by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today is Mexican Independence Day and, as noted in last night’s post and elsewhere in this blog, William Workman Temple (1851-1917,) the third child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, spent considerable time in México at the end of the 19th and first decade of the 20th century. His experiences there led, upon returning to Los Angeles by 1910 after an absence of some thirty years, to his commenting on the Mexican Revolution then in full swing in a circular, published in March 1911 by Albert H. Heath of the Heath Print Shop in San Diego.
Though it does not appear that the essay received much distribution or notice, though Robert La Follette, the populist progressive Republican senator from Wisconsin, did keep a copy in his files, Temple’s “The Mexican Revolution, and American Public Opinion” is an interesting exposition on conditions in that country and was one of two known published works of his, the other being “An Address to the American People,” issued by a Modesto printer in June 1910.
Temple began his piece by claiming that “the time is now at hand, when we should have a just and true conception of the actual situation existing in the Republic of Mexico; the causes which have led to the present revolution and civil war; and the present status of the insurrectos in that country.” It was vital, he added, that the conditions there should be looked at through facts, not bias or “the influence of yellow [sensationalized] journalism.”
It is all absurd to think that this is a mere local agitation instituted by irresponsibles, hobos, cut-throats, socialists, rateros [petty thieves], or an aggregation of soldiers of fortune. On the contrary this is a universal movement in Mexico inaugurated and led by the best blood in the land, and now in operation in more than 20 states of the Mexican Republic.
Temple added that “Francisco Madero, the leader of the revolution, is a typical Mexican gentleman” who had “nothing of the hobo, or ratero about him.” Wealthy, well-educated in his homeland and outside the country and “possesed of every advantage that a man can acquire” and “the idol of his people,” Madero rose to the leadership of the movement after longtime dictator Porfirio Díaz announced he would not run for reelection in 1910 and then reneged on that pledge.
After being arrested on insurrection allegations and then released on bond, Madero went to San Antonio, Texas and issued the Plan de San Luis Potosí, calling for revolution while declaring himself the rightful president of the country. With support from the likes of Francisco “Pancho” Villa, Madero reentered México in Chihuahua to prosecute the rebellion with an army of insurrectos. Temple wrote his essay at the end of March as the revolution was in full swing.
After noting that masses of Mexicans were patient “for the last 30 years for the reforms promised by the Diaz administration,” he continued that “those Americans who have lived and who have intelligently traveled in Mexico, and those who live in the frontier states and territories of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and who know the situation all agree in saying that the constitutional rights of the people are ignored in Mexico, that the poor and helpless are oppressed” and that other conditions have allowed the dictator to be suported by “Cientificos,” or technocrat supporters of Diaz, as well as “political and financial pirates.”
The rights of the states and citizens generally were trampled underfoot so “that the jefes politico are the mere tools of the general government,” spies were in evidence throughout the nation, free speech and a free press were denied, corruption and bribery rampant, and “feudal lords” kept peones in utter subjugation. Temple also was critical of “the policy of colonizing Asiatics” which “is antagonistic to the working classes and dangerous to the public welfare,” he being among the majority of Americans who railed against the “yellow peril” of Asian migration to the United States, as well.
The common citizens “do not receive a living wage so that they might live in independence, decency and self-respect,” and Diaz’s repression meant “that thousands are rotting in filthy dungeons” while “a reign of savagery and terror is about to be inaugurated by the federals in not giving quarter to prisoners of war whether Mexicans or foreigners.” The above reasons and more were what “led the Mexican patriots to revolt against the military, arbitrary and unconstitutional government of” the dictator.
As to the United States, Temple stated that the government’s position should be “of sincere friendship and consideration towards our sister republic” with regret that the revolution should have transpired. He continued,
We shall insist that the territorial integrity of the Mexican republic shall never be jeopardized either by the insurrectos, or the connivance of a foreign power. We have no hostile intentions, we demand no territory, we seek not to interfere in the adjustment of the internal affairs of a sovreign and independent state. We require an army to patrol the frontier from the gulf to the Pacific in the execution of the neutrality laws of the country, and to protect ourselves against marauding bands along the border . . the insurrectos may in the near future justly demand to be recognized by us as belligerents, and we cannot place ourselves in a false position.
Moreover, “to ensure tranquility and happiness” along with friendship through “ties of sympathy and by democratic principles,” as well as commerce and large American investments in Mexico, the writer asked “why should not the U.S. at this very moment use her best offices in bringing this wat to a close” through a three-part offer to México.
The first was to achieve an armistice for a month or two so that “the respective parties, regulars and insurrectos” could “preserve their status quo, retain their arms, but not engage” in hostilities. The second was for “the Mexican congress to consider the gravity of the situation,” whatever this was supposed to mean. Finally, Temple called for a ten-person commission to be created by the government and its adversaries (each selecting half the commissioners) during the ceasefire “with a view to an amicable adjustment and ending of the revolution.”
This failing (what else could happen?), the members were “to appeal to the President of the United States that he appoint a non-partisan and expert commission of five members to confer with them, these to have only advisory powers.” Yet, Diaz and his vice-president, Ramon Corral, were to step down as most Mexicans did not support them. As for the revolutionaries, they “must secure the needed reforms and their constitutional rights” as well as “competent, able, disinterested and patriotic men” to be elected to power and “then the revolution will be at an end for its purposes shall have been accomplished.”
Adding that democracy and republican government was a permanent feature in the Western hemisphere, Temple waxed poetic:
The errors of the few will not destroy us. Liberty like truth though crushed to earth will rise again. The fires of liberty and constitutional freedom were first kindled at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill; and today the whole world is intent in a just and hopeful desire to dethrone privilege, caste, despotism and oppression Washington and Lincoln and Grant will go down in the ages as the liberators of their country. A halo of glory will for all time surround their memory. The spirit of Hidalgo and Allende, and Comonfort and Juarez still lives in Mexico, and Madero and his followers represent that spirit . . . we the great masses of the American people who love justice and fair play refusing to be blinded by prejudice, the dust of yellow journalism, or the subsidized sheets and periodicals of special privilege and monopoly in the full light of truth and justice—uphold the spirit of patriotism that actuates the insurrectos in their attempts to regain their constitutional rights. We join all loyal Mexican in crying Viva Madero—Viva Mexico—Viva la Libertad—Viva la ley y la Constitución.
For the essayist, “this Mexican revolution should prove an object lesson and warning which we should never forget” in keeping republican democracy free from oligarchies and other autocratic tendencies. With honest public servants, fairly applied laws, the elimination of corruption, graft and monopolies and other elements, nations could “possess the highest standards of honor, virtue, intelligence, efficiency and patriotism.”
Temple addressed rumors that Japan had designs on influence in Mexico and he offered that “we are friendly with all Asiatic powers” including a policy of opennes in China, which was undergoing its own extreme period of turmoil and revolution in 1911. Yet, he plainly stated, “we desire no trifling or tampering by a foreign power with our neighbors on theWestern Hemisphere that may prove a menace to them, or to us or that may in any way interefere with the declared principals of the Monroe Doctrine.”
He decried “this hysterical peace talk that Asiatic missionaries and other well-meaning but deluded fanatics are giving us.” While peace was wanted, “the air seems full of war” and the fortification of “our coasts and possesions” were imperative. Temple called for “the regular army [to] be increased to its full strength,” state militias readied, and “a most formidabe navy to be prepared at a moment’s note for any and all contingencies.”
As for the author’s bona fides, a brief publisher’s note explained that he was son of “the pioneer banker of Los Angeles,” educated at Santa Clara College and the law school at Harvard (with post-graduate work at the Inns of Court in London,” but, more relevantly, “he has traveled extensively through Mexico and is familiar with conditions existing there.”
Regarding the revolution, it was soon over, as, in May, the Insurrectos captured Ciudad Juárez, leading Diaz to request talks, though Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco pushed military operations further than Madero intended and events were beyond the latter’s ability to dictate them. Still, after Díaz capitulated, Madero, after an interim government, was elected president in fall 1911, though his tenure was short-lived. Idealistic, inexperienced and facing opposition from all sides, he was arrested by military authorities supporting Diaz’ nephew and a former supporter of Madero and was then killed on his way to jail, with a martyrdom established around his image as a democratic reformer as Mexican politics continued to be highly unstable in succeeding years.
Temple, with his health failing, spent most of the remaining half-dozen years of his life in state and county hospitals, was supported by his brother, Walter, whom he advised on matters relating to the younger Temple’s incipient oil wells near Montebello. William died in May 1917, just weeks before the first well was brought in and he is buried in the mausoleum Walter built in El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead.