The United States and the Control of the Tropics

THE editor of The Atlantic Monthly has written me the following letter : —

“ In your suggestive volume on the control of the tropics you declare it futile that any first-class world-power should hope in the future to fold its hands and stand aloof from the tropics. You say that there can be no choice in the matter, and that with the filling up of the temperate regions and the continued development of industrialism, rivalry for the trade of the tropics will be the largest factor in the era upon which we are entering. You declare that, by reason of past experience, we have now come face to face with the following conclusions regarding the tropics : —

“ ‘ The ethical development that has taken place in our civilization has rendered the experiment once made to develop their resources by forced native labor no longer possible, or permissible, even if possible.’

“ ‘ We have already abandoned, under pressure of experience, the idea, which at one time prevailed, that the tropical regions might be occupied and permanently colonized by European races, as vast regions in the temperate climes have been.’

“ ‘ Within a measurable period in the future, and under pressure of experience, we shall probably also have to abandon the idea, which has in like manner prevailed for a time, that the colored races, left to themselves, possess the qualities necessary to the development of the rich resources of the lands they have inherited.’

“ The only method left, therefore, in your opinion, is that the tropics must be governed from a base in the temperate regions; and, in particular,—and in this you make a new departure,—be governed by the nations which undertake such work as a trust for civilization. This solution of the problem of the tropics Great Britain has begun to make in the case of Egypt. But Great Britain is already a world-wide empire, and has developed by long experience the methods and machinery for exercising such control.

“ You refrain, in your book on the control of the tropics, — no doubt purposely, — from saying whether, in your judgment, the United States has incurred obligations by her victory over Spain to take a share in the development of the tropics, and whether the United States is politically able to enter upon such a career. The body of opinion in the United States that opposes a policy of expansion bases its objections on these three propositions: (1) that the traditions of the United States are directly and strongly opposed to a policy of expansion, and have been so opposed from George Washington’s Farewell Address to the present time ; (2) that a dangerous if not an insuperable practical difficulty to a policy of expansion is found in the inefficient civil service of the United States ; and (3) that the control of colonies is illogical for the United States, because such a policy directly contradicts the fundamental proposition on which the republican form of government rests, — that it shall consist only of self-governing commonwealths. In view of these objections, do you hold that the United States could safely enter upon a policy of expansion ? ”

The questions asked in this letter are so very important, and bear so closely upon a great public issue about which it is the right and duty of the people of the United States alone to express a direct opinion, that I feel some difficulty in replying to them. Let me take the propositions in order, and deal first with the policy of expansion. I have recently been traveling over a large part of the United States, particularly in the West. I have been as far west as the Pacific coast, passing over two main lines of communication, out one way and back another, stopping at various places, and living amongst the people a good deal. On this subject of expansion I talked with the people generally. It was impossible to avoid the subject. I was struck by two great bodies of opinion, as I might call them, on the question of expansion. One of these I might describe as being a sort of unreasoning body of opinion; that is to say, it has not been reasoned out. It takes the shape in the popular mind of a pronounced and even intense feeling that in this matter of expansion the duty of the United States is clear. Ask the farmers and business men in the West why the course which they propose is the duty of America. They will give no direct reason or logical reason, as far as I could find out. But they are, nevertheless, perfectly decided about one thing, and that is “that this thing has got to be done.” You ask, “ What thing ? ” and they reply, “ Why, that America should keep a stiff upper lip to the world ; should hold that which she has not sought, but which has come to her ; should keep what she has got.” She must, in short, in a favorite phrase, be “ true to her own destiny.”

Now that is one body of opinion. There is also another great body of opinion, largely prevailing amongst the reasoning classes in the United States. Many men of this class undoubtedly hold strongly that the government is about to embark upon a very responsible experiment, — perhaps an experiment in which there is a considerable element of danger.

With regard to the first body of opinion, which is a serious force it seemed to me in most places, I tried to explain to myself what this feeling is which finds expression as “the destiny of America” now to be carried forward in a policy of expansion. I can only put the matter in the shape in which it has presented itself to my own mind.

To get at the underlying meaning of that great phase of world-development which is now culminating in the United States, it would appear to be necessary to go a little distance back into the past: we must take up the threads of European history. As European history is coming to be understood at the present day, there is a principle which is gradually emerging into the view of the student, and growing clearer and clearer even to the general mind. If we look back over a short period it may perhaps fail to attract attention, but when we extend the view over a few centuries there can be no mistaking it. At first sight this historic principle of development or principle of movement in European affairs may be described as the gradual movement of power northward ; when it is regarded more closely, it is possible to see that it is something more than this. Underneath all the outward national quarrels of Europe there has been going on for centuries what is really a struggle between what we might call the Latin type of civilization, represented by the southern races, and that type of civilization which has been developed in northern Europe.

We first catch sight of it early in the history of the German Empire. It may be seen there how German unity was a sort of ideal which the German people had put before them a long way back in the centuries; how the German people sought to realize that ideal; and how the German people were constantly thwarted by a set of influences from southern Europe, in which at first the influence of Spain, and later the influence of Austria, predominated. It has been only in our own time that the ideal of German unity has been realized, and the rise of Prussia becomes, as Professor Acton sees it, the most significant historical phenomenon in the history of modern Continental Europe. Again, we see Spain joined in a tremendous world - struggle with the Dutch. It is impossible to read Motley’s History of the Dutch Republic without vividly feeling what a momentous struggle it was, and with what cost to the Netherlands it was waged. Although the Dutch emerged from it eventually victorious, and were for some time afterward a leading power in Europe, much of the life - blood of the people had certainly been sacked.

Finally the conflict may be observed in its last and most significant phase. To take up the threads we must go a little distance back to where we find Spain confronting England in Elizabethan times, with apparently an overwhelming advantage on the side of the former country. Slowly the outwardly stronger power goes down, and toward the end of the eighteenth century it is France, with Spain behind her, which stands confronting England throughout the world. Even yet historians have scarcely fathomed the meaning of the great struggle that culminated in what is known as the Napoleonic wars. Up to recent times Professor Seeley has probably been the only English historian who has risen to the philosophical position of seeing that that contest was in reality a duel, in which France, with Spain behind her, had joined with England for the future of the world, — a duel in which the real issue was whether Latin civilization or that kind of civilization with which England had become identified was to be predominant. The whole Napoleonic era, as Seeley puts it, was but a struggle against the world-expansion of the English principle, and “Napoleon tried to conquer the whole continent of Europe because he realized that he could not otherwise conquer England.”

The cost of the conflict to England was enormous. It is impossible to give figures which would bring home to the mind the real extent of the sacrifices made. Toward the close of the war Great Britain’s population was about 17,000,000. But before peace was restored that comparatively small nation, at a period when money was very scarce and of higher value than it is now, had incurred a national debt of about $4,000,000,000.

It is not yet perceived in America that one of the principal results of this prolonged struggle has been, not the secession of the United States from England, which was but an incident and of the nature of a development, but rather that the North American continent of the present day speaks English, and not French; and that the immense inheritance of that continent belongs to the type of civilization which the United States now represents, and not to any other type.

But to present the history of this development in its next chapter we have to take a large canvas; for it is necessary to find room for the whole North American continent. Looking at the map of North America immediately before the period when the United States began its career as a nation, we have a remarkable spectacle. A little fringe of English-speaking people, some 5,000,000 in number, occupied the territory along the Atlantic seaboard. The French occupied the broad hinterland of the Mississippi Valley. The Spaniards were in possession in the south; they held also the great territories along the Pacific seaboard. This Englishspeaking territory is little more than a patch on the map, surrounded by territories belonging to one or other of almost all the leading powers of Europe. Yet we look again toward the end of the nineteenth century, and a wonderful transformation has taken place ; a later and vaster chapter of the world-movement, of which we had the opening chapters in another hemisphere, has been enacted. North, south, west, from Atlantic to Pacific, from seaboard to seaboard, the great wave of English-speaking civilization has flowed, submerging, nay, obliterating all other forms. Not a square mile of territory, once won, has ever been given back. The meaning of Washington’s Farewell Address, delivered when the United States contained only about 6,000,000 people, surrounded on every side by hostile powers and hostile natural conditions, appears to be lost when the 6,000,000 have grown to 70,000,000, and are already reckoning the day when they will be 200,000,000. The people whom Henry Adams described as living at the beginning of the nineteenth century " in an isolation like that of the Jutes and Angles of the fifth century ” have tamed a continent, have covered it with a vast network of the most magnificent railroads in the world, have grown to be the largest and most homogeneous nation on the face of the earth, with a great world-movement behind it, and certainly a great world-part in the future before it. It is because the man in the Western states to-day, in a dim instinctive way, realizes these things, because he has himself been in the midst of this development, and has even been a factor in it, that he seems to be willing to take the risks which more theoretical minds hesitate at. That was the answer which I gave myself. To look closer at the matter is only to have the importance of it brought home with increased force.

The struggle above described has been going on ever since, and it is but the last phase of it that we have had in America in the recent war with Spain. Yet the conditions are slowly changing. A leading factor in the future history of the world is that it is the probable destiny of the United States, at no distant time, to become the leading section of the English-speaking world ; nay, not only that, but to become the leading worldpower of the next century. Now, if the United States is going to be a great worldpower in the next century, it would seem to be almost impossible to conceive that it will be able to escape the effect of its connection with what are really world-principles, and these world-principles will involve very important relationships to the world in the future. The first matter with which it will undoubtedly be concerned is the trade of the world.

It is not possible to conceive the North American continent as occupied by perhaps 200,000,000 people in the near future, without considering these inhabitants as having behind them a world-trade. Some persons seem to think that a country may have an export trade without an import trade. It is an economic law that even that is impossible. When we come to look at the world of the present day, it may be seen at once that most of the developments that have gone on in the past have been those which have taken place in the temperate regions. We of the more vigorous races have been occupied during the last century or two with colonizing, spreading ourselves over, and taming the temperate regions of the world. That era, it would seem, will not last much longer ; it is slowly but surely coming to a close. Within a time which many of us will live to see, the American continent will be settled up ; it is very nearly settled up already, in the agricultural sense. The next era of expansion, which we are almost in the midst of, is the great era of industrial expansion, manufacturing expansion, — an era of expansion which will undoubtedly bring the United States into very important relations with the trade of the world. The people of the United States will be driven to seek the widest possible outside market for their industrial productions ; they must be able to buy raw material in outside markets; and they will have behind them, as they will come to realize more and more clearly, a great history, for they will be the leading representatives of definite principles in the development of the world.

Now let us see what this trade means. It would seem that there can be little doubt that the trade of the world in the future will be largely a trade with the tropics. The tropics are naturally the most richly endowed portion of the world. Under proper conditions of administration, the possibilities of production in the tropics are immensely greater than the possibilities of production in the temperate regions. Even with the extremely unfavorable conditions which at present prevail in the tropics, as I have elsewhere tried to show, our civilization already rests to a large extent on its trade with the tropics. As regards America’s share in this trade, I may repeat here the analysis that I have already made in my little volume : —

Looking down the import list [of the United States] for 1895, and taking the fifteen heads under which the largest values were imported, we find that they include some two thirds of the total imports of the United States. A glance at the principal commodities is sufficient to show to what an enormous extent the produce of the tropics is represented. Here the two items which stand at the top of the list are coffee and sugar, of which the imports were valued at, respectively, $96,000,000 and $76,000,000. The value of the imports of these two articles alone does not fall very far short of one fourth of the total value of the imports of the United States for the year in question. If we add to it the values under three other heads, — namely, (1) india rubber, (2) tobacco, and (3) tea, — we have a total of about $221,000,000. If we endeavor to deal with the whole import list, and seek to distinguish what proportion of the total imports of the United States comes from the region embraced between latitude 30° north and 30° south of the equator, we get a total value of, approximately, $250,000,000 from tropical regions. This is over one third of the entire imports of the United States, the total for the year from all sources being $731,000,000. In the case of the exports of the United States the currents of trade are somewhat different, about forty-seven per cent of the entire export trade being with the United Kingdom. But of the remainder, the export trade to the tropics forms a large proportion, amounting in all to, approximately, $96,000,000.

Adding together, therefore, the exports and imports of the United States, we have a remarkable analysis of the entire trade of the country as follows : —

Trade of the United States in 1895 with the tropics . . . $346,000,000

With the English-speaking world (not including British tropics) 657,000,000

Total with the tropics and English-speaking world. . . .$1,003,000,000

With the rest of the world. . 535,000,000

Gross total. $1,538,000,000

If we exclude consideration of trade within the English-speaking regions, the total trade of the United States with the tropics in 1895 was $346,000,000 as against $535,000,000 with the remainder of the world. This is a very striking and pregnant fact when we consider existing conditions. It must always be kept in view, too, that no nation can remain permanently indifferent to the condition of a country with which it has large and vital trade relations. Although the United States interfered in Cuba in the cause of humanity, it must be remembered that it was the close trade connection of the American people with the island which directly and forcibly compelled the attention of the public mind to what was taking place there. For all these reasons, it seems hard to believe that the traditions of the past, which opposed a policy of expansion on the part of the United States, will operate with the same force in the future.

For the same reason that expansion appears to the Western man to be inevitable, there is a disposition to regard with equanimity the apparently “ insuperable practical difficulty to a policy of expansion in the inefficient civil service of the United States.” One of the most remarkable, and, if I mistake not, one of the most healthy symptoms of public life in America, is a disposition to regard with a cheerful optimism those problems of government which do so much to depress the English observer. As yet, America probably has not taken seriously in hand the treatment of these problems, and the results will likely enough be striking when the task is earnestly undertaken. The United States is the highest, and yet the youngest, of all political organisms in the world, — an organism with a promise and a potentiality behind it of which there has been no previous parallel ; but it has hardly had time to attend to the problems, the slow solution of which has taken hundreds of years in other countries. There seems to be no insurmountable reason why there should not be as efficient a civil service in the United States as there is in England. The principle which has been followed in England has been the keeping of the permanent civil service, abroad even more than at home, apart from the traditions and influences of political parties. In England the one consistent idea which, through all outward forms, has in late years been behind the institution of the higher Indian civil service on existing lines is that, even where it is equally open to natives with Europeans through competitive examination, entrance to it shall be made through a British university. In other words, it is the best and most distinctive product that England can give, the higher ideals and standards of her universities, which is made to feed the inner life from which the British administration of India proceeds.

In the United States, the university system of education has already reached a kind of development which is far in advance of anything that we have in England. There is a magnificent recruiting-ground existing from which to build up a civil service with high traditions of public duty. If the nation rises to the level of the occasion, insists on going straight in this matter from the beginning, there seem to be all the possibilities of the very best results. But it will be necessary to pay salaries adequate to the positions and responsibilities of the officials. In England there is a motto to the effect that “ power must be paid.” If it is not paid by the state, it tends to pay itself, directly or indirectly, from other sources, and to serve the interests, not of the state, but of those who pay it.

As to the question implied in the third proposition I have no right to reply. It is a matter exclusively for the American people. I would point out, however, that in this question the control of colonies by the United States is spoken of. One of the leading principles that I have tried to enunciate in my book on the control of the tropics is that such territories can never be colonies; that the white man can never be acclimatized in the tropics ; that such regions must continue to be permanently peopled by their natural inhabitants ; and that the highest duty of the civilized power that undertakes responsibility in relation thereto is to see that they shall be governed, not in the interest of the governing power, but as a trust for civilization.

As to the logic of the situation, that is also a matter solely for the American people. Yet it is one of the deepest truths of philosophy that the meaning of living things cannot be put into logical formulas. The spirit behind the Constitution of the United States is probably one of the most vital and healthy things in the world ; and yet, under the Constitution itself, there are already the most illogical results. One of the fundamental principles of government in the United States is the assumption of the right of every citizen to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The negro is a citizen of the United States, and yet in some states of the Union he is forbidden to marry a citizen of a different color. The Indian is a ward of the United States, and not a citizen ; and the Chinaman is forbidden a vote. All this is illogical. But it is not therefore wrong ; and the fact remains that the spirit behind the American Constitution is probably one of the healthiest forces in the world. The intense feeling of the Western man that there is a meaning and a reason behind a policy of expansion which cannot be put into formu las — which it is not even necessary to put into formulas — has more in it than appears on the surface ; it may be nearer to the real meaning of things than the most thoroughly reasoned argument. We have not had a more philosophical historian in England than Professor Seeley, certainly none who has understood better the meaning of the principles behind the expansion of the English-speaking races. It was he who, writing about such principles, delivered himself of this remarkable saying: “ In a truly living institution the instinct of development is wiser than the utterances of the wisest individual man.” That is the Western man’s conclusion put into the philosophy of the historian.

Benjamin Kidd.