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Historians traditionally have exaggerated Dwight Morrow's role in the Mexican Revolution. According to the traditional view, Morrow arrived in Mexico as the new U.S. ambassador in 1927 and proceeded to convince President Plutarco Elías Calles that the time had come to apply the brakes to his revolutionary reforms. In the next three years, the vexatious oil dispute, the bloody Church-State conflict, and the problems caused by the agrarian reform were, supposedly, settled, thanks to Morrow's benign, business-like approach to diplomatic affairs.

But there are many problems with this interpreta­tion of U.S.-Mexican relations. It now appears that changing political and economic conditions in the United States and Mexico had created an ideal environment for a statesman with Morrow's special talents. In the United States, talk of armed intervention in Mexico had brought a storm of criticism from the public, the press, and major sectors of the American business community. With only the petroleum interests arid scattered conservative elements demanding a hard line, Washington realized that less belligerent tactics were needed to achieve its diplomatic goals south of the Rio Grande.

In Mexico, President Calles welcomed Ambassador Morrow because he had always shared the former banker's conservative economic ideas. Only the State Department's uncompromising attitude and left-wing pressure had forced Calles to appear far more radical than he truly was on issues involving the oil industry, labor relations, and the agrarian reform. However, by late 1927 Calles finally enjoyed sufficient political power to control his enemies and deal with an American envoy who was willing to cooperate with the Mexicans, rather than forcing them to new extremes with unreasonable demands.

Morrow was, therefore, met with great fanfare in Mexico and was immediately encouraged to deal directly with Calles on a personal basis. Exploiting the ambassador's good will and evident respect for Mexican sovereignty, Calles was soon able to retreat from certain troublesome policies without losing face in the United States or Mexico. As a result, the oil dispute was settled as Calles submitted new oil legislation to his Congress and wrote new regulations for the industry with Morrow's assistance. The president was, moreover, able to control agrarian forces with Morrow's aid as Calles' agrarian officials discouraged the "reckless transfer of land" when they accompanied the ambassador on his trips through-the countryside. Other American cases were quietly resolved in Mexican courts and by an agrarian official who was temporarily assigned to the Foreign Ministry. Later, when a total defeat of the Cristeros appeared impossible and Morrow's own life was in danger, Calles exploited the envoy's negotiating skills to settle the Church-State dispute and remove yet another source of friction between the United States and Mexico.

Morrow's cooperation and support were considered to be of even greater importance at the height of two political crises in 1928 and 1929. In 1928, Alvaro Obregón's assassi­nation threatened to shake the ·foundations of Mexican political and economic stability, but Morrow's publicly expressed confidence in the government helped to prevent both a business panic and a new military revolt in mid-1928. In 1929, when a military revolt finally did break out, the ambassador's support was considered essential in obtaining Washington's aid and in defeating the rebels before their movement could seriously affect Mexican political and economic progress.

However, by 1930 several factors, including rumors that Morrow had begun to profit from his diplomatic post, had combined to produce a "backfire of resentment" against the now-famous ambassador. Dwight Morrow can, nevertheless, be considered a precursor to Franklin Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy because he ardently opposed U.S. military intervention and economic imperialism in Latin America. His mission can be judged a diplomatic success because, while Morrow allowed Calles to exploit his good will during serious political and economic crises, American foreign policy goals were finally achieved with tactful and innova­tive methods for the first time in the Mexican Revolution.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Edwin Lieuwen

Second Committee Member

Martin Cyril Needler

Third Committee Member

Robert William Kern

Fourth Committee Member

Peter John Bakewell

Fifth Committee Member

Noel Harvey Pugach



Project Sponsors

Title VI National Defense Foreign Language Fellowship provided funds

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