Wanted--a Mexican Policy
WHERE are we going with Mexico? What is the reason for the confusions and the failures in our Mexican relations? Is it, actually, a lack of policy, or is the situation really an impossible one, or is it that we follow a policy which, as the Mexicans tell us, is outworn and unfair and unwise?
A learned doctor of laws from one of the great lands that lie to the south said to me the other day: —
‘There are only three policies that you of the United States can follow toward Mexico. First, you can leave her alone. Second, you can intervene in her affairs by turning revolutions loose upon her. Third, you can make a conquest of her territory.
‘The third you may not follow, because your people will not let you. The second, intervention, you have been following for a hundred years, in all the ways possible to the imagination, and yet you still have the same old troubles with Mexico. Why not try the first way, and leave Mexico alone?’
Before answering that keen inquiry, we have much ground to cover. First, this policy of ‘intervention.’ The Latin American can never be convinced that the United States is without a policy in Mexico, an international plan of procedure. The Latin American starts with a premise that all we have done with Mexico is a manifestation of that definite policy. He traces these steps in our past history: the Mexican War, and its conclusion in the cession of the rich empire of California to the United States; the thirty-five years of support of Porfirio Diaz while Americans grew in power and wealth in Mexico; the massing of troops at the Texas border, which all Mexico (including General Diaz himself) took to mean that his hour had struck, and that we had deserted him; the death of Madero, glibly laid to American interference; the fall of Victoriano Huerta, frankly brought about by President Wilson’s pressure; the decision, in Washington, that Carranza, although he had flouted us, was the right man for Mexican president, and our forthright recognition of him; our disgust with Carranza that encouraged Obregón to hasten his own rise to power following upon his triumphal tour of the United States; and finally, in recent months, the tremendous diplomatic pressure on Calles while he was stubbornly seeking to enforce the myriad inchoate provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 that his predecessors had allowed to lie fallow. The Latin American observer sees — not illogically — a continuing policy running through it all.
Whether these predatory appearances of what my Latin American friend called ‘intervention’ set forth fairly the real policy of the succeeding governments in Washington is, however, open to question. The recent reiteration by President Coolidge of an earlier Mexican doctrine — that of President Hayes — certainly suggests that the activities of the Department of State may really be motivated by a determination for ' the protection of American lives and property,’ by means not always tactful, to be sure, but sincere, and, above all, the result of a definitely chosen road.
On January 7, at the White House Press Conference, the presidential ‘spokesman’ read, for the benefit of the assembled journalists and the millions who were to read their dispatches, the so-called ‘Evarts Doctrine,’ contained in the note written on August 12, 1878, by William M. Evarts, Secretary of State, to John W. Foster, then Minister to Mexico. It was stated, on behalf of the President, that this had been, and still was, the policy of the United States toward Mexico.
The first duty of government is to protect life and property. This is a paramount obligation. For this governments are instituted, and governments neglecting or failing to perform it become worse than useless. This the government of the United States has determined to perform to the extent of its power toward its citizens on the border. It is not solicitous, it never has been, about the methods or ways in which that protection shall be accomplished, whether by formal treaty stipulation or formal convention; whether by action of judicial tribunals or that of military force.
Protection in fact to American lives and property is the sole point upon which the United States are tenacious.
We did not, however, have to wait for that old Evarts phantom to walk the boards anew to learn the present attitude of the American Government toward Mexico. It is expressed over and over again in the diplomatic correspondence of 1917 to 1926. True, the voice of the White House carries farther than voluminous notes hidden in government archives. But Mexico, at least, read the documents, even if the American public did not — for her Foreign Minister answered them. Out of the mass we can pick clarifying phrases regarding our present policy.
My government reserves on behalf of citizens of the United States whose property interests are or may hereafter be affected by the application of the two above-mentioned laws (the alien land law and the petroleum law) all rights lawfully acquired by them under the constitution and laws of Mexico in force at the time of the acquisition of such property interests and under the rules of international law and equity, and points out that it is unable to assent to an application of the recent laws to American-owned properties so acquired which is or may hereafter be retroactive and confiscatory. (American Ambassador James R. Sheffield to the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aaron Saenz, January 8, 1926)
An injury done by one state to a citizen of another state through a denial of justice (should there be a denial of justice) is an injury done to the state whose national is injured. . . . The injury . . . is the basis of the right of his state to seek redress for the injury in conformity to the established standards of civilization which modern states have mutually acquiesced in and which have become a part of international law. (Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg to Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Aaron Saenz, March 1, 1926)
The basis of present negotiations over the retroactivity of Mexican laws enacted in the past two years is a series of memoranda drawn up in August 1923 at the meeting in Mexico City of the Mexican and American Commissioners who negotiated the two Claims Conventions which were signed just prior to, and were in part the basis of, the recognition of President Obregón by the United States Government, on August 31, 1923. The American Commissioners were Charles Beecher Warren, later American Ambassador to Mexico, and John Barton Payne; the Mexican representatives were Ramon Ross and Fernando Gonzalez Roa. Besides the Claims Conventions, arranging for a settlement of sixty years of damage suits against Mexico and the United States, the ‘proceedings’ of these conferences set down a number of principles. These included agreements on Mexico’s future oil policy and on the form of payment to American owners for the lands taken by the Mexican Government for the establishment of small holdings and village commons.
These 1923 agreements the United States has continuously held to be of supreme political importance, as setting down the promised future policy of Mexico. In the negotiations with the Calles Government since 1924, the Mexicans have held that these agreements were merely the expressions of the policy of President Obregón, — his platform, so to speak, — and have neither the binding force of a treaty nor anything approaching it. Much has turned on this difference of point of view. It is typical of the whole controversy, and of its misunderstandings and charges of bad faith. To the Department of State the Mexican attitude has been a breach of honor, while to the Mexican Foreign Office it has apparently been a palladium of independence from the pressure of American diplomacy.
The Payne-Warren agreements do stand, however, as a definite milestone in Mexican-American negotiations, as the statement of Mexican policy accepted by Washington. At the formal Conference on August 2,1923, the Mexican Commissioners set down the following as among the ‘natural consequences of the political and administrative programme which the Mexican Government has been carrying out’: —
It is the duty of the federal executive power, under the Constitution, to respect and enforce the decisions of the judicial power. In accordance with such a duty, the Executive has respected and enforced, and will continue to do so, the principles of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice in the ‘Texas Oil Company’ case and the four other similar amparo cases, declaring that paragraph IV of Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917 is not retroactive in respect to all persons who have performed, prior to the promulgation of said Constitution, some positive act which would manifest the intention of the owner of the surface or of the persons entitled to exercise his rights to the oil under the surface to make use of or obtain the oil under the surface; such as drilling, leasing . . . or manifesting [such] an intention. . . .
The above statement has constituted and will constitute in the future the policy of the Mexican Government . . . and the Mexican Government will grant to the owners, assignees, or other persons entitled to the rights to the oil, drilling permits on such lands, subject only to police regulations, sanitary regulations, and measures for public order and the right of the Mexican Government to levy general taxes.
Although the present era in the negotiations over the oil situation dates properly from the Payne-Warren agreements, the question has been virtually unchanged as well as unsolved since May 1, 1917, when the new Constitution of Mexico went into effect. The first protests filed by the Department of State with the Mexican Government were over the provisions of Article 27, the famous antiforeign clause of that document. Then came the decrees of Presidents Carranza and Obregón, and now the law and its regulations. The Constitution of 1917 specifies: —
In the Nation is vested direct ownership of all minerals . . . including petroleum and all hydrocarbons — solid, liquid, and gaseous.
The laws enacted under the old Constitution of 1857 provided that all minerals excepting coal and petroleum belonged to the nation; these belonged to the owner of the surface. This was the inheritance of the old Spanish royal right to precious minerals — coal and oil had not become precious in the colonial days. The Constitution of 1917 placed the ‘direct ownership’ over petroleum as well as all other minerals in the hands of the nation. In the meantime, however, American and other foreign oil companies had acquired an immense holding of producing and potential oil lands. They have held them ever since, against the presidential decrees of Carranza and the legal battlings of his successors.
The old titles, taken when the Mexican Constitution of 1857 gave the oil to the owner of the surface, are the bone of contention. The legal basis of these titles was wiped out by the Constitution of 1917 and its subsequent interpretations, and the American diplomatic controversy of the past ten years, so far as it concerns oil, has been directed toward saving those titles for the American oil companies. By the law which went into effect December 31, 1926, and under its regulations, the old fee-simple titles are exchangeable (if a ‘positive act’ of oil development has been performed) for fifty-year concessions; if there have been no ‘positive acts,’ the title lapses forthwith. The concession is to date from the beginning of development, which in some instances goes back nearly twenty years, considerably shortening the prospective life of the fifty-year concessions. There have been assertions (but not in the law) that Mexico will extend the concessions on the old properties for a second fifty years.
Mexico claims that the new plan is a ‘right of use’ and, therefore, constitutes a fair and equitable exchange for fee-simple titles to lands owned purely for their oil contents. The United States Government says the system makes the Constitution retroactive and confiscatory and insists on a ‘confirmation’ of the old titles under terms discussed and noted in the 1923 PayneWarren conferences.
These claims of the United States Government, it should be made clear, are not presented on the basis of the Mexican Constitution; its legality does not enter into the discussion of the question. The claim of the United States is solely on the ground of international law and equity and the rights of Americans provided for in the 1923 agreements. Much ink has been spilled in the long discussion of these issues. The American position was perhaps best stated in the following excerpt: —
This Government cannot fail to point out that the exchange of a present title for a concession having a limited duration does not confirm the title. Such confirmation can be brought about by regulations in harmony with the Supreme Court decision (in the Texas case cited in the Payne-Warren agreements). Nor can this Government fail to point out that anything less than a confirmation does not grant the owner in the language of the Supreme Court of Mexico, without the necessity of a permit from any authority, the right to appropriate such products of the subsoil (petroleum) and does not enable the owner to transmit his acquired rights as he would any other property. (Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg to Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Aaron Saenz, January 28, 1926)
The Mexican answer to these objections was stated as follows: —
To grant a concession in exchange for an actual title is to confirm the latter, because the granting of the concession will have no other foundation than respect for the former; and although it is true that concessions are for a limited duration of time, on the one hand to determine the period for the future exercise of a right is not to proceed retroactively, because it does not modify the effects already consummated of a right, but only applies a rule for future use, and on the other hand, the period of a concession having expired, the latter may be extended or another obtained, wherefore in practice no prejudice is caused by the application of the precepts under consideration. (Foreign Minister Aaron Saenz to Secretary Kellogg, February 12, 1926)
The petroleum law has also been protested by the United States Government on the ground that the ‘positive acts’ which were arranged in the Payne-Warren agreements are not held sufficient, in the new law, for the holding of some of the properties without actual wells, and much argument has been recorded on both sides. The Secretary of State has insisted consistently upon the English conception of property, holding that property must exist even without such ‘ positive acts of appropriation.’ The conflict here has been well summarized by the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, in his note of October 7, 1926: —
According to the American position, the rights exist just because the law makes it possible for them to exist. From the Mexican position, a right cannot exist unless there be a positive act of man which gave it birth.
Later in this same note he says: —
In the matter of petroleum, the purpose of the foreigners who believe they have acquired rights to the subsoil antedating 1917 is that those rights be respected. The purpose of the Mexican Government is that the principles of nationalization of the petroleum be applied. But there cannot be two laws, one concerning the rights acquired prior to 1917 and another concerning rights acquired subsequently; and with regard to the rights acquired prior to 1917, neither can there be two ways of enforcing the law, one for the nationals and one for the aliens. Neither can the operation of the Constitution be indefinitely suspended. It is, therefore, proper to seek the manner in which the rights acquired prior to 1917 subsist in practice within the new laws, and this cannot be done except by placing the former acquired rights under the new rules under such conditions that although the legal theory on which they are based has been changed, they are not altered or impaired.
Mexico’s antiforeignism is not a fetish manufactured out of the imaginations of discouraged diplomats. It is very real and usually quite frank. The Constitution provides for the elimination of foreign property holdings. This is being carried out literally to-day. The oil concessions will work themselves out in fifty years. Even earlier, in case of American acceptance of the new oil law, the control of the subsoil will all be in the hands of the Mexican Government. Titles to agricultural land must be disposed of by foreigners at the death of individuals now living, or, in the case of companies, within ten years. Mining concessions, which, during four hundred years, were granted in perpetuity so long as taxes were paid, are now (by a law already in effect, but hardly known in this country) outlawed, and must be exchanged for new concessions lasting thirty years or fifty years from the beginning of the first development, possibly generations or centuries ago. The forestry law places the control of all trees in the hands of government officials; the irrigation law allows commissions of small local landowners to divert streams which have been enjoyed for centuries. The labor law, which is to be an enactment of the rather elaborate labor provisions of the Constitution of 1917 (themselves virtually a code of labor legislation), is now under discussion in Congress; foreign employers have many times stated that its provisions are confiscatory of their industrial properties. The new banking law will, its critics say, take all banking out of the hands of foreigners.
Through all of these laws there runs the provision that foreigners, in order to hold property of any sort in Mexico, may do so only through a Mexican corporation in which the foreign stock holdings are definitely in the minority, or by renouncing all right to diplomatic protection and agreeing to consider themselves Mexicans with regard to that property. The Department of State, however, has again and again declared that, even though an American should so divest himself of the right of appeal, this Government cannot consider that it is estopped from protesting and protecting its national in case of a denial of justice in Mexican administrative or judicial procedure.
The Department of State has reiterated, nevertheless, its recognition of the full right of Mexico to legislate for the future, and the present controversies are definitely confined to cases where the United States Government holds that the Constitution has been or may be applied retroactively to destroy American-owned property that was legally acquired prior to 1917.
Mexico has from time to time brought up the fact that in certain American states, notably Arizona and Illinois, foreigners are not allowed to buy property. Secretary Kellogg replied to this contention in his note of January 28, 1926, pointing out that both the Illinois Law of 1897 and the Arizona law of 1913 ‘are expressly made to apply to future acquisitions of real property and do not apply to property already acquired.’ He states also that, on the other hand, the Mexican land law requires the alien owner of many rural properties ‘to divest himself of the ownership, control, and management of his property.’
Mexicans, none the less, do not expect to be deserted by capital. This is one of the facts of which we often lose sight. No Mexican, in discussing the future possibilities of the development of his country, has the slightest doubt that foreigners will flock there, once the legal tangle of the old property values is cleared up. In the note of October 7, 1926, Mr. Saenz says: —
Investments which may be made in the future, and they will undoubtedly be made, because capital and enterprising men will always adapt themselves to new legislative conditions, will indisputably be of much greater importance than the interests which exist at present.
Mexico is certainly not anti-property, but she is firmly anti-capitalistic, and, at the moment, anti-American, in her enforcement of the provisions of her Constitution. There is a calm determination not to yield now to American pressure, chiefly because to yield now would be, in Mexico’s concept, to continue forever, within the nation, a privileged group. It may well be that when the power of the Mexican Government is firmly settled there will still be the buying of privilege that there has been during the years of uncertainty, when capital had no rights and yet in strange ways (not widely advertised) still was enabled to worry along, whether or not Washington could furnish effective protection, or whether or not the Department of State could make an ‘arrangement’ with the current Mexican Government. But I suspect that even the most honest of the Mexican leaders will consider it a happier condition than if the foreigner had actual legal rights greater — in any sense or by any means — than the native Mexican’s. In that ground I think we shall find the Mexican — honest man, grafter, agitator, or humble peon — as firmly embedded as in the dogmas of his individual religion.
There is no doubt that the Mexican shoe pinches in Washington. Those who have kept watch at the Department of State through the long months of the controversy have noted from time to time not a little exasperation on the receipt of these elaborately embroidered Mexican documents, with the sting hidden under words or within words. Why this exasperation, evident to others as well as to us of the press? Why is there apparently a deep resentment that makes distrust and dislike almost the basic tenets of our official attitude toward the Mexican problem?
There is, to begin with, no very pronounced knowledge or understanding of that Mexican psychology that baffles older heads in Latin American matters than Mr. Coolidge’s or Mr. Kellogg’s or Mr. Sheffield’s. They have tried again and again, with more or less unsuccess, to reach in their notes a touchstone that will bring a compliance with their requests, or with their demands. Once, as most readers of the newspapers will remember, Secretary of State Kellogg made a formal statement to the press about what the United States Government thought of President Calles. These words from that statement of June 12, 1925, brought an avalanche of denials and protests from Mexico: —
The Government of Mexico is now on trial before the world. We have the greatest interest in the stability, prosperity, and independence of Mexico. We have been patient and realize, of course, that it takes time to bring about a stable government, but we cannot countenance violation of her obligations and failure to protect American citizens.
That once, Mr. Kellogg let the American public in on his views of Mexico — he is not likely to do it that way again. There was no doubt, at the time, that this statement, and the reply made to it by President Calles, opened a door of frankness that could have been developed into some phase of at least honest disagreement, had President Calles in his turn been answered sanely and convincingly and been told what was really meant. But no answer was ever made, and to-day some of the deepest of all the unsayable things with regard to the policy of Washington toward Mexico are hidden beneath the débris that this remark brought down upon the head of a very much astonished Secretary of State.
Then, there is a disagreement as honest as it is profound over the American and Mexican points of view on the importance in world affairs (and in Mexican affairs) of the Mexican revolution. There is no reason for denying that, from the point of view of a practical, business-economy American administration, the supreme stupidity of the Mexican revolution has never really been forgiven. Washington simply cannot now, and perhaps never will, see a possible justification of the Mexican revolution in the social reforms attained or crudely begun. The Mexican diplomatic notes, meanwhile, go glibly ahead and present the new dogmas of the revolution, even the latest law passed by the legislatures, as if each phase of it — even those only a month old — had the binding force on the whole world of the centuries of accumulated equity of the AngloSaxon common law.
The graft of Mexico, to the mind of Washington, wipes out, also, much of the force of the Mexican discussions of right and justice. Mexico insists that the courts are not subject to the Executive, and Minister Saenz is very sad over the naïveté of Washington in thinking that they can possibly be. Mexico solemnly enacts her complicated laws and piles legal conflict upon legal conflict, and yet the accidental suggestion by Washington that this may be done for the benefit of Mexican lawyers would grieve the Mexican Government beyond words. The graft in Mexico is, however, colossal.
To-day the methods are more subtle than in the early revolutionary days, but the present laws and all their innumerable regulations place the control of permits, of water, of wood, of transport, and so forth, in the hands of a horde of minor officials. They speak (to the thought of Washington that is never, now, put on paper) a peril for years to come to honest men in Mexico, be they foreigners or Mexicans.
In the course of the controversies over the oil laws, Mexico has brought forward many extraneous issues. Never fear, she has mentioned the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. On March 1, 1926, Secretary Kellogg replied, on that point, as follows: —
The liquor business in the United States was not a property right but a licensed occupation which was subject to the fullest extent at all times to the police powers of the states, to license by the United States, to the war powers of the Federal Government, and now, subject under the constitutional amendment, to the police powers of the United States.
The Mexican Foreign Minister did not fail, however, to make a point out of this statement, regarding the conflict of systems which he so often emphasizes. In his note of March 27, 1926, Mr. Saenz writes: —
By way of merely explaining the reference made on the subject by this department, I venture to say to your excellency that in Mexico the word ownership is understood to mean not only the dominion of the material thing, but also the same faculty over a right, and that was the point of view from which the allusion under consideration was made.
Late in 1926 the international relations of Mexico and the United States came to grips — over Nicaragua. The issue became, in a few weeks, the overshadowing phase of the whole problem. The oil controversy was forgotten for days, both by the press and, apparently, by the two Governments. But Nicaragua was from the beginning a secondary issue. In the long chain of strangely assorted links that make up the Mexican situation it fits rather less well than most of the extraneous issues that have been brought in with it. The Mexican situation itself remained much as it was before — with only the added problem of ‘Bolshevism,’ whose extremely liquid designation was applied to the anti-American manifestations which accompanied Mexico’s espousal of the cause of the Liberal Party of Nicaragua.
There is no doubt that Russian radicals were active in Mexico in 1917, and since. So, also, were American radicals, and they were and have been rather more practical than the Russians, and quite as anti-American. There seems no doubt, however, that Moscow has striven definitely for the gradual turning of Latin America against the United States. Mexico has had a part in this, in various ways, chiefly through propaganda, but Mexico’s support of Moscow in Latin America has been because Mexico seeks a leadership in Latin America to which the hegemony of the United States is the chief obstacle. The lessening of American influence through Russian antiimperialistic propaganda fits in with the Mexican plan, and it is largely if not entirely for this reason that the two work as closely as they do in Central and South America.
The anti-Church agitation in Mexico, which is again active, and into which the United States is from time to time drawn in spirit if not in action, is not basically Communistic or Bolshevistic, to continue the use of that word. In the early years of the sixteenth century, the Vatican gave to the King of Spain the rights to the revenues of the Church in Mexico, as in all Spanish America. The net result, in the centuries that followed, was that the clergy kept as much of that revenue in Mexico as possible — they could not send it to Rome and they did not want too much of it to get to Madrid. They invested fabulous sums — not counting the labor, which the Indians were allowed to give free— in nine thousand superb colonial churches, most of which stand to-day. In addition, immense sums were invested in church lands, or loaned out at rates of interest as low as five per cent a year; Charles II of Spain tried to call in forty-four million pesos of these funds.
The Church opposed the early revolutionaries when they sought to take over the rights of the King of Spain to the church revenues as they took over other royal prerogatives. The battle has waged from that day to this. The churches and their property were confiscated in 1859; the reiteration and reënforcement of those old laws in 1917 and in 1926 had no great significance, except that they aroused the Catholics of the United States. The church problem in Mexico, so far as the Government is concerned, is chiefly economic; at its worst it is a denial of religious property rights in order to make the Church legitimate loot for the armies, and at its best it is an effort to place religion — the Roman Catholic religion — back in the spiritual field instead of the material.
But where does all this leave us, the American people? Our Government has, we have seen, a policy toward Mexico. It has grievances against Mexico. Mexico has a policy of growing definiteness toward us — and that growing is in the direction of hostility, for Mexico has her own grievances against us. There is sincerity in both — Washington, of course, is no more the mere tool of Wall Street than Mexico is the tool of Moscow.
Yet, our policy and Mexico’s policy have, between them, gotten us nowhere. Is there another policy that we both could follow, a policy that would really turn us toward a solution? Not dreams, now, but a practical plan that will carry us forward, that will solve the oil mess, and the land mess, and the mining mess, and all the others, and that will solve Mexico’s difficulties and leave her a chance at that new Constitution she has never yet had an opportunity to enjoy to the full and complete extent of all its extravagances. Is there such a policy?
I think there is. I have had a growing conviction that the policy of to-day is an incomplete one and that the correction of that incompleteness does not mean an overthrow or necessarily a great change from what has been, but an addition to it, a relationship that would bring our own aims, and Mexico’s, clearly into the light of the searching, yet friendly, scrutiny of the wisest and most potent minds in both countries.
Essentially the situation is that the policy of the United States toward Mexico (and of Mexico toward the United States) has, and must ever have, two phases. One is immediate, the other cumulative. The problem of the moment, on our side, is always the protection of American lives and property — that, as Secretary Evarts said, is a ‘paramount obligation,’ the obligation for which governments are created. That policy of protection we have followed, and follow to-day, over a rough and uncertain road, with no goal in sight, only an endless duty. The other policy overlaps, but does not touch, the immediate crises and their trends. Yet it builds, whether we wish it or not, the foundation upon which we shall stand in the future, when in that future we meet again the immediate issue — again the protection of American lives and property. That overlapping, cumulative policy can be controlled, however, as the immediate policy cannot. It can be made to produce for us a fountain of precreated good will, as well as, if not so easily as, a groundwork of ill will and distrust such as both we and Mexico inherit to-day.
The Mexican question will probably never even approach a solution until there sits in the great Secretaryship of State a man schooling himself, not only to meet the problems of the moment with firmness and understanding, but to build, in the very midst of the succeeding Mexican crises, the friendly foundations for the solutions of the problems of twenty-five years hence.
Could it be done? Could we do it without getting hurt? Ah, that is another question. We might get badly ‘hurt’ —oil wells might even be confiscated, or destroyed, land and mining titles wiped out. But it would be worth trying. My Latin American friend suggested leaving Mexico alone. That is not the solution. We must make Mexico our friend, or we gain nothing by leaving her alone, save a return to the days of border raids, battles, and then conquests, as in 1840-48 — some of the saddest pages of them all for Mexico.
Suaviter in modo — and, if need be, fortiter in re. It is that ‘gently in manner’ that will build for the future; ‘firmly in fact’ may be needed, I freely admit, in the problems of the present. Yet, however firm, no note we send to Mexico should be couched in any but words of sympathy. Heaven knows there is basis enough for sympathy, even if we take only the bitterness of Mexican pronouncements, or the innuendoes she buries for us in her notes — if we are big enough to see, and to pity.
The American ambassador to Mexico should, for such an end, always be an ambassador of good will, whatever his difficulties or exasperations. He must be ready, despite Shakespearian injunction, to dull his palm with entertainment of a dozen hundreds of men he may not like, or understand, at first. An ambassador opening schools in dingy, stupid, pitiful Indian villages, an ambassador entertaining and working and living close to the Mexicans, learning, changing his point of view each day, if he will and if new light comes to him. There is, to-day, no job on earth harder than being American ambassador to Mexico. This job just outlined is harder than any ambassador to Mexico has yet conceived it to be.
And not merely the ambassador, but American foundations, endowed institutions, colleges, universities, federations of art and labor, trade-unions — they must be brought into the picture, understandingly, loyally, having the facts and knowing the needs and the difficulties, and yet going in. Some of the greatest, indeed, are in Mexico today, seeking for common ground and common problems with Mexico, and in common labor finding friendship and coöperation and understanding. It is all fantastic, mad — even what has been done already. Yet what have we gained from all our worldly wisdom that has kept, and still keeps, our official world so far aloof and apart from the new Mexico of to-day?
As for the Secretary of State — why can he not do, why does he not do, what Mr. Baldwin and M. Briand and Herr Stresemann do in Europe to-day, and what their predecessors have done for centuries? Why could he not visit back and forth, informally and so frequently that the significance dies away, with the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs — in Mexico City as well as in Washington?
What would Europe be to-day without that very exchange? Were not such visits a problem, of time and safety, in Europe in the older days when there were no fast boats across the Channel, no trains, and no airplanes? Mexico City is now but four days away by rail — to-morrow it will be part of two days by airplane. Do you think that Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Saenz might not get somewhere if they sat down together with President Coolidge in Washington, or with President Calles in Mexico? Not the first visit, or the second, but the fifth, the sixth, the tenth — they would tell!
Yet it all might fail — I will admit it more readily than will he who reads. But it would be a great failure!
Before this article is printed the next issue that I would mention may be a practical reality — arbitration may at last be trying its hand at a resolution of the oil-law tangle. To be sure, the controversy had reached a stage of bitterness rather beyond the possibility of easy arbitration before President Calles and Senator Borah put out their respective feelers, in January, on this matter of arbitration. Surely such issues, if talked out frankly and with less of the vast formality of the diplomatic exchanges, might much earlier have reached such a tribunal as the Permanent Court at The Hague. There is, we must realize in criticizing Washington’s caution, that deep distrust of Mexican sincerity in all such questions, but are we gaining anything by avoiding arbitration until it is forced upon us? We could take, I think, another chance on arbitration!
There is yet another point. The friendly way that Jesus Christ advocated to the disciples was to go quietly to an erring brother, and in quietness talk it over. There seems to be rather too much limelight on the remarks to and from Mexico. Mexico will always find a way, when she knows what is wanted, and if she is convinced that it is fair and not aimed at her dignity and sovereignty; and even if it is, if it can be done without the glare of the grim demand. She has always found a way; she has done it a few times, even, in the limelight, but I have always believed that the Evarts Doctrine, for instance, succeeded, not because it was rough, but because it was firm and fair and did not tell Mexico how to comply. I sometimes wonder if we do not talk too much about the modification of laws and judicial decisions and such methods when we carry on the oil and land and mining correspondence. We do not know our power; we think we must insist and ‘arrange.’ We seem no longer to negotiate; we demand and seek arrangements of myriad detailed issues. We might so easily be a little more mediæval, so to speak, in our diplomacy. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re — and Mexico would find the way to meet us.
Before these words are printed the Mexican situation may have flamed into fire; American lives, even, may have been taken, and diplomatic relations broken. As I write, the situation is electric with possibilities and dangers. Yet the problem remains unchanged, and the solution stated here is as true as it was when those who genuinely wished the best for Mexico first hailed Madero as a friend and savior for us all. A revolution or American soldiers might sweep President Calles out of office, and might even set up a profoundly ‘pro-American’ régime, but the ‘Mexican situation’ would remain; the problem of protection of American lives and property would remain; and there would remain, no nearer solved than it is to-day, the problem of making friends with Mexico. Yet it is simple, is the Mexican problem — simple if both we and Mexico face it with simplicity and wisdom and good will. And the greatest of these is good will.