CHAPTER V. The United States And The Pacific

Long before the westward march of Americans had brought their flag to the Pacific, that ocean was familiar to their mariners. >From Cape Horn to Canton and the ports of India, there ploughed the stately merchantmen of Salem, Providence, and Newburyport, exchanging furs and ginseng for teas, silks, the "Canton blue" which is today so cherished a link with the past, and for the lacquer cabinets and carved ivory which give distinction to many a New England home. Meanwhile the sturdy whalers of New Bedford scoured the whole ocean for sperm oil and whalebone, and the incidents of their self-reliant three-year cruises acquainted them with nearly every coral and volcanic isle. Early in the century missionaries also began to brave the languor of these oases of leisure and the appetite of their cannibalistic inhabitants.

The interest of the Government was bound to follow its adventurous citizens. In 1820 the United States appointed a consular agent at Honolulu; in the thirties and forties it entered into treaty relations with Siam, Borneo, and China; and owing to circumstances which were by no means accidental it had the honor of persuading Japan to open her ports to the world. As early as 1797 an American vessel chartered by the Dutch had visited Nagasaki. From time to time American sailors had been shipwrecked on the shores of Japan, and the United States had more than once picked up and sought to return Japanese castaways. In 1846 an official expedition under Commodore Biddle was sent to establish relationships with Japan but was unsuccessful. In 1853 Commodore Perry bore a message from the President to the Mikado which demanded - though the demand was couched in courteous language - "friendship, commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our shipwrecked people." After a long hesitation the Mikado yielded. Commodore Perry's success was due not solely to the care with which his expedition was equipped for its purpose nor to his diplomatic skill but in part to the fact that other countries were known to be on the very point of forcing an entrance into the seclusion of Japan. Few Americans realize how close, indeed, were the relations established with Japan by the United States. The treaty which Townsend Harris negotiated in 1858 stated that "The President of the United States, at the request of the Japanese Government, will act as a friendly mediator in such matters of difference as may arise between the Government of Japan and any European power." Through his personal efforts Harris may almost be said to have become the chief adviser of the Japanese Government in the perplexities which it encountered on entering international society.

Not only did the United States allow itself a closer intimacy with this new Pacific power than it would have done with a state of Europe, but it exhibited a greater freedom in dealing with the European powers themselves in the Far East than at home or in America. In 1863 the United States joined - in fact, in the absence of a naval force it strained a point by chartering a vessel for the purpose - with a concert of powers to force the opening of the Shimonoseki Straits; subsequently acting with Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, the United States secured an indemnity to pay the cost of the expedition; and in 1866 it united with the same powers to secure a convention by which Japan bound herself to establish certain tariff regulations.

Nor were the relations of the United States with the Pacific Ocean and its shores confined to trade and international obligations. The American flag waved over more than ships and a portion of the Pacific coast. Naval officers more than once raised it over islands which they christened, and Congress authorized the President to exercise temporary authority over islands from which American citizens were removing guano and to prevent foreign encroachment while they were so engaged. In the eighties, fifty such islands of the Pacific were in the possession of the United States.

In 1872 an American naval officer made an agreement with the local chieftain of Tutuila, one of the Samoan Islands, for the use of Pago Pago, which was the best harbor in that part of the ocean. The United States drifted into more intimate relationship with the natives until in 1878 it made a treaty with the Samoan king allowing Americans to use Pago Pago as a coaling station. In return the United States agreed: "If unhappily, any differences should have arisen, or shall hereafter arise, between the Samoan government and any other government in amity with the United States, the government of the latter will employ its good offices for the purpose of adjusting those differences upon a satisfactory and solid foundation." In 1884 the Senate insisted on securing a similar harbor concession from Hawaii, and within the next few years the American Navy began to arise again from its ashes. The obligation incurred in exchange for this concession, however, although it resembled that in the Japanese treaty, was probably an unreflecting act of good nature for, if it meant anything, it was an entangling engagement such as the vast majority of Americans were still determined to avoid.