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The Path of Empire: A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power By Carl Russell Fish Characters: 21745

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In 1815 the world found peace after twenty-two years of continual war. In the forests of Canada and the pampas of South America, throughout all the countries of Europe, over the plains of Russia and the hills of Palestine, men and women had known what war was and had prayed that its horrors might never return. In even the most autocratic states subjects and rulers were for once of one mind: in the future war must be prevented. To secure peace forever was the earnest desire of two statesmen so strongly contrasted as the impressionable Czar Alexander I of Russia, acclaimed as the "White Angel" and the "Universal Savior," and Prince Metternich, the real ruler of Austria, the spider who was for the next thirty years to spin the web of European secret diplomacy. While the Czar invited all governments to unite in a "Holy Alliance" to prevent war, Metternich for the same purpose formed the less holy but more powerful "Quadruple Alliance" of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and England.

The designs of Metternich, however, went far beyond the mere prevention of war. To his mind the cause of all the upheavals which had convulsed Europe was the spirit of liberty bred in France in the days of the Revolution; if order was to be restored, there must be a return to the former autocratic principle of government, to the doctrine of "Divine Right"; it was for kings and emperors to command; it was the duty of subjects to obey. These principles had not, it was true, preserved peace in the past, but Metternich now proposed that, in the future, sovereigns or their representatives should meet "at fixed periods" to adjust their own differences and to assist one another in enforcing the obedience of subjects everywhere. The rulers were reasonably well satisfied with the world as it was arranged by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and determined to set their faces against any change in the relations of governments to one another or to their subjects. They regretted, indeed, that the Government of the United States was built upon the sands of a popular vote, but they recognized that it was apparently well established and decently respectable, and therefore worthy of recognition by the mutual protection society of the Holy Alliance.

The subjects of these sovereigns, however, did not all share the satisfaction of their masters, and some of them soon showed that much as they desired peace they desired other things even more. The inhabitants of Spanish America, while their imperial mother was in the chaos of Napoleon's wars, had nibbled at the forbidden fruit of freedom. They particularly desired freedom to buy the products of British factories, which cost less and satisfied better than those previously furnished by the Spanish merchants, secure in their absolute monopoly. With peace came renewed monopoly, haughty officials, and oppressive laws dictated by that most stupid of the restored sovereigns, Ferdinand VII of Spain. Buenos Aires, however, never recognized his rule, and her general, the knightly San Martin, in one of the most remarkable campaigns of history, scaled the Andes and carried the flag of revolution into Chili and Peru. Venezuela, that hive of revolution, sent forth Bolivar to found the new republics of Colombia and Bolivia. Mexico freed herself, and Brazil separated herself from Portugal. By 1822 European rule had been practically swept off the American mainland, from Cape Horn to the borders of Canada, and, except for the empire of Dom Pedro in Brazil, the newly born nations had adopted the republican form of government which the European monarchs despised. The spirit of unrest leaped eastward across the Atlantic. Revolutions in Spain, Portugal, and Naples sought impiously and with constitutions to bind the hands of their kings. Even the distant Greeks and Serbians sought their independence from the Turk.

Divine Right, just rescued from the French Revolution, was tottering and had yet to test the strength of its new props, the "Holy" and the "Quadruple" alliances, and the policy of intervention to maintain the status quo. Congresses at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at Troppau in 1820, and at Laibach in 1821, decided to refuse recognition to governments resting on such revolutions, to offer mediation to restore the old order, and, if this were refused, to intervene by force. In the United States, on the other hand, founded on the right of revolution and dedicated to government by the people, these popular movements were greeted with enthusiasm. The fiery Clay, speaker and leader of the House of Representatives, made himself champion of the cause of the Spanish Americans; Daniel Webster thundered forth the sympathy of all lovers of antiquity for the Greeks; and Samuel Gridley Howe, an impetuous young American doctor, crossed the seas, carrying to the Greeks his services and the gifts of Boston friends of liberty. A new conflict seemed to be shaping itself-a struggle of absolutism against democracy, of America against Europe.

Between the two camps, both in her ideas and in her geographical situation, stood England. Devoted as she was to law and order, bulwark against the excesses of the French Terror and the world dominion that Napoleon sought, she was nevertheless equally strong in her opposition to Divine Right. Her people and her government alike were troubled at the repressive measured by which the Allies put down the Revolution of Naples in 1821 and that of Spain in 1823. Still more were they disturbed at the hint given at the Congress of Verona in 1822 that, when Europe was once quieted, America would engage the attention of Europe's arbiters. George Canning, the English foreign minister, soon discovered that this hint foreshadowed a new congress to be devoted especially to the American problem. Spain was to be restored to her sovereignty, but was to pay in liberal grants of American territory to whatever powers helped her. Canning is regarded as the ablest English foreign minister of the nineteenth century; at least no one better embodied the fundamental aspirations of the English people. He realized that liberal England would be perpetually a minority in a united Europe, as Europe was then organized. He believed that the best security for peace was not a union but a balance of powers. He opposed intervention in the internal affairs of nations and stood for the right of each to choose its own form of government. Particularly he fixed his eyes on America, where he hoped to find weight to help him balance the autocrats of the Old World. He wished to see the new American republics free, and he believed that in freedom of trade England would obtain from them all that she needed. Alarmed at the impending European intervention to restore the rule of Spain or of her monarchical assignees in America, he sought an understanding with the United States. He proposed to Richard Rush, the United States minister in London, that the two countries declare concurrently that the independence of Spanish America, was a fact, that the recognition of the new governments was a matter of time and circumstance, that neither country desired any portion of Spain's former dominions, but that neither would look with indifference upon the transfer of any portion of them to another power.

On October 9, 1823, this proposal reached Washington. The answer would be framed by able and most experienced statesmen. The President, James Monroe, had been almost continuously in public service since 1782. He had been minister to France, Spain, and England, and had been Secretary of State. In his earlier missions he had often shown an unwise impetuosity and an independent judgment which was not always well balanced. He had, however, grown in wisdom. He inspired respect by his sterling qualities of character, and he was an admirable presiding officer. William H. Crawford, his Secretary of the Treasury, John C. Calhoun, his Secretary of War, William Wirt, his Attorney-General, and even John McLean, his Postmaster-General, not then a member of the Cabinet, were all men who were considered as of presidential caliber.

Foremost in ability and influence, however, was John Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State. Brought up from early boyhood in the atmosphere of diplomacy, familiar with nearly every country of Europe, he had nevertheless none of those arts of suavity which are popularly associated with the diplomat. Short, baldheaded, with watery eyes, he on the one hand repelled familiarity, and on the other hand shocked some sensibilities, as for example when he appeared in midsummer Washington without a neckcloth. His early morning swim in the Potomac and his translations of Horace did not conquer a temper which embittered many who had business with him, while the nightly records which he made of his interviews show that he was generally suspicious of his visitors. Yet no American can show so long a roll of diplomatic successes. Preeminently he knew his business. His intense devotion and his native talent had made him a master of the theory and practice of international law and of statecraft. Always he was obviously honest, and his word was relied on. Fundamentally he was kind, and his work was permeated by a generous enthusiasm. Probably no man in America, had so intense a conviction not only of the correctness of American principles and the promise of American greatness but of the immediate strength and greatness of the United States as it stood in 1823.

Fully aware as Adams was of the danger that threatened both America and liberty, he was not in favor of accepting Canning's proposal for the cooperation of England and the United States. He based his opposition upon two fundamental objections. In the first place he was not prepared to say that the United States desired no more Spanish territory. Not that Adams desired or would tolerate conquest. At the time of the Louisiana Purchase he had wished to postpone annexation until the assent of the people of that province could be obtained. But he believed that all the territory necessary for the geographical completeness of the United States had not yet been brought under the flag. He had just obtained Florida from Spain and a claim westward to the Pacific north of the forty-second parallel, but he considered the Southwest-Texas, New Mexico, and California-a natural field of expansion. These areas, then almost barren of white settlers, he expected time to bring into the United States, and he also expected that the people of Cuba would ultimately rejoice to become incorporated in the Union. He wished natural forces to work out their own results, without let or hindrance.

Not only was Adams opposed to Canning's proposed self-denying ordinance, but he was equally averse to becoming a partner with England. Such cooperation might well prove in time to be an "entangling a

lliance," involving the United States in problems of no immediate concern to its people and certainly in a partnership in which the other member would be dominant. If Canning saw liberal England as a perpetual minority in absolutist Europe, Adams saw republican America as a perpetual inferior to monarchical England. Although England, with Canada, the West Indies, and her commerce, was a great American power, Adams believed that the United States, the oldest independent nation in America, with a government which gave the model to the rest, could not admit her to joint, leadership, for her power was in, not of, America, and her government was monarchical. Already Adams had won a strategic advantage over Canning, for in the previous year, 1822, the United States had recognized the new South American republics.

Great as were the dangers involved in cooperation with England, however, they seemed to many persons of little moment compared with the menace of absolutist armies and navies in the New World or of, perhaps, a French Cuba and a Russian Mexico. The only effective obstacle to such foreign intervention was the British Navy. Both President Monroe and Thomas Jefferson, who in his retirement was still consulted on all matters of high moment, therefore favored the acceptance of Canning's proposal as a means of detaching England from the rest of Europe. Adams argued, however, that England was already detached; that, for England's purposes, the British Navy would still stand between Europe and America, whatever the attitude of the United States; that compromise or concession was unnecessary; and that the country could as safely take its stand toward the whole outside world as toward continental Europe alone. To reject the offer of a country whose assistance was absolutely necessary to the safety of the United States, and to declare the American case against her as well as against the more menacing forces whose attack she alone could prevent, required a nerve and poise which could come only from ignorant foolhardiness or from absolute knowledge of the facts. The self-assurance of Adams was well founded, and no general on the field of battle ever exhibited higher courage.

Adams won over the Cabinet, and the President decided to incorporate in his annual message to Congress a declaration setting forth the attitude of the United States toward all the world, and in particular denying the right of any European power, England included, to intervene in American affairs. In making such a statement, however, it was necessary to offer compensation in some form. The United States was not prepared to offer Canning's self-denying ordinance barring the way to further American expansion, but something it must offer. This compensating offset Adams found in the separation of the New World from the Old and in abstention from interference in Europe. Such a renunciation involved, however, the sacrifice of generous American sympathies with the republicans across the seas. Monroe, Gallatin, and many other statesmen wished as active a policy in support of the Greeks as of the Spanish Americans. Adams insisted, however, that the United States should create a sphere for its interests and should confine itself to that sphere. His plan for peace provided that European and American interests should not only not clash but should not even meet.

The President's message of December 2, 1823, amounted to a rejection of the Holy Alliance as guardian of the world's peace, of Canning's request for an entente, and of the proposal that the United States enter upon a campaign to republicanize the world. It stated the intention of the Government to refrain from interference in Europe, and its belief that it was "impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent [of America] without endangering our peace and happiness." The message contained a strong defense of the republican system of government and of the right of nations to control their own internal development. It completed the foreign policy of the United States by declaring, in connection with certain recent encroachments of Russia along the northwest coast, that the era of colonization in the Americas was over. The United States was to maintain in the future that boundaries between nations holding land in America actually existed and could be traced-a position which invited arbitration in place of force.

Both Canning and Adams won victories, but neither realized his full hopes. Canning prevented the interference of Europe in Spanish America, broke up the Quadruple Alliance, rendered the Holy Alliance a shadow, and restored a balance of power that meant safety for England for almost a hundred years; but he failed to dictate American policy. Adams on his part detached the United States from European politics without throwing England into the arms of Europe. He took advantage of the divisions of the Old World to establish the priority of the United States in American affairs; but he failed in his later attempt to unite all the Americas in cordial cooperation. Earnest as was his desire and hard as he strove in 1825 when he had become President with Clay as his Secretary of State, Adams found that the differences in point of view between the United States and the other American powers were too great to permit a Pan-American policy. The Panama Congress on which he built his hopes failed, and for fifty years the project lay dormant.

Under the popular name of the Monroe Doctrine, however, Adams's policy has played a much larger part in world affairs than he expected. Without the force of law either in this country or between nations, this doctrine took a firm hold of the American imagination and became a national ideal, while other nations have at least in form taken cognizance of it. The Monroe Doctrine has survived because Adams did not invent its main tenets but found them the dominating principles of American international politics; his work, like that of his contemporary John Marshall, was one of codification. But not all those who have commented on the work of Adams have possessed his analytical mind, and many have confused what was fundamental in his pronouncement with what was temporary and demanded by the emergency of the time.

Always the American people have stood, from the first days of their migration to America, for the right of the people of a territory to determine their own development. First they have insisted that their own right to work out their political destiny be acknowledged and made safe. For this they fought the Revolution. It has followed that they have in foreign affairs tried to keep their hands free from entanglements with other countries and have refrained from interference with foreign politics. This was the burden of Washington's "Farewell Address," and it was a message which Jefferson reiterated in his inaugural. These are the permanent principles which have controlled enlightened American statesmen in their attitude toward the world, from the days of John Winthrop to those of Woodrow Wilson.

It was early found, however, that the affairs of the immediate neighbors of the United States continually and from day to day affected the whole texture of American life and that actually they limited American independence and therefore could not be left out of the policy of the Government. The United States soon began to recognize that there was a region in the affairs of which it must take a more active interest. As early as 1780 Thomas Pownall, an English colonial official, predicted that the United States must take an active part in Cuban affairs. In 1806 Madison, then Secretary of State, had instructed Monroe, Minister to Great Britain, that the Government began to broach the idea that the whole Gulf Stream was within its maritime jurisdiction. The message of Monroe was an assertion that the fate of both the Americas was of immediate concern to the safety of the United States, because the fate of its sister republics intimately affected its own security. This proved to be an enduring definition of policy, because for many years there was a real institutional difference between the American hemisphere and the rest of the world and because oceanic boundaries were the most substantial that the world affords.

Adams, however, would have been the last to claim that his method of securing the fundamental purposes of the United States was itself fundamental. It is particularly important for Americans to make a distinction between the things which they have always wished to obtain and the methods which they have from time to time used. To build a policy today on the alleged isolation of the American continents would be almost as absurd as to try to build a government on the belief in Divine Right. The American continents are no longer separated from the rest of the world by their national institutions, because the spirit of these institutions has permeated much of Europe, Asia, and even Africa. No boundaries, not even oceans, can today prohibit international interference. But while the particular method followed in 1823 is no longer appropriate, the ends which the United States set out to attain have remained the same. Independence, absolute and complete, including the absence of all entanglements which might draw the country into other peoples' quarrels; the recognition of a similar independence in all other peoples, which involves both keeping its own hands off and also strongly disapproving of interference by one nation with another-these have been the guiding principles of the United States. These principles the Government has maintained by such means as seemed appropriate to the time. In colonial days the people of America fought in courts for their charter rights; at the time of the Revolution, by arms for their independence from England; during the Napoleonic wars, for their independence from the whole system of Europe. The Monroe Doctrine declared that to maintain American independence from the European system it was necessary that the European system be excluded from the Americas. In entering the Great War in the twentieth century the United States has recognized that the system of autocracy against which Monroe fulminated must disappear from the entire world if, under modern industrial conditions, real independence is to exist anywhere.

It is the purpose of the following chapters to trace the expansion of American interests in the light of the Monroe Doctrine and to explain those controversies which accompanied this growth and taxed the diplomatic resources of American Secretaries of State from the times of Adams and Webster and Seward to those of Blaine and Hay and Elihu Root. The diplomacy of the Great War is reserved for another volume in this Series.

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