Classic History Books


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

shores of Japan, and the United States had more than once picked up and sought to return Japanese
castaways. In 1846 an official expedition under Commodore Biddle was sent to establish relationships

with Japan but was unsuccessful. In 1853 Commodore Perry bore a message from the President to the

Mikado which demanded - though the demand was couched in courteous language - "friendship,

commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our shipwrecked people." After a long

hesitation the Mikado yielded. Commodore Perry's success was due not solely to the care with which his

expedition was equipped for its purpose nor to his diplomatic skill but in part to the fact that other

countries were known to be on the very point of forcing an entrance into the seclusion of Japan. Few

Americans realize how close, indeed, were the relations established with Japan by the United States. The

treaty which Townsend Harris negotiated in 1858 stated that "The President of the United States, at the

request of the Japanese Government, will act as a friendly mediator in such matters of difference as may

arise between the Government of Japan and any European power." Through his personal efforts Harris

may almost be said to have become the chief adviser of the Japanese Government in the perplexities

which it encountered on entering international society.

Not only did the United States allow itself a closer intimacy with this new Pacific power than it would
have done with a state of Europe, but it exhibited a greater freedom in dealing with the European powers

themselves in the Far East than at home or in America. In 1863 the United States joined - in fact, in the

absence of a naval force it strained a point by chartering a vessel for the purpose - with a concert of

powers to force the opening of the Shimonoseki Straits; subsequently acting with Great Britain, France,

and the Netherlands, the United States secured an indemnity to pay the cost of the expedition; and in

1866 it united with the same powers to secure a convention by which Japan bound herself to establish

certain tariff regulations.

Nor were the relations of the United States with the Pacific Ocean and its shores confined to trade and
international obligations. The American flag waved over more than ships and a portion of the Pacific

coast. Naval officers more than once raised it over islands which they christened, and Congress

authorized the President to exercise temporary authority over islands from which American citizens were

removing guano and to prevent foreign encroachment while they were so engaged. In the eighties, fifty

such islands of the Pacific were in the possession of the United States.

In 1872 an American naval officer made an agreement with the local chieftain of Tutuila, one of the
Samoan Islands, for the use of Pago Pago, which was the best harbor in that part of the ocean. The

United States drifted into more intimate relationship with the natives until in 1878 it made a treaty with

the Samoan king allowing Americans to use Pago Pago as a coaling station. In return the United States

agreed: "If unhappily, any differences should have arisen, or shall hereafter arise, between the Samoan

government and any other government in amity with the United States, the government of the latter will

employ its good offices for the purpose of adjusting those differences upon a satisfactory and solid

foundation." In 1884 the Senate insisted on securing a similar harbor concession from Hawaii, and within

the next few years the American Navy began to arise again from its ashes. The obligation incurred in

exchange for this concession, however, although it resembled that in the Japanese treaty, was probably an

unreflecting act of good nature for, if it meant anything, it was an entangling engagement such as the vast

majority of Americans were still determined to avoid.

The natives of Samoa did not indulge in cannibalism but devoted the small energy the climate gave them
to the social graces and to pleasant wars. They were governed by local kings and were loosely united

under a chief king. At Apia, the capital, were three hundred foreigners, nearly all connected in one way

 

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