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The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I online

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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

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 régime 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
régime. 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 he
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.


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.

I 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.

"Several things."

"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,

_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 he 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,

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 he 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! 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

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 14 of 32)