Who conducted more skilful Foreign policy?

Published 13 May 2017

At the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century, foreign policy was urgent question not only for USA but also for some European countries. Especially those which had colonies in Pacific region, South America and Eastern or Central Asia. Kings or presidents were trying to have influence over colonies and were either struggling with them or supporting, sending troops or implementing import tariffs, etc.

When analyzing foreign policy of McKinley and Cleveland, not to forget that their presidencies have been conducted during challenging economic conditions: crash of stock market and depression in 1893 (beginning of Cleveland’s presidency). To have growing economy, political stability and conduct effective foreign policy – is ability of not every president. But solutions that each president had to deal with – either economical or political – demanded from both of them the following skills: high personal values, tactics and ability to attain goal effectively.

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To some extend, McKinley and Cleveland were skillful in their foreign policy, but each of them were using different types of its achievement. From one side, previous presidency of Cleveland, helped McKinely to conduct his foreign policy. For instance – Hawaii. According to Philip Kunhardt, annexation of Hawaii was one of major issues of Cleveland’s foreign policy and failed mainly because of improper work of US diplomat John Sterens. But from the other side, for McKinley, annexation of Hawaii was not only establishment of US security in Pacific. As to me, he used Cleveland’s failure of Hawaiian annexation and in this way his foreign policy benefited. Indeed, this is a skill worth noticing. From this episode we get another judgment about presidents and conducted foreign policies: they carried an authority and pushed forward posed goals differently.

I think that to stay out of the war is a skill also. Skillful policy is the one, which does not require unthinking loss of other people’s lives. In my understanding, McKinley’s foreign policy has been more aggressive that Cleveland’s. Actually, McKinley was the one, who started era of international expansion of USA and founds its continuation until today (recent Iraqi crisis). Cleveland did not involve country into the war and this is very strong argument. But note, that even though his policy was less provocative, he had implications towards insurrection in Cuba in 1985. During his cadency, McKinley was the one who led United States into the international war since 1812 (War with Spain over Cuba). Of course, US did not officially declare about their plans to annex Cuba, but this newly formed country automatically fall under US protectorate as well as other former Spanish colonies: Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. Therefore in this issue of foreign policy each president had made his contribution, but still, Cleveland’s policy was not so aggressive and therefore more skillful.

My next argument is to support Cleveland’s foreign policy again. This example relates also to the president’s ability of being aware of current international events and taking them into account. During Venezuelan Boundary Dispute, Richard Olney (former attorney general and secretary of state since 1985) increased influence of United States in Latin America at Britain’s expense. When dispute arose, US pressed Britain to agree to arbitration over this matter and as London had been involved at this time into crisis in Africa – this issue was resolved positively for Venezuela. McKinley in turn, has sent during his presidency 2,000 troops to China to help the Europeans to struggle with Boxer Rebellion and intervened Nicaragua twice.

When thinking of United States back at the end of 19th century – I come to conclusion that Cleveland’s foreign policy has been conducted with greater maturity and thoughtfulness. I also consider Cleveland’s foreign policy to be more skillful, but understand that this argument could be controversial as well.

But if we think from current point of view, we might find that this “unskillful” policy of McKinley have brought us to more successful outcomes – United States as new powerful empire on the worlds stage. “All a man can hope for during his lifetime [is] to set an example,” William McKinley had once said, “and, when he’s dead, to be an inspiration for history.”

List of references:

  • Gibney, Frank “Is President Bush Repeating McKinley’s Mistake in the Philippines?” History News Network. 28 July 2003. George Mason University. 19 May 2004.
  • Gomez, Mazimo, “Gomes sends a letter to U.S. President Grover Cleveland” The Timetable History of Cuba. Feb.9, 1897. History of Cuba. 19 May 2004.
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