The Republican Party/Chapter VI

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While thus the Republican administration was efficiently serving the domestic interests of the nation, there were other matters of commanding importance which required attention in our relation to other countries. The Civil War itself profoundly affected our foreign relations. While the attitude of most of the nations was entirely correct the government of one was persistently unfriendly, while that of another was unsympathetic and permitted itself to be used greatly to the disadvantage of the United States.

Never in all its history was American diplomacy more sorely taxed than it was in the first half of the war to maintain friendly relations with Great Britain and at the same time to vindicate the rights and honor of the nation; and never did it more victoriously acquit itself. The geographical situation of various British colonies and the commercial activities of the British Empire gave that power peculiar interest in the struggle and made it natural that the southern states should look to it for aid. The adoption of the protective tariff system in the United States bore hardly upon British trade and industry and caused for a time a strong turning of British sympathy toward the free trade Confederacy. There was probably never any danger of British intervention. But British recognition of Confederate independence would have been a serious injury to the United States, while British aid to the Confederates, even such as could be given without openly violating the letter of the neutrality law, was only little less detrimental.

Against these adverse circumstances and influences Republican diplomacy worked with a fine blending of resolution and tact. On the one hand the President sent to Great Britain informally several representative citizens who were specially well qualified to make clear to both the British government and the British people the real causes and issues of the war, and to show them how directly and greatly they were in fact interested in the success of the national arms. The result of such work was soon manifested in a great revulsion of British popular sentiment in favor of the North. Even in the great industrial centres where unspeakable distress had been caused by the embargo on cotton, and where at first there was unmeasured hostility to the United States, there was developed almost as marked sympathy with and enthusiasm for the Federal cause as any American city displayed.

At the same time the sturdy Republican statesman who was Minister at the Court of St. James was as inflexible in his maintenance of our rights as ever his famous father and grandfather had been. At the supreme crisis of affairs, when the result of the war here seemed still trembling in the balance, and when the entrance of Great Britain on the side of the South would have cast fearful odds against us, he did not hesitate calmly and unperturbably to say to the British Foreign Secretary concerning an act which the British government had apparently fully decided to do, "I need scarcely point out to your lordship that this means war!" It would have meant war but it did not because in the face of such Republican diplomacy the British government reconsidered the matter and withheld its purposed action. In such fashion did the Republican administration in those trying times uphold the interests and honor of the Republic abroad.

Nor was Mr. Adams, our Minister at London, content with even so great services. He was incessantly alert and vigilant to detect infractions of the neutrality act. As early as 1863 he informed the British government that the United States would make claims against it for indemnity, and as soon as the war closed and the time was ripe for such a settlement he had in hand an overwhelming mass of evidence to prove our case and to substantiate our claims against the British government for the losses which we had sustained through its failure to fulfil its duties as a neutral power. There followed a few years of direct negotiation, culminating in the Geneva Arbitration. That was the most notable case of international arbitration that the world had ever seen. It may truly be said to have founded the succeeding era of arbitration and adjudication of international disputes, opening the way to many other peaceful settlements of controversies which formerly would have led to war as well as to the great Peace Congresses at The Hague. In that august international court of justice, thanks to Republican principles and Republican statesmanship, the United States won a sweeping victory. Its contentions were upheld and it received a cash award of $15,000,000, which was ample to cover the direct damages for which indemnity had been demanded. The event was acclaimed by the world as one of the greatest achievements for international peace and justice that history had ever recorded.

While Great Britain was thus largely unsympathetic and neglectful of duty, the French government, under the usurping Emperor Louis Napoleon, was almost undisguisedly hostile. Repeatedly it strove to get other European powers to join it in forcible intervention in behalf of the Confederacy. The Emperor's object was plain. He was engaged in an invasion of Mexico, with the purpose of conquering and annexing that country, and he knew that to that end it would be necessary to get rid of the Monroe Doctrine, and to do this it would be necessary to destroy the United States. If he could secure the success of the Confederacy he would have a clear field for the establishment of a French Empire in Mexico. But he dared not intervene alone and he could not get either Great Britain or Russia to join him, though he besought them both to do so; so he had to be content with giving Confederate agents all the hospitality he could show them, and giving to Confederate cruisers the freedom of his ports.

With the French campaign in Mexico it was not possible at once to deal. All our available troops were needed on our own side of the Rio Grande. But Republican diplomacy was not negligent. Seward, Secretary of State, instructed our Minister at Paris, William L. Dayton, to make it quite clear to the French government that while we had of course no objections to France's collecting her just pecuniary claims against Mexico, that being the ostensible purpose of her invasion of that country, we could not acquiesce in any action which would change the form of government of that country or deprive it of its independence. Despite this warning Louis Napoleon persisted in his schemes and put the Hapsburg Archduke, Maximilian, upon the throne of Mexico as a puppet Emperor. The United States protested against this, refused to give Maximilian any recognition whatever and maintained friendly relations with the native Mexican government, though its president, Benito Juarez, was a fugitive in the northern mountains.

But 1865 came at last. With the end of the Civil War the United States, with an efficient army in the field, was ready to enforce its diplomatic demands with military acts. The Republican administration promptly read the international riot act to Louis Napoleon, practically ordering him to withdraw his army from Mexico. He tried to temporize, offering to remove his troops if the United States would recognize Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. This the United States flatly refused to do, but instead it entered into closer relations with the Mexican republican government which was then in the field waging vigorous war against the invaders. At that Louis Napoleon gave up his enterprise and withdrew his army from Mexico with all possible haste, the “empire” of Maximilian collapsed in the tragedy of his death and the independent Republic of Mexico was restored.

Meantime a third great achievement of Republican statesmanship was in progress in the far north. Before the war there had been a futile proposal to purchase the Russian province in America known as Alaska, though with no notion of the real value of that country. During the war and before the practicability of a transatlantic telegraphic cable was established, American attention was again called to that region through an attempt to build by way of Alaska and Siberia an overland telegraph line to Europe. Finally, at the close of the war, Russia indicated a readiness to sell the territory to the United States. The first great Republican Secretary of State, Seward, welcomed the proposal, partly because of its accordance with the Monroe and Polk doctrines and partly because of some strange prescience of the material value of the territory. Since under the doctrines mentioned the United States would not permit a European power to transfer its American territory to another European power, this country was morally obligated itself to take such territory off the hands of the power which wished to get rid of it. For that reason, if for no other, Seward would have purchased Alaska. But in addition he believed it to be a region of vast wealth, and he regarded the Pacific as “the Ocean of the Future” and deemed it desirable for the United States to establish itself as fully and extensively as possible upon its shores. Seeing that Alaska today has an import trade of $45,000,000 and an export trade of $75,000,000 a year, there is in the fact that Seward purchased the whole territory outright for only $7,200,000 a most impressive memorial of the shrewdness, the foresight and the wisdom of the Republican statesmanship of that day.