The Tampico Affair and the Speech from Woodrow Wilson to the American People

Trying to protect Mexican landowners known as hacendados and old army officers from Mexican President Francisco I. Madero’s reforms, and fearing that Madero would seize all land held by foreign business, General Victoriano Huerta led a coup that seized power and murdered Madero. The American capitalists supported Huerta, but President Woodrow Wilson did not. In April 1914, nine American soldiers were arrested for allegedly entering a prohibited zone in Tampico. With this action, Wilson had an excuse to invade Mexico.

Wilson sent marines to Veracruz, a Mexican port, and the force overthrew Huerta. Mexicans responded with anti-American riots, and the European press denounced the American intervention.

But before sending his troops to Mexico, Wilson gave a speech to his countrymen to justify his actions. He explained that sailors from the crew of the U.S.S. Dolphin had been detained without reason by the members of the Mexican army under Huerta. He said the sailors had been set free a while later and that Huerta’s government had issued an apology.

However, Wilson said, "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...."

This, he continued, "might have been attributed to the ignorance or arrogance of a single officer (the one who ordered the sailors detained). Unfortunately, it was not an isolated case." Wilson then talked about a similar incident that took place just a few days before the Tampico incident, adding: "The manifest danger of such a situation (is) that such offenses might grow from bad to worse until something happened of so gross and intolerable a sort as to lead directly and inevitably to armed conflict."

Wilson insisted that his anger was not directed at the Mexican people, for whom, he said, the Americans felt "...deep and genuine friendship," but at Huerta "and those who adhere to him." Huerta, he said, refuses to conduct a ceremony to salute the American flag, as an official apology, refusal which could be attributed to the fact his administration did not have the support of the U.S. government.

Finally, Wilson said, " I, therefore, come to ask your approval that I should use the armed forces of the United States... to obtain from General Huerta and his adherents the fullest recognition of the rights and dignity of the United States..." Soon thereafter, Huerta fled from the Mexican capital, but the scandal brought about by the presence of American troops in Veracruz hurt the relations between the two countries.

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