John Hay was our frequent guest in England and Scotland, and was on the eve of coming to us at Skibo in 1898 when called home by President McKinley to become Secretary of State. Few have made such a record in that office. He inspired men with absolute confidence in his sincerity, and his aspirations were always high. War he detested, and meant what he said when he pronounced it „the most ferocious and yet the most futile folly of man.”

The Philippines annexation was a burning question when I met him and Henry White (Secretary of Legation and later Ambassador to France) in London, on my way to New York. It gratified me to find our views were similar upon that proposed serious departure from our traditional policy of avoiding distant and disconnected possessions and keeping our empire within the continent, especially keeping it out of the vortex of militarism. Hay, White, and I clasped hands together in Hay’s office in London, and agreed upon this. Before that he had written me the following note:

London, August 22, 1898


I thank you for the Skibo grouse and also for your kind letter. It is a solemn and absorbing thing to hear so many kind and unmerited words as I have heard and read this last week. It seems to me another man they are talking about, while I am expected to do the work. I wish a little of the kindness could be saved till I leave office finally.

I have read with the keenest interest your article in the „North American.”[77] I am not allowed to say in my present fix how much I agree with you. The only question on my mind is how far it is now possible for us to withdraw from the Philippines. I am rather thankful it is not given to me to solve that momentous question.[78]

[Footnote 77: The reference is to an article by Mr. Carnegie in the North American Review, August, 1898, entitled: „Distant Possessions – The Parting of the Ways.”]

[Footnote 78: Published in Thayer, Life and Letters of John Hay, vol. II, p. 175. Boston and New York, 1915.]

It was a strange fate that placed upon him the very task he had congratulated himself was never to be his.

He stood alone at first as friendly to China in the Boxer troubles and succeeded in securing for her fair terms of peace. His regard for Britain, as part of our own race, was deep, and here the President was thoroughly with him, and grateful beyond measure to Britain for standing against other European powers disposed to favor Spain in the Cuban War.

The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty concerning the Panama Canal seemed to many of us unsatisfactory. Senator Elkins told me my objections, given in the „New York Tribune,” reached him the day he was to speak upon it, and were useful. Visiting Washington soon after the article appeared, I went with Senator Hanna to the White House early in the morning and found the President much exercised over the Senate’s amendment to the treaty. I had no doubt of Britain’s prompt acquiescence in the Senate’s requirements, and said so. Anything in reason she would give, since it was we who had to furnish the funds for the work from which she would be, next to ourselves, the greatest gainer.

Senator Hanna asked if I had seen „John,” as he and President McKinley always called Mr. Hay. I said I had not. Then he asked me to go over and cheer him up, for he was disconsolate about the amendments. I did so. I pointed out to Mr. Hay that the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty had been amended by the Senate and scarcely any one knew this now and no one cared. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty would be executed as amended and no one would care a fig whether it was in its original form or not. He doubted this and thought Britain would be indisposed to recede. A short time after this, dining with him, he said I had proved a true prophet and all was well.

Of course it was. Britain had practically told us she wished the canal built and would act in any way desired. The canal is now as it should be – that is, all American, with no international complications possible. It was perhaps not worth building at that time, but it was better to spend three or four hundred millions upon it than in building sea monsters of destruction to fight imaginary foes. One may be a loss and there an end; the other might be a source of war, for

„Oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Make deeds ill done.”

Mr. Hay’s bête noire was the Senate. Upon this, and this only, was he disregardful of the proprieties. When it presumed to alter one word, substituting „treaty” for „agreement,” which occurred in one place only in the proposed Arbitration Treaty of 1905, he became unduly excited. I believe this was owing in great degree to poor health, for it was clear by that time to intimate friends that his health was seriously impaired.

The last time I saw him was at lunch at his house, when the Arbitration Treaty, as amended by the Senate, was under the consideration of President Roosevelt. The arbitrationists, headed by ex-Secretary of State Foster, urged the President’s acceptance of the amended treaty. We thought he was favorable to this, but from my subsequent talk with Secretary Hay, I saw that the President’s agreeing would be keenly felt. I should not be surprised if Roosevelt’s rejection of the treaty was resolved upon chiefly to soothe his dear friend John Hay in his illness. I am sure I felt that I could be brought to do, only with the greatest difficulty, anything that would annoy that noble soul. But upon this point Hay was obdurate; no surrender to the Senate. Leaving his house I said to Mrs. Carnegie that I doubted if ever we should meet our friend again. We never did.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington, of which Hay was the chairman and a trustee from the start, received his endorsement and close attention, and much were we indebted to him for wise counsel. As a statesman he made his reputation in shorter time and with a surer touch than any one I know of. And it may be doubted if any public man ever had more deeply attached friends. One of his notes I have long kept. It would have been the most flattering of any to my literary vanity but for my knowledge of his most lovable nature and undue warmth for his friends. The world is poorer to me to-day as I write, since he has left it.

The Spanish War was the result of a wave of passion started by the reports of the horrors of the Cuban Revolution. President McKinley tried hard to avoid it. When the Spanish Minister left Washington, the French Ambassador became Spain’s agent, and peaceful negotiations were continued. Spain offered autonomy for Cuba. The President replied that he did not know exactly what „autonomy” meant. What he wished for Cuba was the rights that Canada possessed. He understood these. A cable was shown to the President by the French Minister stating that Spain granted this and he, dear man, supposed all was settled. So it was, apparently.

Speaker Reed usually came to see me Sunday mornings when in New York, and it was immediately after my return from Europe that year that he called and said he had never lost control of the House before. For one moment he thought of leaving the chair and going on the floor to address the House and try to quiet it. In vain it was explained that the President had received from Spain the guarantee of self-government for Cuba. Alas! it was too late, too late!

„What is Spain doing over here, anyhow?” was the imperious inquiry of Congress. A sufficient number of Republicans had agreed to vote with the Democrats in Congress for war. A whirlwind of passion swept over the House, intensified, no doubt, by the unfortunate explosion of the warship Maine in Havana Harbor, supposed by some to be Spanish work. The supposition gave Spain far too much credit for skill and activity.

War was declared – the Senate being shocked by Senator Proctor’s statement of the concentration camps he had seen in Cuba. The country responded to the cry, „What is Spain doing over here anyhow?” President McKinley and his peace policy were left high and dry, and nothing remained for him but to go with the country. The Government then announced that war was not undertaken for territorial aggrandizement, and Cuba was promised independence – a promise faithfully kept. We should not fail to remember this, for it is the one cheering feature of the war.

The possession of the Philippines left a stain. They were not only territorial acquisition; they were dragged from reluctant Spain and twenty million dollars paid for them. The Filipinos had been our allies in fighting Spain. The Cabinet, under the lead of the President, had agreed that only a coaling station in the Philippines should be asked for, and it is said such were the instructions given by cable at first to the Peace Commissioners at Paris. President McKinley then made a tour through the West and, of course, was cheered when he spoke of the flag and Dewey’s victory. He returned, impressed with the idea that withdrawal would be unpopular, and reversed his former policy. I was told by one of his Cabinet that every member was opposed to the reversal. A senator told me Judge Day, one of the Peace Commissioners, wrote a remonstrance from Paris, which if ever published, would rank next to Washington’s Farewell Address, so fine was it.

At this stage an important member of the Cabinet, my friend Cornelius N. Bliss, called and asked me to visit Washington and see the President on the subject. He said:

„You have influence with him. None of us have been able to move him since he returned from the West.”

I went to Washington and had an interview with him. But he was obdurate. Withdrawal would create a revolution at home, he said. Finally, by persuading his secretaries that he had to bend to the blast, and always holding that it would be only a temporary occupation and that a way out would be found, the Cabinet yielded.

He sent for President Schurman, of Cornell University, who had opposed annexation and made him chairman of the committee to visit the Filipinos; and later for Judge Taft, who had been prominent against such a violation of American policy, to go as Governor. When the Judge stated that it seemed strange to send for one, who had publicly denounced annexation, the President said that was the very reason why he wished him for the place. This was all very well, but to refrain from annexing and to relinquish territory once purchased are different propositions. This was soon seen.

Mr. Bryan had it in his power at one time to defeat in the Senate this feature of the Treaty of Peace with Spain. I went to Washington to try to effect this, and remained there until the vote was taken. I was told that when Mr. Bryan was in Washington he had advised his friends that it would be good party policy to allow the treaty to pass. This would discredit the Republican Party before the people; that „paying twenty millions for a revolution” would defeat any party. There were seven staunch Bryan men anxious to vote against Philippine annexation.

Mr. Bryan had called to see me in New York upon the subject, because my opposition to the purchase had been so pronounced, and I now wired him at Omaha explaining the situation and begging him to wire me that his friends could use their own judgment. His reply was what I have stated – better have the Republicans pass it and let it then go before the people. I thought it unworthy of him to subordinate such an issue, fraught with deplorable consequences, to mere party politics. It required the casting vote of the Speaker to carry the measure. One word from Mr. Bryan would have saved the country from the disaster. I could not be cordial to him for years afterwards. He had seemed to me a man who was willing to sacrifice his country and his personal convictions for party advantage.

When I called upon President McKinley immediately after the vote, I condoled with him upon being dependent for support upon his leading opponent. I explained just how his victory had been won and suggested that he should send his grateful acknowledgments to Mr. Bryan. A Colonial possession thousands of miles away was a novel problem to President McKinley, and indeed to all American statesmen. Nothing did they know of the troubles and dangers it would involve. Here the Republic made its first grievous international mistake – a mistake which dragged it into the vortex of international militarism and a great navy. What a change has come over statesmen since!

At supper with President Roosevelt at the White House a few weeks ago (1907), he said:

„If you wish to see the two men in the United States who are the most anxious to get out of the Philippines, here they are,” pointing to Secretary Taft and himself.

„Then why don’t you?” I responded. „The American people would be glad indeed.”

But both the President and Judge Taft believed our duty required us to prepare the Islands for self-government first. This is the policy of „Don’t go into the water until you learn to swim.” But the plunge has to be and will be taken some day.

It was urged that if we did not occupy the Philippines, Germany would. It never occurred to the urgers that this would mean Britain agreeing that Germany should establish a naval base at Macao, a short sail from Britain’s naval base in the East. Britain would as soon permit her to establish a base at Kingston, Ireland, eighty miles from Liverpool. I was surprised to hear men – men like Judge Taft, although he was opposed at first to the annexation – give this reason when we were discussing the question after the fatal step had been taken. But we know little of foreign relations. We have hitherto been a consolidated country. It will be a sad day if we ever become anything otherwise.

News Reporter

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