In this study Peter Calvert provides an excellent analysis of British diplomacy in the Anglo-American conflict over Mexico during the period from 1910 to January 1914. Thoroughly grounded in British sources, he carefully examines British objectives and the formulation and execution of British policy throughout the period.
The volume does not purport to be a history of Mexico, despite its title. The author explains that his object is confined to assessing the Anglo-American conflict, and consequently he deals with Mexican events only as background for the diplomatic dispute. This explains his greater attention to British sources. Calvert’s Mexican research focuses particularly on the 1910-1912 period. Although he employs Isidro Fabela’s Historia diplomática de la Revolución Mexicana, he fails to cite the more significant Documentos históricos de la Revolución Mexicana. While he does use Madero’s archive, the failure to consult either the Archivo Histórico Defensa Nacional or the Archivo Relaciones Exteriores Mexicanas leaves a notable gap, particularly in a diplomatic study.
Calvert’s grounding in American sources is not as thorough as his extensive use of British materials. While citing some collections of private papers, and the State Department Decimal Files, he employed neither Post Records nor the files of other government departments. There are no references to the four-volume collection of “Correspondence of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan with President Woodrow Wilson,” which contains significant exchanges not found in the papers of either. As a result, Calvert’s volume is useful chiefly for its analysis of British policy in the Anglo-American conflict. Since the volume focuses mainly on British actions, it is rather striking that the conclusion devotes considerable attention to American objectives. The decision to terminate the study in January 1914 results in an abrupt ending. Whether that month constitutes a breaking point, as the author contends, is open to debate.
Calvert views British actions benevolently. In analysing the interaction between the leading British concessionaire in Mexico, Lord Cowdray, and the Foreign Office, he contends that the government was not influenced by Cowdray, but acted out of larger policy objectives. Cowdray is depicted as the innocent victim of skulduggery by Standard Oil. While contemporary newspaper attacks on Cowdray were certainly exaggerated, the argument that he provided his views only when requested to do so by the Foreign Office seems a bit overdrawn. Calvert’s conclusion that the British withdrew their admiral from Tampico solely to place full responsibility for any action upon the American commander, rather than in response to the United States government’s insistence that he yield his seniority (p. 282), appears strained. As evidence, he quotes Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s memorandum to the Admiralty, directing the withdrawal. The note is precisely the type of explanation which one would expect from a diplomat of Grey’s ability to salve the feelings of the Admiralty.
Calvert’s study provides a valuable and much-needed analysis of British policy in Mexico during this crucial period, though viewing events through British eyes. The United States and Mexico are considered only as they affected British policy. The weaknesses in the analysis of American and Mexican events do not detract from the value of the book as a study of British policy formulation and objectives. All students of this period who are interested in British diplomacy in Mexico will find the book valuable.