Notes on American Foreign Policy 1877-1920

Notes on American Foreign Policy: 1877-1920 Few would argue that America had a clearly defined and articulated foreign policy at the end of Reconstruction in l877.

It was common to read newspaper editorials and comments belittling America’s Foreign Service.

The New York Sun decried the diplomatic service was “a costly humbug and sham.” Instead of making ambassadors, Congress should wipe out the whole service.” The New York Herald declared the “Trans-Atlantic cable had made diplomats unnecessary” and called for the abolition of the foreign ministry.

Perhaps most telling of American indifference to the outside world was Admiral David Porter’s comment in the l870s that the Navy’s fleet was so decrepit that it reminded him of the Chinese who painted dragons on their forts to frighten away their enemies.

Notwithstanding this, a number of factors between 1877 and 1900 pushed the country in the direction of a clear and identifiable American foreign policy:

New Manifest Destiny: The Industrial Revolution gave Americans a greater sense of themselves and America’s place in the world. The replacement of regional markets with a single national market, business sought to expand beyond the continental United States.

Bold new nationalism: Americans took greater pride in their country, reflected in singing the national anthem at sporting events and even comic operas. Americans were vocally unhappy with the attempt of Ferdinand De Lesseps’ attempt to sever the Isthmus and build the Panama Canal. Another example of this new nationalism was Secretary of State James G. Blaine’s tireless effort to create arbitration treaties with Latin American nations and congressional authority to negotiate reciprocity trade agreements. The efforts resulted in the Pan American Conference in l889.

The world became smaller: The New York World’s reporter Nellie Bly’s (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran) recording shattering trip around the world in 72 days made it increasingly difficult for Americans to view the world through “isolationist lens.”

The popularity of Admiral A. T. Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History struck a chord with both civilians and the military that any country is seeking to make its imprint on history needed to follow the example of England and build a robust navy and acquire coaling stations for commercial and military dominance.

Need for Overseas Markets: The remarkable growth of the American economy pushed businesses to find markets outside of the continental United States to unload their surplus goods.

The impact of these various forces, impulses, and factors, pushed Americans to involve themselves in countries and events outside the United States.

Samoa (1878-1899): As early as 1838 American whaling companies stopped off at the Samoan archipelago for rest and refueling. The friendly reception by the Samoan people led the United States to secure a foothold in Samoa.

In l878, the six-foot-four head of Samoa, Le Mamea (referred to as the “tattooed Prince”) was invited to Washington where a treaty was negotiated. The treaty provided that in return for the rights to a coaling station in Pago Pago, the U.S. would employ its “good offices” to adjust any differences between Samoa and other foreign powers.

The weak government had formally bound the United States to support it against foreign powers. This notwithstanding, Samoa the following year made treaties with Great Britain and Germany. Not long after, the Germans pressed demands on the Samoan king for “alleged” wrongs, forcing the U.S. to push against the Germans, leading to a naval standoff in 1888 at Apia. With naval guns trained on one another, a storm blew in and nearly sank both the American and German ships. Great Britain’s navy which was out of the storm’s reach, sailed in to save both countries.

The next year the three countries create a three-headed Samoan protectorate, with the native dynasty nominally “ruling from the royal hut.” However, as the saying goes about too many cooks in the kitchen, it failed. In late 1899, Samoa was permanently divided between Germany and the United States (American Samoa).

The Americanization of Hawaii (the 1870s to 1900):

As early as the 1820s, American whalers and missionaries journeyed to Hawaii. The fishing companies for rest and relaxation, and the missionaries to save souls. By the 1850s, European countries and America saw the strategic and economic value of Hawaii. In fact, American President Franklin Pierce negotiated a treaty for the annexation of the Hawaiian kingdom but blocked by the United States Senate (primarily because it included a provision for immediate statehood).

However, by the l870s the son of the missionaries had become wealthy sugar growers. Moreover, in l875 the U.S. entered into a reciprocity treaty with the Hawaiian kingdom. The treaty bound Hawaii not to make any territorial concessions to any other foreign power and allowed the U.S. a major coaling station. Furthermore, Hawaiians were allowed to ship sugar and other products to the U.S. duty-free. The treaty had little value to native Hawaiians but was of great importance to the white sugar growers who near the end of the nineteenth century owned two-thirds of Hawaii’s real estate.

Queen Liliuokalani ascends to the throne and declared “Hawaii for the Hawaiians”

The sugar-growers conspired with John L. Stevens; the American minister stationed in Honolulu and stages the fake, so-called “Revolution of l893.”

With American troops, stationed ostensibly to protect American property, the sugar-growers deposed Queen Lil.

Immediately a commission composed of three white Americans and one Englishman sail to Washington and push for the annexation of Hawaii. President Grover Cleveland refuses the annexation after finding out the Hawaiian people opposed annexation. However, Republican president, William McKinley has no such reservations and annexes Hawaii in 1898.

The native Hawaiians were not the only people unhappy about annexation. Fresh from defeating China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894), Japan was furious. With a quarter of the population of Japanese descent, they believed Hawaii should belong to them. HH

The Spanish-American War (1898)

War resulted from the forces building in America since the Industrial Revolution.

After years of oppression by Spain’s sugar growers, the Cuban peasants revolted. Using the cry “Viva Cuba Libre,” they sought the ouster Spain’s overlords by terror, dynamiting trains, and burning property owned by the Spanish Americans.

The American press sympathized with revolution making the comparison between their revolution and the American Revolution.American reporting of the revolution was influenced by the “rise of yellow journalism” and the competition between William Randolph Hearst’s New New Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

To increase the circulation of their newspapers, they exaggerated, distorted, and made up facts. Or as one contemporary put it, “they snooped, scooped, and stooped to conquer” their competitors.

At the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, the combined circulation of both newspapers was 800,000. By the end of the Spanish-American War, the circulation doubled to 1.6 million.

To end the rebellion Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to Cuba. General Weyler positions forces between the cities and countryside, and constructs huge wired concentration camps with no humanitarian provisions. Cuban women, children, and men die from the lack of sanitation and brutality.

In the midst of putting down the rebellion, tensions escalate the United States. Spain accuses the U.S. of sympathizing with the revolutionaries and running guns from Florida to support the revolution. Segments of the population pressure the American government to take action to end the revolution. This is especially true of the business community, which is losing money from the destruction of their investment in sugar growing on the island. Men like William Randolph Hearst who has invested millions of dollars in growing sugar on the island.

Still, President McKinley is reluctant to get America involved in the revolution but issues two strongly worded demands of Spain in 1897. He insists on the modification of the concentration camps to make them more humane and granting the Cuban people some sort of autonomy or democracy.

Spain accepts the demands and the crisis appears averted, when early 1898, the USS Maine on a “friendly” trip to Cuba suddenly explodes while in the harbor of Havana. While there were multiple suspects and causes for its explosion, for the American people, the only acceptable suspect is Spain, embodied in the cry, “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain.”

Congress declares war on Spain in April, 1898.

It was a short war lasting roughly four months (August). Yet, it had important implications for America’s place in the world. England hails the quick defeat of Spain praises America for taking its rightful place among the great nations.

The Treaty of Paris, Dec. 10, 1898, officially ended the war. The major consequences of the war are:

a. It ended Spanish Empire in America and the Pacific.

b. Spain gave up rights to Cuba. To let the world know the war was not fought for territorial gain, Congress passed the Teller Amendment as it declared war on Spain. The Amendment specifically declares the U.S. did not covet one an inch of Cuban territory.

c. Spain cedes Puerto Rico, an island in the Marianas, and ultimately Guam to the United States.

d. Spain surrendered the Philippines, but the Phillippine citizens who fought beside the Americans to gain their independence were left with their fate in the hands of a “commission.” Unfortunately “duty, dollars, and destiny” got in the way of America’s outright recognition of Phillipino independence. Betrayed by the United States, the Phillippinos, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, fought the Americans. The Americans used the same concentration camps they denounced the Spanish for erecting. The U.S. employed nearly 70,000 troops to put down the Phillippines.

f. In the end, the U.S. annexed the Philippines.

John Hay and the Open Door Notes 1899, 1900

The annexation of the Philippines made the United States a far eastern power and forced to become increasingly concerned over the dramatic events on the Asiatic mainland. After China revealed her weakness in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the imperialistic European powers descended on the “paper tiger.” They extorted long-term leaseholds and created valuable spheres of influence. Although trade with China was relatively small, it was growing with promising rapidity.

The British, who had the largest foreign trade stake in China, were worried about their presence in the far east. Twice in 1898 and1899, Britain proposed a cooperative arrangement with other countries to ensure equal commercial opportunities in China. This became known as—the Open Door Policy. On both occasions the U.S. said no, arguing it was inconsistent with its traditional no entanglement policy. However, during further discussions with British officials the idea of equal commercial opportunity met with increasing favor. In the end, business pressures on the State Department became strong that some kind of action became imperative. In the late summer of 1899, several British officials working with President William McKinley and Secretary of State John Hay worked out a memorandum that became the Open Door Policy.

Open Door Note One September 6, 1899:

Secretary John Hay sent Open Door notes to Germany, Britain, and Russia. Shortly after, he included Japan, Italy, and France. The note requested each country to provide assurances they would abide by the following:

1. Within its sphere of interest or leasehold in China, no power would interfere with any treaty port or any vested interest.

2. The Chinese tariff treaty would be applicable with such spheres of interest (influence), and the duties were to be collected by the Chinese government.

3. Within their spheres, no power would discriminate in favor of its own nationals in the matter of harbor dues and railroad charges.

Naturally, England and America supported the first open door, while others responded generally or not at all. In truth, the original Open Door Note was merely a dramatic statement of America’s commercial interest, and did not spring from unselfish motives.

Open Door Note Two July 3, 1900:

The Boxer Rebellion prompted the second open door note. A group of fanatical Chinese, called the Boxers, rose up against the foreign “devils” taking over China. After widespread murder and pillaging, a group of whites, including members of various foreign legations found themselves besieged in the foreign legations in Peking, China. American Secretary of State, John Hay led an effort to create an 18,000 international rescue force and free the beseiged foreigners. In August, 1900, the besieged legations were freed. Still, Hay was suspicious that some of the imperialistic powers would take advantage of the chaos to unhinge the Open Door, and issued the Second Open Door.

The note proclaimed that the policy of the Government of the United States was to seek a solution which preserved “Chinese territorial and administrative entity.” Unlike the first Open Door Note, it did not call for an answer. Hay understood that the powers were so strong and suspicious of one another that no one of them was in a position to challenge the Open Door; thus in the end, acquiescing in China’s territorial integrity. Equally important, as countries sought seeking alliances, no wanted to unnecessarily offend the United States, a rising star.

Foreign Policy l900-1920

American and Canal Zone Diplomacy

After the Spanish-American War, public interest of a canal in the Western hemisphere was revived

A.Roosevelt’s Big Stick or Cowboy diplomacy

A French company, headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, threatened to deny the American people the long dream of severing the two continents at Panama. After the French Canal Company had excavated two-fifths of the canal, the whole enterprise collapsed in scandalous ruin—a victim of incompetence, extravagance, disease, heat, and jungles. The collapse allowed President Roosevelt the opportunity to realize America’s dream of severing the Isthmus.

To understand Theodore Roosevelt’s opportunity we need to go back to the 1842 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. In the treaty, the United States and Great Britain agreed that neither country could construct, hold or fortify a canal in the area that became Panama. It should also be mentioned that with the assassination of McKinley, Roosevelt want to prove he was not “his Accidency” but entitled to be president in his own right. Nothing he believed would prove this than “making the dirt fly” building a canal severing the isthmus and drastically cutting American miles and time to reach the Far East.

He pushed through the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 with Great Britain abrogating the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty allowing the U.S. to honorably build, hold, and fortify a canal in this part of the world.

Following an American instigated revolution in Columbia, and recognition of Panama as a sovereign country the U.S. signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. The treaty had the following conditions:

1.The U.S. gave Panama a payment of 10 million dollars and $250,000.00 a year.

2.The U.S. received a canal zone of ten miles and granted extraordinary sovereign rights.

6.Dismayed with Cuban instability and the fear a major power might secure a foothold there, jeopardizing the Isthmus and the U.S., it-forced Cuba to sign the Platt Amendment, reversing the Teller Amendment, and making it a quasi-protectorate.

The Platt Amendment (1901):

a.Cuba could not make a treaty impairing her independence or permitting a foreign power to secure lodgment in or control over the island.

b.Cuba pledged not to incur indebtedness beyond her ability to pay.

c.The U.S. was at liberty to intervene for the purpose of preserving order and maintaining Cuban independence.

d.Cuba agreed to an American-sponsored sanitation program aimed at yellow fever, malaria, and other mosquito-related diseases (not so much for the Cubans but the Americans visiting and living in the Canal Zone).

e.Cuba agreed to sell or lease to the U.S. sites naval and coaling stations. [Guantanamo became the principal base].

The Roosevelt Corollary (1904)

Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy was also seen in his willingness to take on the role of a regional policeman. Following Spanish-American War and his canal diplomacy, he grew concern that a crisis between Venezuela and its creditors could spark an invasion of that nation by European powers. Therefore, he announced the Roosevelt Corollary in December 1904. The Corollary stated the United States would intervene as a policeman and last resort to ensure that other nations in the Western Hemisphere fulfilled their obligations to international creditors, and did not violate the rights of the U.S., or invite “foreign aggression detrimental of the entire body of American nations.

Santa Domingo (1905) was the first example of an attempt to enforce the Roosevelt Corollary. By 1904, after an orgy of murder and civil war the Dominican Republic was bankrupt. Roosevelt feared the four principal European nations with investments might forcibly attempt to collect their debts. Such attempts, especially if countries decided to remain after retrieving their losses, would violate the Monroe Doctrine and jeopardize America’s interests, forcing the United States in an all our war. Such insurrectionary habits of “these wretched republics” imposed certain responsibilities on the United States. In short, Roosevelt believed he could not permit the foreign powers to collect their alleged debts by force. America had a mandate to intervene and compel these reluctant republics to pay their bills.

Under the Corollary, the U.S. forced the Dominican Republic to invite the U.S. in and take over the revenue-producing customs houses. Santa Domingo retained 45% of the customs for Dominican expenses and the U.S. allocated 55% for its outstanding indebtedness. Such a radical assumption of power, Congress initially balked at the corollary but by 1907 got on board with a new treaty with the Dominican Republic.

Another important example of Roosevelt’s “Walk softy but carry a big stick” foreign policy occurred following the Russo-Japanese War, (1904-1905). U.S. relations with both Russia and Japan were strained over their failure to secure certain spoils of war.

The war developed from Russia and Japan’s rivalry for dominance in Korea and Manchuria. After the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan acquired the Liaodong Peninsula from China, but European powers forced Japan to return it. China subsequently leased it to Russia. During the Boxer Rebellion, Russia had thrown troops into Manchuria, ostensibly to protect Russian lives and railroad interests.

Despite repeated and insincere promises to withdraw, they were still there in l904. Equally important, the trans-Siberian Railroad was nearing completion and Russia stalled until the last stake was driven. Once completed the Russians could ship large quantities of military supplies to attack the Japanese. Aware that the Russian bear was not going to withdraw, the Japanese launched a damaging “sneak” attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, Manchuria. At the outset, American sympathies went out to the “clever little Nipponese.” America’s former Secretary of State, Elihu Root praised the Japanese for showing how to fight a “bully.” Americans would not feel the same with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

By the spring of 1905, the Japanese, running dangerously short of men and money, secretary invited President Roosevelt to act as a mediator. He agreed after some hesitation and brought to two belligerents to the negotiating table at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in August of 1905.

Results of the treaty:

The Japanese demanded the Siberian island of Sakhalin and a huge monetary indemnity of $600 million dollars to cover the cost of the war. In the end Japanese did not get $600 million dollars and all of the Siberian island of Sakhalin, It did settle for the southern half and wrested from Russia the Southern Manchurian Railway, and virtually hegemony over Korea in the Katsura Memorandum. Katsura Memorandum (1908) was an agreement of understanding that America recognized Japanese “suzerainty” over Korea. It instructed the state department to direct any inquiries about Korea and from Korea to the Japanese government.

Beyond the treaty, American relations with Japan soured following the war resulting in a second xenophobic episode of the “Yellow Peril.” Attempts to segregate Japanese students in the San Francisco public schools created a saber-ratting exchange between the two governments. To prevent a deeper foreign relations crisis between the two countries, Roosevelt invited the entire board of education and the mayor (under indictment for graft) to the White House where he used his charm to convince them to back off their anti-Japanese activities and allow him to deal with the problem.

Roosevelt understood that behind the attempt to create a caste system for Japanese students in the school system was the desire by Californians to stop the immigration of Japanese, period. To ameliorate this problem, he issued the Gentleman’s Agreement.

Under the Gentlemen’s Agreement:

a. The Japanese agreed to issue no more passports to coolies coming directly to the mainland of the United States.

b. The San Francisco Board of Education rescinded the objectionable school order, and the tensions eased.

c. Japanese immigration under the agreement dwindled to a trickle.

d. Japanese could still go to the Hawaiian Islands.

Following the Gentleman’s Agreement, the U.S. signed one other important agreement with the Japanese, the Root-Takahira Agreement.

The Root-Takahira Agreement between the United States and Japan contained the following points.

Both the U.S. and Japan subscribed to the policy of maintaining the status quo in the Pacific area.

Mutual respect of each other’s territorial possessions in that region of the world.

Uphold the Open Door in China.

Support by peaceful means the “independence and integrity of China.”

To demonstrate that America acted out of fairness and not fear, Roosevelt sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world by from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909. The fleet consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet and painted white except for gilded scrollwork on their bows.

Both the Katsura Memorandum and the Root-Takahira Agreement reflected Roosevelt’s belief in the United States obligation to become internationally involved in world affairs.