Address of President Coolidge Before the Pan American Conference on Arbitration and Conciliation 

Title: Address of President Coolidge Before the Pan American Conference on Arbitration and Conciliation 

Date: December 10, 1928

Location: Washington, D.C.

Context: Coolidge stresses the importance of diplomacy and resolution in international affairs.

Gentlemen of the Conference:

It is to no ordinary occasion that I am privileged as President of the United States to bid you welcome. There are represented here 20 nations of the Western Hemisphere, who have a common purpose to advance the cause of civilization by substituting the obligation of reason for the coercion of force. It is an effort to raise humanity to a higher level of existence, where nations may dwell together in peace and harmony according to the principles of liberty and equality under the fostering influence of justice and equity. It is impossible to conceive of a more inspiring motive for an international conference. Here is no shadow of past conflict and no thought of future conquest. All is peace, and all thoughts are bent on establishing a better method through which a higher degree of justice may be done each to the other.

From the earliest period of their independent existence the Americas have held an advanced position in their advocacy of the orderly settlement of international disputes. It is a record calculated to stir the pride of all those who love peace and justice. The world has had no more devoted adherents to the principle of arbitration. The countries of South America led all the world in their contribution to this cause. The treaties of 1822 of Greater Colombia with Peru and with Chile, of 1823 with Mexico, and of 1825 with Central America, set new standards in the conduct of international relations. It is a notable and significant fact that at the first conference of a Pan American character, held at Panama in 1826, a treaty was signed which declared:

The contracting parties solemnly obligate and bind themselves amicably to compromise among themselves all differences now existing or which may arise in the future, and in case no settlement can be reached between the disagreeing powers the question shall be taken for settlement to the judgment of the assembly, whose decision shall, however, not be obligatory unless said powers shall have expressly agreed that it shall be.

History clearly asserts that at this early period the Republics of America made both conciliation and arbitration integral parts of their national policy. What contributes even more remarkably to their force is the fact that this was done at a time when these two principles were practically unknown in other sections of the world.

It is, moreover, a most notable circumstance that whenever the nations of America have assembled they have given preferential attention to the peaceful settlement of the questions arising among them. I have already referred to the labors of the Congress of Panama. The Congress of Lima of 1847 established the principle that all differences that may arise between two or more of the American Republics shall be settled without recourse to force, and that if the parties can not reach an agreement by diplomatic negotiations or through the interposition of the good offices of other nations for the purpose of conciliation, such questions shall be submitted to the arbitral decision of one of the Republics or to a Congress of Plenipotentiaries.

Declarations of a similar nature were made at the Congress of Santiago of 1856, the Congress of Lima of 1864, the Congress of Caracas of 1883, and at the series of international conferences of American States beginning with the Conference of Washington in 1889, and including the recent conference at Habana in January of the present year.

Nor has the United States been remiss in the furtherance of these great principles. As early as 1794 in a treaty with Great Britain, usually referred to as the “Jay Treaty,” it became the privilege of this Government to introduce into modern diplomacy the principle of arbitration, and throughout the period of nearly a century and a half which has elapsed since that time we have supported our sister republics in upholding this great cause.

It is a mistake to suppose that it was much easier to adopt conciliation and arbitration on the American Continent because of the absence of any outstanding inter-American disputes. The history of this continent discloses the presence of as large a number of difficult and delicate questions as in any other section of the world. The uncertainty of the boundaries of the American States after their successive declarations of independence from Spain and Portugal gave rise to a large number of territorial disputes which belong to the class usually arousing the most deeply rooted national feeling. The fact that most of these have been settled by direct negotiation, conciliation, and arbitration will forever be one of the glories of the Americas as well as a constant reminder that the nations of this continent have dedicated themselves to the ideals of peace and are willing to exercise the self-control and make the sacrifices which the maintenance of these ideals imposes.

Some of the countries here represented have added further strength to the principle of arbitration by making it a fundamental tenet of their political constitutions. Among these are Venezuela, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Uruguay, who have set an example by raising the arbitration of international disputes to the dignity of a mandatory constitutional principle.

It may be said, therefore, that the foundations for your work have been laid by the unbroken practice and policy of the American Republics. In the domain of investigation, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration, a long series of bilateral and multilateral treaties represent the milestones which mark the way to future progress. The importance and significance of your work is enhanced by the recent movement for the renunciation of war as a principle of national policy, which by necessary implication involves recourse to the orderly processes leading up to arbitration.

It is by the adherence to such methods that nations as well as men develop a peaceful character. In a civilized community functioning under an established government the individual has no necessity for taking the law into his own hands. Tribunals have been established for the purpose of doing justice between man and man, so that when some one feels he has suffered a wrong he has a process by which those who have wronged him can be summoned to the bar of justice and ordered to make reparation. When this principle has been well established, when it has had the benefit of experience, it becomes so much a habit of thought that the people feel no inclination to resort to some method of direct and personal action. To do so would be to stamp themselves as dangerous persons, and they would feel active disapprobation, probably inflicted with the penalties which organized society bestows upon violators of the public will.

The great value of the plan for arbitration lies in the fact that it both furnishes knowledge and assurance that differences will be adjusted and also adjusts them. This has a very large influence on the public temper. Nations do not explode all at once without any previous warning and begin to attack each other. Such action comes as the culmination of a long series of irritating incidents. If these are adjusted as they arise, there is no fuel to feed the explosive elements when some difference of larger importance may occur. Two nations which have adjusted all their disputes except the one which has arisen in the immediate past will be on such friendly terms that war between them is almost impossible.

Slowly but surely modern thought is bringing the different nations of the world to corresponding standards. Governments are coming to see that it is by no means in derogation of their dignity to submit their differences with each other to the decision of an impartial tribunal. The disposition to pursue hasty action is disappearing. The desire to bring differences to mutual accord and satisfaction by negotiation, rather than by conflict, is more and more apparent. We shall greatly promote this spirit if we provide ourselves before the event with the necessary judicial machinery and promulgate rules of procedure to govern the composing of differences. Neither individuals nor nations could make much progress in this direction if, when a dispute arose, it was necessary to establish a tribunal and determine on the rules of action before anything could be done about the real controversy. To be compelled to stop to go through that process would probably result in having not one dispute, but many differences of opinion. An implement becomes manifoldly more valuable if it is already at hand when needed.

But in discussing ways and means of procedure we should not overlook the tremendous significance that attaches to this conference. It has come into existence because the governments and the people which it represents want peace and justice with each other. Every sovereign nation here represented has sent its delegates because it is animated with that spirit. All have come voluntarily with a fixed desire to contribute to that end. The publication to the world of that fact alone is resplendent with a new hope of peace and good will. Its deeper meaning lies in the undisputed ability of mankind slowly but surely to secure what they most want.

It is in this part of the world that this movement has the greatest promise of success. The people of the Western Hemisphere have been bred for generations to cherish, not animosities, but deep and abiding friendship for each other. There is not a nation among us that can not point to a long list of friendly offices that have been bestowed upon it by its neighbors. We have no historic and inbred hatreds. As we look across the boundary lines of each other we do not behold any great array of armaments declarative of a hostile intent, but rather the peaceful occupations of people preparing to benefit each other by the mutual exchanges of a benign commerce. Happily, all the advantages of development and trade lie on the side of concord and tranquility. Such rivalries as we entertain are not of a hostile nature, but the beneficial strife of the market place carried on to determine who can give the largest portion of our mutual production for the smallest price in return. In this contest the vanquished often receive the largest spoils.

These present prospects and these inspiring records of the past place upon us of this generation a heavy responsibility. We must not only maintain the traditional policy established by the founders of our republics, but we must also carry the procedure of conciliation and arbitration to a new and higher sphere. The world has the right to expect that the mission undertaken by the early statesmen of this continent shall be carried to completion. Our history, our national ideals, and the standards of our international intercourse make this a solemn obligation.

Gentlemen of the conference, lovers of peace throughout the world will follow your deliberations with the deepest interest and with the highest hopes. It is with an abiding faith in the mission of Pan America as the standard bearer of peace and good will that I wish you the fullest measure of success in the discharge of the important duties that have been entrusted to your keeping.

Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, Library of Congress

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Ellie Rose Mattoon, who prepared this document for digital publication.

2 Responses to “Address of President Coolidge Before the Pan American Conference on Arbitration and Conciliation ”

  1. Ellie Rose Mattoon

    Coolidge delivered this speech in the shadow of World War One, when the global community was still experimenting with ways to make sure that it would be the war to end all wars. The new concepts of international arbitration and conflict resolution have slowly carried over to the United Nations, and I have done Model UN for the past several years of high school. To see Coolidge invested in something of global importance and precedence is a refreshing vignette during America’s isolationism.

  2. Steven George Bailey

    These words show Coolidge’s steadfast preparation for the events in his Presidency (note that his successor had already been voted into office). I speculate that the knowledge of the treaty events presenting early examples of the use of arbitration were provided by consul staff, but having been furnished with or acquiring that knowledge President Coolidge spun it into a deeper mission for the agents of the conference. He urges those members to show the world a method of dispute resolution that tempers agitations as they flare so that the occasional spot fire does not become a raging inferno since the initial flare-ups were doused diplomatically and amicably. Note as well his devotion to peaceful and mutual beneficial commerce, and his reminder of the vision and missions of the founders of the various American republics for conference attendees to hold dear in their work of assembling the implements of dispute resolution.
    “An implement becomes manifoldly more valuable if it is already at hand when needed.” A Vermont farmer knows full well that having the right tool at hand when needed spares needless hours and tribulations in creating a new one. And familiarity with that tool makes it easier to use. I see in this the hope that the nations will bring themselves peaceably to the discussion table knowing they have resolved disputes before. Lastly, note the issue of undefended borders. Long may that be the habit of these Americas.

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