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The Forgotten Peace

Michael Small

Chapter 4. Diplomatic distractions

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1Upon arrival at Niagara, the Latin American and American delegates installed themselves in their respective hotels on either side of the Falls. Justice Lamar’s wife, Clarinda, described the scene:

  • 1 Lamar (1926), pp. 252–53.

The three South American Ambassadors, with their suites, and the three Mexican Commissioners, with their families, were installed at the Clifton House on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. At the same hotel were the forty, or more, newspaper correspondents, each with a private wire to his special newspaper. The American Commissioners had their headquarters at Prospect House, on the American side of the Falls, where they occupied one floor of the hotel with private wires, private telephones, secretaries, codifiers, secret-service men, and an obliging negro messenger from the State Department, named Macbeth… The Conference sat at the Clifton House, on the Canadian side of the Falls. The American Commissioners crossed the Niagara River on the suspension bridge for the meetings of the Conference and the South American Commissioners, and the newspaper correspondents crossed to the American side for interviews and consultations. The Mexican Commissioners kept pretty closely to the neutral territory.1

2The Americans’ decision to set up headquarters on their side of the river generated its own protocol problems. The Niagara Falls Daily Record reported that:

  • 2 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 18, 1914.

The question of the mediators and the large army of attachés, etc., having to pay tolls when crossing the International Bridge has been worrying the authorities at Washington considerably of late, but they have announced that they have been unable to accomplish anything in this respect, as the bridge was constructed by the corporation and is owned by them, so the mediators must pay toll just the same as the ordinary citizen, not excepting the United States Envoys, who will have to cross the bridge twice a day to attend the conferences.2

  • 3 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 18, 1914.

3The Daily Record also noted that American “movie men” were finding it very difficult to get their recording equipment into Canada without being charged 25 percent duty by the Canadian customs authorities.3

  • 4 Remarks after a banquet given by the Canada Club of Niagara Falls, reported in the Daily Record, J (...)
  • 5 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 13, 1914.
  • 6 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s preface, pp. vii–viii.

4The symbolism of holding a conference between the United States and Mexico on neutral ground just across the United States’ northern border was not lost on local observers. The Niagara frontier had been the principal battleground in the last war fought between North America’s two northern neighbours, the War of 1812, which had been settled one hundred years earlier with the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814. Commissioner Frederick Lehmann declared in one post- banquet speech that the frontier between Canada and the United States at Niagara Falls was “a demonstration of lasting peace” for all delegates to consider.4 When it was announced that the A.B.C. conference would be held at Niagara Falls, the Daily Record also recalled that the old Clifton House Hotel in the same location had been used fifty years earlier during the American Civil War by the New York publisher, Horace Greeley, for unofficial peace talks with Confederate representatives based in southern Ontario.5 To commemorate these anniversaries the Buffalo Historical Society made plans to publish a volume entitled Peace Episodes on the Niagara. (The volume was indeed published later that year, but, as its editor noted in his preface, the international celebrations planned to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty of Ghent were overshadowed by the outbreak of the Great War in Europe.)6

  • 7 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 16, 1914.

5The meetings of the conference were held in the third-floor solarium of the Clifton Hotel, which faced southwest and had a commanding view of the Falls through large french doors that opened onto a wide balcony. The oak-panelled room was heavily carpeted and had an I-shaped table in the middle. During plenary sessions the mediators sat at one end of the table, their secretaries at the other, and the two delegations facing each other across the centre. The Daily Record commented that “the room resembles more nearly a very handsomely appointed smoking room more than anything else and is very cosy.”7

  • 8 The U.S. delegation filed its first report to Washington outlining these procedures: Dodge to Secr (...)

6The Peace Conference at Niagara Falls opened with a plenary session at the Clifton Hotel on the afternoon of May 20. Ambassador da Gama outlined the procedures that the mediators had confirmed with each side in advance: namely, that the mediators would normally hold informal meetings with each delegation separately, and bring the two sides together in plenary session only when results had been reached and could be officially recorded in the minutes.8 Over the course of the next five weeks the delegates met in plenary session on only three more occasions. Thus, virtually none of the conference actually took place face to face across the table, which suited all sides. Instead, it unfolded through lengthy, informal, off-the-record “conversations” between the mediators and one or other of the two delegations. These “conversations” often began between nine and ten at night, and could run till the small hours of the morning. Periods of intense activity were punctuated by lulls of several days, as the mediators retired to reflect on what step to take next, or to wait for a response from Mexico. Given the close watch that Washington kept on the proceedings, the U.S. delegates were rarely without reactions or instructions from Secretary Bryan and President Wilson.

  • 9 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, pp. 15–17.
  • 10 The Globe (Toronto) May 23, 1914. “Nymara,” which is not a Japanese name, is presumably the report (...)

7The conference was a closed-door event, but it soon attracted a penumbra of uninvited observers. The first to arrive, the day before the conference began, was Dr. Don Gonzalo S. Cordova, the Minister of Ecuador to the United States. Cordova had moved a resolution of support for the A.B.C. mediators that had been unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Pan-American Union. He made it known to the press that he had come “merely to give a moral force and effect to the deliberations of the mediators and other accredited representatives.” Señor Cordova declared in an interview with the Buffalo Evening News: “We see no reason why all the international differences between the nations of America should not be thus settled if these mediators are successful in bringing peace to Mexico.”9 Two other diplomatic representatives checked into the Prospect House shortly after the conference began in order to keep on eye on the proceedings—Baron Hertzberg of Germany and “Mr. T. Nymara” of Japan—but both kept out of the limelight.10

  • 11 The Globe (Toronto) May 23, 1914.

8A more visible and sinister Mexican figure also appeared on the scene: General Felix Diaz, the defeated presidential candidate and chief mutineer with whom Huerta had cut his deal to depose Madero. Diaz had left Mexico after Huerta dissolved Congress the previous October. He had arrived in Toronto accompanied by a party of six and soon made his presence known. The Globe reported that “he is not here in connection with the mediation proceedings at Niagara Falls, though he is greatly interested in what is transpiring there.” When asked how long his party planned to stay in Toronto, Diaz replied: “up till now we have no idea of leaving it, since we have found it so interesting and worthy of study. It will be very acceptable to us to remain here for a considerable length of time.”11 Diaz remained in Toronto for at least a week, but he never received the signal that his presence was required in Niagara Falls.

  • 12 New York Times, May 18, 1914. These are subheadings under the main headline “Huerta Delegates Arri (...)
  • 13 Posed photographs of the four daughters appeared in many North American newspapers. The caption un (...)

9For the accredited delegates Niagara Falls offered other attractions in the summer besides diplomacy behind closed doors. Almost all of them brought family members and servants. In the case of the three Mexican representatives, their suite consisted of twenty-three additional people, including nine children. The New York Times breathlessly reported their arrival in the city en route to the Falls: “Mexican Peace Party Happy in Seventeen-Room Suite in the Hotel Astor; All in Stylish Attire; Pretty Women and Picturesque Aztec Nurse Attract Much Attention at Pennsylvania Station.”12 In particular, the four unmarried daughters of Emilio Rabasa were featured frequently in articles about the social life of the conference.13

  • 14 Commercial telegram from Niagara Falls from Sir Joseph Pope to Hon. Martin Burrell, May 19, 1914, (...)
  • 15 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 19.

10The Canadian Government, not wishing to give offence to such an eminent group of foreign dignitaries, ensured that the mediators received an official message of welcome from the Governor General upon their arrival at the Clifton Hotel. A representative of the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Borden, the Hon. Martin Burrell, Dominion Minister of Agriculture, was also on hand to extend an official welcome to Canada. Looking after protocol and security matters behind the scenes was the first Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Sir Joseph Pope. Responding to the concerns of the hotel manager, Pope called for four Dominion police to be dispatched in plain clothes to protect the participants, matching the presence of six U.S. secret service agents.14 On May 22 Minister Burrell offered a banquet in honour of the conference participants, to which he carefully offered only one toast, “To the King” (George V), to avoid the delicate question of recognition between the U.S. and Mexican delegates.15

  • 16 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, pp. 17–19.
  • 17 The Globe (Toronto) May 13, 1914. It is not clear if the mediators ever took up this offer. The Da (...)
  • 18 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 18.

11Other celebrations in honour of the conference were held on both sides of the Niagara. On May 19 the commissioners of Victoria Park on the Canadian side offered a dinner for the mediators attended by numerous local civil and military officials. Not to be outdone, the New York State Park Commission hosted the diplomats and members of their families to a lunch on May 22, followed by a motor tour along the shore of the river and a ride on the Maid of the Mist.16 The Ontario Motor League also offered the mediators an automobile tour of the blossoms in season in the Niagara fruit belt “as perchance as a means of influencing them to an early and peaceful settlement.”17 On Sunday, May 24, a special Mass was held at a local Niagara landmark, the Church of Our Lady of Peace, which had been renamed and designated a site of pilgrimage by Pope Pius IX on the eve of the American Civil War. Mass was celebrated by the pastor, Father B. J. O’Neill, and was followed by a sermon for peace delivered by Rev. George J. Krim of Buffalo.18

12The high point of the participants’ social schedule was an invitation to a formal garden party in Toronto on May 27 on the occasion of an official visit to the city by the Governor General of Canada, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught. For the trip to Toronto two special railroad cars were assigned, one for the mediators, the delegates, and their families, the other for a party of twenty-six American newspapermen covering the conference. Clarinda Lamar reported:

  • 19 Lamar (1926), p. 260.

During the journey Justice Lamar and the other Americans in the party grew quite well acquainted with the South American members of the Conference. They admired the beautiful daughters of Señor Rabasa, the Señoritas Ruth, Isabel, Mercedes, and Concepcion, and they enjoyed the exquisite manner of the Spanish American gentlemen who composed the suites of the Diplomats and the Commissioners.19

13However successful the invitation proved to be in breaking the ice among the conference participants, it occasioned much backbiting afterward among the Canadian organizers and the Canadian press. As The Globe observed:

Unhappily it cannot be said that Toronto outdid itself in any way whatsoever as far as the reception of the distinguished visitors was concerned. In the fact, the latter might have been the most common or garden tourists, for the city fathers, the Council, the Mayor or the Lieutenant Governor did not take any more notice of their arrival than if they had not existed, while there was no one present from the Ducal entourage to greet the guests of the Duke at Union Station.

  • 20 The Globe (Toronto) May 28, 1914.

14In response, the Acting Mayor protested to The Globe that no one had officially notified the city of the arrival of these special guests.20

15Once they arrived at Union Station in Toronto, the mediators and the delegates rounded up the few available taxis and even the hotel bus to take them to the King Edward Hotel, where they continued their informal “conversations.” In the lobby of the hotel the Mexican delegates encountered two members of the entourage of General Felix Diaz. As The Globe described the scene:

  • 21 The Globe (Toronto) May 28, 1914 (original spelling of “Señor” preserved).

General Felix Diaz, the Mexican soldier-statesman, now visiting Toronto, was not at the [King Edward] hotel. He was in his room at the Westminster hotel, although (diplomatically) he had gone for a walk. But his avowed lieutenants were there, Colonel del Villar and Colonel del Rio were noticeably moving about the rotunda, and when Senor Rodriguez, the old Mexican mediator and jurist, came down the elevator, he and Colonel del Rio met like brothers, for the latter was at one time a pupil of the mediator’s. They embraced in the Mexican fashion again and again, slapped each other on the back, and Senor Rabasa despite his advanced years positively executed a war dance with the Colonel, who afterwards paid his respects to the handsome and beautifully gowned daughters of his old friend. General Diaz would much have liked to go to the hotel, but he felt that as he was here in a position not officially recognized he had best refrain from doing so.21

16The mediators and delegates then departed the King Edward Hotel for Craigleigh, the home of Sir Edmund Osler, for an audience with the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter, Princess Patricia, before the start of the garden party. Unfortunately, the miscommunications continued when the party of American reporters covering the conference arrived at Craigleigh and found that their names had not been included on the invitation list. Instead, they simply took the opportunity to tour Toronto for the rest of the day. Clarinda Lamar found it remarkable that:

  • 22 Lamar (1926), p. 262.

Not one line, not a syllable about this unfortunate occurrence appeared in any American newspaper. The Canadian papers were full of it. They explained and apologized. The Governor General, they said, lived in Ottawa. He gave the party in Toronto, for the convenience of his guests. His aide-de-camp, who issued the invitations, insisted that the local details were in the hands of the Toronto Committee, and the Committee, of course, blamed the aide-de-camp. It was, evidently, one of those accidents for which no one was specially to blame.22

  • 23 The Globe (Toronto) May 16, 1914, reported that the press would most likely number about 150. See (...)
  • 24 Daily Record (Niagara Falls) May 13, 1914; The Globe (Toronto) May 16, 1914.
  • 25 The Globe (Toronto) May 18, 1914.

17The army of 150 newspapermen covering the conference generated a dynamic of their own. Their numbers included correspondents for four different New York newspapers and a number of veteran foreign correspondents, including Melville S. Stone, the General Manager of the Associated Press.23 To accommodate them, the Clifton Hotel had to install a special office in the Buffet room with twenty telegraph operators and forty-four telegraph wires.24 Since space was tight at the Clifton Hotel, many more had to find accommodation across the river in Niagara Falls, New York. The Toronto Globe advised that “Mayor Laughlin has called together the merchants and others on the American side and asked them to refrain from overcharging the press men who will descend and are descending on the city in shoals. It might be advantageous were Mayor Dores on this side to follow suit.”25

  • 26 Severance, ed. (1914), p. 91.

18In the early days of the conference the reporters were frustrated by the absence of hard news, since the mediators had decided to hold all sessions behind closed doors and all the participants were cryptic in their public pronouncements. For example, Justice Lamar tersely informed waiting newspapermen at the close of one day’s proceedings that “We have been discussing the first plank; there are no splinters in the plank either.”26 Ambassador da Gama was more expansive but no more enlightening in his first interview upon arrival at Niagara, which he gave to the Chicago Record-Herald in French. The Chicago paper offered its readers the following translation of the Ambassador’s poetic prognosis for the conference:

  • 27 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 14.

There are three phases of mediation in general. Concerning the mediation now in progress especially a study should be made of diplomatic psychology:
(a) A wall of darkness with vague rays of hope, that hope which the wish creates, and in this case grows out of the most ardent desire that international American peace shall not be destroyed, but shall be maintained, if necessary, out of loyal consideration for the superior interests of civilization.
(b) Light, plans developing, resistance vanquished, difficulties surmounted, strong will helping and encouraging each other, the time which passes and brings prestige, the admission of possibilities, and finally co-operation to produce a finished work of art. I should call it a work of creative will.
(c)- -?27

  • 28 Lamar (1926), p. 257.

19Nevertheless, an esprit de corps prevailed throughout between the diplomats and the press covering the event. As time wore on, both delegations and the mediators started to give more background comment and even texts of letters to each other to the press. By midway through the conference the well-timed leak had become a standard feature of the proceedings. To entertain themselves and the delegates, the newspapermen edited their own bulletin, The Mediation News,28 and produced their own light parodies of the conference. A local historian, Frank Severance, described the amateur theatrics at a lunch given at Prospect House by the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Board of Trade for the newspaper correspondents:

The three South American mediators chancing to enter the hotel were captured by the reporters, as later were the American delegates, and for an hour shared in the fun, one feature of which was the singing of a song to the popular air When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy. It was written by a reporter in a trolley-car on his way to the luncheon, his inspiration running in the following fashion:

  • 29 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 19, note 1. Clarinda Lamar also recorded the lyrics of t (...)

When It’s Mediation Time in Canada,
In Canada, in Canada
By the good old Falls, we’ll watch and wait,
And Mediate.
When it’s Mediation Time in Canada,
We’ll come here for a rest;
And we’ll pay ten cents to cross the Bridge
Whether going East or West.29

  • 30 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 26, 1914.

20According to the Daily Record, “this catchy little ditty seems to have caught on and is sung and whistled by bell boy and mediator alike.”30


1 Lamar (1926), pp. 252–53.

2 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 18, 1914.

3 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 18, 1914.

4 Remarks after a banquet given by the Canada Club of Niagara Falls, reported in the Daily Record, June 3, 1914. Lehmann made the same point in his correspondence with the Mexican delegate Luis Elguero: see Lehmann to Secretary of State, Niagara Falls, N.Y., June 13, 1914, United States Department of State (1922), p. 532, File No. 812.00/12241.

5 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 13, 1914.

6 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s preface, pp. vii–viii.

7 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 16, 1914.

8 The U.S. delegation filed its first report to Washington outlining these procedures: Dodge to Secretary of State, Niagara Falls, N.Y., May 20, 1914, United States Department of State, p. 501, File No. 812.00/12136.

9 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, pp. 15–17.

10 The Globe (Toronto) May 23, 1914. “Nymara,” which is not a Japanese name, is presumably the reporter’s attempt to spell “Nomura.”

11 The Globe (Toronto) May 23, 1914.

12 New York Times, May 18, 1914. These are subheadings under the main headline “Huerta Delegates Arrive in New York.”

13 Posed photographs of the four daughters appeared in many North American newspapers. The caption under one photograph on the Saturday illustrated page of The Globe (Toronto), June 6, 1914, was “Mexican Beauties at the Falls.” The newspaper introduced them as “The Misses Ruth, Isabel, Mercedes and Concepcion Rabasa, daughters of Senor Rabasa, the President of the Mexican delegation, who are attracting as much attention as the settlement of the trouble in Mexico itself.”

14 Commercial telegram from Niagara Falls from Sir Joseph Pope to Hon. Martin Burrell, May 19, 1914, in Canada Department of External Affairs file 1914-457.

15 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 19.

16 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, pp. 17–19.

17 The Globe (Toronto) May 13, 1914. It is not clear if the mediators ever took up this offer. The Daily Record (Niagara Falls) reported on May 19 that there was a diplomatic disagreement between the President of the League and the Mexican delegates over whether the accompanied press would be invited to participate in the tour as well.

18 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 18.

19 Lamar (1926), p. 260.

20 The Globe (Toronto) May 28, 1914.

21 The Globe (Toronto) May 28, 1914 (original spelling of “Señor” preserved).

22 Lamar (1926), p. 262.

23 The Globe (Toronto) May 16, 1914, reported that the press would most likely number about 150. See a list of the more prominent correspondents covering the conference in an article on the those newspapermen who accompanied the group on their visit to Toronto in The Globe, May 28, 1914.

24 Daily Record (Niagara Falls) May 13, 1914; The Globe (Toronto) May 16, 1914.

25 The Globe (Toronto) May 18, 1914.

26 Severance, ed. (1914), p. 91.

27 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 14.

28 Lamar (1926), p. 257.

29 Severance, ed. (1914), editor’s essay, p. 19, note 1. Clarinda Lamar also recorded the lyrics of the song and identified its author as a Mr. Fougner of the New York Sun: Lamar (1926), p. 257.

30 Daily Record (Niagara Falls), May 26, 1914.

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