Classic History Books


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

treaty with Japan in 1858 contained the clause: "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." Under Seward the United States did, indeed, work

in concert with European powers to force the opening of the Shimonoseki Straits in 1864, and a revision

of the tariff in 1866. Subsequently, however, the United States cooperated with Japan in her effort to free

herself from certain disadvantageous features of early treaties. In 1883 the United States returned the

indemnity received at the time of the Shimonoseki affair - an example of international equity almost

unique at the time but subsequently paralleled in American relations with China. The one serious

difficulty existing in the relationships of the United States with both China and Japan resulted from an

unwillingness to receive their natives as immigrants when people of nearly every other country were

admitted. The American attitude had already been expressed in the Chinese Exclusion Act. As yet the

chief difficulty was with that nation, but it was inevitable that such distinctions would prove particularly

galling to the rising spirit of the Japanese.

John Hay was keenly aware of the possibilities involved in these Far Eastern events. Of profound
moment under any circumstances, they were doubly so now that the United States was territorially

involved. To take a slice of this Eastern area was a course quite open to the United States and one which

some of the powers at least would have welcomed. Hay, however, wrote to Paul Dana on March 16,

1899, as follows: "We are, of course, opposed to the dismemberment of that empire [China], and we do

not think that t2he public opinion of the United States would justify this Government in taking part in the

great game of spoliation now going on." He felt also that the United States should not tie its hands by

"formal alliances with other Powers interested," nor was he prepared "to assure China that we would join

her in repelling that demand by armed force."

It remained, then, for the Secretary of State to find a lever for peaceful interference on the part of his
country and a plan for future operations. The first he found in the commercial interest of the United

States. Since the Government refrained from pressing for special favors in any single part of the Chinese

Empire, it could demand that American interests be not infringed anywhere. The Secretary of State

realized that in a democracy statesmen cannot overlook the necessity of condensing their policies into

popular catchwords or slogans. Today such phrases represent in large measure the power referred to in

the old saying: "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws." The single

phrase, "scrap of paper," probably cost Germany more than any one of her atrocious deeds in the Great

War. Hay's policy with regard to China had the advantage of two such phrases. The "golden rule,"

however, proved less lasting than the "open door," which was coined apparently in the instructions to the

Paris Peace Commission. This phrase expressed just what the United States meant. The precise plan of

the American Government was outlined and its execution undertaken in a circular note of September 6,

1899, which the Secretary of State addressed to London, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. In this he asked the

powers to agree to respect all existing open ports and established interests within their respective spheres,

to enforce the Chinese tariff and no other, and to refrain from all discrimination in port and railroad

charges. To make such a proposal to the European powers required courage. In its essential elements the

situation in the Far East was not unlike the internal economic condition prevailing at the same time in the

United States. In this country great transportation monopolies had been built up, having an enormous

capitalization, and many of them were dependent for their profits on the advantage of price fixing that

monopoly may be expected to bring. Then state and nation stepped in and asserted their right to fix prices

in the interest of the consumer. The consequent political struggles illustrate the difficulties besetting the

Secretary of State in his somewhat similar attempt to take the chief fruits from the powers which had just

 

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