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Russia is the Best Friend America Ever Had
From 1776 to 1917, Russia was the United States’ most valuable ally.
by Paul H. Belz; a personal/historical essay; February 2017
Without Russian assistance against England in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, the United States of America would not have survived and the British would have hanged George Washington.
For 141 years, from 1776 to 1917, Russia was the United States’ best friend and became its biggest trading partner by expanding initiatives of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Nations’ “friendships” aren’t built on love and altruism but on symbiosis; mutual self-interest and cost-benefit analyses. There is never a perfect match. Despite the inherent conflict between republican and autocratic societies, this odd couple was an excellent match in the context of 18th and 19th century geopolitics. Within both Russia and the United States there were dueling factions for and against an alliance. Lincoln was excoriated by many for his friendship with the “barbaric” Russians. In 1848, British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston astutely characterized national friendships but it could have been said by any nation’s leader: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." The American-Russian relationship’s disintegration began with the Communist takeover and purge of the Russian monarchy in 1917 and accelerated with the post-World War II Cold War. This is a sketch of the Russian/American friendship, whitewashed from America’s history books because of that Cold War and the influence of anglophiles morphing our history to suit their political, cultural, and economic agendas.
Early technological and economic cooperation
In 1743 Benjamin Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, the United States’ first intellectual association, which promoted knowledge in the sciences and humanities. In Paris in 1781 he met a Russian princess named Ekaterina Dashkova. He was 75 and she was 37. He was so impressed with her intellect that he quickly invited her to become a member of his elite APS to which no other woman gained membership for 80 years. That intellect led her to reading philosophy in French, German or English, as well as writing music and a comic stage play. Paris was their only physical meeting but the two corresponded for the rest of Franklin’s life. Franklin’s secretary in Paris had been his grand-nephew Jonathan Williams, who later became superintendent of West Point and is considered the “father of the Army Corps of Engineers.” Although Dashkova was not a scientist, she revived the floundering Imperial Academy of Sciences in Russia and became its director. She was the first woman in the world to head a national science academy and it thrived under her leadership. She reciprocated Franklin’s honor by inviting him to become her group’s first American member. He accepted. Dashkova circulated the political, military and scientific writings of Franklin and Williams throughout Russia using the Russian Navy Ministry and the Academy of Sciences. She had risen to such power in Russia because as a nineteen-year-old she rode with Catherine the Great, both disguised as men, in the July, 1762 coup which overthrew Catherine’s husband Peter III. He was a drunkard who had been threatening to lock her in a convent and marry his mistress. Dashkova was awarded the Star of the Order of St. Catherine. Her relationship with Franklin was the bedrock for Russian appreciation of American science and technology, which became integral to Russia’s industrial revolution.
John Paul Jones is revered today as the father of the U. S. navy and he is buried at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus. The Revolutionary War hero captured sixteen enemy ships along the Nova Scotia coastline in 1776. At the invitation of Catherine the Great he joined the Imperial Russian navy as a Rear-Admiral and commanded the flagship Vladimir in the Black Sea during Russia’s war with Turkey from 1787 to 1792. He was awarded the Order of St. Anne for repelling the Turkish fleet from the Livan. This was the war in which Russia originally annexed Crimea from the Ottomans. It’s ironic that an American hero helped them achieve this in light of Americans’ rage directed toward Russia for re-annexing it from Ukraine in 2014. Crimea had been given to Ukraine in 1954 through the efforts of Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, who had been born in Ukraine. Following his service to Russia a document drafted by “Pavel Ivanivich Jones,” as John Paul was known in that country, was adopted as the blueprint for reorganizing the Russian navy into a modern fleet.
Alexander Hamilton was America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and his 1791 Report on Manufactures was translated and widely circulated throughout Russia. He espoused the critical duality of manufacturing and agriculture working integrally. His theories helped evolve economics into a science and triggered a rapid turning away in Russia and the U.S. from feudalistic economic blueprints dependent primarily on the labor of the people for the benefit of the few. He declared rapid industrialization to be “the next great work to be accomplished following the securing of political independence.”
Henry Carey: Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia, Cassius Clay, distributed the works of Henry C. Carey to the Russian Foreign Office and to Emperor Alexander II himself. Carey was a leading 19th-century political economist of the American School of capitalism, and was chief economic adviser to President Abraham Lincoln. He favored Alexander Hamilton’s idea of protecting and promoting industry. He is best known for his 1851 book “The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial.” The book denigrates the “British System” of laissez faire free trade capitalism and praises the “American System” of developmental capitalism, which uses tariff protection and government intervention to encourage production and national self-sufficiency. Clay had Carey’s theories published in Russian newspapers and inserted into pamphlets which were distributed by the thousands throughout Russia. England’s free trade policies would destroy new industries in America because it had a head start on industrialization and could always underprice new American manufacturers into bankruptcy unless they were protected by the government and tariffs. Clay’s Memoirs describes a dinner in his honor in Moscow where his speech concluded with a large gathering of Russian industrialists toasting the “great American economist Henry Carey.”
George Washington Whistler: In the summer of 1840 Czar Nicholas I sent Colonel Paul Melnikov and Colonel Nicholas Kraft to America to study the railroad. They were impressed with West Point graduate Major George Washington Whistler’s work building several railroads as well as seven magnificent stone arch bridges across the Berkshires. Whistler’s work between 1839-1841 as chief engineer for the Boston & Albany Railroad connected Boston with Albany. He bought engines from Baltimore mechanics Ross and son Tom Winans. In 1842, Melnikov and Kraft presented the czar with their study recommending the hiring of Whistler to build the first long-distance, public Russian railroad spanning 402 miles (607 versts) between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Whistler signed a contract in Washington D.C. that May to become the superintendent of the Russian railroad, quadrupling his salary to $12,000 per year. He traveled there in June.
January 13, 1843 was New Year’s Day at the Winter Palace in Russia when Whistler was presented to Czar Nicholas I for the first time, to answer questions and review completed surveys and plans. Melnikov and Kraft recommended the Philadelphia partnership of Eastwick & Harrison to build the railroad’s rolling stock but Whistler insisted that they add the Winans of Baltimore. Joe Harrison, Tom Winans and Andrew Eastwick arrived at St. Petersburg early in the spring of 1843. That December a contract was signed to produce 162 locomotives, 162 tenders, 5300 iron trucks for 8-wheel cars, 2500 eight-wheel freight cars, 70 passenger cars and two custom cars each 80 feet long on 16 wheels.
In 1849 Whistler succumbed to Asiatic cholera in Russia, Eastwick eventually returned home and it fell to Harrison, Tom Winans and his younger brother William to complete the railroad. In the fall of 1851 Czar Nicholas I took his first ride on the completed railroad with Bill Winans at the controls. Harrison eventually returned home to Philadelphia and the Winans family managed the Russian railroad until 1868 when the government bought out their contract for $2 million dollars. The railroad project included the great stone bridge over the Neva River at St. Petersburg, and three iron bridges along the route to Moscow.
Upon completing their rolling stock contract early (albeit two million dollars over budget), the czar presented Harrison, Eastwick, and Thomas Winans with rings, each worth six thousand silver rubles (about three thousand dollars). Shortly before he died, Whistler was given a massive gold medal indicating his admission to the Order of St. Anne. William Winans was the only partner who remained in Russia throughout several American railroad contracts from 1843 through 1868. Over time he was decorated with the Cross of St. Anne, the Vladimir Cross and the Stanislaus Cross, the last of which conferred nobility.
The four American partners at the Alexandroffsky railroad foundry hired and managed thousands of workers, built the prescribed rolling stock and trained the Russians to use the equipment. The French and British had vied for the railroad contract but the Americans prevailed and the successful project deepened the Russian/U.S. friendship.
The American Revolution
Empress Catherine the Great did not send troops or supplies either to the American colonies or the British during the Revolutionary War but Russia was even more instrumental in the American victory than the French naval assistance at Yorktown. It wasn’t as much what Catherine did but what she did not do that was decisive. When news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence reached Russia on August 13, 1776 the empress felt George III’s policies were to blame and she believed the colonies’ separation from England would be good for Russia. She treated King George and his diplomats with contempt.
In 1775 the British Crown had formally petitioned Russia to send 20,000 troops to help put down the rebellion and also requested an alliance with Russia against the colonies. Catherine refused both requests. Had she agreed, the colonies’ quest for independence would have been short-circuited. In 1779 Britain solicited Russia’s use of force against all European allies of America. Catherine refused.
In 1780 Catherine did take action. She proclaimed the “First League of Armed Neutrality.” It was a triumph by Franklin’s followers within the Russian government and it ended Britain’s plans for building an anti-American coalition in Europe. The proclamation stipulated that neutral ships may freely visit the ports of belligerent powers, that the goods of belligerent powers on neutral ships are permitted to pass without hindrance with the exception of war contraband, and that a port cannot be deemed blockaded unless there are actually ships in position blocking it. Catherine got most of Europe to agree to these terms. This facilitated efforts to provide the Americans with money and supplies, particularly in the case of Spain which had declared war against Britain in 1779 to avenge its defeat in the Seven Years War and to hopefully acquire some of England’s colonial lands. England refused to agree with the neutrality proclamation because it undermined the blockade that was its most effective military strategy. Catherine next attempted to act as mediator by submitting a ceasefire plan but the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 ended any hope for a peaceful solution to the American Revolutionary War.
England was unrelenting and tried to bribe Russia into an alliance in 1781 by offering the empress the island of Minorca if she agreed to join the English in the war. The British weren’t asking for troops this time but simply imploring the empress to convince France to stop helping the Americans, thus forcing them to fight alone. Catherine refused the bribe and used it to portray George III as a buffoon to European leaders.
Had Catherine the Great acceded to all of Britain’s requests America would have lost the Revolution.
The War of 1812
During the War of 1812, Russia’s Czar Alexander I conveyed a veiled threat to England, calling for a quick peace with the United States and the abandonment of its disputed territorial claims in America. In 1812, Great Britain was stopping American merchant ships and forcing American sailors into service for the Royal Navy. Britain was also enforcing its blockade of neutral commerce which forbade trade between France, its allies and the Americas. At the request of President James Madison Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 1, 1812. Thomas Jefferson said of England, ”. . . the English being equally tyrannical at sea as he [Napoleon] is on land, and that tyranny bearing on us in every point of either honor or interest. I say, ‘Down with England.’”
Subsequently England attacked Washington and burned the White House and other government buildings, imposed a crippling blockade on the east coast (leading New England states to pursue secession), and militarily acquired land in Maine and the Great Lakes region. Czar Alexander I of Russia offered mediation early in 1814 between Great Britain and the United States. U. S. President James Madison accepted the offer. The czar had Chancellor Romanzoff approach the American minister John Quincy Adams and on March 11, Madison agreed to send a three-man commission led by Adams to Russia to meet with British counterparts.
The arbitration offer was rejected by England but the czar’s efforts pushed Britain toward a quick peace with the United States and the abandonment of territorial claims in America. The U.S. negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium believed Russian influence was one key to the abrupt acquiescence of Britain to end the war and sign the accord. This effort, of course, was not altruistic on Russia’s behalf. She was a political ally of England’s while also involved in commerce with the United States. Czar Alexander I was still concerned with the threat of Napoleon invading Russian soil and wanted to short-circuit any possible French-American alliance. The czar also wanted Britain’s entire focus on helping him defeat the French.
It was Christmas Eve when the Treaty of Ghent was signed and it restored boundaries to the status quo before the war, established a boundary commission and arbitration rules to settle future disputes and reached a peace agreement with the frontier Indians.
Just prior to the War of 1812, U.S. Minister to Russia John Quincy Adams had negotiated exponential growth rates in U.S.-Russian trade and by 1811 the United States was Russia's largest trading partner by far. The friendship endured after the war.
In March, 1845, America faced a crisis with England over the Northwest Territories. Americans called it the “Oregon Question” and its slogan became “Fifty-four-forty or fight.” Russian Czar Nicholas I made an offer to President Polk to cede Alaska for free to the U. S. if it maintained its claim to all of England’s North American Pacific coastline. Russia would also back the United States in any resulting crisis with England. Polk “sold out” to Britain with the forty-ninth parallel “compromise” and turned south to start an immoral war with Mexico, telling outraged Whigs, “We can’t fight two wars at one time.”
The 1853-56 Crimean War humiliation convinced Russia of Britain’s intent to dismember the Russian Empire. Russia realized it must free its serfs, industrialize rapidly, and ally itself with America to achieve a global balance of power.
During the 1858-60 period, U. S. ambassador to Russia Francis W. Pickens wrote on numerous occasions urging United States-Russian joint trade and economic expansion to effect a strategic shift against England. To accelerate its industrialization Russia was making many substantial project offers to American capitalists.
The Civil War
President Lincoln’s top-priority foreign policy following Fort Sumter was forging a strategic alliance with Russia. Russia was the only major nation to support the Union during the Civil War. Lincoln received the Russian fleet’s officers in the White House during the fleet’s seven month stay in the United States in 1863-64. It sent a powerful message to England and France not to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. Anglophiles vigorously dispute that assertion but the testimony that follows lends credence to the reality of the Russian/American alliance.
Lincoln was vilified by the “copperhead press” for “cavorting with absolutism, Czarist oppression, and brutality,” particularly for his support of Russia’s denial of the “Polish right to secession,” and its crushing of that rebellion. In 2017 President Donald J. Trump might find comforting irony in Lincoln’s plight as the American press demonizes him for “cavorting with a murderous Russian dictator.”
The American Civil War was politically global. Several times it came close to becoming World War I. The U. S. Union and the Russian Empire were aligned against England and France. Had the politically global war become a shooting war many other countries would have entered the fray. Had England and France prevailed, the North American continent would have been balkanized with those two countries gaining a controlling influence. Bismarck’s Germany would not fight against Russia because it didn’t want to facilitate Britain’s dream of ruling a “United States of Europe.” However, if Russia declined to support the Union, Germany may have joined England and France as a “junior partner.”
On July 10, 1861, Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Gorchakov sent a letter to President Lincoln expressing Russian Czar Alexander II’s (referred to as “our August Master”) support for Lincoln’s effort to preserve the Union. Gorchakov wrote; “The American Union is not simply in our eyes an element essential to the universal political equilibrium. It constitutes, besides, a nation to which our August Master and all Russia have pledged the most friendly interest; for the two countries, placed at the two extremities of the world, both in the ascending period of their development appear called to a natural community of interests and sympathies, of which they have given mutual proofs to each other . . . In every event the American nation may count on the part of our August Master during the serious crisis which it is passing through at present.”
A thankful Lincoln replied to this Russian policy position by telling Gorchakov; “Please inform the Emperor of our gratitude and assure His Majesty that the whole nation appreciates this new manifestation of friendship. Of all the communications we have received from the European governments, this is the most loyal.” Lincoln then asked for and was granted permission by Gorchakov to widely disseminate this Russian message. The two nations’ friendship was made clear to the world along with the reasons for it, particularly for its importance to the Union.
The autumn of 1862 was critical for the Union. England and France were on the verge of military intervention on the side of the Confederacy. It would depend on the result of Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland. Lincoln believed intervention was inevitable and that it could include British allies Spain and Austria. Anglo-French pressure on Russia to abandon its pro-Union stance increased. The Union’s salvation depended on Russia and in this darkest hour of his administration Lincoln sent an urgent personal letter to Russian Foreign Minister Gorchakov for delivery to the czar. Lincoln believed France had already decided to intervene and was only awaiting a go-ahead from England, whose leaders were awaiting results from the Battle of Antietam. Lincoln was under no illusions that if the Union was to be saved, it would be saved by Russia. Lee’s retreat across the Potomac and a threat from the Russian czar caused England and France to delay intervention on behalf of the Confederacy and that bought time for Lincoln.
Anglophile and social liberal historians have re-portrayed this relationship, debunking it to further their own agendas. Their most egregious distortion of history remains the effort to deny any Russian/U. S. alliance in order to facilitate elevating emancipation above union as the war’s trigger issue despite Lincoln’s repeated public pronouncements that union was his sole non-negotiable objective. Political correctness which protects their academic/publishing careers along with currying the political support of African-Americans are their motives for peddling false history through omission and fabrication. If they accept and teach Lincoln’s oft-spoken words about why he went to war and the reality of the extensive Russian/U.S. alliance then the trigger issue flip-flop loses all intellectual heft and becomes impossible to sell. More evidence of the alliance follows.
New York’s Harper’s Weekly was the nation’s most prestigious news magazine during the Civil War. On October 17, 1863 the magazine’s editors detailed the enthusiastic welcome citizens had just given the visiting Russian fleet. They wrote the following about our Russian friendship: “We devote considerable space this week to illustrations of the grand reception given last week to our distinguished Russian visitors. The ceremony was intended to have, and had, a political significance. No notice whatever was taken of the fleets of the British and French admirals lying in the Bay. But every citizen felt bound to do what in him lay to testify to the Russians our sense of gratitude for the friendly manner in which Russia has stood by us in our present struggle, while the Western Powers have done not a little to work our ruin.”
In a two-hour interview with the American banker Wharton Barker at Pavlovski Palace of Alexander’s brother the Grand Duke Constantine on August 17, 1879, Czar Alexander II recalled: ``In the Autumn of 1862, the governments of France and Great Britain proposed to Russia, in a formal but not in an official way, the joint recognition by European powers of the independence of the Confederate States of America. My immediate answer was: `I will not cooperate in such action; and I will not acquiesce. On the contrary, I shall accept the recognition of the independence of the Confederate States by France and Great Britain as a casus belli [an event that justifies a war] for Russia. And in order that the governments of France and Great Britain may understand that this is no idle threat; I will send a Pacific fleet to San Francisco and an Atlantic fleet to New York. Sealed orders to both Admirals were given. My fleets arrived at the American ports, there was no recognition of the Confederate States by Great Britain and France. The American rebellion was put down, and the great American Republic continues. All this I did because of love for my own dear Russia, rather than for love of the American Republic. I acted thus because I understood that Russia would have a more serious task to perform if the American Republic, with advanced industrial development were broken up and Great Britain should be left in control of most branches of modern industrial development.''
The Pennsylvanian Barker was the American representative of London’s Baring Brothers bank and in that capacity handled Russia’s financing of four ships for her navy. He also advised Russia in the development of coal mines north of Azov. A grateful Czar Alexander II made Barker a “Knight of St. Stanislaus.”
Testimonials to Russian Friendship
Oliver Wendell Holmes
In the autumn of 1871, the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, the fourth son of Alexander II, made a tour of the United States and Canada that lasted well into 1872. He was received at the White House by President Grant and celebrated in many cities. At a music festival in Boston on December 8, the following poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes was sung to the Grand Duke by a chorus of Boston public school children.
Welcome to the Grand Duke Alexis
Shadowed so long by the storm-cloud of danger,
Thou whom the prayers of an empire defend,
Welcome, thrice welcome! but not as a stranger,
Come to the nation that calls thee its friend!
Bleak are our shores with the blasts of December,
Fettered and chill is the rivulet's flow;
Throbbing and warm are the hearts that remember
Who was our friend when the world was our foe.
Look on the lips that are smiling to greet thee,
See the fresh flowers that a people has strewn
Count them thy sisters and brothers that meet thee;
Guest of the Nation, her heart is thine own!
Fires of the North, in eternal communion,
Blend your broad flashes with evening's bright star!
God bless the Empire that loves the Great Union;
Strength to her people! Long life to the Czar!
“Russia as the Power friendliest to the Americans.”
After signing a formal trade agreement with Russia on December 18, 1832, President Andrew Jackson said that the agreement, “. . . furnished new motives for that mutual friendship which both countries have so far nourished with respect to each other.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote in his diary on October 2, 1863, “Thank God for the Russians.”
As Lincoln’s Ambassador to Russia he wrote to Lincoln, “The Czar’s spokesmen have assured me that in case of trouble with other European powers, the friendship of Russia for the United States would be shown in a decisive manner which no other nation will be able to mistake.”
To Secretary of State Seward he wrote, “The Russians are evincing the most candid friendship for the North . . . They are showing a constant desire to interpret everything to our advantage. There is no capital in Europe where the loyal American meets with such universal sympathy as at St. Petersburg, none where the suppression of our unnatural rebellion will be hailed with more genuine satisfaction.”
Lincoln’s Ambassador to Russia before and after Simon Cameron’s service in that post was Henry Clay’s nephew Cassius Clay. He sent a dispatch to Lincoln from St. Petersburg on July 25, 1861, enthusing about a potential alliance with Russia, asserting that its leaders, press, and public supported Union actions. He pointedly portrayed England as a grievous enemy, writing, “I saw at a glance where the feeling of England was. They hoped for our ruin. They are jealous of our power. They care neither for the North nor the South. They hate both. If England would not favor us whilst following the lead of the anti-slavery policy─she will never be our friend. She will now, if disaster comes upon our arms, join our enemies. Be on your guard . . . All the Russian journals are for us.
In Russia we have a friend. The time is coming when she will be a powerful one for us. The emancipation [Czar Alexander II had recently freed 23-million serfs] move is the beginning of a new era and new strength. She has immense lands, fertile and undeveloped in the Amoor country, with iron and other minerals. Here is where she must make the centre of her power against England. Joined with our navy on the Pacific coast we will one day drive her from the Indies: The source of her power: and losing which she will fall. Extend the blockade to every possible point of entry, so that if England does intervene─she will be the aggressor before all the world. Don't trust her in anything.”
After the Civil War Clay pronounced his primary accomplishment; “I did more than any man to overthrow slavery. I carried Russia with us and thus prevented what would have been a strong alliance of France, England, and Spain against us, and thus saved the nation.”
In 1861 the Russian navy had no ironclads. Through the efforts of Cassius Clay, by the end of the Civil War Russia had thirteen ironclads equipped with fifteen-inch guns, constructed from the blueprints of the USS Passaic─thirteen warships that nothing in the British navy could sink.
Andrew G. Curtin, Governor of Pennsylvania
Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania succeeded Cassius Clay as ambassador to Russia. Curtin publicly stated that during his tenure Russian ambassador Gorchakov showed him three letters. The first was from Napoleon III inviting the Czar to join France and England in recognition of the Confederacy. The second was the Czar’s letter to Napoleon III declining the invitation and pledging that Russia would give active aid to the United States if the other powers attempted to intervene. The third contained the sealed orders to the Russian commander, Admiral Lesovsky, to place his fleet at the command of Lincoln in the event of war.
Rear Admiral French Ensor Chadwick
F. E. Chadwick was a Naval Academy graduate, a leader of post-Civil War naval reform, and President of the Naval War College from 1900-1903 who corroborated Andrew Curtin’s confirmation of a Russian/U. S. alliance. Chadwick stated “In other words, the recognition [of the Confederacy by France or England] was to be the signal for the declaration by Russia of war against those powers. And there can be little doubt that the knowledge by the French and English cabinets of these orders was the great leash which held them in check.”
In response to English charges that the U. S. was being deceived by Russia, Harper's Weekly purported to reflect public opinion in the North when it praised the Russians and disavowed American naiveté: “John Bull [England] thinks that we are absurdly bamboozled by the Russian compliments and laughs to see us deceived by the sympathy of Muscovy . . . But we are not very much deceived. Americans understand that the sympathy of France in our Revolution for us was not for love of us, but from hatred of England.They know, as Washington long ago told them, that romantic friendship between nations is not to be expected. And if they had latterly expected it, England has utterly undeceived them. Americans do not suppose that Russia is on the point of becoming a Republic, but they observe that the English aristocracy and the French Empire hate a republic quite as much as the Russian monarchy hates it; and they remark that while the French Empire imports coolies into its colonies, and winks at slavery, and while the British government cheers a political enterprise founded upon slavery, and by its chief organs defends the system, Russia emancipates her serfs. There is not the least harm in observing these little facts. Russia, John Bull will remember, conducts herself as a friendly power. That is all. England and France have shown themselves to be unfriendly powers. And we do not forget it.”
America Honors Its Russian Protectors
On October 1, 1863, a grand parade on Broadway celebrated the arrival of the Russian navy in America. But that was just the welcome. The Russian ships, which had arrived on both coasts on September 24, were given the use of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the largest ball in U. S. history honored the Russians on November 5th at the New York Academy of Music. The ball was catered by the famous Manhattan restaurant Delmonico’s and a partial menu for the “Soirée Russe” included 12,000 oysters, 3,500 bottles of wine, 250 turkeys, 400 chickens, 1,000 loaves of bread, 1,000 pounds of tenderloin, 1,200 game birds and sculptured pastry likenesses of Lincoln, Czar Alexander II, George Washington, and Peter the Great.
The public enthusiasm over the Russian presence cannot be overstated because had it lacked extraordinary significance, such an official celebration while men were dying on not-too-distant battlefields would have been unconscionable. The New York Herald called the ball “a very wonderful and indescribable phantasmagoria of humanity.” Later in November, Russian Rear Admiral Stepan S. Lesovsky reciprocated with a ball aboard his flagship Alexander Nevsky, whose guns were cast in Pittsburgh. After that ball he made a contribution of $4,700 for New York’s poor.
Earlier in 1863, Great Britain had begun using the January insurrection of the Poles and the Czar’s harsh treatment of them as a pretext to mobilize France, Austria and others into a European anti-Russian alliance. The British had triggered the failed Polish rebellion in Russia in June, 1861 as part of its long-term strategy of fractionalizing both Russia and the United States. It supported secession in both countries. Russia responded in 1863 by preparing a defense for the Gulf of Finland and dispatching her best ships to the U. S., so that if war began, she could more easily attack British commerce. She didn’t want a reprise of the Crimean War debacle.
And so it was on September 24 when the Atlantic squadron of Admiral Lesovsky’s, including the screw-frigates Alexander Nevsky, Oslyabya, Peresvet, the corvettes Vityaz and Varyag and the clipper Almaz arrived in New York to wildly enthusiastic crowds. At approximately the same time, Admiral Andrey A. Popov’s squadron of propeller corvettes Bogatyr, Kalevala, Rynda and the clippers Abrek and Gaydamak gathered at San Francisco Bay on the west coast. This American "expedition" of its best vessels enabled the Russian fleet to achieve two objectives. First, Great Britain did not continue its naval struggle with Russia because the British perceived a very real threat to its commerce by potential Russian attacks along the trade routes. Second, by their presence, Russian seamen were able to support the United States in its struggle with the Confederacy. It was a symbiotic relationship.
In December 1864 the Atlantic squadron steamed up the Potomac to Alexandria. A banquet was held aboard the frigate Oslyabya for the cabinet, congressmen, and well-connected citizens. Mrs. Lincoln toasted the Russians and the freedom of their serfs and our slaves. The president could not attend. After his return from the November 19th Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication, Lincoln was quarantined at the White House for nearly three weeks with smallpox. When his health improved, a reception was given at the White House on December 19, for Russian officers, Congressmen, and some dignitaries. On the other side of the country, the Russian Pacific fleet was anchored in San Francisco Bay. The United States navy and army officers, the mayor of San Francisco, and prominent citizens entertained the Russian officers at the Union Hall on November 17, 1863. By contrast, in 1862 in Liverpool the British had secretly built the 220-foot ship that became the Raphael Semmes-captained CSS Alabama at a cost of $250,000. For 22 months the Confederate ship devastated Union shipping until it was finally sunk off Cherbourg, France on June 11, 1864, by the USS Kearsarge after Northern newspapers demanded action. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles sent warships out specifically to find and sink the Alabama.
Britain”s “Limited Sovereignty” Ploy to Fragment Russia and the U. S.
Lincoln showed his appreciation for Russia’s unwavering support of the United States in the face of Britain’s threats of invasion by becoming the only nation to support Czar Alexander II when a London-provoked European war seemed imminent over the “Polish question.”
England had sold the idea on the continent that the terms of the Congress of Vienna gave European powers the right to impose a settlement on Russia by invoking what it called a “limited sovereignty” doctrine. Its implementation would allow Britain to fragment the Russian Empire along ethnic lines.
Lincoln saw a dangerous parallel. If this limited sovereignty ploy achieved secession for Poland from Russia, it would then be used to guarantee secession for the Confederacy from the United States. Lincoln endured the wrath of the world and many within his own country by supporting the subsequent crushing of the Polish revolt.
In May, 1863, French Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuye invited Lincoln to join France, England and Austria in an ultimatum against Russia demanding independence for Poland. Austria’s inclusion added a dose of hypocrisy since the Hapsburgs ruled over one-third of what was once Poland and those lands would not be affected. Just Russia’s. The anglophile press vilified Lincoln as never before, both home and abroad. The Missouri Republic wrote, “The pale corpse of Poland’s murdered liberty shall haunt President Lincoln in the days to come.”
America’s ambassador to Russia, Cassius Clay, applauded Lincoln saying, “How could it help the United States to weaken our steadfast friend
. . . For should Russia suffer defeat it would open the way for our common enemies to fall upon us.”
England’s long-term plan was to maintain its posture as the world’s premier “super power” by preventing or minimizing industrialization by potential rival nations such as Russia or by its colonies in Canada, the United States, and India. It wanted a world of farmers and shopkeepers selling England raw materials and buying back expensive tariff-free manufactured products.
When Britain saw America freeing its slaves and Russia her serfs and both nations accelerating their manufacturing goals it knew its dominance was threatened because she could not match either nation in raw materials or land mass. Its strategy became the promotion of secession in both countries in order to fragment them thereby extending Britain’s world supremacy. Both the American/Confederate and Russian/Polish civil wars occurred in early 1861 at the instigation and encouragement of England using the limited sovereignty principle which it claimed was international law.
After the U. S. and Russia won their civil wars, freed their slaves and serfs, accelerated industrialization and began to plan for a permanent alliance, England’s descent was assured. Lincoln and Czar Alexander II both favored a permanent alliance that would be similar to the modern North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in that war against one would be war against the other.
The first coincidence implicating England’s involvement in precluding such an alliance was the timing of both countries’ civil wars, early in 1861. The second coincidence was the April, 1865 assassination of Lincoln followed quickly by the April, 1866 attempt to kill Alexander. History attributed both events to individuals but obviously any nation behind such actions would want the international public to accept such a conclusion. In New York several months before shooting Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth performed a play by England’s greatest writer foreshadowing his imminent action. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was British inspiration to would-be assassins of dictators. Booth could recite thousands of lines written by England’s classic poets, most of whom advocated the assassination of tyrants.
Harper’s Weekly Advocates a Permanent Alliance
What follows is Harper’s Weekly’s editorial published on October 17, 1863. It advocates a permanent alliance between the United States and Russia to balance the international threat of the English/French alliance. The editors believed this step represented the dominant public sentiment in America and was the most effective way to preserve peace and advance economic development.
The fundamental principle of the foreign policy of the United States has always been to beware of entangling foreign alliances. It was Washington who laid down the principle, and Presidents and statesmen of all parties have uniformly adhered to it ever since. Of that principle the natural corollary was the Monroe doctrine, which, though it was not proclaimed till twenty years after Washington's time, has nevertheless taken as deep root as a part of our national policy as the parental doctrine from which it sprang.
We all dislike to see any principle of policy settled by the Father of the Country being brought into question; but still it is obvious that, as the world has kept on moving since Washington's time, there must be a great portion of his work which, though perfect enough in his day, has, by the advancement of civilization and the changes in the world's condition and circumstances, been rendered susceptible of improvement now. Is it not possible that this dread of “entangling foreign alliances” may have been wiser or more natural seventy years ago than it is now?
When Washington lived steam, telegraphs, and railroads were unknown, and the United States were thirty days' distant from the nearest part of Europe. An alliance offensive and defensive with a European nation might have obliged us to send fleets and armies to points forty, fifty, and sixty days' distance from home —a risk not to be encountered on any condition short of absolute necessity. Again, in Washington's time intelligence circulated slowly. One nation knew little of another; and peoples separated by an ocean were absolutely ignorant of the most common features of each other's idiosyncrasy. It is easy to understand why Washington sought to guard the nation he had so largely helped to create against alliances with strangers as ignorant of our views and purposes as we were of theirs. And again, in his time the United States were so far separated from the rest of the world that their very isolation was ample protection against foreign attack. No European nation could hope to carry on war against them, at a distance of 3000 or 4000 miles from their base, with any reasonable hope of
substantial success. So protected, we needed no foreign allies, and had we entered into alliances, the gain would all have been on the side of our ally. But three quarters of a century have changed all this. We are now within fifteen days of almost any part of the coast of Europe. During this war we have sent out naval expeditions on as long voyages as from here to Liverpool or Brest. It was further from London to Balaclava than from Liverpool to New York. Steam has placed Europe and America within easy striking distance of each other, and the ocean is no longer a protection against hostile attack. The telegraph and the spread of intelligence have, moreover, made us all familiar with the position, policy, views, and purposes of each other. We know precisely what a foreign alliance might involve. Furthermore, we are no longer isolated from the rest of the world. Our commerce, and our steadily increasing communication with all parts of the world, have made us part and parcel of the great civilized community of mankind; nothing which happens anywhere is now indifferent to us, and our transactions interest all the rest of the world. It seems quite doubtful, under these circumstances, whether we can possibly much longer maintain the position of proud isolation which Washington coveted; and it is pretty certain, as things are now shaping, that if we do we shall lose as much as we gain by doing so. The cardinal principle of the policy of the Western Powers of Europe is a steady offensive and defensive alliance. France and England—was Louis Napoleon's calculation—if heartily united, can rule the world. That alliance, formed by the Emperor, was maintained through the Crimean war and the Chinese war, and was more lately exemplified in the recognition of the Southern rebels by both Powers conjointly. If the Slave Confederacy is recognized the recognition will be simultaneous at London and Paris, the calculation being that the United States could not afford to make war on both the Western Powers. The alliance of the Western Powers is in fact, if not in name, a hostile combination against the United States.
What is our proper reply to this hostile combination? When Lee reinforced Bragg we replied by sending two corps of the Army of the Potomac to Rosecrans. Would it not be wise to meet the hostile alliance of the Western Powers of Europe by an alliance with Russia? France and England united can do and dare much against Russia alone or the United States alone; but against Russia and the United States combined what could they do?
The analogies between the American and the Russian peoples have too often been described to need further explanation here. Russia, like the United States, is a nation of the future. Its capabilities are only just being developed. Its national destiny is barely shaped. Its very institutions are in their cradle, and have yet to be modeled to fit advancing civilization and the spread of intelligence. Like the United States, Russia is in the agonies of a terrible transition: the Russian serfs, like the American negroes, are receiving their liberty; and the Russian boiars, like the Southern slave-owners, are mutinous at the loss of their property. When this great problem shall have been solved, and the Russian people shall consist of 100,000,000 of intelligent, educated human beings, it is possible that Russian institutions will have been welded by the force of civilization into a similarity with ours. At that period the United States will probably also contain 100,000,000 of educated, intelligent people. To two such peoples, firmly bound together by an alliance as well as by traditional sympathy and good feeling, what would be impossible? Certainly the least of the purposes which they could achieve would be to keep the peace of the world, and prevent the ambition of despots or the knavery of shopkeepers from embroiling nations in useless wars.
At the present time Russia and the United States occupy remarkably similar positions. A portion of the subjects of the Russian empire, residing in Poland, have attempted to secede and set up an independent national existence, just as our Southern slave-owners have tried to secede from the Union and set up a Slave Confederacy; and the Czar, like the Government of the Union, has undertaken to put down the insurrection by force of arms. In that undertaking, which every Government is bound to make under penalty of national suicide, Russia, like the United States, has been thwarted and annoyed by the interference of France and England. The Czar, like Mr. Lincoln, nevertheless perseveres in his purpose; and, being perfectly in earnest and determined, has sent a fleet into our waters, in order that, if war should occur, British and French commerce should not escape as cheaply as they did in the Crimean contest. We run no similar risk of being blockaded in the event of war with England and France, and need not send our squadrons away; but still we are preparing, in our way, by the construction of fast cruisers and heavy ironclads.
An alliance between Russia and the United States at the present time would probably relieve both of us from all apprehensions of foreign interference. It is not likely that it would involve either nation in war. On the contrary, it would probably be the best possible guarantee against war. It would be highly popular in both countries, and it is hard to see what practical dangers it could involve. The reception given last week in this city to Admiral Lisovski and his officers will create more apprehension at the Tuileries and at St. James than even the Parrott gun or the capture of the Atlanta. If it be followed up by diplomatic negotiations, with a view to an alliance with the Czar, it may prove an epoch of no mean importance in history.
British don’t help us
Many Americans died protecting British interests in two 20th century world wars, the second answering the desperate pleas of Winston Churchill. The only assistance America ever requested from England was denied by the same Winston Churchill. His help could have forestalled 58,000 American deaths in Vietnam.
In 1946 France had begun battling to save its colony of Vietnam from a Communist takeover by Ho Chi Minh, who declared independence from France for his new Democratic Republic of Vietnam. A subsequent 8-year war saw the United States financing France while Communist China and Russia supported the Vietnamese rebels. On March 13, 1954, the French were surrounded in a crucial battle in the valley of Dien Bien Phu. They made a desperate plea to the United States to send help. The American Congress debated the question and refused to get involved with troops unless Britain joined them. President Eisenhower sent a letter to Churchill asking for that help and it was denied. On May 7th, France surrendered and Vietnam was partitioned into north and south. Eisenhower subsequently got the U.S. involved to protect South Vietnam pursuant to his belief in the “domino theory,” positing that without American resistance countries would fall to Communism like a row of dominoes. Two Democrat presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson escalated the war and by the time Republican President Richard Nixon ended the war and the military draft over 58,000 American soldiers had died. Britain never became “officially” involved nor sent a single soldier.
Geopolitics is replete with grand ironies. In 1776 the United States began life with Russia as its closest ally and Britain as its mortal enemy. America fought a revolution against British injustice, Britain burned the U. S. capital in the War of 1812, supported the Confederacy during the Civil War and despite America’s rescue of British interests in two 20th century World Wars, refused Eisenhower’s request to assist the surrounded French in Vietnam in 1954. In 2017 many Americans love England and despise Russia. I am still searching for reasons for America to be grateful to England for anything comparable to what we sacrificed for her. What is indisputable is that during the crucial infancy and adolescence of the United States, Russia was the country that contributed most to America’s survival, post-Civil War unity, and economic growth. Despite modern differences and the residue of the Cold War, I will always be grateful to Russia. I reiterate the words of British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston; “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” I concur.
If you’re an ideologue and don’t like this essay’s premise, no amount of evidence will persuade you. If you are reasonable, industrious, and curious the good news about living in a country where school children are taught false history is that our country does allow historical but politically incorrect facts to endure, awaiting discovery by people searching for truth. If you’re skeptical about this essay, do the research yourself and be grateful that our country allows such efforts to thrive and critical essays like mine to circulate.
My only agenda is to write for my own pleasure and it’s unnerving yet gratifying to discover truths which contradict my formal education. I was taught American history throughout elementary school, high school, and college and then used U. S. textbooks to teach history for ten years. I never encountered the slightest hint of a Russian friendship with America until I began researching and writing for my own enlightenment and enjoyment.
Perhaps the ultimate ironies are found in our own national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” After all of England’s diabolical attempts to destroy the United States our anthem is a collaboration between America’s Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem, and Englishman John Stafford Smith, who composed the music. Consider Key. He never wrote a song in his life. He learned and practiced law for his uncle who fought for the British during our revolution. Key opposed our war of 1812 against England and as a Washington D. C. prosecutor sought the death penalty for a free black who was accused of threatening a white woman. He owned slaves throughout his adult life and prosecuted a white doctor in Washington for possessing abolitionist materials in 1835. During that trial Key said, “That ‘great moral and political evil’ of which I speak is supposed to be slavery, but is it not plainly the whole colored race? Emancipation is a far greater evil.” He was one of the founders and most enthusiastic proponents of the American Colonization Society whose goal was to deport all black people. All of Key’s male descendants fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Is this a man who’s worthy to be the author of our national anthem?
Key named his poem “A Defense of Fort McHenry.” Smith’s original composition was titled “To Anacreon in Heaven,” the theme song of England’s Anacreontic Society and a popular tune in British pubs. “The Star Spangled Banner” was published in Baltimore the day after the Fort McHenry bombardment. Neither Key nor Smith combined the poem with the music. That individual remains unidentified. The grand irony is that we run our horse racing tracks counterclockwise because we so despised England yet we chose the English drinking song of a British composer for our national anthem. I cannot listen to the national anthem without thinking of Key’s resume and the diabolical efforts of England to destroy us. America and its heroes deserve an anthem written by an outstanding American composer, not the hybrid of a racist and an Englishman. “America the Beautiful” is my choice.
Henry David Thoreau penned my bedrock writing principle; “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
Russia’s long friendship with the United States, while strained today, is one truth I’m proud to embrace and circulate.
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