Dramatic Moments in American Diplomacy/Chapter Eight
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Chapter Eight: The Battle for Democracy. An Anglo-Saxon Inheritance
George Canning Reveals a Plot for the Extermination of Democracy—Richard Rush Sends James Monroe a Literary Bomb-Shell—The Emperors of Europe Combine for Conquest of America—The Duke of Wellington Proves a Tartar—England Makes a Proposition—Thomas Jefferson Proposes to Marry the British Fleet—The Solid Front of the Anglo-Saxon—James Monroe Throws Down a Challenge to Royalty—Ambitions Sunk in the Waters of Trafalgar.
EARLY in August, 1823, George Can- ning, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Great Britain, sent for Richard Rush, a representative of the United States, and in- formed him that the Holy AUiance, in the greatest secrecy, had determined to subjugate the Central and South American conmiunities that had recently revolted from Spain.
This was a startling revelation.
To the American mind it would carry ter- rible consequences in its train. It meant the political control of America in the hands of the kings of Europe. It meant the forcible and final introduction of the monarchical system of government on this continent. It represented a death blow throughout the world to the ex- pansion of the right of revolution and the prin- ciples of the "will of the governed." And not least, the ultimate prospect that "we should have to fight upon our own shores for our own institutions."
In order to realize the nature of the catas- trophe thus suddenly presented to our minis- ter, it is necessary to examine the nature, pur- pose, and power of this sanctimonious league.
It consisted primarily of their majesties the Emperor of Austria, the King of Prussia, and the Czar of Russia, all three dominated by the "biggest rascal and liar" in Christendom, the celebrated Prince Metternich, Minister of Aus- tria. Every little while this "voting trust" of
kings would meet under conditions of the most rigid secrecy and lay down the law to the world, make compacts, and establish principles, of which the following had been their latest and most definite:
"Article I. The high contracting powers, being convinced that the system of representa- tive government is equally as incompatible with the monarchical principles as the maxim of the sovereignty of the people with the divine right, engage mutually, in the most solemn manner, to use all their efforts to put an end to the sys- tem of representative governments, in what- ever country it may exist in Europe, and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known."
Every first-class power in Europe, except Turkey, was a party to this formidable combi- nation. It was a close corporation for the running of Christendom.
Several slight impediments had developed in the proceedings. One was that the Duke of Wellington, the foremost soldier in the world.
had got up and left the meeting in Verona. The other was that George Canning had writ- ten a most unsjnnpathetie note to this effect:
"We disclaim for ourselves and deny for other powers the right of requiring any changes in the internal institutions of independent states, with the menace of hostile attack in case of refusal."
Aside from these slight annoyances the Holy Alliance had so far been a grand success. It had stamped out a revolution and the strug- gling liberal government in Spain with the utmost rigour and dispatch. It had broken with vigour and cruelty the spirit of Italians rising against intolerable tyranny.
Its deeds and its overwhelming power spoke to America in tones even more menacing than its treaties. And now the American Minister was informed that it proposed to take domin- ion over South America, on behalf of the King of Spain.
This called for immediate and drastic de- fence of some sort.
As a nation we have long since forgotten the part played in this crisis by Great Britain.
Canning disclosed the danger. And Rush reported that he went on to say: "Events are hourly assuming new importance and urgency, under aspects to which neither of our governments can be insensible." * * * 'He had the strongest reasons for believing that the co-operation of the United States with Eng- land, through my (Rush's) instrumentality, afforded with promptitude, would ward off al- together the meditated jurisdiction of the Eu- ropean powers over the new world.'
Rush, with the independence and self-assur- ance that have been characteristic of American diplomats, undertook to put forth the joint challenge to the world on the spot. If he had, it would have joined the forces of these two great countries in the fight for liberal govern- ment in a formal as well as merely inevitable manner. But he refused to do so on his own responsibility, because Canning at the same time would not agree immediately to recognize
the independence of all the revolted Spanish provinces.
So the information was dispatched with all speed to the Department of State. And with it Canning's formal proposal that England and the United States jointly announce in the "face of the world" that :
"We conceive the recoveries of the Colonies by Spain to be hopeless. * * * We aim not at the possession of any portion of them our- selves. We could not see any portion of them transferred to any other power with indiffer- ence."
This meant, of course, that such an action would be the signal for bloody war.
When James Monroe, President of the United States, received these dispatches he ceased to be interested in anything else. Ob- viously the action to be taken would have a paramount influence upon the future of the world. So he wrote to consult Thomas Jeffer- son, Nestor of America, in his retreat at Mon- ticello, saying:
- 'I transmit to you two dispatches which
were received from Mr. Rush which involve interests of the highest importance. They con- tain two letters from Mr. Canning suggesting designs of the Holy Alliance against the in- dependence of South America, and proposing a co-operation between Great Britain and the United States in support of it against the members of that alHance. * * * Has not the epoch arrived when Great Britain must take her stand either on the side of the monarchs of Europe or of the United States, and in conse- quence either in favour of despotism or of lib- erty? * * * My own impression is that we ought to meet the proposal of the British Gov- ernment."
Jefferson's reply is peculiarly interesting in the light of recent events :
"The question presented by the letters you have sent me is the most momentous which has ever been offered to my contemplation since that of independence. That made us a nation ; this sets our compass and points the course
which we are to steer through the ocean of time opening on us. * * * America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe. She should therefore have a sys- tem of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is labouring to be- come the domicile of despotism, our endeavour should surely be to make our hemisphere that of freedom.
"One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit; she now offers to lead, aid, and accompany us in it. By acceding to her prop- osition, we detach her from the bands, bring her mighty weight into the scale of free gov- ernment, and emancipate a continent at one stroke, which might otherwise linger long in doubt and difficulty. Great Britain is the one nation which can do us the most harm of any one, on all the earth ; and with her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her, then, we should most sedulously cherish a cor- dial friendship and nothing would tend more
to knit our affections than to be fighting once more, side by side, in the same cause."
As I write this, nearly a hundred years later, the daily paper before me announces in great headlines the wild enthusiasm greeting the ar- rival of the first American troops in London. They are there to fight once more, side by side, in the same cause. The same old cause, against despotism. They are now keeping faith with George Canning, who "emancipated a conti- nent at one stroke." Curiously enough, the old Revolutionary patriot seems even to have foreseen the scream of the doubter who in sim- ilar circumstances cries out against fighting for England. He goes on to say, recently quoted by the Independent, and as true to-day as when it was written :
"The war in which the present proposition might engage us, should that be its conse- quence, is not her war, but ours. Its object is to introduce and establish the American sys- tem of keeping out of our land all foreign pow-
ers — of never permitting those of Europe to intermeddle with the affairs of our nations. It is to maintain our own principles, not to de- part from it. * * * With Great Britain with- drawn from their scale and shifted into that of our two continents, all Europe combined would not undertake such a war, for how would they propose to get at either enemy without su- perior fleet?"
The result of this statement, enforced by practically identical advice from Madison, and co-operation of that far-sighted and rugged American, John Quincy Adams, was the state paper most vital in the life of our country. This was the message sent by the President to Congress, Dec. 2, 1823. It embraces the set of principles known as the Monroe Doctrine. They constitute the basis of a major part of our national policy and diplomacy. This mes- sage says :
"The occasion has been judged proper for asserting as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved.
that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have as- sumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subject for future colonization by any European power. * * * We owe it, therefore, to candour, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers, to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. * * * "
This was a world challenge of supreme im- pertinence and great daring. Not only can't you have any land, but we won't stand a min- ute for the holy system cultivated with so much care by the Alliance. In other words, one half of the world is free.
I am aware that nothing could seem more trite and banal than reading a moral on as an- cient a matter as the Monroe Doctrine. Still nothing is more certain than that its true sig- nificance, as well as its origin and its mainte- nance, is unknown to the American public to-
day. And to a great body of our chosen rep- resentatives in Congress assembled these things are as strange as the Koran.
If the foregoing plain statement of the dip- lomatic correspondence, the opinion of the pro- mulgators, and the immediate historical causes of Monroe's famous message have any mean- ing whatever, it is this: That practically the whole world intended to attack this continent ; that for lack of a navy we could not possibly have prevented it; that a common ideal and sense of justice led the English to bring their peerless fleet to our defence. And subsequent history shows that they have ever since kept that fleet at our disposal for this same purpose. And it is now quite plain to even the sceptical Solon that, although they have lacked naval force for major hostilities in America, the forces of despotism, thwarted by Canning and Monroe, have ever since been gaining instead of losing the will and power to strike.
The final and arch enemy of these forces is the United States. We are the cradle and cas-
tie of all those liberal ideas which eat into their pretensions, and which this country and Eng- land alone championed in 1823.
"It was impossible for the continental Eu- ropean powers to think of oversea military action in the face of the British and American fleets. Such hopes were sunk in the waters of Trafalgar beyond the possibility of resurrec- tion."