foreign aggression

The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 51

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.


Privilege Makes U.S. Into Bully

AN invariable consequence of strong centralized power is foreign aggression. Not only is Privilege the cause and largely the controller of such centralization, but, in the fascinations and glamours of foreign encounters, managements and annexations, it finds ways to still the voice of discontent and rivet the chains of hardship on the masses at home.

But such asseverations are as nothing unless susceptible of proof. Where is our proof of foreign aggression? First read the case of the Hawaiian Islands.

Many years ago American missionaries went to the Hawaiian Islands to carry the gospel. Whether their work was effectively done need not be mentioned. The important point to note here is that, besides being missionaries, these clergymen and their families for the most part in the course of years became large landowners there.

Who owns the land, owns the inhabitants thereof. Out of the missionaries' landed possessions arose the idea that Hawaii did not belong so much to the native Hawaiians as to the missionary families. The latter thereupon resolved to take political as well as landed possession. To resolve was one thing, to execute another, since the missionary families were but a handful of the population. But with the cooperation of the American diplomatic representative at Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital, and the aid of the United States warship Boston, a coup d'etat was effected. The Boston landed marines and sailors.

This was done ostensibly to "protect" American life and property and to "prevent" incendiarism. It really lent the force of arms to the revolution. The American missionary party formed a provisional Government and endeavored to make a treaty with the United States looking to annexation. But before the treaty could be ratified by the United States Senate, Mr. Cleveland succeeded Mr. Harrison in the presidency here. Cleveland condemned and repudiated the part played in the Hawaiian insurrection by the American minister. He refused to approve the treaty and actually withdrew it from the Senate's consideration. But on Mr. McKinley's election, the request of the Hawaiian rump Government for annexation was heeded, and the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 2700 miles southwest of San Francisco, became a possession of the United States.

Thus we see that a body of American citizens became a privileged class in Hawaii, and used the powers for aggression of our Republic politically to overturn and then to absorb those islands.

In the island of Santo Domingo, one of the West Indian group, we have displayed a different form of this aggressive principle. Like other of the West Indian and most of the Central and South American governments, the politics of the Dominican island have been revolutionary and excessively extravagant. To the outside world it has seemed as if one unscrupulous Administration or Government followed another, with the chief aim of personal enrichment out of the public finances. Of course this could have but one consequence - heavy public debt. It meant depreciated credit and extraordinary interest required by insecurity of loans. It is a favorite proceeding of a certain class of Princes of Privilege belonging to the banking world in stronger outside countries to buy up the bonds of such discredited Governments. Such bonds are often to be had at a mere song - say ten, and even as low as five, per cent. of the value borne on their face.

The endeavor is then to have the outside Government interfere and compel the payment of the bonds at or near their face value, or else give some substitute which the bondholder shall regard as equivalent.

Something like this was in progress in Santo Domingo. President Morales of the Dominican Government, pressed by that Republic's creditors, concluded to turn over the administration of the customhouses to representatives of the United States Government so as to guarantee payment of the bonds. An agreement, called a "protocol," but which was really a treaty, was on January 20, 1905, signed by Hon. Thomas C. Dawson, United States Resident Minister, and by Citizen Juan Francisco Sanchez, Secretary of State of Foreign Relations of Santo Domingo, for that Republic. The first section of the first article of this so-called protocol read: -

To this end the American Government was to take charge of the Dominican customhouses and customs receipts, and on or about the first of February, some ten days or so after the protocol had been signed, a news dispatch was published in a New York newspaper that representatives of the United States Government had actually taken over the customhouses in the island and had begun to execute the protocol.

And for whose comfort and benefit was this execution being made? Not for that of the people of the United States at large. They were ignorant of possible advantage or disadvantage from that source and even of what was transpiring there. Nor was it for the well-being of the people of Santo Domingo at large. Nobody seems to have mentioned them throughout this whole business. The chief consideration was for the Santo Domingo Improvement Company of New York and other American creditors, and afterward for other similar creditors in Europe.

Besides, it was suggested that President Morales, recognizing the temporary nature of Dominican governments, and anxious to secure his own tenure of office, had sought the protection of the United States Government; for under article seven of the protocol, the United States Government, "at the request of the Dominican Government," was to preserve order there. "In other words," remarked the New York Evening Post, "Morales may comfortably disband his army and turn over to us the work of keeping Dominican conspirators and incendiaries in order."

When the Dominican customhouses were turned over to United States representatives, the "protocol," which in diplomatic parlance is regarded as merely a "first draft" of a treaty, became a treaty in fact. This was in direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, which requires all treaties to be made "by and with the consent of the Senate." President Roosevelt had acted in utter disregard of the Senate. He had taken to himself not only the treaty-making power, but had entered upon a policy of intervening and conducting the affairs of another Government. He seemingly had no intention of submitting the matter to the Senate, and he did submit it only when the Senate demanded information. Then the whole matter was ventilated, many of the provisions of the protocol were condemned and struck out, and the task of finally agreeing upon a proper form of treaty went over to the next Congress.

But while the Senate may resent the attempt of the President to ignore it and to act alone, its majority seems to share his views regarding such governments as the Dominican Republic. Senator Spooner of Wisconsin expressed the dominant idea during the Senate debate on the treaty. He said in substance that the relations of the misgoverned or ungoverned and semi-bankrupt little Republics of this hemisphere to their creditors across the water will always be a source of uneasiness and of possible danger to us, unless we can, in some such way as that sought to be provided in the case of Santo Domingo, assume control over them and arrange the payment of the debts.

But where does this policy stop? With annexation, nothing less. Once enter upon the plan of interfering, and the act of swallowing must sooner or later follow. "The scope of the new policy," says the New York Times, "broadens rather startlingly as we contemplate the possible field of its application." To the other little indebted Republics of the western hemisphere our new policy reduces to this simple question, "Who next?"

Is not this a primary question with Venezuela, for instance? We have dismissed from our diplomatic department with public censure a man who was our resident minister at Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. The cause ascribed was that he so far yielded to "indiscretion" as to turn from the deaf ears of his official superiors at Washington and give to the public press charges of grave official misconduct on the part of his predecessor in the office of American minister at Caracas, who had since become Assistant Secretary of State at Washington. Minister Herbert W. Bowen was discredited and cast out, and Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Loomis excused and retained.

Yet it was shown beyond denial that Mr. Loomis had had for appointment to the Venezuelan post the backing of the Asphalt Trust of the United States and Venezuela, and that he had, while minister, "exchanged checks," each to the value of $5,000, with the Asphalt Trust. It was also shown that he had while in that post become the agent of a West Virginia corporation organized to obtain mining concessions in Venezuela; that he had advanced $5,800 to the putative American, Mercado, on the security of contested torpedo-boat scrip issued by the Venezuelan Government; that he also entered upon an agreement with Mr. Charles R. Mayers to procure, for an estimated remuneration to Mr. Loomis of more than a million dollars, the refunding of Venezuelan loans held by an American syndicate, the minister stipulating, however, that before commencing active work on this plan he should resign from his post of official representative of the United States.

If these projects were more or less failures, the intent was clear. It had a decidedly dark aspect. "How far must a man be smirched before he becomes too shady for our State Department?" asks a daily journal. Yet it should not need argument that our diplomatic service must be rid of all this taint of commercialism if to outside peoples our motives are to appear disinterested. Like Caesar's wife, our official representatives abroad must be above suspicion. But in light of such a case as this, how can Venezuela fail to suspect us as a people, as well as our diplomatic representatives? President Schurman of Cornell in a recent speech said that "Venezuela, too, will soon look to us for some relief."

Venezuelans, like the annexationists of Hawaii, who hope for personal advancement, may so look. But the mass of Venezuelans - how will they look at us? Probably in the way that a fascinated bird stares at a snake when, paralyzed by fear, it beholds the reptile gliding forward to devour it. A demonstration of how the devouring act can be performed was given in the case of Hawaii; and again in that of Panama.

Next Week: Panama, and the Philippines

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