Page images

the controversy. This resolution on the part of the American executive, with a full statement of its views on the general principles involved in the dispute, was forwarded to Mr. Bayard for transmission to the British government in Mr. Olney's dispatch of July 20, 1895.1 After reviewing the history of the controversy Mr. Olney stated in the following concise form what he considered the important features of the situation as it then existed:

1. The title to territory of indefinite but confessedly very large extent is in dispute between Great Britain on the one hand and the South American republic of Venezuela on the other.

2. The disparity in the strength of the claimants is such that Venezuela can hope to establish her claim only through peaceful methods-through an agreement with her adversary either upon the subject itself or upon an arbitration.

3. The controversy, with varying claims on the part of Great Britain, has existed for more than half a century, during which period many earnest and persistent efforts of Venezuela to establish a boundary by agreement have proved unsuccessful.

4. The futility of the endeavor to obtain a conventional line being recognized, Venezuela for a quarter of a century has asked and striven for arbitration.

5. Great Britain, however, has always and continuously refused to arbitrate, except upon the condition of a renunciation of a large part of the Venezuelan claim and of a concession to herself of a large share of the territory in controversy.

6. By the frequent interposition of its good offices at the instance of Venezuela, by constantly urging and promoting the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, by pressing for arbitration of the disputed boundary, by offering to act as arbitrator, by expressing its

1 For. Rel., 1895-96, Part I, p. 552.

grave concern whenever new alleged instances of British aggression upon Venezuelan territory have been brought to its notice, the government of the United States has made it clear to Great Britain and to the world that the controversy is one in which both its honor and its interests are involved and the continuance of which it cannot regard with indifference.

The greater part of the dispatch was taken up with a discussion of the bearing of the Monroe Doctrine upon the case and the most striking feature of it was that the Monroe Doctrine was appealed to by name. Mr. Olney's statement of the Monroe Doctrine is worthy of the most careful consideration as it was the fullest and most definite official construction of its meaning and scope that had been given to the world. He said:

That America is in no part open to colonization, though the proposition was not universally admitted at the time of its first enunciation, has long been universally conceded. We are now concerned, therefore, only with that other practical application of the Monroe Doctrine the disregard of which by an European power is to be deemed an act of unfriendliness towards the United States. The precise scope and limitations of this rule cannot be too clearly apprehended. It does not establish any general protectorate by the United States over other American states. It does not relieve any American state from its obligations as fixed by international law, nor prevent any European power directly interested from enforcing such obligations or from inflicting merited punishment for the breach of them. It does not contemplate any interference in the internal affairs of any American state or in the relations between it and other American states. It does not justify any attempt on our part to change the established form of government of any American state or to prevent the people of such state from altering that form accord

ing to their own will and pleasure. The rule in question has but a single purpose and object. It is that no European power or combination of European powers shall forcibly deprive an American state of the right and power of selfgovernment and of shaping for itself its own political fortunes and destinies.

Lord Salisbury's reply to Mr. Olney was given in two dispatches of the same date, November 26, 1895, the one devoted to a discussion of the Monroe Doctrine, the other to a discussion of the rights of the controversy as between Great Britain and Venezuela. In the first dispatch Lord Salisbury argued that Mr. Olney's views went far beyond the scope of the Monroe Doctrine, that no attempt at colonization was being made, and that no political system was being imposed upon any state of South America. He also denied that the Monroe Doctrine was a part of international law, since it had not received the consent of other nations, and he utterly repudiated Mr. Olney's principle that "American questions are for American discussion."

In the second dispatch of the same date Lord Salisbury enters fully into the rights of the controversy between Great Britain and Venezuela, controverting the arguments of the earlier part of Mr. Olney's dispatch, which he characterizes as ex parte.

In view of the very positive character of Mr. Olney's dispatch and of the assertion that the honor and interests of the United States were concerned, the refusal of Great Britain to arbitrate placed the relations of the two countries in a very critical position. The American executive, however, had intervened for the purpose of settling the controversy, peaceably if pos

sible, forcibly if need be, and President Cleveland did not now shrink from the logic of events. In a message to Congress, December 17, 1895,2 he laid before that body Mr. Olney's dispatch of July 20, together with Lord Salisbury's reply. He not only reaffirmed the soundness of the Monroe Doctrine and its application to the case in question, but claimed for that principle of American diplomacy a place in the code of international law.

In regard to the applicability of the Monroe Doctrine to the Venezuelan boundary dispute Mr. Cleveland declared:

If a European power by an extension of its boundaries takes possession of the territory of one of our neighboring republics against its will and in derogation of its rights, it is difficult to see why to that extent such European power does not thereby attempt to extend its system of government to that portion of this continent which is thus taken. This is the precise action which President Monroe declared to be "dangerous to our peace and safety," and it can make no difference whether the European system is extended by an advance of frontier or otherwise.

In regard to the right of the United States to demand the observance of this principle by other nations, Mr. Cleveland said:

Practically the principle for which we contend has peculiar, if not exclusive, relation to the United States. It may not have been admitted in so many words to the code of international law, but since in international councils every nation is entitled to the rights belonging to it, if the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine is something we may justly claim, it has its place in the code of international law as "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," Vol. IX, p. 655.

[ocr errors]

certainly and as securely as if it were specifically mentioned; and when the United States is a suitor before the high tribunal that administers international law the question to be determined is whether or not we present claims which the justice of that code of law can find to be right and valid. The Monroe Doctrine finds its recognition in those principles of international law which are based upon the theory that every nation shall have its rights protected and its just claims enforced.

Mr. Cleveland concluded that the dispute had reached such a stage as to make it incumbent upon the United States to take measures to determine with sufficient certainty for its justification what was the true divisional line between the republic of Venezuela and British Guiana. He therefore recommended that Congress make an appropriation for the expenses of a commission, to be appointed by the executive, which should make the necessary investigations and report upon the matter with the least possible delay. "When such report is made and accepted," he continued, "it will, in my opinion, be the duty of the United States to resist by every means in its power, as a willful aggression upon its rights and interests, the appropriation by Great Britain of any lands or the exercise of governmental jurisdiction over any territory which after investigation we have determined of right belongs to Venezuela.” “In making these recommendations," he added, “I am fully alive to the responsibility incurred and keenly realize all the consequences that may follow."

The publication of this message and the accompanying dispatches created the greatest excitement both in the United States and in England, and called forth the severest criticism of the President's course.

« PreviousContinue »