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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Straight Deal: Or, The Ancient Grudge - Chapter 10. Jackstraws
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A Straight Deal: Or, The Ancient Grudge - Chapter 10. Jackstraws Post by :Jim_Hayes Category :Long Stories Author :Owen Wister Date :May 2012 Read :3585

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A Straight Deal: Or, The Ancient Grudge - Chapter 10. Jackstraws

Chapter X. Jackstraws

Jackstraws is a game which most of us have played in our youth. You empty on a table a box of miniature toy rakes, shovels, picks, axes, all sorts of tools and implements. These lie under each other and above each other in intricate confusion, not unlike cross timber in a western forest, only instead of being logs, they are about two inches long and very light. The players sit round the table and with little hooks try in turn to lift one jackstraw out of the heap, without moving any of the others. You go on until you do move one of the others, and this loses you your turn. European diplomacy at any moment of any year reminds you, if you inspect it closely, of a game of jackstraws. Every sort and shape of intrigue is in the general heap and tangle, and the jealous nations sit round, each trying to lift out its own jackstraw. Luckily for us, we have not often been involved in these games of jackstraw hitherto; unluckily for us, we must be henceforth involved. If we kept out, our luck would be still worse.

Immediately after our Revolution, there was one of these heaps of intrigue, in which we were concerned. This was at the time of the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris, to which I made reference at the close of the last section. This was in 1783. Twenty years later, in 1803, occurred the heap of jackstraws that led to the Louisiana Purchase. Twenty years later, in 1823, occurred the heap of jackstraws from which emerged the Monroe Doctrine. Each of these dates, dotted along through our early decades, marks a very important crisis in our history. It is well that they should be grouped together, because together they disclose, so to speak, a coherent pattern. This coherent pattern is England's attitude towards ourselves. It is to be perceived, faintly yet distinctly, in 1783, and it grows clearer and ever more clear until in 1898, in the game of jackstraws played when we declared war upon Spain, the pattern is so clear that it could not be mistaken by any one who was not willfully blinded by an anti-English complex. This pattern represents a preference on England's part for ourselves to other nations. I do not ask you to think England's reason for this preference is that she has loved us so much; that she has loved others so much less--there is her reason. She has loved herself better than anybody. So must every nation. So does every nation.

Let me briefly speak of the first game of jackstraws, played at Paris in 1783. Our Revolution was over. The terms of peace had to be drawn. Franklin, Jay, Adams, and Laurens were our negotiators. The various important points were acknowledgment of our independence, settlement of boundaries, freedom of fishing in the neighborhood of the Canadian coast. We had agreed to reach no settlement with England separately from France and Spain. They were our recent friends. England, our recent enemy, sent Richard Oswald as her peace commissioner. This private gentleman had placed his fortune at our disposal during the war, and was Franklin's friend. Lord Shelburne wrote Franklin that if this was not satisfactory, to say so, and name any one he preferred. But Oswald was satisfactory; and David Hartley, another friend of Franklin's and also a sympathizer with our Revolution, was added; and in these circumstances and by these men the Treaty was made. To France we broke our promise to reach no separate agreement with England. We negotiated directly with the British, and the Articles were signed without consultation with the French Government. When Vergennes, the French Minister, saw the terms, he remarked in disgust that England would seem to have bought a peace rather than made one. By the treaty we got the Northwest Territory and the basin of the Ohio River to the Mississippi. Our recent friend, the French King, was much opposed to our having so much territory. It was our recent enemy, England, who agreed that we should have it. This was the result of that game of jackstraws.

Let us remember several things: in our Revolution, France had befriended us, not because she loved us so much, but because she loved England so little. In the Treaty of Paris, England stood with us, not because she loved us so much, but because she loved France so little. We must cherish no illusions. Every nation must love itself more than it loves its neighbor. Nevertheless, in this pattern of England's policy in 1783, where she takes her stand with us and against other nations, there is a deep significance. Our notions of law, our notions of life, our notions of religion, our notions of liberty, our notions of what a man should be and what a woman should be, are so much more akin to her notions than to those of any other nation, that they draw her toward us rather than toward any other nation. That is the lesson of the first game of jackstraws.

Next comes 1803. Upon the Louisiana Purchase, I have already touched; but not upon its diplomatic side. In those years the European game of diplomacy was truly portentous. Bonaparte had appeared, and Bonaparte was the storm centre. From the heap of jackstraws I shall lift out only that which directly concerns us and our acquisition of that enormous territory, then called Louisiana. Bonaparte had dreamed and planned an empire over here. Certain vicissitudes disenchanted him. A plan to invade England also helped to deflect his mind from establishing an outpost of his empire upon our continent. For us he had no love. Our principles were democratic, he was a colossal autocrat. He called us "the reign of chatter," and he would have liked dearly to put out our light. Addington was then the British Prime Minister. Robert R. Livingston was our minister in Paris. In the history of Henry Adams, in Volume II at pages 52 and 53, you may find more concerning Bonaparte's dislike of the United States. You may also find that Talleyrand expressed the view that socially and economically England and America were one and indivisible. In Volume I of the same history, at page 439, you will see the mention which Pichon made to Talleyrand of the overtures which England was incessantly making to us. At some time during all this, rumor got abroad of Bonaparte's projects regarding Louisiana. In the second volume of Henry Adams, at pages 23 and 24, you will find Addington remarking to our minister to Great Britain, Rufus King, that it would not do to let Bonaparte establish himself in Louisiana. Addington very plainly hints that Great Britain would back us in any such event. This backing of us by Great Britain found very cordial acceptance in the mind of Thomas Jefferson. A year before the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, and when the threat of Bonaparte was in the air, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Livingston, on April 18, 1802, that "the day France takes possession of New Orleans, we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation." In one of his many memoranda to Talleyrand, Livingston alludes to the British fleet. He also points out that France may by taking a certain course estrange the United States for ever and bind it closely to France's great enemy. This particular address to Talleyrand is dated February 1, 1803, and may be found in the Annals of Congress, 1802-1803, at pages 1078 to 1083. I quote a sentence: "The critical moment has arrived which rivets the connexion of the United States to France, or binds a young and growing people for ages hereafter to her mortal and inveterate enemy." After this, hints follow concerning the relative maritime power of France and Great Britain. Livingston suggests that if Great Britain invade Louisiana, who can oppose her? Once more he refers to Great Britain's superior fleet. This interesting address concludes with the following exordium to France: "She will cheaply purchase the esteem of men and the favor of Heaven by the surrender of a distant wilderness, which can neither add to her wealth nor to her strength." This, as you will perceive, is quite a pointed remark. Throughout the Louisiana diplomacy, and negotiations to which this diplomacy led, Livingston's would seem to be the master American mind and prophetic vision. But I must keep to my jackstraws. On April 17, 1803, Bonaparte's brother, Lucien, reports a conversation held with him by Bonaparte. What purposes, what oscillations, may have been going on deep in Bonaparte's secret mind, no one can tell. We may guess that he did not relinquish his plan about Louisiana definitely for some time after the thought had dawned upon him that it would be better if he did relinquish it. But unless he was lying to his brother Lucien on April 17, 1803, we get no mere glimpse, but a perfectly clear sight of what he had come finally to think. It was certainly worth while, he said to Lucien, to sell when you could what you were certain to lose; "for the English... are aching for a chance to capture it.... Our navy, so inferior to our neighbor's across the Channel, will always cause our colonies to be exposed to great risks.... As to the sea, my dear fellow, you must know that there we have to lower the flag.... The English navy is, and long will be, too dominant."

That was on April 17. On May 2, the Treaty of Cession was signed by the exultant Livingston. Bonaparte, instead of establishing an outpost of autocracy at New Orleans, sold to us not only the small piece of land which we had originally in mind, but the huge piece of land whose dimensions I have given above. We paid him fifteen millions for nearly a million square miles. The formal transfer was made on December 17 of that same year, 1803. There is my second jackstraw.

Thus, twenty years after the first time in 1783, Great Britain stood between us and the designs of another nation. To that other nation her fleet was the deciding obstacle. England did not love us so much, but she loved France so much less. For the same reasons which I have suggested before, self-interest, behind which lay her democratic kinship with our ideals, ranged her with us.

To place my third jackstraw, which follows twenty years after the second, uninterruptedly in this group, I pass over for the moment our War of 1812. To that I will return after I have dealt with the third jackstraw, namely, the Monroe Doctrine. It was England that suggested the Monroe Doctrine to us. From the origin of this in the mind of Canning to its public announcement upon our side of the water, the pattern to which I have alluded is for the third time very clearly to be seen.

How much did your school histories tell you about the Monroe Doctrine? I confess that my notion of it came to this: President Monroe informed the kings of Europe that they must keep away from this hemisphere. Whereupon the kings obeyed him and have remained obedient ever since. Of George Canning I knew nothing. Another large game of jackstraws was being played in Europe in 1823. Certain people there had formed the Holy Alliance. Among these, Prince Metternich the Austrian was undoubtedly the master mind. He saw that by England's victory at Waterloo a threat to all monarchical and dynastic systems of government had been created. He also saw that our steady growth was a part of the same threat. With this in mind, in 1822, he brought about the Holy Alliance. The first Article of the Holy Alliance reads: "The high contracting Powers, being convinced that the system of representative government is as equally incompatible with the monarchical principle as the maxim of sovereignty of the people with the Divine right, engage mutually, in the most solemn manner, to use all their efforts to put an end to the system of representative governments, in whatever country it may exist in Europe, and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known."

Behind these words lay a design, hardly veiled, not only against South America, but against ourselves. In a volume entitled With the Fathers, by John Bach McMaster, and also in the fifth volume of Mr. McMaster's history, chapter 41, you will find more amply what I abbreviate here. Canning understood the threat to us contained in the Holy Alliance. He made a suggestion to Richard Rush, our minister to England. The suggestion was of such moment, and the ultimate danger to us from the Holy Alliance was of such moment, that Rush made haste to put the matter into the hands of President Monroe. President Monroe likewise found the matter very grave, and he therefore consulted Thomas Jefferson. At that time Jefferson had retired from public life and was living quietly at his place in Virginia. That President Monroe's communication deeply stirred him is to be seen in his reply, written October 24, 1823. Jefferson says in part: "The question presented by the letters you have sent me is the most momentous which has ever been offered to my contemplation since that of independence.... One nation most of all could disturb us.... She now offers to lead, aid and accompany us.... With her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her, then, we should most seriously cherish a cordial friendship, and nothing would tend more to unite our affections than to be fighting once more, side by side, in the same cause."

Thus for the second time, Thomas Jefferson advises a friendship with Great Britain. He realizes as fully as did Bonaparte the power of her navy, and its value to us. It is striking and strange to find Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, writing in 1823 about uniting our affections and about fighting once more side by side with England.

It was the revolt of the Spanish Colonies from Spain in South America, and Canning's fear that France might obtain dominion in America, which led him to make his suggestion to Rush. The gist of the suggestion was, that we should join with Great Britain in saying that both countries were opposed to any intervention by Europe in the western hemisphere. Over our announcement there was much delight in England. In the London Courier occurs a sentence, "The South American Republics--protected by the two nations that possess the institutions and speak the language of freedom." In this fragment from the London Courier, the kinship at which I have hinted as being felt by England in 1783, and in 1803, is definitely expressed. From the Holy Alliance, from the general European diplomatic game, and from England's preference for us who spoke her language and thought her thoughts about liberty, law, what a man should be, what a woman should be, issued the Monroe Doctrine. And you will find that no matter what dynastic or ministerial interruptions have occurred to obscure this recognition of kinship with us and preference for us upon the part of the English people, such interruptions are always temporary and lie always upon the surface of English sentiment. Beneath the surface the recognition of kinship persists unchanged and invariably reasserts itself.

That is my third jackstraw. Canning spoke to Rush, Rush consulted Monroe, Monroe consulted Jefferson, and Jefferson wrote what we have seen. That, stripped of every encumbering circumstance, is the story of the Monroe Doctrine. Ever since that day the Monroe Doctrine has rested upon the broad back of the British Navy. This has been no secret to our leading historians, our authoritative writers on diplomacy, and our educated and thinking public men. But they have not generally been eager to mention it; and as to our school textbooks, none that I studied mentioned it at all.

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