The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Mexico (Sheffield)
274. Below is the substance of my conversation today with the Mexican Ambassador. Unless you believe it to be inadvisable you are authorized to use it as a basis of a conversation with the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs:45
“The Secretary referred to a memorandum of the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs46 in answer to a memorandum left with Señor Sáenz on November 27,47 in which certain observations were made concerning the bill proposed to ‘regulate’ Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution. Señor Téllez stated that he had not yet received a copy of this memorandum, but that he had had a telegram from his Government stating that it was on the way.[Page 548]
The Secretary then read to Señor Téllez from Page 2 of the memorandum,48 and remarked, in connection with the implied criticism of the Secretary’s action in commenting upon pending legislation in Mexico, that we had received at different times representations from foreign governments in respect to pending legislation in the United States, and that it seemed to him that the time to make these comments was before the legislation should be enacted, with a view to avoiding future friction. The Secretary explained very fully to Señor Téllez that this Government had made it most clear at all times that it did not wish to make any observations on legislation in Mexico aimed solely at the future, and had carefully restricted the scope of the observations made to the features in the pending bills which seemed to have retroactive effect and to affect vested rights duly acquired under previously existing Mexican laws. He added that the letter and spirit of the minutes of the discussions between the Mexican Commissioners and Messrs. Warren and Payne should also always be borne in mind in this connection.
Alluding to the implication in the reply from the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs that these observations were preceded by press publications which, although he was sure did not emanate officially from the respective offices, certainly originated therein, the Secretary stated that this was not true; that he had in accordance with his own views and the agreement reached with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, carefully refrained from any allusion to the matter during his conversations with the press, and that no information had been given out either by the members of the American Embassy in Mexico or by the Department. Señor Téllez observed that some of the American correspondents in Mexico City had sent despatches concerning the bill, and it was intimated subsequently to Señor Téllez that these correspondents had many sources of information in Mexico and that the text of the bill was not difficult for them to obtain.
The Secretary stated to the Ambassador that he did not desire to go into a detailed discussion of the provisions of the Alien Land and Petroleum laws; that he had examined with care the reply of the Mexican Government and had examined the Petroleum Bill49 and it seemed to him, and it was the unanimous opinion of all American interests which had made representations to the State Department, that these bills, if they become laws, would divest vested rights legally acquired under Mexican laws and he deplored the construction evidently placed upon his recommendations, which were made only in a friendly spirit and in consonance with his desire to protect duly vested American rights and to avoid misunderstanding between the two countries. The Secretary pointed out to the Ambassador that the two laws referred to, the one of Arizona and the one of Illinois, were not retroactive and did not divest previously vested rights of foreign citizens. The Arizona law specifically provides that no person other than a citizen of the United States, or who has declared his intention to become such, and no corporation more than 30 percent of whose stock is owned by persons other than citizens of the United States or who have declared their intention to become [Page 549] such, shall hereafter acquire any land or title thereto or interest therein other than mineral lands or such as may be necessary for the actual working of mines and the products thereof. The Arizona law also has a proviso that it shall not be construed in any way to prevent or interfere with the ownership of mining lands. The Illinois Statute does not in terms apply to lands acquired previous to the passage of the law and has been so construed by the Supreme Court of Illinois as not applying to previously vested rights of aliens. This construction is binding upon every court in the United States.
The Secretary went on to say that we have given many evidences of our friendship to the present Government of Mexico; that the restriction on the sale of arms have been removed from all Central American countries except in one or two instances where we have treaty requirements, but we continued to police the international border at our expense and to maintain the embargo on arms to Mexico; that no shipments of arms or explosives have been made to Mexico since the embargo except upon express permit given by the Department of State and with the approval of the Mexican Embassy in this capital; that we had on several occasions attempted to restrict the activities of persons in this country supposed to be furthering revolutionary or subversive movements; that we have always refused, to receive representatives of any Mexican revolutionary groups; that he has purposely refused to receive any Mexican in order to avoid the risk of finding himself confronted with some one representing a revolutionary movement unless that Mexican were duly presented by the Mexican Ambassador. The Secretary referred to … whom he had refused to receive because he was informed that he was in league with Mexicans in this country desiring to stir up a revolution.
The Secretary alluded to the growing impression among Americans interested in Mexico that there was a general campaign of legislation designed to deprive them of their rights, and concluded by saying that he hoped that this was not true but that he desired to have a frank talk with Señor Téllez on the subject.
The Secretary alluded to the labor bill pending in Mexico, but observed that of course it was a matter of domestic policy, and that we did not wish to make any official representations thereon, but that American interests were very much concerned over its possibilities.”
Department is of the opinion that some provisions of the petroleum bill are retroactive and destructive of the vested rights of Americans. After reading reply of Foreign Minister I am convinced that criticisms of land bill were justified. If you are of the opinion, after you have had further conversations with the Foreign Minister, that the Department should file a formal protest against the petroleum bill and should make a further reply to Foreign Office note in answer to your November 27th, I shall do so. Do not leave with Foreign Office a memorandum of my above conversation since the Ambassador took no notes and his report may differ from mine in detail. Reply at once as to whether Department should make representations.