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US-Latin America Relations Through 1822

© 2002 Donald J. Mabry

The US interest in Latin America was (1) trade (2) territory (3) republicanism but the first two were the important interests.

Latin American interest in the US was primarily assistance for independence such as diplomatic recognition, arms, and volunteers. There was also some economic interest but it didn't amount to much because there was little the weak US could do. Latin America saw the US as the fountain of republicanism.

Latin American-US trade relations

Had had illicit relations with colonial Latin America. In 1797, the Spanish were forced to throw open their ports because of wartime disruption, which did open some doors to Spanish America. The US chiefly sold lumber and agricultural products to Latin America. In 1800-1806, a twelve-month period, there was a quintupling of US goods exported to Spanish America since 1795. In the 1796-1806 period, US exports to Latin America rose from 3% to 12% of total exports. Very small group was involved but such groups tend to be well-organized. Exert pressure on governments. US troubles with Britain until 1815 hindered trade. Picked up after 1815. The US traded primarily with places in the Circum-Caribbean area plus Brazil. Out of the $6.7 million of trade over $4 million went to Cuba.

US attitudes towards the borderlands

The Pinckney Treaty (1795) set the Florida boundaries and guaranteed the right of deposit at New Orleans. US society was extremely dynamic whereas Latin America was exceedingly static.

The US stole West Florida from the Spanish in two stages. The area around Baton Rouge was taken in 1810; General James Wilkinson took tne area around Mobile in 1813. Interest in the Floridas came to dominate US foreign policy vis-a-vis Latin America. In 1811, Congress passed a "no transfer" doctrine, specifically restricted Florida to not being transferred except to the US. Sheer arrogance on the part of the US. The doctrine was extended later to other places. The US justified its actions because it would be a good thing for the US. Interest in the Floridas became an interest in acquiring them. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams pushed to get a treaty negotiated with Spain. Spain slow to ratify. Adams wanted to get Florida, stay out of wars because we could not afford them, never say we would not acquire territory , and also get Spanish recognition of the Louisiana Purchase. Henry Clay and a few others were interested in helping Latin America but only a few. John Quincy Adams wanted us to stay out of aid to Latin America. Adams got Clay to hold off until the Adams-Onis Treaty was signed in 1819 and ratified by the Senate in 1821. Then the US began recognizing Latin American countries in 1822, the first to do so.

US assistance to Latin America

We sent propaganda. We sent aid to Francisco Miranda in 1806.

US agents to Latin America (1) to 1815 (2) after 1815

There were a few during the US revolution. Then in 1797, they were put in again for the protection and promotion of trade and US citizens. One sent in 1798 to Santiago de Chile; one in 1800 to the port of Caracas. Spain tolerated these agents. In 1810 and thereafter we received agents from rebels in Latin America. We also made the attempt to make our agent system more systematic. We sent special agents for special things. We sent agents for seamen and commerce. They were really thinly disguised consuls. They also sometimes dealt with diplomatic things. Three appointed to Havana and Veracruz; Caracas port; and Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Lima. The last, Joel Poinsett, had his hands full because the capitals were so distant from one another. In 1811, Poinsett became a consul general.

Neither Britain nor the United States was critical to Latin American independence