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understanding of the British policy toward Mexico. Sir William succeeded
in persuading the President that the so-called oil interests were not
dictating the policy of Sir Edward Grey. That British oil men were
active in Mexico was apparent; but they were not using a statesman of so
high a character as Sir Edward Grey for their purposes and would not be
able to do so. The British Government entertained no ambitions in Mexico
that meant unfriendliness to the United States. In no way was the policy
of Great Britain hostile to our own. In fact, the British recognized the
predominant character of the American interest in Mexico and were
willing to accept any policy in which Washington would take the lead.
All it asked was that British property and British lives be protected;
once these were safeguarded Great Britain was ready to stand aside and
let the United States deal with Mexico in its own way.

The one disappointment of this visit was that Sir William Tyrrell was
unable to obtain from President Wilson any satisfactory statement of his
Mexican policy.

"When I go back to England," said the Englishman, as the interview was
approaching an end, "I shall be asked to explain your Mexican policy.
Can you tell me what it is?"

President Wilson looked at him earnestly and said, in his most decisive

"I am going to teach the South American Republics to elect good men!"

This was excellent as a purpose, but it could hardly be regarded as a

"Yes," replied Sir William, "but, Mr. President, I shall have to explain
this to Englishmen, who, as you know, lack imagination. They cannot see
what is the difference between Huerta, Carranza, and Villa."

The only answer he could obtain was that Carranza was the best of the
three and that Villa was not so bad as he had been painted. But the
phrase that remained with the British diplomat was that one so
characteristically Wilsonian: "I propose to teach the South American
Republics to elect good men." In its attitude, its phrasing, it held the
key to much Wilson history.

Additional details of this historic interview are given in Colonel
House's letters:

From Edward M. House

145 East 35th Street,

New York City.

November 4, 1913.


Your cablegram, telling me of the arrival of Sir William Tyrrell on
the _Imperator_, was handed me on my way to the train as I left for

The President talked with me about the Mexican situation and it
looks as if something positive will be done in a few days unless
Huerta abdicates.

It is to be the policy of this Administration henceforth not to
recognize any Central American government that is not formed along
constitutional lines. Anything else would be a makeshift policy. As
you know, revolutions and assassinations in order to obtain control
of governments are instituted almost wholly for the purpose of loot
and when it is found that these methods will not bring the desired
results, they will cease.

The President also feels strongly in regard to foreign financial
interests seeking to control those unstable governments through
concessions and otherwise. This, too, he is determined to
discourage as far as it is possible to do so.

This was a great opportunity for England and America to get
together. You know how strongly we both feel upon this subject and
I do not believe that the President differed greatly from us, but
the recent actions of the British Government have produced a
decided irritation, which to say the least is unfortunate.

Faithfully yours,


145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
November 14, 1913.


Things have happened quickly since I last wrote to you. I went to
Washington Monday night as the guest of the Bryans. They have been
wanting me to come to them and I thought this a good opportunity.

I talked the Mexican situation out thoroughly with him and one of
your dispatches came while I was there. I found that he was
becoming prejudiced against the British Government, believing that
their Mexican policy was based purely upon commercialism, that they
were backing Huerta quietly at the instance of Lord Cowdray, and
that Cowdray had not only already obtained concessions from the
Huerta Government, but expected to obtain others. Sir Lionel Carden
was also all to the bad.

I saw the President and his views were not very different from
those of Mr. Bryan. I asked the President to permit me to see Sir
William Tyrrell and talk to him frankly and to attempt to
straighten the tangle out. He gave me a free hand.

I lunched with Sir William at the British Embassy although Sir
Cecil Spring Rice was not well enough to be present. I had a long
talk with Sir William after lunch and found that our suspicions
were unwarranted and that we could get together without any
difficulty whatever.

I told him very frankly what our purpose was in Mexico and that we
were determined to carry it through if it was within our power to
do so. That being so I suggested that he get his government to
coöperate cordially with ours rather than to accept our policy

I told him that you and I had dreamed of a sympathetic alliance
between the two countries and that it seemed to me that this dream
might come true very quickly because of the President and Sir
Edward Grey. He expressed a willingness to coöperate freely and I
told him I would arrange an early meeting with the President. I
thought it better to bring the President into the game rather than
Mr. Bryan. I told him of the President's attitude upon the Panama
toll question but I touched upon that lightly and in confidence,
preferring for the President himself to make his own statement.

I left the Bryans in the morning of the luncheon with Sir William,
intending to take an afternoon train for New York, but the
President wanted me to stay with him at the White House over night
and meet Sir William with him at half past nine the following
morning. He was so tired that I did not have the heart to urge a
meeting that night.

From half past nine until half past ten the President and Sir
William repeated to each other what they had said separately to me,
and which I had given to each, and then the President elaborated
upon the toll question much to the satisfaction of Sir William.

He explained the matter in detail and assured him of his entire
sympathy and purpose to carry out our treaty obligations, both in
the letter and the spirit.

Sir William was very happy after the interview and when the
President left us he remained to talk to me and to express his
gratification. He cleared up in the President's mind all suspicion,
I think, in regard to concessions and as to the intentions and
purposes of the British Government. He assured the President that
his government would work cordially with ours and that they would
do all that they could to bring about joint pressure through
Germany and France for the elimination of Huerta.

We are going to give them a chance to see what they can do with
Huerta before moving any further. Sir William thinks that if we are
willing to let Huerta save his face he can be got out without force
of arms.

Sir William said that if foreign diplomats could have heard our
conversation they would have fallen in a faint; it was so frankly
indiscreet and undiplomatic. I did not tell him so, but I had it in
the back of my mind that where people wanted to do right and had
the power to carry out their intentions there was no need to cloak
their thoughts in diplomatic language.

All this makes me very happy for it looks as if we are in sight of
the promised land.

I am pleased to tell you of the compliments that have been thrown
at you by the President, Mr. Bryan, and Sir William. They were all
enthusiastic over your work in London and expressed the keenest
appreciation of the way in which you have handled matters. Sir
William told me that he did not remember an American Ambassador
that was your equal.

Faithfully yours,


So far as a meeting between a British diplomat and the President of the
United States could solve the Mexican problem, that problem was
apparently solved. The dearest wish of Mr. Wilson, the elimination of
Huerta, seemed to be approaching realization, now that he had persuaded
Great Britain to support him in this enterprise. Whether Sir William
Tyrrell, or Sir Edward Grey, had really become converted to the
President's "idealistic" plans for Mexico is an entirely different
question. At this time there was another matter in which Great Britain's
interest was even greater than in Mexico. These letters have already
contained reference to tolls on the Panama Canal. Colonel House's letter
shows that the President discussed this topic with Sir William Tyrrell
and gave him assurances that this would be settled on terms satisfactory
to Great Britain. It cannot be maintained that that assurance was really
the consideration which paved the way to an understanding on Huerta. The
conversation was entirely informal; indeed, it could not be otherwise,
for Sir William Tyrrell brought no credentials; there could be no
definite bargain or agreement, but there is little question that Mr.
Wilson's friendly disposition toward British shipping through the Panama
Canal made it easy for Great Britain to give him a free hand in Mexico.

A few days after this White House interview Sir Lionel Carden performed
what must have been for him an uncongenial duty. This loquacious
minister led a procession of European diplomats to General Huerta,
formally advised that warrior to yield to the American demands and
withdraw from the Presidency of Mexico. The delegation informed the grim
dictator that their governments were supporting the American policy and
Sir Lionel brought him the unwelcome news that he could not depend upon
British support. About the same time Premier Asquith made conciliatory
remarks on Mexico at the Guildhall banquet. He denied that the British
Government had undertaken any policy "deliberately opposed to that of
the United States. There is no vestige of foundation for such a rumour."
These events changed the atmosphere at Washington, which now became
almost as cordial to Great Britain as it had for several months been

_To Edward M. House_

London, November 15, 1913.


All's well here. The whole trouble was caused not here but in
Mexico City; and that is to be remedied yet. And it will be! For
the moment it is nullified. But you need give yourself no concern
about the English Government or people, in the long run. It is
taking them some time to see the vast difference between acting by
a principle and acting by what they call a "policy." They and we
ourselves too have from immemorial time been recognizing successful
adventurers, and they didn't instantly understand this new
"idealistic" move; they didn't know the man at the helm! I preached
many sermons to our friend, I explained the difference to many
private groups, I made after-dinner speeches leading right up to
the point - as far as I dared, I inspired many newspaper articles;
and they see it now and have said it and have made it public; and
the British people are enthusiastic as far as they understand it.

And anybody concerned here understands the language that the
President speaks now. You mustn't forget that in all previous
experiences in Latin America we ourselves have been as much to
blame as anybody else. Now we have a clear road to travel, a policy
based on character to follow forever - a new era. Our dealing with
Cuba was a new chapter in the history of the world. Our dealing
with Mexico is Chapter II of the same Revelation. Tell 'em this in

The remaining task will be done too and I think pretty soon. For
that I need well-loaded shells. I'll supply the gunpowder.

And don't you concern yourself about the English. They're all
right - a little slow, but all right.

Heartily yours,


_To Edward M. House_

Newtimber Place, Hassocks, Sussex,
Sunday, November 23, 1913.


Your letter telling me about Tyrrell and the President brought me
great joy. Tyrrell is in every way a square fellow, much like his
Chief; and, you may depend on it, they are playing fair - in their
slow way. They always think of India and of Egypt - never of Cuba.
Lord! Lord! the fun I've had, the holy joy I am having (I never
expected to have such exalted and invigorating felicity) in
delivering elementary courses of instruction in democracy to the
British Government. Deep down at the bottom, they don't know what
Democracy means. Their Empire is in the way. Their centuries of
land-stealing are in the way. Their unsleeping watchfulness of
British commerce is in the way. "You say you'll shoot men into
self-government," said Sir Edward. "Doesn't that strike you as
comical?" And I answered, "It is comical only to the Briton and to
others who have associated shooting with subjugation. We associate
shooting with freedom." Half this blessed Sunday at this country
house I have been ramming the idea down the throat of the Lord
Chancellor[37]. _He_ sees it, too, being a Scotchman. I take the
members of the Government, as I get the chance or can make it, and
go over with them the A B C of the President's principle: no
territorial annexation; no trafficking with tyrants; no stealing of
American governments by concession or financial thimble-rigging.
They'll not recognize another Huerta - they're sick of that. And
they'll not endanger our friendship. They didn't see the idea in
the beginning. Of course the real trouble has been in Mexico
City - Carden. They don't know yet just what he did. But they will,
if _I_ can find out. I haven't yet been able to make them tell me
at Washington. Washington is a deep hole of silence toward
ambassadors. By gradual approaches, I'm going to prove that Carden
can do - and in a degree has already done - as much harm as Bryce did
good - and all about a paltry few hundreds of million dollars' worth
of oil. What the devil does the oil or the commerce of Mexico or
the investments there amount to in comparison with the close
friendship of the two nations? Carden can't be good long: he'll
break out again presently. He has no political imagination. That's
a rather common disease here, too. Few men have. It's good fun. I'm
inviting the Central and South American Ministers to lunch with me,
one by one, and I'm incidentally loading them up. I have all the
boys in the Embassy full of zeal and they are tackling the
Secretaries of the Central and South American legations. We've got
a _principle_ now to deal by with them. They'll see after a while.

English people are all right, too - except the Doctrinaires. They
write much rank ignorance. But the learned men learn things last of

I thank you heartily for your good news about Tyrrell, about the
President (but I'm sorry he's tired: make him quit eating meat and
play golf); about the Panama tolls; about the Currency Bill (my
love to McAdoo); about my own little affairs. - We are looking with
the very greatest pleasure to the coming of the young White House
couple. I've got two big dinners for them - Sir Edward, the Lord
Chancellor, a duchess or two, some good folk, Ruth Bryan, a couple
of ambassadors, etc., etc., etc. Then we'll take 'em to a literary
speaking-feast or two, have 'em invited to a few great houses; then
we'll give 'em another dinner, and then we'll get a guide for them
to see all the reforming institutions in London, to their hearts'
content - lots of fun.

Lots of fun: I got the American Society for its Thanksgiving dinner
to invite the Lord Chancellor to respond to a toast to the
President. He's been to the United States lately and he is greatly
pleased. So far, so good. Then I came down here - where he, too, is
staying. After five or six hours' talk about everything else he
said, "By the way, your countrymen have invited me," etc., etc.
"Now what would be appropriate to talk about?" Then I poured him
full of the New Principle as regards Central and South America;
for, if he will talk on that, what he says will be reported and
read on both continents. He's a foxy Scot, and he didn't say he
would, but he said that he'd consider it. "Consider it" means that
he will confer with Sir Edward. I'm beginning to learn their
vocabulary. Anyhow the Lord Chancellor is in line.

It's good news you send always. Keep it up - keep it up. The volume
of silence that I get is oppressive. You remember the old nigger
that wished to pick a quarrel with another old nigger? Nigger No. 1
swore and stormed at nigger No. 2, and kept on swearing and
storming, hoping to provoke him. Nigger No. 2 said not a word, but
kept at his work. Nigger No. 1 swore and stormed more. Nigger No. 2
said not a word. Nigger No. 1 frothed still more. Nigger No. 2,
still silent. Nigger No. 1 got desperate and said: "Look here, you
kinky-headed, flat-nosed, slab-footed nigger, I warns you 'fore
God, don't you keep givin' me none o' your damned silence!" I wish
you'd tell all my friends that story.

Always heartily yours,



[Footnote 34: Prince Arthur of Connaught and the Duchess of Fife were
married in the Chapel Royal, October 16, 1913.]

[Footnote 35: See the Appendix (at end of Vol. II) for this episode in

[Footnote 36: There was a suggestion, which the Ambassador endorsed,
that President Wilson should visit England to accept, in the name of the
United States, Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral hone, of the Washingtons.
See Chapter IX, page 274.]

[Footnote 37: Viscount Haldane, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
since 1912.]



Page's remarks about the "trouble in Mexico City" and the "remaining
task" refer, of course, to Sir Lionel Carden. "As I make Carden out," he
wrote about this time, "he's a slow-minded, unimaginative, commercial
Briton, with as much nimbleness as an elephant. British commerce is his
deity, British advantage his duty and mission; and he goes about his
work with blunt dullness and ineptitude. That's his mental calibre as I
read him - a dull, commercial man."

Although Sir Lionel Carden had been compelled to harmonize himself with
the American policy, Page regarded his continued presence in Mexico City
as a standing menace to British-American relations. He therefore set
himself to accomplish the minister's removal. The failure of President
Taft's attempt to obtain Carden's transfer from Havana, in 1912, showed
that Page's new enterprise was a delicate and difficult one; yet he did
not hesitate.

The part that the wives of diplomats and statesmen play in international
relations is one that few Americans understand. Yet in London, the
Ambassador's wife is almost as important a person as the Ambassador
himself. An event which now took place in the American Embassy
emphasized this point. A certain lady, well known in London, called upon
Mrs. Page and gave her a message on Mexican affairs for the Ambassador's
benefit. The purport was that the activities of certain British
commercial interests in Mexico, if not checked, would produce a serious
situation between Great Britain and the United States. The lady in
question was herself a sincere worker for Anglo-American amity, and this
was the motive that led her to take an unusual step.

"It's all being done for the benefit of one man," she said.

The facts were presented in the form of a memorandum, which Mrs. Page
copied and gave the Ambassador. This, in turn, Page sent to President

_To Edward M. House_

London, November 26, 1913.


Won't you read the enclosed and get it to the President? It is
somewhat extra-official but it is very confidential, and I have a
special reason for wishing it to go through your hands. Perhaps it
will interest you.

The lady that wrote it is one of the very best-informed women I
know, one of those active and most influential women in the high
political society of this Kingdom, at whose table statesmen and
diplomats meet and important things come to pass. . . .

I am sure she has no motive but the avowed one. She has taken a
liking to Mrs. Page and this is merely a friendly and patriotic

I had heard most of the things before as gossip - never before as
here put together by a responsible hand.

Mrs. Page went to see her and, as evidence of our appreciation and
safety, gave the original back to her. We have kept no copy, and I
wish this burned, if you please. It would raise a riot here, if any
breath of it were to get out, that would put bedlam to shame.

Lord Cowdray has been to see me for four successive days. I have a
suspicion (though I don't know) that, instead of his running the
Government, the Government has now turned the tables and is running
him. His government contract is becoming a bad thing to sleep with.
He told me this morning that he (through Lord Murray) had withdrawn
the request for any concession in Colombia[38]. I congratulated
him. "That, Lord Cowdray, will save you as well as some other
people I know a good deal of possible trouble." I have explained to
him the whole New Principle _in extenso_, "so that you may see
clearly where the line of danger runs." Lord! how he's changed!
Several weeks ago when I ran across him accidentally he was
humorous, almost cynical. Now he's very serious. I explained to him
that the only thing that had kept South America from being
parcelled out as Africa has been is the Monroe Doctrine and the
United States behind it. He granted that.

"In Monroe's time," said I, "the only way to take a part of South
America was to take land. Now finance has new ways of its own!"

"Perhaps," said he.

"Right there," I answered, "where you put your 'perhaps,' I put a
danger signal. That, I assure you, you will read about in the
histories as 'The Wilson Doctrine'!"

You don't know how easy it all is with our friend and leader in
command. I've almost grown bold. You feel steady ground beneath
you. They are taking to their tents.

"What's going to happen in Mexico City?"

"A peaceful tragedy, followed by emancipation."

"And the great industries of Mexico?"

"They will not have to depend on adventurers' favours!"

"But in the meantime, what?"

"Patience, looking towards justice!"

Yours heartily and in health (you bet!)

_From Edward M. House_

145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
December 12, 1913.


Your budget under dates, November 15th, 23rd, and 26th came to me
last week, just after the President had been here. I saved the
letters until I went to Washington, from which place I have just

The President has been in bed for nearly a week and Doctor Grayson
permitted no one to see him but me. Yesterday before I left he was
feeling so well that I asked him if he did not want to feel better
and then I read him your letters. Mrs. Wilson was present.

I cannot tell you how pleased he was. He laughed repeatedly at the

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 16 of 32)