I have during the week telegraphed reports of the prodigious excitement here about Benton’s death and of the calmness, under severe criticism, of Sir Edward Grey and the Government. Kill an Englishman at home and there is no undue excitement. But kill one abroad, and gunboats and armies and reparation are at once thought about — a state of mind that English rule in India & in other far-off foreign lands has made necessary till it has become instinctive. Of course, too, the financial impatience about Mexican investments has taken advantage of the incident. It need not disturb us, I think, although it will cause quite a strong critical feeling against us for some time to come. There is no doubt about that.
I took occasion in my talk with Sir Edward Grey to-day to say very frankly that, while the event was in every way regretable, the death of a man who having long lived in a country and married there and amassed property and apparently took taken sides in politics and who yet had not become a citizen of that country and who had so little judgment as deliberately to go and quarrel with a man who had military power — I told him that such a man’s death was not an event that should in any way to the slightest degree be thought of sufficient importance to cause a change in a well-thought-out, righteous principle upon which a great government was directing its actions towards Mexico and towards all Central America. I thought it opportune, while I could thank him for his own considerate attitude, to tell him plainly that the incident is exaggerated in the British mind. He showed (rather than said) that he agreed with me, as I am sure he does. But he must answer to an excited House of Commons. He’ll stand square and firm, however, in his relation to us. I feel sure of that.
I has to reason all this out myself and reach the conclusion that we ought not to become excited and therefore that we would not become excited; for I have had no word from our Government about the Benton incident. Two hours after my talk with Sir Edward Grey, the afternoon papers brought me news of the (your) Cabinet decision yesterday. If I had known that while I was with him, I daresay I could have a spoken with more vim. This is a fair instance of the way in which I sometimes have to think out what our Government ought to do and to proceed upon that, as if I knew. This method has worked all right so far, but there are obvious dangers in it. If there were some man whose especial business it was to telegraph me about that Cabinet meeting, it would have been a great help.
When The Times published its ferocious leader the other morning (such things have a real influence here as nothing similar has with us), I immediately invited the Editor of The Westminster, which is the Government organ, to dinner. During dinner his wife told me they were all much distressed about The Times; and, after dinner, Spender himself said the same thing. He is to spend the afternoon with me tomorrow — of his own seeking — after my giving him this friendly chance. He is in the Government’s confidence to an unusual degree. I sought to give the Prime Minister the same chance to talk. But, after he had accepted my invitation, the King commanded him to dine with him on the same evening. — Bryce was here & said not a word! Neither did the King during the two hours that I explained baseball to him at the game between the “White Sox” and the “Giants.” Most of the men who lately talked freely about Mexico are become silent. The Spectator today declares that our policy has lamentably and pitifully failed etc. etc.
All which, to my mind, shows how lucky it is for us and for the world that it is our job and not theirs. They would Indiaize and Egyptize Mexico forever.
I have confidence in Sir Edward Grey and the Government; but I can talk to them better if I am kept informed.
Walter H. Page
To The President at Washington.