Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - A Looker-On in London, by Mary H. Krout, 1899 - Chapter 18 - The Venezuela Controversy - continued

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CHAPTER XVIII

THE VENEZUELA CONTROVERSY-CONTINUED

 THE effect produced by the special message in England was remarkable. With all the contention over the Behring sea question, the bickering and recriminations of the press on both sides of the Atlantic, it had not been believed that there was really any serious ill-will between the twp nations. The English press had criticized the United States without reserve, inveighing with sufficiently evident cause against its disreputable political methods; condemning its judiciary, made a part and parcel of political spoils; attacking its protective tariff, which operated to the disadvantage of British commerce. The American people were taken to task individually and collectively for countless sins of omission and commission; for the rudeness and vulgarity of a certain class of American tourists; the tendency to national hysteria. The universal greed and money worship all came in for the most unsparing criticism. The American press, in replying, had dwelt upon what it termed the land-grabbing propensities of Great Britain; its disposition to make war upon nations weaker than itself, both in numbers and armament; dilating upon the scandals that were rife among the aristocracy-a counter- arraignment quite as bitter and abusive as that by which it was provoked, and which was partially directed by hundreds of Irishmen, uncompromising Home Rulers, employed as editors upon American newspapers from Boston to San Francisco. The British change of attitude from time to time was noted with much sarcasm and vindictive-[-185-]ness; England was reminded that when self-interest prompted her to extraordinary friendliness toward the United States she posed as the "Mother Country;" but when a display of authority was politic, we were reminded that she was the British Empire. Controversy of this sort had continued for some time with little variation. It was read, indorsed and accepted in both countries by the masses who rely upon the newspapers for their opinions, and it had produced the usual results; the judgment of the people was warped, and excitable Americans and the less rational among the English were ready for any extravagance of folly which seemed to wear the guise of justifiable retaliation.
    The news of President Cleveland's pronunciamento was received in London on Wednesday morning, December i8th. The great morning papers announced the crisis in headlines, which, for England, were startling; and the situation was discussed at great length and with remarkable variety of comment. The general tone, however, was moderate and was characterized by strong good sense; petty differences and the trifling faults that had been condemned in the American character were forgotten. The war-like spirit of the United States was amazing; it had never been supposed that the wordy petulance and ill-temper that had prevailed were anything more serious than the ordinary outburst of a family quarrel. But when it was realized that the people were actually ready to rush into war without reflection and without preparation at the instigation of conscienceless agitators, who were behind the President, England let it be distinctly understood that there would be, on her part, at least, neither a sacrifice of national honor nor an unjustifiable appeal to arms. The excitement throughout London was intense; the news was cried through the streets by news boys, who, for once, emulated those of New York and Chicago in the [-186-] stridency of their tones. It was set forth in the biggest and blackest of letters upon the posters held in place by stones along the sidewalks in Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square and the Strand. It was discussed with un-English vehemence by passengers in omnibuses and railway trains, at the clubs, in drawing-rooms, over South Kensington tea tables and at dinner tables in Belgravia and Park Lane. There was very little anger in all the talk, and certainly not a hint that the belligerent spirit of the United States had awakened a kindred feeling in England. There was an impersonal and dispassionate comparison of the respective strength of the two nations - the great English navy, and its army, which, insignificant compared to the standing armies of Europe, was more than a match for the handful of soldiers then stationed along our Western frontier and scattered at wide intervals, a few companies each, among the garrisons of the Middle and Eastern, States. With the recognition of our inferiority in the matter of men disciplined and equipped, immediately available to take the field, our readiness in emergency, our fertility in resource, our inventiveness, the ability to think, plan and execute with incredible swiftness and accuracy, were taken fully into account, and the general estimate, which was the correct estimate of our race characteristics, was both just and generous.
    The English press and people almost unanimously advocated a peaceful adjustment of the dispute. There were exceptions, as a matter of course, the few ultra anti-American papers commenting with severity upon the servility of England under unprovoked insult, just as our anti-English papers in the United States urged immediate hostilities.
    The English, who strenuously counseled the preservation of peace, based their hope of continued friendly relations upon what they termed the kinship of the two great [-187-] branches of the English speaking people; unaware that the Anglo-Saxon strain had been diluted in the past half century with the blood of almost every nation in Europe; that so-called American cities were, in reality, quite as much Scandinavian, Celt and German as Anglo-Saxon, as in Chicago where Americans are the merest handful, compared to the foreign population. English had remained the common vernacular, and a modification of the English law, pronouncedly un-English in its administration, had survived, but very little else.
    Great reliance was placed upon the fact that President Cleveland's message had met with a vigorous protest from the religious element in the United States, which, in the Armenian controversy and afterwards in the rupture with Spain, had shown itself surprisingly ready to appeal to the sword.
    There had been a little uneasiness following Mr. Cleveland's annual message to Congress, when it assembled the first of December, and some doubt expressed as to his real friendliness toward England, which, up to that time, had never been questioned. He had been extravagantly praised, dividing honors with the late Mr. Bayard in his popularity - a popularity throughout Great Britain which, also like that of Mr. Bayard, was based in no small degree upon his partisan opposition to the protective tariff. Therefore, when the moderate demands of the general message were repeated and emphasized still more definitely in the special message, with hints of a resort to forcible measures, there was general consternation. Men at first were disposed to consider the President's change of attitude as something in the nature of a joke, and on December 20th the following humorous cablegram was sent to the New York Stock Exchange from the Stock Exchange in London:
    "To the President of the New York Stock Exchange: [-188-] The members of the London Stock Exchange trust that, in the event of hostilities supervening between the two countries, special pains will be taken so that the excursion steamers will not hamper the operations of the British men-of-war."
    The New York Stock Exchange replied:
    "We hope your warships are better than your yachts." - an allusion to the unfortunate contention of Lord Dunraven over the "Valkyrie" a few months before.
    Mr. Bayard, the American Ambassador, refused to take the warlike attitude of the United States seriously. On the evening of the 15th a dinner was given at the Hotel Metropole for the Actor's Benevolent Fund, at which the Ambassador was present, and where he had consented to respond to a toast. Much curiosity was felt as to his conduct on the occasion, but he manifested the utmost good feeling. In proposing the toast, "The Actors' Benevolent Fund," Sir Francis Jeune who presided referred to the strained relations between the two countries, expressing a hope that the only war possible between them might be a histrionic war. This sentiment was greeted with tremendous applause, and when Mr. Bayard was introduced the enthusiasm reached the highest pitch. He said that England and the United States on that occasion stood on common ground, and he recalled the Biblical story in which two women had claimed the same child. It was proposed that the infant be dismembered and divided between the two women, when, rather than sacrifice its life, the real mother expressed her willingness to surrender the child to the other claimant. "Our interests," he declared, "could not be divided; they were the children of the brain and of the heart, and of a common ancestry. I do not think that they will ever be permitted to die." He added, "I will answer for my kindred and your kindred beyond the sea," and this sentiment was greeted with prolonged cheers. [-189-] He then said in conclusion: "The time is seasonable to invite you to name my country and to join hands across the swelling main."
    The toast was drunk with increased enthusiasm and the cheering continued for some minutes after the Ambassador resumed his seat.
    The speech was cabled to the American newspapers and published throughout the country the following morning, and it added fuel to the flame. Congress was so indignant that many of the members urged the Ambassador's immediate recall.
    While this state of affairs prevailed in the United States, there was not at any time much disposition to brag or bluster on the part of even the most Conservative members of Parliament. The newspapers, except a few of the more excitable Radical organs, and one weekly publication whose hatred of the United States has always resembled a type of political rabies, were equally forbearing. Liberals and Conservatives alike insisted that the United States had taken an erroneous view of the claims of England, which could not be construed by any rational mind as a menace to her rights and dignity. It was declared that England would stand her ground, but intemperate threats of war were deprecated, which, it was declared, would be a disaster to civilization and retard its progress for centuries. There was nothing that approached the anger and resentment which was instantly roused when the German Emperor congratulated President Kruger, a little later, on the success of the Boers in their conflict with Dr. Jameson's forces in the Transvaal. Then there was an immediate movement to place the British army and navy upon a war footing; extensive preparations were made and work was hurriedly carried on, day and night, in every ship-yard in the Kingdom. The flying squadron [-190-] was ordered home and troops from India were dispatched to the Cape.
    What had been known always to unprejudiced Americans who possessed any personal knowledge of the English people-that there was no real animosity on the part of England toward the United States-became more than ever apparent. It was charged by certain classes in America that England, feeling her isolation - an easy term coined for the unthinking and unobserving-felt the need of an alliance with the United States in the furtherance of her schemes in the Far East. It was forgotten that England had already held her own in her negotiations with the Powers, and had extended and firmly established her colonies in every continent on the globe without our assistance or countenance, and that the benefits of an American alliance were not more necessary or apparent to her at that crisis than they had been in any of the phases of her previous development.
    But, while this was true, and England did not desire war with the United States, there were undoubtedly prudential motives that made any prospect of hostilities between the two countries unpopular. There was in England then, as now, a great army of the unemployed who were largely dependent upon public charity, with another and even greater class, who, while upon the verge of pauperism continued to live, unaided, upon their scanty earnings. Bitterness, hopelessness and dangerous discontent were rife amongst them-a spirit which had its counterpart, both in extent and virulence, amongst the same classes in the United States.
    War with this government threatened the bread supply, the one staple which is cheap in England. The extension of territory, success in a controversy over a remote boundary line, whatever it meant in the interpretation of diplo-[-191-]macy, conveyed to the minds of the masses but one possibility - it meant the stoppage of their rations.
    "Bread would go up to a shilling a loaf," a decent laboring man exclaimed, "which would mean a revolution as savage as that of the Commune."
    The misery of the Manchester cotton famine was recalled-the outcome of an industrial disturbance, the reflex effects of our Civil War, in which England had maintained her neutrality and had not been immediately involved. The progress that the British working classes had made in pressing their claims since that time was pointed out, their restlessness under restraint, their privation, which had apparently increased; and a repetition of the Manchester disturbance at this juncture was contemplated with outspoken foreboding.
    The immediate invasion of Canada, which was suggested by Mr. Chauncey Depew, or attributed to him, was accepted as one of those mild pleasantries with which he intersperses his public utterances. A few, however, professed to perceive in this extravagant proposition a premature betrayal of our design to seize the British possessions beyond our northern borders, when a fitting opportunity should present itself. At that time the acquisition of territory, except in the case of Hawaii, which had been virtually an American colony for fifty years, was opposed by the majority in the United States. It was asserted by the intelligent that we had not the genius for colonization, and had more than enough to tax our energies and resources in correcting abuses existing within our borders; in averting disaster at the hands of native and naturalized demagogues whom we had invested with dangerous authority.
    On Sunday, after the news of President Cleveland's message had been received, prayers for the preservation of peace were offered in many of the churches and [-192-] the sermons of the day carefully reviewed the existing differences. All the leading clergy approved the desire expressed by the press and people that the matter be decided by arbitration, advocating a permanent international commission for the adjustment of disputes between the two nations, similar to that which was proposed and was afterwards rejected by the United States.
    At St. James, Piccadilly, Canon Wilberforce spoke with profound feeling, deploring fratricidal strife among Christian nations upon the eve of that season especially dedicated to peace and good will. He made an earnest appeal for self-control, and counseled a careful effort on the part of law-abiding people to restrain from inciting bitterness and alienation by word or deed, and declared that the interest of the United States and England in widening the boundaries of Christendom were identical; they were tacitly pledged to uphold civilization and carry its blessings, virtually acting in harmony, to the uttermost region's of the globe. The civil war between North and South was condemned as evil and useless, the end gained having been possible through peaceable and wiser means.
    The congregation were in a peculiarly receptive frame of mind, and his words produced a marked impression; he was heard with the closest attention, and, as a last proof of emotions deeply stirred, many were even moved to tears.
    This was the attitude of the English clergy, both the non-Conformists and those of the Established church everywhere, and it carried immense weight. The influence of the Established church, an integral and vital part of the actual government, was especially of the greatest importance, and it was the realization of this great ecclesiastical authority in England which had led to a very natural exaggeration of the advantages of clerical advocacy of peace in the United States, where it was not realized that Chris-[-193-]tians are divided into innumerable sects; where there is no office that corresponds to the head of the English hierarchy, and where any institution approaching a state religion, or any semblance of religious interference in political affairs, meets instant and violent opposition. There was, however, much truth in the statement of the Standard on Monday morning that "the exhortation and the prayers which were heard by so many congregations on the other side of the Atlantic were only parallel expressions of the profound feeling which pervaded our English churches.
    Lord Salisbury showed a dignified readiness to consider any reasonable propositions on the part of the United States and the government readily acceded to the popular demand that the question be referred to an arbitration committee. While the formalities necessary to accomplish this were in progress, the excitement in England had time to cool, as occurred in the United States, and in the deliberations that followed reason fortunately prevailed.
    As a final outcome of the agitation, the violent demonstrations in America, the gloom and depression which were prevalent in England, a treaty for determining the boundary between British Guiana was signed at Washington on February 2nd. The whole matter was referred to a commission, in which England was represented by Lord Herschell and Mr. Justice Henn Collins, and Venezuela by Chief Justice Fuller and Justice Brewer of the Supreme Court of the United States, with a fifth, Prof. F. von Mertens of St. Petersburg, whom the King of Sweden was empowered to select to cast the decisive vote in the event of disagreement. The commission entered at once upon its labors, the Schomburgk survey was scrupulously investigated by commissioners dispatched to the Hague, where it is believed important data concerning it had been preserved.
    In her speech from the throne at the opening of Parlia[-194-]ment in February, 1897, the Queen discussed the attitude of the United States in the controversy, "acting as the friend of Venezuela, the terms under which the pending questions of disputed frontier between that republic and my colony of British Guiana may be equitably submitted to arbitration". She said: "It is with much gratification that I have concluded a treaty for general arbitration with the President of the United States, by which I trust that all differences that may arise between us will be peacefully adjusted. I hope that this arrangement may have further value in commending to other powers the consideration of a principle by which the danger of war may be notably abated.
    Justin McCarthy with much audacity criticizes the English in which this pacific sentiment is expressed, but in his comment upon it remarks, in English which seems hardly more lucid than that of the speech: "No event of the Queen's long reign could be more happy or more auspicious than were the mere preliminary arrangements between England and the United States; and, undoubtedly, one of the great benefits of such a treaty would be that it might, and indeed must, commend to other nations the consideration of a principle by which the danger of war might be made, indeed, the last resource, the very last resource, of an international controversy."
    After the commission was formed, a radical change of opinion occurred toward England in the United States. In the war with Spain, which was declared April 25, 1898, Great Britain promptly made known her neutrality and ordered the war vessels of both belligerents to quit her ports, after securing fuel and provisions sufficient to enable them to reach the nearest port in their respective countries. She rendered the United States invaluable service, however, in declaring coal contraband of war, an edict that was disastrous to Spain and of comparatively [-195-] little consequence to the United States, whose ships were readily supplied, even in the Philippines, by transports loaded from American mines. Even the most persistent enemies of Great Britain in the United States were forced to acknowledge that the attitude of England had immense influence in averting intervention on the part of the other foreign powers, especially France, which had invested large sums in Spanish bonds, and which indignantly opposed the willingness of England to arbitrate the Venezuela dispute upon the demand of the United State's, which it plainly termed a precedent establishing the recognition of the Monroe doctrine by other nations as a principle of international law.
    Many now readily admit, in the light of recent events, that the breach which threatened in 1895 was providentially healed, and that a conflict with England followed by war with Spain would have been disastrous, if not fatal, and it is quite probable that this timely friendliness may simplify the task of the arbitration committee.