Classic History Books


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

he would do much to establish the prestige of the United States as a wise and disinterested counselor in
Spanish American affairs. In this his first diplomatic undertaking, there appeared, however, one of the

weaknesses of execution which constantly interfered with the success of his plans. He did not know how

to sacrifice politics to statesmanship, and he appointed as his agents men so incompetent that they

aggravated rather than settled the difficulty. Later he saw his mistake and made a new and admirable

appointment in the case of Mr. William H. Trescot of South Carolina. Blaine himself, however, lost

office before new results could be obtained; and Frelinghuysen recalled Trescot and abandoned the

attempt to force peace.

A second object of Blaine's policy was to prevent disputes between Latin American and European
powers from becoming dangerous by acting as mediator between them. When he took office, France was

endeavoring to collect from Venezuela a claim which was probably just. When Venezuela proved

obdurate, France proposed to seize her custom houses and to collect the duties until the debt was paid.

Blaine protested, urged Venezuela to pay, and suggested that the money be sent through the American

agent at Caracas. He further proposed that, should Venezuela not pay within three months, the United

States should seize the custom houses, collect the money, and pay it to France. Again his short term

prevented him from carrying out his policy, but it is nevertheless of interest as anticipating the plan

actually followed by President Roosevelt in the case of Santo Domingo.

Blaine was just as much opposed to the peaceful penetration of European influence in the Western
Hemisphere as to its forceful expression. The project of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, to be built

and owned by a French company, had already aroused President Hayes on March 8, 1880, to remark:

"The policy of this country is a canal under American control. The United States cannot consent to the

surrender of this control to any European power or to any combination of European powers." Blaine

added that the passage of hostile troops through such a canal when either the United States or Colombia

was at war, as the terms of guarantee of the new canal allowed, was "no more admissible than on the

railroad lines joining the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the United States."

It is characteristic of Blaine that, when he wrote this dispatch, he was apparently in complete ignorance
of the existence of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, in which the United States accepted the exactly opposite

principles - had agreed to a canal under a joint international guarantee and open to the use of all in time

of war as well as of peace. Discovering this obstacle, he set to work to demolish it by announcing to

Great Britain that the treaty was antiquated, thirty years old, that the development of the American

Pacific slope had changed conditions, and that, should the treaty be observed and such a canal remain

unfortified, the superiority of the British fleet would give the nation complete control. Great Britain,

however, could scarcely be expected to regard a treaty as defunct from old age at thirty years, especially

as she also possessed a developing Pacific coast. Moreover, if the treaty was to British advantage, at least

the United States had accepted it. Great Britain, therefore, refused to admit that the treaty was not in full

force. Blaine then urged the building of an American canal across the Isthmus of Nicaragua, in defiance

of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty - a plan which received the support of even President Arthur, under whom

a treaty for the purpose was negotiated with the Republic of Nicaragua. Before this treaty was ratified by

the Senate, however, Grover Cleveland, who had just become President, withdrew it. He believed in the

older policy, and refused his sanction to the new treaty on the ground that such a canal "must be for the

world's benefit, a trust for mankind, to be removed from the chance of domination by any single power."

The crowning glory of Blaine's system, as he planned it, was the cooperation of the American republics
for common purposes. He did not share Seward's dream that they would become incorporated States of

 

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