Henry Lane Wilson

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Henry Lane Wilson, Ambassador to Mexico.

Birthdate: (75)
Birthplace: Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, United States
Death: December 22, 1932 (75)
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States
Place of Burial: Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James Wilson, United States minister to Venezuela and Emma Wilson
Husband of Alice Wilson
Father of John Vajen Vagen Wilson; Warden McKee Wilson; Stewart Collins Wilson and Helen Wilson
Brother of John L. Wilson, US Senate & Congress; Howard Wilson and Tilghman Howard Wilson

Managed by: Judith "Judi" Elaine (McKee) Burns
Last Updated:

About Henry Lane Wilson

Henry Lane Wilson was born on November 3, 1857 in Crawfordsville, IN, the son of James Wilson, a congressman, soldier in the Mexican and Civil Wars, and diplomat. He graduated from Wabash College in 1879, read law in Indianapolis, and practiced briefly until 1882, when he became the owner and editor of the Lafayette, Indiana, Journal. In 1885 he and his wife Alice moved to Spokane, WA, where he practiced law and engaged in banking and real estate sales. He prospered until 1893, when the financial panic and depression took most of his money. An active Republican, Wilson campaigned for his older brother John, a member of the House of Representatives and Senator from Washington state, and supported Presidents Harrison and McKinley. On June 9, 1897, McKinley appointed him as U.S. Minister to Chile, where he remained until 1904; Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Minister to Belgium, 1905-10; and he served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 1910-13, during the Taft and Woodrow Wilson administrations. During World War I, Wilson was president of the Indiana branch of the League to Enforce Peace, resigning in January 1917 because he thought some of its leaders were advocating a world alliance as proposed by President Wilson. During the Harding and Coolidge years, Wilson remained active in business and served as counsel for US oil interests in Latin America. He published a memoir, Diplomatic Episodes in Mexico, Belgium, and Chile in 1927. Wilson died in Indianapolis on December 22, 1932.

History of Montgomery County, Indiana. Indianapolis: AW Bowen, 1913, p. 777

Henry Lane WILSON, present American Ambassador to Mexico, was born in Crawfordsville in 1857, his father being James Wilson, who was born in the same place and whose ancestors came to Indiana through Kentucky from Virginia, and his mother, Emma Ingersoll of a New England family.

James Wilson, the father, graduated from the Indiana Law University in 1844. He later served two terms in Congress, winning his election the first time over Daniel W. Voorhees, the Democratic candidate, on the issue of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and State Sovereignty. In that day the joint discussion between these two young leaders of opposite political opinions attracted attention throughout the North and is still remembered by some of the older people in Indiana. At the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, James Wilson entered the ranks of the Union Army and went to the front, from whence he was recalled by President Lincoln and commissioned to defend the Emancipation Proclamation throughout all New England, Pa, NY and Ohio. At the close of the war he was brevetted Brigadier General.

Some time after he took an active and high part in the councils of the Republican party and would undoubtedly have been sent to the Senate or made Governor but for his oposition to negro suffrage without educational preparation.

He was appointed Minister to Venezuela by Andrew Jackson and died in that country at the early age of 42, at almost the beginning of what would undoubtedly have been a distinguished career.

Henry Lane Wilson passed all of his earlier years, with the exception of two years in Venezuela, in Crawfordsville, receiving a primary education in the public schools and entered Wabash College in 1875. At that time Joseph F. Tuttle wqas President of the College and Edmund O. Hovey, Caleb S. Mills, John L. Campbell and Samuel S. Thompson were yet in the full vigor of their usefulness and affording splendid examples of rugged piety and devotion to duty and of dignity and profound learning, and it is to the deep impressions made by these men that he owes in a considerable measure for whatever success he has achieved in life. During his college years he divided his time and interest between extensive and thorough reading and politics and political discussions, never missing a political speech that he could possibly hear and listening with eagerness and profit to the homely discussions of the farmers and odd characters for which Crawfordsville used to be famous.

His education and equipment for the world did not come easily, as at the threshold of his college career the family fortune was largely swept away. To the devotion, energy and self-sacrifice of his mother, he ascribes all of his success in life as well as the inculcation of those principles of morality, honesty and truthfulness without which no man can attain lasting success. Among the members of his class who still remain in Indiana are: Albert B. Anderson, United States District Judge; Arthur B. Milford, Professor of English Literature at Wabash College and James H. Osborne, Professor of Latin in the same institution. Others who were in college at the same time, though not classmates were: Vice President Thomas R. Marshall; Charles B. Landis; Albert Baker; James Daniels; Harry J. Milligan and Harold Taylor.

In his earlier days he listened to the political speeches of Oliver Morton; Thomas A. Hendricks; Benjamin Harrison; Joseph E. MacDonald and the gifted, but erratic, Thomas H. Nelson, one of his predecessors in Mexico. He also received valuable political instruction from Col. Henry S. Lane and from his uncle, William C. Wilson of Lafayette, a distinguished lawyer and orator. He made his first political speech at age 20 at Waveland in Montgomery County in company with James A. Mount, who afterwards became Governor of Indiana. From that time on he was engaged in politics, and his public speaking has been carried on with greater or less success until the present day.

Following his graduation from college he secured a position as engrossing clerk in the State Legislature at Indianapolis and later entered the law office of MacDonald & Butler. He soon purchased the Lafayette Daily Journal and, as it did not prove a successful venture, sold it a year later without loss.

In 1885, he married Alice VAJEN, a daughter of John H. Vajen, a prominent and well known citizen of Indianapolis, and moved to the town of Spokane, in the eastern part of the state of Washington. There he resumed the practice of law, making a specialty of land practice. In this he made a pronounced success and his fortunes improved rapidly. About this time Spokane began the marvelous growth which has now made it one of the great cities of the Union, and he commenced investing in real estate with immediate and astonishing success. In the course of a few years he amassed a large fortune and became interested in banks, buildings, real estate and promotion companies. In the panic of 1893, all of this fortune was swept away, not through unwise investments or inability to meet his own debts, but through the failure of two banks in which he was heavily interested and by reason of being called upon almost simultaneously to bear the burden of the failure of other men for whom he stood as endorser or surety. He gave up all of his property and afterwards paid more than one hundred thousand dollars to clear his name and credit. During this period he was largely identified with the development of the state of Washington and with its politics, and his name was connected with a majority of measures of a public character in that section of the country.

Politics to him at that time was simply a diversion or perhaps a practical method of being of service to his brother, John L. Wilson, who was then, and continued to be until his death, an active figure in that state. When Benjamin Harrison was elected President, our subject had been living some time in the state of Washington and he, with his brother, managed to create a sentiment favorable to Harrison's nomination, which resulted in his having a third of the state delegation. When Harrison was elected, he spontaneously offered Mr. Wilson the post of Minister of Venezuela, but, as he had no ambition in the direction of the diplomatic service at that time, he declined the offer.

When William McKinley was elected President, Mr. Wilson took a large part in the management of the campaign in Washington, Idaho and Montana and also spoke continuously for 40 days in the face of generally hostile and sometimes boisterous free-silver audiences. Early in 1897, President McKinley offered him the post of minister to Chile, and he accepted, going to that country with his mother, wife and 3 children. He remained at that post for 8 years his services being in every way successful and useful to his government. He came in time to exert great influence - an influence born to confidence and faith with the Chilean people, and was able not only to render substantial aid to the business and political interests of his own country, but to contribute in a large measure on two occasions to prevent war with Chile and Argentine Republic. Mr. Wilson's respect and liking for the Chilean people was very profound and this feeling was reciprocated, and the Chilean government has never ceased to follow him with marks of respect and esteem. Only recnetly the University of Chile, the oldest in America, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Philsophy, Humanities and Literature, a degree that has never before been conferred on an American.

During Mr. Wilson's residence in Chile, he was twice transferred to other posts, once to Portugal and once to Greece, but was allowed to remain in Chile upon his own request. In 1905, Pres. Roosevelt promoted him from Chile to Belgium and upon announcing the appointment to the Associated Press along with those of two other gentlemen, said, "These appointments ae not made for poltiical considerations but solely for meritorious service performed." This was surely true in Mr. Wilson's case, since his apointment was opposed by both Senators from Washington. Mr. Wilson remained in Belgium 5 years and during that time saw King Leopold pass away and, as the special ambassador of the President, stood at the right hand of King Albert when he was enthroned. He had really only one important question to handle while in Belgium, namely: the Congo question, a most delicate and trying piece of diplomacy, which was managed to the entire satisfaction of the President and Secreatry Root. The locality of the post gave him access to many oppotunites for study, observation and travel in France, Italy, Germany, Holland and England the experience was altogether a useful one.

In 1910, President Taft, after tendering Mr. Wilson two embassies in Europe which he could not accept for financial reasons, sent him as ambassador to Mexico. Since he has been at that post, four Presidents have held office in that country: Diaz; De La Barra; Madero and Huerta. Three revolutions have been inaugurated and the times have been troublous and dangerous. There are 40,000 Americans in Mexico; nearly 10,000 in Mexico City. There is a larger investment of American capital there than in any other country and there is double the amount of work in that embassy than in any other of our diplomatic posts. Mexico is, therefore, aside from the glamour of social precedence which surrounds a European post, the most important diplomatic post in the service. Mr. Wilson's work in Mexico always had the full approval of President Taft and his cabinet, the former saying a short time after his retirement from office, 'What a misfortune it is that our rotten system of politics seems to require changes in our diplomatic service and thus bring about the loss of a man of the experience and ability of Mr. Wilson, who has served his country so faithfully for so many years and deserves the respect of his country's people. Men of his type should never be forced out of the field of usefulness." Mr. Wilson has been 16 years continuously in the diplomatic service is in time of service the senior member of the diplomatic corps, and has served longer in these capacities than anyone else since the foundation of our government.

1900; Census Place: Spokane Ward 2, Spokane, Washington; Roll: 1751; Page: 23A; Enumeration District: 65

  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Henry L Nilson [Wilson] 44
  • Alice V Nilson [Wilson] 39
  • John V Nilson [Wilson] 12
  • Warden Mckee Nilson [Wilson] 9
  • Stewart C Nilson [Wilson] 4

1910; Census Place: Rushville Ward 3, Rush, Indiana; Roll: T624_377; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0122

  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Henry L Wilson 56
  • Alice Wilson 52
  • Helen Wilson 14

1920; Census Place: Indianapolis Ward 4, Marion, Indiana; Roll: T625_452; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 84;

  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Henry Lane Wilson 62
  • Alice B Wilson 58
  • John V Wilson 30
  • Ruth M Wilson 31
  • Ward Mck Wilson 27
  • Stevert C Wilson 25
  • Alice Wilson 7 [4 11/12]
  • Anna C Wilson 1 [1 2/12]
  • Cynthia Harper 35

1930; Census Place: Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana; Roll: 608; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 46;

  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Henry L Wilson 72
  • Edna M Bodle 27 Lodger


Henry Lane Wilson (November 3, 1857 – December 22, 1932) was an American diplomat.


He was born in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana to Indiana congressman James Wilson and his wife, Emma (Ingersoll) Wilson(10 September, 1830-22 January, 1912); he was the younger brother of John L. Wilson, and had been named for Henry Smith Lane. He was a law graduate of Wabash College and practiced law and published a newspaper in Lafayette, Indiana. He married Alice Vajen in 1885, and moved to Spokane, Washington where he was in business until he was financially wiped out in the Panic of 1893.

Diplomatic Service

Wilson served in the US diplomat corps during the presidencies of William McKinley (1897–1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) and William Howard Taft (1909–1913). He was appointed Minister to Chile in 1897, remaining in that capacity until 1904, when he was made Minister to Belgium, serving in Brussels during the height of the Congo Free State controversy. Wilson was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1910, where he was witness to the fall of the Mexican government of General Porfirio Diaz, and was one of the main actors in defining the Mexican Revolution.

Ambassador to Mexico

Wilson was appointed Ambassador to Mexico by President Taft on 21 December, 1909 and presented his credentials to President Diaz on 5 March, 1910. He became personally acquainted with some of the most important figures of the Revolution, such as Álvaro Obregón, Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Francisco I. Madero. As Taft's Ambassador to Mexico, fearing the leftist tendencies of the new Madero government upon the ouster of Diaz (not to mention the fact that he considered Madero a 'lunatic'), he assumed the role of catalyst for the plot of General Victoriano Huerta, Felix Diaz, and General Bernardo Reyes against President Madero, and was purported to have assisted in arranging the murder of Madero and his vice-president, José María Pino Suárez, during La decena tragica (The Ten Tragic Days) in February 1913, a point that was later disputed by Wilson. After his inauguration in March of that year, President Woodrow Wilson was informed of events in Mexico by a clandestine agent, reporter William Bayard Hale and was appalled by Henry Lane Wilson's assistance to the Huerta coup d'etat against Madero. The President supplanted him by sending as his personal envoy John Lind, the former governor of Minnesota, and on 17 July, 1913, the President dismissed Ambassador Wilson.

Post-government activities

During the First World War, Wilson served on the Commission for Relief in Belgium and, in 1915, accepted the chairmanship of the Indiana State Chapter of the League to Enforce Peace, a position he held until his resignation over US involvement in the League of Nations after the close of the war. Wilson was a member of Sons of the American Revolution, Society of Colonial Wars and the Loyal Legion. He published his memoir in 1927, and died in Indianapolis in 1932. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.

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Henry Lane Wilson's Timeline

November 3, 1857
Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, United States
February 28, 1889
Age 31
Indianapolis, Marion Co., Indiana
September 12, 1891
Age 33
Spokane Washington
July 23, 1895
Age 37
Spokane Washington
Age 38
December 22, 1932
Age 75
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States