The Secretary of State to President Wilson 18

The President: In reply to the inquiries in the Senate resolution19 specified in his transmitting letter,20 concerning the relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and the reason for which Costa Rica was not permitted to sign the Treaty of Peace of Versailles, the undersigned, the Secretary of State, has the honor to report as follows:

The Government of the United States has consistently used its best efforts to maintain peace in Central America. Actuated by this motive, whenever information has reached it tending to indicate that any persons within the territory of Nicaragua were contemplating passing from that country to territory of the Republic of Costa Rica for the purpose of engaging in armed political movements, the Government of the United States has made representations to the Government of Nicaragua calling that Government’s attention to the usages of international comity and international law.

The spirit which animated the Government of the United States and the Government of Nicaragua in becoming Signatories of the Treaty of Washington, and which was set forth in that Treaty, was also invoked in this relation.

On November 4, 1918,21 the Department of State instructed the American Legation in Nicaragua, in view of reports of revolutionary activities in that country against Costa Rica, to recall to the attention of the President of Nicaragua a statement of the attitude of the United States in this matter, which was cabled to the Legation by the Department on June 4, 1918,22 for communication to the President of Nicaragua, with the object of obtaining the exercise of his good offices in preventing any such activities.

The same instruction of November 4, 1918, also directed the Legation to communicate to the President of Nicaragua the contents of a cablegram sent to the American Legation in Honduras on October 26,23 1918, for communication to the President of that country, in which a statement was made to the effect that, while the Government of the United States was aware of the unfortunate conditions existing [Page 853] in Costa Rica, it could not give its approval to any use of force against Costa Rica or the persons exercising de facto authority there.

On January 27, 1919, the Legation to Nicaragua was instructed,24 in view of reports of military activity in Costa Rica which, it was thought, might be due to expectation of an attack, to bring the above information again to the attention of the President of Nicaragua. On April 29, 1919,25 the Legation was instructed to express this Government’s hopes that Nicaragua would be guided in this matter by considerations of international comity. On May 23 [3?], 1919,26 it was stated, in an instruction to the Legation, that the Department of State desired to urge upon the President of Nicaragua that Nicaragua not only remain strictly neutral, should a conflict arise between Mr. Tinoco of Costa Rica and his opponents, but also fulfill its duty carefully by preventing the organization of expeditions in Nicaragua.

Paraphrases of the telegraphic instructions mentioned, and a copy of a letter of the Acting Secretary of State to the senior Senator from New Hampshire, on this subject, are enclosed.27

The President and Government of Nicaragua have responded in a gratifying manner to the requests for their cooperation, and the efficacy of the steps taken to preserve peace in Central America is indicated by the fact that the Government of the United States is not advised of any serious collision with defensive forces by any armed forces seeking to enter Costa Rica from Nicaragua or Nicaragua from Costa Rica.

The second inquiry contained in the resolution of the Senate asks why “Costa Rica, a belligerent with the Allies in the war just ended, was not permitted to sign the treaty of peace at Versailles.”

In view of the fact that the Government of the United States has not recognized the existence in the Republic of Costa Rica of a de jure or even a legitimately de facto Government, but holds that only the people of Costa Rica can as a moral force set up in that country a government constitutional in character and duly sanctioned by law, it follows naturally that the Government of the United States could not recognize as legally existent any manifestation of such a Government.

To declare war is one of the highest acts of sovereignty. The Government of Costa Rica being for the Government of the United States legally nonexistent, it follows that so far as the Government of the United States is concerned, no state of war could exist between [Page 854] Costa Rica and the Imperial German Government. Obviously there could be no question so far as this Government was concerned as to signing with Costa Rica the Treaty of Peace of Versailles.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lansing
  1. Transmitted to the Senate, Aug. 21; see S. Doc. No. 77, 66th Cong., 1st Sess.
  2. S. Res. 105, p. 849.
  3. President’s letter of Aug. 5 not printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 270.
  5. Ibid., p. 265.
  6. Should be Nov. 4; it was sent in reply to a telegram of Oct. 26 from the Legation in Honduras, ibid., p. 270.
  7. Telegram not printed.
  8. Ante, p. 811.
  9. Ante, p. 812.
  10. Not printed.