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DIPLOMACY AND POLITICS, 1848–1861
EXHILARATED by our annexations, we no longer, in the period between the Mexican and Civil wars, feared Europe.
The star of empire had crossed the Atlantic. Expansion
“European monarchies" had become “effete.” They were still malevolent, but it was no longer necessary for us to defer crises. Our hour had struck; destiny indicated our line of march. Expansion had become a national conviction; the American continents would become united, not under our influence, but under our flag.
This belief in expansion, however, was not imperialism. Our faith in the universal applicability of our political sys
tem was as strong as ever. The SpanishRepublicanism
Americans were to be incorporated into the Union, not to be subject to it. For a time, indeed, our ardent republicanism, no longer forced to be on the defensive, seemed likely to involve us in a policy of interference in Europe. The revolutions of 1848 stirred us almost as much as had the first French revolution or that of Spanish America. The Democratic Convention of that year resolved “that, with the recent development of this grand political truth of the sovereignty of the people and their capacity and power for self-government" which was "prostrating thrones and erecting republics on the ruins of despotism in the Old World,” it felt a renewed duty to defend liberty at home. This was extremely discreet, and our action was confined to a prompt recognition of the new government of France, and the sending of our first diplomatic representative to the Papal States in appreciation of the liberal sentiments with which Pius IX. came into the pontificate. When, however, in 1851, Louis Kossuth came
to this country with the avowed object of securing aid for a new struggle in Hungary designed to established republicanism and independence, sympathy seemed about to plunge us into European politics. It may have been fortunate for us that Polk had recently revived our interest in the Monroe Doctrine; but it was probably the fundamental popular conception on which the doctrine rested that held us in check and caused the enthusiasm which Kossuth aroused to exhaust itself in champagne and oratory.
Our expansionist spirit, self-limited by the ocean and based on republicanism, was also non-military. Seward, most genial of expansionists, said in 1861 at St. Paul
Individualism that he saw Russia and Great Britain building versus Imon the Arctic Ocean and in Canada the out
perialism posts of his own country, and that he expected that the future capital of our expanded native land would be in the valley of Mexico; but he continued to assert what he had said in 1846, “I would not give one human life for all the continent that remains to be annexed.” The action of Congress, moreover, continued to be based on the principle that the army should be just sufficient to maintain order on the frontier and the navy to protect our merchant marine. President Pierce's first message does show a tendency to stretch the principle to cover a substantial increase in the navy, but the most ardent of the expansionists, Buchanan, showed no appreciation of a connection between a policy of expansion and prepared military strength. Destiny was to furnish her own instruments, of which the peaceful infiltration of armed American immigrants was the chief.
That this popular conviction did not materialize during this period into actual acquisition is in part due to external obstacles, and in part to the fact that diplo
Influence of macy was not only subordinated to politics politics on di
plomacy but was even actively employed for political ends. Politicians and statesmen alike endeavored to relieve the pressure of the conflict over slavery by pointing to ques
tions which would rouse a national interest; they feared those subjects that would embitter sectionalism. Webster wrote in regard to a grandiloquent dispatch which he had sent to Hülseman, the Austrian representative, that his purpose was to "touch the national pride and make a man feel sheepish and look silly who should speak of disunion.” The habit of making stump speeches in diplomatic documents became common; Everett made his in a declaration against European interference in Cuba, Marcy his on the case of Martin Koszta. Diplomatic policies, therefore, stood always attendant upon those of politics and fared as secondary interests always do.
Of the men who directed affairs, Buchanan was the most conspicuous. Secretary of state under Polk, minister to
Great Britain from 1853 to 1856, and President Buchanan
from 1857 to 1861, he had experience and considerable dialectic skill. He had also purpose; oblivious of the necessity of domestic policies, he made expansion his program, and himself the leader of the movement. He lacked
force, however, to push his policies to concluPierce
sion or even to an issue.' President Pierce was a lesser light of the same group. Of the secretaries of state,
Clayton is remembered chiefly for his treaty Clayton
with Bulwer, which has proved to be our most entangling agreement with a foreign power since Webster,
our first treaties with France. Webster and Everett
Everett were both worthy of the reputation of the office, though neither particularly enhanced his own.
Cass, under Buchanan, had already made Cass
his career and now added to it merely his extinction of Great Britain's claim to the right of visitation.”
William L. Marcy, serving under Pierce, caused a ripple of amusement and annoyance by his famous circular order
1 James Buchanan, Works, ed. J. B. Moore, 12 vols., Philadelphia, etc., 1908-11.
2 McLaughlin, Lewis Cass.
of June 1, 1853, that all our representatives were to confine their sartorial ambitions to "the simple costume of an American citizen.” The diplomatic uniforms which
Marcy had been developed by the practice of our ministers were accordingly discarded for trousers and frock or evening coats; we became sans culottes. The long-lived joke about the American minister who was mistaken for a waiter was soon born. With this exception, Marcy was not trivial; he became more fully secretary of state, more conversant with the whole field of our diplomacy, and more universally active in dealing with it than had any secretary since John Quincy Adams.
During the fifties there were rumblings of administrative reform along many lines, but there was neither the will to perform nor the evolution of any practicable
Diplomatic scheme. In 1856 a general act was passed and consular systematizing the whole diplomatic service. The positions were graded, salaries were fixed, fees were regulated, and a method of control was outlined. Nevertheless, appointments grew to be more and more at the mercy of politics and more and more unsuitable. Most notorious was that of Pierre Soulé to the court of Spain, in the face of the fact that his personal history, to say nothing of his personal characteristics, was sure to produce trouble. The expansion of our commerce began to arouse a special interest in our consular service, with the result that in 1856 an act was passed providing for the appointment of twenty-five "consular-pupils,” who were, on showing themselves competent, to be promoted. This act was repealed in 1857, but it indicated a desire to release that service from the perils of rotation in office.1
Commerce, though but lamely supported by our consuls, was flourishing without interfering with our isolation. Our exports still consisted of non-competitive products, but in bulk these had increased beyond expectation. The growth
Fish, The Civil Service and the Patronage, 139–140, 183.
of cotton production and of its consumption in Europe had made that commodity one of the leading features of interCharacter of
national trade. Europe had passed the point our commerce
of self-sufficiency in food supply, and drew more and more from our farms. The development of our manufactures rendered a corresponding increase in our imports unnecessary, and for the first time the balance of direct trade was in our favor. The indirect trade was of steadily diminishing significance; our exports of foreign goods in 1836 amounted to about fifteen per cent of our total exports, in 1856 to about five per cent only. This did not mean that we imported fewer of such articles of trade as Chinese silks and teas; it meant that we kept them.
This commercial prosperity was shared by the merchant marine. Seventy-five per cent of our imports and exports Merchant
were carried in American vessels, and owing marine
to the bulky character of the exports, this meant an immense tonnage. By 1860 we had surpassed Great Britain. Maintained since 1828 on a basis of equal treatment as to port and customs regulations in the case of nearly all countries, our merchant marine was also fostered by the government, which not only continued the bounties on fishing but inaugurated in 1846 a short-lived policy of subsidies to assist in our competition for the fast-mail traffic. The subsidies were, however, discontinued before the end of this period.
Chiefly, however, the energy of the government was displayed in preparing the way for commerce by means of diCommercial plomacy. Between 1845 and 1861 the United treaties
States continued her policy of making American commerce respected by enforcing the claims of her citizens, mainly for injuries to person and property received in Spanish-American countries. The integrity of commerce she better assured by the formation of extradition treaties with most of the German states, Austria, France with whom
Coman, Industrial History, 264–266.