National Geographic : 1902 Sep
PROBLEMS OF progress of this plucky sailor's party westward by way of the Ladrones to the Philippines, and thence on and ever westward until the globe was girdled for the first time by human enterprise, was not merely a signal fact but a preg nant prevision-a truly prophetic por tent whereof the vision and interpreta tion were caught with marvelous insight by the philosopher-poet Berkeley : Westward the course of empire takes its way ; The four first Acts already past, A fifth shall close the Drama with the day: Time's noblest offspring is the last. A pity that the poetic measure and current meaning of pre-Revolutionary days should have met in "'empire," the end of the fourth "Act" (or stage in human progress) and but the painted scene for the fifth ! But, after all, the essence of the fifth Act is empire, albeit of freedom and humanity rather than the mingled tyranny and trumpery " such as Europe breeds in her decay." Magellan's fate, like that of many other explorers, was tragic; the killing of Captain Cook on Hawaii, and the mutiny against Captain Bligh on the good ship Bounty at Pitcairn Island were typical-they served to stimulate curiosity and cupidity, and guided the ever-springing ambition of vigorous men to go, to see, and to conquer. During the last century Caucasian discovery proceeded apace along far too many lines to be followed in an hour ; but one of the lines was of such signifi cance as to demand a moment's thought. While still in the flush of national growth following the annexation of Texas, the acquisition of California, and the Gadsden Purchase, American seamen sailed distant seas and looked on new-seen isles as treasures trove; and the American Congress in 1856 en acted a law authorizing American citi zens to claim, acquire, and possess islands discovered in the broad Pacific. Several were so acquired; some were taken formally and officially by the Navy of THE PACIFIC 339 the United States. Notable among these were two of the " Line Islands"' lying under the equator in mid-ocean ; in 1858 Commander C. H. Davis, U. S. N., took formal possession, in the name of the United States, of Jervis Isl and, in longitude 159° 58', and New Nantucket (or Baker Island), in longi tude 176° 32' (i. e., within little over 200 miles of the anti-prime meridian dividing the western hemisphere from the eastern), and formally reported the annexation to the executive and legisla tive branches of the government amid acclaim eclipsed only by that evoked by his own record in the stirring days to follow.* During that decade as in de cades before, Spain was relaxing dili gence in the Pacific, Russia was cling ing closely to northern shores, Portugal had passed her prime, Germany was full of the affairs of the Fatherland, the sun of Japan was not yet risen, and there was none but Britain to oppose the bridging of the Pacific by American enterprise. The day of Oceania seemed to dawn; the legion islands seemed step ping-stones for the youthful giant among nations, stepping-stones stretch ing to far Cathay and farther Ind. Such was America's promising place in the Pacific toward the end of the fifth decade; but even before the opening of the sixth the ardent growth-flush paled before the threat of domestic dissension, the energy of civilian and navalian voyagers was concentrated at home, and the nation withdrew for a season from the Oceanian field. Thus fell an un reckoned tax of the Civil War-a tax beyond easy summing, and one never to be paid in full. The paralysis of American enterprise in the Pacific was complete; gains ceased, losses began ; the Stars and Stripes floated figuratively * An account of Commander Davis' peaceful conquest with a description of the islands has just been published by James D. Hague in the Century Magazine, vol. Ixiv, September, 1892, p. 653 et seq.