Today’s post was written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
President Obama will visit Cuba later this month. It will be only the second time an incumbent President visits that island nation. The first presidential visitor was Calvin Coolidge in 1928, when he attended the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana during January 1928.
A major difference between the two visits is that President Coolidge traveled to Cuba to attend an inter-American conference that just happened to take place in that country. If the conference had been elsewhere, Cuba would not have received his visit. President Obama, on the other hand, is going to Cuba to parley with Cuban leaders. Another difference is that the trip to Cuba was President Coolidge’s only foreign trip as President. By contrast, President Obama has traveled all over the World.
The Sixth International Conference of American States came at a time when U.S. relations with the countries in Central and South America were in a parlous state. The United States had every expectation of facing brutal criticism at the meeting. As American planning for the meeting, Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg sent the following letter to President Coolidge suggesting that his presence would help the American cause:
It is not clear when the President agreed to go to Cuba. The only document located in the files is the following note from the President:
Despite the heavy criticism received during the conference, American officials concluded that the outcome, and the President’s visit, was a success.
Source: Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg to President Calvin Coolidge, August 19, 1927, file 710.F/42a, and President Calvin Coolidge to the Secretary of State, August 29, 1927, file 710.F/43, both in 1910-29 Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.