« PreviousContinue »
as well as their substance, have essentially changed the situation. It is no longer a mere question of boundary, or of the status of the Monroe Doctrine, but after a demand and a call for a definite decision, and a definite refusal of the thing demanded, and in answer to this something that may be understood as a threat of war, it has assumed the most ticklish form of an international difference—the form of a question of honor. Questions of fact, of law, of interest, of substantial justice and right it may sometimes be difficult to determine; but there are rules of evidence, of legal construction, of equity, and precedents to aid us. A question of honor is often inaccessible to these aids, for it is a matter of sentiment. Affairs of honor have caused as many follies as affairs of love. It is a strange fact, that while the mediæval conception of honor which regarded the duel as the only adequate settlement of a question of that nature, has yielded to more enlightened and more moral views in several highly civilized countries, nations are in such cases still apt to rush to arms as the only means of satisfaction.
It is generally said, in Great Britain as well as here, that there will be no war. The belief is born of the wish. It is so general because almost everybody feels that such a war would be a disaster not only calamitous but also absurd and shameful to both nations. From the bottom of my heart I trust the prediction will prove true. But the prediction itself, with the popular sentiment prompting it, will not be alone sufficient to make it true. Bloody wars have happened in spite of an earnest popular desire for peace on both sides, especially when points of honor inflamed the controversy. It may be in vain to cry “Peace! Peace!” on both sides of the ocean, if we continue to flaunt the red rag in one another's faces.
The Commission just appointed by the President indeed consists of eminent, patriotic and wise men. They will, no doubt, conduct their inquiry with conscientious care and fairness. So we think here. But we have to admit that after all it is a one-sided contrivance, and as such lacks an important element of authority. Suppose the report of the Commission goes against the British contention. Suppose then we say to Great Britain: “ Our investigation shows this, and we decide accordingly.
Take this, or fight!” How then? It is quite possible that a vast majority of the British people care very little about the strip of territory in dispute, and would have been satisfied to let the whole of it go to arbitration. It is not impossible even that Lord Salisbury himself, in view of the threatening complications in Europe and other parts of the world, and of the manifold interests involved, might at last rather let it be so submitted than have a long quarrel about it. But it may well be doubted whether any statesman at the head of the British or any other great government would think that he could afford to yield what he otherwise would be disposed to yield, under a threat of war.
Similar circumstances would produce similar effects with us. The fact is, therefore, that however peaceable the popular temper may be on both sides of the water, the critical moment will come at the time when the Commission reports, and if that Commission remains one-sided as it is now the crisis may become more exciting and dangerous than ever.
But in the meantime there will be something calling for the most earnest attention of the business world on both sides of the Atlantic. While that critical period is impending there will be—who knows how long-a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over both nations, an uncertainty liable to be fitfully aggravated on occasions, or even without occasion, by speculative manufacturers of rumors. Every business calculation will be like taking a gambler's chance. The spirit of enterprise will be depressed by vague anxiety as to the future, by the apprehensionparalysis, and I need not tell you as experienced business nen what all this means as to that confidence which is necessary to set in motion the rich man's money and the poor man's labor, and thus to develop general prosperity. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that this uncertainty be removed, or at least lessened as much and as soon as possible; and the peace sentiment prevailing here as well as in England, of which the friendly message from the Chamber of Commerce in Edinburgh is so cheering an evidence, may perhaps be practically set to work for the accomplishment of that end.
A thought occurred to me when studying President Cleveland's Venezuela message, which, indeed, may well
have occurred, at least in general outline, to many others at the same time, because it seems so natural. I am glad to notice that something in the same line was suggested by an English journal. The President has appointed an American Commission to inquire into British claims as to the Venezuela boundary. As I have already pointed out, the findings of that Commission will, owing to its onesided origin, lack an essential element of the moral authority required to command general credit. This authority would be supplied if an equal number of eminent Englishmen, designated by the British Government, were joined to the Commission to co-operate in the examination of the whole case, and if the two parties, to prevent deadlocks between them, agreed upon some distinguished person outside to preside over and direct their deliberations and to have the casting vote—the joint commission to be not a court of arbitration, and as such to pronounce a final and binding decision of the whole case—the thing which Lord Salisbury objected to—but an advisory council, to report the results of its inquiry into the whole case, together with its opinions, findings and recommendations to the two governments for their free acceptance or rejection.
It may be said that such an arrangement would not entirely remove the uncertainty as to the final outcome: believe, however, that it would at.least very greatly lessen that uncertainty. I think it probable that the finding and recommendations of a Commission so constituted would have high moral authority, and carry very great weight with both governments. They would be likely to furnish, if not a complete and conclusive decision, at least a basis for a friendly agreement. The very appointment of such a Joint Commission by the two governments would be apt at once to remove the point of honor, the most dangerous element, from the controversy, and thus go very far to relieve the apprehension of disastrous possibilities which usually has so unsettling and depressing an effect.
I do not know, of course, whether such a plan would be accepted by either government. I think, however, that each of them could assent to it without the slightest derogation to its dignity, and that if either of them re
ceived it, upon proper presentation, even with an informal manifestation of favor, the way would easily be opened to a mutual understanding concerning it. At any rate, it seems to me worth the while of a public spirited and patriotic body like this, and of other friends of peace here or abroad, to consider its expediency, and at the close of my remarks I shall move a tentative resolution to that effect, in addition to the one now pending.
I repeat, I am for peace—not, indeed, peace at any price, but peace with honor. Let us understand, however, what the honor of this great American Republic consists in. We are a very powerful people—even without an army or navy immediately ready for action, we are, in some respects, the most powerful people on earth. We enjoy peculiar advantages of inestimable value. We are not only richer than any European nation in men, in wealth and in resources yet undeveloped, but we are the only nation that has a free hand, having no dangerous neighbors and no outlying and exposed possessions to take care of. We are, in our continental position, substantially unassailable. A hostile navy may destroy what commercial fleet we have, blockade our ports, and even bombard our seaboard towns. This would be painful enough, but it would only be scratching our edges. It would not touch a vital point. No foreign power or possible combination could attack us on land without being overwhelmed on our own soil by immensely superior numbers. We are the best fitted, not, perhaps, for a war of quick decision, but for a long war. Better than any other nation we can, if need be, live on our own fat. We enjoy the advantage of not having spent our resources during long periods of peace on armaments of tremendous cost without immediate use for them, but we would have those resources unimpaired in time of war to be used during the conflict. Substantially unassailable in our continental fastness, and bringing our vast resources into play with the patriotic spirit and the inventive genius and energy of our people, we would, on sea as well as on land, for offensive as well as defensive warfare, be stronger the second year of a war than the first, and stronger the third than the second, and so on. Owing to this superiority of our staying power, a war with the United States would be
to any foreign nation practically a war without end. No foreign power or possible combination in the Old World can, therefore, considering in addition to all this the precarious relations of every one of them with other powers and its various exposed interests, have the slightest inclination to get into a war with the United States, and none of them will, unless we force it to do so. They will, on the contrary, carefully avoid such a quarrel as long as they can, and we may be confident that without firing a gun, and even without having many guns ready for firing, we shall always see our rights respected and our demands, if they are just and proper—may be, after some diplomatic sparring--at last fully complied with.
What is the rule of honor to be observed by a power so strong and so advantageously situated as this Republic is? Of course, I do not expect it meekly to pocket real insults if they should be offered to it. But, surely, it should not, as our boyish jingoes wish it to do, swagger about among the nations of the world, with a chip on its shoulder, and shaking its fist in everybody's face. Of course, it should not tamely submit to real encroachments upon its rights. But, surely, it should not, whenever its own notions of right or interest collide with the notions of others, fall into hysterics and act as if it really feared for its own security and its very independence. As a true gentleman, conscious of his strength and his dignity, it should be slow to take offense. In its dealings with other nations it should have scrupulous regard, not only for their rights, but also for their self-respect. With all its latent resources for war, it should be the great peace power of the world. It should never forget what a proud privilege and what an inestimable blessing it is not to need and not to have big armies or navies to support.
It should seek to influence mankind, not by heavy artillery, but by good example and wise counsel. It should see its highest glory, not in battles won, but in wars prevented. It should be so invariably just and fair, so trustworthy, so good tempered, so conciliatory, that other nations would instinctively turn to it as their mutual friend and the natural adjuster of their differences, thus making it the greatest preserver of the world's peace.
This is not a mere idealistic fancy. It is the natural