On Intervention in Nicaragua Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In this speech to Congress, President Calvin Coolidge outlined the background of the “present disturbances” in Nicaragua and laid out what he believed was the necessary response. In 1923, Nicaragua, along with four other Central American nations, had signed a treaty agreeing not to recognize any governments in these nations installed by force. The United States was not a signatory, but because the treaty was negotiated in Washington, DC, under the sponsorship of the US State Department, Coolidge believed the United States had a “moral obligation” to see that the treaty was honored. Coolidge described various uprisings against the government of Nicaragua and the American attempts to facilitate a settlement there, but he admits these efforts had failed. Coolidge argued that military intervention was necessary to protect both the lives of Americans and American business investments in Nicaragua and to maintain the right to build a canal there, a claim that had been secured in a treaty signed in 1914.

Summary Overview

In this speech to Congress, President Calvin Coolidge outlined the background of the “present disturbances” in Nicaragua and laid out what he believed was the necessary response. In 1923, Nicaragua, along with four other Central American nations, had signed a treaty agreeing not to recognize any governments in these nations installed by force. The United States was not a signatory, but because the treaty was negotiated in Washington, DC, under the sponsorship of the US State Department, Coolidge believed the United States had a “moral obligation” to see that the treaty was honored. Coolidge described various uprisings against the government of Nicaragua and the American attempts to facilitate a settlement there, but he admits these efforts had failed. Coolidge argued that military intervention was necessary to protect both the lives of Americans and American business investments in Nicaragua and to maintain the right to build a canal there, a claim that had been secured in a treaty signed in 1914.

Defining Moment

The United States had long expressed considerable interest in the Central American nation of Nicaragua, both because of business investments there and because the region offered a potential site for a second canal connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in case US control of the Panama Canal were ever threatened. Except for a brief period during Coolidge’s presidency, US Marines had been stationed in Nicaragua since 1912. In this speech, President Coolidge sought to inform Congress of the details of the situation in Nicaragua. At the conference in Washington in 1923, Nicaragua and four other Central American nations had agreed to numerous treaties. One of these treaties promised that no government established by force in any of these nations would be recognized as legitimate. These treaties were negotiated in Washington, DC, under the guidance of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes–implying US sponsorship of the agreements.

In 1925, General Emiliano Chamorro Vargas illegally seized power in Nicaragua, and the United States applied pressure to depose him and to have a legally elected government take control. Chamorro was forced to step down in the fall of 1926 and was replaced by Adolfo Díaz, a former president of Nicaragua. However, intervention by Mexican forces and fighting from insurgents within Nicaragua threatened Díaz’s government, and Coolidge felt sending a more significant force to sustain the legitimate government was necessary. Shortly after this speech was delivered, Coolidge sent fifty-five hundred US Marines and several US Navy ships to strengthen the American presence in Nicaragua. He also sent Henry L. Stimson, who had been secretary of war under President William Howard Taft, to be his personal envoy in negotiations with the factions in Nicaragua. Stimson met with the leaders of the various factions in Nicaragua and persuaded some of the forces to end their resistance by simply buying their weapons from them. The settlement Stimson worked out is often referred to as the Peace of Tipitata. President Díaz asked for US aid to ensure fair elections in 1928. US Brigadier General Frank R. McCoy was instrumental in supervising these elections. In November 1928, General José Moncada was elected in what was generally considered to be a fair election, although militant resistance to his government continued for several years under the leadership of General Augusto César Sandino. President Herbert Hoover, Coolidge’s successor, finally withdrew the Marines from Nicaragua in 1933. By that time, US public opinion had turned against policies perceived to be imperialistic, and the Great Depression was causing economic problems that made paying for such foreign interventions difficult.

Author Biography

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. He was educated at Amherst College in Massachusetts and studied law while clerking in a law firm in Northampton, Massachusetts. He opened his own law office there in 1898. Becoming involved in local politics as a Progressive Republican, he was elected to a variety of local and state offices, including the governorship in 1918. He first came to national attention because of his response to a strike by Boston policemen in 1919. Coolidge took strong action to force the policemen back to work, a position that resonated with many conservative voters. In 1920, he was elected vice president under Republican president Warren G. Harding. When Harding died on August 2, 1923, Coolidge became president. He was elected in his own right in 1924. He was a popular president and probably could have been reelected in 1928, but he chose not to run. He retired to Northampton and died there on January 5, 1933.

Document Analysis

In this speech, Coolidge seeks to persuade Congress of the necessity of expanding the US military presence in Nicaragua. He surveys the background of the troubles there and enumerates the American interests at risk, noting that Marines had been in Nicaragua since 1912 and that these forces were maintained there “with the consent of the Nicaragua government” and were there “to protect American lives and property.”

Coolidge also believes that US action in Nicaragua is necessary to force compliance with one of the treaties of a conference in Washington, DC, in 1923, in which Nicaragua and four neighboring countries agreed to recognize no government installed through a coup d’etat or revolution. The seizure of power in Nicaragua by General Chamorro in 1925 was a violation of this agreement. Although the United States was not a party to these treaties, Coolidge believes the US government had a “moral obligation” to see that they are upheld, since they were negotiated under American auspices.

Coolidge outlines Chamorro’s seizure of power, the efforts the United States has undertaken to persuade him to step down, and the resulting instability in Nicaragua. When Chamorro left office in the fall of 1926, the Nicaraguan congress exercised a constitutional prerogative to appoint a president, and chose Díaz. Shortly after Díaz took office, however, insurgents attempted to overthrow his government. This is the crisis to which Coolidge seeks to respond. Coolidge recounts American efforts to facilitate a settlement between the warring factions, including the use of American forces to establish a neutral zone, where discussions could be held. When these negotiations began, Coolidge placed an embargo on the sale of US arms to Nicaragua. However, since there was evidence that Mexico was providing arms to the insurgents, Coolidge decided to allow Díaz’s government to purchase arms in the United States.

Coolidge believes further action is necessary to protect both American lives and American business interests in Nicaragua. He notes that the “large investments” made by American firms there were undertaken with the encouragement of the Nicaraguan government, and that Nicaragua acknowledged that it could not protect these interests and agreed to accept American efforts to do so. In addition to protecting American lives and business interests, Coolidge also argues that the United States has to preserve its treaty rights, granted by Nicaragua in a 1914 agreement, to allow construction of a canal through Nicaragua. The United States wished to maintain these rights in case control of the Panama Canal were ever threatened by internal instability or foreign attack.

For all of these reasons, Coolidge believes the United States is in a position of “peculiar responsibility” that called for intervention. Therefore, Coolidge believes his duty is to use US forces to intervene, noting that in doing so he is following in the path of previous presidents who had taken similar actions.

Essential Themes

In responding to the crisis in Nicaragua in 1927, Coolidge realized he was in a somewhat constrained situation. In the 1920 election, when he was the vice presidential candidate, both he and the Republican presidential nominee Harding had criticized President Woodrow Wilson’s “internationalism.” By the late 1920s, there was a considerably body of isolationist opinion in the United States, as well as a growing anti-imperialist sentiment. Both of these interests would look unfavorably upon further American intervention in Nicaragua. Perhaps as a way of deflecting some of this criticism, toward the end of this excerpt, Coolidge noted that he proposed to follow the precedent of past presidents who had taken similar action.

At the same time, Coolidge firmly asserted that US interests abroad had to be protected. A major theme illustrated in this speech is the necessity of protecting the lives of American nationals living in or traveling through Nicaragua. Coolidge also believed that American businesses, which had invested millions of dollars in various industries in Nicaragua, had the right to protection. Another theme is the concern for the honor and international prestige of the United States. Coolidge believed the United States had to respond when the interests of the nation were threatened. He also believed that the country had a “moral obligation” to see that the treaties signed at the Washington conference were enforced.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Ferrell, Robert H. The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1998. Print.
  • Longley, Kyle. In the Eagle’s Shadow: The United States and Latin America. 2nd ed. Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, 2009. Print.
  • Shlaes, Amity. Coolidge. New York: Harper, 2013. Print.
Categories: History Content