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Monday, May 1, 2023

May 1, 2023: Hemispheric Histories: The Organization of American States

[April 30th marks the 75th anniversary of the formal founding of the Organization of American States (OAS). So this week I’ll offer some AmericanStudies contexts for that important community and a handful of other hemispheric histories, leading up to a weekend post highlighting some of the many awesome scholars doing hemispheric studies!]

On the U.S.’s relationship to three of the many hemispheric conferences that together created the OAS.

1)      The Congress of Panama (1826): When Venezuelan rebel and statesman Simón Bolívar assembled representatives from a number of South and Central American nations in Panama City in June and July, 1826, President John Quincy Adams and his Secretary of State Henry Clay wanted the United States to have a presence there (and indeed pushed Bolívar to secure a formal invitation). Unfortunately, internal conflicts in the U.S. delayed their delegation, as Southern states were wary of supporting a conference at which many attending nations had outlawed slavery. The U.S. did eventually send two representatives, but one (U.S. Minister to the Republic of Colombia Richard Clough Anderson Jr.) died en route and the other (longtime Congressman John Sergeant) arrived after the conference had concluded its proceedings. An inauspicious start to what has remained a fraught U.S. relationship to these hemispheric gatherings and communities.

2)      The First International Conference of American States (1889-90): Perhaps in part because of that frustrating relationship to the 1826 conference (which ultimately didn’t produce the consistent hemispheric community that Bolívar hoped for, for lots of reasons that are far beyond this post), when the next such formal gathering happened more than half a century later the United States took the lead in organizing and hosting it. In 1881, inspired directly by Henry Clay and his “Western Hemispheric idea,” then-Secretary of State James G. Blaine invited all the nations in the Hemisphere to come to a conference in Washington; subsequent politics led Blaine to be replaced as Secretary of State and the conference to stall, but he never gave up on the idea, and when Blaine was once again appointed Secretary of State by President Benjamin Harrison he was able to bring it to fruition. A great deal was discussed and debated at the conference, but there’s no debating its legacy, as the final item in this list helps illustrate.

3)      The Ninth International Conference of American States (1948): Building on what was begun at that 1889-90 conference, this hemispheric community and blossoming organization met regularly over the next half-century. During World War II those meetings took on a new sense of urgency and purpose, as reflected by a new agreement signed just after the war, the 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. And just a year later, between March and May, 1948, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall (architect of the unfolding Marshall Plan in Europe) led the 9th International Conference, which met in Bogotá and at which 21 nations signed the Charter for an even more formal community, the Organization of American States. They also adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, a human rights manifesto which complemented the newly created United Nations to help guide this important post-war global period. I think Simón Bolívar would be proud.

Next hemispheric history tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Histories, contexts, and/or scholars you’d highlight?

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