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had expressed an active interest in the subject. Accordingly, with the aid of these two gentlemen, a plan was drawn up as follows: a company was to be formed to acquire from the Mexican government 50,000,000 acres of land in California. This land was to be paid for as follows:
In deferred Mexican bonds
The cash was to be payable to Mexico in installments, and was to be borrowed by the company at three per cent. interest, the British government guaranteeing the loan.
How the British government was to be persuaded to guarantee such a loan, did not appear; nor did Murphy very clearly see how Great Britain could intervene to prevent the sovereignty over California passing from Mexico to the United States, provided the interests of British subjects were not thereby put in peril. However, the only question with Lord Aberdeen was to find some way of thwarting American expansion, without at the same time risking a war. He even ventured the impossible suggestion that California might set up an independent government, which could be recognized by Mexico and its independence guaranteed by France and England.28
Lord Aberdeen [wrote Murphy] has been reduced to inventing various plans which on the one hand may prevent the dreaded seizure of California by the Americans, and on the other, may not involve England in serious controversies with them. It is not easy to find such a combination, but I believe I am not mistaken in saying that he thinks of nothing else.
But Murphy, of course, did not know that the subject of intervention to save California from the encroaching Americans had been the subject of discussions in the cabinet which had ended in the decision to do nothing, so long as the Oregon question remained open. There was strong pressure brought to bear from many different sources, there were vague tales in the newspapers of British efforts to acquire "the magnificent province of California", and it was urged that the prospect of a war between Mexico and the United States offered an assured means of converting dreams into realities and of securing, by a grant from Mexico, an interest in that great and undeveloped land. 29
28 Murphy to Minister of Relations, November 1, 1845. MSS. Sec. Rel. Ext. 29 A French newspaper, early in March, 1845, stated that it appeared from Santa Anna's correspondence (then recently seized) that he had been on the eve
Lord Aberdeen's son, writing of the cabinet discussion, and the proposal to establish a British colony in California, says:30
Nor was Sir Robert Peel wholly undazzled by the prospect. Aberdeen, however, maintained that although, had the interest already existed, it would be right to maintain it, its establishment at such a moment, and in such a manner, would be little less hostile than a declaration by England and France that they would not permit the conquest of California, which would virtually be a declaration of war against the United States. But even this he would prefer to the creation of an unreal interest for political purposes. The grant might create a very pretty quarrel, but no amount of privileges bestowed by Mexico would suffice to keep out American settlers, who would probably be too powerful for the English. But, above all, while the Oregon question was still capable of a peaceful settlement, he deprecated a measure which would practically render such a settlement impossible. Should the negotiation respecting it end in war, the offers of Mexico should be at once accepted, and the active co-operation of Mexican forces on the south-west frontier of the United States encouraged as a formidable diversion of the American forces.
This then was the final decision of the British government, and it involved some embarrassment to their agents in America, and especially to Sir George Seymour, the admiral in command of the naval squadron on the Pacific coast. He was left wholly without instructions in reference to California, and all he knew of the policy of his government was derived from the copy of Lord Aberdeen's instructions of December 31, 1844, which, late in the year 1845, Bankhead sent him from Mexico.
From these instructions the admiral gathered that while the separation of California from Mexico was regarded as probably inevitable, it was for the Mexican government alone to take measures for providing against such a contingency; that Great Britain. had no ground for interfering to preserve California to Mexico, just as it had no right to excite or encourage the inhabitants to separate from Mexico; and that if Mexico chose to be wilfully blind, it could not be helped. A policy of complete non-interference thus seemed to be prescribed, although the British minister had been enjoined to keep his attention "vigilantly alive" to every credible report of occurrences in California, and especially with respect to of ceding California to perfidious Albion for the sum of $25,000,000, “of which he had reserved for himself a considerable portion". This was copied a day or two later in the English press, and a question was asked in the House of Commons concerning it. Sir Robert Peel for the government of the day and Lord Palmerston for the former government, declared the story to be "as utterly without foundation as any report that was ever invented". Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, third series, LXXVIII. 431 (March 7, 1845).
30 Gordon, Aberdeen, pp. 183-184.
the proceedings of American citizens settled in that province, who, it was thought, were "likely to play a prominent part in any proceeding which may take place there, having for its object to free the Province from the yoke of Mexico ".31
In the spring of 1846, Admiral Seymour, still without any later instructions, was rendered anxious by the increase of the United States naval forces in the Pacific, and he wrote urging that reenforcements be sent him. Again in the month of June he wrote that he had not deemed it advisable to proceed to California "under the views expressed by the Earl of Aberdeen to Her Majesty's Minister in Mexico, deprecating interference, while California formed a part of the Mexican Republic ".32 This, of course, is proof positive that no instructions in reference to California of a date later than December 31, 1844, had reached him; much as he must have desired to learn what was expected of the ships under his command.
The British policy of waiting to see what would happen in the Oregon business before deciding what to do about California, involved also the necessity, or at least the desirability, of preventing Mexico from beginning hostilities prematurely. The news, therefore, that the American government had offered to resume diplomatic relations and to send a minister to Mexico, fitted in exactly with Aberdeen's plans. He hoped that everything might be gained by negotiation, especially time; and he was careful to warn the Mexicans to go slowly. Murphy, the Mexican minister, having referred in conversation to the Oregon dispute :33
Lord Aberdeen replied that England would do everything compatible with her honor and her interest to avoid a conflict, and that he believed and hoped that the United States, after all, would not disturb the peace between the two countries; that at any rate there would be a whole year in which to negotiate on the subject; that within the year either the United States would submit it to the arbitration of some third power, or they would agree on some honorable and convenient division of the disputed territory; and that if neither of these things were done (though he was sure they would be) then God knew what would happen. His Lordship continued, "So far as concerns your negotiation with the United States, as it is always your custom to go slow, you might now do so from policy."
31 Aberdeen to Bankhead, December 31, 1844. Adams, pp. 249-250.
32 Seymour to Corry, June 13, 1846. Ibid., p. 258. See also letter from Lord Alcester, Century Magazine, XL. 794.
33 Murphy to Minister of Relations, January 1, 1846. MSS. Sec. Rel. Ext.
34 Italics in the original. "Ya
ahora pueden hacerlo por cálculo.'
que siempre andan Vmds. despacio por habito,
Nothing more was said about grants of land in California or projects of colonization. These were tacitly dropped, and nothing was heard from them again. The European governments waited. for news from America.
Toward the end of January, 1846, Murphy received instructions from his government written just before the arrival of the American minister (John Slidell) at Vera Cruz. Nothing, he was told, had yet been heard from the United States as to the arrival of a commissioner to settle the pending questions ", but the American ships of war had been withdrawn from before Vera Cruz. There were rumors that General Taylor was advancing from Corpus Christi, Texas, where he had been encamped since the summer, but this was supposed to be due to the fact that he had not yet been informed of the arrangement to receive the American commissioner. Nothing had been omitted, so far as the scanty resources of the treasury would permit, to provide for the defense and security of the Department of the Californias. A military expedition was preparing, part of which was already at Acapulco, and would proceed to its destination as soon as possible; "but as perchance it may not be sufficient to ward off a coup de main by the Americans, in case hostilities should be begun, it is indispensable to rely on the assistance which the Government hopes to obtain from Great Britain and France " 35
There was really nothing new in all this, but Murphy duly called at the Foreign Office, and then wrote that he had nothing to add to the information he had previously given. The Foreign Secretary still strongly objected to the Americans taking California, and would be glad to employ the power of Great Britain to prevent it; but he would not dare to take such a step, as he feared a war with the United States. But, added Murphy, "this consideration would not stop him, if he could count on the co-operation of France"; and although France had not openly changed her policy, yet Guizot's recent speeches, in which he deplored the spirit of aggression that prevailed in the United States, furnished some ground for hope that such a change had been decided on.
The situation, so far as the Mexican representatives in Europe could see it, was thus summed up:3
Our position under present circumstances appears to me to be as follows: England will do nothing, either directly or indirectly, to forestall the usurpation of California so long as the Oregon question.
Peña y Peña to Murphy, November 28, 1845. MSS. Sec. Rel. Ext. The expedition from Acapulco never got away from that port.
Murphy to Minister of Relations, February 1, 1846. Ibid.
AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XVIII.-20.
remains unsettled. If war breaks out, all difficulty on the part of this Cabinet will have ceased, and there is no doubt that one of their first objects will be, in that event, to prevent that usurpation. If on the contrary the dispute over Oregon is amicably settled, England will find herself more free to act in respect to California,-openly and directly in case France continues in the line of policy she has just adopted and lends her aid, or indirectly by means of some plan of Colonization in California.
Every hope therefore of foreign aid depended on the result of the negotiations concerning the Oregon question; and when that question was settled a few weeks later, Mexico was left by her European friends to the fate which they had so clearly foretold. GEORGE L. RIVES.