"POLICY" AND "PRINCIPLE" IN MEXICO
THE last days of February, 1913, witnessed one of those sanguinary scenes in Mexico which for generations had accompanied changes in the government of that distracted country. A group of revolutionists assailed the feeble power of Francisco Madero and virtually imprisoned that executive and his forces in the Presidential Palace. The Mexican army, whose most influential officers were General Blanquet and General Victoriano Huerta, was hastily summoned to the rescue of the Government; instead of relieving the besieged officials, however, these generals turned their guns upon them, and so assured the success of the uprising. The speedy outcome of these transactions was the assassination of President Madero and the seizure of the Presidency by General Huerta. Another outcome was the presentation to Page of one of the most delicate problems in the history of Anglo-American relations.
At almost any other time this change in the Mexican succession would have caused only a momentary disturbance. There was nothing new in the violent overthrow of government in Latin-America; in Mexico itself no president had ever risen to power except by revolution. The career of Porfirio Diaz, who had maintained his authority for a third of a century, had somewhat obscured this fundamental fact in Mexican politics, but Diaz had dominated Mexico for seven presidential terms, not because his methods differed from the accepted methods of his country, but because he was himself an executive of great force and a statesman of genius, and could successfully hold his own against any aspiring antagonist. The civilized world, including the United States, had long since become reconciled to this situation as almost a normal one. In recognizing momentarily successful adventurers, Great Britain and the United States had never considered such details as justice or constitutionalism: the legality of the presidential title had never been the point at issue; the only question involved was whether the successful aspirant actually controlled the country, whether he had established a state of affairs that approximately represented order, and whether he could be depended upon to protect life and property. During the long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, however, certain events had taken place which had awakened the minds of Americans to the possibility of a new international relationship with all backward peoples. The consequences of the Spanish War had profoundly impressed Page. This conflict had left the United States a new problem in Cuba and the Philippines. Under the principles that for generations had governed the Old World there would have been no particular difficulty in meeting this problem. The United States would have candidly annexed the islands, and exploited their resources and their peoples; we should have concerned ourselves little about any duties that might be owed to the several millions of human beings who inhabited them. Indeed, what other alternatives were there?
One was to hand the possessions back to Spain, who in a four hundred years' experiment had demonstrated her unfitness to govern them; another was to give the islands their independence, which would have meant merely an indefinite continuance of anarchy. It is one of the greatest triumphs of American statesmanship that it discovered a more satisfactory solution. Essentially, the new plan was to establish in these undeveloped and politically undisciplined regions the fundamental conditions that may make possible the ultimate creation of democratic, self-governing states. It was recognized that constitutions and election ballots in themselves did not necessarily imply a democratic order. Before these there must come other things that were far more important, such as popular education, scientific agriculture, sanitation, public highways, railroads, and the development of the resources of nature. If the backward peoples of the world could be schooled in such a preliminary apprenticeship, the time might come when the intelligence and the conscience of the masses would be so enlightened that they could be trusted with independence. The labour of Leonard Wood in Cuba, and of other Americans in the Philippines, had apparently pointed the way to the only treatment of such peoples that was just to them and safe for mankind.
With the experience of Cuba and the Philippines as a guide, it is not surprising that the situation in Mexico appealed to many Americans as opening a similar opportunity to the United States. The two facts that outstood all others were that Mexico, in her existing condition of popular ignorance, could not govern herself, and that the twentieth century could not accept indefinitely a condition of disorder and bloodshed that had apparently satisfied the nineteenth. The basic difficulty in this American republic was one of race and of national character. The fact that was constantly overlooked was that Mexico was not a Caucasian country: it was a great shambling Indian Republic. Of its 15,000,000 people less than 3,000,000 were of unmixed white blood, about 35 per cent. were pure Indian, and the rest represented varying mixtures of white and aboriginal stock. The masses had advanced little in civilization since the days of Cortez. Eighty per cent. were illiterate; their lives for the most part were a dull and squalid routine; protection against disease was unknown; the agricultural methods were most primitive; the larger number still spoke the native dialects which had been used in the days of Montezuma; and over good stretches of the country the old tribal regime still represented the only form of political organization. The one encouraging feature was that these Mexican Indians, backward as they might be, were far superior to the other native tribes of the North American Continent; in ancient times, they had developed a state of society far superior to that of the traditional Redskin. Nevertheless, it was true that the progress of Mexico in the preceding fifty years had been due almost entirely to foreign enterprise. By 1913, about 75,000 Americans were living in Mexico as miners, engineers, merchants, and agriculturists; American investments amounted to about $1,200,000,000---a larger sum than that of all the other foreigners combined. Though the work of European countries, particularly Great Britain, was important, yet Mexico was practically an economic colony of the United States. Most observers agree that these foreign activities had not only profited the foreigners, but that they had greatly benefited the Mexicans themselves. The enterprise of Americans had disclosed enormous riches, had given hundreds of thousands employment at very high wages, had built up new Mexican towns on modern American lines, had extended the American railway system over a large part of the land, and had developed street railways, electric lighting, and other modern necessities in all sections of the Republic. The opening up of Mexican oil resources was perhaps the most typical of these achievements, as it was certainly the most adventurous. Americans had created this, perhaps the greatest of Mexican industries, and in 1913, these Americans owned nearly 80 per cent. of Mexican oil. Their success had persuaded several Englishmen, the best known of whom was Lord Cowdray, to enter this same field. The activities of the Americans and the British in oil had an historic significance which was not foreseen in 1913, but which assumed the greatest importance in the World War; for the oil drawn from these Mexican fields largely supplied the Allied fleets and thus became an important element in the defeat of the Central Powers. In 1913, however, American and British oil operators were objects of general suspicion in both continents. They were accused of participating too actively in Mexican politics and there were those who even held them responsible for the revolutionary condition of the country. One picturesque legend insisted that the American oil interests looked with jealous hostility upon the great favours shown by the Diaz Administration to Lord Cowdray's company, and that they had instigated the Madero revolution in order to put in power politicians who would be more friendly to themselves. The inevitable complement to this interpretation of events was a prevailing suspicion that the Cowdray interests had promoted the Huerta revolt in order to turn the tables on "Standard Oil," to make safe the "concessions" already obtained from Diaz and to obtain still more from the new Mexican dictator.
To determine the truth in all these allegations, which were freely printed in the American press of the time, would demand more facts than are at present available; yet it is clear that these oil and other "concessions" presented the perpetual Mexican problem in a new and difficult light. The Wilson Administration came into power a few days after Huerta had seized the Mexican Government. The first difficulty presented to the State Department was to determine its attitude toward this usurper.
A few days after President Wilson's inauguration Mr. Irwin Laughlin, then Chargé d'Affaires in London---this was several weeks before Page's arrival---was instructed to ask the British Foreign Office what its attitude would be in regard to the recognition of President Huerta. Mr. Laughlin informed the Foreign Office that he was not instructed that the United States had decided on any policy, but that he felt sure it would be to the advantage of both countries to follow the same line. The query was not an informal one; it was made in definite obedience to instructions and was intended to elicit a formal commitment. The unequivocal answer that Mr. Laughlin received was that the British Government would not recognize Huerta, either formally or tacitly.
Mr. Laughlin sent his message immediately to Washington, where it apparently made a favourable impression. The Administration then let it be known that the United States would not recognize the new Mexican regime. Whether Mr. Wilson would at this time have taken such a position, irrespective of the British attitude, is not known, but at this stage of the proceedings Great Britain and the United States were standing side by side.
About three weeks afterward Mr. Laughlin heard that the British Foreign Office was about to recognize Huerta. Naturally the report astonished him; he at once called again on the Foreign Office, taking with him the despatch that he had recently sent to Washington. Why had the British Government recognized Huerta when it had given definite assurances to Washington that it had no intention of doing so? The outcome of the affair was that Sir Cecil Spring Rice, British Ambassador in Washington, was instructed to inform the State Department that Great Britain had changed its mind. France, Germany, Spain, and most other governments followed the British example in recognizing the new President of Mexico.
It is thus apparent that the initial mistake in the Huerta affair was made by Great Britain. Its action produced the most unpleasant impression upon the new Administration. Mr. Wilson, Mr. Bryan. and their associates in the cabinet easily found an explanation that was satisfactory to themselves and to the political enthusiasms upon which they had come into power. They believed that the sudden change in the British attitude was the result of pressure from British commercial interests which hoped to profit from the Huerta influence. Lord Cowdray was a rich and powerful Liberal; he had great concessions in Mexico which had been obtained from President Diaz; it was known that Huerta aimed to make his dictatorship a continuation of that of Diaz, to rule Mexico as Diaz had ruled it, that is, by force, and to extend a welcoming hand to foreign capitalists. An important consideration was that the British Navy had a contract with the Cowdray Company for oil, which was rapidly becoming indispensable as a fuel for warships, and this fact necessarily made the British Government almost a champion of the Cowdray interests. It was not necessary to believe all the rumours that were then afloat in the American press to conclude that a Huerta administration would be far more acceptable to the Cowdray Company than any headed by one of the military chieftains who were then disputing the control of Mexico. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bryan believed that these events proved that certain "interests," similar to the "interests" which, in their view, had exercised so baleful an influence on American politics, were also active in Great Britain. The Wilson election in 1912 had been a protest against the dominance of "Wall Street" in American politics; Mr. Bryan's political stock-in-trade for a generation had consisted of little except a campaign against these forces; naturally, therefore, the suspicion that Great Britain was giving way to a British "Standard Oil" was enough to arm these statesmen against the Huerta policy, and to intensify that profound dislike of Huerta himself that was soon to become almost an obsession.
With this as a starting point President Wilson presently formulated an entirely new principle for dealing with Latin-American republics. There could be no permanent order in these turbulent countries and nothing approaching a democratic system until the habit of revolution should be checked. One of the greatest encouragements to revolution, said the President, was the willingness of foreign governments to recognize any politician who succeeded in seizing the executive power. He therefore believed that a refusal to recognize any government "founded upon violence" would exercise a wholesome influence in checking this national habit; if Great Britain and the United States and the other powers would set the example by refusing to have any diplomatic dealings with General Huerta, such an unfriendly attitude would discourage other forceful intriguers from attempting to repeat his experiment. The result would be that the decent elements in Mexico and other Latin-American countries would at last assert themselves, establish a constitutional system, and select their governments by constitutional means. At the bottom of the whole business were, in the President's and Mr. Bryan's opinion, the "concession" seekers, the "exploiters," who were constantly obtaining advantages at the hands of these corrupt governments and constantly stirring up revolutions for their financial profit. The time had now come to end the whole miserable business. "We are closing one chapter in the history of the world," said Mr. Wilson, "and opening another of unimaginable significance. . . . It is a very perilous thing to determine the foreign policy of a nation in the terms of material interests. . . . We have seen such material interests threaten constitutional freedom in the United States. Therefore we will now know how to sympathize with those in the rest of America who have to contend with such powers, not only within their borders, but from outside their borders."
In this way General Huerta, who, in his own eyes, was merely another in the long succession of Mexican revolutionary chieftains, was translated into an epochal figure in the history of American foreign policy; he became a symbol in Mr. Wilson's new scheme of things---the representative of the order which was to come to an end, the man who, all unwittingly, was to point the new way not only in Mexico, but in all Latin-American countries. The first diplomatic task imposed upon Page therefore was one that would have dismayed a more experienced ambassador. This was to persuade Great Britain to retrace its steps, to withdraw its recognition of Huerta, and to join hands with the United States in bringing about his downfall. The new ambassador sympathized with Mr. Wilson's ideas to a certain extent; the point at which he parted company with the President's Mexican policy will appear in due course. He therefore began zealously to preach the new Latin-American doctrine to the British Foreign Office, with results that appear in his letters of this period.
To the President
6 Grosvenor Square, London,
Friday night, October 24, 1913.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
In this wretched Mexican business, about which I have read columns and columns and columns of comment these two days and turned every conceivable proposition back and forth in my mind---in this whole wretched waste of comment, I have not seen even an allusion to any moral principle involved nor a word of concern about the Mexican people. It is all about who is the stronger, Huerta or some other bandit, and about the necessity of order for the sake of financial interests. Nobody recalls our action in giving Cuba to the Cubans or our pledge to the people of the Philippine Islands. But there is reference to the influence of Standard Oil in the American policy. This illustrates the complete divorce of European politics from fundamental morals, and it shocks even a man who before knew of this divorce.
In my last talk with Sir Edward Grey I drove this home by emphasizing strongly the impossibility of your playing primary heed to any American business interest in Mexico ---even---the immorality of your doing so; there are many things that come before business and there are some things that come before order. I used American business interests because I couldn't speak openly of British business interests and his Government. I am sure he saw the obvious inference. But not even from him came a word about the moral foundation of government or about the welfare of the Mexican people. These are not in the European governing vocabulary.
1 have been trying to find a way to help this Government to wake up to the effect of its pro-Huerta position and to give them a chance to refrain from repeating that mistake---and to save their faces; and I have telegraphed one plan to Mr. Bryan to-day. I think they ought now to be forced to show their hand without the possibility of evasion. They will not risk losing our good-will---if it seem wise to you to put them to a square test.
It's a wretched business, and the sordid level of European statecraft is sad.
I ran across the Prime Minister at the royal wedding reception(34) the other day.
"What do you infer from the latest news from Mexico?" he asked.
"Tell me the most important inference you draw."
"Well, the danger of prematurely making up one's mind about a Mexican adventurer."
"Ah!" and he moved on.
Very heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
To the President
London, Sunday, Nov. 16, 1913.
. . . About the obligations and inferences of democracy, they are dense. They don't really believe in it; and they are slow to see what good will come of ousting Huerta unless we know beforehand who will succeed him. Sir Edward Grey is not dense, but in this matter even he is slow fully to understand. The Lord knows I've told him plainly over and over again and, I fear, even preached to him. At first he couldn't see the practical nature of so "idealistic" a programme. I explained to him how the immemorial "policy" that we all followed of recognizing momentarily successful adventurers in Latin-America had put a premium on revolution; that you had found something better than a policy, namely, a principle; that policies change, but principles do not; that he need not be greatly concerned about the successor to Huerta; that this is primarily and ultimately an American problem; that Great Britain's interest being only commercial is far less than the interest of the United States, which is commercial and also ethical; and so on and so on. His sympathies and his friendliness are all right. But Egypt and India were in his mind. He confessed to me that he was much impressed---"if you can carry it through." Many men are seeing the new idea (I wonder if you are conscious how new it is and how incredible to the Old World mind?) and they express the greatest and sincerest admiration for "your brave new President"; and a wave of friendliness to the United States swept over the Kingdom when the Government took its open stand. At the annual dinner of the oldest and richest of the merchants' guilds at which they invited me to respond to a toast the other night they proposed your health most heartily and, when I arose, they cheered longer and louder than I had before heard men cheer in this kingdom. There is, I am sure, more enthusiasm for the United States here, by far, than for England in the United States. They are simply dense about any sort of government but their own---particularly dense about the application of democracy to "dependencies" and inferior peoples. I have a neighbour who spent many years as an administrator in India. He has talked me deaf about the inevitable failure of this "idealistic" Mexican programme. He is wholly friendly and wholly incredulous. And for old-time Toryism gone to seed commend me to the Spectator. Not a glimmering of the idea has entered Strachey's head. The Times, however, now sees it pretty clearly. I spent Sunday a few weeks ago with two of its editors in the country, and they have come to see me several times since and written fairly good "leaders" out of my conversation with them. So much for this head. For the moment at least that is satisfactory. You must not forget that they can't all at once take it in, for they do not really know what democracy is or whither it leads and at bottom they do not really believe in it as a scheme of government---not even this Liberal Cabinet.
The British concern for commercial interests, which never sleeps, will, I fear, come up continuously. But we shall simply do justice and stand firm, when this phase of the subject comes forward.
It's amusing, when you forget its sadness, that their first impulse is to regard an unselfish international act as what Cecil Rhodes called the English "unctuous rectitude." But this experience that we are having with them will be worth much in future dealings. They already feel very clearly that a different hand has the helm in Washington; and we can drive them hard, if need be, for they will not forfeit our friendship.
It is worth something to discover that Downing Street makes many mistakes. Infallibility dwells a long way from them. In this matter they have made two terrible blunders---the recognition of Huerta (they know that now) and the sending of Carden (they may already suspect that: they'll know it presently).
Yours always faithfully,
WALTER H. PAGE.
P. S. By Jove, I didn't know that I'd ever have to put the British Government through an elementary course in Democracy!
To the President.
Occasionally Page discussed with Sir Edward Grey an alternative American policy which was in the minds of most people at that time:
To the President
The foregoing I wrote before this Mexican business took its present place. I can't get away from the feeling that the English simply do not and will not believe in any unselfish public action---further than the keeping of order. They have a mania for order, sheer order, order for the sake of order. They can't see how anything can come in any one's thought before order or how anything need come afterward. Even Sir Edward Grey jocularly ran me across our history with questions like this:
"Suppose you have to intervene, what then?"
"Make 'em vote and live by their decisions."
"But suppose they will not so live?"
"We'll go in again and make 'em vote again."
"And keep this up 200 years?" asked he.
"Yes," said I. "The United States will be here two hundred years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space till they learn to vote and to rule themselves."
I have never seen him laugh so heartily. Shooting men into self-government! Shooting them into orderliness---he comprehends that; and that's all right. But that's as far as his habit of mind goes. At Sheffield last night, when I had to make a speech, I explained "idealism" (they always quote it) in Government. They listened attentively and even eagerly. Then they came up and asked if I really meant that Government should concern itself with idealistic things---beyond keeping order. Ought they to do so in India?---I assure you they don't think beyond order. A nigger lynched in Mississippi offends them more than a tyrant in Mexico.
To Edward M. House
London, November 2, 1913.
I've been writing to the President that the Englishman has a mania for order, order for order's sake, and for trade. He has reduced a large part of the world to order. He is the best policeman in creation; and---he has the policeman's ethics! Talk to him about character as a basis of government or about a moral basis of government in any outlying country, he'll think you daft. Bah I what matter who governs or how he governs or where he got his authority or how, so long as he keeps order. He won't see anything else. The lesson of our dealing with Cuba is lost on him. He doesn't believe that. We may bring this Government in line with us on Mexico. But in this case and in general, the moral uplift of government must be forced by us---I mean government in outlying countries.
Mexico is only part of Central America, and the only way we can ever forge a Central and South American policy that will endure is this way, precisely, by saying that your momentarily successful adventurer can't count on us anywhere; the man that rules must govern for the governed. Then we have a policy; and nobody else has that policy. This Mexican business is worth worlds to us---to establish this.
We may have a diplomatic fight here; and I'm ready! Very ready on this, for its own sake and for reasons that follow, to wit:
Extraordinary and sincere and profound as is the respect of the English for the American people, they hold the American Government in contempt. It shifts and doesn't keep its treaty, etc., etc.---They are right, too. But they need to feel the hand that now has the helm.
But one or two things have first to be got out of the way. That Panama tolls is the worst. We are dead wrong in that, as we are dead right on the Mexican matter. If it were possible (I don't know that it is) for the President to say (quietly, not openly) that he agrees with us---if he do---then the field would be open for a fight on Mexico; and the reenforcement of our position would be incalculable.
Then we need in Washington some sort of Bureau or Master of Courtesies for the Government, to do and to permit us to do those little courtesies that the English spend half their time in doing---this in the course of our everyday life and intercourse. For example: When I was instructed to inform this Government that our fleet would go to the Mediterranean, I was instructed also to say that they mustn't trouble to welcome us---don't pay no 'tention to us! Well, that's what they live for in times of peace---ceremonies. We come along and say, "We're comin' but, hell! don't kick up no fuss over us, we're from Missouri, we are!" And the Briton shrugs his shoulders and says, "Boor!" These things are happening all the time. Of course no one nor a dozen nor a hundred count; but generations of 'em have counted badly. A Government without manners.
If I could outdo these folk at their game of courtesy, and could keep our treaty faith with 'em, then I could lick em into the next century on the moral aspects of the Mexican Government, and make 'em look up and salute every time the American Government is mentioned See?---Is there any hope?---Such is the job exactly. And you know what it would lead to---even in our lifetime---to the leadership of the world: and we should presently be considering how we may best use the British fleet, the British Empire, and the English race for the betterment of mankind.
W. H. P.
A word of caution is necessary to understand Page's references to the British democracy. That the parliamentary system is democratic in the sense that it is responsive to public opinion he would have been the first to admit. That Great Britain is a democracy m the sense that the suffrage is general is also apparent. But, in these reflections on the British commonwealth, the Ambassador was thinking of his old familiar figure, the "Forgotten Man"---the neglected man, woman, and child of the masses. In an address delivered, in June, 1914, before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Page gave what he regarded as the definition of the American ideal. "The fundamental article in the creed of the American democracy---you may call it the fundamental dogma if you like---is the unchanging and unchangeable resolve that every human being shall have his opportunity for his utmost development---his chance to become and to do the best that he can." Democracy is not only a system of government---"it is a scheme of society." Every citizen must have not only the suffrage, he must likewise enjoy the same advantages as his neighbour for education, for social opportunity, for good health, for success in agriculture, manufacture, finance, and business and professional life. The country that most successfully opened all these avenues to every boy or girl, exclusively on individual merit, was in Page's view the most democratic. He believed that the United States did this more completely than Great Britain or any other country; and therefore he believed that we were far more democratic. He had not found in other countries the splendid phenomenon presented by America's great agricultural region. "The most striking single fact about the United States is, I think, this spectacle, which, so far as I know, is new in the world: On that great agricultural area are about seven million farms of an average size of about 140 acres, most of which are tilled by the owners themselves, a population that varies greatly, of course, in its thrift and efficiency, but most of which is well housed, in houses they themselves own, well clad, well fed, and a population that trains practically all its children in schools maintained by public taxation." It was some such vision as this that Page hoped to see realized ultimately in Mexico. And some such development as this would make Mexico a democracy. It was his difficulty in making the British see the Mexican problem in this light that persuaded him that, in this comprehensive meaning of the word, the democratic ideal had made an inappreciable progress in Europe-and even in Great Britain itself.
These letters are printed somewhat out of their chronological order because they picture definitely the two opposing viewpoints of Great Britain and the United States on Mexico and Latin-America generally. Here, then, was the sharp issue drawn between the Old World and the New---on one side the dreary conception of outlying countries as fields to be exploited for the benefit of "investors," successful revolutionists to be recognized in so far as they promoted such ends, and no consideration to be shown to the victims of their rapacity; and the new American idea, the idea which had been made reality in Cuba and the Philippines, that the enlightened and successful nations stood something in the position of trustees to such unfortunate lands and that it was their duty to lead them along the slow pathway of progress and democracy. So far the Wilsonian principle could be joyfully supported by the Ambassador. Page disagreed with the President, however, in that he accepted the logical consequences of this programme. His formula of "shooting people into self-government," which had so entertained the British Foreign Secretary, was a characteristically breezy description of the alternative that Page, in the last resort, was ready to adopt, but which President Wilson and Secretary Bryan persistently refused to consider. Page was just as insistent as the Washington Administration that Huerta should resign and that Great Britain should assist the United States in accomplishing his dethronement, and that the Mexican people should have a real opportunity of setting up for themselves. He was not enough of an "idealist," however, to believe that the Mexicans, without the assistance of their powerful neighbours, could succeed in establishing a constitutional government. In early August, 1913, President Wilson sent Mr. John Lind, ex-Governor of Minnesota, to Mexico as his personal representative. His mission was to invite Huerta to remove himself from Mexican politics, and to permit the Mexican people to hold a presidential election at which Huerta would himself agree not to be a candidate. Mr. Lind presented these proposals on August 15th, and President Huerta rejected every one of them with a somewhat disconcerting promptitude.
That Page was prepared to accept the consequences of this failure appears in the following letter. The lack of confidence which it discloses in Secretary Bryan was a feeling that became stronger as the Mexican drama unfolded.
To Edward M. House
London, August 25, 1913.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
. . . If you find a chance, get the substance of this memorandum into the hands of two men: the President and the Secretary of Agriculture. Get 'em in Houston's at once---into the President's whenever the time is ripe. I send the substance to Washington and I send many other such things. But I never feel sure that they reach the President. The most confidential letter I have written was lost in Washington, and there is pretty good testimony that it reached the Secretary's desk. He does not acknowledge the important things, but writes me confidentially to inquire if the office of the man who attends to the mail pouches (the diplomatic and naval despatches in London)(35) is not an office into which he might put a Democrat.---But I keep at it. It would be a pleasure to know that the President knows what I am trying to do. . . .
WALTER H. PAGE.
Following is the memorandum:
In October the provisional recognition of Huerta by England will end. Then this Government will be free. Then is the time for the United States to propose to England joint intervention merely to reduce this turbulent scandal of a country to order---on an agreement, of course, to preserve the territorial integrity of Mexico. It's a mere police duty that all great nations have to do---as they did in the case of the Boxer riots in China. Of course Germany and France, etc., ought to be invited---on the same pledge: the preservation of territorial integrity. If Germany should come in, she will thereby practically acknowledge the Monroe Doctrine, as England has already done. If Germany stay out, then she can't complain. England and the United States would have only to announce their intention: there'd be no need to fire a gun. Besides settling the Mexican trouble, we'd gain much---having had England by our side in a praiseworthy enterprise. That, and the President's visit(36) would give the world notice to whom it belongs, and cause it to be quiet and to go about its proper business of peaceful industry.
Moreover, it would show all the Central and South American States that we don't want any of their territory, that we will not let anybody else have any, but that they, too, must keep orderly government or the great Nations of the earth, will, at our bidding, forcibly demand quiet in their borders. I believe a new era of security would come in all Spanish America. Investments would be safer, governments more careful and orderly. And---we would not have made any entangling alliance with anybody. All this would prevent perhaps dozens of little wars. It's merely using the English fleet and ours to make the world understand that the time has come for orderliness and peace and for the honest development of backward, turbulent lands and peoples.
If you don't put this through, tell me what's the matter with it. I've sent it to Washington after talking and being talked to for a month and after the hardest kind of thinking. Isn't this constructive? Isn't it using the great power lying idle about the world, to do the thing that most needs to he done?
Colonel House presented this memorandum to the President, but events sufficiently disclosed that it had no influence upon his Mexican policy. Two days after it was written Mr. Wilson went before Congress, announced that the Lind Mission had failed, and that conditions in Mexico had grown worse. He advised all Americans to leave the country, and declared that he would lay an embargo on the shipment of munitions---an embargo that would affect both the Huerta forces and the revolutionary groups that were fighting them.
Meanwhile Great Britain had taken another step that made as unpleasant an impression on Washington as had the recognition of Huerta. Sir Lionel Edward Gresley Carden had for several years been occupying British diplomatic posts in Central America, in all of which he had had disagreeable social and diplomatic relations with Americans. Sir Lionel had always shown great zeal in promoting British commercial interests, and, justly or unjustly, had acquired the fame of being intensely anti-American. From 1911 to 1913 Carden had served as British Minister to Cuba; here his anti-Americanism had shown itself in such obnoxious ways that Mr. Knox, Secretary of State under President Taft, had instructed Ambassador Reid to bring his behaviour to the attention of the British Foreign Office. These representations took practically the form of requesting Carden's removal from Cuba. Perhaps the unusual relations that the United States bore toward Cuba warranted Mr. Knox in making such an approach; yet the British refused to see the matter in that light; not only did they fail to displace Carden, but they knighted him---the traditional British way of defending a faithful public servant who has been attacked. Sir Lionel Carden refused to mend his ways; he continued to indulge in what Washington regarded as anti-American propaganda; and a second time Secretary Knox intimated that his removal would be acceptable to this country, and a second time this request was refused. With this preliminary history of Carden as a background, and with the British-American misunderstanding over Huerta at its most serious stage, the emotions of Washington may well be imagined when the news came, in July, 1913, that this same gentleman had been appointed British Minister to Mexico. If the British Government had ransacked its diplomatic force to find the one man who would have been most objectionable to the United States, it could have made no better selection. The President and Mr. Bryan were pretty well persuaded that the "oil concessionaires" were dictating British-Mexican policy, and this appointment translated their suspicion into a conviction. Carden had seen much service in Mexico; he had been on the friendliest terms with Diaz; and the newspapers openly charged that the British oil capitalists had dictated his selection. All these assertions Carden and the oil interests denied; yet Carden's behaviour from the day of his appointment showed great hostility to the United States. A few days after he had reached New York, on his way to his new post, the New York World published an interview with Carden in which he was reported as declaring that President Wilson knew nothing about the Mexican situation and in which he took the stand that Huerta was the man to handle Mexico at this crisis. His appearance in the Mexican capital was accompanied by other highly undiplomatic publications. In late October President Huerta arrested all his enemies in the Mexican Congress, threw them into jail, and proclaimed himself dictator. Washington was much displeased that Sir Lionel Carden should have selected the day of these high-handed proceedings to present to Huerta his credentials as minister; in its sensitive condition, the State Department interpreted this act as a reaffirmation of that recognition that had already caused so much confusion in Mexican affairs.
Carden made things worse by giving out more newspaper interviews, a tendency that had apparently grown into a habit. "I do not believe that the United States recognizes the seriousness of the situation here. . . . I see no reason why Huerta should be displaced by another man whose abilities are yet to be tried. . . . Safety in Mexico can be secured only by punitive and remedial methods, and a strong man; "---such were a few of the reflections that the reporters attributed to this astonishing diplomat. Meanwhile, the newspapers were filled with reports that the British Minister was daily consorting with Huerta, that he was constantly strengthening that chieftain's backbone in opposition to the United States and that he was obtaining concessions in return for this support. To what extent these press accounts rested on fact cannot be ascertained definitely at this time; yet it is a truth that Carden's general behaviour gave great encouragement to Huerta and that it had the deplorable effect of placing Great Britain and the United States in opposition. The interpretation of the casual reader was that Great Britain was determined to seat Huerta in the Presidency against the determination of the United States to keep him out. The attitude of the Washington cabinet was almost bitter at this time against the British Government. "There is a feeling here," wrote Secretary Lane to Page, "that England is playing a game unworthy of her."
The British Government promptly denied the authenticity of the Carden interview, but that helped matters little, for the American public insisted on regarding such denials as purely diplomatic. Something of a storm against Carden arose in England itself, where it was believed that his conception of his duties was estranging two friendly countries. Probably the chief difficulty was that the British Foreign Office could see no logical sequence in the Washington policy. Put Huerta out---yes, by all means: but what then? Page's notes of his visit to Sir Edward Grey a few days after the latest Carden interview confirm this:
I have just come from an hour's talk with Grey about Mexico. He showed me his telegram to Carden, asking about Carden's reported interview criticizing the United States, and Carden's flat denial. He showed me another telegram to Carden about Huerta's reported boast that he would have the backing of London, Paris, and Berlin against the United States, in which Grey advised Carden that British policy should be to keep aloof from Huerta's boasts and plans. Carden denied that Huerta made such a boast in his statement to the Diplomatic Corps. Grey wishes the President to know of these telegrams.
Talk then became personal and informal. I went over the whole subject again, telling how the Press and people of the United States were becoming critical of the British Government; that they regarded the problem as wholly American; that they resented aid to Huerta, whom they regarded as a mere tyrant; that they suspected British interests of giving financial help to Huerta; that many newspapers and persons refused to believe Carden's denial; that the President's policy was not academic but was the only policy that would square with American ideals and that it was unchangeable. I cited our treatment of Cuba. I explained again that I was talking unofficially and giving him only my own interpretation of the people's mood. He asked, if the British Government should withdraw the recognition of Huerta, what would happen.
"In my opinion," I replied, "he would collapse."
"What would happen then---worse chaos?"
"That is impossible," I said. "There is no worse chaos than deputies in jail, the dictatorial doubling of the tariff, the suppression of opinion, and the practical banishment of independent men. If Huerta should fall, there is hope that suppressed men and opinion will set up a successful government."
"Suppose that fail," he asked----"'what then?"
I replied that, in case of continued and utter failure, the United States might feel obliged to repeat its dealings with Cuba and that the continued excitement of opinion in the United States might precipitate this.
Grey protested that he knew nothing of what British interests had done or were doing, that he wished time to think the matter out and that he was glad to await the President's communication. He thanked me cordially for my frank statements and declared that he understood perfectly their personal nature. I impressed him with the seriousness of American public opinion.
The last thing that the British Government desired at this time was a serious misunderstanding with the United States, on Mexico or any other matter. Yet the Mexican situation, in early November, 1913, clearly demanded a complete cleaning up. The occasion soon presented itself. Sir William Tyrrell, the private secretary of Sir Edward Grey sailed, in late October, for the United States. The purpose of his visit was not diplomatic, but Page evidently believed that his presence in the United States offered too good an opportunity to be lost.
To Edward M. House
Newton Hall, Newton, Cambridge.
Sunday, October 26, 1913.
Sir William Tyrrell, the secretary of Sir Edward Grey---himself, I think, an M. P.---has gone to the United States to visit his friend, Sir Cecil Spring Rice. He sailed yesterday, going first to Dublin, N. H., thence with the Ambassador to Washington. He has never before been to the United States, and he went off in high glee, alone, to see it. He's a good fellow, a thoroughly good fellow, and he's an important man. He of course has Sir Edward's complete confidence, but he's also a man on his own account. I have come to reckon it worth while to get ideas that I want driven home into his head. It's a good head and a good place to put good ideas.
The Lord knows you have far too much to do; but in this juncture I should count it worth your while to pay him some attention. I want him to get the President's ideas about Mexico, good and firm and hard. They are so far from altruistic in their politics here that it would be a good piece of work to get our ideas and aims into this man's head. His going gives you and the President and everybody a capital chance to help me keep our good American-English understanding.
Whatever happen in Mexico, I'm afraid there will be a disturbance of the very friendly feeling between the American people and the English. I am delivering a series of well-thought-out discourses to Sir Edward with what effect, I don't know. If the American press could be held in a little, that would be as good as it is impossible.
I'm now giving the Foreign Office the chance to refrain from more premature recognizing.
Very hastily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
Sir William Tyrrell, to whom Page refers so pleasantly, was one of the most engaging men personally in the British Foreign Office, as well as one of the most influential. Though he came to America on no official mission to our Government, he was exceptionally qualified to discuss Mexico and other pending questions with the Washington Administration. He had an excellent background, and a keen insight into the human aspects of all problems, but perhaps his most impressive physical trait was a twinkling eye, as his most conspicuous mental quality was certainly a sense of humour. Constant association with Sir Edward Grey had given his mind a cast not dissimilar to that of his chief---a belief in ordinary decency in international relations, an enthusiasm for the better ordering of the world, a sincere admiration for the United States and a desire to maintain British-American friendship. In his first encounter with official Washington Sir William needed all that sense of the ludicrous with which he is abundantly endowed. This took the form of a long interview with Secretary Bryan on the foreign policy of Great Britain. The Secretary harangued Sir William on the wickedness of the British Empire, particularly In Egypt and India and in Mexico. The British oil men, Mr. Bryan declared, were nothing but the "paymasters" of the British Cabinet.
"You are wrong," replied the Englishman, who saw that the only thing to do on an occasion of this kind was to refuse to take the Secretary seriously. "Lord Cowdray hasn't money enough. Through a long experience with corruption the Cabinet has grown so greedy that Cowdray hasn't the money necessary to reach their price."
"Ah," said Mr. Bryan, triumphantly, accepting Sir William's bantering answer as made in all seriousness. "Then you admit the charge."
From this he proceeded to denounce Great Britain in still more unmeasured terms. The British, he declared, had only one interest in Mexico, and that was oil. The Foreign Office had simply handed its Mexican policy over to the "oil barons" for predatory purposes.
"That's just what the Standard Oil people told me in New York," the British diplomat replied. "Mr. Secretary, you are talking just like a Standard Oil man. The ideas that you hold are the ones which the Standard Oil is disseminating. You are pursuing the policy which they have decided on. Without knowing it you are promoting the interest of Standard Oil."
Sir William saw that it was useless to discuss Mexico with Mr. Bryan---that the Secretary was not a thinker but an emotionalist. However, despite their differences, the two men liked each other and had a good time. As Sir William was leaving, he bowed deferentially to the Secretary of State and said:
"You have stripped me naked, Mr. Secretary, but I am unashamed."
With President Wilson, however, the Englishman had a more satisfactory experience. He was delighted by the President's courtesy, charm, intelligence, and conversational powers. The impression which Sir William obtained of the American President on this occasion remained with him for several years and was itself an important element in British-American relations after the outbreak of the World War. And the visit was a profitable one for Mr. Wilson, since he obtained a clear understanding of the British policy toward Mexico. Sir William succeeded in persuading the President that the so-called oil interests were not dictating the policy of Sir Edward Grey. That British oil men were active in Mexico was apparent; but they were not using a statesman of so high a character as Sir Edward Grey for their purposes and would not be able to do so. The British Government entertained no ambitions in Mexico that meant unfriendliness to the United States. In no way was the policy of Great Britain hostile to our own. In fact, the British recognized the predominant character of the American interest in Mexico and were willing to accept any policy in which Washington would take the lead. All it asked was that British property and British lives be protected; once these were safeguarded Great Britain was ready to stand aside and let the United States deal with Mexico in its own way.
The one disappointment of this visit was that Sir William Tyrrell was unable to obtain from President Wilson any satisfactory statement of his Mexican policy.
"When I go back to England," said the Englishman, as the interview was approaching an end, "I shall be asked to explain your Mexican policy. Can you tell me what it is?"
President Wilson looked at him earnestly and said, in his most decisive manner:
"I am going to teach the South American Republics to elect good men!"
This was excellent as a purpose, but it could hardly be regarded as a programme.
"Yes," replied Sir William, "but, Mr. President, I shall have to explain this to Englishmen, who, as you know, lack imagination. They cannot see what is the difference between Huerta, Carranza, and Villa."
The only answer he could obtain was that Carranza was the best of the three and that Villa was not so bad as he had been painted. But the phrase that remained with the British diplomat was that one so characteristically Wilsonian: "I propose to teach the South American Republics to elect good men." In its attitude, its phrasing, it held the key to much Wilson history.
Additional details of this historic interview are given in Colonel House's letters:
From Edward M. House
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
November 4, 1913.
Your cablegram, telling me of the arrival of Sir William Tyrrell on the Imperator, was handed me on my way to the train as I left for Washington.
The President talked with me about the Mexican situation and it looks as if something positive will be done in a few days unless Huerta abdicates.
It is to be the policy of this Administration henceforth not to recognize any Central American government that is not formed along constitutional lines. Anything else would be a makeshift policy. As you know, revolutions and assassinations in order to obtain control of governments are instituted almost wholly for the purpose of loot and when it is found that these methods will not bring the desired results, they will cease.
The President also feels strongly in regard to foreign financial interests seeking to control those unstable governments through concessions and otherwise. This, too, he is determined to discourage as far as it is possible to do so.
This was a great opportunity for England and America to get together. You know how strongly we both feel upon this subject and I do not believe that the President differed greatly from us, but the recent actions of the British Government have produced a decided irritation, which to say the least is unfortunate.
E. M. HOUSE.
145 East 35th Street.
New York City.
November 14, 1913.
Things have happened quickly since I last wrote to you.
I went to Washington Monday night as the guest of the Bryans. They have been wanting me to come to them and I thought this a good opportunity.
I talked the Mexican situation out thoroughly with him and one of your dispatches came while I was there. I found that he was becoming prejudiced against the British Government, believing that their Mexican policy was based purely upon commercialism, that they were backing Huerta quietly at the instance of Lord Cowdray, and that Cowdray had not only already obtained concessions from the Huerta Government, but expected to obtain others. Sir Lionel Carden was also all to the bad.
I saw the President and his views were not very different from those of Mr. Bryan. I asked the President to permit me to see Sir William. Tyrrell and talk to him frankly and to attempt to straighten the tangle out. He gave me a free hand.
I lunched with Sir William at the British Embassy although Sir Cecil Spring Rice was not well enough to be present. I had a long talk with Sir William, after lunch and found that our suspicions were unwarranted and that we could get together without any difficulty whatever.
I told him very frankly what our purpose was in Mexico and that we were determined to carry it through if it was within our power to do so. That being so I suggested that he get his government to cooperate cordially with ours rather than to accept our policy reluctantly.
I told him that you and I had dreamed of a sympathetic alliance between the two countries and that it seemed to me that this dream might come true very quickly because of the President and Sir Edward Grey. He expressed a willingness to cooperate freely and I told him I would arrange an early meeting with the President. I thought it better to bring the President into the game rather than Mr. Bryan. I told him of the President's attitude upon the Panama toll question but I touched upon that lightly and in confidence, preferring for the President himself to make his own statement.
I left the Bryans in the morning of the luncheon with Sir William, intending to take an afternoon train for New York, but the President wanted me to stay with him at the White House over night and meet Sir William with him at half past nine the following morning. He was so tired that I did not have the heart to urge a meeting that night.
From half past nine until half past ten the President and Sir William. repeated to each other what they had said separately to me, and which I had given to each, and then the President elaborated upon the toll question much to the satisfaction of Sir William.
He explained the matter in detail and assured him of his entire sympathy and purpose to carry out our treaty obligations, both in the letter and the spirit.
Sir William was very happy after the interview and when the President left us he remained to talk to me and to express his gratification. He cleared up in the President's mind all suspicion, I think, in regard to concessions and as to the intentions and purposes of the British Government. He assured the President that his government would work cordially with ours and that they would do all that they could to bring about joint pressure through Germany and France for the elimination of Huerta.
We are going to give them a chance to see what they can do with Huerta before moving any further. Sir William thinks that if we are willing to let Huerta save his face he can be got out without force of arms.
Sir William said that if foreign diplomats could have heard our conversation they would have fallen in a faint; it was so frankly indiscreet and undiplomatic. I did not tell him so, but I had it in the back of my mind that where people wanted to do right and had the power to carry out their intentions there was no need to cloak their thoughts in diplomatic language.
All this makes me very happy for it looks as if we are in sight of the promised land.
I am pleased to tell you of the compliments that have been thrown at you by the President, Mr. Bryan, and Sir William. They were all enthusiastic over your work in London and expressed the keenest appreciation of the way in which you have handled matters. Sir William told me that he did not remember an American Ambassador that was your equal.
E. M. HOUSE.
So far as a meeting between a British diplomat and the President of the United States could solve the Mexican problem, that problem was apparently solved. The dearest wish of Mr. Wilson, the elimination of Huerta, seemed to be approaching realization, now that he had persuaded Great Britain to support him in this enterprise. Whether Sir William Tyrrell, or Sir Edward Grey, had really become converted to the President's "idealistic" plans for Mexico is an entirely different question. At this time there was another matter in which Great Britain's interest was even greater than in Mexico. These letters have already contained reference to tolls on the Panama Canal. Colonel House's letter shows that the President discussed this topic with Sir William Tyrrell and gave him assurances that this would be settled on terms satisfactory to Great Britain. It cannot be maintained that that assurance was really the consideration which paved the way to an understanding on Huerta. The conversation was entirely informal; indeed, it could not be otherwise, for Sir William Tyrrell brought no credentials; there could be no definite bargain or agreement, but there is little question that Mr. Wilson's friendly disposition toward British shipping through the Panama Canal made it easy for Great Britain to give him a free hand in Mexico.
A few days after this White House interview Sir Lionel Carden performed what must have been for him an uncongenial duty. This loquacious minister led a procession of European diplomats to General Huerta, formally advised that warrior to yield to the American demands and withdraw from the Presidency of Mexico. The delegation informed the grim dictator that their governments were supporting the American policy and Sir Lionel brought him the unwelcome news that he could not depend upon British support. About the same time Premier Asquith made conciliatory remarks on Mexico at the Guildhall banquet. He denied that the British Government had undertaken any policy "deliberately opposed to that of the United States. There is no vestige of foundation for such a rumour." These events changed the atmosphere at Washington, which now became almost as cordial to Great Britain as it had for several months been suspicious.
To Edward M. House
London, November 15, 1913.
All's well here. The whole trouble was caused not here but in Mexico City; and that is to be remedied yet. And it will be! For the moment it is nullified. But you need give yourself no concern about the English Government or people, in the long run. It is taking them some time to see the vast difference between acting by a principle and acting by what they call a "policy." They and we ourselves too have from immemorial time been recognizing successful adventurers, and they didn't instantly understand this new "idealistic" move; they didn't know the man at the helm! I preached many sermons to our friend, I explained the difference to many private groups, I made after-dinner speeches leading right up to the point---as far as I dared, I inspired many newspaper articles; and they see it now and have said it and have made it public; and the British people are enthusiastic as far as they understand it.
And anybody concerned here understands the language that the President speaks now. You mustn't forget that in all previous experiences in Latin America we ourselves have been as much to blame as anybody else. Now we have a clear road to travel, a policy based on character to follow forever---a new era. Our dealing with Cuba was a new chapter in the history of the world. Our dealing with Mexico is Chapter II of the same Revelation. Tell 'em this in Washington.
The remaining task will be done too and I think pretty soon. For that I need well-loaded shells. I'll supply the gunpowder.
And don't you concern yourself about the English. They're all right---a little slow, but all right.
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Edward M. House
Newtimber Place, Hassocks, Sussex,
Sunday, November 23, 1913.
Your letter telling me about Tyrrell and the President brought me great joy. Tyrrell is in every way a square fellow, much like his Chief; and, you may depend on it, they are playing fair---in their slow way. They always think of India and of Egypt---never of Cuba. Lord! Lord! the fun I've had, the holy joy I am having (I never expected to have such exalted and invigorating felicity) in delivering elementary courses of instruction in democracy to the British Government. Deep down at the bottom, they don't know what Democracy means. Their Empire is in the way. Their centuries of land-stealing are in the way. Their unsleeping watchfulness of British commerce is in the way. "You say you'll shoot men into self-government," said Sir Edward. "Doesn't that strike you as comical?" And I answered, "It is comical only to the Briton and to others who have associated shooting with subjugation. We associate shooting with freedom." Half this blessed Sunday at this country house I have been ramming the idea down the throat of the Lord Chancellor.(37) He sees it, too, being a Scotchman. I take the members of the Government, as I get the chance or can make it, and go over with them the A B C of the President's principle: no territorial annexation; no trafficking with tyrants; no stealing of American governments by concession or financial thimble-rigging. They'll not recognize another Huerta---they're sick of that. And they'll not endanger our friendship. They didn't see the idea in the beginning. Of course the real trouble has been in Mexico City---Carden. They don't know yet just what he did. But they will, if I can find out. I haven't yet been able to make them tell me at Washington. Washington is a deep hole of silence toward ambassadors. By gradual approaches, I'm going to prove that Carden can do---and in a degree has already done---as much harm as Bryce did good---and all about a paltry few hundreds of million dollars' worth of oil. What the devil does the oil or the commerce of Mexico or the investments there amount to in comparison with the close friendship of the two nations? Carden can't be good long: he'll break out again presently. He has no political imagination. That's a rather common disease here, too. Few men have. It's good fun. I'm inviting the Central and South American Ministers to lunch with me, one by one, and I'm incidentally loading them up. I have all the boys in the Embassy full of zeal and they are tackling the Secretaries of the Central and South American legations. We've got a principle now to deal by with them. They'll see after a while.
English people are all right, too---except the Doctrinaires. They write much rank ignorance. But the learned men learn things last of all.
I thank you heartily for your good news about Tyrrell, about the President (but I'm sorry he's tired: make him quit eating meat and play golf); about the Panama tolls; about the Currency Bill (my love to McAdoo); about my own little affairs.---We are looking with the very greatest pleasure to the coming of the young White House couple. I've got two big dinners for them---Sir Edward, the Lord Chancellor, a duchess or two, some good folk, Ruth Bryan, a couple of ambassadors, etc., etc., etc. Then we'll take 'em to a literary speaking-feast or two, have 'em invited to a few great houses; then we'll give 'em another dinner, and then we'll get a guide for them to see all the reforming institutions in London, to their hearts' content---lots of fun.
Lots of fun: I got the American Society for its Thanksgiving dinner to invite the Lord Chancellor to respond to a toast to the President. He's been to the United States lately and he is greatly pleased. So far, so good. Then I came down here---where he, too, is staying. After five or six hours' talk about everything else he said, " By the way, your countrymen have invited me," etc., etc. "Now what would be appropriate to talk about?" Then I poured him full of the New Principle as regards Central and South America; for, if he will talk on that, what he says will be reported and read on both continents. He's a foxy Scot, and he didn't say he would, but he said that he'd consider it. "Consider" means that he will confer with Sir Edward. I'm beginning to learn their vocabulary. Anyhow the Lord Chancellor is in line.
It's good news you send always. Keep it up--keep it up. The volume of silence that I get is oppressive. You remember the old nigger that wished to pick a quarrel with another old nigger? Nigger No. 1 swore and stormed at nigger No. 2, and kept on swearing and storming, hoping to provoke him. Nigger No. 2 said not a word, but kept at his work. Nigger No. 1 swore and stormed more. Nigger No. 2 said not a word. Nigger No. 1 frothed still more. Nigger No. 2, still silent. Nigger No. 1 got desperate and said: "Look here, you kinky-headed, flat-nosed, slab-footed nigger, I warns you 'fore God, don't you keep givin' me none o' your damned silence!" I wish you'd tell all my friends that story.
Always heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
PERSONALITIES OF THE MEXICAN PROBLEM
PAGE'S remarks about the "trouble in Mexico City" and the "remaining task" refer, of course, to Sir Lionel Carden. "As I make Carden out," he wrote about this time, "he's a slow-minded, unimaginative, commercial Briton, with as much nimbleness as an elephant. British commerce is his deity, British advantage his duty and mission; and he goes about his work with blunt dullness and ineptitude. That's his mental calibre as I read him---a dull, commercial man."
Although Sir Lionel Carden had been compelled to harmonize himself with the American policy, Page regarded his continued presence in Mexico City as a standing menace to British-American relations. He therefore set himself to accomplish the minister's removal. The failure of President Taft's attempt to obtain Carden's transfer from Havana, in 1912, showed that Page's new enterprise was a delicate and difficult one; yet he did not hesitate.
The part that the wives of diplomats and statesmen play in international relations is one that few Americans understand. Yet in London, the Ambassador's wife is almost as important a person as the Ambassador himself. An event which now took place in the American Embassy emphasized this point. A certain lady, well known in London, called upon Mrs. Page and gave her a message on Mexican affairs for the Ambassador's benefit. The purport was that the activities of certain British commercial interests in Mexico, if not checked, would produce a serious situation between Great Britain and the United States. The lady in question was herself a sincere worker for Anglo-American amity, and this was the motive that led her to take an unusual step.
"It's all being done for the benefit of one man," she said.
The facts were presented in the form of a memorandum, which Mrs. Page copied and gave the Ambassador. This, in turn, Page sent to President Wilson.
To Edward M. House
London, November 26, 1913.
Won't you read the enclosed and get it to the President? It is somewhat extra-official but it is very confidential, and I have a special reason for wishing it to go through your hands. Perhaps it will interest you.
The lady that wrote it is one of the very best-informed women I know, one of those active and most influential women in the high political society of this Kingdom, at whose table statesmen and diplomats meet and important things come to pass. . . .
I am sure she has no motive but the avowed one. She has taken a liking to Mrs. Page and this is merely a friendly and patriotic act.
I had heard most of the things before as gossip---never before as here put together by a responsible hand.
Mrs. Page went to see her and, as evidence of our appreciation and safety, gave the original back to her. We have kept no copy, and I wish this burned, if you please. It would raise a riot here, if any breath of it were to get out, that would put bedlam to shame.
Lord Cowdray has been to see me for four successive days. I have a suspicion (though I don't know) that, instead of his running the Government, the Government has now turned the tables and is running him. His government contract is becoming a bad thing to sleep with. He told me this morning that he (through Lord Murray) had withdrawn the request for any concession in Colombia.(38) I congratulated him. "That, Lord Cowdray, will save you as well as some other people I know a good deal of possible trouble." I have explained to him the whole New Principle in extenso, "so that you may see clearly where the line of danger runs." Lord! how he's changed! Several weeks ago when I ran across him accidentally he was humorous, almost cynical. Now he's very serious. I explained to him that the only thing that had kept South America from being parcelled out as Africa has been is the Monroe Doctrine and the United States behind it. He granted that.
"In Monroe's time," said I, "the only way to take a part of South America was to take land. Now finance has new ways of its own."
"Perhaps," said he.
"Right there," I answered, "where you put your 'perhaps,' I put a danger signal. That, I assure you, you will read about in the histories as 'The Wilson Doctrine'!"
You don't know how easy it all is with our friend and leader in command. I've almost grown bold. You feel steady ground beneath you. They are taking to their tents.
"What's going to happen in Mexico City?"
"A peaceful tragedy, followed by emancipation."
"And the great industries of Mexico?"
"They will not have to depend on adventurers' favours!"
"But in the meantime, what?"
"Patience, looking towards justice!"
Yours heartily and in health (you bet!)
W. H. P.
From Edward M. House
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
December 12, 1913.
Your budget under dates, November 15th, 23rd, and 26th came to me last week, just after the President had been here. I saved the letters until I went to Washington, from which place I have just returned.
The President has been in bed for nearly a week and Doctor Grayson permitted no one to see him but me. Yesterday before I left he was feeling so well that I asked him if he did not want to feel better and then I read him your letters. Mrs. Wilson was present.
I cannot tell you how pleased he was. He laughed repeatedly at the different comments you made and he was delighted with what you had to say concerning Lord Cowdray. We do not love him for we think that between Cowdray and Carden a large part of our troubles in Mexico has been made. Your description of his attitude at the beginning and his present one pleased us much.
After I had read the confidential letter the President said "now let me see if I have the facts." He then recited them in consecutive order just as the English lady had written them, almost using the same phrases, showing the well-trained mind that he has. I then dropped the letter in the grate.
He enjoyed heartily the expression "Washington is a deep hole of silence towards ambassadors," and again "The volume of silence that I get is oppressive," and of course the story apropos of this last remark.
I was with him for more than an hour and he was distinctly better when I left. I hated to look at him in bed for I could not help realizing what his life means to the Democratic Party, to the Nation and almost to the world.
Of course you know that I only read your letters to him. Mr. Bryan was my guest on Wednesday and I returned to Washington with him but I made no mention of our correspondence and I never have. The President seems to like our way of doing things and further than that I do not care.
Upon my soul I do not believe the President could be better pleased than he is with the work you are doing.
E. M. HOUSE.
From now on the Ambassador exerted a round-about pressure---the method of "gradual approach" already referred to---upon the Foreign Office for Carden's removal. An extract from a letter to the President gives a hint concerning this method:
I have already worked upon Sir Edward's mind about his Minister to Mexico as far as I could. Now that the other matter is settled and while Carden is behaving, I go at it. Two years ago Mr. Knox made a bad blunder in protesting against Carden's "anti-Americanism" in Cuba. Mr. Knox sent Mr. Reid no definite facts nor even accusations to base a protest on. The result was a failure ---a bad failure. I have again asked Mr. Bryan for all the definite reports he has heard about Carden. That man, in my judgment, has caused nine tenths of the trouble here.
Naturally Page did not ask the Minister's removal directly---that would have been an unpardonable blunder. His meetings during this period with Sir Edward were taking place almost every day, and Carden, in one way or another, kept coming to the front in their conversation. Sir Edward, like Page, would sacrifice much in the cause of Anglo-American relations; Page would occasionally express his regret that the British Minister to Mexico was not a man who shared their enthusiasm on this subject; in numerous other ways the impression was conveyed that the two countries could solve the Mexican entanglement much better if a more congenial person represented British interests in the Southern Republic. This reasoning evidently produced the desired results. In early January, 1914, a hint was unofficially conveyed to the American Ambassador that Carden was to be summoned to London for a "conversation" with Sir Edward Grey, and that his return to Mexico would depend upon the outcome of that interview. There was a likelihood that, in future, Sir Lionel. Carden would represent the British Empire in Brazil.
This news, sent in discreet cipher to Washington, delighted the Administration. "It is fine about Carden," wrote Colonel House on January 10th. " I knew you had done it when I saw it in the papers, but I did not know just how. You could not have brought it about in a more diplomatic and effectual way."
And the following came from the President:
From President Wilson
January 6, 1914.
MY DEAR PAGE:
I have your letter of December twenty-first, which I have greatly enjoyed.
Almost at the very time I was reading it, the report came through the Associated Press from London that Carden was to be transferred immediately to Brazil. If this is true, it is indeed a most fortunate thing and I feel sure it is to be ascribed to your tactful and yet very plain representations to Sir Edward Grey. I do not think you realize how hard we worked to get from either Lind or O'Shaughnessy(39) definite items of speech or conduct which we could furnish you as material for what you had to say to the Ministers about Carden. It simply was not obtainable. Everything that we got was at second or third hand. That he was working against us was too plain for denial, and yet he seems to have done it in a very astute way which nobody could take direct hold of. I congratulate you with all my heart on his transference.
I long, as you do, for an opportunity to do constructive work all along the line in our foreign relations, particularly with Great Britain and the Latin-American states, but surely, my dear fellow, you are deceiving yourself in supposing that constructive work is not now actually going on, and going on at your hands quite as much as at ours. The change of attitude and the growing ability to understand what we are thinking about and purposing on the part of the official circle in London is directly attributable to what you have been doing, and I feel more and more grateful every day that you are our spokesman and interpreter there. This is the only possible constructive work in foreign affairs, aside from definite acts of policy.
So far as the policy is concerned, you may be sure I will strive to the utmost to obtain both a repeal of the discrimination in the matter of tolls and a renewal of the arbitration treaties, and I am not without hope that I can accomplish both at this session. Indeed this is the session in which these things must be done if they are to be done at all.
Back of the smile which came to my face when you spoke of the impenetrable silence of the State Department toward its foreign representatives lay thoughts of very serious concern. We must certainly manage to keep our foreign representatives properly informed. The real trouble is to conduct genuinely confidential correspondence except through private letters, but surely the thing can be changed and it will be if I can manage it.
We are deeply indebted to you for your kindness and generous hospitality to our young folks(40) and we have learned with delight through your letters and theirs of their happy days in England.
With deep regard and appreciation,
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
Yet for the American Ambassador the experience was not one of unmixed satisfaction. These letters have contained references to the demoralized condition of the State Department under Mr. Bryan and the succeeding ones will contain more; the Carden episode portrayed the stupidity and ignorance of that Department at their worst. By commanding Carden to cease his anti-American tactics and to support the American policy the Foreign Office had performed an act of the utmost courtesy and consideration to this country. By quietly "promoting" the same minister to another sphere, several thousand miles away from Mexico and Washington, it was now preparing to eliminate all possible causes of friction between the two countries. The British, that is, had met the wishes of the United States in the two great matters that were then making serious trouble---Huerta and Carden. Yet no government, Great Britain least of all, wishes to be placed in the position of moving its diplomats about at the request of another Power. The whole deplorable story appears in the following letter.
To Edward M. House
January 8th, 1914.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
Two days ago I sent a telegram to the Department saying that I had information from a private, unofficial source that the report that Carden would be transferred was true, and from another source that Marling would succeed him. The Government here has given out nothing. I know nothing from official sources. Of course the only decent thing to do at Washington was to sit still till this Government should see fit to make an announcement. But what do they do? Give my telegram to the press! It appears here almost verbatim in this morning's Mail.---I have to make an humiliating explanation to the Foreign Office. This is the third time I've had to make such an humiliating explanation to Sir Edward. It's getting a little monotonous. He's getting tired, and so am I. They now deny at the Foreign Office that anything has been decided about Carden, and this meddling by us (as they look at it) will surely cause a delay and may even cause a change of purpose.
That's the practical result of their leaking at Washington. On a previous occasion they leaked the same way. When I telegraphed a remonstrance, they telegraphed back to me that the leak had been here! That was the end of it-except that I had to explain to Sir Edward the best I could. And about a lesser matter, I did the same thing a third time, in a conversation. Three times this sort of thing has happened.---On the other hand, the King's Master of Ceremonies called on me on the President's Birthday and requested for His Majesty that I send His Majesty's congratulations. Just ten days passed before a telegraphic answer came! The very hour it came, I was myself making up an answer for the President that I was going to send, to save our face.
Now, I'm trying with all my might to do this job. I spend all my time, all my ingenuity, all my money at it. I have organized my staff as a sort of Cabinet. We meet every day. We go over everything conceivable that we may do or try to do. We do good team work. I am not sure but I doubt whether these secretaries have before been taken into just such a relation to their chief. They are enthusiastic and ambitious and industrious and---safe. There's no possibility of any leak. We arrange our dinners with reference to the possibility of getting information and of carrying points. Mrs. Page gives and accepts invitations with the same end in view. We're on the job to the very limit of our abilities.
And I've got the Foreign Office in such a relation that they are frank and friendly. (I can't keep 'em so, if this sort of thing goes on.)
Now the State Department seems (as it touches us) to be utterly chaotic---silent when it ought to respond, loquacious when it ought to be silent. There are questions that I have put to it at this Government's request to which I can get no answer.
It's hard to keep my staff enthusiastic under these conditions. When I reached the Chancery this morning, they were in my room, with all the morning papers marked, on the table, eagerly discussing what we ought to do about this publication of my dispatch. The enthusiasm and buoyancy were all gone out of them. By their looks they said, Oh I what's the use of our bestirring ourselves to send news to Washington when they use it to embarrass us?"---While we are thus at work, the only two communications from the Department to-day are two letters from two of the Secretaries about---presenting " Democratic" ladies from Texas and Oklahoma at court! And Bryan is now lecturing in Kansas.
Since I began to write this letter, Lord Cowdray came here to the house and stayed two and a half hours, talking about possible joint intervention in Mexico. Possibly he came from the Foreign Office. I don't know whether to dare send a despatch to the State Department, telling what he told me, for fear they'd leak. And to leak this---Good Lord! Two of the Secretaries were here to dinner, and I asked them if I should send such a despatch. They both answered instantly: "No, sir, don't dare: write it to the President." I said: "No, I have no right to bother the President with regular business nor with frequent letters." To that they agreed; but the interesting and somewhat appalling thing is, they're actually afraid to have a confidential despatch go to the State Department.
I see nothing to do but to suggest to the President to put somebody in the Department who will stay there and give intelligent attention to the diplomatic telegrams and letters---some conscientious assistant or clerk. For I hear mutterings, somewhat like these mutterings of mine, from some of the continental embassies.---The whole thing is disorganizing and demoralizing beyond description.
All these and more are my troubles. I'll take care of them. But remember what I am going to write on the next sheet. For here may come a trouble for you:
Mrs. Page has learned something more about Secretary Bryan's proposed visit here in the spring. He's coming to talk his peace plan which, you know, is a sort of grape-juice arbitration---a distinct step backward from a real arbitration treaty. Well, if he comes with that, when you come to talk about reducing armaments, you'll wish you'd never been born. Get your ingenuity together, then, and prevent that visit.(41)
Not the least funny thing in the world is---Senator X turned up to-day. As he danced around the room begging everybody's pardon (nobody knew what for) he, complimented everybody in sight, explained the forged letter, dilated on state politics, set the Irish question on the right end, cleared Bacon(42) of all hostility to me, declined tea because he had insomnia and explained just how it works to keep you awake, danced more and declared himself happy and bowed himself out---well pleased. He's as funny a cuss as I've seen in many a day. Lord Cowdray, who was telling Mexican woes to Katharine in the corner, looked up and asked, "Who's the little dancing gentleman?" Suppose X had known he was dancing for---Lord Cowdray's amusement, what do y' suppose he'd 've thought? There are some strange combinations in our house on Mrs. Page's days at home. Cowdray has, I am sure, lost (that is, failed to make) a hundred million dollars that he had within easy reach by this Wilson Doctrine, but he's game. He doesn't lie awake. He's a dead-game sport, and he knows he's knocked out in that quarter and he doesn't squeal. His experiences will serve us many a good turn in the future---as a warning. I rather like him. He eats out of my hand in the afternoon and has one of his papers jump on me in the morning. Some time in the twenty-four hours, he must attain about the normal temperature---say about noon. He admires the President greatly---sincerely. Force meets force, you see. With the President behind me I could really enjoy Cowdray centuries after X had danced himself into oblivion.
By the way, Cowdray said to me to-day: "Whatever the United States and Great Britain agree on the world must do." He's right. (1) The President must come here, perhaps in his second term; (2) these two Governments must enter a compact for peace and for gradual disarmament. Then we can go about our business for (say) a hundred years.
W. H. P.
In spite of the continued pressure of the United States and the passive support of its anti-Huerta policy by Great Britain, the Mexican usurper refused to resign. President Wilson now began to espouse the interests of Villa and Carranza. His letters to Page indicate that he took these men at their own valuation, believed that they were sincere patriots working for the cause of "democracy" and "constitutionalism" and that their triumph would usher in a day of enlightenment and progress for Mexico. It was the opinion of the Foreign Office that Villa and Carranza were worse men than Huerta and that any recognition of their revolutionary activities would represent no moral gain.
From the President
The White House, Washington,
MY DEAR PAGE:
. . . As to the attitude of mind on that side of the water toward the Constitutionalists, it is based upon prejudices which cannot be sustained by the facts. I am enclosing a copy of an interview by a Mr. Reid(43) which appeared in one of the afternoon papers recently and which sums up as well as they could be summed up my own conclusions with regard to the issues and the personnel of the pending contest in Mexico. I can verify it from a hundred different sources, most of them sources not in the least touched by predilections for such men as our friends in London have supposed Carranza and Villa to be.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
U. S. Embassy,
The White House, Washington,
June 1, 1914.
MY DEAR PAGE:
. . . The fundamental thing is that they (British critics of Villa) are all radically mistaken. There has been less disorder and less danger to life where the Constitutionalists have gained control than there has been where Huerta is in control. I should think that if they are getting correct advices from Tampico, people in England would be very much enlightened by what has happened there. Before the Constitutionalists took the place there was constant danger to the oil properties and to foreign residents. Now there is no danger and the men who felt obliged to leave the oil wells to their Mexican employees are returning, to find, by the way, that their Mexican employees guarded them most faithfully without wages, and in some instances almost without food. I am told that the Constitutionalists cheered the American flag when they entered Tampico.
I believe that Mexico City will be much quieter and a much safer place to live in after the Constitutionalists get there than it is now. The men who are approaching and are sure to reach it are much less savage and much more capable of government than Huerta.
These, I need not tell you, are not fancies of mine but conclusions I have drawn from facts which are at last becoming very plain and palpable, at least to us on this side of the water. If they are not becoming plain in Great Britain, it is because their papers are not serving them with the truth. Our own papers were prejudiced enough in all conscience against Villa and Carranza and everything that was happening in the north of Mexico, but at last the light is dawning on them in spite of themselves and they are beginning to see things as they really are. I would be as nervous and impatient as your friends in London are if I feared the same things that they fear, but I do not. I am convinced that even Zapata would restrain his followers and leave, at any rate, all foreigners and all foreign property untouched if he were the first to enter Mexico City.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
On this issue, however, the President and his Ambassador to Great Britain permanently disagreed. The events which took place in April, 1914---the insult to the American flag at Tampico, the bombardment and capture of Vera Cruz by American forces---made stronger Page's conviction, already set forth in this correspondence, that there was only one solution of the Mexican problem.
To Edward M. House
April 27, 1914.
. . . And, as for war with Mexico---I confess I've had a continually growing fear of it for six months. I've no confidence in the Mexican leaders---none of 'em. We shall have to Cuba-ize the country, which means thrashing 'em first---I fear, I fear, I fear; and I feel sorry for us all, the President in particular. It's inexpressibly hard fortune for him. I can't tell you with what eager fear we look for despatches every day and twice a day hurry to get the newspapers. All England believes we've got to fight it out.
Well, the English are with us, you see. Admiral Cradock, I understand, does not approve our policy, but he stands firmly with us whatever we do. The word to stand firmly with us has, I am very sure, been passed along the whole line---naval, newspaper, financial, diplomatic. Carden won't give us any more trouble during the rest of his stay in Mexico. The yellow press's abuse of the President and me has actually helped us here.
W. H. P.
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