President Harrison had been a soldier and as President was a little disposed to fight. His attitude gave some of his friends concern. He was opposed to arbitrating the Behring Sea question when Lord Salisbury, at the dictation of Canada, had to repudiate the Blaine agreement for its settlement, and was disposed to proceed to extreme measures. But calmer counsels prevailed. He was determined also to uphold the Force Bill against the South.
When the quarrel arose with Chili, there was a time when it seemed almost impossible to keep the President from taking action which would have resulted in war. He had great personal provocation because the Chilian authorities had been most indiscreet in their statements in regard to his action. I went to Washington to see whether I could not do something toward reconciling the belligerents, because, having been a member of the first Pan-American Conference, I had become acquainted with the representatives from our southern sister-republics and was on good terms with them.
As luck would have it, I was just entering the Shoreham Hotel when I saw Senator Henderson of Missouri, who had been my fellow-delegate to the Conference. He stopped and greeted me, and looking across the street he said:
„There’s the President beckoning to you.”
I crossed the street.
„Hello, Carnegie, when did you arrive?”
„Just arrived, Mr. President; I was entering the hotel.”
„What are you here for?”
„To have a talk with you.”
„Well, come along and talk as we walk.”
The President took my arm and we promenaded the streets of Washington in the dusk for more than an hour, during which time the discussion was lively. I told him that he had appointed me a delegate to the Pan-American Conference, that he had assured the South-American delegates when they parted that he had given a military review in their honor to show them, not that we had an army, but rather that we had none and needed none, that we were the big brother in the family of republics, and that all disputes, if any arose, would be settled by peaceful arbitration. I was therefore surprised and grieved to find that he was now apparently taking a different course, threatening to resort to war in a paltry dispute with little Chili.
„You’re a New Yorker and think of nothing but business and dollars. That is the way with New Yorkers; they care nothing for the dignity and honor of the Republic,” said his Excellency.
„Mr. President, I am one of the men in the United States who would profit most by war; it might throw millions into my pockets as the largest manufacturer of steel.”
„Well, that is probably true in your case; I had forgotten.”
„Mr. President, if I were going to fight, I would take some one of my size.”
„Well, would you let any nation insult and dishonor you because of its size?”
„Mr. President, no man can dishonor me except myself. Honor wounds must be self-inflicted.”
„You see our sailors were attacked on shore and two of them killed, and you would stand that?” he asked.
„Mr. President, I do not think the United States dishonored every time a row among drunken sailors takes place; besides, these were not American sailors at all; they were foreigners, as you see by their names. I would be disposed to cashier the captain of that ship for allowing the sailors to go on shore when there was rioting in the town and the public peace had been already disturbed.”
The discussion continued until we had finally reached the door of the White House in the dark. The President told me he had an engagement to dine out that night, but invited me to dine with him the next evening, when, as he said, there would be only the family and we could talk.
„I am greatly honored and shall be with you to-morrow evening,” I said. And so we parted.
The next morning I went over to see Mr. Blaine, then Secretary of State. He rose from his seat and held out both hands.
„Oh, why weren’t you dining with us last night? When the President told Mrs. Blaine that you were in town, she said: ‚Just think, Mr. Carnegie is in town and I had a vacant seat here he could have occupied.'”
„Well, Mr. Blaine, I think it is rather fortunate that I have not seen you,” I replied; and I then told him what had occurred with the President.
„Yes,” he said, „it really was fortunate. The President might have thought you and I were in collusion.”
Senator Elkins, of West Virginia, a bosom friend of Mr. Blaine, and also a very good friend of the President, happened to come in, and he said he had seen the President, who told him that he had had a talk with me upon the Chilian affair last evening and that I had come down hot upon the subject.
„Well, Mr. President,” said Senator Elkins, „it is not probable that Mr. Carnegie would speak as plainly to you as he would to me. He feels very keenly, but he would naturally be somewhat reserved in talking to you.”
The President replied: „I didn’t see the slightest indication of reserve, I assure you.”
The matter was adjusted, thanks to the peace policy characteristic of Mr. Blaine. More than once he kept the United States out of foreign trouble as I personally knew. The reputation that he had of being an aggressive American really enabled that great man to make concessions which, made by another, might not have been readily accepted by the people.
I had a long and friendly talk with the President that evening at dinner, but he was not looking at all well. I ventured to say to him he needed a rest. By all means he should get away. He said he had intended going off on a revenue cutter for a few days, but Judge Bradley of the Supreme Court had died and he must find a worthy successor. I said there was one I could not recommend because we had fished together and were such intimate friends that we could not judge each other disinterestedly, but he might inquire about him – Mr. Shiras, of Pittsburgh. He did so and appointed him. Mr. Shiras received the strong support of the best elements everywhere. Neither my recommendation, nor that of any one else, would have weighed with President Harrison one particle in making the appointment if he had not found Mr. Shiras the very man he wanted.
In the Behring Sea dispute the President was incensed at Lord Salisbury’s repudiation of the stipulations for settling the question which had been agreed to. The President had determined to reject the counter-proposition to submit it to arbitration. Mr. Blaine was with the President in this and naturally indignant that his plan, which Salisbury had extolled through his Ambassador, had been discarded. I found both of them in no compromising mood. The President was much the more excited of the two, however. Talking it over with Mr. Blaine alone, I explained to him that Salisbury was powerless. Against Canada’s protest he could not force acceptance of the stipulations to which he had hastily agreed. There was another element. He had a dispute with Newfoundland on hand, which the latter was insisting must be settled to her advantage. No Government in Britain could add Canadian dissatisfaction to that of Newfoundland. Salisbury had done the best he could. After a while Blaine was convinced of this and succeeded in bringing the President into line.
The Behring Sea troubles brought about some rather amusing situations. One day Sir John Macdonald, Canadian Premier, and his party reached Washington and asked Mr. Blaine to arrange an interview with the President upon this subject. Mr. Blaine replied that he would see the President and inform Sir John the next morning.
„Of course,” said Mr. Blaine, telling me the story in Washington just after the incident occurred, „I knew very well that the President could not meet Sir John and his friends officially, and when they called I told them so.” Sir John said that Canada was independent, „as sovereign as the State of New York was in the Union.” Mr. Blaine replied he was afraid that if he ever obtained an interview as Premier of Canada with the State authorities of New York he would soon hear something on the subject from Washington; and so would the New York State authorities.
It was because the President and Mr. Blaine were convinced that the British Government at home could not fulfill the stipulations agreed upon that they accepted Salisbury’s proposal for arbitration, believing he had done his best. That was a very sore disappointment to Mr. Blaine. He had suggested that Britain and America should each place two small vessels on Behring Sea with equal rights to board or arrest fishing vessels under either flag – in fact, a joint police force. To give Salisbury due credit, he cabled the British Ambassador, Sir Julian Pauncefote, to congratulate Mr. Blaine upon this „brilliant suggestion.” It would have given equal rights to each and under either or both flags for the first time in history – a just and brotherly compact. Sir Julian had shown this cable to Mr. Blaine. I mention this here to suggest that able and willing statesmen, anxious to coöperate, are sometimes unable to do so.
Mr. Blaine was indeed a great statesman, a man of wide views, sound judgment, and always for peace. Upon war with Chili, upon the Force Bill, and the Behring Sea question, he was calm, wise, and peace-pursuing. Especially was he favorable to drawing closer and closer to our own English-speaking race. For France he had gratitude unbounded for the part she had played in our Revolutionary War, but this did not cause him to lose his head.
One night at dinner in London Mr. Blaine was at close quarters for a moment. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty came up. A leading statesman present said that the impression they had was that Mr. Blaine had always been inimical to the Mother country. Mr. Blaine disclaimed this, and justly so, as far as I knew his sentiments. His correspondence upon the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was instanced. Mr. Blaine replied:
„When I became Secretary of State and had to take up that subject I was surprised to find that your Secretary for Foreign Affairs was always informing us what Her Majesty ‚expected,’ while our Secretary of State was telling you what our President ‚ventured to hope.’ When I received a dispatch telling us what Her Majesty expected, I replied, telling you what our President ‚expected.'”
„Well, you admit you changed the character of the correspondence?” was shot at him.
Quick as a flash came the response: „Not more than conditions had changed. The United States had passed the stage of ‚venturing to hope’ with any power that ‚expects.’ I only followed your example, and should ever Her Majesty ‚venture to hope,’ the President will always be found doing the same. I am afraid that as long as you ‚expect’ the United States will also ‚expect’ in return.”
One night there was a dinner, where Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Sir Charles Tennant, President of the Scotland Steel Company, were guests. During the evening the former said that his friend Carnegie was a good fellow and they all delighted to see him succeeding, but he didn’t know why the United States should give him protection worth a million sterling per year or more, for condescending to manufacture steel rails.
„Well,” said Mr. Blaine, „we don’t look at it in that light. I am interested in railroads, and we formerly used to pay you for steel rails ninety dollars per ton for every ton we got – nothing less. Now, just before I sailed from home our people made a large contract with our friend Carnegie at thirty dollars per ton. I am somewhat under the impression that if Carnegie and others had not risked their capital in developing their manufacture on our side of the Atlantic, we would still be paying you ninety dollars per ton to-day.”
Here Sir Charles broke in: „You may be sure you would. Ninety dollars was our agreed-upon price for you foreigners.”
Mr. Blaine smilingly remarked: „Mr. Chamberlain, I don’t think you have made a very good case against our friend Carnegie.”
„No,” he replied; „how could I, with Sir Charles giving me away like that?” – and there was general laughter.
Blaine was a rare raconteur and his talk had this great merit: never did I hear him tell a story or speak a word unsuitable for any, even the most fastidious company to hear. He was as quick as a steel trap, a delightful companion, and he would have made an excellent and yet safe President. I found him truly conservative, and strong for peace upon all international questions.