When Senator Schurz alluded to the northern air, he meant it quite literally. In his view, the temperate climate of the North provided Anglo-Saxons with vigor. According to Schurz, the tropics would powerfully and negatively affect the morals and democratic institutions of the United States.
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It will be one of my chief concerns in this essay to trace how some of these ideas infiltrated political discourse during the debates for the ratification of the Santo Domingo Annexation Treaty 8. Americans would not stop at Santo Domingo, but would continue annexing all the tropics and incorporating tropical peoples who had been driven to shiftlessness by the rays of the sun.
Senator Schurz posited that in the long run the acquisition of territory in the tropics would cause a descent to tyranny and the collapse of the United States Not only would annexation expand American markets, but it would also furnish the most fertile land for the cultivation of commodities. Grant legitimated his expansion plans by appealing to American exceptionalism. If both camps believed in the superiority of the citizens of the United States and the Anglo-Saxon race, how and why is it that they came to such diverging conclusions?
To answer this question requires a departure from approaches that use normative categories to explain American foreign policy. An inquiry into the forms of legitimation used by the historical characters themselves promises a more historically accurate picture. For Grant, the bountiful nature of Santo Domingo could potentially increase American productivity and extend its markets. By closely scrutinizing the language of the contending parties, one can see how different commitments about the effects of climate allowed both parties to come to different conclusions regarding the benefits of Santo Domingo.
But, if indeed this episode was an extension of a homegrown Reconstruction debate regarding the place of blacks in the United States as Nicholas Guyatt has argued 15 , it also brought to the fore an old debate regarding the expansion of a republic. Should the Republic choose greatness over liberty, or is liberty more important than anything else?
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Machiavelli, Montesquieu, James Harrington and John Milton, to name a few, had all provided solutions to this problem On one hand, Machiavelli believed greatness was the lesser evil, for a non-expansive republic that privileged the liberty of its citizens was bound to perish by the aggression of conquering-states. In contrast, an expansive republic like Rome would achieve historical greatness despite its eventual collapse. On the other hand, Harrington argued that Machiavelli had set-up a false dilemma.
A republic did not have to choose between greatness and liberty, but could achieve both; the key was moderation and virtue. Schurz was not opposed to expansion entirely, but the tropics would erode the austere republican citizen of the temperate climate Grant agreed with Machiavelli in that greatness represented a more worthy pursuit. This republican legacy suggests that ideological conventions played a more decisive role in American territorial expansion than historians have acknowledged.
According to this historiography, whatever justifications Americans employed to justify expansion were mere rhetoric that veiled their interest in exploiting foreign territories and peoples. This conviction has driven historians to search for the logic behind American expansion and imperialism as a whole. Others have argued instead that American exceptionalism provided the impetus for expansion.
But, this historiography takes economic benefits as a given, as something that is self-evident trans-historically. In other words, they take for granted that an abundance of natural resources automatically translates into recognition of potential economic and political benefits. This was not the case in the case of Santo Domingo. Whether the tropics and its natural resources could benefit the American republic was one of the major ideological fault lines between the contending parties of the Santo Domingo Treaty.
Love has forcefully has put forward this position by reversing the insights of the previous historiography At no point does he stop to interrogate what race meant to these characters, and whether the definitions of the contending parties had different semantic alignments But if President Grant was seduced by the economic benefits of Santo Domingo it was because the Dominican racial composition and climate was not a hindrance.
In other words, the increasing productivity during the American industrial revolution caused the United States to seek for markets outside its own borders. Industrial development had increased productivity so much that the local American markets could not maintain pace In other words, often broad approaches like these assume that first the United States was progressing towards some inevitable imperial end, and second that this transformation was a natural and uncontested consequence of industrialization. A moment, as understood here, promises to show the contested nature of territorial expansion.
These characterizations obtain their heuristic capacity at the expense of obscuring a more complicated and messy political process, which cannot always be reduced to coherence or structural transformations. One main contribution of Quentin Skinner and J. A Pocock has been to alert historians to approach the past as a foreign country. The task of reproducing foreign contexts then is one of meticulously studying what kinds of problems political thinkers sought to solve when making statements outlining or demanding political action In his vast historical production, Pocock consistently talks about political languages, paradigms and discourses.
What Pocock is hinting at here is particular semantic fields or ways of talking and thinking about politics that can coexist in a given context and that function as frameworks for conceptualizing solutions to political problems Koselleck has sought for non-reductive ways of combining the insights of social and intellectual history Central to his project is a radical historicization of the categories by which people understand the world around them.
For Koselleck, social history must in some respect also be conceptual history. Koselleck does not dismiss social, political and economic structure in his methodology, but for him, concepts not only influence the nature of the particular structure of a context but they function as a vehicle for understanding them In what follows we shall see first, a synchronic study the case of Santo Domingo and second, a conclusion with a diachronic optic that gives some tentative suggestions about the relationship between structural and conceptual change in the history of American imperialism.
The treaty nearly succeeded, but was met with some resistance from anti-expansionists Owning land in Santo Domingo, Cazneau did not entirely abandon his project, but by it became apparent to him that the Dominican president Pedro Santana was shifting his attention towards Spain He was not mistaken as Santana annexed the Dominican Republic to Spain in But Cazneau and his business associate Joseph W.
Fabens continued to devise new ways of making their business schemes work in the Dominican Republic. Nonetheless, the Civil War significantly shifted the United States attention to internal affairs, and it was not until , after the Civil War and the Dominican Restoration war had ended, that Secretary of State William H.
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Seward rekindled his interest in Santo Domingo and visited the island With presidents lasting very little, the country was constantly subjected to bitter political battles. But, the unstable situation of the Dominican Republic was exacerbated when in president Pedro Santana annexed the republic to Spain. Fearful of the consequences of a Spanish recolonization, peasants, intellectuals and sections of the elite alike took arms and fiercely fought against the Spanish empire in a war known as the Restoration.
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Spain had hoped to consolidate the hegemony they once had over the Spanish speaking Caribbean, but the inhabitants of Santo Domingo stood their ground and defeated the Spanish armies. Nonetheless, despite the triumph of the Dominican Republic in obtaining its independence in , the fragile political condition continued unabated.
Fragmentation was especially acute between the political leaders of the north, who exported tobacco and the leaders of the south, who had large cattle ranches.
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In the same token, the Dominican state also lacked infrastructure for generating income, which the government needed primarily for military equipment to combat the opposition. In he contacted President Ulysses Grant informing him that he was willing to annex the entire island to the United States. Consequently, President Grant sent his fellow military veteran of the Civil War General Orville Babcock in order to commence the negotiations Concerned with the racial composition of the Dominican Republic, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish ordered Babcock to collect surveys and statistics of the amount of whites, and mulattoes that lived in Santo Domingo Had it been approved, the treaty would have also incorporated Dominicans as American citizens, and Santo Domingo may have been admitted into the union.
Senator Charles Sumner, who at the time led the committee, appears to have purposely delayed the evaluation.
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The Grant administration refused to give-up, and secretary of state Hamilton Fish managed to sign and extension of the treaty Months after the treaty was defeated, President Grant continued to insist on the Annexation of Santo Domingo. In a draft of his annual address, Grant recommended for a commission to be sent to the Dominican Republic to inquire about the status Santo Domingo in regards to annexation and the potential benefits that the territory could provide to the United State.
Ultimately, this recommendation did not make it to the official annual message, perhaps because Secretary of State Hamilton Fish told the President that he had the constitutional right to appoint such commission and that he only had to ask congress for the expenses of such commission. For President Grant, there was nothing to loose and much to gain from the acquisition of Santo Domingo; it would certainly expand American markets and increase productivity. More importantly for this essay, Sumner argued that leaving the Dominican people to govern themselves was in accordance with natural law.
President Grant intended to present the resolution to both, the House of Representatives and the Senate concurrently Throughout the course of these debates Schurz was to expound clearly his ideas about the negative influence about tropical climate of Santo Domingo. Senator Schurz articulated one the most arduous and sharp criticisms against the Annexation Treaty. For instance, Schurz wanted to know whether it was true that the American Navy had upheld the government of President Baez. If the Dominican people rebelled once the American naval power had been removed, then this would prove that they did not want to be annexed to the United States all along With these denunciations Schurz established that he was firmly opposed to sending commissioners to Santo Domingo.
In other words, Schurz advocated for a longer investigation particularly because he wanted to see the effects of the tropical weather. Schurz was convinced that the tropical climate had a negative effect on people. As Dr. What was typical about this climactic moral discourse was that it saw no problem with explaining differences in human qualities and characteristics by resorting to geographical and climactic zones These climactic beliefs were not just silly concoctions, but essential parts of the legitimating arsenal of American politicians and legislators.
Here Schurz identified his two major problems with tropical climate: first, it leads to shiftlessness and vagrancy, and second, this shiftlessness causes governments to implement slavery. According to Schurz, this great emancipator abolished slavery, yet even then could not avoid implementing forced labor laws. Schurz did not condone this practice, but he believed that in tropical climates such measures of forced labor were inevitable For Schurz, the tropics did not provide people with enough struggle to make them efficient and hard-working.
According to this view, in temperate climates cooperation and strong social institutions are a requirement for survival. Schurz then gives a list of different countries of the tropics and their failed attempts of progress. With these words Schurz confirmed his propensity for resorting to moralistic idioms when talking about the climate. As opposed to Grant who posited that the Dominican people need the help and guidance of the United States, Schurz thought that Dominicans were rather hopeless. Schurz continued monopolizing the debate with his long and vivacious remarks.
But, Schurz responded with his previous assertion; the tropics cause degeneracy. Expanding to the tropics would ultimately degenerate Anglo-Saxon vigor and incessant drive towards democratic institutions. The result would be the implementation of tyranny in the tropical islands. The republican theory of government, dating back to antiquity and reignited during the renaissance and the early modern period, defended the liberty of citizens who participate in the process of making laws to avoid the arbitrary particular will of tyrants.
The rule of law was sacred for this theory of government because a citizen was not free from the law but by the law. Moreover, to prevent the republic from loosing its liberty, citizens could not be dependent on the will of others. Hence, a fair level of equality was often one of its main tenets. Although the pursuit of wealth and power were not always in contradiction with republican government, it was indeed in tension. The pursuit of individual wealth tended to deemphasize the active citizen who endeavors to preserve the common good. An unmediated desire for personal wealth threatened to make some citizens dependent on others, and as a consequence generate tyranny a government without liberty governed by the arbitrary will of a single or few individuals A republican government requires the commitment of austere citizens, who live in the temperate climate where nature is not bountiful.
In the north of the United States, citizens have to struggle and cooperate with each other to survive. In turn, this fosters a robust civic culture that privileges the common good rather than the individual, and as consequence ensures republican liberty. But, the republic has to consistently confront the danger of corruption. If President Grant were to succeed in annexing Santo Domingo, republican liberty would be lost, individuals would be lured by luxury and power, and the republic would not be able to contain its desire for expansion and greatness.
Tyranny would ensue, and like Rome the republic would collapse.