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Henry Lane Wilson

Henry Lane Wilson

(1857 – 1932)

Henry Lane Wilson‘s career started before the 20th century began. Appointed by President William McKinley to be U.S. Ambassador to Chile, he was then assigned to Brussels, Belgium by McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt. However, most historians consider Wilson’s most important post to be U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (under President William Howard Taft), a position he held from 1910 until 1913, when he was summarily fired by the new U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson (no relation).

President Taft sent Wilson to Mexico in 1910 primarily to protect U.S. economic interests there: oil, mining, and the railroads. Taft had limited experience in foreign policy and made little effort to understand his neighbors to the South. His idea of diplomacy was what his administration called “dollar diplomacy” – U.S. relationships with other countries were based on what economic advantage they could supply. Early on in his presidency, Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz had sold most of Mexico’s resources, especially those below the soil, such as copper and oil, off to the highest bidders–often to the U.S. U.S. ownership of these resources were investments worth protecting.

But in 1910, revolution was in the air, and President Taft was concerned with the coming changes in Mexico. In 1911, Francisco I. Madero and his Maderistas overthrew the Díaz regime, which had held power for almost forty years. Henry Lane Wilson became Taft’s eyes and ears in Mexico. In truth, Madero’s presidency represented no real danger to U.S. economic interests. Madero himself came from the upper class, and he was not about to upset the delicate economic balance in Mexico that had made his family rich. But Henry Lane Wilson disliked Madero, and decided that Madero had to be replaced.

In early 1913, Wilson began sending dire messages to Washington, claiming that the country was in chaos, and that something had to be done, because Americans and their property were at risk. As Taft was ignorant of, and had little interest in Mexican politics, he gave Wilson a wide berth to act as he saw fit.

Taft did not anticipate that his ambassador would aid and abet a rogue general, Victoriano Huerta, in organizing a coup against the Mexican president. But in February, 1913, Huerta initiated a coup against Madero, and Ambassador Wilson gave his blessing to what became known as the decena trágica, the Ten Tragic Days, during which Huerta terrorized Mexico City and seized power. Wilson ignored the pleas of Madero’s wife to save her husband’s life, telling her: “Your husband’s downfall was due to the fact that he never wanted to consult with me.” Days later, President Madero and Vice-President Pino Suarez were murdered by Huerta’s men.

In March, 1913, only a month after the coup, U.S. President Taft was replaced by Woodrow Wilson, and this represented a change in the U.S. political landscape in a variety of ways. The new president was briefed on the circumstances of the coup, and promptly asked Ambassador Wilson to come to Washington. The diplomat thought he was being re-assigned or promoted, but in fact he was summarily fired. He remained in government until after World War I – at which time he retired, complaining that the U.S. should not be so foolhardy as to get involved in the League of Nations – the post-war predecessor to the United Nations.

Years later, Henry Lane Wilson wrote in his autobiography a description of the events of the day he was removed from Mexico, July 17, 1913. He wrote that he couldn’t imagine why the new president was displeased with him and praised himself for his long career of service. For years following his tenure in Mexico, he and his children wrote articles and letters to newspapers refuting the idea that he had anything to do with the coup that killed Madero, and turned Mexico over to a murderous thug.

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