William Jennings Bryan to Woodrow Wilson




William Jennings Bryan sends Woodrow Wilson a memorandum on the Mexico situation.


Wilson Papers, Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, District of Columbia




The tender of our good offices with a view to restoring order and establishing permanent peace in Mexico, can be justified:First: On the ground of our proximity.
Second: On the ground of our deep interest in the conditions in North America; andThird: Because of the large number of Mexicans Americans residing in Mexico, persons who have been invited to invest their money there in the development of the resources of the country. Such an invitation implies a promise of protection to the lives and property of those who accept the invitation, and we must assume that any one aspiring to the government of the country desires that such protection shall be given in the fullest sense -- a protection which is impossible under exsisting conditions and so long as conditions remain as they are.
We have no reason to believe that our good offices will would be refused or that the tender of them would, under the circumstances, be resented, especially if such tender was accompanied by the assurance that we desired to recognize the Government as long soon as we hadve proof of its acceptability by the people -- the olnly basis upon which stable government is possible.
The wishes of the people can be tested by an election fairly held and we mightay be able to exert ian influence with the Constitutionalists to bring about a suspension of hostilities until such election can be held, provided such reforms are pledged as will satisfy those who are resisting the Central Government.
If Huerta does resent the suggestion of mediation, we have then to consider the reiteration of the call made by President Taft upon all Americans residing in Mexico to leave their property in the hands of agents and retire from the country. The exact numbers of Americans in Mexico is not known, but it has been stated by Henry Lane Wilson as thirty thousand. This is probably a maximum estimate, but the number does not alter the principle involved. Americans who go from our country into another country for the purpose of making money, must leave their country to decide the conditions under which they remain if they would claim their country’s protection. We have a law, passed not many years ago, limiting the time during which the naturalized citizen can claim the protection of this country if he returns to the cuountry of his birth; and so we have a right to prescribe the conditions upon which an American citizen, going abroad, may claim his country’s protection. If, after being notified by our Government, he decides to stay in the country and risk the dangers, he cannot justly charge to his country injuries that may be due to his lack of judgment. If an American citizen, having property in Mexico, refuses to leave Mexico because he is afraid that his property will suffer, he has puts his property interests above his own welfare, and but he cannot rightfully ask this Government to put his property in another country above the lives of American citizens who might may be sacrificed in the attempt to protect that property.
Any property rights that may be violated by the Mexican government can be dealt with when order is restored. But a distinction ought to be made between the properction of citizens passing through a country on legitimate business, and those who, for business reasons, remain in a country in times of war when extraordinary risks have to be endured taken and often warning has been given them.
If any American citizen, desiring to leave the country, is unable to do so without danger to himself, we can demand safe conduct at the hands of the Government, and in view of our paramount position, we would also be justified in asking safe conduct for foreigners of other nations desiring to leave Mexico. This safe conduct would not likely be refused.
If safe conduct was refused, it would be a confession, either of the Government’s inability to protect foreigners residing there, or of its unwillingness to do so. In either case, we would be justified in sending such a force as might be necessary to rescure American citizens and citizens of other countries and bring them out of the country, notice being given at the time that this was the only reason for sending forces into the country. If war follow as the result of our effort to bring out of Mexico those who desire to come, and whose safety the Government could not or would not guarantee, we would be acquitted before the world if the war was continued only for that purpose and only until the purpose was accomplished.
When we have first exhausted our efforts to assist in the restoring of peace by friendly counsel; second, recalling American citizens and others looking to us to protection from the war zone; third, demanding safe conduct for our citizens and others looking to us for protection; and, fourth, furnishing safe conduct for our own citizens and those looking to us for ptotection, we have done all that duty requires of us. In the doing of these things, we will be justified in using whatever force is necessary. To go farther, and send a force into the country to protect property which Americans are not willing to leave, is, first, to alllow such Americans to declare war, whereas the constitution has vested in Congress, and in Congress only, the right to declare war; second, to send a force into a country to protect property merely because American citizens are npot willing to leave it, is to put property rights above human rights -- to put the dollar above the man -- and war entered into for this purpose would put this country upon the a level with those nations which have extended their territory by conquest, first allowing their citizens to go abroad in quest of gain and then sending an army to guarantee the profits sought. To do this in the case of Mexico would be to become responsible for the blood shed in the undertaking and to fasten upon our country the burden of administering for generations to come a foreign government over a hostile people to their own injury and to our own demoralization.
Our nation claims to stand in the forefront of the world’s civilization and aspires to be the greatest moral influence in the world. We cannot hope to realize our ambition or to support our claim if we are willing to engage in war with a neighboring people merely to protect property which has been acquired with a full knowledge of the risks arttendant upon it.
Property can be compensated for in money —/Iit cannot be measured in the lives of human beings, Eeven if the number of lives necessary could be estimated -- a thing impossible, for when a war is commenced no one can foresee the end. Neither can any one foresee the foreign complications that may follow a war or the far-reaching influence of national and race antagonism. The Mexicans are a Spanish speaking people., and what we do in Mexico will go far toward fixing in the minds of the people in Central and South America their estimate of us. In proportion as Mexico is made to suffer for having permitted Americans to assist in the develobpment of the country, in that proportion will the other undvevelped countries to the south iof us be suspicious of American citizens coming among them to do business.
In addition to these tangible and material dangers involved in a war, there is the immeasurable loss of prestige which must come if we can no longer be looked to as the leader in the peace movement and as the exponent of human rights, not to speak of our moral responsibility for the lives lost in such a war.*
WJ Bryan

Original Format





Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925, “William Jennings Bryan to Woodrow Wilson,” 1913 July 20, WWP17880, First Year Wilson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.