agreement by which a joint squadron was to undertake to police efficiently the African seas in order to prevent American vessels from engaging in that trade.
Upon the more important matter of boundary, both Webster and Ashburton decided to give up the futile task of convincing each other as to the meaning of phrases which rested upon half-known facts reaching back into the misty period of first discovery and settlement. They abandoned interpretation and made compromise and division the basis of their settlement. This method was more difficult for Webster than for Ashburton, as both Maine and Massachusetts were concerned, and each must under the Constitution be separately convinced. Here Webster used the "Red Line" map, and succeeded in securing the consent of these States. They finally settled upon a boundary which was certainly not that intended in 1782 but was a compromise between the two conceptions of that boundary and divided the territory with a regard for actual conditions and geography. From Passamaquoddy Bay to the Lake of the Woods, accepted lines were substituted for controversy, and the basis of peace was thus made more secure. The treaty also contained provision for the mutual extradition of criminals guilty of specified crimes, but these did not include embezzlement, and "gone to Canada" was for years the epitaph of many a dishonest American who had been found out.
The friendly spirit in which Webster and Ashburton had carried on their negotiations inaugurated a period of reasonable amity between their two nations. The United States annexed Texas without serious protest; in spite of the clamor for "fifty-four forty or fight," Oregon was divided peacefully; and England did not take advantage of the war with Mexico. Each of these events, however, added to American territory, and these additions gave prominence to a new and vexing problem. The United States was now planted solidly upon the Pacific, and its borders were practically those to which Adams had looked forward. Natural and unified as this area looks upon the map and actually is today, in 1850 the extent of territorial expansion had overreached the means of transportation. The Great Plains, then regarded as the Great American Desert, and the Rockies presented impossible barriers to all but adventurous individuals. These men, uniting in bands for self-protection and taking their lives in their hands, were able with good luck to take themselves but little else across this central region and the western barrier. All ordinary communication, all mail and all freight, must go by sea. The United States was actually divided into two very unequal parts, and California and Oregon were geographically far distant colonies.
The ocean highroad belonged to the United States in common with all nations, but it took American ships to the opposite ends of the earth. No regular shuttle of traffic sufficient to weave the nation together could be expected to pass Cape Horn at every throw. The natural route lay obviously through the Caribbean, across some one of the isthmuses, and up the Pacific coast. Here however, the United States would have to use territory belonging to other nations, and to obtain the right of transit and security agreement was necessary. All these isthmus routes, moreover, needed improvement. Capital must be induced to do the work, and one necessary inducement was a guarantee of stable conditions of investment.
This isthmus route became for a time the prime object of American diplomacy. The United States made in 1846 satisfactory arrangements with the Republic of New Granada (later Colombia), across which lay the most southern route, and in 1853 with Mexico, of whose northern or Tehuantepec route many had great expectations; but a further difficulty was now discovered. The best lanes were those of Panama and of Nicaragua. When the discovery of gold in California in 1848 made haste a more important element in the problem, "Commodore" Vanderbilt, at that time the shipping king of the United States, devoted his attention to the Nicaragua route and made it the more popular. Here however, the United States encountered not only the local independent authorities but also Great Britain. Just to the north of the proposed route Great Britain possessed Belize, now British Honduras, a meager colony but with elastic boundaries. For many generations, too, she had concerned herself with securing the rights of the Mosquito Indians, who held a territory, also with elastic boundaries, inconveniently near the San Juan River, the Caribbean entrance to the Nicaraguan thoroughfare. From Great Britain, moreover, must come a large portion of the capital to be employed in constructing the canal which was expected soon to cut the isthmus.
The local situation soon became acute. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the Mosquitoes all claimed the mouth of the San Juan; Honduras and Nicaragua, the control of the Pacific outlet. British diplomatic and naval officers clashed with those of the United States until, in their search for complete control, both exceeded the instructions which they had received from home. The British occupied Greytown on the San Juan and supported the Mosquitoes and Costa Rica. The Americans won favor in Nicaragua and Honduras, framed treaties allowing transit and canal construction, and proposed the annexation of Tigre Island, which, commanded the proposed Pacific outlet.
To untie these knots, Sir Henry Bulwer was sent to Washington to negotiate with John M. Clayton, President Taylor's Secretary of State. Neither of these negotiators was of the caliber of Webster and Ashburton, and the treaty which they drew up proved rather a Pandora's box of future difficulties than a satisfactory settlement. In the first place it was agreed that any canal to be constructed over any of the isthmuses was to be absolutely neutral, in time of war as well as of peace. Both nations were to guarantee this neutrality, and other nations were invited to join with them. No other nations did join, however, and the project became a dual affair which, owing to the superiority of the British Navy, gave Britain the advantage, or would eventually have done so if a canal had been constructed. Subsequently the majority of Americans decided that such a canal must be under the sole control of the United States, and the treaty then stood as a stumbling block in the way of the realization of this idea.
More immediately important, however, and a great wrench to American policies, was the provision that neither power "will ever erect or maintain any fortifications commanding" the canal "or occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over... any part of Central America." This condition violated Adams's principle that the United States was not on the same footing with any European power in American affairs and should not be bound by any self-denying ordinance, and actually it reversed the principle against the United States. An explanatory note accompanying the treaty recognized that this provision did not apply to Belize and her dependencies, and Great Britain promptly denied that it applied to any rights she already possessed in Central America, including the Mosquito protectorate and certain Bay Islands which were claimed by Great Britain as dependencies of Belize and by Honduras as a part of her territory.
In vain did Webster, who succeeded Clayton, seek an agreement. His term of office passed, and the controversy fell into the hands of Lord Palmerston, the jingoistic spirit who began at this time to dominate British foreign policy, and of James Buchanan, who, known to us as a spineless seeker after peace where there was no peace, was at this time riding into national leadership on a wave of expansionist enthusiasm. Buchanan and Palmerston mutually shook the stage thunder of verbal extravagance, but probably neither intended war. Poker was at this time the national American game, and bluff was a highly developed art. The American player won a partial victory. In 1856 Great Britain agreed to withdraw her protectorate over the Mosquitoes,