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Portrait of President Woodrow Wilson.
Leading Them to the Promised Land: Woodrow Wilson, Covenant Theology and the Mexican Revolution: 1913-1915

(full citatation)

 

Introduction:

     President Woodrow Wilsonís European diplomacy during his second term undergoes frequent examination, however, his efforts to foster democracy in neighboring Mexico during his firm term deserve no less study.  Although Wilson is better known for his legacy of international relations in the World War, his foreign policy toward Mexico during its upheaval provide us with a clear view of his assumptions and his personal ideology, what Alexander George calls an "operational code."  This dissertation studies the influence of Wilsonís worldview, based predominantly on Presbyterian Covenant Theology, and its effect on his relations with Mexico during that country's revolution.  Wilsonís handling of this revolution reflected not only the most fundamental building blocks upon which he based his life--covenant theology and his relationship with God--but it also demonstrated how these principles permeated his political decisions, his tactics, and his long term diplomatic objectives. 1.

     Wilson's Presbyterian background made it natural for him to rely on orderly, voluntary agreements to manage a society or organization.  His grounding in covenant theology also led him to believe that Christians had a duty to fulfill God's will on earth.  While he did not rely exclusively on these ideas, he placed special emphasis on them in the foreign affairs of his administration.  They formed a template for him to use in evaluating events especially during crises when he had little time contemplate before making a decision.  Wilson's deep religious beliefs and personal ideology helped shape his diplomatic goals but were themselves constantly being tested by the need to deal effectively with practical foreign policy contradictions and the dilemma of the revolutionary whirlpool in Mexico.

     Wilson came to the Presidency with no experience in foreign policy and little evidence that he had thought much about it.  He had traveled briefly in Europe as a professor and President of Princeton University, but spent most of his time overseas in Britain, neither of which gave him an opportunity to study a culture radically different from his own.  He was equally domestically focused in his writings.  In his text, The State, Wilson discussed the formation of various governments, including France and Germany's, but his writing was based upon basic secondary texts and were intended as an undergraduate survey.  Nor did he show much awareness for the diplomatic duties of the national government he headed.  In The State he discussed the duties of the Secretaries of State in the individual American states at length, but dismissed the duties of the federal equivalent with a short sentence.  Moreover, he barely mentioned the powers of the President and his role in determining foreign policy and addressed the duties of the Secretary of War with only two short sentences.  He virtually ignored the issue of how the American government managed its diplomacy. 2

     This does not by any means suggest that Wilson did not have preconceptions about how he would conduct his foreign policy once he became President.  As his primary biographer, Arthur Link, noted, Wilson used his assumptions about the role of the Christian in the world and his belief in American democracy to guide and shape his policies.  Link wrote that Wilson believed God had "created the United States out of diverse peoples for a specific, eschatological role in history."  For Wilson, America had a part to play as a divine instrument.  To deny the United States an active role in the world was an attempt to deny God's will. 3

    President Wilson tried to look at the long-range effects of policies, rather than at only the short term realities of international power, a tendency which Link labeled his "higher realism."  For example, Wilson believed that any people could be taught democracy over the long term.  In an imperialistic age, Wilson wanted the United States to demonstrate the correct, benevolent way to respect "the rights of small and helpless states" while striving to elevate their governments.  However, American interests in Mexico and the threat of violence spreading north across the border restricted Wilson's options and, at times, exerted sometimes overwhelming pressure on him to act.  Wilson initially resisted domestic cries for a military response, in part, by impugning the motives of those who called for it.  Those pressing for intervention, he argued, not only had no "sympathy for the Mexican people" but were acting against the interests of the United States.  Efforts to reestablish "order" in Mexico could, in the short term, ensure profits for American businessmen, but would endanger the larger goal of encouraging the establishment of democracy.  4

     Wilson may have felt he could avoid hypocrisy by defining intervention very specifically.  For Wilson, intervention carried a negative moral connotation, referring to a larger nation imposing its will on a smaller state for a selfish gain.  The intention of the intervening power was crucial.  Wilson did not view actions taken to strengthen democracy as intervention in this traditional sense.  He wanted the nations in which the United States interjected itself, such as Mexico, to consider the good intentions behind the American military action and to draw a distinction between American intervention and that of old-world imperialist countries.  He wanted the world to see that he was acting to fulfill a larger covenant not to satisfy a short-term, short-sighted nationalistic greed.

     Mexico did not welcome American interference.  Despite Wilson's efforts to proclaim a desire only to help Latin neighbors reach democracy, Mexican revolutionaries denied that Washington had a legitimate voice in determining their nation's futures The President discussed this dilemma in 1916 in an essay entitled "The Mexican Question."  He noted that Latin American relations with the United States had only recently improved, although they were still suspicious of American power.  Intervention in Mexico would "undoubtedly revive the gravest suspicions throughout all the states of Latin America."  Moreover, if the United States acted to establish "order" in Mexico, it would only serve to further bind Mexico to American interests and businesses.  Wilson wrote that he believed Mexico would "struggle through long processes of blood and terror before she finds herself and returns to the paths of peace and order" but that such was the business solely of the Mexicans.  Wilson eventually settled on policies compatible with his personal beliefs.  They satisfied few people, either political opponents or supporters, but kept the United States from being drawn into full-scale military intervention.  His efforts illustrate a uniquely American diplomatic and political dilemma: leaders whose personal and religious beliefs compel the nation to act as a diplomatic model must reconcile such a role with the security needs inherent to the region's strongest state. 5

     Numerous works have already examined Wilson's foreign policies, although little agreement exists between historians on Wilson's motivations and his relative successes and failures.  They range from the almost worshipful, such as Josephus Daniel's Life of Wilson, to the outright hateful, such as Sigmund Freud and William Bullitt's Thomas Woodrow Wilson.  The majority, of course, fall somewhere in between.  Most have noted his deep Christian faith, but few of these have emphasized his specific Presbyterian Covenanter heritage instead if simply a general 19th century Protestantism.  Moreover, no work emphasizing his specific Covenanter background has carefully examined his policies towards Mexico.  Even Link neglects this particular aspect of Wilson favoring instead a more generalized ecumenical liberal interpretation of Wilson's motives.

      The most extreme positions regarding Wilson came in the period just after he left office.  Indeed, some of the most bitter works emerged near the end of Wilson's final term in office.  William B. Hale, who was Wilson's campaign biographer during the 1912 election, had been alienated by the President by 1920 and wrote The Story of a Style in which he used Wilson's worst book, a biography of George Washington, to demonstrate that Wilson's words covered an empty shell of ideas.  The years just after Wilson left office were also marked by the most venerating accounts of his life, especially in memoirs written by his supporters and friends.  Two journalists, William Allen White and David Lawrence, wrote books that tried to explain why Wilson was misunderstood and defended his presidential record. 6.

     Former members of Wilson's cabinet followed the same pattern, some of those who had a falling out with the President, such as Robert Lansing, wrote negative reviews of his Presidency.  Those who remained on good terms with Wilson wrote positive portrayals.  Secretary of Agriculture David Houston's Eight Years with Wilson's Cabinet for example, was generally positive although the author contended that Wilson's "one track mind" hampered his decision-making.  As noted above, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels book, The Life of Woodrow Wilson, published the year Wilson died, was extremely positive: Wilson remained Daniels' hero all of his life and his book reflected that worshipful tone. 7

     This dichotomy of interpretation naturally became less extreme as the books on Wilson were written more by historians than by participants.  While opinions generally became more nuanced, however, the generally negative ones initially held sway due to the influence of Charles Beard.  The Beardian critique of Wilson derived from the bitter disillusionment towards American participation in the First World War which spread in the two decades before the Second World War.  These volumes lay blame for the United States entering the war on Wilson's pro-British bias and London's propaganda campaign in the period before 1917.  Beard's emphasis on economic factors was also reflected in the blame laid on American banks and businesses who loaned the allies money and sold them arms, practices defended by Wilson.  The resulting outrage against the "Merchants of Death" even lead Congress to pass neutrality laws in 1935 and 1937. 8.

     With the coming of the Second World War Wilson's reputation among historians rose; they judged him as having been correct in his estimation of the need for a League of Nations, and for recognizing the necessity of an American role in the world.  Historians such as William Diamond in The Economic Thought of Woodrow Wilson and Arthur Link in the first volume of his biography of Wilson, credited the president with an informed, rational ability to form policy.  This particular school of thought has maintained its influence, although after the war it stressed Wilson's internationalism more than his dreams of a League of Nations.

     Link's five volume biography of Wilson which remains one of the best treatments of its subject, but unfortunately only traces Wilson until his War Message against Germany in April 1917.  These works are supplemented by Link's numerous other articles and books on Wilson, most notably the sixty-nine volume collection The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, of which Link was the chief editor.  Together his works provide the most thorough treatment of Wilson by an individual historian.

     Link's opinion of Wilson evolved over time.  For example, he was somewhat less judgmental of Wilson's foreign policy in his later writings than he was in his early material.  However, Link remained consistent in his overall positive appraisal of Wilson's presidency and in emphasizing what he called the President's "higher realism."  This "higher realism" was Wilson's ability to focus on longer term realistic goals, despite their short term appearance as being overly idealistic.  Wilson, wrote Link, was "primarily a Christian idealist... who almost always tended to judge policies on the basis of whether they were right by Christian standards, not whether they brought immediate material or strategic advantage."  Wilson's idealism, according to Link, was best revealed in "his thinking about the purposes that the United States should serve in the world."  Wilson believed that the United States had a responsibility to take action to protect the common interests of the international community instead of solely the narrow interests of the United States. 9.

     Link's use of the term idealism to mean adherence to a higher set of responsibilities prevents Wilsonís beliefs from being relegated to the political never-land of starry-eyed dreamers.  Link views Wilson as realistic "by conventional standards" particularly in his methods of conducting foreign relations.  Wilson, says Link, 
understood the meaning of the term 'balance of power'  He was keenly aware of the relevance of material interests and had few illusions about the fundamental bases of international behavior.  It is... the sheerest nonsense to talk about [Wilson] as an impractical idealist and visionary. 10.

     Beginning with the advent of the Cold War, this positive assessment was contested by a critique known as realism.  Exemplified by George Kennan, Hans J. Morganthau, and Robert Osgood, the realists criticized Wilson for an excessive idealism especially in his reliance on collective security as a foundation of American policy.  Kennan referred to Wilson's polices as "vainglorious and pretentious" and noted that Wilson's ideas of international order could not "replace power as the vital force for a large part of the world."  According to Kennan, Wilsonianism's major fault lay in a tendency to ignore the traditional balance of power politics that had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy during and immediately after the critical years of the American Revolution.  Kennan criticized the Wilsonian propensity to make value judgments an integral part of diplomatic policy, especially the inclination to label threats against a democratic state as evil rather than as simple routine procedures within the balance of power. 11.

     Hans Morganthau, a "realist" like Kennan, compared Wilson's idealism and his foreign policy to the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages.  He viewed Wilson as trying to wage war "for the purpose of making one moral system, held by one group, prevail in the rest of the world."  This "democratic universalism" was an idealistic-moralistic system that developed from American nationalism.  It reflected an American sense of superiority over the rest of the world that enabled the United States to serve as the proper model for all others to emulate.  Morganthau thought this attitude was impractical.  One of the principle examples he used to illustrate his point was Wilsonís attempt, and that of other liberal idealists, to build a world union based on American ideas of representative government.  Such a global organization was intrinsically doomed while nationalism was still on the rise as an international political force. 12.

     Robert Osgood made similar observations in his study of Wilson; Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations.  Osgood wrote  Wilson's conception of foreign relations was remarkable not so much for its neglect of the problems of power as for its conscious subordination of national expediency to ideal goals.  Above all, he coveted for America the distinction of a nation transcending its own selfish interests and dedicated in altruistic service to humanity.  In Osgood's view, however, Wilson made the mistake of "confusing what was ideally desirable with what was practically attainable."  This confusion, "as Theodore Roosevelt asserted, [is] ultimately destructive of both universal principles and the national advantage." 13.

     Idealism's faults, however, did not mean that Osgood unabashedly accepted realism.  Osgood chastises those who held a realpolitik vision of protecting one's interests as the highest goal of foreign policy for neglecting the need for some standards, ... it is equally true that to reduce what is ideally desirable to what is practically attainable is to deprive the popular conscience of a standard of moral judgment which is indispensable to the progress and stability of all social relations, whether within or among nations.  Osgood's interpretation tried to find a balance in the realism-idealism dichotomy by accepting realism's critique of idealism without fully accepting the realist prescription for a proper policy.  However, beginning in the late 1940's, the main interpretative opposition to the realist criticism of Wilson centered on the works of Arthur Link, who, emphasizing Wilson's religious heritage, argued that the realists were incorrectly interpreting Wilson's actions.
14.

     Link's assessment provided a generally positive view of Wilson but did not silence the realists.  Edward Buehrig contrasted Wilson with his contemporary, Britain's Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, whom Buehrig felt had a better grasp of diplomatic reality.  Buehrig reproached Wilson's "philosophical... leanings" for their idealistic slant.  Combined with a politician's instinct against upsetting public opinion, Wilson's beliefs steered him away from the proper application of American influence via the balance of power and toward a naive desire to remake the world in Americaís image.  In contrast, Grey, schooled in the world of Bismarckian realpolitik, saw the League of Nations as an "elaboration of the traditional pattern of diplomacy."  The great powers would dominate it to preserve the peaceful status quo.  Wilson and his followers saw the League instead as a "new independent force in the world capable of overriding the old animosities and conflicts."  For Wilson, the old international system lead by traditional power diplomacy could be replaced by a new order lead by the United States in which the antiquated balance of power would be eliminated. 15.

     According to Buehrig, American foreign policy under Wilson's guidance was "based on assumptions... radically different from those" held by his immediate predecessors, especially with regard to the Monroe Doctrine.  Wilson proclaimed that he wished to extend the doctrine to the rest of the world so that no power could "extend its policy over any other nation or people."  All countries, then, would be forced to act in the common interest.  This recasting of the Monroe Doctrine as a world-wide policy completely reversed its original meaning.  Monroe's policy had been born of an isolationist yet realistic understanding of the world political system.  Wilson wanted to turn it into an idealistic, interventionist policy fit for a moral nation to lead the world. 16.

     It is important to understand, however, that Buehrig did not accuse Wilson of acting dogmatically, forcing international problems into a Calvinistic Procrustean bed.  Instead, Buehrig notes, "Wilson moved in the midst of great confusion.  The precedents of American foreign policy, with which he was thoroughly familiar, offered only deceptive guidance.  Like any path breaker, he found his way at the cost of much energy and under the strain of growing doubt."  Buehrig's criticism of Wilson is based on what he believes were Wilson's eventual answers to the issues with which he was wrestling. 17.

     The realist critique raises some legitimate points, as even Link has admitted: "Wilson's assumptions and principles also, to some degree, impaired his leadership in the mundane affairs of state."  Wilson, says Link, sometimes failed to take sufficient account of what might be called "realities."  He was not a "fool or a visionary incapable of facing reality" but Wilson did "sometimes... make illusory appraisals and devise unworkable solutions."  Furthermore, he occasionally had too strong a faith in the "sufficiency of democratic solutions." 18.

     Link has written that these criticisms of Wilson were most applicable during the first two years of his administration.  The President "soon discovered," however, that what he considered "helpful" diplomacy, such as intervening in Mexico to oust Huerta, could be dangerous because it "[involved] the power that [tried] to be helpful in the domestic quagmire of the country being helped."  With lessons like this, Wilson learned as he went along.  By the middle of 1915, "the Christian optimist had become very much a realist in diplomacy,"  and according to Link, learned that following a set ethical standards did not necessarily mean that he could ignore the realities of foreign policy. 19.

     Another school of criticism towards Wilson developed in the 1960s.  The Wisconsin School of revisionist historians reversed the realist critique.  Inspired by William Appleman William's works--especially The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, in which Williams emphasized the importance of the Open Door doctrine--these accounts emphasized an economic motivation they saw lurking behind Wilson's policies.  The belief that the American economy depended upon access to overseas markets encouraged a financial imperialism which the United States rationalized by emphasizing the lack of a matching European-style colonialism, the Philippines notwithstanding.  Wilson's foreign policy followed this pattern, Williams notes, using the example of his refusal to back an international banker's consortium in giving restrictive loans to China.  This allowed Wilson, and the United States, to congratulate themselves for acting on a higher plane than the opening aggressive European powers while ignoring the fact that American bankers were then granting loans to China which were also restrictive but without the taint of European participation. 20.

     William's thesis moved domestic considerations to the fore of American policy.  His interpretation was continued by his successors in the Revisionist school--they also emphasized Wilson's support for liberal capitalist democracy in his efforts to both encourage democracy and promote American business interests.  N. Gordon Levin, for example, noted that Wilson entertained a "sense of America's liberal-exceptionalist missionary idealism" which was "perfectly compatible with his sense of America's national self-interest."  Wilson wanted to promote an international order of "free trade and international harmony." 21.

     Lloyd C. Gardner makes a very similar argument noting that Wilson reacted to the outburst of several revolutions, including the Mexican but more importantly, the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Wilson tried to find, in Gardner's view, a safe middle ground between radical revolution and reaction that would allow peaceful change in a liberal capitalist system.  Gardner emphasizes the President's willingness to use force to achieve his goals, a tendency Gardner labels his "covenant with power."  Wilson was willing to use a traditional tool of old diplomacy--the military--in order to achieve new diplomatic ends.  Gardner credits Wilson with support for a clear use of the idea of "just war" in which means to an end are in part measured by the evil inherent in not reaching the desired end. 22

     Both Levin and Gardner share a common concern: how the United States and President Wilson dealt with the numerous significant revolutions of the period.  In both cases, however, they concentrate on the American response to the Russian Revolution.  Events in Russia during 1917-1921 were dramatic and had far-reaching implications for American diplomacy.  Moreover, the Revisionists wrote their books during the Cold War, a time when one of the primary issues of interest to American diplomatic historians was the root of distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

      Unfortunately, this heavy emphasis upon Wilson's actions towards Russia in 1917 to 1921 overshadows his actions in Mexico in 1913-1915 and distracts and distorts our view of his Presidency.  The Russian Revolution and that of Mexico raised different issues for Wilson.  The chaos in Eurasia had a greater effect on the overall balance of power and a direct influence on the ongoing World War.  However, the Mexican struggle directly affected the United States because it literally affected the American border and threatened American lives and business interests in a more direct, dramatic manner than did Russia.

     Moreover, the revisionist critique remained trapped by the original realist-idealist paradigm, but during the past two decades other historians have worked to transcend this artificial division with some success.  Lloyd Ambrosius, for example, noted that Wilsonís "statecraft evidenced both idealism and practicality.  Yet his liberal internationalism suffered from a lack of realism."  Wilson knew the United States could not remain separate from the Old World and he recognized the realities of power politics.  However, Wilson was unable to impose his ideals on other nations to change these realities.  As a result of this inability, the "goals and methods of his foreign policy were too frequently unrelated to each other."  Wilson understood global political canons but did not understand that changing the old system was beyond his ability. 23.

     Frederick Calhoun has gone even further than Ambrosius in trying to abandon the traditional dualistic model by emphasizing Wilson's sophisticated use of varying degrees of forces to achieve his policy goals.  Calhoun breaks Wilson's use of force into five categories: protection, retribution, solution, introduction, and association.  Each method had its uses and, according to Calhoun, Wilson was adept at shifting from one means to another as his goals changed.  At Veracruz, for example, Wilson's goals were a mix of retribution against Huerta, protection against allowing arms shipments to be possibly used against American troops, and an introduction to the creation of a place for himself at the negotiating table between the Mexican factions.  Calhoun's model provides one of the best explanations of Wilson's behavior at specific events, but as with the others, he neglects the religious base of the President's motivation in favor of a fuzzy Protestant progressive liberalism. 24.

     Milton Cooper moved at least partly back to the idealism-realism split in The Warrior and the Priest.  But in comparing Wilson to Theodore Roosevelt, he refuses to move either leader into one category exclusively.  Indeed, he convincingly argues that Roosevelt was moved as much by idealism as Wilson, perhaps more so, but that he followed a different set of ideals that clashed with Wilson's.  Rejecting the revisionist argument that Wilson acted in Mexico to protect American business interests as "barely worth answering," Cooper gives Wilson's idealism some credit, noting "At worst, his idealism did no harm, at best, it helped [Wilson] make the right choice [in not supporting Huerta's dictatorship against the revolutionaries]." 25.

     Unfortunately, Cooper discounts the influence of Wilson's religious beliefs on his ideas.  "Despite what many interpreters have contended, specifically Calvinist doctrines and viewpoints had comparatively little impact on Wilson."  Cooper instead credits Wilson with a general, fuzzy 19th century American Protestantism without a strong Calvinist, or Presbyterian, influence.  Cooper does, however, note the strong influence on Wilson by his father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, who "made his son the vehicle of his own disappointed ambitions."  This emphasis on Wilson's father without the religious factor, however, assumes Joseph Wilson did not have a shaping influence over his son in the central area of their family life, their religion.  As such, Cooper neglects one of the earliest and most powerful influences on Wilson's intellectual life.  26.

     Thomas Knock's book, A World Made Safe for Democracy, also emphasizes Wilson's idealism, but instead of critiquing it for being too unrealistic, Knock argues that it was more radical than it has previously been given credit for being.  Wilson, in Knock's view, took a great deal of his ideas from American socialists, making him more radical than either the realist-idealist debate or the revisionists had given him credit.  Knock's thesis provides a useful corrective to the Revisionist school, and places Wilson's support among writers such as Lincoln Steffens and John Reed in better perspective. 27.

     Several other recent works also move beyond the traditional realist-idealist or revisionist views by portraying Wilson as a Machiavellian, realpolitik plotter prone to secret deals and conspiracies to achieve his anti-revolutionary goals.  In effect, they have accepted the revisionist view of Wilson's goals, but portray him as being more traditionally ruthless in pursuing those ends.  The most extreme example of this is John Mason Hart's book, Revolutionary Mexico, which posits a secret arms deal between Wilson and one of the Mexican revolutionary factions in a reactionary scheme Oliver North would love.  One of Hart's colleagues, Thomas O'Brien, makes the same argument in The Revolutionary Mission, emphasizing, like Hart, Wilson's purportedly pro-business policies.  Finally, David Foglesong's The Secret War Against Bolshevism, argues that Wilson made secret arrangements and deals to oust the Bolsheviks in Russia, although Foglesong does not put the negative judgment on Wilson as does Hart and O'Brien and he stays more within the limits set by the evidence. 28.

     These later works, especially O'Brien's, deserve some credit for their emphasis on the role of non-governmental actors in spreading American influence internationally.  They have made good use of the idea of corporatism with its competing interests forming policy, but they overemphasize the influence of business interests in an attempt to compensate for the neglect paid towards those factors in previous histories.  Hart, for example, takes the lack of evidence in Wilson's papers not as evidence against his thesis but as proof Wilson's papers were sanitized and censored in a cover-up.  Such suppositions make interesting reading but poor history.

     These latter views of Wilson also tend to exaggerate the role of the United States in determining events outside its border.  The more conspiracy-minded school even blames, rather than credits, Wilson for "stopping" or moderating the Mexican Revolution, a task realistically beyond Wilson's power had he even entertained the desires these historians credit him with having.  The idealist-realists and the revisionists tend to pay more attention to Wilson's internal mental development and reduce the outside actors to, at best, secondary characters.  The notable exception to this tendency is Lloyd Gardner, who does an thorough job comparing Wilson's policies to David Lloyd George's.

      The interaction between Wilson and Mexico has not been neglected by historians either, but again, none of these works concentrate on Wilson's ideology and emphasize how it shaped his policies during the crucial period from 1913 to 1915.  Two historians concentrate on Wilson's interaction with a specific Mexican revolutionary leader, Clarence Clendenen's The United States and Pancho Villa: A Study in Unconventional Diplomacy and Mark Gilderhus' Diplomacy and Revolution: US-Mexican Relations Under Wilson and Carranza.   Both works shed useful light on a particular aspect of Wilson's policies.  However, neither goes into enough depth on Wilson's preconceptions and the influence of covenant theological-based assumptions to understand Wilson's response to two of the most important Mexican revolutionaries.  Gilderhus does the best job examining the mindset of both his subjects, the American and the Mexican Presidents, but he concentrates on their relationship during the constitutional period from 1916-1920 and pays less attention to the period from 1913-1915 when Wilson was concerned about different issues. 29.

     Others of the numerous books on how Wilson and the United States reacted to the Mexican Revolution either emphasize the story from the Mexican perspective, making Wilson a bit player, or they focus on a single event, such as Robert Quirk's Affair of Honor, or John Eisenhower's book Intervention, both of which focus on specific United States armed interventions.  Larry Hill's Emissaries to a Revolution provides the best discussion of how Wilson used executive agents to gather intelligence in Mexico as well as to try to influence events there.  However, Hill dismisses Wilson's religious motivations in one paragraph, spending his energies on the details of Wilson's agent's actions. 30.

     This should not suggest that these books do not provide useful information to the historian.  Indeed, Frederich Katz's work such as The Secret War in Mexico and The Life and Times of Pancho Villa or Alan Knight's two volume Mexican Revolution are invaluable additions to the historical record and were extremely useful in writing this dissertation.  However, for the student studying Wilson, they are not adequate in themselves because their focus is on events in Mexico as a whole, not of an individual actor in an international event.  There needs to be a study of Wilson and his relation to Mexico's Revolution that concentrates on his ideological motivation. 31.

     The first step in filling this gap is in explaining Wilson's covenant background.  John M. Mulder, one of Link's students, now President of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has written the only full treatment of Wilson's theology, Woodrow Wilson: The Years of Preparation.  This book, based on Mulder's dissertation done under Link, takes Wilson up to his nomination as Democratic candidate for Governor of New Jersey in September 1910.  As such, it does not discuss Wilson's political career, but it does give a full account of how Wilson developed his ideas, emphasizing the role his father played in instilling the tenants of a Southern Presbyterian covenant theology into the future President.  The idea of covenant, in Mulder's view, gave Wilson structure for dealing with inner turmoil, as well as providing a model with which to shape his political ideas.
32.

     The Mexican Revolution provides a good laboratory to test Wilson's responses, especially during its earlier period from 1913-1915.  This period is especially important because it demonstrates Wilson's assumptions when he entered office.  Moreover, the Mexican Revolution itself had changed by 1916.  In the earlier period, 1913-1915, it was marked by the existence of numerous factions, each making a plausible claim on national leadership.  The most prominent issues, beginning in 1916, centered on specifics of national policies, such as questions of foreign investment in Mexico and the problem of restoring order after Carranza's faction had won control. 

     Studying the earlier portion of the Revolution also allows the historian to illustrate how Wilson acted in a world situation that for a time did not include the World War.  The War is the elephant in the living room of Wilson's policies, the overwhelming event which overshadowed all else.  In the period before the World War became Wilson's primary focus, roughly the year and a half before the war, and the year between the outbreak of fighting and the depth of the Lusitania crisis in mid-1915--he had a chance to act using the experiences and assumptions he had when he entered office.  In effect, his actions from 1913 to mid-1915 provide a original model with which to compare his later responses to events which were affected by the overarching needs of the struggle with Germany.  The purpose of this dissertation is to fill this gap by examining Wilson's reaction to the Mexican Revolution during its first two phases: that of the war against the usurper Huerta, and the War of the Winners between the victorious revolutionary factions.  The dissertation ends with Wilson's de facto recognition of Venustiano Carranza's government in October 1915.

      A final note about the use of primary material on Wilson.  Any research which depends upon its subject's writings and speeches, as this one certainly does, is vulnerable to the error of exegetic selectivity, picking only the quotes that prove a point and ignoring others.  To help keep Wilson's comments in a historically proper context, I have tried to pick quotes from appropriate periods.  When discussing his political beliefs, I concentrated on his writings from his most productive period as a historian, professor, and President of Princeton, from the 1880s until 1910.  Later works were taken to be more relevant than earlier ones in order to account for the evolution of his views over time.  Also, I avoided quotes from periods after the events being illustrated because intervening factors could have played too large a role in shaping the latter view to make it a valid explanation for the earlier action. For example, I do not use quotes from the fight for the Versailles Treaty in 1919 to illustrate my points about his 1914 intervention at Veracruz.  This selectivity should reduce, if it can not eliminate, anachronisms in my interpretation of Wilson's actions in Mexico. 33.
 
 

Footnotes

1. Alexander George,  "The 'Operational Code:' A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political leaders and Decision-Making," International Studies  13 (1969): 190-222. (return to paragraph)

2. Woodrow Wilson,  The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics  (London: Isbister and Company Limited, 1900), 547-548.  (return to paragraph)

3. Arthur Link, The Higher Realism of Woodrow Wilson and Other Essays  (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1971), 18.  (return to paragraph)

4. Woodrow Wilson, "The Mexican Question," The Ladies Home Journal.  October 1916,  9. (return to paragraph)

5. Ibid.,  9. (return to paragraph)

6. David Lawrence,  The True Story of Woodrow Wilson  (New York: George H. Doran, 1924).; William Allen White, Woodrow Wilson, The Man, His Times, and His Task  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924).
(return to paragraph)

7. David F. Houston,  Eight Years with Wilson's Cabinet, 1913-1920  Vol. 1-2.  (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926).; Josephus Daniels, The Life of Woodrow Wilson: 1856-1924  (Np.: Will H. Johnston, 1924).(return to paragraph)

8. Manfred Jonas,  Isolationism in America, 1935-1941  (Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1990),  72-77, 115-118, 152-154.  Examples include Walter Millis,  Road to War  (New York, 1935). and Charles C. Tansill,  America Goes to War  (Boston, 1938). (return to paragraph)

9. Arthur S. Link, "The Higher Realism of Woodrow Wilson," Higher Realism,  129,135.(return to paragraph)

10. Ibid., 135.(return to paragraph)

11. George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1950-1963  (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1972), 71.;  George F. Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1967), 219.; George F. Kennan, Realities of American Foreign Policy, The Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954) 15-16.  Appropriately, Wilson's crypt in the National Cathedral is capped by a stone "crusader's sword" to honor his efforts for world peace.(return to paragraph)

12. Hans J. Morganthau,  Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 194, 406.(return to paragraph)

13. Robert E. Osgood,  Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953),  175.(return to paragraph)

14.   Ibid., 444.(return to paragraph)

15.  Edward H. Buehrig, Woodrow Wilson and the Balance of Power  (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1968), 274.(return to paragraph)

16.  Ibid., 270-271.(return to paragraph)

17. Buehrig, "Idealism and Statecraft," Confluence  5 (1956), 253.(return to paragraph)

18.  Arthur S. Link, "Wilson the Diplomatist," The Higher Realism of Woodrow Wilson and Other Essays 80.;  Link makes these same points in Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War and Peace (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson Inc., 1979). (return to paragraph)

19. Link, "Diplomatist,"  81.(return to paragraph)

20. William Appleman Williams,  The Tragedy of American Diplomacy  (New York: Dell, 1959), 70-74.(return to paragraph)

21.  N. Gordon Levin,  Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 13, 257.(return to paragraph)

22.  Lloyd C. Gardner,  Safe For Democracy: The Anglo-American Response to Revolution, 1913-1923  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 55-56.(return to paragraph)

23.  Lloyd E. Ambrosius, Wilsonian Statecraft: Theory and Practice of Liberal Internationalism during World War I  (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1991), xii, xv.; Ambrosius makes the same argument in Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).(return to paragraph)

24.   Frederick S. Calhoun,  Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy  (Kent, OH.: Kent State University Press, 1986).; Frederick S. Calhoun, Uses of Force and Wilsonian Foreign Policy (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1993), 11-15.(return to paragraph)

25.  John Milton Cooper Jr.,  "'An Irony of Fate:' Woodrow Wilson's Pre-World War I Diplomacy,"  Diplomatic History  3 (1979) 434-435.(return to paragraph)

26.  John Milton Cooper Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 19.(return to paragraph)

27. Thomas J. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).(return to paragraph)

28. John Mason Hart,  Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution  (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987).; Thomas F. O'Brien, The Revolutionary Mission: American Enterprise in Latin America, 1900-1945  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).; David S. Foglesong, America's Secret War Against Bolshevism: United States Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).(return to paragraph)

29. Clarence C. Clendenen,  The United States and Pancho Villa: A Study in Unconventional Diplomacy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1961).;  Mark T. Gilderhus,  Diplomacy and Revolution: US-Mexican Relations Under Wilson and Carranza  (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977).(return to paragraph)

30.  John S.D. Eisenhower,  Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917  (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993).;  Larry D.  Hill,  Emissaries to a Revolution: Woodrow Wilson's Executive Agents in Mexico  (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974).;  Robert Quirk, An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz  (New York: Norton, 1962).(return to paragraph)

31.  Freidrich Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa  (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).;  Friedrich Katz,  The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States and the Mexican Revolution  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).(return to paragraph)

32. John M. Mulder,  Woodrow Wilson: The Years of Preparation  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).(return to paragraph)

33. During his time at Princeton, Wilson had numerous set speeches he gave repeatedly.  In the footnotes they are dated as to their creation date, which may not reflect their last delivery.  For example, some of his works, such as his speeches on democracy, were originally written in the 1890s, but were repeated and reused in later years.(return to paragraph)
 
 

Full Citation:  Mark E. Benbow. "Leading Them to the Promised Land: Woodrow Wilson, Covenant  Theology, and the Mexican Revolution" (Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1999). Return to top of page.

 

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