Classic History Books


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

his integrity. On the other hand, the magnetic charm of his personality won many to a devotion such as
none of our great men except Clay has received. Blaine saw, moreover, though through a glass darkly,

farther along the path which the United States was to take than did any of his contemporaries. It was his

fate to deal chiefly in controversy with those accomplished diplomats, Lord Salisbury and Lord

Granville, and it must have been among the relaxations of their office to point out tactfully the defects

and errors in his dispatches. Nevertheless when he did not misread history or misquote precedents but

wielded the broadsword of equity, he often caught the public conscience, and then he was not an

opponent to be despised.

Blaine at once undertook the defense of the contention that Bering Sea was "closed" and the exclusive
property of the United States, in spite of the fact that this position was opposed to the whole trend of

American opinion, which from the days of the Revolution had always stood for freedom of the high seas

and the limitation of the water rights of particular nations to the narrowest limits. The United States and

Great Britain had jointly protested against the Czar's ukase of 1821, which had asserted Russia's claim to

Bering Sea as territorial waters; and if Russia had not possessed it in 1821, we certainly could not have

bought it in 1867. In the face of Canadian opinion, Great Britain could never consent, even for the sake

of peace, to a position as unsound as it was disadvantageous to Canadian industry. Nor did Blaine's

contention that the seals were domestic animals belonging to us, and therefore subject to our protection

while wandering through the ocean, carry conviction to lawyers familiar with the fascinating intricacies

of the law, domestic and international, relating to migratory birds and beasts. To the present generation it

seems amusing that Blaine defended his basic contention quite as much on the ground of the inhumanity

of destroying the seals as of its economic wastefulness. Yet Blaine rallied Congress to his support, as

well as a great part of American sentiment.

The situation, which had now become acute, was aggravated by the fact that most American public men
of this period did not separate their foreign and domestic politics. Too many sought to secure the

important Irish vote by twisting the tail of the British lion. The Republicans, in particular, sought to

identify protection with patriotism and were making much of the fact that the recall of Lord

Sackville-West, the British Minister, had been forced because he had advised a correspondent to vote for

Cleveland. It spoke volumes for the fundamental good sense of the two nations that, when relations were

so strained, they could agree to submit their differences to arbitration. For this happy outcome credit

must be given to the cooler heads on both sides, but equal credit must be given to their legacy from the

cool heads which had preceded them. The United States and Great Britain had acquired the habit of

submitting to judicial decision their disputes, even those closely touching honor, and this habit kept them

steady.

In accepting arbitration in 1892, the United States practically gave up her case, although Blaine
undoubtedly believed it could be defended, and in spite of the fact that it was ably presented by John W.

Foster from a brief prepared by the American counsel, Edward J. Phelps, Frederic R. Coudert, and James

C. Carter. The tribunal assembled at Paris decided that Bering Sea was open and determined certain facts

upon which a subsequent commission assessed damages of nearly half a million against the United States

for the seizure of British vessels during the period in which the American claim was being asserted.

Blaine, however, did not lose everything. The treaty contained the extraordinary provision that the

arbitration tribunal, in case it decided against the United States, was to draw up regulations for the

protection of the seal herds. These regulations when drafted did not prove entirely satisfactory, and

bound only the United States and Great Britain. It required many years and much tinkering to bring about

the reasonably satisfactory arrangement that is now in force. Yet to leave to an international tribunal not

 

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