Peace of Marblehead

Jul 02, 2015

It's that time of year again! Every summer, interns from around the country join us in our work on the TR Digital Library. We often ask them to share their experiences in the blog. Mary Frances Angelini looks at the Peace of Marblehead.

One of the wonderful aspects about archival research (and cataloging archival collections!) is discovering things about which you knew nothing. Many people know about TR’s efforts in the peace talks to end the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). That war ended with the Treaty of Portsmouth, which was mediated by TR. Not so many people—maybe especially not Americans—have heard about the Peace of Marblehead. I had never heard about it before cataloging the telegram pictured below. Part of the reason for that is because there is so little emphasis placed on Latin American history in the American education system. A second part is that, while the negotiations were done under TR’s auspices, he was not directly involved. A third factor is that it is not a good example of “Gunboat Diplomacy” (unlike the Panamanian Revolution), and, thus, tends to get ignored. Finally, while it ended one conflict, it caused some jurisdictional confusion with other treaties and another Central American nation not involved in the negotiations, and perhaps gave a pretext for one nation to invade another.


Telegram from David Thompson to Elihu Root, July 23, 1906.
From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

To give a very brief, very simplified recap of the events, in 1906, there was a revolt in Guatemala, and there were accusations that the rebels were receiving aid from El Salvador which caused armed conflict between the two nations. Honduras, who shares a border with Guatemala to its west and El Salvador to its south, became embroiled in the conflict. It was thought that the war might expand to other nations (including Mexico, which shares a border with Guatemala) and could destabilize the region. TR and the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, cooperated in sending ministers and negotiators to help find an end to the conflict. The negotiations were held on the cruiser the USS Marblehead, and all three nations, and Costa Rica who was assisting, agreed to several things including an exchange of prisoners and the withdrawal of forces. The agreement also contained the stipulation that future differences would be subject to arbitration by the presidents of the United States and Mexico.

Several problems became clear shortly thereafter. Nicaragua was not involved in the negotiations, and afterwards declined to be a signatory to or to be bound by the terms of the treaty on the grounds that it ran against the treaty signed at Cortino in 1902. In early 1907, Honduras sent troops to its border with Nicaragua to suppress a revolutionary uprising that Honduras said was aided by Nicaragua, who also provided refuge to the rebels.

This telegram is one enticing item in a host of material the TR Center is working to make available to everyone. While the work of cataloging the items is not completely chronological, more material from TR’s first term in office is available than from his second. I am hoping that, as I work to catalog more material, I’ll see more documents relating to this very interesting chapter in U.S.-Central American relations. (I know, I need to work faster!)  If you are looking for more information on this topic, it might help to remember that Marblehead is not a geographic location, but is a ship (which took me longer to realize than I’d like to admit), that there were many Central American nations involved, and that, while it did solve an immediate problem, it also became a pretext for more conflict.

Mary Frances Angelini is the Librarian of the Grossman Library at Harvard University's Extension School. She is currently working towards a Post Masters Certificate in Archives Management through San Jose State University's online program. Her internship with the Theodore Roosevelt Center offers her the opportunity to use many of the practical skills she needs to start her second career as an archivist, as well as the opportunity to work with the records of her favorite president, TR. 

Posted by Mary Frances Angelini on Jul 02, 2015 in Current Events  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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