Classic History Books


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

acquired Chinese territory - an undertaking in which he had none of the support of legal powers effective
in the United States.

That Hay so promptly succeeded in putting at least a toe in the door which he wished to open was due to
a number of circumstances. Great Britain, devoted to the principle of free trade, heartily approved of his

proposal and at once accepted its terms. The other powers expressed their sympathy with the ideas of the

note, but, in the case of Russia at least, without the faintest intention of paying any heed to it. Hay

promptly notified each power of the others' approval and stated that, with this unanimous consent, he

would regard its acceptance of the proposals as "final and definitive."

The force which Hay had used was the moral influence of world opinion. None of the powers dared, with
its hands fresh filled with Chinese plunder, openly to assert that it had taken the spoils for selfish reasons

alone - at least, after another power had denied such purpose. Hay saw and capitalized the force of

conventional morality which, however superficial in many cases, had influenced the European powers,

particularly since the time of the Holy Alliance. Accustomed to clothe their actions in the garb of

humanitarianism, they were not, when caught thus red-handed, prepared to be a mark of scorn for the rest

of the world. The cult of unabashed might was still a closet philosophy which even Germany, its chief

devotee, was not yet ready to avow to the world. Of course Hay knew that the battle was not won, for the

bandits still held the booty. He was too wise to attempt to wrench it from them, for that indeed would

have meant battle for which the United States was not prepared in military strength or popular intention.

He had merely pledged these countries to use their acquisitions for the general good. Though the

promises meant little in themselves, to have exacted them was an initial step toward victory.

In the meantime the penetration of foreign influences into China was producing a reaction. A wave of
protest against the "foreign devils" swept through the population and acquired intensity from the acts of

fanatic religious leaders. That strange character, the Dowager Empress, yielded to the "Boxers," who

obtained possession of Pekin, cut off the foreigners from the outside world, and besieged them in the

legations. That some such movement was inevitable must have been apparent to many European

statesmen, and that it would give them occasion, by interference and punishment, to solidify their

"spheres of influence" must have occurred to them. The "open door" was in as immediate peril as were

the diplomats in Pekin.

Secretary Hay did not, however, yield to these altered circumstances. Instead, he built upon the
leadership which he had assumed. He promptly accepted the international responsibility which the

emergency called for. The United States at once agreed to take its share, in cooperation with the Great

Powers, in whatever measures should be judged necessary. The first obvious measure was to relieve the

foreign ministers who were besieged in Pekin. American assistance was active and immediate. By the

efforts of the American Government, communication with the legations was opened; the American naval

forces were soon at Tientsin, the port of Pekin; and five or six thousand troops were hastily sent from the

Philippines. The United States therefore bore its full proportion of the task. The largest contingent of the

land forces was, indeed, from Germany, and the command of the whole undertaking was by agreement

given to the German commander, Graf von Waldersee. Owing, however, to his remoteness from the

scene of action, he did not arrive until after Pekin had been reached and the relief of the legations, which

was the first if not the main object of the expedition, had been accomplished. After this, the resistance of

the Chinese greatly decreased and the country was practically at the mercy of the concert of powers.

By thus bearing its share in the responsibilities of the situation, the United States had won a vote in

 

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