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Leading Them to The Promised Land

Woodrow Wilson Covenant Theology, and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1915

Mark Benbow

Publication Year: 2010

How Wilson’s religious heritage shaped his response to the Mexican Revolution

“In Wilson’s view, America had a part to play as a divine instrument. To deny the United States an active role in the world was an attempt to deny God’s will.” —from the Introduction

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution mandates that government and religious institutions remain separate and independent of each other. Yet, the influence of religion on American leaders and their political decisions cannot be refuted. Leading Them to the Promised Land is the first book to look at how Presbyterian Covenant Theology affected U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy during the Mexican Revolution.

The son of a prominent southern minister, Wilson was a devout Presbyterian. Throughout his life he displayed a strong conviction that covenants, or formal promises made binding by an oath to God, should be the basis for human relationships, including those between government and public organizations. This belief is demonstrated in Wilson’s attempt to bring peaceful order to the world with the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations.

Through careful investigation of Wilson’s writings and correspondence, along with other contemporary sources, author Mark Benbow shows how Wilson’s religious heritage shaped his worldview, including his assumption that nations should come together in a covenant to form a unitary whole like the United States. As a result, Wilson attempted to nurture a democratic state in revolutionary Mexico when rivals Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa threatened U.S. interests. His efforts demonstrate the difficulty a leader has in reconciling his personal religious beliefs with his nation’s needs.

Leading Them to the Promised Land adds to the growing body of scholarship in international history that examines the connections between religion and diplomacy. It will appeal to readers interested in the history of U.S. foreign relations and the influence of religion on international politics.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series

Cover Art

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Front Matter

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pp. i-iv


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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I wish to acknowledge many of those who gave me support and help in writing this book. Any mistakes that crept into my writing are, of course, my fault and not theirs.

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pp. xi-xiii

President Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy has undergone frequent examination since he left office in 1921, although little agreement exists on his motivations or his relative successes and failures. Most historians studying Wilson have noted his deep Christian faith, but few have differentiated his specific Presbyterian Covenanter heritage from a general nineteenth-century Protestantism.

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1. Woodrow Wilson and Covenant Theology

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pp. 1-12

The difficulty in studying the assumptions underlying the actions of any decision maker is to determine “what goes without saying.” It is the largely unspoken assumptions arising from Wilson’s ideology that concern us in this study: what were the assumptions that Wilson left unquestioned? Political scientists studying decision making have wrestled for decades with the problem of how policy makers interpret and act upon incoming data, employing numerous theories on decision ...

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2. The Mexican Revolution and the United States Setting the Stage for Wilson, 1910-1913

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pp. 13-24

To provide a context for Wilson’s later actions, it is necessary to briefly discuss Mexico’s course before Wilson first became the U.S. president in 1913. The course of the Mexican Revolution during this time would have serious ramifications for Wilson, not only in his policy making but also in how he would interpret events in Mexico. Porfirio Díaz had controlled Mexico since 1876, when he seized power ...

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3. Debating What to Do, March-October 1913

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pp. 25-44

Gen. Victoriano Huerta overthrew President Francisco Madero, who was then subsequently assassinated, a mere two weeks before Woodrow Wilson became president of the United States. Although President Wilson had paid little attention to Mexico before he took office, he considered Madero an idealist who had deserved American support. Madero was precisely the type of leader Wilson would have ...

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4. Watchful Waiting, October 1913-April 1914

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pp. 45-64

By autumn 1913, President Woodrow Wilson had committed his administration to removing Huerta’s regime from power in Mexico. Wilson dedicated the United States to this policy at least in part because the ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, had actively aided Gen. Huerta in overthrowing his democratically elected predecessor, Francisco Madero. In President Wilson’s view, since the ambassador ...

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5. Veracruz and the End of Huerta, April-July 1914

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pp. 65-77

In early 1914, frustrated by Huerta’s lingering hold on power, President Woodrow Wilson began considering more forceful ways to oust the dictator. His “watchful waiting” policy, which combined diplomatic pressure on Huerta with sometimes discreet, sometimes open, support for Huerta’s opponents, was not working fast enough to satisfy the increasingly impatient president. Consequently, Wilson ...

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6. Carranza or Villa? The Question of Recognition, July-December 1914

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pp. 78-98

As Huerta fled Mexico in July 1914, a new problem complicated Woodrow Wilson’s Mexican policy. Wilson had focused on removing Huerta as the first step toward establishing a democratic Mexico. Now he was faced with the challenge of identifying which remaining leader would be most likely to establish a constitutional system and implement the reforms necessary to preserve a stable Mexico. With ...

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7. The Difficult Choice Is Made, January-October 1915

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pp. 99-124

By 1915, Wilson had spent almost two years trying to encourage the growth of constitutional government in Mexico, first by pressuring Huerta to leave and advocating elections, and later by supporting the Constitutionalists’ armed efforts. It was growing clear to Wilson that soon he would have to make a decision: quit debating and negotiating, and pick a faction to recognize. This aggravated Wilson.

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pp. 125-129

Carranza was overthrown and assassinated in 1920. Wilson left office in 1921. Debate over Wilson’s policies has outlasted both men as historians question the U.S. president’s motives. Did he want to protect American business? Was his primary purpose protecting the Monroe Doctrine? Had he attempted to create an international liberal-capitalist order?


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pp. 131-159


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pp. 161-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775173
E-ISBN-10: 1612775179
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606350256

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series
Series Editor Byline: Mary Ann Heiss See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794698849
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Leading Them to The Promised Land

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Subject Headings

  • Christianity and politics -- Presbyterian Church -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexico -- History -- 1910-1946.
  • Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924 -- Religion.
  • Mexico -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Wilson, Woodrow, -- 1856-1924 -- Political and social views
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Mexico.
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