« PreviousContinue »
CLAY'S HUMAN-FREEDOM LEAGUE.
tical reasoning, lose sight of Europe, he strove for the consolidation of America and insisted upon its peculiar characteristics and its specific interests. The attempt of the Holy Alliance to fetter together Europe in behalf of the interests of absolute monarchy made it seem to him desirable, if not necessary, to oppose to this "unholy league" a union of the states founded upon the "American principle" of popular sovereignty. The authorship of this idea of a solidarity of the interests of all America, resting not only upon the geographical proximity of states, but mainly, indeed, upon the identity of their fundamental political principles, belongs, not exclusively, but yet chiefly, to Clay. According to his plan this solidarity of interests was to assume concrete form in the Panama congress. It would there be legally adopted so far as this fundamental political principle had obtained practical recognition. From this firm standpoint he hoped to see the great plan he had announced as early as 1820 realized-the establishment of a "humanfreedom league in America," in which "all the nations from Hudson's Bay to Cape Horn" should be united, but not simply for the sake of remaining in permanent contrast to Europe, tortured by despots. He declared that through the power of example, through its moral influence, the American system would ever extend farther and farther, so that a point of union, a haven for freedom and lovers of freedom, would be formed upon the soil that was wet with the blood of the revolutionary forefathers.
Friedrich Kapp finds in these ideas the "far-seeing view of a clever statesman," and apparently makes the slaveholders alone responsible for the fact that Clay's high aims remained only pious wishes." The facts do not, in my opinion, fully justify this judgment; too much | responsibility is laid upon the slaveholders. Even without their opposition Clay's ideas could not have been
1 Geschichte der Sklaverei, p. 193.
realized. Under the actual circumstances the ideas were too clever, and so not truly statesmanlike. No one will deny Clay's gifts for statesmanship; but he yielded too readily and too earnestly to the lead of his vigorous fancy. He had to thank it for many fruitful thoughts, but it often prevented his weighing the nature of his plans and the chance of their realization with the necessary soberness. The vast extent and the uncivilized condition of the young west, whose most distinguished representative he was, mirrored itself strongly in his thoughts. He dazzled his hearers by the splendor of his projects, won them a hearing by his fiery, alluring eloquence, and helped himself and his followers over the difficulties in the way by a glittering sketch of the consequences which must result from the development of the ideas. His fancy's flight was towards the sun, but it bore him so high that mountains and valleys began to melt into a plain, and the foot resting on earth stepped uncertainly and insecurely. Moreover, his boldness in decision and action, when every-day circumstances created great and momentous problems that imperatively demanded a thorough solution, did not correspond with his boldness in planning. At such times he could not even entertain an energetic wish for a solution, partly because he did not subject the question of its necessity to proper inquiry, and partly because traditional dogmas and a lack of moral courage made him start with the supposition of its impossibility. Bargaining was then the sum of his wisdom, and his activity degenerated into obstinacy in chaffering. An idealist who wasted the best part of his creative power in impracticable projects, and a politician who was an unsurpassable master of the art of solving great and unavoidable problems by little expedients, these are the most notable traits in Clay's political character. They do not give his picture in full, but they mark the tendency of his influence upon the fate
of the Union. His other qualities and achievements did not lift him above the level of ordinary politicians.
In his speech of March 24, 1818, "on the emancipation of South America," he denied the justice of the assertion. that the South Americans were too ignorant and too superstitious "to allow of the existence of a free state." He questioned the ignorance, but yet denied that ignorance necessitated incapacity for self-government. That, he declared, was the doctrine of the throne, and conflicted with the natural order of things. The South Americans, he said, "adopt our principles, copy our institutions, and in many cases use both the language of our revolutionary ordinances and the thoughts therein expressed." These were facts, indeed, but this blind imitation of the "great example" surely pointed much more to incapacity than to capacity for intelligent self-government. If the Holy Alliance was to be opposed by a league of free states of a sort that could exist, it was self-evidently a condition precedent that the members of the league should be in harmony with the suppositions upon which the league was to rest. It was not enough that they were not ruled by kings; they must be in truth republicans, that is, must have put the theory of popular rule into execution in a rational manner. This was not the case, to a sufficient degree, among the younger free states. On this account Clay's hopes would doubtless have remained beautiful illusions, even if the Opposition had not delayed the decision so long that the ambassadors of the United States reached Panama too late. It is another question whether Adams's more modest wishes might not have been partly fulfilled.
The secretary of state had known how to impart to the president something of his own enthusiasm, which let him. see in the Panama congress the boundary stone of a "new
'Clay, Speeches, I., pp. 89, 90.
epoch of the world's history." Adams's message to the house of representatives fairly surpassed Clay's effusions in pompous phrases. He doubted whether such a favorable opportunity for subserving "the benevolent purposes of divine providence" and dispensing "the promised blessings of the Redeemer of mankind" would again be presented to the United States in centuries. With this tasteless piece of declamation, however, he satisfied his artificially-kindled enthusiasm. The message now begins to treat, in a measured, statesmanlike way, of the questions which the president especially wished to see discussed by the congress and in regard to which he thought the attainment of advantageous results not impossible. He discusses, first and most thoroughly, the conclusion of friendly and commercial treaties, on the basis of complete reciprocity, on the footing of the most favored nation, "the abolition of private war upon the ocean," and limitations of war-usages, in regard to contraband-of-war and blockade, in such a way as to favor neutral trade. After explaining, with great minuteness, his position on the Monroe doctrine and the way in which he wishes to see it brought before the congress and treated by the latter, he touches upon
1 Instructions of May 8, 1826 to the ambassadors. Niles' Reg., XXXVI., p. 71.
2 “But objects of the highest importance, not only to the future wel. fare of the whole human race, but bearing directly upon the special interests of this Union, will engage the deliberations of the congress of Panama, whether we are represented there or not. Others, if we are represented, may be offered by our plenipotentiaries for consideration, having in view both these great results, our own interests and the improvement of the condition of man upon earth. It may be that in the lapse of many centuries no other opportunity so favorable will be presented to the government of the United States to subserve the benevolent purposes of divine providence, to dispense the promised blessings of the Redeemer of mankind, and to promote the prevalence, in future ages, of peace on earth and good will to man, as will now be placed in their power, by participating in the deliberations of this congress." Niles' Reg., XXX., p. 55.
Hayti and Cuba with diplomatic prudence,1 and finally expresses the opinion that an effort should be made on the part of the United States to obtain the recognition of "the just and liberal principles of religious liberty." The message ends with a sort of apology for the exaggerated hopes expressed in its beginning. Adams repeated, indeed, that the matter was one of "transcendent benefit to the human race," but yet called the meeting of the congress"in its nature, a measure speculative and experimental," and declared that it would perhaps be "too sanguine" to expect the realization of "all or even any" of its grand aims.
If Clay reveled in Quixotic allusions and if Adams, too, had been drawn into his intoxication, the Opposition in both houses of congress went just as far on the other side. The zeal shown was, indeed, in great part, a sham. The Panama mission was not the ground of the opposition, but merely gave this the opportunity of introducing itself with effect as an Opposition party. To this was due the boundlessness of the attacks by which congressmen made themselves still more ridiculous than the secretary of state had made himself by the boundlessness of his hopes. Adams rightly called the idea and the plan "benevolent and humane." But the Opposition was so crazed in its blind zeal, that, out of policy, it had not the slightest word of approval
1 I shall return to these three points.
Adams had already urged this view, as secretary of state, in his instructions to Anderson, May 27, 1823. (Elliot, Dip. Code, II., p. 653.) It appears, indeed, from the message that he at first thought only of assuring to citizens of the United States the free exercise of their religion, which had already been secured to them in the treaties with Colombia and Central America.
"An opposition is evidently brewing. It will show itself on the Panama question." Webster to J. Story, Dec. 31, 1825, Webster, Priv. Corres., I., p. 401. Brent of Louisiana said in the house of representatives: Can an Opposition to the present administration be so prejudiced as not to see that this measure recommended by the president is for the protection of our southern interests?" Deb. of Congress, IX., p. 105.