José de San Martin, Latin-American Liberator

Title: José de San Martin, Latin-American Liberator

Date: October 28, 1925

Location: Washington, D.C.

Context: At the dedication of a monument to General José de San Martin given by Argentina to the United States

Great men belong to humanity. They are the incarnation of the truth. Although they are almost always developed by local circumstances, in the end their influence becomes world-wide. It is that which makes appropriate the rearing of monuments within our own land to those who have been instrumental in advancing human welfare in other countries. It is a recognition of a universal standard of action and a common brotherhood among all men. We are all servants of the truth.

As I listened to the eloquent and generous words of the distinguished ambassador from Argentina, speaking on behalf of his Government and people, in presenting this noble monument of civic virtue and patriotic achievement to the people of the United States, I was again reminded how closely parallel have run the lines of experience, how intimate have been the spiritual associations, among the members of the American family of Republics. To the people of the United States it has been a matter of pride and gratification that their ancestors were providentially chosen to initiate the movement for independence in the New World. If that movement had not started where and when it did, we may be sure it would have started at some other place and time, and that at last its results would have been substantially the same. It was not among the human possibilities that the communities of these new-found continents should permanently be maintained as dependencies of the mother states in Europe. We can see now that their destiny to establish themselves independently was just as certain as that a patriarchal system of government must ultimately be displaced by a more progressive form.

It was not possible that these sturdy communities should merely contribute to the world a distorted reflection from the light of older states and ancient institutions. The discovery of America to the world was providentially fixed in a time of spiritual and intellectual awakening. It was an epoch of new lights and new aspirations, of mighty clashes between the traditions of the old and the spirit of the new time. The New World proved a fruitful field for testing out of new ideas of man’s relations both to his Creator and to his fellow men. In the warming sunshine of such an opportunity, in the fertility of such a virgin soil, these experiments found that full and fair scope which made possible their triumphant conclusion.

It may be well to consider for a moment the essential similarities which marked the experiences of all the new American communities during their struggles for independence and later during their trying era of institution building. By doing this we can better realize that the American contribution could not have been made save from the soil of a new country. You can not transplant an ancient and rigid social system to a new country without many and revolutionary modifications. You can not expect that these new institutions will have adequate opportunity for development unless they grow in the light of human independence and spiritual liberty.

This realization came early to the great leaders of thought in all the American countries. So we find that as North American aspirations produced our Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Franklin —so the countries to the south of us brought forth their Miranda, their Bolivar, their Hidalgo, their Artigas, their O’Higgins, their Sucre, their Morazan, and finally their San Martin — patriot, statesman, immortal contributor to the founding of three Republics. It is to honor the memory of San Martin, and to acclaim his achievements, that we are gathered to-day.

It was the fortune of our thirteen North American Colonies to be first in attaining the fact and recognition of independence. Deeply appreciating their own high fortune, the people of the new United States were from the beginning profoundly sympathetic with every movement for liberty and independence throughout these continents. And, in this connection, Mr. Ambassador, permit me to thank you for the generous reference you made a few moments ago to the services of Henry Clay in the cause of Pan American freedom. You have reminded us of his persistent and eloquent pleadings in behalf of the struggling peoples in the other American countries. The high tribute of Mr. Clay to the State papers produced during that period by the Latin American leaders was only equaled by that accorded by the great liberal leaders in England to the State papers of our Revolutionary period. In expressing complete agreement with the estimate placed upon them by Mr. Clay, I wish to call attention to a happy coincidence of this occasion. In Mr. Clay’s great speech in the House of Representatives on March 24, 1818, championing the cause of the South American Republics, he referred in especially glowing terms to the far-seeing statesmanship of the Argentine patriot who was then director of the United Provinces of La Plata. I am sure your excellency will pardon me an allusion to a relationship which your modesty has forbidden you to mention. For to me it is a happy and auspicious circumstance that you, Argentina’s ambassador to our Government, chance to be the grand-nephew of the wise and courageous statesman, Don Juan Martin Pueyrredon, whom Mr. Clay so appropriately eulogized.

On such an occasion as this it is utterly impossible to attempt a recounting of the services, in arms and in counsel, of such a man as José de San Martin. Just as so many of the military figures in the North American struggle for independence had had European training during the Seven Years’ War, so San Martin had had a varied and useful experience in the Napoleonic struggles. As George Washington learned military science on the frontiers of Pennsylvania while a youth, so San Martin received his education in the European and African wars of Spain a generation later. And these American soldiers of independence learned their lessons well. As some distinguished military critics have described Washington’s campaign of Trenton and Princeton as a military exploit of unparalleled brilliancy, so in the annals of the southern wars of independence others describe San Martin’s passage of the Andes with his little patriot army as a more notable achievement than the crossing of the Alps by either Hannibal or Napoleon. I do not pretend to pass on these questions of military organization and direction; but I can not refrain from pointing out the basic similarity between the strategy of the North American and the South American revolutionary epochs. The North American revolutionists chose the great Washington, citizen of a southern colony, to lead a revolutionary movement that had been begun, and in its early stages was chiefly sustained by the people of the north. Likewise, when San Martin was made the supreme military leader of Argentina, he saw that the success of Argentina depended upon strengthening and sustaining the revolution in Chile and Peru.

But it is not my purpose to-day to attempt to analyze the military genius of San Martin. For that I refer you to the writings of men truly capable of giving it an adequate estimate. He was, like our Washington, one of those seemingly inspired military chieftains who are capable of thinking at the same moment of terms of war and of politics, of the battle field and the great human forum. For me the great significance of San Martin and his deeds and times lies less in their brilliancy in the moment of accomplishment and more in the justifying verdict which a later time and a riper experience have pronounced upon them.

This is a subject which I believe worthy of greater development than my time will permit. We who to-day study the lessons of modern history possess advantages unknown to our predecessors of even a few years ago. We see many things which we could not then have recognized. Thus we see your South America suddenly lifted to a place of impressive eminence among the grand divisions of the world. For it stands to-day as the only continent that has escaped from deep and critical involvement in the most widespread and terrific struggle that has been waged for the domination of the destiny of mankind. There is not one among us here to-day who, having passed the meridian of life, can not recall the days when our American experiments were still looked upon throughout a large part of the world as of doubtful value and dubious success. We recall that the sophisticated statesmanship of an older world entertained profound misgivings as to the ultimate fate of these American Republics. These critics wondered whether with their liberal and democratic organization these new countries would prove able to play their full part and emerge secure and sound from one of the vast periodical convulsions to which our race has seemed to be inevitably subjected. Now, I am glad to say, we hear less of such misgivings. The world has had its test. The institutions of men have been through their trial. That trial has quite definitely answered the questionings of pessimism. It has provided us with much specific information by which we may judge for ourselves whether the institutions of a republican New World or of a monarchial Old World were best adapted as conservators of human happiness and human progress. We are content to leave the final verdict to history. The republican peoples of the Americas are prepared to take their chance on that judgment.

It was no mere accident or coincidence that saved the countries of South America from a far more intimate and disastrous connection with the recent world convulsion. Whoever has given even casual consideration to the past century’s evolution of international relationships in that continent must recognize that not only its aspirations but its practical working processes for dealing with difficult issues between nations have steadily tended toward the insuring of peace. They have looked to the substitution of reason for force. They have repeatedly recognized, in the most practical fashion and difficult circumstances, that even issues of vital interest to the national welfare may be determined to the advantage of all concerned without resort to hostilities. Such problems as international boundary disputes involving sovereignty over great areas and populations have been settled through arbitrations or adjudications time and again. And these settlements have been followed by demonstrations of good will and mutual confidence, where war, no matter what its verdict, would surely have added to the exasperations of both parties and left a heritage of that mutual distrust which so commonly is responsible for increased armaments and future wars. I do not pretend to controvert the facts of history by denying that South America has had its share of international wars. I am seeking merely to call attention to the fact that there would have been more wars, and more disastrous ones, but for the fact that South American statesmanship has on the whole been dominated by an earnest and increasingly successful purpose to devise and adopt a variety of methods for avoidance of armed conflict. The will to peace has been present, even though the way to it was not always open.

The present occasion naturally brings some reflections upon the workings of the republican system that for a well-rounded century has prevailed throughout the greater part of the Americas. If we will go back over a century of the New World’s history, we will find many evidences that these American institutions have peculiarly lent themselves to the support of those fundamental international efforts which look to the maintenance of peace and the prevention of war. It is almost precisely a century since the first Pan American conference was held at Panama City. Its accomplishments did not seem impressive, but even at that it was well remembered as a fine and hopeful gesture. It was seen as an invitation to understanding, to cooperation, and to sincere effort at maintaining peace on this side of the Atlantic.

From that day to this the history of relationships among the nations of the New World has been a continuing story of effort to substitute the rule of arbitration, of mediation, of adjudicating and confidence, for the rule of force and war. To the scholarly statesmanship of the Latin American nations the world owes a debt which it has been too tardy in acknowledging. The truth is that they have demonstrated a peculiar genius in the realm of international accommodation and accord. The high and humane doctrines of international relationship which were expounded by such men as Calvo, Drago, Alvarez, Bello, Ruy Barbosa, Rio Branco, and a long list of others are now recognized universally. The record of arbitrations, mediations, and adjudications among the Latin American countries constitutes one of the fairest pages in a century’s story of mankind’s effort to eliminate the causes of war. Among their international treaties we will find models of effective covenants for the limitation of armament and the prevention of strife in arms.

The present is a time when men and nations are all giving heed to the voice which pleads for peace. Everywhere they are yearning as never before for a leadership that will direct them into the inviting paths of progress, prosperity, and genuine fellowship. A clearer vision has shown them not alone the horrors but the terrible futility of war. In such a time as this, they will do well to turn their thoughts in all sincerity to these lessons from the statesmanship, the experience, and the constant aspiration of the South American nations. The continent which of all the world has known less of war and more of peace than any other through this trying period is well entitled to pride in the service it has rendered to its own people and in the example which it has set before the rest of mankind.

So the present occasion has appealed to me not merely as appropriate for the exchange of the ordinary felicitations but as one on which these contributions of Latin America in moral and intellectual leadership might be given something of the recognition they have deserved. It is not possible to do more than suggest the subject. But even so fragmentary an allusion to such an inviting field, I hope may serve a useful purpose. It would be worth the effort of men and women who seek means of preventing wars and reducing armaments to study the experiences of the American Republics. I commend them to the close attention of all who would like to see peace as nearly as possible assured and war as far as possible outlawed from the earth.

Among the leaders whose courage and genius brought realization of the New World’s dream of liberty with independence, none was moved by a deeper horror of war than San Martin. None among his colleagues would give more ardent approval than he to the work of later statesmen who had a vision of a continent dedicated to peace and the true welfare of its people. To his sagacity, more than that of any other man, is due the distribution of the South American Continent within its present national lines, because he possessed the foresight of the statesman along with the qualities of the brilliant soldier and the eager patriot.

As has happened too often to the foremost benefactors of their fellowmen. San Martin was denied during his own life those testimonies of gratitude and reverence which other times and all peoples have been proud to shower upon his memory. I have been told that monuments to him have been dedicated in almost all the capitals of South America. To-day the country which gave him to the cause of freedom is presenting to the Government of my own Nation this statue of him. It is a welcome duty which comes to me, in behalf of the Government and people of the United States, to express their pleasure in accepting it. May it stand through the centuries as an inspiration to all who love liberty. May it ever be an added reminder of the fellowship between the great nation which gives and that which is honored to receive it. May it serve to keep in the minds and hearts of all humankind the realization of the noble and honored place which is held by that republican system of the New World, of which he was one of the foremost creators.

Citation: Foundations of the Republic

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Sarah Chen, who prepared this document for digital publication.

One Response to “José de San Martin, Latin-American Liberator”

  1. Sarah Chen

    Coolidge’s recognition of General José de San Martin conveyed to me his value of independence. He demonstrates pride in the achievement of American independence but also humbleness as he honors San Martin’s contributions to a foreign but just as weighty struggle. The parallels that Coolidge draws between San Martin and George Washington communicated to me the depth of his admiration and connected America to the Pan-American world.

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