Classic History Books


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

friendship and interest which would thus have to be broken merely because of an insignificant jog in a
boundary remote from both the nations made war between the United States and Great Britain seem

absolutely inconceivable, until people realized that neither country could yield without an admission of

defeat both galling to national pride and involving fundamental principles of conduct and policy for the

future.

Great Britain in particular stood amazed at Cleveland's position. The general opinion was that peace must
be maintained and that diplomats must find a formula which would save both peace and appearances. Yet

before this public opinion could be diplomatically formulated, a new episode shook the British sense of

security. Germany again appeared as a menace and, as in the case of Samoa, the international situation

thus produced tended to develop a realization of the kinship between Great Britain and the United States.

Early in January, 1896, the Jameson raid into the Transvaal was defeated, and the Kaiser immediately

telegraphed his congratulations to President Krtiger. In view of the possibilities involved in this South

African situation, British public opinion demanded that her diplomats maintain peace with the United

States, with or without the desired formula.

The British Government, however, was not inclined to act with undue haste. It became apparent even to
the most panicky that war with the United States could not come immediately, for the American

Commission of Inquiry must first report. For a time Lord Salisbury hoped that Congress would not

support the President - a contingency which not infrequently happened under Cleveland's Administration.

On this question of foreign relations, however, Congress stood squarely behind the President. Lord

Salisbury then toyed with the hope that the matter might be delayed until Cleveland's term expired, in the

hope he might have an opportunity of dealing with a less strenuous successor.

In the summer of 1896, John Hay, an intimate friend of Major McKinley, the probable Republican
candidate for the presidency, was in England, where he was a well-known figure. There he met privately

Arthur J. Balfour, representing Lord Salisbury, and Sir William Harcourt, the leader of the Opposition.

Hay convinced them that a change in the Administration of his country would involve no retreat from the

existing American position. The British Government thereupon determined to yield but attempted to

cover its retreat by merging the question with one of general arbitration. This proposal, however, was

rejected, and Lord Salisbury then agreed to "an equitable settlement" of the Venezuela question by

empowering the British Ambassador at Washington to begin negotiations "either with the representative

of Venezuela or with the Government of the United States acting as the friend of Venezuela."

The achievement of the Administration consisted in forcing Great Britain to recognize the interest of the
United States in the dispute with Venezuela, on the ground that Venezuela was one of the nations of the

Western Hemisphere. This concession practically involved recognition of the interest of the United States

in case of future disputes with other American powers. The arbitration treaty thus arranged between

Great Britain and Venezuela under the auspices of the United States submitted the whole disputed area to

judicial decision but adopted the rule that fifty years of occupation should give a sufficient title for

possession. The arbitration tribunal, which met in Paris in 1899, decided on a division of the disputed

territory but found that the claim of Great Britain was, on the whole, more nearly correct than that of

Venezuela.

Cleveland's startling and unconventional method of dealing with this controversy has been explained by
all kinds of conjectures. For example, it has been charged that his message was the product of a fishing

trip on which whisky flowed too freely; on the other hand, it has been asserted that the message was an

 

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