The Under Secretary of State (Fletcher) to the Chargé in Mexico (Summerlin)

Dear Mr. Summerlin: I enclose a personal letter from the President of the United States to General Obregon, in answer to a personal and informal letter sent to the President by General Obregon through Mr. Dover. The President desires that you should present this letter to General Obregon at a personal interview, and that you should have an accurate and careful translation of it made into Spanish, which should be handed to General Obregon with the original letter. You should be careful, however, to state to General Obregon that you have made the translation merely as a matter of courtesy and convenience to him, and that it is in no wise to be regarded as official.

For your information and the confidential files of the Embassy, I also enclose a copy of General Obregon’s letter to which the enclosed is a reply, accompanied by a translation made in the Department.

Yours very sincerely,

Henry P. Fletcher
[Page 420]

President Harding to General Obregon

Dear General Obregon: Your personal letter of June the eleventh was handed to me by our common friend, Mr. Dover, on returning from his visit to Mexico, and I am glad to reply in the same personal and informal manner. I have read with the greatest interest and attention the statements in your letter with reference to your policy in regard to the interests of American citizens in Mexico. I wish to say in the first place that I entirely agree with you that the friendship between Mexico and the United States has not been fundamentally impaired, and that the important question to be settled is the manner in which we may re-establish and renew the outward form of its expression.

It would be uncandid not to state that the relations which have existed between Mexico and the United States during the last decade have been far from satisfactory. Since the Revolution, hundreds of Americans, peacefully residing in Mexico, have lost their lives, and many more of them have been deprived in one way or another of their properties. When the Constitution of Queretaro was adopted, the American Government felt uneasy as to its effect upon the rights and interests of American citizens in Mexico, and inquiries on that score were made in advance of recognition of Mr. Carranza. Relying on the faith of the assurances received from the Mexican authorities then exercising control, the Carranza Government was recognized. In spite, however, of these assurances the United States Government was greatly disappointed to find that measures seriously menacing the private rights of American citizens were adopted, and American lives and property did not receive the protection and enjoy the security which had been promised.

After the overthrow of the Carranza Government, the Government of the United States felt that its duty to its citizens demanded a more definite understanding as to the intention of the regime which succeeded it with regard to the protection of the interests of American citizens in Mexico. It felt that this understanding, if reached, would have a very beneficial effect on the political and commercial relations of the two countries, and would obviate the necessity for diplomatic representations and remonstrances arising from lack of protection and security.

I have read with interest your public statement of April second, of which you attach a copy to your letter, and following the lines of it and desiring to remove all possible causes of friction, and to pave the way to that neighborly friendship and cooperation which I hope [Page 421] to see established between Mexico and the United States, I directed the State Department to prepare for submission to and discussion with you, the draft of a treaty31 which would give to the people of our two countries mutual and reciprocal advantages in respect to their trade, and would also serve, first, to clear away, in harmony with your public statements, all doubt as to the non-retroactive and non-confiscatory effect of the present Mexican Constitution; second, arrange for a joint mixed claims commission to settle the claims of American citizens against Mexico, and of Mexican citizens against the United States; third, to provide the means of settlement of all pending frontier questions. I carefully examined and approve[d] the draft of the proposed treaty. Treaties are nothing more nor less than formal statements of terms on which two countries maintain their political and commercial intercourse. They are designed to remove causes of misunderstanding, and so in this case it seemed to me that by embodying the understanding of the two governments with reference to questions raised by the adoption of the new Constitution in Mexico, especially those relating to the enforcement of its provisions in a non-retroactive and non-confiscatory manner, the causes of friction and difficulty which have unfortunately existed in the last few years would be removed, and the two governments might devote themselves to mutual help and cooperation, rather than remain divided and disturbed by continual discord and friction with respect to points upon which, apparently, we are both now agreed.

You, as I understand it, recognize that some of the questions, at least, now pending between us should be settled and arranged by treaty, and have invited, as I am informed, this and other Governments to enter into conventions providing for the creation of joint commissions for the settlement of claims arising out of the Revolution. The proposal of the United States is merely to go a step farther and to arrange for the settlement of other pending questions.

In proposing this course of action the United States is not attempting to interfere with the domestic institutions of Mexico, nor to dictate in matters of purely internal concern. It fully recognizes the right of Mexico as a sovereign nation to adopt such laws as may seem best, providing always (and this applies not only to Mexico but to every other country) that such laws do not violate the Law of Nations and the fundamental principles of right and justice underlying international intercourse.

On the other hand, the question as to whether the United States Government shall or shall not recognize another government is purely a domestic one for the United States. The principles upon which it has heretofore acted in this respect are well known, and need scarcely [Page 422] be recapitulated. In entering into this treaty with you recognition would be effected, ipso facto.

I think I ought to take advantage of this occasion to make clear to you that the attitude of the United States Government is not dictated by the interests of any particular group, and that its position is not affected by what you refer to as “lack of [exact] information or by reason of an atmosphere created on purpose by those who wish to gain more the longer the misunderstanding shall be continued”, but on the contrary has been taken after careful study of the situation and with a sincere desire to reach an understanding which will place the relations of the two countries on a firm and enduring basis of friendly and mutually advantageous intercourse.

In your letter under acknowledgment you state that you cannot enter into a treaty because the law does not permit you “any more than it is permitted to the President of the United States to conclude treaties contrary to the laws of his country”. It was not my intention to invite you to conclude a treaty contrary to the laws of Mexico, but one entirely in conformity with them as interpreted by your own declarations. If the statements repeatedly made to the effect that the Constitution and laws of Mexico are not retroactive and confiscatory are true, I cannot see how the treaty which has been submitted for your consideration is contrary to them, any more than a treaty or convention for the adjustment of claims would be so considered. In other words, the United States Government feels that the provisions of the proposed treaty cannot be considered to be violative of the Constitution and laws of Mexico, unless it is the intention to interpret and apply those laws retroactively, which you insist it is not the intention to do; therefore, I feel there must be some misunderstanding which a more careful examination of the matter will correct.

I have also noted your statement that the non-retroactive and nonconfiscatory reglementation of Article 27 of the Constitution is in the political atmosphere of Mexico, and that apart from the political guarantees which the Constitution gives to these principles, the agreement of the legislative powers of Mexico with regard thereto, has already been shown in divers forms and occasions and that there is no reason for believing that the judicial power will adopt a different view. I am not advised, however, that the legislative and judicial authorities of Mexico have acted in the matter, and I may be permitted to observe that such action undoubtedly could have a very beneficial effect in removing the uncertainties of the situation.

It would be wholly pleasing to this Government to send a special commissioner to Mexico to negotiate the covenant in conformity with the terms which have already been expressed to you, both formally [Page 423] and informally, upon advice from you that such a treaty can be closed up. Arrangement for such a special envoy will be made with great promptness and in the hope of a speedy conclusion of the arrangements which are so essential to the welfare and concord of both governments.

This letter will be handed you by Mr. Summerlin. And it may be well to say that, in view of the publicity which has attended the discussion of these questions, and of the natural desire of a number of persons to appear as your representatives or mine, you will find the representatives of the State Department more dependable, as they alone are authorized to speak for this Government.

With assurances [etc.]

Warren G. Harding
  1. Ante, p. 397.