Classic History Books

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

from Spain and a claim westward to the Pacific north of the forty-second parallel, but he considered the
Southwest - Texas, New Mexico, and California - a natural field of expansion. These areas, then almost

barren of white settlers, he expected time to bring into the United States, and he also expected that the

people of Cuba would ultimately rejoice to become incorporated in the Union. He wished natural forces

to work out their own results, without let or hindrance.

Not only was Adams opposed to Canning's proposed self-denying ordinance, but he was equally averse
to becoming a partner with England. Such cooperation might well prove in time to be an "entangling

alliance," involving the United States in problems of no immediate concern to its people and certainly in

a partnership in which the other member would be dominant. If Canning saw liberal England as a

perpetual minority in absolutist Europe, Adams saw republican America as a perpetual inferior to

monarchical England. Although England, with Canada, the West Indies, and her commerce, was a great

American power, Adams believed that the United States, the oldest independent nation in America, with

a government which gave the model to the rest, could not admit her to joint, leadership, for her power

was in, not of, America, and her government was monarchical. Already Adams had won a strategic

advantage over Canning, for in the previous year, 1822, the United States had recognized the new South

American republics.

Great as were the dangers involved in cooperation with England, however, they seemed to many persons
of little moment compared with the menace of absolutist armies and navies in the New World or of,

perhaps, a French Cuba and a Russian Mexico. The only effective obstacle to such foreign intervention

was the British Navy. Both President Monroe and Thomas Jefferson, who in his retirement was still

consulted on all matters of high moment, therefore favored the acceptance of Canning's proposal as a

means of detaching England from the rest of Europe. Adams argued, however, that England was already

detached; that, for England's purposes, the British Navy would still stand between Europe and America,

whatever the attitude of the United States; that compromise or concession was unnecessary; and that the

country could as safely take its stand toward the whole outside world as toward continental Europe alone.

To reject the offer of a country whose assistance was absolutely necessary to the safety of the United

States, and to declare the American case against her as well as against the more menacing forces whose

attack she alone could prevent, required a nerve and poise which could come only from ignorant

foolhardiness or from absolute knowledge of the facts. The self-assurance of Adams was well founded,

and no general on the field of battle ever exhibited higher courage.

Adams won over the Cabinet, and the President decided to incorporate in his annual message to Congress
a declaration setting forth the attitude of the United States toward all the world, and in particular denying

the right of any European power, England included, to intervene in American affairs. In making such a

statement, however, it was necessary to offer compensation in some form. The United States was not

prepared to offer Canning's self-denying ordinance barring the way to further American expansion, but

something it must offer. This compensating offset Adams found in the separation of the New World from

the Old and in abstention from interference in Europe. Such a renunciation involved, however, the

sacrifice of generous American sympathies with the republicans across the seas. Monroe, Gallatin, and

many other statesmen wished as active a policy in support of the Greeks as of the Spanish Americans.

Adams insisted, however, that the United States should create a sphere for its interests and should

confine itself to that sphere. His plan for peace provided that European and American interests should not

only not clash but should not even meet.

The President's message of December 2, 1823, amounted to a rejection of the Holy Alliance as guardian


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