Parque Lincoln

If one were to find themselves strolling through the parks of Mexico City, they might be surprised to run into a statue of United States President Abraham Lincoln in Mexico City’s aptly named, Parque Lincoln. Commissioned by the United States president at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, the statue in Parque Lincoln is a replica made from a mold of the “Standing Lincoln” statue in Lincoln Park, Chicago. The original “Standing Lincoln,” completed in 1887 by Augustus St. Gaudens, set an important precedent on how President Lincoln’s personage was to be remembered in future works of art. St. Gaudens is often credited with being the pioneer behind the pensive, deep in thought, and almost sorrowful depiction of President Lincoln that would soon come to dominate future works of art and remembrance. [1]

This begs the question, why is there a replica of such an important statue to the United States in Mexico City? This question requires a deeper understanding of not just United States and Mexican relations, but most importantly and understanding of the role Mexico played in the global balance of power that existed during the Cold War Era. Mexico was in an incredibly unique position during this time, to use the verbiage from the Sixties, the United States and Mexican border is the only place in the world where a country that has been generally deemed a first world and third world country borders each other. While our current, twenty first century mindset, might not be alert to the significance of this, the struggle of power during the Cold War Era created a very pivotal relationship between Mexico and the United States.

Among other domestic happenings, the precursor to the Sixties in Mexico on an international scale was the effects of the Good Neighbor Policy and to some extent the Monroe Doctrine, implemented by the United States in the decades prior. While it is important to not associate all international actions by Mexico with influence from the United States, due to their unique geographical connections paired with differing global status at the time, it would be irresponsible to ignore the obvious connections. Before the Sixties, the United States had taken it upon itself to be the defender of Latin American countries from influence from the other hemisphere. These actions had created a tense and even sometimes hostile relationship between Latin America and the United States. Mexico’s unique position global and economically with the United States made them an important mediator, even if just politically, between the United States and the rest of Latin America. [2]

This background leads into the true significance of the “Standing Lincoln” statue in Mexico City. The statue of Lincoln was given to Mexico during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration to show a friendly and respectful bond between the two nations during a tumultuous international climate as described above. At the dedication of the statue in Mexico city, Johnson said, “All nations rightly praise their own famous men, but only truly great people pause to pay tribute to the great of other lands and that is what Mexico is doing today.” Lincoln was chosen because of the significance and connection that he has to Mexico. As a senator Lincoln was against the United States invading Mexico in 1846 and while he was president he spoke out against European imperialism as well. Lincoln was the perfect person to use as a symbol of friendship between the two nations. Mexico would eventually reciprocate the gesture with a statue of none other than Benito Juárez, a beloved Mexican President, to be placed in the United State’s capital of Washington D.C. [3]

While the significance behind the actual statues are alone grand symbols of the relationship between the United States and Mexico during this time, the actual dedication adds a complete other dimension. Not only was there a huge celebration in Mexico City for the unveiling of the duplicate “Standing Lincoln” created by Felix DeWeldon, but it was attended by a number of United States government officials as well. Members present at the dedication included a number of senators and congressmen as well as President Johnson and the First Lady, Lady Bird. When the United States delegation arrived, a fully decorated airport in Mexican colors and a 21 gun salute greeted them. Additionally, both President Johnson and President Díaz Ordaz of Mexico provided remarks.

The Mexican people received the delegation from the United States, especially the President and First Lady so warmly that documents from the White House state it was the warmest welcome that President Johnson had ever received. The warm welcome of the United States delegation to Mexico was not just from the people of the country, but from the President and First Lady of Mexico themselves. The Díaz Ordaz’s hosted the Johnsons in their own personal quarters and helped to facilitate useful connections between the two groups. [4]

While the simple dedication and existence of a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Mexico City might not come off as incredibly significant at first thought, the timing and the political climate surrounding it was momentous in solidifying the relationship between the United States and Mexico in the Sixties. Mexico was wanting to be an ally to the United States and a facilitator for the rest of Latin America to not be afraid of dealing with the United States, but at the same time they were yearning to prove they could be thought of as a country that can stand on its own. The symbolism of the statues paired with the enthusiasm of the Mexican people exemplifies a willingness to open the door to a new and equal relationship between the two neighboring countries.