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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

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Colonial and Foreign Policies

The Philippines and Porto Rico.—Independence for the Philippines and larger self-government for Porto Rico had been among the policies of the Democratic party since the campaign of 1900. President Wilson in his annual messages urged upon Congress more autonomy for the Filipinos and a definite promise of final independence. The result was the Jones Organic Act for the Philippines passed in 1916. This measure provided that the upper as well as the lower house of the Philippine legislature should be elected by popular vote, and declared it to be the intention of the United States to grant independence “as soon as a stable government can be established.” This, said President Wilson on signing the bill, is “a very satisfactory advance in our policy of extending to them self-government and control of their own affairs.” The following year Congress, yielding to President Wilson’s insistence, passed a new organic act for Porto Rico, making both houses of the legislature elective and conferring American citizenship upon the inhabitants of the island.

The Caribbean Region

American Power in the Caribbean.—While extending more self-government to its dominions, the United States enlarged its sphere of influence in the Caribbean. The supervision of finances in Santo Domingo, inaugurated in Roosevelt’s administration, was transformed into a protectorate under Wilson. In 1914 dissensions in the republic led to the landing of American marines to “supervise” the elections. Two years later, an officer in the American navy, with authority from Washington, placed the entire republic “in a state of military occupation.” He proceeded to suspend the government and laws of the country, exile the president, suppress the congress, and substitute American military authority. In 1919 a consulting board of four prominent Dominicans was appointed to aid the American military governor; but it resigned the next year after making a plea for the restoration of independence to the republic. For all practical purposes, it seemed, the sovereignty of Santo Domingo had been transferred to the United States.

In the neighboring republic of Haiti, a similar state of affairs existed. In the summer of 1915 a revolution broke out there—one of a long series beginning in 1804—and our marines were landed to restore order. Elections were held under the supervision of American officers, and a treaty was drawn up placing the management of Haitian finances and the local constabulary under American authority. In taking this action, our Secretary of State was careful to announce: “The United States government has no purpose of aggression and is entirely disinterested in promoting this protectorate.” Still it must be said that there were vigorous protests on the part of natives and American citizens against the conduct of our agents in the island. In 1921 President Wilson was considering withdrawal.

In line with American policy in the West Indian waters was the purchase in 1917 of the Danish Islands just off the coast of Porto Rico. The strategic position of the islands, especially in relation to Haiti and Porto Rico, made them an object of American concern as early as 1867, when a treaty of purchase was negotiated only to be rejected by the Senate of the United States. In 1902 a second arrangement was made, but this time it was defeated by the upper house of the Danish parliament. The third treaty brought an end to fifty years of bargaining and the Stars and Stripes were raised over St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and numerous minor islands scattered about in the neighborhood. “It would be suicidal,” commented a New York newspaper, “for America, on the threshold of a great commercial expansion in South America, to suffer a Heligoland, or a Gibraltar, or an Aden to be erected by her rivals at the mouth of her Suez.” On the mainland American power was strengthened by the establishment of a protectorate over Nicaragua in 1916.

Mexican Relations.—The extension of American enterprise southward into Latin America, of which the operations in the Caribbean regions were merely one phase, naturally carried Americans into Mexico to develop the natural resources of that country. Under the iron rule of General Porfirio Diaz, established in 1876 and maintained with only a short break until 1911, Mexico had become increasingly attractive to our business men. On the invitation of President Diaz, they had invested huge sums in Mexican lands, oil fields, and mines, and had laid the foundations of a new industrial order. The severe régime instituted by Diaz, however, stirred popular discontent. The peons, or serfs, demanded the break-up of the great estates, some of which had come down from the days of Cortez. Their clamor for “the restoration of the land to the people could not be silenced.” In 1911 Diaz was forced to resign and left the country.

Mexico now slid down the path to disorder. Revolutions and civil commotions followed in swift succession. A liberal president, Madero, installed as the successor to Diaz, was deposed in 1913 and brutally murdered. Huerta, a military adventurer, hailed for a time as another “strong man,” succeeded Madero whose murder he was accused of instigating. Although Great Britain and nearly all the powers of Europe accepted the new government as lawful, the United States steadily withheld recognition. In the meantime Mexico was torn by insurrections under the leadership of Carranza, a friend of Madero, Villa, a bandit of generous pretensions, and Zapata, a radical leader of the peons. Without the support of the United States, Huerta was doomed.

In the summer of 1914, the dictator resigned and fled from the capital, leaving the field to Carranza. For six years the new president, recognized by the United States, held a precarious position which he vigorously strove to strengthen against various revolutionary movements. At length in 1920, he too was deposed and murdered, and another military chieftain, Obregon, installed in power.

These events right at our door could not fail to involve the government of the United States. In the disorders many American citizens lost their lives. American property was destroyed and land owned by Americans was confiscated. A new Mexican constitution, in effect nationalizing the natural resources of the country, struck at the rights of foreign investors. Moreover the Mexican border was in constant turmoil. Even in the last days of his administration, Mr. Taft felt compelled to issue a solemn warning to the Mexican government protesting against the violation of American rights.

President Wilson, soon after his inauguration, sent a commissioner to Mexico to inquire into the situation. Although he declared a general policy of “watchful waiting,” he twice came to blows with Mexican forces. In 1914 some American sailors at Tampico were arrested by a Mexican officer; the Mexican government, although it immediately released the men, refused to make the required apology for the incident. As a result President Wilson ordered the landing of American forces at Vera Cruz and the occupation of the city. A clash of arms followed in which several Americans were killed. War seemed inevitable, but at this juncture the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile tendered their good offices as mediators. After a few weeks of negotiation, during which Huerta was forced out of power, American forces were withdrawn from Vera Cruz and the incident closed.

In 1916 a second break in amicable relations occurred. In the spring of that year a band of Villa’s men raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing several citizens and committing robberies. A punitive expedition under the command of General Pershing was quickly sent out to capture the offenders. Against the protests of President Carranza, American forces penetrated deeply into Mexico without effecting the object of the undertaking. This operation lasted until January, 1917, when the imminence of war with Germany led to the withdrawal of the American soldiers. Friendly relations were resumed with the Mexican government and the policy of “watchful waiting” was continued.

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