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ASPIRATIONS FOR TERRITORIAL EXPANSION: THE PURCHASE OF ALASKA; ATTEMPTS TO ANNEX ST. THOMAS, ST. JOHN, SANTO DOMINGO, AND HAWAII
SEWARD was a very conspicuous prophet of territorial expansion. His lively imagination and enthusiasm, which were easily stirred by mere magnitude, his belief in vast national enterprises, his fondness for optimistic speculation, and his understanding of certain currents and traits of civilization in this hemisphere-all tended to lead him into predictions of the future influence and extent of the United States. Public sentiment at the North, as has been noticed, forbade him to favor any acquisition that would relatively increase the political power of the South. But he felt confident that the United States were to exercise the paramount influence on this continent and in and beyond the Pacific, not only by example, but also by actual governmental control and incorporation.
In a political letter written in 1846, he said: "Our population is destined to roll its resistless waves to the icy barriers of the North, and to encounter oriental civilization on the shores of the Pacific." During the debate about the compromise of 1850, he spoke of "the strifes yet to come over ice-bound regions beyond the St. Lawrence and sun-burnt plains beneath the tropics." In a eulogy of Henry Clay, in 1852, he expressed this opinion:
13 Works, 409.
21 Works, 109.
"Expansion seems to be regulated, not by any difficulties of resistance, but by the moderation which results from our own internal constitution. No one knows how rapidly that restraint may give way. . . . Even prudence will soon be required to decide whether distant regions, east and west, shall come under our own protection, or be left to aggrandize a rapidly spreading and hostile domain of despotism." At St. Paul, in 1860, he had this vision:
Standing here and looking far off into the northwest, I see the Russian as he busily occupies himself in establishing seaports and towns and fortifications, on the verge of this continent, as the outposts of St. Petersburg, and I can say, 'Go on and build up your outposts all along the coast, up even to the Arctic Ocean-they will yet become the outposts of my own country-monuments of the civilization of the United States in the northwest.' So I look off on Prince Rupert's Land and Canada, and see there an ingenious, enterprising, and ambitious people occupied with bridging rivers and constructing canals, railroads, and telegraphs to organize and preserve great British provinces north of the great lakes, the St. Lawrence, and around the shores of Hudson bay, and I am able to say, 'It is very well; you are building excellent states to be hereafter admitted into the American Union.' I can look southwest and see amid all the convulsions that are breaking the Spanish-American republics, and in their rapid decay and dissolution, the preparatory stage for their reorganization in free, equal, and self-governing members of the United States of America."
At the same time he remarked that in casting about "for the future the ultimate central seat of power of the North American people," he had concluded, after looking at Quebec, New Orleans, Washington, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, that it "would yet be found in the valley of Mexico; that the glories of the Aztec capital would be renewed, and that city would become ulti
13 Works, 109.
24 Works, 333.
mately the capital of the United States of America."1 Persons not in sympathy with his prophecies had maintained that he was in favor of adding at least a part of China to the national domain. That this did him no injustice he himself made evident, in 1861, when he wrote to Cassius M. Clay: "Russia and the United States may remain good friends until, each having made a circuit of half the globe in opposite directions, they shall meet and greet each other in regions where civilization first began, and where, after so many ages, it has become now lethargic and helpless.'
Probably to suit some temporary purpose, he also prophesied that Canada would not be annexed. After he returned from Labrador, in 1857, he wrote a letter, which was printed in the Evening Journal, saying that his previous opinion about the future of Canada was dropped "as a national conceit."
"I find them jealous of the United States and of Great Britain, as they ought to be; and, therefore, when I look at their resources and extent, I know that they will be neither conquered by the former nor permanently held by the latter. They will be independent as they are already self-maintaining. Having happily escaped the curse of slavery, they will never submit themselves to the dominion of slave-holders, which prevails in, and determines the character of, the United States.' "All southern political stars must set, though many times they rise again with diminished splendor. But those which illumine the pole remain forever shining, forever increasing in splendor."
On several occasions, both before and after this time, he expressed confidence that the United States were to be the only power on this continent. Naturally, therefore,
14 Works, 331, 332. This was one of his favorite political dreams, and he often spoke of it in private. In 1868 he thought it would come about in thirty years.-4 Pierce's Sumner, 328.
· Dip. Cor., 1861, 293. For other opinions favorable to expansion, etc., see ante, p. 151, and 4 Works, 311, 312, 399.
this counter-prophecy of 1857 was soon forgotten-forgotten even by its author, until during the Trent excitement it was brought to mind and used to refute the charges that Seward had shown an aggressive spirit against Great Britain by advocating the annexation of Canada.1
In all Seward's dreams of territorial expansion was the expectation that they were to be realized by peaceful means, such as the quiet spread of population and the growth of commerce. Although his opinion may have been affected by political considerations in relation to the Mexican War, then impending, he wrote, in 1846: "I want no war. I want no enlargement of territory, sooner than it would come if we were content with 'a masterly inactivity.' I abhor war, as I detest slavery. I would not give one human life for all the continent that remains to be annexed." Nor would he hasten the annexation of Mexico. Fear of the increased influence of slavery resulting from incorporating tropical states led him to study out strong objections. As the inhabitants of Mexico could not govern themselves, he asked if they were to be governed by pro-consular power or by being admitted as equals. Pro-consuls must always be supported by armies, he said; and if the Mexican provinces became states of the Union, there was a serious question whether they would govern or be governed.*
The "Thoughts" of April 1, 1861, seem not to have been affected by any purpose to extend the boundaries
1 Neither the long letter (reprinted in the Philadelphia Press of January 8, 1862) nor the despatch of the same date to Adams, quoting and explaining it, is published or referred to in Seward's Works, or the Diplomatic Correspondence, or Baker's, F. W. Seward's, or Lothrop's biography.
2 See ante, p. 68.
3 3 Works, 409.
43 Works, 655. Somewhat similar expressions are used in the eulogy on John Quincy Adams, 3 Works, 75, 76.
of the United States. But if the vast war contemplated had destroyed monarchical influences on this continent, the United States would probably have been left at the head of a great confederation. That Seward was ready to give a practical expression to his aspirations for territorial expansion is proved by his instructions of June 3, 1861, to Corwin, saying that the United States would purchase Lower California rather than let any part of it fall, either by purchase or conquest, into the hands of the Confederates. But as the Mexican government, like that of the United States, was barely able to sustain itself, there was no time to think about voluntarily contracting boundary lines.
The purchase of Alaska has often been called Seward's greatest service to his country. A vast territory which Russia acquired by right of discovery and held for considerably more than a century, was sold to the United States before hardly a dozen Americans knew that such a proposition was even under consideration. There is a tradition that during Polk's administration something was said to Russia about parting with her possessions in North America. It is certain that as early as 1859 Senator Gwin and the Assistant Secretary of State discussed the question with Stoeckl, the Russian Minister at Washington, and that as much as five million dollars was offered.' The official answer was that this sum was not regarded as adequate, but that Russia would be ready to carry on negotiations as soon as the Minister of Finance could look into the question. There was no occasion for haste; Buchanan soon went out of office; and the subject, which was never known to many persons, seems to have been entirely forgotten for several years.
1 Charles Sumner's speech on The Cession of Russian America, 8.