Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy

Roger R. Trask

"Missionary diplomacy" is a descriptive label often applied to the policies and practices of the United States in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921). According to Arthur S. Link in Wilson: The New Freedom (p. 278), "[Secretary of State William Jennings] Bryan and Wilson were both fundamentally missionaries of democracy, driven by inner compulsions to give other peoples the blessings of democracy and inspired by the confidence that they knew better how to promote the peace and well-being of other countries than did the leaders of those countries themselves." Wilson related both missionary diplomacy and the New Freedom, his domestic program, to his concepts of morality and democratic government. Despite Wilson's admirable ideas and objectives, missionary diplomacy was a disaster. Perhaps some of the historians who have placed Wilson high in the presidential pantheon have not given enough consideration to the failure of missionary diplomacy.


Benjamin, Jules R. "The Framework of U.S. Relations with Latin America in the Twentieth Century: An Interpretive Essay." Diplomatic History 11 (1987): 91–112.

Calder, Bruce J. The Impact of Intervention: The Dominican Republic During the U.S. Occupation of 1916–1924. Austin, Tex., 1984.

Calhoun, Frederick S. Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy. Kent, Ohio, 1986.

——. Uses of Force and Wilsonian Foreign Policy. Kent, Ohio, 1993.

Calvert, Peter. The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1914: The Diplomacy of Anglo-American Conflict. London and New York, 1968. Emphasizes England's role in the U.S.–Mexican conflict.

Clements, Kendrick A. "Woodrow Wilson's Mexican Policy, 1913–15." Diplomatic History 4 (1980): 113–136.

Cooper, John Milton, Jr. "An Irony of Fate: Woodrow Wilson's Pre–World War I Diplomacy." Diplomatic History 3 (1979): 425–437.

Gilderhus, Mark T. Pan American Visions: Woodrow Wilson in the Western Hemisphere, 1913–1921. Tucson, Ariz., 1986.

——. "Wilson, Carranza, and the Monroe Doctrine: A Question in Regional Organization." Diplomatic History 7 (1983): 103–115.

Healy, David. Drive to Hegemony: The United States in the Caribbean, 1898–1917. Madison, Wis., 1988. Covers Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Hunt, Michael Hy. Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy. New Haven, Conn., 1987. A valuable study that applies three elements helping shape the U.S. vision of the world to Wilson's policies and actions in Latin America and elsewhere.

Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago, 1981. A detailed volume suggesting that Wilson's policy was designed to promote U.S. capital interests.

LaFeber, Walter. The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad Since 1750. New York and London, 1989.

Langley, Lester D. America in the Americas: The United States in the Western Hemisphere. Athens, Ga., 1989. An interpretive survey of the history of U.S.–Latin American relations.

Levin, N. Gordon, Jr. Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution. New York, 1968. Emphasizes economic motives in Wilson's foreign policy.

Link, Arthur S. Wilson: The New Freedom; Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914–1915; Wilson: Confusion and Crises, 1915–1916; Wilson: Campaign for Progressivism and Peace, 1916–1917. Princeton, N.J., 1956–1965. Volumes 2–5 in Link's monumental biography. Traces in detail the story of missionary diplomacy, of which Link is critical.

Link, Arthur S., et al., eds. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson. 69 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1966–1993. Vols. 27–30 present documents on Wilson's diplomacy in Latin America.

McDougall, Walter A. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776. Boston and New York, 1997. A thoughtful survey and interpretive history of U.S. foreign policy.

Schmidt, Hans. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915–1934. New Brunswick, N.J., 1971. Argues that Wilson's policy was ill conceived and economically motivated.

Trask, David F., Michael C. Meyer, and Roger R. Trask, eds. A Bibliography of United States–Latin American Relations Since 1810: A Selected List of Eleven Thousand Published References. Lincoln, Neb., 1968. Meyer, Michael C., ed. Supplement to A Bibliography of United States–Latin American Relations Since 1810. Lincoln, Neb., 1979. These two volumes present an exhaustive list of books, articles, and documents.

Ulloa, Berta. La revolución intervenida: Relaciones diplomáticas entre México y los Estados Unidos (1910–1914). Mexico City, 1971.

See also Dollar Diplomacy ; Intervention and Nonintervention ; Oil ; Wilsonianism .

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