The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Calvin Coolidge
Address Before the First Pan American Congress of Journalists, Washington, D.C.
April 8, 1926

Members of First Pan American Congress of Journalists:

This is the First Pan American Congress of Journalists. In the number of countries represented and in the extent of territory embraced, it is without doubt one of the most important meetings of publishers and editors that was ever held. And when it is considered that within your numbers are those who control and shape the policies of the press in almost all the Western Hemisphere, the weight and significance of your conference becomes still more impressive. It is a peculiar pleasure to extend to your Congress, which represents so many American Republics, a most cordial greeting, and to assure you that the Government and the people of the United States are pleased to make an appropriate response to the honor which your presence confers.

Possibilities of broad and beneficial results lie in the very nature of the untrammeled constituency of your body. While provision was made for it under a resolution of the Fifth International Conference of American States, commonly known as the Fifth Pan American Conference, held at Santiago, Chile, in 1923, it is not an official gathering. Your members in nowise represent their respective governments. You are here in your individual capacities as the free agents of a free press of free countries, in voluntary conference to discuss ways and means of bringing the people of the western world to a better understanding and a more sympathetic accord.

Truth dissipates misunderstanding and misconception. It is the function of a free press not only to make the truth available to everyone within its sphere, but to cherish and develop a public sentiment for all that is loyal to the truth. A free and enlightened press, by this means, becomes one of the safeguards of liberty. When devoted to these ideals it is a vitally stimulating cultural force.

Since the earliest establishment of Republics in Latin America there has been a common bond between the people of those countries and our people. The strength of this bond has grown with the years. But, up to very recent times, there has been an unfortunate lack of information on the part of the general public of the United States of the aims, achievements, and progress of those regions. And, I am told, a similar condition in regard to affairs in the United States has existed among their people. Such conditions can be remedied only by the dissemination of knowledge. Various Pan American organizations have done a most valuable work in this direction. But one of the most important factors in bringing about a better understanding has been an awakening of interest among us in the news of the countries represented by our visitors; conversely has come the desire on their part to learn more of what we are doing and why we are doing it. This has resulted in the enlargement of old and the organization of new services for the interchange of news. As I understand the purpose of your conference, it is not only for the forming of friendships by personal contact, but also for the exchange of views and the discussion of conditions and problems, as they come to the editor who is striving to present to his readers a true perspective of what is taking place in his own country and in other countries.

After your deliberations in Washington you, who are our most welcome guests, will visit other parts of our country to see for yourselves the material and cultural progress we are making. Perhaps in other years our journalists will have the privilege of coming into intimate contact with your nations and of seeing for themselves the wonderful advance you have made in these directions, thus giving us both a more complete knowledge and understanding of our common aims, aspirations, and achievements.

It is most appropriate that you are meeting in this beautiful building. In a very real sense this is your home. The ideals and the purposes of the Pan American Union are those which the press of this hemisphere should seek to serve. It should promote a better understanding among the western Republics, and it should foster a spirit of sympathy, harmony, and cooperation. Your newspapers may do much to emphasize and make more effective the efforts of this organization to bring the United States and the Latin American Republics into closer bonds of mutual helpfulness.

Your visit to our country will, I trust, be beneficial to you by reason of what you may learn of our general mode of life. You will come in contact with our industries, our universities, our political and our religious institutions. This will enable you the better to interpret our ideals in your future communications to your own people. It will also provide an opportunity for our citizens to give you personal assurances of the depth and breadth of the friendship which exists here for you and your people, and the earnest desire for a continuation of those friendly relations which are the result of commercial intercourse and mutual aspirations.

It will also afford the occasion for the inhabitants of our country to learn more of what our sister Republics are and what they represent. It will give them an opportunity to recall that the early inhabitants of colonial South America established centers of culture earlier than similar agencies were established in English colonial possessions in North America. No less than eight institutions of higher learning were founded prior to the establishment in 1636 of Harvard, the oldest university in the United States. The Royal and Pontifical University of St. Paul, in Mexico, and the Greater University of St. Mark, in Lima, both were chartered by royal decree in the year 1551. These institutions were intended to equip their pupils for the priesthood, just as the first schools in North America were designed primarily to train young men for the ministry.

Printing in the New first appeared in Latin America. The first printing press this side of the Atlantic was set up in Mexico in 1535 and the second in Lima in 1586. It was not until 1639 that the first printing press, in what is now the United States, was used in Cambridge, Mass. The dissemination of news in printed form was resorted to in South America as early as 1594. A leaflet published in Lima gave to the public the news of the capture of an English pirate. About 1620 news leaflets frequently appeared in Mexico and Lima, but publications resembling later-day newspapers in any degree were not attempted until 1772.

In any consideration of the comparative progress and achievements of Latin America and the United States we must remember that the United States had the advantage of a national existence for more than 40 years before the Latin American countries had become independent. The Battle of Yorktown, which marked the end of our Revolution, was in 1781, while the decisive battle for Latin American independence was fought at Ayachucho, Peru, in 1824.

Since about 1876, these independent Republics have been expanding commercially at a rapid rate. The following are very striking figures, although prepared some years ago. In 1919, with a population under 80,000,000, the total foreign commerce of Latin American countries amounted to over $5,000,000,000. With these figures compare those of the United States in 1900, when our population was about 76,000,000 and our foreign commerce less than $2,500,000,000.

Historians refer to the nineteenth century as distinguished by the development of the United States. Elihu Root, after his official visit, said, in 1906, "I believe that no student can help seeing that the twentieth century will be the century of phenomenal development in South America." Theodore Roosevelt made a similar statement at the time of his trip to Brazil in 1914. All that has happened since has tended to prove the correctness of these prophecies.

Too few people in this country have an adequate realization of the immensity of Latin America. Many do not know that these 20 Republics cover an area of 9,000,000 square miles, approximately three times the area of the United States; that Brazil alone is larger than the United States, and that Argentina is nearly two-thirds as large. And, I fear, the conception of our average citizen is woefully deficient as to the extent to which these Republics have developed in industry, science, and the arts, and to which they enjoy all the improvements of modern civilization, oftentimes improving these improvements.

In some measure this has been due to the lack of information in our press. Some one has remarked there was a time when readers of our newspapers here might have imagined revolutions and volcanic disturbances were the chief product of Latin America. On the other hand, the readers of Latin American papers got little idea of our national life from the accounts of train wrecks, lynchings, and divorces, which, it was said, constituted the principal news printed there about our country.

That day has passed. Since 1916, due to our increased cable facilities and the reduction of cable tolls, as well as the keen desire for more information, the amount of news exchanged between the Americas has been increased greatly, and its character is more constructive. I venture the prediction that as a result of this Congress the papers in the United States in the future will present more complete and more accurate pictures of the cultural and industrial progress of Latin America, and that the press of those Republics will give to their readers a better understanding of the ideals and purposes of the United States.

The awakening of the spirit of independence in Latin America, just as the world was turning into the nineteenth century, inspired a literature that ranks high in quality. This literary inspiration continued to be fed by the series of romantic events following independence. I can mention only a few of the many men of literary distinction whose works in time may become as well known to us as those of French, Italian, German, and English authors, as we extend the study of Latin American tongues in our schools. Among these are Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, of Argentina; Andrès Bello, of Venezuela; Rubèn Darío, of Nicaragua; Jorge Isaacs, of Colombia; Ricardo Palma, of Peru; Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, of Chile; Josè Enrique Rodó, of Uruguay; Juan de Dios Peza, of Mexico; Olavo Bilac, of Brazil; Josè María Heredia, of Cuba; and Josè Joaquin Olmedo, of Ecuador. You will recall many other brilliant names.

One of our writers, after calling attention to the fact that Sarmiento was a contemporary of Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Bryant, Poe, Longfellow, Emerson, Hawthorne, Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, all famous writers of the United States, adds:

"* * * none exhibits Sarmiento's combination of activity and reflection, romanticism and practicality, brilliance and warmth. With the exception of Emerson it is doubtful if any of these paladins of our golden age of literature was his superior, and it was certain that none did more to uplift his country and to raise the general level of culture."

Sarmiento should be well known in this country. After serving here as minister plenipotentiary of Argentina he became its President. He was a great student of the institutions and history of the United States and wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln. After conference with Horace Mann he established a system of education in Argentina modeled after some of those in this country.

In the field of drama Latin America has produced Juan Ruiz de Alarcon. Scholarship, poetry, fiction, criticism, and political writing all have had their exponents in the various Latin American Republics. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela have national academies of art and conservatories of music. There are many who consider the Palace of Fine Arts of Santiago, Chile, as the finest of its kind on the Western Hemisphere.

The Mexican Government through all the years never has failed to encourage art. This encouragement has been put in concrete form by the establishment in recent years of the Coyoacàn Art School. Music is more genuinely popular in Latin America probably than in the United States. Most cities or towns of any size have open-air concerts, and the great operatic stars have been received with proper acclaim and rewarded with large remunerations. State and municipality foster the drama and erect fine buildings in which to produce it. The Solís, of Montevideo; the National Theater of Mexico, and the Colon of Buenos Aires surpass most of our theaters in the United States in size, cost, and beauty. The best theatrical companies in Europe are obtained, and much native talent is being developed.

Latin America has its share of scientists, to which number are being added each year many graduates of the leading universities. I might mention the names of Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, municipal sanitation expert; Rodrigues, the botanist, and Lacerda, the biologist, all Brazilians; Dr. Alejandro Alvarez, of Chile, widely known throughout the world as an authority on international law, and Dr. Luis Drago, of Argentina, who enunciated the Drago doctrine. That many in the United States may not have heard of these eminent men, simply indicates a lack of information on our part.

While popular education was not developed in Latin America so soon as in the territory originally comprising the English colonies, it has made rapid strides there since 1880. The development of normal schools has been marked. "They are proving in particular," one of our writers says, "the educational and economic salvation of Latin American womanhood * * *." Our women who take part in public affairs might learn a great deal by studying the history of the Sociedad de Beneficencia, composed of about 60 prominent women of Buenos Aires. For many years this organization has conducted most of the public philanthropies of that city, collecting and distributing benevolences on a large scale. The income of the society, I understand, amounts to more than $4,000,000 a year.

In recent years has come a profound realization that the commercial interests of Latin America and the United States have a strong natural bond. Since the World War we have enlarged that interest by vastly increasing our shipping facilities between here and various Latin American ports, by establishing branches of our banks, and by the investment of great amounts of capital. It is estimated that in 1923 United States capital invested in Latin America amounted to $3,760,000,000; in 1924, a trifle over $4,000,000,000, and in 1925 was $4,210,000,000. In 1925 banks in the United States had some 40 branches in various Latin American cities. Figures compiled by our Department of Commerce show that in 1910 our exports to Latin America, including the Guianas and all the West Indies except Porto Rico, amounted to $279,663,000 and our imports from there amounted to $408,837,000. Last year the exports were $882,315,000 and the imports $1,041,122,000. Our exports to the four Republics of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico increased from $141,615,000 in 1910 to $420,211,000 in 1925. Our imports from these countries increased in this 15-year period from $217,240,000 to $569,771,000. It may be interesting to compare these 1925 figures with those for our total foreign trade in that year, which were: Exports, $4,909,396,000; imports, $4,227,995,000. Thus we see nearly one-fifth of all our exports went to Latin America and practically one-fourth of our imports came from there. While they have our mining and printing machinery, locomotives, sewing machines, cash registers, phonographs, radio, typewriters, and other implements, we need and have their very valuable raw products.

Their cities are developing as rapidly as our own, and some seem to have surpassed ours in the magnificence of their buildings and in the extent of their city-planning activities. If all our citizens here do not yet realize fully that Latin America is as progressive as the United States; and if some Latin Americans, as I have been told is the case, are prone to feel that this country is interested in material things alone, I am sure it may be explained by the lack of that knowledge which comes from personal contact through travel and by the mutual inadequacy of news reports of the significant facts and developments in the respective countries. With the increase of transportation facilities between our Republics travel will increase. And there can be no doubt you publishers and editors are constantly striving to enlarge and improve your dissemination of vital news concerning the different people of the Western Hemisphere.

No newspapers in the world have a higher rank than some of those in Latin America. I understand the amount of cable matter contained in our own press for a good many years did not begin to compare with what was to be found in the leading dailies of the Southern Republics. Several of these newspapers have buildings equal, if not superior, to those in our country. One newspaper in particular is notable for public service outside the mere publication of news. It maintains free legal and medical bureaus, showrooms for the display of things intimately connected with agricultural, stock-raising, and the chemical industries. Also, it furnishes auditoriums for lectures, plays, concerts, and other gatherings. It approaches a university. The high esteem in which these papers are deservedly held throughout the world has been built up by the character of the men who have guided them. It is particularly gratifying to have present at this gathering men whose character and reputation are recognized internationally, including one who bears a name which for three generations has stood for the best in journalism.

The First Congress of Journalists was a fine idea. I hope it will achieve all that its promoters could wish. It seems to me it would be well if your gathering could be repeated periodically, possibly alternating between Latin America and the United States. Such meetings can not fail to have far-reaching consequences, not only in the preservation of the most cordial good feeling existing among our respective nations but also in the drawing together of our peoples into closer bonds of sympathetic understanding. It should result in a better comprehension that, after all, we of the Western Hemisphere are one people striving for a common purpose, animated by common ideals and bound together in a common destiny. Unto us has been bequeathed the precious heritage and the high obligation of developing and consecrating a new world to the great cause of humanity.

Citation: Calvin Coolidge: "Address Before the First Pan American Congress of Journalists, Washington, D.C.", April 8, 1926. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=391.
 
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