Manifest Destiny in America

“It is neither fatalism nor determinism, but an assumed natural tendency of events, more of less subject to influence by man’s volitional interference.”

‘Manifest destiny’ has long been a favorite catch-phrase with political rhapsodists in the United States, and a rare Fourth-of-July orator is he who feels that it can add nothing to his resources in eloquence. Its character has been cheapened, no doubt, by this association, but it possesses nevertheless a profound significance which fully accounts for its existence and does honor to its originator, whoever he may have been. It is neither fatalism nor determinism, but an assumed natural tendency of events, more of less subject to influence by man’s volitional interference. It’s use, so far as the writer has observed, is limited to the political evolution of the United States, and refers mainly to expansion of the national domain. The classic example is that of the war with Mexico and its resulting territorial changes. As this example furnishes the best illustration of certain principles which it is desired to elucidate in this paper, it will be given first and most particular consideration.

I. The Mexican War

The orthodox view of this very important event, entertained by a considerable section of public opinion, is that the war was unjust, and was forced upon a weaker power for the purpose of acquiring territory, — with a view to the extension of slavery, in the opinion of many. Divested of its net-work of incidental minor controversy, the controlling elements of the case may be stated thus: —

(1) Progress of territorial development had convinced the people of the United States of the importance of extending their domain to the Pacific. To them it was a case of manifest destiny. They believed that the future welfare of the people of this remote region, and the interests of civilization therein, as well as the natural development of their own country, were dependent on this consummation.

(2)The Administration which came into power in 1845 shared this conviction fully, and took active measures for its realization, — that is, for the acknowledgement by Great Britain of our title to the Oregon country, and for the acquisition from Mexico of that portion of its territory lying between northern Texas and the Pacific Ocean.

(3) The United States endeavored to negotiate with Mexico for the purchase, on very liberal terms, of the territory desired from that country, but entirely without success.

(4) The United States then availed itself of the opportunity for war with Mexico afforded by the dispute over the Texan boundary, and carried the war to a speedy and successful conclusion.

(5) As a main condition of peace, the United States demanded a cession of the desired territory, not as a spoil of conquest, but as a transfer for which it paid in cash practically what it had offered to pay in the beginning.

There were at that time, there have been ever since, and there always will be those who consider this proceeding morally indefensible. It is one purpose of the present article to advance and enforce with specific reasons exactly the opposite view: that the obligation of the United States to the world at large, to its own political future, and to the welfare of the people of the territory itself, required it to do this very thing; and that is action, far from being any justification of obloquy or criticism, should rather be considered an example of high responsibility courageously assumed and of imperative duty faithfully performed.

The confusion of thought, both as to fact and motive, upon which the adverse view of this case is based, is well illustrated by the following recent utterance: ‘I applaud the American Revolution, although it was war, because it was courageous resistance against the barbaric attempt of George III to deprive his colonists of certain inalienable rights. I condemn the Mexican War of 1846 because it was made for the purpose of acquiring the territory of Texas by force. We should have obtained it, as we obtained Louisiana from France, or Alaska from Russia, by purchase, or we should not have obtained it at all.’

In matters of fact this statement is misleading and erroneous. The acquisition of Louisiana was just as much the result of war as if conquered by the arms of this country. It was the certainty of its capture by Great Britain, and the urgent need of funds in the war then raging in Europe, which led Napoleon to cede the province to the United States. It is also incorrect to say that the Mexican War was for the purpose of acquiring Texas by force. Texas had already been acquired, and Mexico had decided to acquiesce except as to the disputed strip between the Nueces and the Rio Grande rivers. It is possible also that the author of the above quotation may not know that the United States endeavored to deal with Mexico in the acquisition of its northern territory exactly as it later dealt with Russia in the case of Alaska; but utterly without success.

The really significant part of this citation, however, and the one that goes to the root of the matter here considered, is the proposition that we should have obtained this territory in the same way that we obtained Alaska, ‘or we should not have obtained it at all.’ Let us take ‘L. F. A.’ (and those who think like him) at his word, and inquire where his theory would lead. If we had not ‘obtained it at all,’ — and we could not obtain it by purchase, — one of two things must have happened to this territory: it would have remained with Mexico or it would have become an independent state.1

The first alternative suggests the inquiry: would the interests of the inhabitants of this territory, and those of the rest of the world therein, have been better served if it had remained under the control of Mexico than under that of the United States, or would the reverse have been true? In all things pertaining to the influence of government upon the welfare of a people, a conclusive answer is furnished by the history of Mexico and the conditions which prevail in that country to-day. But entirely aside from this consideration, every substantial interest pertaining to this territory linked it with the republic to the east rather than that to the south. Trade is the life-blood of a people, and the natural trade routes ran east and west. For thirty years before the transfer, the commerce of the only settlement of importance in Northern Mexico, that of Santa Fé, was exclusively with the United States. Intercourse of all kinds naturally lays in this direction, and it necessarily follows that uniformity of laws under which it was carried on, and the absence of frontiers, would be important factors in its prosperous development. It is impossible, from any point of view, to exaggerate the misfortune which a permanent Mexican connection would have been to the commercial and industrial development of all that region. This, the most zealous partisan of Mexico most fully appreciate. Whatever may be one’s opinion of the means by which this territory was transferred to the United States, one must acknowledge that the end was in accord with the best interests of civilization.

Consider now the alternative of an independent state, or more likely two or three such states—particularly California and a Mormon state in the Great Basin. It cannot be admitted that such a result could in any way compare with that of the incorporation of this territory into the union. To the United states it would have been a misfortune of the first magnitude, preventing, as it would, the full rounding out of its continental territory; depriving it of that wonderful Pacific port which had played so great a part in our national development; and interrupting by one or more frontiers all intercourse by land with the extensive region. An independent state of all New England would scarcely be a greater misfortune to the future of our nation.

Entirely apart from the consideration just discussed is the portentous probability that, if things had gone on much longer as they were then going, an independent polygamous state would have developed on our very borders.

But the alternative of a permanent independent status is, after all, inadmissible. While it may be accepted as certain that independence of the coast country would promptly have followed the discovery of gold in California, it is equally certain that independent would have been followed by an effort to annex the territory to the United States, just as had been the case with Texas. There might have been other Alamos and San Jacintos, other Austins and Houstons and Davy Crocketts. There would certainly have been the same almost endless negotiations and congressional debates, very likely a war with Mexico, and probably also a Mormon war. With infinitely more trouble and vexation, and doubtless with greater loss of life, the inevitable result would sooner or later have come about.

Such is our speculation as to the course of events in this territory if we had ‘not obtained it at all,’ or rather if we had given up trying to obtain it direct when we failed to obtain it by purchase. Let us now examine the ethical aspects of the course pursued by the United States, particularly as it relates to Mexico.

In the first place, did Mexico suffer any real wrong by the forced transfer of this territory? and was her attitude in refusing to part with it morally justifiable? Throughout the entire region, nominally under her sovereignty, she exercised almost no authority. Her colonization of it had been insignificant, and future settlement was certain to come mainly from the United States She had not a solitary material interest to compare with those of this country. The compensation offered her would more than liquidate any possible damage, — far more, considering the almost certain loss of the territory through rebellion, with no indemnity but with heavy military outlay. Every consideration of material advantage counseled acceptance of the offer of the United States. The policy of Mexico is insisting upon retention of sovereignty in opposition to the natural trend of events and the undoubted good of all concerned in the future of the country, placed her in the attitude of blocking the pathway of progress for sentimental considerations only. As for justice, in a broad humanitarian sense, it was Mexico that failed in its exercise. The action of the United States was prompted, not by lust of territory, but by the fulfillment of a duty to civilization; that of Mexico, by lust of territory alone.

Technically, however, Mexico was strictly within her rights, and this fact presents a perplexing problem in international ethics. Here were a major and a minor right, the one embracing vital interests of the world at large, the other purely technical and of relatively insignificant importance. It was for the good of civilization that the major right prevail, for the two could not subsist together; yet the agency which enabled it to prevail is indicted before the bar of history for having wronged the holder of the minor right. How is this? The paradox is evidently an outgrowth of that social institution known as title, — title in land, particularly, —which gives to the holder thereof possession against all comers of that portion of the earth’s surface to which it pertains. To the private individual this right becomes a property in the soil which may be bought and sold; to the state it is in the nature of an exclusive jurisdiction. It matters not how the title was obtained; once recognized as legal, it becomes inviolable. With certain specific exceptions, transfer of possession can be accomplished only by the free consent of the owner—as the holder of the title is called. ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?’ Lawful, yes; that is, in strict conformity with the letter of the law. It is nevertheless a technical right which may, and often does, work grave injustice. It is a constant experience that tile stands in the pathway of important development; yet the holder refuses to recede—sometimes, possibly, for fear of injustice, generally as a leverage to pecuniary extortion, not infrequently from motives of jealousy or spite, almost never from an unselfish consideration of the merits of the case. So great is the possibility of evil in this right that society has placed a limited restraint upon its exercise as between private owners and public bodies. This is the power of eminent domain. It does not, however, obtain between private individuals and organizations, or, of course, between sovereign states.

The remarkable force and authority of title, even in defiance of justice and common sense, are probably due to the fact that it is definite and a matter of precise record, known of all men; whereas the right which seeks to displace it is in future, not yet reduced to possession, and still subject to attack or denial. As between the two, however convincing the case may stand for the contingent right, judicial finding must be for the established title, and public opinion naturally inclines the same way. It is felt that arbitrary interference with recorded titles would strike at the sacredness of property and lead to abuses greater than that which it seeks to correct. Except in the limited exercise of eminent domain, therefore, government will not interfere to compel an owner to part with title, and it will interfere to prevent another from attempting by force to compel him to part with it. Thus protection to the private holder in the exercise of this right is well-night absolute.

Between states, as already observed, there is no super-authority, no ‘days-man betwixt us that might lay hands upon us both.’ The sovereign holder of title cannot be compelled by any outside authority to transfer it to another; at the same time there is no such authority to prevent an attempt by that other to compel a transfer by resort to force. But coercion is always a perilous expedient, because the burden of proof is against it, and the case must be so clear as to carry conviction of rectitude of purpose. That resort to such extreme measures may be justifiable cannot be denied. It may be a positive duty to civilization for a state to give up certain territory; but, through a false pride, nations rarely admit such an obligation, and generally consider it more honorable to cede territory as a result of defeat in war than to bargain it away by peaceful negotiations. That is one reason why transfers of territory are so generally a moving force in all wars.

Akin to this veneration for the sanctity of title is sympathy for the weak as against the strong. If the basis of such sympathy be that the weak are not fitted to withstand the same adversity as the strong and still survive, and are therefore, in charity, entitled to greater consideration, no criticism can be made. But if it be that weakness is a presumption of justice, and strength of injustice, then it is contrary to the experience of mankind. Authority, wealth, and power, mean responsibility; and responsibility inculcates the practice of fair dealing. The absence of these qualities often has the contrary effect. Relying on popular sympathy, the weak are tempted to impose upon the strong, and undoubtedly, as between the two, an impartial verdict would be that they are the lesser sufferers from injustice. Under-dogism, as a motive of action, is liable to grave abuses.

We take the ground, in this Mexican War case, that the government acted for the good of civilization, and that the real question of ethics involved is whether it clearly understood the importance of its action at the time, and took the step on this higher ground, rather than from mere lust of territory. We believe that historic evidence supports absolutely the first hypothesis. The greatness and value of the results to flow from this course were as clear to our people then as they are now after the lapse of three score years and ten. They foresaw with unerring prescience what ought to be and what they believed must be. Geographical relations, the progress of settlement, the irresistible trend of events, all pointed to one conclusion. Says Niles’ Register for December, 1845: No man can shut his eyes to the results of the current of emigration, now but commencing, but which will be as impetuous and overwhelming as has been the wave of emigration for the last century from east to west, and which no human power could have arrested, and which it would be but folly now to attempt to arrest. The Mexican government cannot fail to appreciate this progress, and it would be unwise not to avail itself of a price now for what in a very short time will inevitably pass from her control, whether she will or no.’

The distinguished German-American historian Von Holst, though pronounced in his condemnation of the policy of President Polk, nevertheless admits in full force the doctrine of manifest destiny as applied to this case. ‘It was not only natural,’ he says, ‘but it was an historical necessity, that, with the growing consciousness and the progressive activity of its creative powers, it [the United States] should set itself broader and higher tasks.’ And again he says approvingly, ‘The majority of the American people thought it right that, after all other methods had proved unavailing, the President should seek to obtain by force what the manifest destiny of the Union imperatively required.’

The statesmen of that day understood the situation thoroughly. President Polk understood it, and the question was how the great purpose could be accomplished. Delay, postponement, might defer, but could not permanently avoid, the issue. It was bound to come, and with increased embitterment the longer it was put off. The true interests of humanity required that it be settled then and there; and it is everlastingly to the credit of the President that he did not shrink before the mighty responsibility, though he knew full well that, among his contemporaries and down through posterity, there would always be those who would impugn his motives and seek to becloud with obloquy the greatness of his achievement.

And in all our national history no other event has been more quickly and more completely justified in its results. When we recall that two weeks before the treaty of peace was signed, gold was discovered in California (though of course the event was not known in the East until months afterward); and when we consider the possibility, nay the certainty, of international complications if this event, with its prodigious results, had transpired while the territory was still under the nominal sovereignty of Mexico; and when we further consider the narrow margin by which we escaped the formation of an independent neighboring state founded on a social system repugnant to our civilization, — surely it seems as if the hand of Providence must have been in the work.

Aside from the ethical aspect of the case, some may doubt the wisdom of so extreme a measure as war to accomplish the desired end. So far as the United States was concerned, the sacrifice, except in the loss of life, was justified a thousand times over. The benefits which have resulted transcend all estimate. As to loss of life, there is no criterion to judge by, and there can never be. Is a given result worth the sacrifice of one life, two, or a hundred? Who would dare say? Before the Civil War, who would have ventured to assert that emancipation and the preservation of the Union were worth a million lives? The answer to such questions must always be evaded. It can never be assumed that a certain number of lives are to be sacrificed, or are a proper price to pay for any end. A purpose has to be accomplished—it may be the building of a tunnel, the development of a great mine, the digging of a Panama Canal, the making of war. It is almost certain that loss of life will ensue, but the purpose cannot be balked on that account, and the contingency is never capable of being reduced to definite calculation. The possibility and the danger simply operate to impose greater caution in embarking upon perilous enterprises, and particularly to make governments consider well the momentous step of war before it is definitely resolved upon.

At this point we may observe that, in situations like the one just discussed and the one next to be considered, war—that is, coercion, whether it comes to armed conflict or not—finds its supreme justification. When intrigue enthrones itself in government counsels, exalting self-interest above the public interest; when narrow-mindedness, slavishness to precedent, mediocrity of vision, enmesh the wheels of progress until they cannot turn; when pseudo-statesmanship in whatever guise ties up affairs of state in a hopeless Gordian knot, it may be the glittering steel of war that alone can cleave the knot, set free imprisoned energies, and let man’s work proceed. For the deadly blight of obstructionism, be it wanton or ignorant, there is no remedy so effective as that which the Prince of peace applied to the fruitless fig tree: ‘Behold, these years I come seeking fruit on this tree, and find none; cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’

II. Panama

Consider now the case of Panama. Doubtless it occurred to Balboa, four hundred years ago, when he realized how narrow and how low, comparatively, was the strip of land which separates the two oceans in that vicinity, that sooner or later an artificial waterway between them would be provided. From that day to this a canal has been the manifest destiny of the Isthmus. Gradually, from the dreams of enthusiasts, the schemes of diplomacy, the efforts of private individuals, the expenditure of undetermined millions, and the loss of thousands of lives, another aspect of the destiny of the Isthmus became manifest: namely, that private effort was unequal to the task; that government alone could accomplish it. The restrictions of unwritten international law precluded European nations from the undertaking, and inadequacy of resources precluded all American nations but one. Thus, within the past quarter of a century, it has become recognized throughout the civilized world that the great task of piercing the Isthmus with a canal must be performed by the United States. Manifest destiny lay clearly in that direction. The United States accepted the obligation; diplomacy, long and laborious, cleared the way; investigation, infinite in detail, determined the best route and the best type of canal; negotiations, complicated and involved, settled the financial considerations for work already done and for rights and privileges which had to be extinguished or acquired.

It was upon the very threshold of inauguration of this grand enterprise on behalf of the whole world that a minor state, acting within the letter of technical right, planted herself directly across its pathway. It is not intended to enter here into a consideration of the merits of Colombia’s present case against the United States, for that question is now before the American Senate and will presumably be thoroughly sifted until an equitable decision is reached. It will be assumed, for the purpose of this discussion, that the facts upon which our government acted were substantially what it then believed them to be, as set forth in its various official pronouncements; and upon this assumption, the ethical aspect of this case will be considered.

In the first place, in whom resided the paramount right pertaining to this proposed waterway? The answer must be: in the world at large. Such a waterway, once built, would be used by every maritime state on the globe, and the commerce of the whole world would be affected by it. The interests of Colombia, though substantial and important, were the merest bagatelle in comparison. The right to establish a canal across the Isthmus was clearly a world-right, with which no state by virtue of technical sovereignty of the soil, had any moral right to interfere. It is doubtful if the nations would have permitted Colombia herself to build this canal—if she had otherwise been able and willing—without explicit understanding beforehand as to the adequacy of the work and the regulations governing its future use. The accidents of fortune had placed the site of the canal route under the sovereignty of Colombia.2 Technically she could prevent the construction of such a work altogether. But would the world have permitted the exercise of any such right? Assuredly not. Probably no one will deny the duty of a resort to coercion under that supposition. It would be necessary that might make right prevail—the real, as against a technical, right. But if this obligation is admitted under the extreme hypothesis assumed, can it be denied in the case of any lesser act of obstruction which should be in itself unreasonable, unjust, or onerous, or fraught with unnecessary delay? Again, assuredly not.

What was Colombia’s moral duty in this matter, as distinguished from her technical right? Every consideration of justice and fairness should have prompted her to facilitate the work to the utmost of her ability. She was unable to do it herself, yet it was pregnant of great advantage to her. The mere presence of such a gigantic work upon her soil would of itself be an inestimable asset. The concentration of shipping in her waters would react advantageously upon her commercial development. Her two five-hundred-mile stretches of coast-line, east and west, separated by the whole circumference of South America, would be brought into immediate juxtaposition. Colombia would be a great beneficiary of this work, and it was clearly her duty to aid in its accomplishment. She had no right to consider her consent as such aid, for she had no moral right to withhold such consent. The very least that she could do would have been to grant a free right of way, with such control as would be necessary to the nation building the canal. From any possible standpoint of equity and justice, the cash contribution, if there were to be any, should have been from Colombia to the state which was going to the prodigious expense of building the canal. Instead of this, Colombia demanded, and (in the interests of harmony, no doubt) was granted, a cash contribution by that state. Its sufficiency need not be discussed, for according to any equitable consideration there should have been no payment at all. The Hay-Herran Treaty erred, if at all in this matter, in excess of generosity to Colombia.

Although the treaty was negotiated with the apparent approval of the Colombian government, and necessarily with its full knowledge of the essential features, it was unanimously rejected when it came to ratification by the Colombian Senate. This occurred about ten months after the treaty was signed, at which time the Colombian Congress adjourned, not to meet again for a year, and the matter was hung up at least for that period with every prospect of interminable delay afterward. The ostensible reason assigned was refuted by the document itself. The real reason, as believed by the American government at the time, and as firmly believed still by those instrumental in the negotiations, was a determination to extort a larger payment. Our government regarded Colombia’s attitude as no better than that of an attempted hold-up to which no nation could in honor submit.

An actual situation had now arisen in which a major right was in direct conflict with a minor and technical right. Colombia was interposing unjust, unreasonable, and, from our point of view, dishonorable obstacles, with every prospect of long and vexatious delay, international complications, and possible complete failure of the enterprise. A vast expenditure had already been made by the United States; with infinite study a course of action had been determined upon; the government was ready to proceed. What, then, was its duty in the obvious impasse that had arisen? There is no right of eminent domain among nations. The United States had made every reasonable concession to the holder of technical sovereignty, but without avail. It is submitted that in this situation duty and honor required the United States summarily to brush Colombia aside and proceed with the work assigned to it.

This, as we understand it, was the view of the administration at the time, and it was about to recommend drastic action against Colombia direct, when events developed which made such measures unnecessary. The Province of Panama, exasperated by the policy of the mother country, revolted and declared its independence. The United States, by virtue of treaty rights, forbade the transport of troops across the Isthmus and any armed conflict along the line of the Isthmian railway. This effectually prevented the Colombian government from suppressing the rebellion, even if it had otherwise been able to do so; the Panama Republic was promptly recognized by the United States and the leading nations of the world; a canal treaty was entered into with the new state; the construction of the Canal was at once begun and was carried to triumphant completion.

This decisive result was, of course, due to coercion by the United States upon Colombia—no less so, though less directly, than if war had been declared upon that state. It is a fact not to be denied or glossed over, but to be openly commended. Then and there the vexed question was settled forever, and the world is to-day—to-day, not in the indefinite future—reaping the benefit of the completed work. Yet amid the chorus of universal acclaim for this greatest engineering feat of all time, the voice of criticism—nay, even of calumny—is heard for those who were its pioneers. But what matters it? The work itself is a sufficient answer, and the ships which are passing to and fro are a silent and everlasting vindication.

III. The Imperial Valley

We have considered two historic examples—faits accomplis, so to speak. It is not generally realized that there exists on the American border to-day a similar situation, which, though less important in the area of territory and magnitude of interests involved, is even the line of action which must be taken.

Five years after the close of the Mexican War, the United States negotiated with Mexico, on friendly and equitable terms, the acquisition of an additional strip of territory which exploration had shown to be necessary for a southern railroad route entirely north of the boundary. This cession embraced about 45,500 square miles, all of it east of the Colorado River. If physical conditions in contiguous territory had been known then as they are now, undoubtedly the purchase would have included an additional 2500 square miles lying mainly on the west side of the Colorado. Within this territory is what is now known as the Imperial Valley, of which nearly every one has vaguely heard, but of the remarkable nature of which very little is generally known.

In the not remote geologic past, the Gulf of California extended northwesterly some 200 miles farther inland than at present, — far into what is now the State of California. In the course of time the Colorado River, a large stream and a very heavy silt-carrier, built a dam by its deposits clear across the Gulf, cutting off entirely the upper portion, which was thus changed from a body of salt water to a fresh-water lake. Finally, as a result of the long exclusion of the river, which for centuries has flowed directly into the Gulf, evaporation emptied the lake and left an immense basin, most of it the former bed of the sea, and, of course, below sea-level. Along the eastern margin of the basin, fully 350 feet above its lowest point, flows the Colorado River. Below its level at the international boundary, lies this basin more than 2000 square miles in extent. It was once supposed to be incapable of reclamation, and was known as the Colorado desert. It has since been found to be of extraordinary fertility, physically well adapted to irrigation, capable of becoming a highly productive country and ultimately of supporting a population of perhaps a million.

Remarkable and wholly unprecedented is the relation of the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley. On the one hand it is the sole reclaiming agency anywhere available. Water for irrigation, domestic supply, and so forth, must come from this river or not be had at all. On the other hand, the river, flowing along the upper rim of the basin, rests there in unstable equilibrium, liable at any time to burst its bounds and go into the basin instead of the sea. Thus the river is playing simultaneously the antagonistic rôles of possible savior and possible destroyer of this wonderful valley. While dispensing manna where all would be death without it, it hangs like a sword of Damocles, ready at any moment to destroy all that it has built up.

Both aspects of this situation have been vividly impressed upon local and official attention in the past ten years. The river did not break loose in 1906, and is still not fully under control. It wrought immense havoc. Most of us recall references in the press to the Salton Sea, which suddenly began to rise in the bottom of the basin. To control the river and get it back into its old channel to the sea has been one of the most stupendous and difficult of engineering problems. Already full $3,000,000 of public and private funds has been expended; and the real control of the river has scarcely begun.

The relation of this problem to the subject of the present paper may now be stated. The boundary between the United States and Mexico passes directly across the depressed basin. The topography is such that irrigation canals taken out of the river on United States territory, to reclaim United States land in the valley, have to be carried around high ground, across the boundary into Mexican territory, and back again. On the other hand, breaks in the river-bank, which are so liable to destroy the valley, can occur only on Mexican soil. The situation is one which it is impossible to handle except by works mainly south of the boundary; yet the majority interest to be served lies to the north. The whole problem, both of reclamation and of flood-protection, should naturally be handled by a single authority. Even under the most favorable conditions, joint control would be hazardous in times of emergency. When constituted authority disappears and anarchy takes its place, the situation naturally becomes extremely perilous. This is what happened at the most critical point in the dangerous state of things referred to in the preceding paragraph. Under the pressure of emergency, the United States went to the length of providing a million dollars for work which would all have to be done on Mexican soil. It was not, however, permitted to make this expenditure directly, but only through a Mexican corporation. But even that unbusiness-like proceeding was hampered to a dangerous and exasperating degree by the lack of stable government south of the boundary. Labor became frightened, contractors hesitated to undertake the work, losses of property were experienced, and the most extortionate customs exactions were imposed upon everything passing the boundary. A situation of such gravity, in which the natural agencies at work care nothing for boundaries, treaties, or sovereign rights, and in which safety demands action, and destruction waits upon delay, is one which should certainly not be permitted to continue.3

What is the rational common-sense solution of this difficult problem? Manifestly this, that it be dealt with as a unit under a single jurisdiction. Any possible division of authority must produce less than the best result. The very immensity of the protection work requires enormous resources and positive action, while the reclamation work should be managed under a uniform system. Either the United States or Mexico should take exclusive charge of the problem, and the boundary should be modified so as to permit this to be done. Which should it be?

We may waive the question of financial resources for properly handling this gigantic physical problem; but there are other considerations which definitely impose the burden upon the United States. The Colorado River above the delta lies entirely north of the boundary. The proper handling of the flood and reclamation problems on the delta and in the valley will ultimately require a comprehensive reservoir system which must necessarily be within the United States. Then, to transfer the whole Imperial Valley to Mexico would be to place the great southern railway route partly in that country, making it cross the frontier twice, with the enormous annoyance, inconvenience, and expense which would result. This would of course be inadmissible. Every consideration makes it important that this problem be assigned to the United States. It would require a transfer of about 2000 square miles of territory. It is simply a plain, practical question of dealing with a problem which nature itself has created, and which can be rightly handled in only one way. It can indeed be ‘muddled through’ on the present basis, but never satisfactorily. A generous compensation to Mexico, equivalent to the present worth of her future tribute from that country, would, of course, be made. The question should be met in a liberal spirit by Mexico, without a thought or suspicion that the step springs from any lust of territory by the United States; and it should be determined solely on the basis of the permanent good of the valley itself.

  1. It is assumed that the Monroe Doctrine would have barred its acquisition by any European state. – The Author.
  2. It is not necessary to the purpose of this paper to discuss other possible routes, like that of Nicaragua, for instance. – The Author.
  3. Those who would like to understand to what lengths the present situation may lead should consult House Doc. No. 504, 62nd Congress, 2nd Session; and House Doc. No. 1476, 63rd Congress. – The Author.