely, create the office of Chief of State to act as executive for the duration of the emergency, and appoint Hermión to fill it. When the Senate refused to ratify the Cabinet's decisions the next day, Hermión ordered the recalcitrant members arrested. Rogers fled the country, while the rump Senate voted on the morning of 17 September to approve the Cabinet's decisions.

Benedict retired as head of P.M. the following year after reaching his seventieth birthday, and was succeeded by his nephew, Andrew Benedict. Although Sobel does not say so, Benedict presumably died within a few years.


Sobel's sources for the life and career of Monte Benedict are Earl Watson's The Right Man: The Vining Administration (Mexico City, 1943); Mortimer Dow's The Giants of Mexico: The Political Maneuverings of Kramer and Benedict in the Industrial Era (Mexico City, 1950); Frederick Montgomery's A Short History of the Mexican Petroleum Industry (London, 1951); Robert Taft's The Keystone: Petroleum of Mexico (Mexico City, 1955); Sobel's Men of Great Wealth: Operations of the Kramer-Benedict Combine (Melbourne, 1956); Charles Winslow's Peasants in Brocade: The Oil Millionaires of Chiapas and Durango (New York, 1962); Bernard Mix's The Night of the Caballeros: The Hermión Seizure (London, 1964); Thomas Mason's The Jefferson-California Axis of 1866-1876 (London, 1968); and Herbert Brinkerhoff's The Price of a Man: Oil and Produce in Mexican Politics (Mexico City, 1970).

This is the Featured Article for the week of 4 May 2014.