Foreign Affairs under Benjamin Harrison
Secretary of State James G. Blaine managed to assuage several potentially troublesome international issues, including:
- Bering Sea Fur Seal Issue. Tensions had long existed between the United States on one side and Britain and Canada on the other over fur seal hunting rights in the Bering Sea. The Americans held that the Bering Sea had originally been controlled by Russia and those rights had been transferred to the United States with the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Britain and the United States agreed to submit the matter to an arbitration panel, which served to obviate the armed conflict the fur trade interests had called for to settle the issue.
- Samoan Rivalry. The Samoan Islands are strategically located midway between the Hawaiian Islands and Australia. Foreign ships visited frequently over the years, developing both trade and friction. Missionaries entered the islands in the years following 1830.
The United States, intent on becoming a major naval power, concluded an agreement with native rulers in 1878, which allowed the development of a coaling and repair station in the harbor at Pago Pago. Britain and Germany soon followed and formalized their commercial positions in the islands. Tensions developed among the foreign powers. In 1889, Germany and the United States had warships in place in Samoa, but were spared a confrontation by the timely intervention of a typhoon. Later that year, an international meeting in Berlin brought a temporary resolution to the rivalry. Samoan independence was formally recognized, but the outside nations assumed supervisory powers over the islands.
The ability to reach this understanding quieted loose talk about the possibility of war between Germany and the United States over Samoa.
- Valparaiso Incident. Two American sailors were killed in a fracas while ashore in Valparaiso, Chile. Secretary Blaine, responding to public outrage, sent a sharp note to the Chilean government. A formal apology was issued to the United States, along with an indemnity of $75,000.
This event foreshadowed America's use of "Big Stick" diplomacy in the region.
- Latin American Cooperation. The nations of Latin America (except the Dominican Republic) gathered in Washington, D.C. in 1889-90 for exchanges of good will and information. These meetings would later lead to the formation of the Pan-American Union in 1910.
The motives of the United States were not entirely pure. Blaine was interested in doing what he could to supplant British influence and trade dominance in South America. Many of the Latin nations were suspicious of their northern neighbor's growing power and moved very slowly toward pan-Americanism.