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The Path of Empire: A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power By Carl Russell Fish Characters: 14438

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


During the half century that intervened between John Quincy Adams and James G. Blaine, the Monroe Doctrine, it was commonly believed, had prevented the expansion of the territories of European powers in the Americas. It had also relieved the United States both of the necessity of continual preparation for war and of that constant tension in which the perpetual shifting of the European balance of power held the nations of that continent. But the Monroe Doctrine was not solely responsible for these results. Had it not been for the British Navy, the United States would in vain have proclaimed its disapproval of encroachment. Nor, had Europe continued united, could the United States have withstood European influence; but Canning's policy had practically destroyed Metternich's dream of unity maintained by intervention, and in 1848 that whole structure went hopelessly tumbling before a new order. Yet British policy, too, failed of full realization, for British statesmen always dreamed of an even balance in continental Europe which Great Britain could incline to her wishes, whereas it usually proved necessary, in order to preserve a balance at all, for her to join one side or the other. Divided Europe therefore stood opposite united America, and our inferior strength was enhanced by an advantageous position.

The insecurity of the American position was revealed during the Civil War. When the United States divided within, the strength of the nation vanished. The hitherto suppressed desires of European nations at once manifested themselves. Spain, never satisfied that her American empire was really lost, at once leaped to take advantage of the change. On a trumped up invitation of some of the inhabitants of Santo Domingo, she invaded the formerly Spanish portion of the island and she began war with Peru in the hope of acquiring at least some of the Pacific islands belonging to that state.

More formidable were the plans of Napoleon III, for the French, too, remembered the glowing promise of their earlier American dominions. They had not forgotten that the inhabitants of the Americas as far north as the southern borders of the United States were of Latin blood, at least so far as they were of European origin. In Montevideo there was a French colony, and during the forties France had been active in proffering her advice in South American disputes. When the second French Republic had been proclaimed in 1848, one of the French ministers in South America saw a golden chance for his country to assume the leadership of all Latin America, which was at that time suspicious of the designs of the United States and alarmed by its rapid expansion at the expense of Mexico. With the power of the American Government neutralized in 1861, and with the British Navy immobilized by the necessity of French friendship, which the "Balance" made just then of paramount interest to Great Britain, Napoleon III determined to establish in Mexico an empire under French influence.

It is instructive to notice that General Bernhardi states, in "Germany and the Next War" which has attracted such wide attention and which has done so much to convince Americans of the bad morals of autocracy, that Great Britain lost her great chance of world dominance by not taking active advantage of this situation, as did France and Spain. It is indeed difficult to see what would have been the outcome had Great Britain also played at that time an aggressive and selfish part. She stayed her hand, but many British statesmen were keenly interested in the struggle, from the point of view of British interests. They did not desire territory, but they foresaw that the permanent separation of the two parts of the United States would leave the country shorn of weight in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. North and South, if separated, would each inevitably seek European support, and the isolation of the United States and its claim to priority in American affairs would disappear. The balance of power would extend itself to the Western Hemisphere and the assumption of a sphere of influence would vanish with the unity of the United States.

Nor did the close of the Civil War reveal less clearly than its beginning the real international position of the United States. When the country once more acquired unity, these European encroachments were renounced, and dreams of colonial empire in America vanished. There was a moment's questioning as to the reality of the triumph of the North-a doubt that the South might rise if foreign war broke out; but the uncertainty was soon dispelled. It was somewhat embarrassing, if not humiliating, for the Emperor of the French to withdraw from his Mexican undertaking, but the way was smoothed for him by the finesse of Seward. By 1866 the international position of the United States was reestablished and was perhaps the stronger for having been tested.

In all these years, however, the positive side of the Monroe Doctrine, the development of friendly cooperation between the nations of America under the leadership of the United States, had made no progress. In fact, with the virtual disappearance of the American merchant marine after the Civil War, the influence of the United States diminished. Great Britain with her ships, her trade, and her capital, at that time actually counted for much more, while German trade expanded rapidly in the seventies and eighties and German immigration into Brazil gave Prussia a lever hold, the ultimate significance of which is not even yet fully evident.

Under these circumstances, Blaine planned to play a brilliant role as Secretary of State in President Garfield's Cabinet. Though the President was his personal friend, Blaine regarded him as his inferior in practical statecraft and planned to make his own foreign policy the notable feature of the Administration. His hopes were dashed, however, by the assassination of Garfield and by the accession of President Arthur. The new Secretary of State, F T. Frelinghuysen, reversed nearly all of his predecessor's policies. When Blaine returned to the Department of State in 1889, he found a less sympathetic chief in President Harrison and a less brilliant role to play. Whether his final retirement before the close of the Harrison Administration was due directly to the conflict of views which certainly existed or was a play on his part for the presidency and for complete control is a question that has never been completely settled.

Narrow as was Blaine's view of world affairs, impossible as was his conception of an America divided from Europe economically and spiritually as well as politically and of an America united in itself by a provoked and constantly irritated hostility to Europe, he had an American program which, taken by itself, was definite, well conceived, and in a sense prophetic. It is interesting to note that in referring to much the same relationship, Blaine characteristically spoke of the United States as "Elder Sister" of the South American republics, while Theodore Roosevelt, at a later period, conceived the role to be that of a policeman wielding the "Big Stick."

Blaine's first aim was to establish peace in the Weste

rn Hemisphere by offering American mediation in the disputes of sister countries. When he first took office in 1881, the prolonged and bitter war existing between Chili, Bolivia, and Peru for the control of the nitrate fields which lay just where the territories of the three abutted, provided a convenient opportunity. If he could restore peace on an equitable basis here, he would do much to establish the prestige of the United States as a wise and disinterested counselor in Spanish American affairs. In this his first diplomatic undertaking, there appeared, however, one of the weaknesses of execution which constantly interfered with the success of his plans. He did not know how to sacrifice politics to statesmanship, and he appointed as his agents men so incompetent that they aggravated rather than settled the difficulty. Later he saw his mistake and made a new and admirable appointment in the case of Mr. William H. Trescot of South Carolina. Blaine himself, however, lost office before new results could be obtained; and Frelinghuysen recalled Trescot and abandoned the attempt to force peace.

A second object of Blaine's policy was to prevent disputes between Latin American and European powers from becoming dangerous by acting as mediator between them. When he took office, France was endeavoring to collect from Venezuela a claim which was probably just. When Venezuela proved obdurate, France proposed to seize her custom houses and to collect the duties until the debt was paid. Blaine protested, urged Venezuela to pay, and suggested that the money be sent through the American agent at Caracas. He further proposed that, should Venezuela not pay within three months, the United States should seize the custom houses, collect the money, and pay it to France. Again his short term prevented him from carrying out his policy, but it is nevertheless of interest as anticipating the plan actually followed by President Roosevelt in the case of Santo Domingo.

Blaine was just as much opposed to the peaceful penetration of European influence in the Western Hemisphere as to its forceful expression. The project of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, to be built and owned by a French company, had already aroused President Hayes on March 8, 1880, to remark: "The policy of this country is a canal under American control. The United States cannot consent to the surrender of this control to any European power or to any combination of European powers." Blaine added that the passage of hostile troops through such a canal when either the United States or Colombia was at war, as the terms of guarantee of the new canal allowed, was "no more admissible than on the railroad lines joining the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the United States."

It is characteristic of Blaine that, when he wrote this dispatch, he was apparently in complete ignorance of the existence of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, in which the United States accepted the exactly opposite principles-had agreed to a canal under a joint international guarantee and open to the use of all in time of war as well as of peace. Discovering this obstacle, he set to work to demolish it by announcing to Great Britain that the treaty was antiquated, thirty years old, that the development of the American Pacific slope had changed conditions, and that, should the treaty be observed and such a canal remain unfortified, the superiority of the British fleet would give the nation complete control. Great Britain, however, could scarcely be expected to regard a treaty as defunct from old age at thirty years, especially as she also possessed a developing Pacific coast. Moreover, if the treaty was to British advantage, at least the United States had accepted it. Great Britain, therefore, refused to admit that the treaty was not in full force. Blaine then urged the building of an American canal across the Isthmus of Nicaragua, in defiance of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty-a plan which received the support of even President Arthur, under whom a treaty for the purpose was negotiated with the Republic of Nicaragua. Before this treaty was ratified by the Senate, however, Grover Cleveland, who had just become President, withdrew it. He believed in the older policy, and refused his sanction to the new treaty on the ground that such a canal "must be for the world's benefit, a trust for mankind, to be removed from the chance of domination by any single power."

The crowning glory of Blaine's system, as he planned it, was the cooperation of the American republics for common purposes. He did not share Seward's dream that they would become incorporated States of the Union, but he went back to Henry Clay and the Panama Congress of 1826 for his ideal. During his first term of office he invited the republics to send representatives to Washington to discuss arbitration, but his successor in office feared that such a meeting of "a partial group of our friends" might offend Europe, which indeed was not improbably part of Blaine's intention. On resuming office, Blaine finally arranged the meeting of a Pan-American Congress in the United States. Chosen to preside, he presented an elaborate program, including a plan for arbitrating disputes; commercial reciprocity; the establishment of uniform weights and measures, of international copyright, trade-marks and patents, and, of common coinage; improvement of communications; and other subjects. At the same time he exerted himself to secure in the McKinley Tariff Bill, which was just then under consideration, a provision for reciprocity of trade with American countries. This meeting was not a complete success, since Congress gave him only half of what he wanted by providing for reciprocity but making it general instead of purely American. Nevertheless one permanent and solid result was secured in the establishment of the Bureau of American Republics at Washington, which has become a clearing house of ideas and a visible bond of common interests and good feeling.

Throughout the years of Blaine's prominence, the public took more interest in his bellicose encounters with Europe, and particularly with Great Britain, than in his constructive American policy; and he failed to secure for either an assured popular support. His attempt to widen the gulf between Europe and America was indeed absurd at a time when the cable, the railroad, and the steamship were rendering the world daily smaller and more closely knit, and when the spirit of democracy, rapidly permeating western Europe, was breaking down the distinction in political institutions which had given point to the pronouncement of 1823. Nevertheless Blaine did actually feel the changing industrial conditions at home which were destroying American separateness, and he made a genuine attempt to find a place for the United States in the world, without the necessity of sharing the responsibilities of all the world, by making real that interest in its immediate neighbors which his country had announced in 1823. Even while Blaine was working on his plan of "America for the Americans," events were shaping the most important extension of the interests of the United States which had taken place since 1823.

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