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Danish West Indies just the reverse was the case. The governor of the island of St. Thomas was so friendly that United States men-of-war could openly or secretly obtain special favors.' However, Lincoln's administration continually felt the inconvenience of not having in the West Indies a ship-yard and a fortified harbor, where prizes could be passed on, so as to save long and expensive journeys.
Not only was Denmark the power most likely to consent to part with one or more of her West Indian possessions, but her island of St. Thomas was regarded as especially well suited to the purposes in view. It is about twelve miles long and three miles wide, and at that time contained a population of thirteen thousand inhabitants, most of whom spoke English.
1 James Parton, The Danish Islands, 6.
2 Subsequently, Vice-Admiral David D. Porter gave this opinion: "St. Thomas lies right in the track of all the vessels from Europe, Brazil, East Indies, and the Pacific Ocean bound to the West India islands or to the United States. It is a central point from which any or all of the West India islands can be assailed, while it is impervious to attack from landing parties, and can be fortified to any extent. . . . St. Thomas is a small Gibraltar of itself, and could only be attacked by a naval force."-Parton, 63. Ex-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox pronounced the harbor "one of the best in the West Indies, admirable for naval purposes, and fully equal to all the requirements of the commerce of those seas."-Parton, 71. The correctness of these opinions was disputed later.
Parton wrote a good account of the attempt to acquire two of the Danish islands. He was employed by the Danish representative at Washington, who supplied him with confidential documents (4 Pierce's Sumner, 619), and with memoranda of interviews with Seward at different times. His inferences and pleas are sometimes ex parte, but his statements and use of the records were commended even by opponents. The sketch by Miss Olive Risley Seward (2 Scribner's Magazine, new series, 585 ff.), the reply by Sumner's biographer (4 Pierce, 615 ff.), and the letters by "Dixon" (reprinted from the Boston Advertiser of several dates in January, 1869), and by Robert J. Walker (reprinted from the Washington Chronicle of January 28, 1868), are much less complete and valuable than Parton's pamphlet.
island of St. John, much less desirable, has about the same area, but a very small population. Santa Cruz, the other important island of that group, has a population and an area of about twice those of St. Thomas.ant John
In January, 1865, Seward first suggested to the Danish Minister at Washington, General Raasloff, that the United States wished to purchase these islands. The proposition was not received with favor by the Danish government, mainly for the reason that the Prussian amputation of Schleswig-Holstein had weakened and humiliated the Danes so that they were eager to avoid any further appearance of a decline of national prestige. So the question was laid aside until near the end of 1865. Meantime a new Danish Ministry had come into power, and it concluded that a large sum of money might be more beneficial to the interests of the nation than the possession of the islands.
When this was reported to Seward he was about to leave in a United States man-of-war, the De Soto, for a month's cruise in the West Indies. The party consisted of the Secretary, the Assistant Secretary, Mrs. F. W. Seward, and her sister. Avowedly the purpose of the trip was to benefit the health of Seward and his son, neither of whom had recovered from the effects of the murderous assault in the previous April. Notwithstanding the question of health, and Seward's earnest desire not to let the public or foreign nations know of his communications with Denmark, it was widely believed that he was thinking of acquisitions in the tropics. Doubtless the use of a government ship for a family outing strengthened this belief. The De Soto made straight for the harbor of St. Thomas. Seward passed three busy days there, meeting everybody and seeing everything of interest. Then a short time was spent on the island of Santa Cruz. In returning the
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travelers stopped at Santo Domingo city. Seward held a conference with the swarthy members of the revolu tionary government, which was anxious to be recog nized by the United States. The vessel next touched at Port-au-Prince, where the President and Cabinet of a still blacker republic received Seward with a display and formality that bore no resemblance to "republican simplicity." From Hayti the De Soto proceeded to Havana. The party were generously entertained by the Captain-General of Cuba. Notwithstanding Seward's physical condition, he was constantly active as a sightseer and as a recipient of hospitalities. In fact, at all the ports visited he was treated very much like a state guest. Before the end of January, 1866, he was again in Washington.'
The day following Seward's return home he had an interview with the Danish Minister about the proposed cession, and the question was frequently spoken of during the next six months. Neither one wished to suggest a price. At length Raasloff expressed his personal opinion that twenty-five million dollars would be a reasonable sum, and "twenty millions would be the absolutely minimum price. This was certainly complimentary to the supposed munificence, if not to the judgment, of the United States. On July 17, 1866, as Raasloff was about to return to Denmark for the summer, Seward handed him a written offer of five million dollars for the three islands. Nothing but great eagerness to bring about an agreement as soon as possible would have induced Seward to transfer the negotiations to Copenhagen. Yet no progress was made during the next ten months, although Seward repeatedly urged haste, caused Senator Doolittle to visit the Danish capital, and later to try to
13 Seward, 302–19, and Godey's Magazine, April-November, 1894, give particulars of this journey. * Parton, 13.
9 Parton, 15, quotes the letter.
enlist the aid of the Russian Chancellor, Prince Gortchakoff. In a note of March 17, 1867, Seward also besought the Russian Minister at Washington to ask his govern ment to use its influence to persuade Denmark to consent to part with her West Indian islands. This was shortly after Russia had announced her desire to sell Alaska. Not until May 17, 1867, would the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count Frijs, give a definite answer to Seward's offer, which he declined. He was willing, however, to sell the three islands for fifteen millions, or St. Thomas and St. John for ten millions. And in any case there should be no sale without the free and formal consent of the people of the islands concerned. Seward promptly offered seven and a half millions in gold for the three islands, but he objected to consulting the islanders; he was afraid that some influence might induce them to vote adversely. This proposition was also declined by Count Frijs. Then the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the United States might have two of the islands for seven and a half millions, and the third for three and three-quarter millions, but the popular vote must be a precedent condition, because right in itself, and an established custom of Europe. Thereupon the United States Minister broke off negotiations. In July, 1867, Seward telegraphed ordering the acceptance of Denmark's offer for St. Thomas and St. John. Still Denmark held fast to the demand for a popular vote. Seward persisted in his objection until October, and then, finding that he must either yield or give up his hopes. of acquisition, consented to the condition. A monarch would not sell his sovereignty over even distant subjects without their consent; Seward, avowedly a life-long democrat, endeavored to ignore their wishes. The treaty was signed in Copenhagen, October 24, 1867.
1 2 Scribner's Magazine, new series, 592.
Parton, 25, 26, 27.
Next came the question of taking the vote of the inhabitants of St. Thomas and of St. John. Seward appointed the Reverend Doctor Hawley, of Auburn, to act as United States commissioner to help secure a favorable decision. St. Thomas had long been a free port, and its merchants supposed that this was the fountain of their prosperity. They asked that the United States tariff should not, for a considerable time at least, be extended to their harbor. Then, in November, 1867, came a most destructive earthquake, followed by a huge wave, and, later, by a hurricane. Each caused much damage and alarm. The vote was postponed, and the commissioners hastened to Washington, hoping to obtain some assurance that the freedom of the port would not be disturbed. No such arrangement was practicable. The best that could be done was to impress the islanders with the advantages of becoming citizens of the American Union, and to arouse their fears by saying that the United States were determined to have a military and naval station in the West Indies, and if not at St. Thomas, then at some place that would injure the prosperity of their port. So the Danish commissioner returned and made these representations.'
The vote was taken early in January, 1868. The voters formed in procession behind the United States flag and a band playing "Hail Columbia." In St. Thomas one thousand and thirty-nine ballots were cast in favor of annexation and only twenty-two against it. In St. John two hundred and five voted for the cession, and no one against it."
1 Parton, 38.
2 Parton, 39.
Parton quotes one of the newspapers as saying: 'The success of the blue [annexation] ticket relieves both con. tracting parties from an embarrassing position, since it would have been hard to tell how the treaty could have been finally ratified on either side in the absence of a successful plebiscitum-the only mod