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- The Path of Empire, - 5/32 -


J. C. Bancroft Davis was agent for the United States, and William M. Evarts, Caleb Cushing, and Morrison R. Waite acted as counsel. The case for the United States was not presented in a manner worthy of the occasion. According to Adams the American contentions "were advanced with an aggressiveness of tone and attorneylike smartness, more appropriate to the wranglings of a quarter-sessions court than to pleadings before a grave international tribunal." The American counsel were instructed to insist not, indeed, on indemnity for the cost of two years of war, but on compensation because of the transfer of our commerce to the British merchant marine, by virtue of the clause of the treaty which read "acts committed by the several vessels which have given rise to the claims generally known as the 'Alabama Claims.'" British public opinion considered this contention an act of bad faith. Excitement in England rose to a high pitch and the Gladstone Ministry proposed to withdraw from the arbitration.

That the tribunal of arbitration did not end in utter failure was due to the wisdom and courage of Adams. At his suggestion the five arbitrators announced on June 19, 1872, that they would not consider claims for indirect damages, because such claims did "not constitute, upon the principles of international law applicable to such cases, good foundation for an award of compensation, or computations of damages between nations." These claims dismissed, the arbitrators entered into an examination of the direct American claims and on September 14, 1872, decided upon an award of fifteen and a half million dollars to the United States. The Treaty of Washington and the Geneva Tribunal constituted the longest step thus far taken by any two nations toward the settlement of their disputes by judicial process.

CHAPTER III. Alaska And Its Problems

The impulse for expansion upon which Buchanan floated his political raft into the presidency was not a party affair. It was felt by men of all party creeds, and it seemed for a moment to be the dominant national ideal. Slaveholders and other men who had special interests sought to make use of it, but the fundamental feeling did not rest on their support. American democracy, now confident of its growing strength, believed that the happiness of the people and the success of the institutions of the United States would prove a loadstone which would bring under the flag all peoples of the New World, while those of the Old World would strike off their shackles and remold their governments on the American pattern. Attraction, not compulsion, was the method to be used, and none of the paeans of American prophets in the editorials or the fervid orations of the fifties proposed an additional battleship or regiment.

No one saw this bright vision more clearly than did William H. Seward, who became Secretary of State under Lincoln. Slight of build, pleasant, and talkative, he gave an impression of intellectual distinction, based upon fertility rather than consistency of mind. He was a disciple of John Quincy Adams, but his tireless energy had in it too much of nervous unrest to allow him to stick to his books as did his master, and there was too wide a gap between his beliefs and his practice. He held as idealistic views as any man of his generation, but he believed so firmly that the right would win that he disliked hastening its victory at the expense of bad feeling. He was shrewd, practical-- maliciously practical, many thought. When, in the heat of one of his perorations, a flash of his hidden fires would arouse the distrust of the conservative, he would appear to retract and try to smother the flames in a cloud of conciliatory smoke. Only the restraining hand of Lincoln prevented him from committing fatal blunders at the outset of the Civil War, yet his handling of the threatening episode of the French in Mexico showed a wisdom, a patient tact, and a subtle ingenuity which make his conduct of the affair a classic illustration of diplomacy at almost its best.*

* See "Abraham Lincoln and the Union" and "The Hispanic Nations of the New World" (in "The Chronicles of America").

In 1861 Seward said that he saw Russia and Great Britain building on the Arctic Ocean outposts on territory which should belong to his own country, and that he expected the capital of the great federal republic of the future would be in the valley of Mexico. Yet he nevertheless retained the sentiment he had expressed in 1846: "I would not give one human life for all the continent that remains to be annexed." The Civil War prevented for four years any action regarding expansion, and the same conspiracy which resulted in the assassination of Lincoln brought Seward to the verge of the grave. He recovered rapidly, however, and while on a recuperating trip through the West Indies he worked for the peaceable annexation of the Danish Islands and Santo Domingo. His friend, Charles Sumner, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, was framing his remarkable project for the annexation of Canada. President Johnson and, later, President Grant endorsed parts of these plans. Denmark and Santo Domingo were willing to acquiesce for money, and Sumner believed, although he was preposterously wrong, that the incorporation of Canada in our Union would be welcomed by the best sentiment of England and of Canada.

To willing ears, therefore, came in 1867 the offer of the Russian Minister, Baron Stoeckl, to sell Alaska. The proposal did not raise a question which had been entirely unthought of. Even before the Civil War, numbers of people on the Pacific coast, far from being overawed by the responsibility of developing the immense territories which they already possessed, had petitioned the Government to obtain Alaska, and even the proper purchase price had been discussed. The reasons for Russia's decision to sell, however, have not been sufficiently investigated. It is apparent from the conduct of the negotiation that it was not a casual proposal but one in which Baron Stoeckl, at least, was deeply interested. It is to be remembered that at this time Russia's ambitions were in Asia, and that her chief rival was Great Britain. Russia's power was on land; the seas she could not hope to control. The first moment of war would put Russian rule in, Alaska at the mercy of the British fleet. In those days when a Siberian railroad was an idle dream, this icebound region in America was so remote from the center of Russian power that it could be neither enjoyed nor protected. As Napoleon in 1803 preferred to see Louisiana in the hands of the United States rather than in those of his rival England, so Russia preferred Alaska to fall to the United States rather than to Canada, especially as she could by peaceful cession obtain money into the bargain.

Seward was delighted with the opportunity, but diplomatically concealed his satisfaction and bargained closely. Stoeckl asked ten million dollars; Seward offered five. Stoeckl proposed to split the difference; Seward agreed, if Stoeckl would knock off the odd half million. Stoeckl accepted, on condition that Seward add two hundred thousand as special compensation to the Russian American Company. It was midnight of the 29th of March when $7,200,000 was made the price. Seward roused Sumner from bed, and the three worked upon the form of a treaty until four o'clock in the morning. No captains of industry could show greater decision.

The treaty, however, was not yet a fact. The Senate must approve, and its approval could not be taken for granted. The temper of the majority of Americans toward expansion had changed. The experiences of the later fifties had caused many to look upon expansion as a Southern heresy. Carl Schurz a little later argued that we had already taken in all those regions the climate of which would allow healthy self-government and that we should annex no tropics. Hamilton Fish, then Secretary of State, wrote in 1873 that popular sentiment was, for the time being, against all expansion. In fact, among the people of the United States the idea was developing that expansion was contrary to their national policy, and their indisposition to expand became almost a passion. They rejected Santo Domingo and the Danish Islands and would not press any negotiations for Canada.

What saved the Alaska Treaty from a similar disapproval was not any conviction that Alaska was worth seven million dollars, although Sumner convinced those who took the trouble to read, that the financial bargain was not a bad one. The chief factor in the purchase of Alaska was almost pure sentiment. Throughout American history there has been a powerful tradition of friendliness between Russia and the United States, yet surely no two political systems have been in the past more diametrically opposed. The chief ground for friendship has doubtless been the great intervening distance which has reduced intercourse to a minimum. Some slight basis for congeniality existed in the fact that the interests of both countries favored a similar policy of freedom upon the high seas. What chiefly influenced the public mind, however, was the attitude which Russia had taken during the Civil War. When the Grand Duke Alexis visited the United States in 1871, Oliver Wendell Holmes greeted him with the lines:

Bleak are our coasts with the blasts of December, Thrilling and warm are the hearts that remember Who was our friend when the world was our foe.

This Russian friendship had presented itself dramatically to the public at a time when American relations with Great Britain were strained, for Russian fleets had in 1863 suddenly appeared in the harbors of New York and San Francisco. These visits were actually made with a sole regard for Russian interests and in anticipation of the outbreak of a general European war, which the Czar then feared. The appearance of the fleets, however, was for many years popularly supposed to signify sympathy with the Union and a willingness to defend it from attack by Great Britain and France. Many conceived the ingenuous idea that the purchase price of Alaska was really the American half of a secret bargain of which the fleets were the Russian part. Public opinion, therefore, regarded the purchase of Alaska in the light of a favor to Russia and demanded that the favor be granted.

Thus of all the schemes of expansion in the fifty years between the Mexican and the Spanish wars, for the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 was really only a rectification of boundary, this alone came to fruition. Seward could well congratulate himself on his alertness in seizing an opportunity and on his management of the delicate political aspects of the purchase. Without his promptness the golden opportunity might have passed and never recurred. Yet he could never have saved this fragment of his policy had not the American people cherished for Russia a sentimental friendship which was intensified at the moment by anger at the supposed sympathy of Great Britain for the South.

If Russia hoped by ceding Alaska to involve the United States in difficulties with her rival Great Britain, her desire was on one occasion nearly gratified. The only profit which the United


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