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The Path of Empire: A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power By Carl Russell Fish Characters: 22881

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


As the acquisition of the Philippines made all Far Eastern questions of importance to the United States, so the investment of American millions in a canal across the Isthmus of Panama increased popular interest in the problems of the Caribbean. That fascinating sheet of water, about six hundred miles from north to south by about fifteen hundred from east to west, is ringed around by the possessions of many powers. In 1898 its mainland shores were occupied by Mexico, British Honduras, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela; its islands were possessed by the negro states of Hayti and the Dominican Republic, and by Spain, France, Great Britain, Holland, and Denmark. In the Caribbean had been fought some of the greatest and most significant naval battles of the eighteenth century and, when the canal was opened, across its waters would plough a great share of the commerce of the world. As owner of the canal and professed guardian of its use, the United States was bound to consider its own strategic relation to this sea into which the canal opened.

Gradually the situation which existed in 1898 has changed. Spain has been removed from the Caribbean. Of her former possessions the United States holds Porto Rico; Cuba is independent, but is in a way under the protection of the United States, which possesses on her coast the naval station of Guantanamo. The American treaty with the new republic of Panama practically created another American protectorate, and the fortification of the canal gave the United States another strategic position. The negotiation for the purchase of the Danish islands has been completed successfully. But these obvious footholds are of less importance than the more indirect relationships which the United States has been steadily establishing, through successive Administrations, with the various other powers located on the borders of the Caribbean.

The Spanish War did not lull the suspicions of the United States regarding the dangerous influence which would be exerted should the ambitions of European powers be allowed a field of action in the American continents, and the United States remained as intent as ever on preventing any opportunity for their gaining admittance. One such contingency, though perhaps a remote one, was the possibility of a rival canal, for there are other isthmuses than that of Panama which might be pierced with the aid of modern resources of capital and genius. To prevent any such action was not selfish on the part of the United States, for the American canal was to have an open door, and there was no economic justification for another seaway from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

There might, however, be some temptation in the political and military influence which such a prospective second canal could exert. Negotiations were begun, therefore, with all the transcontinental powers of Central America, offering liberal compensation for the control of all possible canal routes. These negotiations have been long drawn out and are only lately coming to fruition. They have served, however, to taboo all projects by other nations, and one of these treaties negotiated with Colombia, but not yet ratified, holds out the prospect of winning back her friendship which was so seriously alienated by the recognition of the republic of Panama by the United States.

In one respect the changing world has rendered quite obsolete the pronouncements of President Monroe. In the case of Japan there has grown up a great power which is neither European nor American. American policy in the Far East has made it abundantly evident that the United States does not regard the self-imposed limitations upon its activity as extending to Asia. In her case there is lacking the quid pro quo by which the United States has justified its demand that European powers refrain from interfering in America. By no means, however, has the Government admitted the right of Asia to impinge on the American continents.

In 1912 Washington heard that Japan was negotiating with Mexico for a concession on Magdalena Bay. Senator Lodge promptly introduced a resolution in the Senate, declaring that "when any harbor or other place in the American continents is so situated that the occupation thereof for naval or military purposes might threaten the communication or the safety of the United States, the Government of the United States could not see, without grave concern, the possession of such harbor or other place by any corporation or association which has such relation to another government, not American, as to give that government practical power of control for naval or military purposes-" This resolution, which passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 4, undoubtedly represented American sentiment, at least with regard to the foreign occupation of any territory bordering on the Caribbean or on the Pacific between Panama and California.

A more subtle danger lay in the financial claims of European powers against the various states in Central America, and the possibility of these claims being used as levers to establish permanent control. Most of these foreign demands had a basis in justice but had been exaggerated in amount. They were of two kinds: first, for damage to persons or property resulting from the numerous revolutions and perpetual brigandage which have scourged these semitropic territories; second, for debts contracted in the name of the several countries for the most part to conduct revolutions or to gild the after-career of defeated rulers in Paris,-debts with a face value far in excess of the amount received by the debtor and with accumulated interest in many cases far beyond the capacity of the several countries to pay. The disputes as to the validity of such claims have been without end, and they have furnished a constant temptation to the cupidity of individuals and the ambition of the powers.

In 1902 Germany induced Great Britain and Italy to join her in an attempt to collect the amount of some of these claims from Venezuela. A joint squadron undertook a "pacific blockade" of the coast. Secretary Hay denied that a "pacific blockade" existed in international law and urged that the matter be submitted to arbitration. Great Britain and Italy were willing to come to an understanding and withdrew; but Germany, probably intent on ulterior objects, was unwilling and preferred to take temporary possession of certain ports. President Roosevelt then summoned the German Ambassador, Dr. Holleben, and told him that, unless Germany consented to arbitrate, Admiral Dewey would be ordered at noon ten days later to proceed to Venezuela and protect its coast. A week passed with no message. Holleben called on the President but rose to go without mentioning Venezuela. President Roosevelt thereupon informed the Ambassador that he had changed his mind and had decided to send Admiral Dewey one day earlier than originally planned; he further explained that in the event the Kaiser should decide to arbitrate, as not a word had been put on paper, there would be nothing to indicate coercion. Within thirty-six hours Holleben reported that Germany would arbitrate. Only once before, when Seward was dealing with Napoleon III concerning Mexico, had forcible persuasion been used to maintain the Monroe Doctrine.

It was perfectly clear that if the United States sat idly by and allowed European powers to do what they would to collect their Latin American debts, the Monroe Doctrine would soon become a dead letter. It was not, however, so plain how American interference could be justified. The problem was obviously a difficult one and did not concern the United States alone. Latin America was even more vitally concerned with it, and her statesmen, always lucid exponents of international law, were active in devising remedies. Carlos Calvo of Argentina advanced the doctrine that "the collection of pecuniary claims made by the citizens of one country against the government of another country should never be made by force." Senior Drago, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the same country in 1902, urged upon the United States a modification of the same view by asserting that "the public debt cannot occasion armed intervention."

President Roosevelt handled the matter in his messages of 1903 and 1904. "That our rights and interests are deeply concerned in the maintenance of the [Monroe] Doctrine is so clear as hardly to need argument. This is especially true in view of the construction of the Panama Canal. As a mere matter of self defense we must exercise a close watch over the approaches to this canal, and this means we must be thoroughly alive to our interests in the Caribbean Sea." "When we announce a policy... we thereby commit ourselves to the consequences of the policy." "Chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power."

To prevent European intervention for the purpose of securing just claims in America, then, the United States would undertake to handle the case, and would wield the "Big Stick" against any American state which should refuse to meet its obligations. This was a repetition, in a different tone, of Blaine's "Elder Sister" program. As developed, it had elements also of Cleveland's Venezuela policy. In 1907 the United States submitted to the Hague Conference a modified form of the Drago doctrine, which stated that the use of force to collect contract debts claimed from one government by another as being due to its citizens should be regarded as illegal, unless the creditor nation first offered to submit its claims to arbitration and this offer were refused by the nation against which the claim was directed. The interference of the United States, therefore, would be practically to hale the debtor into court.

Around the Caribbean, however, were several nations not only unwilling but unable to pay their debts. This inability was not due to the fact that national resources were lacking, but that constant revolution scared away conservative capital from seeking constructive investment or from developing their natural riches, while speculators loaned money at ruinous rates of discount to tottering presidents, gambling on the possibility of some turn in fortune that would return them tenfold. The worst example of an insolvent and recalcitrant state was the Dominican Republic, whose superb harbors were a constant temptation to ambitious powers willing to assume its debts in return for naval stations, and whose unscrupulous rulers could nearly always be bribed to sell their country as readily as anything else. In the case of this country President Roosevelt made a still further extension of the Monroe Doctrine when, in 1905, he concluded a treaty whereby the United States agreed to undertake the adjustment of the republic's obligations and the administration of its custom houses, and at the same time guarantee the territorial integrity of the republic. This arrangement was hotly attacked in the United States as an indication of growing imperi

alism, and, though it was defended as necessary to prevent the entrance of new foreign influences into the Caribbean, the opposition was so strong that the treaty was not accepted by the Senate until 1907, and then only in a modified form with the omission of the territorial guarantee.

For the United States thus to step into a foreign country as an administrator was indeed a startling innovation. On the other hand, the development of such a policy was a logical sequence of the Monroe Doctrine. That it was a step in the general development of policy on the part of the United States and not a random leap is indicated by the manner in which it has been followed up. In 1911 treaties with Nicaragua and Honduras somewhat similar to the Dominican protocol were negotiated by Secretary Knox but failed of ratification. Subsequently under President Wilson's Administration, the treaty with Nicaragua was redrafted and was ratified by both parties. Hayti, too, was in financial difficulties and, at about the time of the outbreak of the Great War, it was reported that Germany was about to relieve her needs at the price of harbors and of control. In 1915, however, the United States took the island under its protection by a treaty which not only gave the Government complete control of the fiscal administration but bound it to "lend an efficient aid for the preservation of Haitian independence and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty."

Since 1898, then, the map of the Caribbean has completely changed its aspect. The sea is not an American lake, nor do the Americans wish it to be such. In time, as the surrounding countries become better able to stand alone, direct interference on the part of the United States will doubtless become less than it is today. There is, however, practically no present opportunity for a non-American power to establish itself and to threaten the commerce or the canal of the United States.

Few people in the United States and perhaps fewer in the countries involved realize from what American influence has saved these small states. A glance at Africa and Asia will suggest what would otherwise have been the case. Without the United States and its leadership, there can be little doubt that giant semi-sovereign corporations owing allegiance to some great power would now possess these countries. They would bristle with forts and police, and their populations would be in a state of absolute political and of quasi-economic servitude. They might today be more orderly and perhaps wealthier, but unless the fundamental American belief in democracy and self-government is wrong they would be infinitely farther from their true goal, which involves the working out of their own civilization.

The Caribbean is but a portion of the whole international problem of the Americas, and the methods used by the United States in solving its problems seemed likely to postpone that sympathetic union of the whole to which it has been looking forward for a century. Yet this country has not been unappreciative of the larger aspects of Pan-Americanism. In 1899 President McKinley revived Blaine's project and proposed a Pan-American congress. To popularize this idea, a Pan-American Exposition was arranged at Buffalo in 1901. Here, just after he had expounded his views of the ties that might bind the continents together, McKinley was assassinated. The idea, however, lived and in the same year a congress was held at the City of Mexico, where it was proposed that such meetings be held regularly. As a result, congresses were held at Rio de Janeiro in 1906 and at Buenos Aires in 1910, at which various measures of common utility were discussed and a number of projects were actually undertaken.

The movement of Pan-Americanism has missed achieving the full hopes of its supporters owing not so much to a difference of fundamental ideas and interests as to suspicion and national pride. The chief powers of southern South America-Argentina, Brazil, and Chili-had by the end of the nineteenth century in large measure successfully worked out their own problems. They resented the interference of a power of alien race such as the United States, and they suspected its good intentions in wielding the "Big Stick," especially after the cavalier treatment which Colombia had received. They observed with alarm the strengthening of the grip of the United States about the Caribbean. United in a group, known from their initials as the "A.B.C." powers, they sought to assume the leadership of Latin America, basing their action, indeed, upon the fundamentals of the Monroe Doctrine-the exclusion of foreign influence and the independence of peoples-but with themselves instead of the United States as chief, guardians.

Many of the publicists of these three powers, however, doubted their capacity to walk entirely alone. On the one hand they noted the growing influence of the Germans in Brazil and the indications of Japanese interest in many places, and on the other they divined the fundamental sincerity of the professions of the United States and were anxious to cooperate with this nation. Not strong enough to control the policy of the various countries, these men at least countered those chauvinists who urged that hostility to the United States was a first duty compared with which the danger of non-American interference might be neglected.

Confronted by this divided attitude, the United States sought to win over but not to compel. Nothing more completely met American views than that each power should maintain for itself the principles of the Monroe Doctrine by excluding foreign influences. Beyond that the United States sought only friendship, and, if it were agreeable, such unity as should be mutually advantageous. In 1906 Elihu Root, the Secretary of State, made a tour of South America with a view of expressing these sentiments; and in 1913-1914 ex-President Roosevelt took occasion, on the way to his Brazilian hunting trip, to assure the people of the great South American powers that the "Big Stick" was not intended to intimidate them. Pan-American unity was still, when President Taft went out of office in 1913, an aspiration rather than a realized fact, though the tangible evidences of unity had vastly multiplied since 1898, and the recurring congresses provided a basis of organization upon which some substantial structure might be built.

The United States had sincerely hoped that Mexico, like the "A.B.C." powers, was another Latin American power which had found itself. Of all it was certainly the most friendly and the most intimate. The closeness of its relations with the United States is indicated by the fact that in the forty years between 1868 and 1908, forty agreements, treaties, and conventions had been concluded between the two countries. Nor was intimacy confined to the Governments. The peace arranged by President Diaz had brought foreign capital by the billion to aid the internal development of the country, and of this money more had come from the United States than from any other nation. Nor was it financial aid alone which had gone across the border. There was but little American colonization, it is true, but business managers, engineers, mine foremen, and ranch superintendents formed thousands of links binding the nations together. The climax of intimacy seemed reached when, in 1910, a general treaty of arbitration was made after President Taft and President Diaz had met at El Paso on the Mexican border in a personal conference. A personal interview between the President of the United States and the chief of a foreign state was almost unique in American history, owing to the convention that the President should not depart from the national territory.

It was, therefore, with a bitter sense of disappointment that Americans heard of the revolution inaugurated in 1910 by Francisco Madero. In common with France, Spain, Great Britain, and Germany, the United States was disturbed for the safety of the investments and persons of its citizens. The Government was also concerned because the points of first and most persistent fighting were where the various railroads crossed the American boundary. This circumstance brought the whole border within the range of disturbance. The Government was apprehensive, too, as to the effect of long-continued war upon territories within the circle of its chief interest, the Caribbean area. Yet, when the first surprise caused by the revolution had passed and the reason for the outbreak was perceived,-the fact that the order and apparent prosperity of the Diaz regime had been founded upon the oppression and exploitation of the masses,-public sympathy in the United States went out to Madero and his supporters.

The Diaz Government collapsed with surprising suddenness. The resignation of President Diaz in May, 1911, was accepted as a proof of the popular character and the success of the revolution, and Madero, who was elected president in October, was promptly recognized as the constitutional head of the Mexican Government. The revolution, however, aroused the United States to the fact that there still persisted the era of disturbance which it had hoped was drawing to a close in Latin America. With this disturbing revelation in mind, Congress took another step in the development of American policies consequent upon the Monroe Doctrine by passing an act authorizing the President, whenever he should "find that in any American country conditions of domestic violence exist which are promoted by the use of arms and munitions of war procured from the United States," to prohibit trade in such articles. Under this authority, President Taft promptly forbade the export of such articles to Mexico except to the Government.

Real revolutions, however, seldom result simply in the transfer of authority from one group to another. The breaking of the bonds of recognized authority releases all sorts of desires, represented in the state by separate groups, each of which sees no reason for accepting the control of another. All seek to seize the dropped reins. The inauguration of Madero, therefore, did not result in a new and popular government but in continued disturbance. Factions with differing creeds raised revolts in various sections of the country until, in February, 1913, Madero was overthrown by one of these groups, led by Felix Diaz and General Victoriano Huerta, and representing a reactionary tendency. Madero and his vice president Pino Suarez were killed, it was believed by order of Huerta, and on the 27th of February, in the City of Mexico, Huerta was proclaimed President. Don Venustiano Carranza, Governor of the State of Coahuila, straightway denied the constitutionality of the new Government and led a new revolution under the banner of the Constitution.

It was in such a condition that President Wilson found the affairs of the continent when he took office on March 4, 1913. The American policy in the Caribbean was well defined and to a large extent in operation. Pan-American sentiment was developing, but its strength and direction were yet to be determined. Mexico was in chaos, and upon the Government's handling of it would depend the final success of the United States in the Caribbean and the possibility of effecting a real and fruitful cooperation of the Americas.

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