What appeared to be the insatiable U.S. appetite for territory prompted two Latin American meetings in 1856. Santiago, Chile, was the site of the third Pan-American conference under Spanish-American auspices. The conference was called because Ecuador proposed granting the United States the right to mine guano on the Galápagos Islands, an action that disturbed Ecuador's Pacific Coast neighbors. The republics of Peru, Ecuador, and Chile sent delegations to Santiago, where they drafted plans for another confederation and agreed upon joint measures for handling "piratical" expeditions. In September 1856 the delegates signed the Continental Treaty, dealing with many aspects of international law, filibustering, and acts of exiles, as well as the usual nod in the direction of a confederation. Significantly, while all of the nations of Latin America were urged to join, including Portuguese-speaking Brazil, the United States was not invited to attend the conference or to join the confederation. But once more failure ensued. The Continental Treaty was not ratified.
Meanwhile the United States, not a European nation, appeared as the chief threat to Latin America's territorial integrity. Its acquisition of more than one-third of Mexico was followed by the presence of filibusters in the circum-Caribbean region. William Walker's filibustering expedition into Nicaragua caused the ministers of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, New Granada, Peru, El Salvador, and Venezuela assigned to Washington, D.C., to sign a treaty of alliance and confederation on 9 November 1856. The signatories pledged themselves to prevent the organizing of expeditions by political exiles against an allied government and, if an attack occurred, to provide military assistance to the aggrieved nation. Hoping to convert this arrangement into a Hispanic-American Confederation, the delegates called for a conference to convene in Lima in December 1857. As in the past, nothing materialized. The Washington agreement was not ratified, and the conference was not convened.
The fourth and last of the "old" Spanish-American conferences took place at Lima, Peru, in 1864. The weakness of many of the Latin American states and the U.S. preoccupation with its Civil War had allowed a series of European flirtations in the American hemisphere. Spain claimed the reannexation of the Dominican Republic in 1861; Spain, Great Britain, and especially France threatened, and then invaded, Mexico; and Spain occupied Peru's Chincha Islands to collect debts, under the pretext that Peru was still a Spanish colony. In response, in 1864, the Colombian government encouraged the Peruvians to invite all former Spanish colonies to a conference at Lima to take up the matter of intervention by foreign powers. In addition to Peru, states attending included Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Venezuela. The United States and Brazil were not invited, ostensibly because they were not former Spanish colonies. The Lima Congress failed to negotiate with Spain for the withdrawal of its troops from the Chincha Islands, and when the delegates turned their full attention to the usual grand treaty of confederation, the failure was just as complete. Once again no nation ratified any of the agreements. The end of the American Civil War and the renewed preoccupation of Spain and France with domestic and foreign problems elsewhere account for the departure of those two nations from their Latin American adventures.
The War of the Triple Alliance (1865–1870), which pitted Paraguay against a loose league of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, and the War of the Pacific (1879–1884), in which Chile easily mastered Bolivia and Peru, left bitter residues that in the short run meant the end of any program of Pan-Americanism led by Spanish-American republics. Although a few technical and nonpolitical conferences were held in the next few years, Pan-Americanism was discarded until the United States assumed the responsibility.
U.S. leadership marks the beginning of the "new" Pan-Americanism, dating from the 1880s until its demise in the 1930s. The "new" Pan-Americanism differed significantly from the "old." The four early conferences were dominated by the Spanish-American states and concerned themselves with problems that, while not exclusively Spanish American, seemed to threaten those states particularly. The meetings were usually provoked by the threat of outside aggression, and the solutions sought were political and military in nature. The "new" Pan-Americanism was more inclusive yet less ambitious in scope. It focused on low-profile issues, which contributed to increased conference participation and the building of Pan-Americanism into an institution of imposing size and machinery. Concomitantly, Latin Americans became increasingly vocal regarding U.S. dominance of hemispheric relations, culminating at the 1928 Havana conference.
Credit for inaugurating the series of "new" Pan-American conferences rests with James G. Blaine, who served as secretary of state in the brief (March to September 1881) administration of James A. Garfield. Blaine owed much of his genuine interest in Latin America to his admiration for Henry Clay. Both men envisioned a free-trade relationship among the countries of the Western Hemisphere. While U.S.–Latin American trade was nearly immeasurable during Monroe's presidency in the 1820s, by the 1880s the United States faced a healthy unfavorable trade balance caused by its large purchases of Latin America's raw materials and the small sales of manufactured goods to the area in return.
In addition to trade issues, Blaine confronted several ongoing disputes. The worst of these was the War of the Pacific, in which Bolivia had been decisively defeated by Chile, whose troops were occupying Lima, Peru. The Chileans gave every indication of making vast territorial acquisitions at Bolivia's and Peru's expense. In addition, several boundary disputes threatened the stability of Latin America and provoked Blaine into assuming the unpopular role of peacemaker. Blaine's intentions were better than either his methods or his agents, and he incurred significant displeasure from Latin Americans during his brief first term in office. Following Garfield's death, Blaine resigned the secretaryship. Before leaving the State Department, however, he promoted a call for the first International Conference of American States, to be held in Washington, D.C. Blaine's successors, Frederick T. Freylinghuysen and Thomas F. Bayard, had little interest in Latin American affairs. Freylinghuysen withdrew Blaine's invitation for an Inter-American conference in Washington.
The movement was renewed a few years later by the U.S. Congress, when it sponsored a survey of Latin America's economic conditions. With a more friendly atmosphere, the First International Conference convened in 1889, when the secretary of state was again James G. Blaine. All of the American states except the Dominican Republic (its absence was due to U.S. failure to ratify a trade treaty with its Caribbean neighbor) sent delegations of high caliber. With some opposition Blaine was chosen chairman of the sessions, a post in which he demonstrated considerable tact and skill.
In the midst of its industrial revolution, the United States anticipated that the conference would bring economic benefits through a customs union. Toward that end, the Latin American delegates were entertained lavishly and given an impressive and fatiguing six thousand mile railroad tour through the industrial heart of the nation. Understanding the U.S. intention, the Latin American delegates, led by the Argentines, failed to accept Blaine's proposed customs union. As producers of raw materials, the Latin Americans preferred open markets. Opposition also came from some U.S. congressmen, particularly those from the nation's agricultural sectors. Instead, a program of separate reciprocal trade treaties was recommended; a few were instituted, decades ahead of the Good Neighbor program of the 1930s. On the political front, an ambitious arbitration treaty was watered down in conference, nullified by a minority of delegations, and ratified by no one.
The most notable achievement of the Washington conference was the establishment of the International Union of American Republics for the collection and distribution of commercial information. The agency to execute this command was the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics, supervised by the U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C. This bureau met regularly and, expanding in both size and functions, became a useful agency to the American states, though a far cry from the Pan-Americanism of Bolívar's day. The date of the union's establishment, 14 April 1890, became known as Pan-American Day.
Although the delegates to the First International Conference had not scheduled any future meetings, they left Washington with the clear intention of so doing. Nothing happened until 1899, when President William McKinley suggested another conclave. Only then did the Commercial Bureau act. It selected Mexico City as the site for the second conference and handled the drafting of agenda and invitations.