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The Path of Empire: A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power By Carl Russell Fish Characters: 15780

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Long before the westward march of Americans had brought their flag to the Pacific, that ocean was familiar to their mariners. From Cape Horn to Canton and the ports of India, there ploughed the stately merchantmen of Salem, Providence, and Newburyport, exchanging furs and ginseng for teas, silks, the "Canton blue" which is today so cherished a link with the past, and for the lacquer cabinets and carved ivory which give distinction to many a New England home. Meanwhile the sturdy whalers of New Bedford scoured the whole ocean for sperm oil and whalebone, and the incidents of their self-reliant three-year cruises acquainted them with nearly every coral and volcanic isle. Early in the century missionaries also began to brave the languor of these oases of leisure and the appetite of their cannibalistic inhabitants.

The interest of the Government was bound to follow its adventurous citizens. In 1820 the United States appointed a consular agent at Honolulu; in the thirties and forties it entered into treaty relations with Siam, Borneo, and China; and owing to circumstances which were by no means accidental it had the honor of persuading Japan to open her ports to the world. As early as 1797 an American vessel chartered by the Dutch had visited Nagasaki. From time to time American sailors had been shipwrecked on the shores of Japan, and the United States had more than once picked up and sought to return Japanese castaways. In 1846 an official expedition under Commodore Biddle was sent to establish relationships with Japan but was unsuccessful. In 1853 Commodore Perry bore a message from the President to the Mikado which demanded-though the demand was couched in courteous language-"friendship, commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our shipwrecked people." After a long hesitation the Mikado yielded. Commodore Perry's success was due not solely to the care with which his expedition was equipped for its purpose nor to his diplomatic skill but in part to the fact that other countries were known to be on the very point of forcing an entrance into the seclusion of Japan. Few Americans realize how close, indeed, were the relations established with Japan by the United States. The treaty which Townsend Harris negotiated in 1858 stated that "The President of the United States, at the request of the Japanese Government, will act as a friendly mediator in such matters of difference as may arise between the Government of Japan and any European power." Through his personal efforts Harris may almost be said to have become the chief adviser of the Japanese Government in the perplexities which it encountered on entering international society.

Not only did the United States allow itself a closer intimacy with this new Pacific power than it would have done with a state of Europe, but it exhibited a greater freedom in dealing with the European powers themselves in the Far East than at home or in America. In 1863 the United States joined-in fact, in the absence of a naval force it strained a point by chartering a vessel for the purpose-with a concert of powers to force the opening of the Shimonoseki Straits; subsequently acting with Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, the United States secured an indemnity to pay the cost of the expedition; and in 1866 it united with the same powers to secure a convention by which Japan bound herself to establish certain tariff regulations.

Nor were the relations of the United States with the Pacific Ocean and its shores confined to trade and international obligations. The American flag waved over more than ships and a portion of the Pacific coast. Naval officers more than once raised it over islands which they christened, and Congress authorized the President to exercise temporary authority over islands from which American citizens were removing guano and to prevent foreign encroachment while they were so engaged. In the eighties, fifty such islands of the Pacific were in the possession of the United States.

In 1872 an American naval officer made an agreement with the local chieftain of Tutuila, one of the Samoan Islands, for the use of Pago Pago, which was the best harbor in that part of the ocean. The United States drifted into more intimate relationship with the natives until in 1878 it made a treaty with the Samoan king allowing Americans to use Pago Pago as a coaling station. In return the United States agreed: "If unhappily, any differences should have arisen, or shall hereafter arise, between the Samoan government and any other government in amity with the United States, the government of the latter will employ its good offices for the purpose of adjusting those differences upon a satisfactory and solid foundation." In 1884 the Senate insisted on securing a similar harbor concession from Hawaii, and within the next few years the American Navy began to arise again from its ashes. The obligation incurred in exchange for this concession, however, although it resembled that in the Japanese treaty, was probably an unreflecting act of good nature for, if it meant anything, it was an entangling engagement such as the vast majority of Americans were still determined to avoid.

The natives of Samoa did not indulge in cannibalism but devoted the small energy the climate gave them to the social graces and to pleasant wars. They were governed by local kings and were loosely united under a chief king. At Apia, the capital, were three hundred foreigners, nearly all connected in one way or another with trade. This commerce had long been in the hands of English and Americans, but now the aggressive Germans were rapidly winning it away. Three consuls, representing the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, spent their time in exaggerating their functions and in circumventing the plots of which they suspected each other. The stage was set for comic opera, the treaty with the United States was part of the plot, and several acts had already been played, when Bismarck suddenly injected a tragic element.

In 1884, at the time when the German statesman began to see the vision of a Teutonic world empire and went about seeking places in the sun, the German consul in Samoa, by agreement with King Malietoa, raised the German flag over the royal hut, with a significance which was all too obvious. In 1886 the American consul countered this move by proclaiming a United States protectorate. The German consul then first pressed home a quarrel with the native king at a time opportunely coinciding with the arrival of a German warship, the Adler; he subsequently deposed him and put up Tamasese in his stead. The apparently more legitimate successor, Mataafa, roused most of the population under his leadership. The Adler steamed about the islands shelling Mataafa villages, and the American consul steamed after him, putting his launch between the Adler and the shore. In the course of these events, on December 18, 1888, Mataafa ambushed a German landing party and killed fifty of its members.

German public opinion thereupon vociferously demanded a punishment which would establish the place of Germany as a colonial power in the Pacific. Great Britain, however, was not disposed to give her growing rival a free hand. The United States was appealed to under the Treaty of 1878, and American sentiment determined to protect the Samoans in their heroic fight for self-government. All three nations involved sent warships to Apia, and through the early spring of 1889 their chancelleries and the press were prepared to hear momentarily that some one's temper had given way in the tropic heat and that blood had been shed-with what consequences on the other side of the globe no man could tell.

Very different, however, was the news that finally limped in, for there was no cable. On March 16, 1889, a hurricane had swept the isla

nds, wrecking all but one of the warships. The common distress had brought about cooperation among all parties. Tales of mutual help and mutual praise of natives and the three nations filled the dispatches. The play turned out to be a comedy after all. Yet difficulties remained which could be met only by joint action. A commission of the three nations therefore was arranged to meet in Berlin. The United States insisted on native government; Germany, on foreign control. Finally they agreed to a compromise in the form of a General Act, to which Samoa consented. The native government was retained, but the control was given to a Chief Justice and a President of the Municipal Council of Apia, who were to be foreigners chosen by the three powers. Their relative authority is indicated by the fact that the king was to receive $1800 a year, the Chief Justice, $6000, and the President, $5000.

Small as was the immediate stake, this little episode was remarkably significant of the trend of American development. Begun under Grant and concluded under Blaine and Harrison, the policy of the United States was the creation of no one mind or party nor did it accord with American traditions. Encountering European powers in the Pacific, with no apparent hesitation though without any general intent, the United States entered into cooperative agreements with them relating to the native governments which it would never have thought proper or possible in other parts of the world. The United States seemed to be evolving a new policy for the protection of its interests in the Pacific. This first clash with the rising colonial power of Germany has an added interest because it revealed a fundamental similarity in colonial policy between the United States and Great Britain, even though they were prone to quarrel when adjusting Anglo-American relations.

While the Samoan affair seemed an accidental happening, there was taking shape in the Pacific another episode which had a longer history and was more significant of the expansion of American interests in that ocean. Indeed, with the Pacific coast line of the United States, with the superb harbors of San Francisco, Portland, and Puget Sound, and with Alaska stretching its finger tips almost to Asia, even Blaine could not resist the lure of the East, though he endeavored to reconcile American traditions of isolation with oceanic expansion. Of all the Pacific archipelagoes, the Hawaiian Islands lie nearest to the shores of the United States. Although they had been discovered to the European world by the great English explorer, Captain Cook, their intercourse had, for geographic reasons, always been chiefly with the United States. Whalers continually resorted to them for supplies. Their natives shipped on American vessels and came in numbers to California in early gold-mining days. American missionaries attained their most striking success in the Hawaiian Islands and not only converted the majority of the natives but assisted the successive kings in their government. The descendants of these missionaries continued to live on the islands and became the nucleus of a white population which waxed rich and powerful by the abundant production of sugar cane on that volcanic soil.

In view of this tangible evidence of intimacy on the part of the United States with the Hawaiian Islands, Webster in 1842 brought them within the scope of the Monroe Doctrine by declaring that European powers must not interfere with their government. Marcy, Secretary of State, framed a treaty of annexation in 1853, but the Hawaiian Government withdrew its assent. Twenty years later Secretary Fish wrote: "There seems to be a strong desire on the part of many persons in the islands, representing large interests and great wealth, to become annexed to the United States and while there are, as I have already said, many and influential persons in the country who question the policy of any insular acquisition, perhaps even any extension of territorial limits, there are also those of influence and wise foresight who see a future that must extend the jurisdiction and the limits of this nation, and that will require a resting spot in the mid-ocean, between the Pacific coast and the vast domains of Asia, which are now opening to commerce, and Christian civilization."

All immediate action, however, was confined to a specially intimate treaty of reciprocity which was signed in 1875, and which secured a substantial American domination in commerce. When Blaine became Secretary of State in 1881, he was, or at least he affected to be, seriously alarmed at the possibility of foreign influence in Hawaiian affairs, particularly on the part of Great Britain. The native population was declining, and should it continue to diminish, he believed that the United States must annex the islands. "Throughout the continent, north and south," he wrote, "wherever a foothold is found for American enterprise, it is quickly occupied, and the spirit of adventure, which seeks its outlet, in the mines of South America and the railroads of Mexico, would not be slow to avail itself of openings of assured and profitable enterprise even in mid-ocean." As the feeling grew in the United States that these islands really belonged to the American continent, Blaine even invited Hawaii to send representatives to the Pan-American Congress of 1889. When he again became Secretary of State, he was prepared to give indirect support at least to American interests, for the new queen, Liliuokalani, was supposed to be under British influence. On the arrival of a British gunboat in Honolulu, J. L. Stevens, the American Minister, went so far as to write on February 8, 1892: "At this time there seems to be no immediate prospect of its being safe to have the harbor of Honolulu left without an American vessel of war."

Revolution was, indeed, impending in Hawaii. On January 14, 1893, the Queen abolished the later constitution under which the Americans had exercised great power, and in its place she proclaimed the restoration of the old constitution which established an absolutism modified by native home rule. At two o'clock on the afternoon of the 16th of January, the resident Americans organized a committee of safety; at half-past four United States marines landed at the call of Stevens. The Queen was thereupon deposed, a provisional government was organized, and at its request Stevens assumed for the United States the "protection" of the islands. Without delay, John W. Foster, who had just succeeded Blaine as Secretary of State, drew up a treaty of annexation, which he immediately submitted to the Senate.

On March 4, 1893, Cleveland became President for the second time. He at once withdrew the treaty and appointed James H. Blount special commissioner to investigate the facts of the revolt. While the report of Commissioner Blount did not, indeed, convict Stevens of conspiring to bring about the uprising, it left the impression that the revolt would not have taken place and certainly could not have succeeded except for the presence of the United States marines and the support of the United States Minister. Cleveland recalled Stevens and the marines, and requested the provisional government to restore the Queen. This Sanford Ballard Dole, the President of the new republic, refused to do, on the contention that President Cleveland had no right to interfere in the domestic affairs of Hawaii. On the legality or propriety of Stevens's conduct, opinion in Congress was divided; but with regard to Dole's contention, both the Senate and the House were agreed that the islands should maintain their own domestic government without interference from the United States. Thus left to themselves, the Americans in Hawaii bided their time until public opinion in the United States should prove more favorable to annexation.

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