The Development of Our Foreign Policy

BY the results of the war with Spain we are brought face to face with the beginning of a new epoch not only of our national development, but possibly of the world’s progress ; and, as in former great epochs of the world’s progress the chief actors have found themselves borne onward by an irresistible force far beyond their original intent, so does it seem that we are irresistibly borne onward to duties and responsibilities new to us and momentous in character, by the course of events during the past six months. It is unquestionable that our original intention was as honest as were the original intentions of Washington and Lincoln at the beginning of their great life-work ; yet the result of their life-work in each case was the reverse of their original purpose, without any intentional breach of their good faith. Of such may truly be repeated the profound remark of Cromwell, “ One never goes so far as when he planneth not.”

Whatever may be the theories of moralists, the world’s life and progress proceed upon facts. That the colonial empire of Spain is overthrown by this war is a fact as absolute as that the Rome of the Cæsars has fallen. It is also a fact that, whatever may have been our original intent last April, we are the successors of Spain in the West Indies and, to an undefined extent, in the Pacific. We cannot escape the consequences of that fact, nor the duties and responsibilities that follow from it.

If we destroy the military forces of the rulers of a province, we not only break the enemy’s prestige and power, but we must assume the responsibility of the expelled government for the preservation of peace and order. As a corollary, it follows that if we should merely content ourselves with taking a coaling station, and should not provide for the orderly government of the conquered district, we should become accountable for the anarchy that would ensue. On the other hand, if, after taking a coaling station as a prize of war, we should sell or otherwise divide the rest of a conquered dependency, should we not be acting the part of a robber nation, dividing the spoils of war with other nations for our own profit, and to silence their demands and obtain their acquiescence ?

However bad may have been the Spanish colonial government, it was a government ; it did give a certain degree of peace and order both in the Philippines and in the West Indies ; it was better than anarchy, probably better than any semi-barbaric government which it is in the power of the Philippine insurgents to establish without our protection and supervision for a period, at least; and in Cuba, perhaps better than the Cuban insurgents can establish at the present time without our friendly assistance. It therefore seems our duty, however undesired, to continue for the present in control of whatever territory may be taken from Spain as the fruit of our victories, and to administer the government for the benefit of the inhabitants until we are satisfied of their willingness and ability to maintain in a reasonable degree peace and order, law and justice. We, as trustees and guardians of several millions of people of different races from our own, have become the political arbiters of their destiny, and are bound to provide against civil war among them.

Our responsibility for the administration of this trust cannot be transferred by accepting the professions of native insurgent leaders and their production of paper constitutions and forms of government. We cannot terminate our trust, even though unsought and onerous, until the conquered dependency is under a government which does give it a reasonable degree of peace, law, and equity, and whose permanence may be assumed from the general confidence and support of the inhabitants. Indeed, war assumes a promise to abide by its consequences, for better and for worse ; to accept the responsibilities of victory as well as its glory, with the same manly courage with which we face wounds and death in battle, sickness and pestilence in hospital, and the public cost and private sorrow at home which may result from it. Let us not hesitate to perform our duty like men, and, like prudent men, let us examine our position so as to measure the difficulties of our task.

The long-established foreign policy of the United States was originally formulated in Washington’s Farewell Address, and was more fully defined in the Monroe Doctrine message and in subsequent expositions of its application by successive secretaries of state.

In all these state papers the principles and doctrines were set forth as the “ declarations " of a sovereign nation. As in all declarations of intent, the nation necessarily reserved the right to change or modify these principles and doctrines when cases should arise for their practical application in the promotion of great permanent interests of the nation. For, be it distinctly understood, such declarations are “ unilateral,” and without covenant, direct or implied, to bind our hands to act against what may seem our public interests. To deny this principle of national life would be to hang about the nation’s neck, like a constantly increasing weight, the accumulating errors of successive generations, and thus ultimately to destroy the nation, — a doctrine directly opposed to the paramount duty of self-preservation. Indeed, a declaration of intent, announced as an act of courtesy or warning to foreign nations, and not for valuable consideration, establishes no prescriptive rights, however long enjoyed, but may be resumed or reversed at the will of the nation without prejudice to its good faith. Nor can such change of policy be made a ground by other nations for demanding an explanation ; a nation’s sovereignty and the exercise of its sovereign rights are not open to the adjudication of other nations, its possible rivals or enemies.

Therefore, whatever may be the foreign policy which the United States may adopt in the West Indies or in the Pacific, no European power has a right to demand an explanation of our intentions, or even of particular acts, unless they threaten immediate hostilities. Much less can the right be claimed that such policy nullifies our general foreign policy or our local foreign policy in a distant part of the world. Such a claim could be looked upon only as an intolerable insolence on the part of the government making it, and should be sternly rejected.

But assuming that the results of this war require the adoption by the United States of a colonial policy in the West Indies and the Philippines, it has been held — doubtless with perfect sincerity by many — that we should thereby definitely abandon our traditional foreign policy as defined in Washington’s Farewell Address, the Monroe Doctrine message, and official expositions of the same by our state department; and fear has been expressed that we should give a provocation for European intervention in American affairs, to say nothing of the ruinous consequences to our republic inevitable to the control of colonies, as shown by the corruption and failure of Spain herself because of these very colonies. To see whether there be such grave danger, let us briefly review the first applications of the Farewell Address and the Monroe Doctrine, and determine to what extent they truly apply to the conditions that now face us.

The doctrine of the balance of power in Europe furnishes the key to European political history for the past three centuries. It had been intended that the status quo established by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), when western Europe was politically redistributed among the several rulers, should be permanent. It was held to be an outrage against the peace of Europe to attempt a material change of the territorial distribution then established ; to avert this, standing armies were maintained and endless diplomatic negotiations kept up, requiring permanent legations at all important capitals.

Richelieu is credited with devising this scheme for the purpose of assuring the superiority in Europe of France and the house of Bourbon over the Hapsburg dynasties in Austria and Germany and in Spain ; his central idea was to keep Germany from unification, and to this end to reorganize the German Empire into groups of independent states according to their religion, preserving a nominal allegiance to elective emperors and state-rights to the princes, not only in local affairs, but in foreign relations. As thus organized there were two hundred and three sovereignties, separated by religious differences and by local jealousies and interests,—an ideal arrangement for foreign intrigues and combinations, controversies and wars, as the normal political condition of Europe for centuries to come. Thus Richelieu won the name “ Father of European Diplomacy.” So effective was this arrangement that Germany was kept weak and divided until the Sadowa campaign obliterated Austria from German politics in 1866, and the Franco-German war resulted in the complete unification of Germany under the Hohenzollerns.

Now the keystone of the doctrine of the balance of power was perpetuation of the political distribution of power in Europe established by the Peace of Westphalia, — political stagnation fatal to national development. The constant wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were manifestations of the impossibility that the world should stand still; the readjustments, at the close of such wars, were all based on throwing in “ makeweights ” to restore the balance of power in Europe ; for all Europe had come to look upon the rest of the world — her colonial dependencies in America, Asia, and Africa — as created solely for her benefit. This balance of power in Europe, up to the close of the eighteenth century, was the struggle between France and Austria for supremacy in Europe, — a dynastic question with which America had no direct intrinsic concern. Washington’s Farewell Address happily describes it as “ broils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice.”

Our revolutionary statesmen personally understood how fatal to peace in America would be the continued extension of this European doctrine of balance of power to America, — to the United States as an ally, to the European colonies in America if they were to continue to be used as makeweights. Washington’s own military career opened in the Virginia forests because England and Prussia had become involved in war with France and Austria over dynastic questions growing out of this European balance of power ; they knew how Louisburg had been besieged and taken by New England troops in 1745, and by the treaty of peace in 1748 had been given back to France in exchange for the French trading factory at Madras.

Indeed,.these American dependencies of Europe were sold and exchanged like West India negroes : some of the West India islands had changed owners ten times in less than two centuries; the Dutch province of New York was obtained by the English in exchange for the English colony of Surinam in Guiana. After being held by Holland, England, and Spain in turn, the island of Santa Cruz was sold successively to the Knights of Malta, the French West India Company, the king of France, and the government of Denmark (by which it was recently offered for sale to the United States). In like manner, after similar transfers, the island of St. Bartholomew was given to the king of Sweden by France in exchange for the right of French merchants to trade at the Swedish port of Gottenburg.

All these facts were notorious, and were acutely realized by our revolutionary statesmen. Hamilton used them as arguments in favor of the adoption of the Constitution : we should thus “concur in creating a great American system, superior to all transatlantic force and influence, and able to dictate the terms of connection between the Old World and the New World.” 1 John Adams noted in his Diary this remark of his to the British plenipotentiary in negotiating our treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1783 : “ It is obvious that all the powers of Europe will be continually manœuvring to work us into their real or imaginary balances of power ; they will all seek to make of us a makeweight candle in weighing out their pounds.”

That this makeweight system would be a menace to our peace as a nation was fully understood ; for what security should we have if European powers, owning West India islands commanding our coast and commerce, could sell them to our rivals or enemies ?

Thus we see that the two desiderata set forth in Washington’s Farewell Address were — no political entanglements of the United States in European political broils, and an American system apart and separate from that of Europe. These points were finally embodied in Monroe’s famous message of December 2, 1823.

The scheme of the balance of power had its own development, and was followed by other plans to secure similar ends. The Napoleonic wars made a new readjustment of European boundaries necessary, but first of all Europe must overthrow the military domination of Napoleon. Hence the Holy Alliance of the five great Powers, arranged by Lord Castlereagh in the Treaty of Chaumont, March 1, 1814. Lord Castlereagh’s circular of June 19, 1821, officially states its purpose : “ It was a union for the reconquest and liberation of a great portion of the continent of Europe from the military despotism of France; and, having subdued the conqueror, it took the state of possession, as established by the peace, under its protection. It never was, however, intended for the government of the world or for the superintendence of the internal affairs of other states.” This is a most important exposition for us to bear in mind, because it led to the announcement of our Monroe Doctrine.

The formation of the Holy Alliance was essentially the overthrow of the doctrine of political equality of sovereign states, which had been an important factor in the scheme of balance of power. It set up the primacy of the great Powers as trustees for settling European questions ; it made the settlement of questions of European interest depend upon the common consent of the great Powers ; hence the later name “ concert of Europe.”

The Holy Alliance, after reorganizing Europe, undertook to reëstablish Spain in her revolted American colonies. At this England protested, and withdrew from the Alliance. Isolated, she decided to invite the United States to join her in formal protest against the proposed interference of the Holy Alliance in Spanish America. Mr. Canning suggested this joint action to United States minister Rush, who submitted the correspondence to President Monroe, and the latter sent the papers to ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison, asking their views. The reply of Jefferson, dated October 24, 1823, shows how logically he deduced the Monroe Doctrine from the principles of Washington’s Farewell Address : " The question presented by the letters you have sent me is the most momentous which has been offered to my contemplation since that of Independence. That made us a nation ; this sets the compass and points the course which we are to steer through the ocean of time opening to us. . . . Our first and fundamental maxim should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe ; our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle in cisatlantic affairs. America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe and peculiarly her own ; she should have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. . . . We will oppose with all our means the forcible interposition of any other power ” (in American colonial questions) “ as auxiliary, stipendiary, or under any other form or pretext; and most especially their transfer to any other power by conquest, cession, or acquisition in any other way.” This is a concrete statement of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, if we add the claim, already then announced, that as all American territory belonged to some Christian power, none of it was subject to European colonization.

Thus we have the Monroe Doctrine for the protection of America, North and South, from the European political schemes of balance of power, primacy of the great Powers, and European concert.

England’s refusal to consent to the restoration of the Spanish Bourbons in Spanish America, largely because of her opposition to the Spanish system of colonial monopoly, led to the downfall of the Holy Alliance. But the idea of common consent had become a fixed principle of European politics and was extended to the Eastern Question, which has been the disturbing question of European politics for three quarters of a century.

It was because the concert of Europe could not agree upon intervention in Turkey that the recent Armenian massacres were allowed to go unpunished, although all the great Powers individually abhorred the outrages.2

We see, then, that European political questions are as distinct and apart from American questions to-day as they have been at any time during the past century ; and that an American system has grown out of the Monroe Doctrine through its acceptance as their own policy also by many if not all the other American republics. We claim no right of intervention in the domestic or foreign concerns of any American state, except so far as to prevent European intermeddling with its political destiny. We stood as defender of the Mexican people against the establishment of an empire under a European intruder backed by a European army of invaders ; we extended our friendly offices in the settlement of the Venezuela-Guiana boundary dispute, which — after chronic controversies — was finally referred to international arbitration ; on several occasions we have consented to adjudicate boundary disagreements between American nations at their mutual request; and we engaged in a costly general war to put an end to an intolerable condition of barbarity in a European colony at our door, and assure its people due security of life and property, peace, law, and equity ; nor could we allow any European power to redress these wrongs, any more than we could permit a European power to transfer its American dependencies to another European power.

It has been said by a very eminent European writer on international law that “ the position of the United States on the American continent is in some respects like, and in others exceedingly unlike, that which is accorded in Europe to the six great Powers. ... If it be true that there is a primacy in America comparable to that which exists in Europe, it must be wielded by her, and by her alone.” 3

It may be truly said that the United States does exercise a primacy in America, but it is confined to the protection of American states against the land-hunger of Europe. We have never intervened in the internal dissensions of any American state, nor in controversies or wars between American states ; we have never pushed unsought our good offices or mediation upon them in their difficulties, nor have we objected to their choice of European Powers as arbitrators. We have strictly confined ourselves to the part of a good friend to each of them, whose friendly offices are always at their command for the honorable settlement of controversies among themselves or with European Powers.

If this be primacy in America, most assuredly it is a kind of primacy radically different from that which has arrayed armies of millions in Europe, and established a European concert to “ superintend the solution of the Eastern Question, — in other words, to regulate the disintegration of Turkey,” 4 without producing a general war in the scramble for desirable bits of the crumbling Turkish Empire. Whatever may be the theory of the concert of Europe, the fact is that the Crimean war was made to prevent Russia getting a larger share of Turkey than seemed fair to the other Powers ; this same spirit of jealous rivalry, perhaps of self-defense, compelled Russia to yield the fruits of victory extorted from Turkey by the Peace of S. Stefano two decades ago.

The foreign policy of this country has been to have no political connection with foreign countries in the local European schemes of European balance of power, primacy in Europe, concert of Europe, Triple Alliance, or whatever other names may represent European politics. But our policy is settled in regard to the intervention of European Powers in America for controlling the political destiny of any American nation or for the control by transfer of any European dependency in America. Hence the escape of the weaker nations of Latin America from the toils of European intervention and land-hunger.

Whatever may be our policy, moreover, in regard to purely American questions, as belonging to a system separate and apart from that of Europe, we are perfectly free to adopt whatever foreign policy we may deem proper in regard to other than American questions ; nor can such policy be held in any way to militate against or nullify our American policy.

When we note the recent land scrabble in Africa, and the partition of that continent among the great Powers of western Europe, in some way based on the doctrine of “ equivalents,” we behold a disposition to extend the European system of balance of power beyond Europe. And in the Far East to-day we see, in process of accomplishment, a partition of China remarkably resembling the recently accomplished partition of Africa. Whether in Africa or in the Far East, the fundamental cause is the same, — a scramble for foreign markets, with political dominion thrown in to assure their permanence.

At this juncture the United States wins a notable naval victory at Manila, which presumably puts us in practical control at least of a part of a tropical archipelago about as large as Japan, inhabited by some ten million people. We know that the Philippines, despite Spanish misgovernment and corruption, have an average foreign trade of fifty million dollars a year, — as great as Japan’s twenty years ago, and one fifth that of China to-day. Though our knowledge of the natural resources of the Philippines is still vague, the general opinion is that in natural resources they will compare favorably with any part of the Far East. And we may believe that, under honest government, peace and order will reign, and within a score of years, under the protection of the United States, they may become a commercial rival of Japan.

The opening of this group of islands as a foreign market of increasing purchasing power, as a goal for our commerce and navigation on the Pacific, comes when a large and increasing foreign market seems to this country, as it has seemed to European Powers, an absolute necessity not only for industrial prosperity, but for mitigating the conflict between labor and capital.

With China already partly partitioned between Russia, Germany, and France, after their colonial system in the antiquated interest of colonial monopoly; with Great Britain and Japan also sharers of China, but on the principle of the “ open door,” — that is, all nations to trade on equal terms, — we are brought face to face with two radically different policies for colonial dependencies. To the people not only of the Philippines, but of China, the question involved by these two divergent policies is momentous, involving the destiny of quite a fifth of the world’s inhabitants. That question is whether they shall be the slaves of commercial monopoly under Russian, German, and French task - masters, or whether they shall be open to modern life and thought on the “ open door ” system of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

We can well understand how the partition of China has been arranged on the doctrine of equivalents, and how an equilibrium has thus been created. But, assuming that Spain permanently loses the Philippines, who is to take control ? It is evident that the apparent equilibrium between England, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan would be entirely destroyed by adding the Philippines to the holdings of either of those five Powers, and this would bring grave controversy, if not war, against the recipient, from the other four Powers. There seems but one thing that can avert this terrible result, namely, the advent of a new first-class Power in the Far East, which is on terms of perfect friendship with all five Powers.

Whether we like it or not, of all the nations of the world to-day, the United States is the only Power which can take these islands and develop them without disturbing the politico-commercial equilibrium in the Far East.

When we look back upon the bureaucratic methods adopted by the continental Powers in colonization, and see how little of genuine civilization has accrued to their colonies ; when we compare this meagre exhibit with the steady and noble progress of every Anglo-Saxon state, territory, colony and dependency — whether Caucasian or of lower race — in all that makes man happy, prosperous, and progressive, the victory at Manila does seem as an awakening of the Philippines, and such an awakening as may hasten the spread throughout eastern Asia of the blessings of modern civilization.

What is the grand central Anglo-Saxon idea in the founding of states ? It is first of all, and above all, that government is organized, according to the condition of the people to be governed, for a single practical purpose, and that purpose is to establish peace, law, and equity; so that, under it, all men shall be equal before the law and shall have equal justice ; that all men shall be at peace with one another under the law, and shall enjoy equal protection in accumulating and using their property ; that there shall be no military overlord or military caste to tyrannize over the plain men of the people ; that there shall be no religious overlord or religious caste to tyrannize over their souls ; that the poor and unfortunate shall not become outcasts, and their children after them ; that public education shall be freely dispensed as a means of uplifting men’s souls and lives and making them good citizens, — self-respecting and intelligent, and able to take a constantly increasing part in the affairs of government.

The Anglo-Saxon of to-day is the product of a thousand years of continuous effort to make brave and honest men. For centuries we have practiced the art of self-government, until to govern has become an instinct, and to be self-governed a habit. To us power means opportunity to help others ; it also means responsibility, not to man only, but to God, for the wise use of the power thus given us. And for this reason we are especially fitted to act as trustees and guardians of inferior races, and peculiarly qualified to fit them eventually to govern themselves. That this is very truth, compare India and Egypt to-day with what they were before the advent of their AngloSaxon rulers.

Horace N. Fisher.

  1. Federalist, xi.
  2. The status of the Suez Canal, being an Egyptian and therefore a Turkish question, was recognized as of general European interest, and, after much fruitless negotiation, the canal was neutralized by the convention of 1888 between the six great Powers, to which Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands subsequently became parties by accession. But let it be distinctly noted that this neutralization was accounted a European question, and that every one of the signatory Powers (except Austria) had colonies in Asia or Africa, to which this canal was a necessary waterway, — the shortest line of approach. On the other hand, the European Powers which had no colonies to be reached by the Suez Canal were not parties to the convention. The German canal from Kiel on the Baltic to the North Sea, the Caledonian canal across Scotland, the canal across the Isthmus of Corinth, and the projected French canal from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean — all ship canals — are considered local, and not of general European interest.
  3. For a similar reason, the construction of an American Isthmus canal, whether at Nicaragua or at Panama, cannot be claimed to be a European question, or in any way under the control of the concert of Europe. On the contrary, it is purely an American question, for the same reason that the Suez Canal is purely a European question.
  4. Professor T. J. Lawrence, International Law, § 136.
  5. Professor T. E. Holland, European Concert.