Reciprocity or the Alternative

EACH year society inclines to accept more unreservedly the theory that war is only an extreme phase of economic competition ; and if this postulate be correct, it follows that international competition, if carried far enough, must end in war. An examination of history tends to confirm this view; and, thus stated, the doctrine concerns Americans, as the present policy of the United States is to force a struggle for subsistence, of singular intensity, upon Europe.

If a stable economic equilibrium could be maintained, so that not only nations, but individuals, should preserve a fixed relation to each other, war might cease. War persists because civilization is always in movement, the energy and direction of the movement depending largely on the exhaustion of old, and the discovery of new mines.

In the last century, the iron and coal of Europe not only sufficed for domestic needs, but formed the basis of her wealth by enabling the continent to build up a manufacturing supremacy. That supremacy is already passing away, and in this century European iron and coal seem likely to be largely superseded by American, since the latter are even now sold at a lower price. Clearly, no such fundamental shifting of values as this change would cause could take place without profound social and political disturbances. Before, however, attempting to deal with the future it is always safer to turn to the past; and especially so in this instance, since the phenomena developed in the last great fermentation which precipitated the long wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries closely resemble those occurring now. Far off as the reign of Louis XIV. may seem, France then trod the pathway which the whole continent of Europe is to-day treading, and the United States must be prepared to reckon with all the difficulties and dangers which beset that pathway’s end.

In the sixteenth century the world’s manufactures and commerce centred in Flanders, and the financial capital of Flanders was Antwerp. At Antwerp the famous house of the Fuggers reached its zenith between 1525 and 1560, and the chief business of the Fuggers was to finance the Spanish Empire. Unfortunately for Antwerp and the Fuggers, the Spaniards broke down under the weight they bore, exchange went against the peninsula, and in 1557 the kingdom became insolvent. Funds had to be obtained, and finally his poverty drove Philip into that radical policy which ended in the revolt of the Netherlands, the sack of Antwerp, and the migration of the seat of international exchanges to Amsterdam. From 1610 onward Amsterdam rose steadily in opulence, while France almost contemporaneously, under Richelieu, entered upon a period of centralization, which ended in 1653, with the collapse of the Fronde. Mazarin died in 1661. Louis XIV. then began his active life, and France soon saw her greatest epoch. Never before or since has France so nearly succeeded in establishing a complete ascendency over the world as in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Louis XIV. was, without comparison, the first potentate of the age ; his army was the largest and the best organized, his generals were the most renowned ; his navy, though perhaps not the most numerous, yielded to none in quality ; his court was the most magnificent, and his capital the most materially and intellectually brilliant. All the world admired and imitated Paris. On the one hand, Molière, Racine, La Fontaine, Bossuet, Fénelon, and many others raised letters and science to an eminence elsewhere sought in vain; on the other, France ruled in fashion even more absolutely than in literature or in arms. As Macaulay has observed : “ Her authority was supreme in all matters of good breeding, from a duel to a minuet. She determined how a gentleman’s coat must be cut, how long his peruke must be; whether his heels must be high or low, and whether the lace on his hat must be broad or narrow. In literature she gave law to the world. The fame of her great writers filled Europe.”

Nevertheless, brilliant as had been her success elsewhere, in one department France betrayed weakness. Her administrative system had been constructed rather on a military than on an economic basis, and though consolidated in the sense that in war the nation obeyed a single will, in commerce she remained almost mediæval. The king occasionally exercised an arbitrary power over his subjects, but on many matters vital to their interests he was, in practice, helpless. The French have been called volatile, but the foundation of their character is a conservatism which has hampered them throughout their history ; and long after the great fiefs had been welded into a martial mass called a monarchy, they remained, for fiscal purposes, foreign communities. In 1664 Colbert proposed to abolish all internal tariffs, and Pierre Clément, Colbert’s biographer, has thus described the customs which then prevailed: —

“ The provinces called the ' five great farms ’ assented. Others who refused, because of their persistence in isolating themselves, were designated under the name of ‘ foreign provinces.’ Lastly, they gave the name of ‘ provinces reputed foreign ’ to a final category. The districts comprised in this category were, in reality, completely assimilated to foreign countries, with which they traded freely without paying any duties. For the same reason, the merchandise they sent into other portions of the kingdom was considered as coming from abroad, and that which they bought paid, on entering their territory, the same duty as if brought from abroad.” 1

Trade languished, for the tariff of Languedoc had no more relation to that of Provence than either had to that of Spain ; and even the provincial tariffs were trifling beside the rates and tolls of towns and baronies. Thirty dues were collected between Lyons and Arles, and Lyons herself taxed a bale of silk three times before it could be used. Merchants complained that the city closed the river. Nevertheless, in spite of conservatism, no people has ever loved lucre better than the French, and this yearning for wealth became incarnate in the great minister of finance of Louis XIV.

Jean Baptiste Colbert, the son of a draper of Rheims, was born in 1619, in humble circumstances. Little is known of his youth, but at twenty he took service as a clerk in the War Department, and in 1651 he passed into the employment of Mazarin. There he prospered, and soon after 1657 had risen high enough to dream of destroying Fouquet.

The farming of the direct taxes formed, perhaps, the most noxious part of a decaying system, and it was in the collection and disbursement of taxes that Fouquet ran riot. Louis himself afterward averred that the “ way in which receipts and expenses were handled passed belief.” Subject to little or no supervision, Fouquet appropriated vast sums. His famous palace of Vaux is said to have cost 9,000,000 livres, and all agreed that it outshone St. Germain or Fontainebleau. France dreamed of becoming the centre of European industries, and Colbert conceived his mission to be the realization of this dream. To attain his end, he proposed to build up manufactures by bounties and grants of privileges; but he also comprehended that to make industries really profitable he must reduce waste. Under Louis XIV. Fouquet embodied the principle of waste : therefore Colbert attacked Fouquet, and rose upon his ruin. When, however, Colbert had attained to power he paused. He improved methods of accounting, but he abstained from cutting out the sore. He did so because, when on an eminence, he saw that existing customs went to the root of contemporary life, and that the reorganization of the administration meant the reorganization of society, or, in other words, a revolution. Hence he paused, yet he could not stand still and maintain himself.

International competition cannot be permanently carried on on a great scale by bounties; for bounties mean producing at a loss. Bounties may be useful as a weapon of attack, but they cannot, in the long run, bring in money from abroad ; for they simply transfer the property of one citizen to another by means of a tax. One nation can gain from another only by cheaper production. If a certain process costs more than another, the assumption of a portion of the cost by the state cannot make the transaction profitable to the community at large, though it may be to the recipient of the grant. The Continental sugar bounties, for example, have doubtless been successful in enfeebling England by ruining her colonies, and they have also enriched the makers of beet sugar, but they have never, probably, been lucrative to France or Germany.

Like any other corporation, a nation can run at a loss as long as its own savings last, or as long as it can borrow from others ; and now accumulations are so large that a country like Russia can maintain itself long on loans. In the seventeenth century accumulations were comparatively slender, and Colbert came quickly to the parting of the ways. He understood that to simplify the internal organization of the kingdom sufficiently to put it upon a footing of competitive equality with Holland or England would involve the reconstruction of society; yet to continue manufacturing on the existing basis, which entailed a loss, could only be made possible by means of loans, for the people were sinking under taxation. Colbert judged that he could not borrow safely upon the necessary scale, and thus the minister, very early in his career, found himself forced to make the choice which, under such conditions, must always, sooner or later, be made, between insolvency, revolution, and war. If left undisturbed, the mechanism which operates cheapest will in the end supplant all others; and this fundamental truth Colbert learned to his cost. In three years after he had entered upon his task he had broken down. In 1664 he formulated a scheme, part of which was a liberal tariff, and part the simplification of internal fiscal usages. He dared not press his reform, and as waste continued, his whole policy fell, and with it fell his industrial system. The cost of production remained higher in France than in Holland, — therefore commercial exchanges went against the kingdom; and in 1667, to correct exchanges and prevent a drain of specie, Colbert resorted to a prohibitive tariff, or, in the words of his biographer, tried the experiment of " selling without buying.”

This course struck at the life of Holland. Holland being the distributing centre of Europe, her prosperity depended on keeping open the avenues of trade. If she allowed foreign countries to be closed against her, while her market remained free, she might be suffocated by the bounty-fed exports of France. Germany has recently suffocated the West Indies by identical methods. The Dutch understood the situation perfectly, and Van Beuningen thus explained his views in a letter to John de Witt: “ Since the French exclude all the manufactures of the United Provinces, means must be found, as complaints are useless, to prevent them from filling the country with theirs, and thus draw from us our quick capital.”

Colbert pondered the crisis long and anxiously, and deliberately decided that it would be cheapest to cut the knot by war. In his letters Colbert discussed the situation in all its bearings, and dilated upon his disappointments and mortifications. In 1669 he lamented the stagnation of French commerce. He estimated that out of the 20,000 ships doing the traffic of the world, the Dutch owned 15,000 or 16,000, and the French 500 or 600, at most. The final blow, which is said to have almost broken his heart, came in 1670, when, just as the French East India Company admitted itself to be practically insolvent, the Dutch Company divided forty per cent. From that moment Colbert recognized peaceful competition as impossible, and nerved himself for war. In May, 1672, Turenne crossed the frontier at the head of a great army, and the campaign opened which is the point of departure for all subsequent European history down to Waterloo.

Nor was the action of Colbert exceptional. On the contrary, he obeyed a natural law. Every animal when cornered will fight, and every nation always has fought and always will fight when sufficiently pressed, each choosing those weapons which it deems aptest. The French chose arms, and in this case they were justified by the apparent probabilities of a conflict.

If it be conceded that war is a form of economic competition, war must be regarded as a speculation; a hazardous one, it is true, but one deserving to be tried, where the chance of gain outweighs the risk of loss. To Colbert it seemed, in 1672, that he risked little, and might win much.

His deadliest enemy lay before him, rich and defenseless. There could be no doubt as to the value of the spoil, should Louis prevail. Amsterdam was opulent. As late as the time of Adam Smith, the Bank of Amsterdam held the position occupied by the Bank of England during the last century, while the commerce of the country exceeded that of all the other nations combined. Furthermore, if Holland was rich, she was peaceful. The navy still retained its energy, but the population had become urban, and not only was the army small, but of questionable courage. Lastly, the Dutch were divided among themselves, and torn between the Orange and the De Witt factions.

Conversely, Louis held France as a military unit. His will met with no opposition. His organization far surpassed any then existing. Turenne and Condé had no equals on the field of battle, and every peasant in the kingdom could be called into the ranks. The nobles served from choice. No error could be greater than to attribute the Dutch war to the ambition of Louvois or the arrogance of the king. The campaign was Colbert’s campaign. He conducted it as a speculation to save the money already invested in trade, and to place France where she could profitably invest more. He calculated on operations lasting a few weeks or months ; he doubted not of final success. Nor at first was resistance attempted. The Dutch troops fled or surrendered; the towns opened their gates. In June it seemed that Amsterdam must fall. Scandal even asserted that nothing saved Amsterdam but the jealousy of Louvois, who feared that an immediate peace might exalt Colbert too far. Colbert, on his side, felt the victory won, and in those days of triumph laid bare the recesses of his heart. In a memorandum submitted to the king he explained the use to be made of victory. The paper may be read in Colbert’s Letters and Memoirs, but in substance he proposed to confiscate the best of the Dutch commerce, and to exclude the Dutch from the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, France did not triumph. In July William of Orange became stadtholder, opened the dikes and laid the country under water. Six years later Colbert purchased peace, not only by the surrender of the tariff on which he had staked his hopes, but by accepting a provision in the treaty of Nimeguen stipulating that in future freedom of commerce between the two countries should not be abridged.

Thus Colbert failed, and having failed he fell. Louvois succeeded him, as he had succeeded Mazarin and Fouquet; but the preponderance of Louvois meant that France must travel straight to her predestined goal. France failed in 1672, when relatively strongest, because she lacked the flexibility to enable her to shed an obsolete social system. She only succeeded in doing so, after a convulsion, a century later, when it was too late. Had she been able to accomplish in 1670 some portion of what she accomplished between 1789 and 1793, London might not have become the seat of empire during the nineteenth century. Under Louis XIV. French weakness lay in a defective organization which caused waste. That waste made the drain of war insupportable. Had France possessed an economic endurance relatively as great as the endurance of Holland, she would, presumably, in 1672, have absorbed the United Provinces. In that case, resistance by the rest of Europe to Louis would have been difficult. No Dutch stadtholder could have been crowned in England, and no coalition could have been formed such as that which William of Orange afterward devoted his life to cementing. William’s league survived him, and lasted for twenty-five years. It proved profitable. It crushed France and humbled Louis, who, old and broken, sued for peace after the awful fields of Blenheim and Malplaquet. Two years subsequent to the treaty of Utrecht Louis died, and under his successor the monarchy plunged onward toward its doom. At last the monarchy fell, not because it was cruel or oppressive, but because it represented, in the main, a mass of mediæval usages which had hardened into a shell, incompatible with the exigencies of modern life. Under it, a social movement of equal velocity to that which prevailed elsewhere could not be maintained. What Frenchmen craved in 1789 was, not an ideal which we now call “ liberty,” and which consists in certain political conventions, but an administrative system which would put them on an economic equality with their neighbors. De Tocqueville dwelt on this phenomenon forty-five years ago : “ Something worthy of remark is that, among all the ideas and sentiments which have prepared the Revolution, the idea and the taste for public liberty, properly so called, presented themselves the last, as they were the first to disappear.” 2

The foregoing history illustrates the cost at which a new equilibrium is reached, when an old equilibrium has been destroyed. From Colbert’s tariff of 1667 to Waterloo is a period of nearly one hundred and fifty years, almost half of which was consumed in furious wars. The bane of France was the conservatism which caused her to act too late ; for in 1790, when she readjusted her society, she profited comparatively little thereby. Meanwhile, England, had so developed her minerals that in 1800 she undersold France as easily as Holland had undersold her in 1672, and with the same result. Unable to compete by peaceful means, Napoleon resorted to arms, and, like Colbert, sought to starve his rival into submission by excluding her from his dominions, which then comprised most of Europe. He failed as Colbert had failed, and peace followed his fall; but the repose which succeeded Waterloo lasted less than sixty years.

In 1870 another era opened with the consolidation of Germany. The causes of disturbance then set in motion developed acute symptoms in 1890, and now, perhaps, no permanent tranquillity can be attained until the position which America shall henceforward occupy be determined.

Previous to 1890 America had remained chiefly agricultural, buying largely of European manufactures, and paying therefor, in part, in evidences of debt. Her own industries, like those of France under Louis XIV., were then organized on too costly a basis for international competition, and were mostly maintained by a system of bounties under the form of a tariff. After 1870, the economic disturbance in Europe, caused by the rise of Germany, gradually created a stringency in Great Britain ; a liquidation of the English loans in America began, and in 1890 this liquidation assumed proportions which culminated in panic. One method of measuring the pressure to which the United States was subjected during a series of years, and to gauge the change of relations between the eastern and the western continent wrought thereby, is to compare the average yearly payments made on balance by America to foreigners from a date antecedent to the catastrophe of 1893 to the present time.

If three quinquennial periods be taken, beginning with 1887, the first will fall substantially before the crisis of the Baring failure. From 1887 to 1891 the average annual excess of exports over imports amounted to about $44,400,000, a sum certainly not more than sufficient to pay interest due abroad and other like charges. After the failure of the Barings creditors grew pressing, and the balance rose, between 1892 and 1896, to $185,400,000. In 1896 the United States reached the lowest point in her recent history. Her position then somewhat resembled that of France when Colbert adopted his policy of “ selling without buying.” The cost of production being too high, Americans could not export manufactures; agricultural supplies alone proved insufficient to yield the sum demanded of her ; and the country, in that single year, had to part with $78,880,000 in gold. General insolvency seemed imminent. When confronted, in 1667, with stagnating commerce and failing industries, Colbert proclaimed his prohibitive tariff, and finding that this expedient did not correct exchanges, he invaded Holland; but he did not cut the evil he combated at the root, by reorganizing France. In 1897 the United States followed the precedent set by Colbert, so far as the tariff was concerned; but Americans, suppler than Frenchmen, did not go to war. They adopted a more effective method of routing the foe. They readjusted their entire system of industry and transportation, bringing the cost of production of the chief articles of modern commerce below the European level. No success has ever been more sudden or more startling. Between 1897 and 1901 the average excess of American exports over imports has risen to $510,000,000 yearly. The amount tends to increase, and it tends to increase for excellent reasons. Just now America can undersell Europe in agricultural products ; she can likewise undersell Europe in minerals as raw material; she can also undersell Europe in most branches of manufactured iron and steel, beside many minor classes of wares. On the present basis, there seems no reason to doubt that, as time goes on, America will drive Europe more and more from neutral markets, and will, if she makes the effort, flood Europe herself with goods at prices with which Europeans cannot compete.

A moment’s consideration will disclose the gravity of the situation. Whatever may have been, or may still be, the extent of America’s foreign indebtedness, it is certain that, at the present rate of redemption, it must be soon extinguished. Then the time will come when the whole vast burden of payment for American exports will fall upon the annual earnings of foreign nations, at the moment when those earnings are cut down by the competition of the very goods for which they must pay.

The inversion of all that has heretofore existed has been so sudden and complete that society has somewhat lost its bearings ; nevertheless, the feeling of Europe is apprehension, and that feeling is not without rational foundation. Should the movement of the next decade correspond to the movement of the last, Europe will, at its close, stand face to face with ruin. It is safe to assume, therefore, that Europe will not allow present conditions to remain unchanged, any more than France did in 1667, or than America did in 1896.

Three avenues seem open by which relief may be obtained. First, Europe may reorganize herself upon a scale to correspond with the organization of the United States ; but this solution appears doubtful, in view of the decentralization of the continent. Second, the United States may be induced to abandon something of her advantages, and ameliorate the situation of Europe by commercial reciprocity. In other words, the United States may prefer to follow somewhat the same policy which Cobden advocated, as opposed to the policy of Colbert and Napoleon. Lastly, Europe may attack the United States, and attempt to break her down by arms.

In plain English, Europe finds herself in an impasse. She is pressed on every hand. Her soil, never rich, has been tilled until its culture costs more than that of newer land. Hence each country must choose between two alternatives: the farmers may be abandoned to their fate, as in the United Kingdom ; or they may be protected, as in France and Germany. If the farmers should be abandoned, the military population will disappear, as it has disappeared in Great Britain, and food will have to be bought abroad. If the farmers should be protected, the rest of the country must pay higher for its bread and meat. In either case, the loss will correspond to the sum represented by the inferiority of the European soil, and the higher price it bears, as compared with the soil of Argentina or Nebraska.

Prior to 1897, while Europe still held a substantial monopoly in manufactures, this deterioration of agriculture, if not viewed with pleasure, might be contemplated with equanimity. Not so since 1897, when the industrial revolution in North America has brought European mines to a condition of relative exhaustion, and European workshops to a position of relative inferiority. Assuming that a satisfactory social readjustment offers, just now, insuperable difficulties, Europeans see but one method of obtaining relief, should America retain her tariff : that method is to develop regions abroad containing mines capable of vying with those of Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Lake Superior. And it is precisely here that Europe finds herself propelled toward a collision with the United States, because the United States, for her own protection, has devised a mechanism which holds her rival as in a vise.

America’s attack is based not only on her superior resources and her more perfect administration, but on her tariff. To make their gigantic industrial system lucrative, Americans have comprehended that it must be worked at the highest velocity and at its full capacity, and they have taken their measures accordingly. To guard against a check they rely on a practically prohibitive tariff, by which they hope to maintain the home market at a reasonable level; and with the profit thus obtained they expect to make good any loss which may accrue from forcing their surplus upon foreigners at prices with which these cannot cope. No wonder the European regards America as a dangerous and relentless foe; and the fact that Europe has forced on America these measures as a means of self-defense signifies nothing. The European sees in America a competitor who, while refusing to buy, throws her wares on every market, and who, while she drives the peasant from his land, reduces the profits of industry which support the wage-earners of the town. Most ominous of all, he marks a rapidly growing power, which, while it undersells his mines, closes to him every region of the wide earth where he might find minerals adapted to his needs. Lying like a colossus across the western continent, with her ports on either ocean, with China opposite and South America at her feet, the United States bars European expansion. South America and China are held to be the only accessible regions which certainly contain the iron, coal, and copper which Europe seeks ; and the United States is determined that, if she can prevent it, South America and China shall not be used as bases for hostile competition. Regarding South America her declarations are explicit, and during the last twelve months her actions in Asia have spoken more emphatically than words.

Moreover, the German considers the theory of the " open door ” a mockery. The German avers that no man knows so well as the American that China can never be developed until it is administered by western methods, and that it is for this reason that America opposes partition. To make Asia pay, the country must be handled as a whole, — as America is handled, though not perhaps on so extensive a scale. At all events, in each province the mining, transportation, manufactures, police, and taxation must be controlled by Europeans. To attempt to turn Shansi into a Pennsylvania under Chinese rule would mean ruin.

Thus the continent of Europe finds itself pressed somewhat as Colbert found France pressed in 1667, and accordingly Europeans are restive. Evidently, unless all human experience is at fault, that restiveness will grow. Men cannot foresee the future, — they can only reason about it by reference to the past; and as they can never know all the forces in operation, their inferences must contain more or less of error. For example, this year competition appears to be approaching, in intensity, the point of danger ; and yet next year an abundant supply of gold may raise prices, and thereby allay friction for an indefinite period. Yet, speaking generally and without limit of time, the great question of American economic supi’emacy remains to be settled ; and as long as Europe continues armed, that question will not be settled peacefully upon America’s own terms as America is now organized. There must be compromise or war, or else America must be so strong that war is deemed too hazardous to be attempted.

A compromise is a bargain, each side giving as little as it can; but doubtless the United States could make arrangements which would meet the emergency. The policy of England has always been to make such arrangements ; and in this she has differed from France. Free trade as an economic dogma, applicable to all conditions of national life, has been exploded ; but free trade as a form of insurance against hostile coalitions has worked well. England has found free trade cheaper than to arm ; she would certainly find it more advantageous than to fight. No coalition has ever been formed against Great Britain since she became great; for evidently no one will plunge into hostilities, where little is to be made by war, and much by peace. Prussia has long maintained great armaments, and has sometimes made concessions, and sometimes used force. On the whole, Prussia has fared better than any other Continental state. Policy is a matter of judgment.

Americans are apt to reckon on their geographical position as in itself an insurance against war risks, on the principle that, like the tortoise, they are invulnerable if they withdraw within their shell. Such was the case formerly, but is not the case now. On the contrary, in European eyes, America offers the fairest prize to plunder that has been known since the sack of Rome, and, according to European standards, she is almost as unprotected as was Holland before Louis XIV.

First of all, America is valuable not only for what she has herself, but for what she keeps from others; for even without her islands the United States now closes South America and China. Were she defeated, these two vast territories would lie open to division. But more than this, Continental Europeans apprehend that were the United States crushed on the sea, were her islands taken from her, were she shut up within her own borders, all the rest of the world, save the British Empire, would fall to them, and that they might exclude American products at their will. They believe that American society would not stand the strain of the dislocation of the industrial system incident to the interruption of exports, and that disturbances would ensue which would remove all fear of American supremacy. Also, Continental statesmen are not lacking who conceive that England might see more profit in helping to divide the lion’s skin than in binding up his wounds. Nor must it ever be forgotten that, with Great Britain, the success of the European or the American continent is only a choice of evils. America is her most dangerous competitor save Germany and Russia. Great Britain, therefore, at present, holds to America, as the lesser peril; but should, at a given moment, the weight in the other scale of the balance preponderate, England would shift to the side of our antagonist.

Assuming, for the moment, for the sake of argument, that the United States is determined to yield nothing, but is resolved to push all her advantages to the uttermost, it is clear that an attack upon her would be profitable, if it could be made with reasonable hope of success. Europe believes that it could be made with such hope, provided a coalition could be opportunely formed. In this Europeans may be wrong ; but they judge after their own standards, and possibly they may be right.

America has an army of less than 100,000 men, with a short supply of officers, and no reserves either of soldiers or of material. At the mere rumor of war 100,000 men would have to leave the country to garrison Cuba, Porto Rico, the canal, the Philippines, and Hawaii. More ought to go, if more could be obtained. But to send 100,000 men abroad would strip the Union bare. Even the ports would be defended by militia, and no reinforcements would be at hand to supply the waste in the tropics. Such garrisons could hardly stand against the overwhelming mass of troops which could be concentrated against them.

The navy is even feebler, in proportion to the task which would be required of it. The United States has 520.000 tons of warships, built or building. France and Germany have 1,162,000, and France, Germany, and Russia have 1,731,000.

Americans, furthermore, are disposed to assume that no coalition could ever be formed against them. Judging by the past, nothing can be more certain than that coalitions both can and will be formed against them, if they so behave as to make such ventures worth the cost and risk. Combinations always have been made, under such conditions, and probably always will continue to be made. To be opulent, unarmed, and aggressive is to put a premium upon them. An arrangement of this character was, in fact, contemplated in 1898, and is generally believed to have been abandoned only through uncertainty as to the neutrality of England.

Suppose an alliance of two or more powers, of which France were to be one: they would possess an admirable base in the West Indies, in Martinique or Guadeloupe, and also convenient bases in Asia. No station on the whole Asiatic coast is more commanding than Port Arthur, held by Russia. Fleets, therefore, of any size could be concentrated and supplied close to the seat of war, and Europeans compute that ships could be concentrated against us at the least in the ratio of two to one.

Our rivals believe that a couple of defeats secured by overwhelming numbers would settle the war; for ironclads cannot be built in less than two or three years, and they calculate that two or three years of isolation, resulting from the loss of control of the sea, would produce enough domestic unrest to enforce acceptance of their terms. Those terms, they assume, would suffice to insure their future safety.

Such possibilities have not yet been maturely considered in the United States, because the change in the position occupied by the country is recent. Men do not immediately divest themselves of their old prejudices. Nevertheless, Americans are inclined to believe, and with reason, that their country is becoming the modern seat of empire. If this be so, they must accept the dangers and the cost of greatness with its advantages. All situations have their drawbacks.

From 1815 to the Boer war England claimed to be the financial capital of the world, and that claim was admitted. England, consequently, paid heavily to insure herself against attack. She not only maintained a navy supposed to be equal to that of any combination which could probably be formed against her, but, adopting free trade, she bought from all. France proceeded on the opposite theory ; and yet, although France has kept up vast armies, she has been thrice disastrously defeated, twice actually conquered, and has never attained her end.

If a country would live in peace, experience has demonstrated that she must not be too grasping; for excessive greed makes her overthrow a benefit to all, and competitors act accordingly. On the other hand, certain races have felt themselves adapted to win victory in battle, and have prospered ; if the American people, after due deliberation, feel aggression to be for their best interest, there is little to be urged by way of precedent against the logic of their decision.

Men inclining to this attitude can point to history, and insist that no radical readjustment of the world’s economic equilibrium has ever been unaccompanied by war ; and that if war must come, the United States may well face it now. To abandon any advantage would be weakness. The United States is young, strong, rich, and energetic, with an enormous military population. No permanent tranquillity can be hoped for until her supremacy is acknowledged: therefore the course which will enforce that acknowledgment soonest is the cheapest. America is as likely now as she will ever be to emerge victorious from any conflict into which she may enter.

To such reasoning it might be objected that war has proved too uncertain to be hazarded save in extremity, and the failure of the British speculation in the Transvaal might be cited as a warning. But such an argument would savor of an expression of personal opinion on a question of expediency, and this article is confined to an attempt to draw deductions as to fixed social laws from the facts of history.

No one can deny that certain nations have made war profitable : therefore profitable wars will probably occur in the future. Nevertheless, such nations have succeeded because they were military nations ; that is to say, because they made war a business, and waged it better and cheaper than their rivals. In other words, they devoted their energies to fighting, and maintained fleets and armies as we maintain railroads and factories. To conduct hostilities as amateurs is futile, as the English have discovered.

If Americans are determined to reject reciprocity in all its forms, to insist on their advantages, to concede nothing to the adversary; if, having driven in the knife, they mean to turn it in the wound, they should recognize that they are provoking reprisals in every form, and accept the situation with its limitations. To carry out an aggressive policy in some security, the United States needs 300,000 trained men whom she can put in the field in twenty days, with an ample reserve of officers and of material. She needs well-fortified coasts and colonies, and an effective transport service. More especially, she needs a navy. Judging by the example of England, who has always done her best to make her friendship of value, 100 battleships and armored cruisers, equipped and ready for sea, would hardly suffice.

In a word, the experience of ages has demonstrated that alternatives are presented to aspiring nations in regard to the payment they will make for their prize. The one is the alternative of Cobden, the other that of Colbert. There is no middle course. Destruction has awaited the gambler who backs his luck ; the braggart who would be at once rich, aggressive, and unarmed. Such a man or such a nation puts a premium on spoliation. It is only necessary to reflect upon the fate of France in 1870, to accept this inference as true. America enjoys no immunity from natural laws. She can pay for what she takes, or she can fight for it, but she cannot have the earth for nothing. Sooner or later the inexorable tribute will be exacted from her as it has been exacted from every predominant community, from the days of the grandeur of Babylon to those of the glory of London ; for, since time began, no race has won for itself supremacy without paying a price in gold or blood to other races as ambitious and almost as powerful as itself.

Brooks Adams .

  1. Histoire de Colbert, i. 291, 292.
  2. L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, 7th ed. p. 233.