Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

2343The Tampico Incident & Woodrow Wilson

Expand Messages
  • carlsilva86
    Jan 31, 2013

      The  Tampico  Incident

      The Tampico Incident of April 1914, which ultimately almost led to the outbreak of war between the U.S. and Mexico, began with the arrest of nine American sailors from the U.S.S. Dolphin on Mexican territory - Tampico - for allegedly entering a prohibited area.

      Consequently paraded through the streets of Tampico the plight of the U.S. sailors outraged the regional U.S. naval commander Admiral Henry Mayo. He demanded that the Mexican government, under the dictator General Victoriano Huerta since his coup in February 1913, promise to punish the officials involved in the arrest of the seaman, and that the U.S. flag be given a formal 21-gun salute on Mexican land within 24 hours.

      While the Mexicans were willing to issue an apology and punish over-zealous local officials they were not prepared to concede the humiliation of formally saluting the U.S. flag on Mexican land (particularly as the U.S. refused to accept the legitimacy of Huerta's government). U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was nevertheless insistent, exasperated by what he regarded as the latest in a line of Mexican incidents.

      There was no love lost between Wilson and Huerta. The former had unambiguously declared Huerta to be "false... sly... full of bravado... seldom sober and always irresponsible" and a "scoundrel". Huerta in turn regarded Wilson disdainfully as the "puritan of the north".

      Consequently Wilson spoke before the U.S. Congress on 20 April 1914 and requested authorization to use military force if necessary to resolve the issue. He argued that "the incident cannot be regarded as a trivial one, especially as two of the men arrested were taken from the boat itself - that is to say, from the territory of the United States". Congress granted its permission some two days later.

      Wilson responded by dispatching a force of U.S. marines to the Mexican port of Veracruz, an action that led to the overthrow of Huerta. Wilson felt his actions to be justified but came under fire from European governments for his supposedly heavy-handed approach (notably from Germany).

      Huerta's departure from the Mexican capital was not however the end of the matter. Festering Mexican ill-will towards the U.S. was fanned by the dispatch of a telegram by the German government (as represented by Arthur Zimmermann) in January 1917 - the so-called Zimmermann Telegram - in which he intimated that Mexico would gain the possibility of annexing U.S. territory were it to join Germany in a combined campaign against the U.S.

      Although the U.S. was at that stage neutral in its attitude to the warring powers in Europe, British interception - and transmission to Washington - of Zimmermann's telegram effectively decided Wilson to go to war with Germany in April 1917.

      Woodrow Wilson, Message to Congress, 63rd Cong., 2d Sess., Senate Doc. No. 566 (Washington, 1914), pp. 3-4.

      The effect of the war upon the United States will depend upon what American citizens say and do. Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned. The spirit of the nation in this critical matter will be determined largely by what individuals and society and those gathered in public meetings do and say, upon what newspapers and magazines contain, upon what ministers utter in their pulpits, and men proclaim as their opinions upon the street.

      The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honor and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion if not in action.

      Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.

      I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.

      A great number of American, Spanish American, Mexican American and other nationalities were placed in jail based on this document.