House Executive Documents

Author: James G. Blaine  | Date: 1882

Show Summary

Relations to Latin-America (1881)


. . . THE unfortunate condition of the relations between Chili and Peru makes the mission upon the duties of which you are now entering one of grave responsibility and great delicacy. Difficult as would be any intervention of the United States under ordinary circumstances, our position is further embarrassed by the failure of the conference at Arica, undertaken at our suggestion. It is evident from the protocols of that conference that Chili was prepared to dictate and not to discuss terms of peace, and that the arbitration of the United States upon any questions of difference with the allied powers of Peru and Bolivia was not acceptable and would not be accepted by the Chilian Government. Since that time the war has closed in the complete success of Chili, and in what can scarcely be considered less than the conquest of Peru and Bolivia.

This government cannot therefore anticipate that the offer of friendly intervention in the settlement of the very serious questions now pending would be agreeable to the Government of Chili. It would scarcely comport with self-respect that such an offer should be refused, and it would be of no benefit to Peru and Bolivia that it should be offered and declined. But I am sure the Chilian Government will appreciate the natural and deep interest which the United States feels in the termination of a condition so calamitous in its consequences to the best interests of all the South American republics. It should also know that if at any time the interposition of the good offices of this government can contribute to the restoration of friendly relations between the belligerent powers, they will, upon proper intimation, be promptly offered.

While, therefore, no instructions are given you to tender officially any advice to the Government of Chili which is unsought, you will, on such opportunity as may occur, govern your conduct and representations by the considerations to which I shall now call your attention.

Without entering upon any discussion as to the causes of the late war between Chili on the one side and Peru and Bolivia on the other, this government recognizes the right which the successful conduct of that war has conferred upon Chili; and, in doing so, I will not undertake to estimate the extent to which the Chilian Government has the right to carry its calculations of the indemnities to which it is entitled, nor the security for the future, which its interests may seem to require. But if the Chilian Government, as its representatives have declared, seeks only a guarantee of future peace, it would seem natural that Peru and Bolivia should be allowed to offer such indemnity and guarantee before the annexation of territory, which is the right of conquest, is insisted upon. If these powers fail to offer what is a reasonably sufficient indemnity and guarantee, then it becomes a fair subject of consideration whether such territory may not be exacted as the necessary price of peace.

But at the conclusion of a war avowedly not of conquest, but for the solution of differences which diplomacy had failed to settle, to make the acquisition of territory a sine qua non of peace is calculated to cast suspicions on the professions with which war was originally declared. . . . At this day, when the right of the people to govern themselves, the fundamental basis of republican institutions, is so widely recognized, there is nothing more difficult or more dangerous than the forced transfer of territory, carrying with it an indignant and hostile population; and nothing but a necessity proven before the world can justify it. It is not a case in which the power desiring the territory can be accepted as a safe or impartial judge.

While the United States Government does not pretend to express an opinion whether or not such an annexation of territory is a necessary consequence of this war, it believes that it would be more honorable to the Chilian Government, more conducive to the security of a permanent peace, and more in consonance with those principles which are professed by all the republics of America, that such territorial changes should be avoided as far as possible; that they should never be the result of mere force, but, if necessary, should be decided and tempered by full and equal discussion between all the powers whose people and whose national interests are involved.

At the present moment, the completeness of the victory of Chili seems to render such a diplomatic discussion impossible. The result of the conflict has been not only the defeat of the allied armies, but the dissolution of all responsible government in Peru. . . .

An effort, and apparently a very earnest and honest one, has been made to create a provisional government, which shall gradually restore order and the reign of law. But it is obvious that for such a government to succeed in obtaining the confidence either of its own people or foreign powers, it must be allowed a freedom and force of action which cannot be exercised while Chili holds absolute possession and governs by military authority. This government, therefore, has been glad to learn from its minister in Chili, whom you succeed, that the Chilian authorities have decided to give their support to the efforts of Señor Calderon to establish on a steady footing a provisional government in Peru.

You will, as far as you can do so with propriety and without officious intrusion, approve and encourage this disposition on the part of the Chilian Government, and this Department will be exceedingly gratified if your influence as the representative of the United States shall be instrumental in inducing the Government of Chili to give its aid and support to the restoration of regular, constitutional government in Peru, and to postpone the final settlement of all questions of territorial annexation to the diplomatic negotiations which can then be resumed with the certainty of a just, friendly, and satisfactory conclusion.

In any representation which you may make, you will say that the hope of the United States is that the negotiations for peace shall be conducted, and the final settlement between the two countries determined, without either side invoking the aid or intervention of any European power.

The Government of the United States seeks only to perform the part of a friend to all the parties in this unhappy conflict between South American republics, and it will regret to be compelled to consider how far that feeling might be affected, and a more active interposition forced upon it, by any attempted complication of this question with European politics.

, 47 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington, 1882), I, No. 1, pt. 1, pp. 131–133 passim.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: House Executive Documents

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: House Executive Documents

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: James G. Blaine, "Relations to Latin-America (1881)," House Executive Documents in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: Blaine, James G. "Relations to Latin-America (1881)." House Executive Documents, Vol. I, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Blaine, JG, 'Relations to Latin-America (1881)' in House Executive Documents. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from