VII PERSONALITIES OF THE MEXICAN PROBLEM
PAGE'S remarks about the "trouble in Mexico City" and the "remaining task" refer, of course, to Sir Lionel Carden. "As I make Carden out," he wrote about this time, "he's a slow-minded, unimaginative, commercial Briton, with as much nimbleness as an elephant. British commerce is his deity, British advantage his duty and mission; and he goes about his work with blunt dullness and ineptitude. That's his mental calibre as I read him---a dull, commercial man."
Although Sir Lionel Carden had been compelled to harmonize himself with the American policy, Page regarded his continued presence in Mexico City as a standing menace to British-American relations. He therefore set himself to accomplish the minister's removal. The failure of President Taft's attempt to obtain Carden's transfer from Havana, in 1912, showed that Page's new enterprise was a delicate and difficult one; yet he did not hesitate.
The part that the wives of diplomats and statesmen play in international relations is one that few Americans understand. Yet in London, the Ambassador's wife is almost as important a person as the Ambassador himself. An event which now took place in the American Embassy emphasized this point. A certain lady, well known in London, called upon Mrs. Page and gave her a message on Mexican affairs for the Ambassador's benefit. The purport was that the activities of certain British commercial interests in Mexico, if not checked, would produce a serious situation between Great Britain and the United States. The lady in question was herself a sincere worker for Anglo-American amity, and this was the motive that led her to take an unusual step.
"It's all being done for the benefit of one man," she said.
The facts were presented in the form of a memorandum, which Mrs. Page copied and gave the Ambassador. This, in turn, Page sent to President Wilson.
To Edward M. House
London, November 26, 1913.
Won't you read the enclosed and get it to the President? It is somewhat extra-official but it is very confidential, and I have a special reason for wishing it to go through your hands. Perhaps it will interest you.
The lady that wrote it is one of the very best-informed women I know, one of those active and most influential women in the high political society of this Kingdom, at whose table statesmen and diplomats meet and important things come to pass. . . .
I am sure she has no motive but the avowed one. She has taken a liking to Mrs. Page and this is merely a friendly and patriotic act.
I had heard most of the things before as gossip---never before as here put together by a responsible hand.
Mrs. Page went to see her and, as evidence of our appreciation and safety, gave the original back to her. We have kept no copy, and I wish this burned, if you please. It would raise a riot here, if any breath of it were to get out, that would put bedlam to shame.
Lord Cowdray has been to see me for four successive days. I have a suspicion (though I don't know) that, instead of his running the Government, the Government has now turned the tables and is running him. His government contract is becoming a bad thing to sleep with. He told me this morning that he (through Lord Murray) had withdrawn the request for any concession in Colombia. I congratulated him. "That, Lord Cowdray, will save you as well as some other people I know a good deal of possible trouble." I have explained to him the whole New Principle in extenso, "so that you may see clearly where the line of danger runs." Lord! how he's changed! Several weeks ago when I ran across him accidentally he was humorous, almost cynical. Now he's very serious. I explained to him that the only thing that had kept South America from being parcelled out as Africa has been is the Monroe Doctrine and the United States behind it. He granted that.
"In Monroe's time," said I, "the only way to take a part of South America was to take land. Now finance has new ways of its own."
"Perhaps," said he.
"Right there," I answered, "where you put your 'perhaps,' I put a danger signal. That, I assure you, you will read about in the histories as 'The Wilson Doctrine'!"
You don't know how easy it all is with our friend and leader in command. I've almost grown bold. You feel steady ground beneath you. They are taking to their tents.
"What's going to happen in Mexico City?"
"A peaceful tragedy, followed by emancipation."
"And the great industries of Mexico?"
"They will not have to depend on adventurers' favours!"
"But in the meantime, what?"
"Patience, looking towards justice!"
Yours heartily and in health (you bet!)
W. H. P.
From Edward M. House
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
December 12, 1913.
Your budget under dates, November 15th, 23rd, and 26th came to me last week, just after the President had been here. I saved the letters until I went to Washington, from which place I have just returned.
The President has been in bed for nearly a week and Doctor Grayson permitted no one to see him but me. Yesterday before I left he was feeling so well that I asked him if he did not want to feel better and then I read him your letters. Mrs. Wilson was present.
I cannot tell you how pleased he was. He laughed repeatedly at the different comments you made and he was delighted with what you had to say concerning Lord Cowdray. We do not love him for we think that between Cowdray and Carden a large part of our troubles in Mexico has been made. Your description of his attitude at the beginning and his present one pleased us much.
After I had read the confidential letter the President said "now let me see if I have the facts." He then recited them in consecutive order just as the English lady had written them, almost using the same phrases, showing the well-trained mind that he has. I then dropped the letter in the grate.
He enjoyed heartily the expression "Washington is a deep hole of silence towards ambassadors," and again "The volume of silence that I get is oppressive," and of course the story apropos of this last remark.
I was with him for more than an hour and he was distinctly better when I left. I hated to look at him in bed for I could not help realizing what his life means to the Democratic Party, to the Nation and almost to the world.
Of course you know that I only read your letters to him. Mr. Bryan was my guest on Wednesday and I returned to Washington with him but I made no mention of our correspondence and I never have. The President seems to like our way of doing things and further than that I do not care.
Upon my soul I do not believe the President could be better pleased than he is with the work you are doing.
E. M. HOUSE.
From now on the Ambassador exerted a round-about pressure---the method of "gradual approach" already referred to---upon the Foreign Office for Carden's removal. An extract from a letter to the President gives a hint concerning this method:
I have already worked upon Sir Edward's mind about his Minister to Mexico as far as I could. Now that the other matter is settled and while Carden is behaving, I go at it. Two years ago Mr. Knox made a bad blunder in protesting against Carden's "anti-Americanism" in Cuba. Mr. Knox sent Mr. Reid no definite facts nor even accusations to base a protest on. The result was a failure ---a bad failure. I have again asked Mr. Bryan for all the definite reports he has heard about Carden. That man, in my judgment, has caused nine tenths of the trouble here.
Naturally Page did not ask the Minister's removal directly---that would have been an unpardonable blunder. His meetings during this period with Sir Edward were taking place almost every day, and Carden, in one way or another, kept coming to the front in their conversation. Sir Edward, like Page, would sacrifice much in the cause of Anglo-American relations; Page would occasionally express his regret that the British Minister to Mexico was not a man who shared their enthusiasm on this subject; in numerous other ways the impression was conveyed that the two countries could solve the Mexican entanglement much better if a more congenial person represented British interests in the Southern Republic. This reasoning evidently produced the desired results. In early January, 1914, a hint was unofficially conveyed to the American Ambassador that Carden was to be summoned to London for a "conversation" with Sir Edward Grey, and that his return to Mexico would depend upon the outcome of that interview. There was a likelihood that, in future, Sir Lionel. Carden would represent the British Empire in Brazil.
This news, sent in discreet cipher to Washington, delighted the Administration. "It is fine about Carden," wrote Colonel House on January 10th. " I knew you had done it when I saw it in the papers, but I did not know just how. You could not have brought it about in a more diplomatic and effectual
And the following came from the President:
From President Wilson
January 6, 1914.
MY DEAR PAGE:
I have your letter of December twenty-first, which I have greatly enjoyed.
Almost at the very time I was reading it, the report came through the Associated Press from London that Carden was to be transferred immediately to Brazil. If this is true, it is indeed a most fortunate thing and I feel sure it is to be ascribed to your tactful and yet very plain representations to Sir Edward Grey. I do not think you realize how hard we worked to get from either Lind or O'Shaughnessy definite items of speech or conduct which we could furnish you as material for what you had to say to the Ministers about Carden. It simply was not obtainable. Everything that we got was at second or third hand. That he was working against us was too plain for denial, and yet he seems to have done it in a very astute way which nobody could take direct hold of. I congratulate you with all my heart on his transference.
I long, as you do, for an opportunity to do constructive work all along the line in our foreign relations, particularly with Great Britain and the Latin-American states, but surely, my dear fellow, you are deceiving yourself in supposing that constructive work is not now actually going on, and going on at your hands quite as much as at ours. The change of attitude and the growing ability to understand what we are thinking about and purposing on the part of the official circle in London is directly attributable to what you have been doing, and I feel more and more grateful every day that you are our spokesman and interpreter there. This is the only possible constructive work in foreign affairs, aside from definite acts of policy.
So far as the policy is concerned, you may be sure I will strive to the utmost to obtain both a repeal of the discrimination in the matter of tolls and a renewal of the arbitration treaties, and I am not without hope that I can accomplish both at this session. Indeed this is the session in which these things must be done if they are to be done at all.
Back of the smile which came to my face when you spoke of the impenetrable silence of the State Department toward its foreign representatives lay thoughts of very serious concern. We must certainly manage to keep our foreign representatives properly informed. The real trouble is to conduct genuinely confidential correspondence except through private letters, but surely the thing can be changed and it will be if I can manage it.
We are deeply indebted to you for your kindness and generous hospitality to our young folks and we have learned with delight through your letters and theirs of their happy days in England.
With deep regard and appreciation,
Cordially and faithfully yours,
WOODROW WILSON.London, England.
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
Yet for the American Ambassador the experience was not one of unmixed satisfaction. These letters have contained references to the demoralized condition of the State Department under Mr. Bryan and the succeeding ones will contain more; the Carden episode portrayed the stupidity and ignorance of that Department at their worst. By commanding Carden to cease his anti-American tactics and to support the American policy the Foreign Office had performed an act of the utmost courtesy and consideration to this country. By quietly "promoting" the same minister to another sphere, several thousand miles away from Mexico and Washington, it was now preparing to eliminate all possible causes of friction between the two countries. The British, that is, had met the wishes of the United States in the two great matters that were then making serious trouble---Huerta and Carden. Yet no government, Great Britain least of all, wishes to be placed in the position of moving its diplomats about at the request of another Power. The whole deplorable story appears in the following letter.
To Edward M. House
January 8th, 1914.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
Two days ago I sent a telegram to the Department saying that I had information from a private, unofficial source that the report that Carden would be transferred was true, and from another source that Marling would succeed him. The Government here has given out nothing. I know nothing from official sources. Of course the only decent thing to do at Washington was to sit still till this Government should see fit to make an announcement. But what do they do? Give my telegram to the press! It appears here almost verbatim in this morning's Mail.---I have to make an humiliating explanation to the Foreign Office. This is the third time I've had to make such an humiliating explanation to Sir Edward. It's getting a little monotonous. He's getting tired, and so am I. They now deny at the Foreign Office that anything has been decided about Carden, and this meddling by us (as they look at it) will surely cause a delay and may even cause a change of purpose.
That's the practical result of their leaking at Washington. On a previous occasion they leaked the same way. When I telegraphed a remonstrance, they telegraphed back to me that the leak had been here! That was the end of it-except that I had to explain to Sir Edward the best I could. And about a lesser matter, I did the same thing a third time, in a conversation. Three times this sort of thing has happened.---On the other hand, the King's Master of Ceremonies called on me on the President's Birthday and requested for His Majesty that I send His Majesty's congratulations. Just ten days passed before a telegraphic answer came! The very hour it came, I was myself making up an answer for the President that I was going to send, to save our face.
Now, I'm trying with all my might to do this job. I spend all my time, all my ingenuity, all my money at it. I have organized my staff as a sort of Cabinet. We meet every day. We go over everything conceivable that we may do or try to do. We do good team work. I am not sure but I doubt whether these secretaries have before been taken into just such a relation to their chief. They are enthusiastic and ambitious and industrious and---safe. There's no possibility of any leak. We arrange our dinners with reference to the possibility of getting information and of carrying points. Mrs. Page gives and accepts invitations with the same end in view. We're on the job to the very limit of our abilities.
And I've got the Foreign Office in such a relation that they are frank and friendly. (I can't keep 'em so, if this sort of thing goes on.)
Now the State Department seems (as it touches us) to be utterly chaotic---silent when it ought to respond, loquacious when it ought to be silent. There are questions that I have put to it at this Government's request to which I can get no answer.
It's hard to keep my staff enthusiastic under these conditions. When I reached the Chancery this morning, they were in my room, with all the morning papers marked, on the table, eagerly discussing what we ought to do about this publication of my dispatch. The enthusiasm and buoyancy were all gone out of them. By their looks they said, Oh I what's the use of our bestirring ourselves to send news to Washington when they use it to embarrass us?"---While we are thus at work, the only two communications from the Department to-day are two letters from two of the Secretaries about---presenting " Democratic" ladies from Texas and Oklahoma at court! And Bryan is now lecturing in Kansas.
Since I began to write this letter, Lord Cowdray came here to the house and stayed two and a half hours, talking about possible joint intervention in Mexico. Possibly he came from the Foreign Office. I don't know whether to dare send a despatch to the State Department, telling what he told me, for fear they'd leak. And to leak this---Good Lord! Two of the Secretaries were here to dinner, and I asked them if I should send such a despatch. They both answered instantly: "No, sir, don't dare: write it to the President." I said: "No, I have no right to bother the President with regular business nor with frequent letters." To that they agreed; but the interesting and somewhat appalling thing is, they're actually afraid to have a confidential despatch go to the State Department.
I see nothing to do but to suggest to the President to put somebody in the Department who will stay there and give intelligent attention to the diplomatic telegrams and letters---some conscientious assistant or clerk. For I hear mutterings, somewhat like these mutterings of mine, from some of the continental embassies.---The whole thing is disorganizing and demoralizing beyond description.
All these and more are my troubles. I'll take care of them. But remember what I am going to write on the next sheet. For here may come a trouble for you:
Mrs. Page has learned something more about Secretary Bryan's proposed visit here in the spring. He's coming to talk his peace plan which, you know, is a sort of grape-juice arbitration---a distinct step backward from a real arbitration treaty. Well, if he comes with that, when you come to talk about reducing armaments, you'll wish you'd never been born. Get your ingenuity together, then, and prevent that visit.
Not the least funny thing in the world is---Senator X turned up to-day. As he danced around the room begging everybody's pardon (nobody knew what for) he, complimented everybody in sight, explained the forged letter, dilated on state politics, set the Irish question on the right end, cleared Bacon of all hostility to me, declined tea because he had insomnia and explained just how it works to keep you awake, danced more and declared himself happy and bowed himself out---well pleased. He's as funny a cuss as I've seen in many a day. Lord Cowdray, who was telling Mexican woes to Katharine in the corner, looked up and asked, "Who's the little dancing gentleman?" Suppose X had known he was dancing for---Lord Cowdray's amusement, what do y' suppose he'd 've thought? There are some strange combinations in our house on Mrs. Page's days at home. Cowdray has, I am sure, lost (that is, failed to make) a hundred million dollars that he had within easy reach by this Wilson Doctrine, but he's game. He doesn't lie awake. He's a dead-game sport, and he knows he's knocked out in that quarter and he doesn't squeal. His experiences will serve us many a good turn in the future---as a warning. I rather like him. He eats out of my hand in the afternoon and has one of his papers jump on me in the morning. Some time in the twenty-four hours, he must attain about the normal temperature---say about noon. He admires the President greatly---sincerely. Force meets force, you see. With the President behind me I could really enjoy Cowdray centuries after X had danced himself into oblivion.
By the way, Cowdray said to me to-day: "Whatever the United States and Great Britain agree on the world must do." He's right. (1) The President must come here, perhaps in his second term; (2) these two Governments must enter a compact for peace and for gradual disarmament. Then we can go about our business for (say) a hundred years.
W. H. P.
In spite of the continued pressure of the United States and the passive support of its anti-Huerta policy by Great Britain, the Mexican usurper refused to resign. President Wilson now began to espouse the interests of Villa and Carranza. His letters to Page indicate that he took these men at their own valuation, believed that they were sincere patriots working for the cause of "democracy" and "constitutionalism" and that their triumph would usher in a day of enlightenment and progress for Mexico. It was the opinion of the Foreign Office that Villa and Carranza were worse men than Huerta and that any recognition of their revolutionary activities would represent no moral gain.
From the President
The White House, Washington,
MY DEAR PAGE:
. . . As to the attitude of mind on that side of the water toward the Constitutionalists, it is based upon prejudices which cannot be sustained by the facts. I am enclosing a copy of an interview by a Mr. Reid which appeared in one of the afternoon papers recently and which sums up as well as they could be summed up my own conclusions with regard to the issues and the personnel of the pending contest in Mexico. I can verify it from a hundred different sources, most of them sources not in the least touched by predilections for such men as our friends in London have supposed Carranza and Villa to be.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
U. S. Embassy,
The White House, Washington,
June 1, 1914.
MY DEAR PAGE:
. . . The fundamental thing is that they (British critics of Villa) are all radically mistaken. There has been less disorder and less danger to life where the Constitutionalists have gained control than there has been where Huerta is in control. I should think that if they are getting correct advices from Tampico, people in England would be very much enlightened by what has happened there. Before the Constitutionalists took the place there was constant danger to the oil properties and to foreign residents. Now there is no danger and the men who felt obliged to leave the oil wells to their Mexican employees are returning, to find, by the way, that their Mexican employees guarded them most faithfully without wages, and in some instances almost without food. I am told that the Constitutionalists cheered the American flag when they entered Tampico.
I believe that Mexico City will be much quieter and a much safer place to live in after the Constitutionalists get there than it is now. The men who are approaching and are sure to reach it are much less savage and much more capable of government than Huerta.
These, I need not tell you, are not fancies of mine but conclusions I have drawn from facts which are at last becoming very plain and palpable, at least to us on this side of the water. If they are not becoming plain in Great Britain, it is because their papers are not serving them with the truth. Our own papers were prejudiced enough in all conscience against Villa and Carranza and everything that was happening in the north of Mexico, but at last the light is dawning on them in spite of themselves and they are beginning to see things as they really are. I would be as nervous and impatient as your friends in London are if I feared the same things that they fear, but I do not. I am convinced that even Zapata would restrain his followers and leave, at any rate, all foreigners and all foreign property untouched if he were the first to enter Mexico City.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
On this issue, however, the President and his Ambassador to Great Britain permanently disagreed. The events which took place in April, 1914---the insult to the American flag at Tampico, the bombardment and capture of Vera Cruz by American forces---made stronger Page's conviction, already set forth in this correspondence, that there was only one solution of the Mexican problem.
To Edward M. House
April 27, 1914.
. . . And, as for war with Mexico---I confess I've had a continually growing fear of it for six months. I've no confidence in the Mexican leaders---none of 'em. We shall have to Cuba-ize the country, which means thrashing 'em first---I fear, I fear, I fear; and I feel sorry for us all, the President in particular. It's inexpressibly hard fortune for him. I can't tell you with what eager fear we look for despatches every day and twice a day hurry to get the newspapers. All England believes we've got to fight it out.
Well, the English are with us, you see. Admiral Cradock, I understand, does not approve our policy, but he stands firmly with us whatever we do. The word to stand firmly with us has, I am very sure, been passed along the whole line---naval, newspaper, financial, diplomatic. Carden won't give us any more trouble during the rest of his stay in Mexico. The yellow press's abuse of the President and me has actually helped us here.
W. H. P.
- This was another manifestation of British friendliness. When the American excitement was most acute, it become known that British capitalists had secured oil concessions in Colombia. At the At the demand of the British Government they gave them up.
- Mr. Nelson O'Shaughnessy, Chargé d'Affaires in Mexico.
- Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Sayre.
- Colonel House succeeded in preventing it.
- Senator Augustus O. Bacon, of Georgia who was reported to nourish ill-feeling toward Page for his authorship of "The Southerner."
- Probably an error for John Reed, at that time a newspaper correspondent in Mexico---afterward well known as a champion of the Bolshevist régime in Russia.