Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

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

 

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