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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter11)

2006-08-28 14:08

    CHAPTER XI: Some FamilyScraps

    Do not suppose because I am reminding you of these things and shall remind you of some more, that I am trying to make you hate France. I am only trying to persuade you to stop hating England. I wish to show you how much reason you have not to hate her, which your school histories pass lightly over, or pass wholly by. I want to make it plain that your anti-English complex and your pro-French complex entice your memory into retaining only evil about England and only good about France. That is why I pull out from the recorded, certified, and perfectly ascertainable past, these few large facts. They amply justify, as it seems to me, and as I think it must seem to any reader with an open mind, what I said about the pattern.

    We must now touch upon the War of . There is a political aspect of this war which casts upon it a light not generally shed by our school histories. Bonaparte is again the point. Nine years after our Louisiana Purchase from him, we declared war upon England. At that moment England was heavily absorbed in her struggle with Bonaparte. It is true that we had a genuine grievance against her. In searching for British sailors upon our ships, she impressed our own. This was our justification.

    We made a pretty lame showing, in spite of the victories of our frigates and sloops. Our one signal triumph on land came after the Treaty of Peace had been signed at Ghent. During the years of war, it was lucky for us that England had Bonaparte upon her hands. She could not give us much attention. She was battling with the great Autocrat. We, by declaring war upon her at such a time, played into Bonaparte's hands, and virtually, by embarrassing England, struck a blow on the side of autocracy and against our own political faith. It was a feeble blow, it did but slight harm. And regardless of it England struck Bonaparte down. His hope that we might damage and lessen the power of her fleet that he so much respected and feared, was not realized. We made the Treaty of Ghent. The impressing of sailors from our vessels was tacitly abandoned. The next time that people were removed from vessels, it was not England who removed them, it was we ourselves, who had declared war on England for doing so, we ourselves who removed them from Canadian vessels in the Behring Sea, and from the British ship Trent. These incidents we shall reach in their proper place. As a result of the War of , some English felt justified in taking from us a large slice of land, but Wellington said, "I think you have no right, from the state of the war, to demand any concession of territory from America." This is all that need be said about our War of .

    Because I am trying to give only the large incidents, I have intentionally made but a mere allusion to Florida and our acquisition of that territory. It was a case again of England's siding with us against a third power, Spain, in this instance. I have also omitted any account of our acquisition of Texas, when England was not friendly——I am not sure why: probably because of the friction between us over Oregon. But certain other minor events there are, which do require a brief reference——the boundaries of Maine, of Oregon, the Isthmian Canal, Cleveland and Venezuela, Roosevelt and Alaska; and these disputes we shall now take up together, before we deal with the very large matter of our trouble with England during the Civil War. Chronologically, of course, Venezuela and Alaska fall after the Civil War; but they belong to the same class to which Maine and Oregon belong. Together, all of these incidents and controversies form a group in which the underlying permanence of British good-will towards us is distinctly to be discerned. Sometimes, as I have said before, British anger with us obscures the friendly sentiment. But this was on the surface, and it always passed. As usual, it is only the anger that has stuck in our minds. Of the outcome of these controversies and the British temperance and restraint which brought about such outcome the popular mind retains no impression.

    The boundary of Maine was found to be undefined to the extent of , square miles. Both Maine and New Brunswick claimed this, of course. Maine took her coat off to fight, so did New Brunswick. Now, we backed Maine, and voted supplies and men to her. Not so England. More soberly, she said, "Let us arbitrate." We agreed, it was done. By the umpire Maine was awarded more than half what she claimed. And then we disputed the umpire's decision on the ground he hadn't given us the whole thing! Does not this remind you of some of our baseball bad manners? It was settled later, and we got, differently located, about the original award.

    Did you learn in school about "fifty-four forty, or fight"? We were ready to take off our coat again. Or at least, that was the platform in  on which President Polk was elected. At that time, what lay between the north line of California and the south line of Alaska, which then belonged to Russia, was called Oregon. We said it was ours. England disputed this. Each nation based its title on discovery. It wasn't really far from an even claim. So Polk was elected, which apparently meant war; his words were bellicose. We blustered rudely. Feeling ran high in England; but she didn't take off her coat. Her ambassador, Pakenham, stiff at first, unbent later. Under sundry missionary impulses, more Americans than British had recently settled along the Columbia River and in the Willamette Valley. People from Missouri followed. You may read of our impatient violence in Professor Dunning's book, The British Empire and the United States. Indeed, this volume tells at length everything I am telling you briefly about these boundary disputes. The settlers wished to be under our Government. Virtually upon their preference the matter was finally adjusted. England met us with a compromise, advantageous to us and reasonable for herself. Thus, again, was her conduct moderate and pacific. If you think that this was through fear of us, I can only leave you to our western blow-hards of , or to your anti-British complex. What I see in it, is another sign of that fundamental sense of kinship, that persisting unwillingness to have a real scrap with us, that stares plainly out of our whole first century——the same feeling which prevented so many English from enlisting against us in the Revolution that George III was obliged to get Hessians.

    Nicaragua comes next. There again they were quite angry with us on top, but controlled in the end by the persisting disposition of kinship. They had land in Nicaragua with the idea of an Isthmian Canal. This we did not like. They thought we should mind our own business. But they agreed with us in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty that both should build and run the canal. Vagueness about territory near by raised further trouble, and there we were in the right. England yielded. The years went on and we grew, until the time came when we decided that if there was to be any canal, no one but ourselves should have it. We asked to be let off the old treaty. England let us off, stipulating the canal should be unfortified, and an "open door" to all. Our representative agreed to this, much to our displeasure. Indeed, I do not think he should have agreed to it. Did England hold us to it? All this happened in the lifetime of many of us, and we know that she did not hold us to it. She gave us what we asked, and she did so because she felt its justice, and that it in no way menaced her with injury. All this began in  and ended, as we know, in the time of Roosevelt.

    About  our seal-fishing in the Behring Sea brought on an acute situation. Into the many and intricate details of this, I need not go; you can find them in any good encyclopedia, and also in Harper's Magazine for April, , and in other places. Our fishing clashed with Canada's. We assumed jurisdiction over the whole of the sea, which is a third as big as the Mediterranean, on the quite fantastic ground that it was an inland sea. Ignoring the law that nobody has jurisdiction outside the three-mile limit from their shores, we seized Canadian vessels sixty miles from land. In fact, we did virtually what we had gone to war with England for doing in . But England did not go to war. She asked for arbitration. Throughout this, our tone was raw and indiscreet, while hers was conspicuously the opposite; we had done an unwarrantable and high-handed thing; our claim that Behring Sea was an "inclosed" sea was abandoned; the arbitration went against us, and we paid damages for the Canadian vessels.

    In , in the course of a century's dispute over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana, Venezuela took prisoner some British subjects, and asked us to protect her from the consequences. Richard Olney, Grover Cleveland's Secretary of State, informed Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of England, that "in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States must insist on arbitration"——that is, of the disputed boundary. It was an abrupt extension of the Monroe Doctrine. It was dictating to England the manner in which she should settle a difference with another country. Salisbury declined. On December th Cleveland announced to England that the Monroe Doctrine applied to every stage of our national Life, and that as Great Britain had for many years refused to submit the dispute to impartial arbitration, nothing remained to us but to accept the situation. Moreover, if the disputed territory was found to belong to Venezuela, it would be the duty of the United States to resist, by every means in its power, the aggressions of Great Britain. This was, in effect, an ultimatum. The stock market went to pieces. In general American opinion, war was coming. The situation was indeed grave. First, we owed the Monroe Doctrine's very existence to English backing. Second, the Doctrine itself had been a declaration against autocracy in the shape of the Holy Alliance, and England was not autocracy. Lastly, as a nation, Venezuela seldom conducted herself or her government on the steady plan of democracy. England was exasperated. And yet England yielded. It took a little time, but arbitration settled it in the end—— at about the same time that we flatly declined to arbitrate our quarrel with Spain. History will not acquit us of groundless meddling and arrogance in this matter, while England comes out of it having again shown in the end both forbearance and good manners. Before another Venezuelan incident in ,I take up a burning dispute of .

    As Oregon had formerly been, so Alaska had later become, a grave source of friction between England and ourselves. Canada claimed boundaries in Alaska which we disputed. This had smouldered along through a number of years until the discovery of gold in the Klondike region fanned it to a somewhat menacing flame. In this instance, history is as unlikely to approve the conduct of the Canadians as to approve our bad manners towards them upon many other occasions. The matter came to a head in Roosevelt's first administration. You will find it all in the Life of John Hay by William R. Thayer, Volume II. A commission to settle the matter had dawdled and failed. Roosevelt was tired of delays. Commissioners again were appointed, three Americans, two Canadians, and Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice, to represent England. To his friend Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, about to sail for an English holiday, Roosevelt wrote a private letter privately to be shown to Mr. Balfour, Mr. Chamberlain, and certain other Englishmen of mark. He said: "The claim of the Canadians for access to deep water along any part of the Alaskan coast is just exactly as indefensible as if they should now suddenly claim the Island of Nantucket." Canada had objected to our Commissioners as being not "impartial jurists of repute." As to this, Roosevelt's letter to Holmes ran on: "I believe that no three men in the United States could be found who would be more anxious than our own delegates to do justice to the British claim on all points where there is even a color of right on the British side. But the objection raised by certain British authorities to Lodge, Root, and Turner, especially to Lodge and Root, was that they had committed themselves on the general proposition. No man in public life in any position of prominence could have possibly avoided committing himself on the proposition, any more than Mr. Chamberlain could avoid committing himself on the ownership of the Orkneys if some Scandinavian country suddenly claimed them. If this embodied other points to which there was legitimate doubt, I believe Mr. Chamberlain would act fairly and squarely in deciding the matter; but if he appointed a commission to settle up all these questions, I certainly should not expect him to appoint three men, if he could find them, who believed that as to the Orkneys the question was an open one. I wish to make one last effort to bring about an agreement through the Com- mission…… But if there is a disagreement…… I shall take a position which will prevent any possibility of arbitration hereafter;…… will render it necessary for Congress to give me the authority to run the line as we claim it, by our own people, without any further regard to the attitude of England and Canada. If I paid attention to mere abstract rights, that is the position I ought to take anyhow. I have not taken it because I wish to exhaust every effort to have the affair settled peacefully and with due regard to England's honor."

    That is the way to do these things: not by a peremptory public letter, like Olney's to Salisbury, which enrages a whole people and makes temperate action doubly difficult, but thus, by a private letter to the proper persons, very plain, very unmistakable, but which remains private, a sufficient word to the wise, and not a red rag to the mob. "To have the affair settled peacefully and with due regard to England's honor." Thus Roosevelt. England desired no war with us this time, any more than at the other time. The Commission went to work, and, after investigating the facts, decided in our favor.

    Our list of boundary episodes finished, I must touch upon the affair with the Kaiser regarding Venezuela's debts. She owed money to Germany, Italy, and England. The Kaiser got the ear of the Tory government under Salisbury, and between the three countries a secret pact was made to repay themselves. Venezuela is not seldom reluctant to settle her obligations, and she was slow upon this occasion. It was the Kaiser's chance——he had been trying it already at other points——to slide into a foothold over here under the camouflage of collecting from Venezuela her just debt to him. So with warships he and his allies established what he called a pacific blockade on Venezuelan ports.

    I must skip the comedy that now went on in Washington (you will find it on pages - of Mr. Thayer's John Hay, Volume II) and come at once to Mr. Roosevelt's final word to the Kaiser, that if there was not an offer to arbitrate within forty-eight hours, Admiral Dewey would sail for Venezuela. In thirty-six hours arbitration was agreed to. England withdrew from her share in the secret pact. Had she wanted war with us, her fleet and the Kaiser's could have outmatched our own. She did not; and the Kaiser had still very clearly and sorely in remembrance what choice she had made between standing with him and standing with us a few years before this, upon an occasion that was also connected with Admiral Dewey. This I shall fully consider after summarizing those international episodes of our Civil War wherein England was concerned.

    This completes my list of minor troubles with England that we have had since Canning suggested our Monroe Doctrine in . Minor troubles, I call them, because they are all smaller than those during our Civil War. The full record of each is an open page of history for you to read at leisure in any good library. You will find that the anti-English complex has its influence sometimes in the pages of our historians, but Professor Dunning is free from it. You will find, whatever transitory gusts of anger, jealousy, hostility, or petulance may have swept over the English people in their relations with us, these gusts end in a calm; and this calm is due to the common-sense of the race.

    It revealed itself in the treaty at the close of our Revolution, and it has been the ultimate controlling factor in English dealings with us ever since. And now I reach the last of my large historic matters, the Civil War, and our war with Spain.

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