President Wilson's Mexican Policy
CONTRARY to a view which has many supporters, President Wilson’s Mexican policy has now for the first time approached its supreme test. The situation in Mexico has emerged from the conflict between the old elements which were having at each other’s throats in the early days. For a time at least a government exists in the war-worn Republic with which the government of the United States has declared itself happy to maintain relations of amity. Facilitation of the establishment of such a government has, from its very beginning, been the chief aim of Mr. Wilson’s much misunderstood Mexican policy. It will soon become possible for the first time to judge this policy in the light of its own ideals. The situation has come to the point where one epoch may be said to have ended — a suitable moment for assessment and review, for separating fact from opinion, and, above all, for reëstablishing the perspective.
The coloring of intellectual dishonesty which is present in most political debates has been particularly evident in the discussion of Mr. Wilson’s Mexican policy. On the one hand, so much has been said disapprovingly of the government’s policy of ‘inaction’ as to leave the impression, seemingly inescapable, that the President’s critics advocated armed intervention—a course absolutely at variance with the policy of the American government five years ago, when five American citizens were murdered and eleven wounded by Mexicans at Douglas, Arizona. On the other hand, men of no less seasoned judgment than Senator Lodge have chosen to regard the policy as grounded in animosity against General Victoriano Huerta, and have permitted this fallacy to extend through their consideration of all developments in Mexico in the past three years. Withal, Mr. Wilson’s critics have utterly ignored the vital relationship between his Mexican policy and the policy of PanAmericanism.
The most damaging criticism of Mr. Wilson’s policy has come from persons who, like Mr. Roosevelt, hold the President guilty of a sort of interference in Mexican affairs and argue that because he interfered he should be held responsible for a continuance of disturbances in Mexico. Mr. Roosevelt said in a special article published in the New York Times December, 1914: ‘Unless President Wilson was prepared actively to interfere in Mexico and to establish some sort of protectorate over it, he had no more business to pass judgment upon the methods of Mr. Huerta’s selection ’ — which had occurred prior to Mr. Wilson’s advent to power — ‘ than Mexico would have had to refuse to recognize Mr. Hayes as President on the ground that it was not satisfied with his economic policy and, moreover, sympathized with Mr. Tilden’s side of the controversy.’ Mr. Wilson is thus held responsible for inopportune interference and inaction at times of necessity.
The charges that the President’s policy was dictated in its origin by animosity and that his refusal to recognize General Huerta constituted an act of voluntary interference, I am disposed to put aside with little argument. His opposition to the Provisional President was as impersonal as is always the conflict between an ideal and an obstruction. As for the charge that Mr. Wilson interfered unwarrantably in refusing recognition, I think it needs only to be said that before Mr. Wilson entered into office the President of the United States was inevitably responsible for exerting an influence favorable or unfavorable to a head of the Mexican government establishing himself in the manner of Huerta’s accession to power. That responsibility existed because of our habitual relationship with Mexico. President Wilson could not in the circumstances escape the exertion of an influence favorable or unfavorable to the new administration at the city of Mexico. It would have been interference, just as potent and just as evident, for him to have recognized Huerta, for that would practically have assured the establishment of the dictator’s power. If we must accept the definition of the first step in the President’s Mexican policy as ‘interference,’ we must condition it upon the declaration that the choice between two policies of interference was forced upon him. We must discuss subsequent happenings with this fact in mind. The policy must be judged by its outcome, and not condemned because of this fault in its initiation.
Realizing, then, that the United States must exert a measurable influence for or against the cause of constitutional government in Mexico, Mr. Wilson chose first to withhold the support of the United States from the Huerta administration, and later partially to extend the moral support of the government to the cause of constitutional government in Mexico. It is at this point that many persons, whose honest thinking has compelled them to accede the foregoing, initiate their criticisms. Several friends of Mr. Wilson based their counseling of a change of policy in 1913, not on the ground that he was guilty of interference, but that he was neglecting the readiest means of assuring the safety of American citizens and their property in Mexico — namely, by recognizing and giving strength to the Huerta régime, which gave promise of the iron-handed quality of the Diaz government. If Mr. Wilson’s Mexican policy is to be judged solely in the light of the old precept of international relations, that the sole aim of a government’s international policy should be the protection of its own citizens and their interests, it cannot be defended. It is true that the policy to which Mr. Wilson has adhered in holding off from Mexican affairs except where the unquestionable responsibility of this government was involved, and then exerting our influence with the hope of aiding the constitutionalists’ cause, was possible only through a certain neglect of the material interests of some American citizens.
Two resolutions have been uppermost in the mind of President Wilson in respect to Mexico. In the first place, he believed it the duty of the foremost republic of the world to promote the cause of liberty in Mexico, where it might be practicable to do so, and to secure for the Mexican people a free opportunity to fight their way to a peace based on freedom. His second purpose was that the United States itself should remain at peace and on relations of friendship with all the other republics of this Hemisphere, besides Mexico. It was necessary in the circumstances, he thought, that American property owners in Mexico should forego for a time insistence upon the vigorous assertion of their rights on the part of the government of the United States. With these fallacies set aside and Mr. Wilson’s purposes clearly in mind, we may set out upon an examination of the events in which the Mexican policy was unfolded, without fear of committing ourselves to a biased judgment. We shall see whether or not these incidents present themselves as logical steps in the development of a high policy, clung to with an amazing measure of moral courage, at times when there existed a strong temptation for the President to yield to popular clamor and at the same time serve his own political fortunes by sending the American army into Mexico.
It is interesting to look back now to the first days of the Wilson administration, with its optimism and confidence in the ideals of international polity which it purposed to apply in its direction of the country’s foreign relations. Among the tasks which faced Mr. Wilson, none pressed for so immediate consideration as that growing out of the complicated situation in Mexico. Francisco I. Madero, that weak idealist, had been overthrown and put to death illegally within a few weeks of Mr. Wilson’s inauguration on March 4, 1913. His overthrow was accomplished by the treachery of his commanding general, Victoriano Huerta, who, leading the Federal army, deserted the President in the midst of a revolutionary movement begun by Felix Diaz, nephew of Mexico’s former President, and formed a coalition with him. Huerta had become the dominant personality among the insurrectionaries. His betrayal of the President under whom he served was made tragically complete February 16, 1913, when Madero and his Vice-President, Pino Suarez, were taken from the place of their imprisonment and illegally put to death. Affairs were in a serious state. Horrors of assassination and the implacable treatment of its enemies by the Huerta government were described daily in the United States. In addition, reports were in circulation that the American Ambassador, Mr. Henry Lane Wilson, had given evidences of friendliness to the new government.
The final step in the setting of the stage for the Mexican problem of the Wilson administration came February 19, 1913, when Huerta assumed the provisional presidency, having complied technically with the provision of the constitution of the Republic by succeeding Madero’s Minister of the Interior and following him in control of the executive power upon his prearranged resignation. With fine sensibility, Mr. Taft refrained from taking any decisive step so short a time before his successor was to take office. His only utterance on Mexico was in a speech at Washington, February 26, in which he said,—
‘ We must not in a case like Mexico — for it differs from the Central American Republics — take such action as shall give them to believe that we are moved by selfish purposes, or arouse them to opposition to us. We must avoid in every way that which is called intervention, and use all the patience possible, with the prayer that some power may arise there to bring about peace throughout that great country.
. . . But I have no sympathy — none at all, and the charge of cowardice does not frighten me — with that which prompts us for purposes of exploitation and gain to invade another country and involve ourselves in a war the extent of which we could not realize and the sacrifice of thousands of lives and of millions of treasure.’
It is also to be remembered that Mr. Taft had thrown the weight of his administration against an intervention resolution introduced in the Senate in March, 1912, on the occasion of the killing of a number of American citizens at the Arizona border.
This was the status of the Mexican situation when President Wilson, on March 4, 1913, became responsible for the direction of the foreign policy of the American government. To the President one fact appeared to be of paramount importance to a government which planned to gauge its policy with a high sense of its moral as well as its legal international obligations. That was the fact that Huerta’s accession to the presidency was made possible through the overthrow and the unlawful death of President Madero and Vice-President Suarez, at a time when they were in prison under Huerta’s order and entitled to the fullest measure of protection which the Huerta government could give. There have been long and dreary debates in the United States since that time as to the responsibility of Huerta for the death of these two men. But it is no longer doubted that they were slain by the hands of those who thought to please Huerta and who were intrusted with a large degree of authority by him. The solidification of opinion on this point is, I think, best indicated by the utterance of Senator Lodge in a Senate debate a year ago: ‘The manner of their death has never been made perfectly clear, but that they were unlawfully killed is, I think, beyond doubt.’
The President did not hesitate over the decision of the problem awaiting him. It was just eight days after he assumed control of the executive affairs of this government that he issued a formal statement of his administration’s policy for Latin-American affairs. ‘ Cooperation is possible,’ said the President, ‘only when supported at every turn by the orderly processes of just government based upon law, not upon arbitrary or irregular force. . . . We cannot have sympathy with those who seek to seize the power of government to advance their own personal interests or ambitions. We are the friends of peace, but we know that there can be no lasting or stable peace in such circumstances. As friends, therefore, we shall prefer those who act in the interests of peace and honor, who protect private rights and respect the restraints of constitutional provisions.’ It was the service of notice to the civilized world that President Wilson would not recognize the government of Victoriano Huerta or that of any other ruler in Latin America whose accession to power was made possible through the forceful deposing or assassination of his constitutional predecessor.
A new revolution was started within two weeks after the issuance of the President’s declaration of policy. It aimed to overthrow the Huerta government and establish a constitutional government in its place. The movement was headed by Venustiano Carranza, Governor of Coahuila, who had refused to recognize the legality of the Huerta government from the very first. Before the end of March, Carranza had published the plan of Guadalupe, which was a declaration of purpose of the constitutionalist movement. Carranza went to Northern Mexico, and there he assembled military forces for the revolt and undertook the responsibility of leadership. The Carranza movement was recognized in the United States as representing the democratic ideal in Mexico.
Eor several months, during which the fortunes of the revolutionists continued to rise and the lives and fortunes of Americans in Mexico were being subjected to cumulative depredations, the President remained quiescent. Early in the ensuing summer, however, he dispatched Mr. John Lind to Mexico on the important mission of seeking the withdrawal of General Huerta and the reconciliation of the Federal and the Carranzista factions in a manner that would surely promote the cause of consitutional government in the southern Republic. Mr. Lind bore written instructions from the President of the United States, which he proceeded to communicate to General Huerta. Submission of the instructions followed a series of conferences with the Mexican Foreign Minister, during which Mr. Lind tactfully endeavored to pave the way for the consideration of the American demands by expressions of the friendship and unselfish spirit that animated the United States. The communication transmitted through Lind insisted that a settlement satisfactory to the United States must be conditioned on: —
(a) An immediate cessation of fighting throughout Mexico; a definite armistice solemnly entered into and scrupulously observed; (b) Security given for an early and free election in which all should agree to take part; (c) The consent of Gen. Huerta to bind himself not to be a candidate for election as President of the Republic at this election; and (d) The agreement of all parties to abide by the results of the election and coöperate in the most loyal way in organizing and supporting the new administration.
The government of the United States pledged itself to facilitate a settlement on these grounds and ' to recognize and in every way possible and proper to assist the administration chosen and set up in Mexico in the way and on the conditions suggested.’
These demands were rejected August 16, 1913, by Señor Gamboa, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a communication which attracted attention in the United States by its subtle sarcasm and capable statement of the technical aspects of international law which weighed against the American position.
The President appeared before Congress August 27, 1913, to deliver a special address describing ‘the deplorable posture’ of affairs in Mexico and setting forth what this government had done in an effort to improve conditions. After a spirited declaration that the United States would yet prove to the Mexican people ‘ that we know how to serve them without first thinking how we shall serve ourselves,’ the President spoke of the great gifts the future might have in store for Mexico, provided only that she ‘attain the paths of honest constitutional government.’
‘The present circumstances of the Republic,’ the President regretfully said, ‘do not seem to promise even the foundation of such a peace. We have waited many months, months full of peril and anxiety, for the conditions there to improve and they have not improved ; they have grown worse, rather. The territory in some sort controlled by the provisional authorities at Mexico City has grown smaller, not larger.
. . . Difficulties more and more entangle those who claim to constitute the legitimate government of the Republic. They have not made good their claim in fact. Their successes in the field have proved only temporary. War and disorder, devastation and confusion, seem to threaten to become the settled fortunes of the distracted country.’ As a friend, the President thought the United States could not have waited longer than it did to tender its good offices.
It was then that the policy of ‘ watchful waiting’ was enunciated. ‘ We cannot thrust our good offices upon them,’ said Mr. Wilson to Congress. ‘The situation must be given a little more time to work itself out in the new circumstances; and I believe that only a little time will be necessary. For the circumstances are new. The rejection of our friendship makes them new and wall inevitably bring its own alterations in the old aspect of affairs.
’We can afford to exercise the selfrestraint of a really great nation, which realizes its own strength and scorns to misuse it,’ continued the President. ‘ It was our duty to offer our active assistance. It is now our duty to show what true neutrality will do to enable the people of Mexico to set their affairs in order again and wait for a further opportunity to offer our friendly counsels.’
In pursuance of that ' true neutrality’ which the President mentioned, he informed Congress that he would clamp down an embargo on the exportation of arms or munitions of war to any section in Mexico, holding that: ’We cannot in the circumstances be the partisans of either party to the contest that now distracts Mexico, or constitute ourselves the virtual umpire between them.’ The administration continued to keep in close touch with Mexican developments, sending various special agents to Mexico; but the policy of ‘ watchful waiting ’ was adhered to with consistency. In his annual message to Congress December 2, 1913, the President said: —
’There can be no certain prospect of peace in America until General Huerta has surrendered his usurped authority in Mexico; until it is understood on all hands, indeed, that such pretended governments will not be countenanced or dealt with by the government of the United States. We are the friends of constitutional government in America; we are more than its friends, we are its champions; because in no other way can our neighbors, to whom we would wish in every way to make proof of our friendship, work out their own development in peace and liberty. Mexico has no government. The attempt to maintain one at the City of Mexico has broken down, and a mere military despotism has been set up which has hardly more than the semblance of national authority. It originated in the usurpation of Victoriano Huerta, who, after a brief attempt to play the part of constitutional president, has at last cast aside even the pretense of legal right and declared himself dictator.
‘As a consequence, a condition of affairs now exists in Mexico which has made it doubtful whether even the most elementary and fundamental rights either of her own people or of the citizens of other countries resident within her territory can long be successfully safeguarded, and which threatens, if long continued, to imperil the interests of peace, order, and tolerable life in the lands immediately to the south of us. Even if the usurper had succeeded in his purposes, in despite of the constitution of the Republic and the rights of its people, he would have set up nothing but a precarious and hateful power, which could have lasted but a little while, and whose eventual downfall would have left the country in a more deplorable condition than ever. But he has not succeeded. He has forfeited the respect and the moral support even of those who were at one time willing to see him succeed. Little by little he has been completely isolated. By a little every day his power and prestige are crumbling and the collapse is not far away. We shall not, I believe, be obliged to alter our policy of watchful waiting. And then, when the end comes, we shall hope to see constitutional order restored in distressed Mexico by the concert and energy of such of her leaders as prefer the liberty of their people to their own ambitions.’
The succeeding months saw, with the continuance of the policy of ’watchful waiting,’ the development of a feeling of friendliness between the Wilson administration and the faction headed by General Carranza—a development that was inevitable from the attitude the Wilson administration had taken in the previous year. It is unnecessary to cite the numerous incidents in which this friendliness was evidenced. Carranza was conducting an orderly civil government in the larger portion of the territory which the constitutionalist army had conquered in Northern Mexico. The constitutionalist government was operating the railroads and telegraph lines and issuing money. Some outrages were committed, but for the most part the constitutionalist government protected foreigners. Carranza himself devoted his energies to the establishment of the executive power as separate from that of the army in the territory controlled, as well as to the centralization and unification of the three branches of the constitutionalist military campaign.
The way toward a settlement of Mexican affairs satisfactory to the United States did not seem clear in this period, however. Huerta had not succeeded in bending to his will the faction opposing him in Northern Mexico; but, despite the military successes of this faction and the frankly avowed disapproval of the United States, his hold upon the Federal military forces and the executive power at Mexico City seemed secure for a long time to come. Serious discussion was heard of a suggestion that a separate republic be established in Northern Mexico— a discussion made possible only by a realization that a deadlock was threatened.
Then came a sudden accession of activity on the part of the United States. The new epoch began with an insult to the American flag by the Huertista forces at the city of Tampico, coming as the culmination of a series of unpleasant incidents due to the unfriendliness of Huerta’s followers to the United States or their inability to carry out the national obligation of protecting the lives and property of Americans. The President discussed these developments in a special message delivered to Congress April 20, 1914, saying in reference to the Tampico incident: —
‘On the 9th of April a paymaster of the U.S.S. Dolphin landed at the Iturbide Bridge landing at Tampico with a whaleboat and boat’s crew to take off certain supplies needed by his ship, and while engaged in loading the boat was arrested by an officer and squad of men of the army of General Huerta. Neither the paymaster nor any one of the boat’s crew was armed. Two of the men were in the boat when the arrest took place and were obliged to leave it and submit to be taken into custody, notwithstanding the fact that the boat carried, both at her bow and at her stern, the flag of the United States. The officer who made the arrest was proceeding up one of the streets of the town with his prisoners when met by an officer of higher authority, who ordered him to return to the landing and await orders; and within an hour and a half from the time of the arrest orders were received from the commander of the Huertista forces at Tampico for the release of the paymaster and his men. The release was followed by apologies from the commander and later by an expression of regret from General Huerta himself. General Huerta urged that martial law obtained at the time at Tampico; that orders had been issued that no one should be allowed to land at the Iturbide Bridge; and that our sailors had no right to land there. Our naval commanders at the port had not been notified of any such prohibition; and even if they had been, the only justifiable course open to the local authorities would have been to request the paymaster and his crew to withdraw and to lodge a protest with the commanding officer of the fleet. Admiral Mayo regarded the arrest as so serious an affront that he was not satisfied with the apologies offered, but demanded that the flag of the United States be saluted with special ceremony by the military commander of the port.’
The incident at Tampico, said the President, could not be regarded as a trivial one, or attributed to the ignorance or arrogance of a single officer, inasmuch as it followed a series of incidents which had created the impression that General Huerta’s representatives ‘were willing to go out of their way to show disregard for the dignity and rights of this Government.’ The incidents cited by the President included the arrest and temporary imprisonment of a mail orderly from the battleship Minnesota, at Vera Cruz, and the withholding of an official dispatch from the State Department to the Embassy at Mexico City by the authorities of the telegraphic service. The President declared his belief that these affronts had been perpetrated in retaliation for the refusal of the United States to recognize Huerta as the Constitutional Provisional President. Because of the extent and inspiration of the offenses the President thought it not only improper, but dangerous, to accept merely formal apologies. It was necessary, he said, that the apologies of General Huerta and his representatives should go much further; that they should impress General Huerta with the necessity of seeing to it that no further occasion for explanation and for professed regrets should arise. ‘ I, therefore, feel it my duty to sustain Admiral Mayo in the whole of his demand,’ said the President, ‘and to insist that the flag of the United States shall be saluted in such a way as to indicate a new spirit and attitude on the part of the Huertistas.’
Huerta had ignored an ultimatum from the United States demanding a salute to be given without condition as to its being returned, and had given passports to Nelson O’Shaughnessy, the American chargé d’affaires at Mexico City.
Before going to the Congress, the President had sent a message to Admiral Mayo sustaining his demand for a salute to the flag and had ordered the United States Atlantic fleet to sail southward under sealed orders. In addressing the Congress he asked the adoption of a resolution expressing the approval by the legislative branch of the government of his intention ‘to utilize the armed forces of the United States in such ways and to such extent as might be necessary to obtain from General Huerta and his adherents the fullest recognition of the rights and dignity of the United States.’ The resolution was passed by the House with little question. The Senate objected to the naming of Huerta in the resolution and caused it to be stricken out. In despite of the fact that the American fleet was then known to be nearing Vera Cruz; that ships from the squadron already in Mexican waters at the time of the Tampico incident were gathered off the Mexican port; that rumors were afloat that the government might feel compelled to prevent forcefully the landing of a great consignment of arms which were then due in Vera Cruz on the German steamer Ypiranga, the opposition to the President in the Senate indulged in many criticisms of his policy and endeavored to change the purpose of the venture on which the government was about to embark from that of securing reparation for the insult to the flag to a campaign for the redress of the wrongs done American citizens in Mexico.
Before the Senate passed the resolution Admiral Mayo had seized Vera Cruz. The seizure was accomplished early in the morning of April 21, after the death of nineteen American sailors and about one hundred additional casualties. Several hundred Mexicans were killed in the shelling of the city which preceded the landing.
The President refused to permit the American forces to continue their military operations after seizing Vera Cruz. It was as if a strong man, hearing himself insulted, had struck one blow and thereupon held the offender motionless in his grasp. When the United States had been in comparatively peaceful occupation of the Mexican port for a week or more, Mr. Wilson accepted the good offices of the diplomatic representatives of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile at Washington, to mediate the differences between the United States and Mexico. Carranza refused to send delegates to the ensuing conference at Niagara Falls, so that the mediation accomplished little toward the immediate pacification of Mexico, though it was highly efficacious in inspiring new confidence in our motives among the republics of this hemisphere.
The seizure of Vera Cruz did not prevent the Ypiranga’s consignment of arms from reaching the Huertistas, for it was landed at Puerto, Mexico, and shipped over the Tehuantepec railroad to Mexico City. Nor did the seizure procure the reparation for the insult to our flag which the President had in mind to ask. It did strike a blow against the Huerta régime which it could not survive.
President Wilson took the embargo off the shipment of arms, but by an order to the War Department made the reservation that no shipments should go across the Texas border. The stock of the constitutionalists rose with a fair degree of steadiness. Tampico was captured and the importation of supplies, as well as arms, was made easy for the enemies of Huerta. As was inevitable, Huerta fell. His hold upon the Federal troops around Mexico City weakened. His power crumbled in every way. July 7, 1914, the iron-handed old dictator, who had defied the power of the United States with such high bravado, resigned and departed on a special train for Puerto, Mexico, to sail into exile. Before his departure an arrangement had been made for turning the Mexican executive power into the hands of a President ad interim, Señor Carbajal, a former Cabinet Minister, who in turn undertook negotiations with the constitutionalists looking toward their peaceful entry into Mexico City.
Followed then a period of optimism among the supporters of the American policy. Carranza was in control at Mexico City, the United States troops were withdrawn from Vera Cruz, November 23, 1914, — an event celebrated joyfully in Mexico City, — and the future seemed one of promise for Mexico. In the light of subsequent events it is clear that the President acted upon inaccurate information as to the internal condition of the constitutionalist faction in ordering the evacuation of Vera Cruz. What was the disappointment and chagrin of the President and his advisers when in a few weeks there came threats of a rupture within the constitutionalist faction. A convention called to choose a temporary head of the executive power, pending a general election, developed a contest between General Carranza and General Villa. Carranza outvoted Villa in a costly victory. The military leader of the revolutionists withdrew from the convention and shortly betook himself, with thousands of his followers, to Northern Mexico, where his military campaign progressed for a time.
Another threat against Carranza’s well-being lowered from the region southwest of the Mexican Capital, where Zapata, who had been advertised in the United States as the most vicious of Mexican bandit leaders, controlled two Mexican states. Carranza evacuated Mexico City. He moved his capital to Queretaro, and subsequently sought safety at Vera Cruz. Zapata took possession of the capital.
The situation in Mexico now reverted to a condition fully as unsatisfactory from the viewpoint of the material interests of the United States as that at any time of the anti-Huerta revolution. It had continued in this condition for several months, when in August, 1915, the President made a speech at Indianapolis, reaffirming in unmistakable parlance his faith in the ‘watchful waiting’ policy and his determination to adhere to it.
As time went by and the summer of 1915 was nearing its end, the realization was borne in upon the administration that the situation could not be permitted to continue so without some effort on the part of the United States to bring about better conditions. The following is quoted from an official document made public at the White House in November, 1915, which set forth the policy evolved by the administration to meet the exigencies of the situation : —
‘When Huerta fled from Mexico the revolutionary party split and thereby the pacification of the country was delayed.
‘For one year this administration held aloof, hoping that, by reuniting, the revolutionary factions would be able to bring order out of chaos. After the lapse of one year, however, the Mexican situation seeming to be no nearer solution, this government sounded the six ranking diplomatic representatives of Latin America as to whether they would confer and advise with this government in regard to recognizing a government in Mexico. Under instructions from their governments they consented, and the first conference met on August 5 of this year.
‘As a result of that conference, the representatives of the six Latin-American countries, together with the Secretary of State, acting severally, signed an appeal to the men directing the armed movement in Mexico, suggesting that they hold a conference to discuss a peaceful settlement of their differences, and offering to act as intermediaries to arrange the time, place, and other details of such conference. Telegrams were sent to all generals, governors, and leaders of factions known to have authority in Mexico.
‘The result was that all of the Villista commanders and authorities replied directly and independently, in varied language, accepting the suggestion for a conference. On the other hand, all the commanders and authorities affiliated with Carranza replied briefly and in similar language, referring the matter to General Carranza, and stating that he would make such reply as he deemed best. The inference was plain. On the one hand there seemed to be no organization, while on the other, unity and harmony were evident. Such discipline looked encouraging for Mexico’s salvation, and the conferees, after careful and impartial consideration of all the facts, decided unanimously to recommend to their respective governments that the government of which General Carranza was the leader ought to be recognized as the de facto Government of Mexico.’
As a result of the Pan-American conferences, the United States and the chief Latin-American countries accorded a formal recognition to the government of General Carranza, the United States naming him in an official communication to his representative at Washington as ‘First Chief of the Constitutionalist Government,’ in December, 1915.
The government thus accepted a measure of responsibility for Carranza. It relied upon him to finish, and finish speedily, the task of pacifying his country so that all its international obligations might be met. The extent to which the government of the United States was willing to go in this respect is evidenced by the fact that on two occasions permission was given Carranza to transport troops across American territory along the Texas border, in order to gain strategic advantages over the Villista forces. Some progress was made in the Carranza campaign against Villa, but the country, at the opening of the present year, remained far from the state of pacification necessary to the protection of the lives and property of foreigners. The Villa forces, when defeated, in many cases did not surrender, but disintegrated into guerrilla bands. These bands, supplemented by volunteers from the vagrant element of the population of Northern Mexico, terrorized many districts and caused the State Department, late in December, to take measures to warn all Americans in numerous extended areas to return to the United States.
Carranza’s most depressing difficulty had been his inability to raise money through taxation. At the opening of the year he had not reëntered the Mexican capital. As late as January 12, 1916, Senator Stone, as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and spokesman for the Wilson administration, said, ‘It is only within the last two or three months that anything really approaching a settled government has been established, or the establishment of such a government seriously attempted.’ Conditions were improving but slowly, when, on January 12, the United States was horrified by the news that seventeen American citizens had been wantonly murdered by Villistas near Piedras Negras.
In March, Villa made a still more drastic effort to provoke the intervention of the United States in Mexico, when he actually invaded American territory and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, which was guarded by a detachment of cavalry. But, by careful handling, President Wilson reduced to a minimum the possibilities of a rupture with the Carranza government when he took the quite necessary step of sending an American punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. His first act, after ordering the American troops into Mexico, was to convey formal assurances to Carranza that the sovereignty of Mexico was not to be trenched upon. Fortunately Carranza suggested the negotiation of a reciprocal treaty, under the terms of which the soldiers of either government are permitted to cross the international boundary line in pursuit of bandits who come from the territory of the adjoining nation to commit depredations.
The success of President Wilson’s policy in avoiding a rupture with Carranza is to be attributed to his careful reiteration of this government’s intention not to enter upon a general intervention. These statements not only were communicated to Carranza, but they were published throughout Mexico. They did much to ease the tension which arose after the announcement of the plans of the punitive expedition and threatened to make it impossible for Carranza to concur in the American position without endangering his own hold upon the de facto government.
The difficulty of convincing the Mexicans of the sincerity of these assurances undoubtedly was great, but I am convinced that it was decreased by the good impression which already had been made throughout Latin America by the Wilson policy of coöperation. It is to be conceded also, I think, that the disposition of Latin Americans generally to accept the President’s assurances at par value acted as a strong counter influence to the irritation which at one time seemed likely to inflame the Carranza government against the United States.
I have endeavored in the foregoing review of Mr. Wilson’s Mexican policy to present the main facts, as separated from opinion. Such a review seems to me more necessary than anything else to the formulation of an unbiased judgment on the policy. The tension of our relations with Mexico has been so extreme because of various special incidents that many persons have lost utterly their perspective of the policy as a whole. The significance of the purpose of the American government to stand off, —attentive, but not interfering, — while the people of the sister republic fought their way through the intricacies of their destiny to a fuller measure of freedom, might easily be forgotten at a time of stress such as that created by the murder of nearly a score of American citizens. Mr. Wilson’s larger purpose might be ignored in the assertion by so sane a publicist as Senator Borah that ‘retribution moves swiftly for the nation which forgets or abandons its own.’
Mr. Wilson, however, at each such critical stage has been capable of an admirable detachment which permitted him to give full consideration to the fact that the wrongs done Americans were not committed by the government establishing itself there, but by irresponsible bandits, — in recent times by bandits who desired to provoke the intervention of the United States,— and that, therefore, our grievance was not against the Mexican people. There never has been a time since Mr. Wilson became President that general intervention in Mexico would not have solidified all factions there and forced upon the body of the Mexican people the suffering of atonement for wrongs which had been done to Americans by an irresponsible few. It was a moral judgment, formed despite the traditions of international policy, that led Mr. Wilson to conclude that the United States should not make the whole Mexican people suffer for the misdeeds of an uncontrolled minority. Misleading political debates have served to deter the American people from recalling that wars may properly be fought only between governments, between organized peoples. One hears so much of ‘Americanism’ in these debates that he may overlook the fact that weakness is not an offense punishable in the American code of ethics.
The President has hoped unceasingly for the evolution of order in Mexico through the advancement of the movement for constitutional government. Pending such an eventuality he has striven to keep Americans out of the danger-infested areas. It cannot be questioned that if the advice of our government had been observed by Americans in Mexico most of the offenses against their persons would have been avoided. Had this been done it would now be possible to have an unclouded appreciation of the fact that a constitutional government is establishing itself in Mexico. It would be possible for the American people to realize that by degrees this government is growing stronger; that the ultimate pacification of all Mexico is growing nearer; that the resumption of all its international obligations on the part of the Republic may not be far off, and that the high purpose of the Wilson Mexican policy may be on the threshold of realization. Should we be surprised that, when this goal seemingly is at last in view, Mr. Wilson’s adherence to his policy should be more stubborn than ever before?
The issue which faced the United States at the outset of the Wilson administration was the life or death of the democratic idea in Mexico. It was entirely within the power of the United States to protect the lives and material interests of its citizens in Mexico. This was possible through intervention or the recognition of Huerta — at least, the opinion seems to me defensible that Huerta’s iron-handed methods might have succeeded in establishing order. Either course would have meant the end of the aspirations toward free selfgovernment represented by the Madero revolutionary movement and the later movement headed by Carranza. American lives and property would have been safe at the cost of Mexican liberty; and the responsibility lay upon the government of the United States to say whether their safety should be purchased at such high cost.
The responsibilities of our government were peculiar, not only because of our historical relationship with Mexico and of the declarations embodied in the Monroe Doctrine: we were not without responsibilities as the greatest free government in the world. This country has been called the world’s great adventure in government, and it has been said that the hopes of all peoples aspiring to freedom are aligned with us. What killing irony it would have been for this custodian of mankind’s ideals — herself composite of all the peoples of the earth — to say to Mexico, or to any people for that matter: The germ of self-government in you is incapable of fructifying. Your revolutions lead only to new revolutions and not to freedom and peace as did the revolutions of France. You must be governed by an iron hand, and the United States will see to it that you are.
And, in withholding recognition from Huerta, Mr. Wilson did nothing more than declare that the United States would not close the door of opportunity to a movement to establish constitutional government. ‘Watchful waiting’ since that time has been nothing other than a courageous adherence to this resolve.
In passing judgment upon the President’s Mexican policy it should be realized that, coincidentally with the handling of the Mexican situation, Mr. Wilson has been busy with the formulation of a common policy for our relations with all the republics of the Western Hemisphere. All these republics have looked on intently as we dealt with Mexico. Mr. Wilson’s policy, taken in toto, has promoted immeasurably the friendliness with which these republics view the United States. In the great unknown to which American international relations are tending, the United States may come to a realization that Mr. Wilson rendered an inestimable service to his country by the conscious development of this PanAmerican sentiment. The foremost critic of Mr. Wilson’s Mexican policy has asserted that the United States is without a friend among the great powers of Europe. Is not the prediction defensible that the future may produce a favorable judgment upon that policy as having aided in procuring for the United States in the two Americas that abundance of friendship which we are told is utterly lacking in the Eastern Hemisphere ?