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HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
IN THE years when this Republic was still struggling for 1 existence, in the face of threatened encroachments by hostile monarchies over the sea, in order to make the New World safe for democracy our forefathers established here the policy that soon came to be known as the Monroe doctrine. Warning the Old World not to interfere in the political life of the New, our Government pledged itself in return to abstain from interference in the political conflicts of Europe; and history has vindicated the wisdom of this course. We were then too weak to influence the destinies of Europe, and it was vital to mankind that this first great experiment in government of and by the people should not be disturbed by foreign attack.
Reenforced by the experience of our expanding national life, this doctrine has been ever since the dominating element in the growth of our foreign policy. Whether or not we could have maintained it in case of concerted attack from abroad, it has seemed of such importance to us that we were at all times ready to go to war in its defense. And though since it was first enunciated our strength has grown by leaps and bounds, although in that time the vast increase of our foreign trade and of travel abroad, modern transport, modern mails, the cables and the wireless, have brought us close to Europe and have made our isolation more and more imaginary, there has been, until the outbreak of the present conflict, small desire on our part to abrogate or even amend the old familiar tradition which has for so long given us peace..
In both conferences at The Hague, in 1899 and 1907, we reaffirmed this policy. As our delegates signed the first convention in regard to arbitration, they read into the minutes this statement:
“Nothing contained in this convention shall be so construed as to require the United States of America to depart from its traditional policy of not intruding upon, interfering with, or entangling itself in the political questions or policy or internal
administration of any foreign State; nor shall anything contained in the said convention be construed to iniply a relinquishment by the United States of America of its traditional attitude toward purely American questions.”
At The Hague we pledged ourselves, in case we ever went to war, to observe certain broad general rules of decency and fair fighting. But at the same tinie we cleared ourselves from any responsibility for forcing other nations to observe similar pledges. And in 1906, when our delegates took part in the Algeciras Conference, which was to regulate the affairs of the distracted Kingdom of Morocco, they followed the same formula there. While acquiescing in the new régine which guaranteed the independence and integrity of Morocco, we explicitly announced that we assumed no police responsibility for the enforcement of the treaty. And if any honest doubt was left as to our attitude in regard to the enforcement of Old World agreements, it was dispelled five years later, when our Government refused to protest against the overthrow of the Acte d'Algeciras.
We declined to be drawn into quarrels abroad which might endanger in any way our traditional policy.
Our second great tradition in international relations has been our persistent effort to secure a stable and equitable agreement of the nations upon such a maritime code as would assure to all the world a just freedom of the seas.
This effort was born of our vital need. For although it was possible for the Republic to keep aloof from the nineteenth century disputes that rent the Continent of Europe, we could not be indifferent to the way in which war was conducted at sea. In those early years of our national life, when we were still but a few communities ranged along the Atlantic coast, we were a seafaring people. At a time when our frontiersmen had not yet reached the Mississippi, the fame of our daring clipper ships had spread to all the Seven Seas. So while we could watch the triumphant march and the tragic countermarch of Napoleon's grand army with detached indifference, his Continental Blockade and the British Orders in Council at once affected the lives of our citizens intimately and disastrously.
So it was in the case of the Barbary pirates. We had no interest in the land quarrels and civil wars of the Barbary States, but we fought them for obstructing the freedom of the seas.
And in the decades ever since, although the imagination of our people has been engrossed in the immense labor of winning the West, our Department of State has never lost sight of the compelling interest that we have upon the seas, and has constantly striven to gain the assent of all nations to a maritime code which should be framed and enforced by a joint responsibility. Various watchwords have arisen in this long controversy. We have urged the inviolability of private property at sea, we have asked for a liberal free list and a narrow definition of contraband. But our main insistence has not been on any such details. One salient idea has guided our diplomacy. The law of the sea must be founded not on might but on right and a common accord, upon a code binding all alike, which can not be changed or set aside by the will of any one nation. Our ideal has been not a weakening but a strengthening of legal restraint by the free will and agreement of all. We have asked nothing for ourselves that we do not ask for the whole world. The seas will never be free, in our American meaning, until all who sail thereon have had a voice in framing sea laws. The just governance of the seas must rest on the consent of the governed.
No other question of international polity has found the great powers more divided. But in our insistence on this fundamental principle, we have been strengthened by the support of many other countries. At times we have had the support of Great Britain. No one of our Secretaries of State has more clearly defined our ideal than has Viscount Grey, recently British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. None of our statesmen has ever gone so far as he in advocating limitation of the rights of belligerents on the sea. It was on his initiative that the international naval conference was summoned to London in 1909, and it was under his guidance that the eminent international . lawyers and diplomats and admirals who gathered there drew up the Declaration of London.
While there were in that Declaration sections that did not quite meet our approval and that we should have liked to amend, the document was from our point of view a tremendous step in advance. For although, like any effort to concisely formulate the broad principles of equity, it did not wholly succeed in its purpose, it was at least an honest attempt to arrive at an agreement on a complete international code of sea law, based upon mutual consent and not to be altered by any belligerent in the heat of the conflict.
But the Declaration of London was not ratified by the British Parliament, for the point of view prevailing then in England was that a power dependent almost wholly upon its navy for protection could not safely accept further limitations upon action at sea unless there were compensating limitations on land powers. And this latter concession Germany consistently refused to make. The conference therefore came to naught. And the London Declaration having been rejected by the strongest maritime power, its indorsement was postponed by all the other countries involved. Our motives, however, remained unchanged; and our Government persisted in its purpose to secure a general ratification either of this declaration or of some similar maritime code.
There has been in our diplomacy one more outstanding aspiration. We have constantly sought to substitute juridical for military settlement of disputes between nations.
The genesis of this idea dates from the discussions over the Federal organization of our 13 original States, which were almost as jealous of their sovereignties as are the nations of Europe to-day. The first great step toward the League of Honor, which we hope will at last bring peace to the world, was taken when our 13 States agreed to disarm and submit all their disputes to the high tribunal of the new federation.
And this idea of an interstate court, which except at the time of our Civil War has given this Nation internal peace, has profoundly influenced our foreign policy. Of our efforts to bring others to our way of thinking, an historical résumé was presented by our delegates at the First Hague Conference. A project was submitted there for the formation of a world court. And a few years later Mr. Root, our Secretary of State, in
instructing our delegates to the Second Conference at The Hague, laid especial emphasis on this same international ideal.
We have taken a particular pride in being in the vanguard of this movement for the peaceable settlement by process of law of all disputes between nations. And these efforts have not been without success. For although the last few decades have seen this principle time and again put under a terrific strain, no nation has dared to go to war against the award of a court of arbitration. The stupendous possibilities that lie in arbitration for solving international problenis, promoting liberal principles, and safeguarding human life had been amply demonstrated before the present war began.
But in the discussions at The Hague, largely through the resistance of the German Empire and its satellites, the efforts of our delegates and those of other Governments to bring about a general treaty of compulsory arbitration had failed. And therefore this nation, having been thwarted in its attenipt to secure a general agreenient, began negotiations with all those nations which like our own preferred the methods of law and peace, with the purpose of effecting dual arbitration treaties. And before the end of 1914 we had signed far-reaching treaties with 30 nations, 20 of which had been duly ratified and proclaimed. But in this work, too, we were made to feel the same opposition as at The Hague. For while Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy cordially welcomed our overtures, the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires were noticeably absent from the list of those nations who desired by specific agreements in advance to minimize the danger of war.
On the eve of the present conflict, our position toward other nations might have been summarized under three heads:
1. The Monroe doctrine. —We had pledged ourselves to defend the New World from European aggression, and we had by word and deed made it clear that we would not intervene in any European dispute.
II. The freedom of the seas.-In every naval conference our influence had been given in support of the principle that sea law to be just and worthy of general respect niust be based on the consent of the governed.
III. Arbitration.-As we had secured peace at home by referring interstate disputes to a federal tribunal, we urged a