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WASHINGTON was always amusing, but in 1900, as in 1800, its chief interest lay in its distance from New York. The movement of New York had become planetary -- beyond control -- while the task of Washington, in 1900 as in 1800, was to control it. The success of Washington in the past century promised ill for its success in the next.
To a student who had passed the best years of his life in pondering over the political philosophy of Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison, the problem that Roosevelt took in hand seemed alive with historical interest, but it would need at least another half-century to show its results. As yet, one could not measure the forces or their arrangement; the forces had not even aligned themselves except in foreign affairs; and there one turned to seek the channel of wisdom as naturally as though Washington did not exist. The President could do nothing effectual in foreign affairs, but at least he could see something of the field.
Hay had reached the summit of his career, and saw himself on the edge of wreck. Committed to the task of keeping China "open," he saw China about to be shut. Almost alone in the world, he represented the "open door," and could not escape being crushed by it. Yet luck had been with him in full tide. Though Sir Julian Pauncefote had died in May, 1902, after carrying out tasks that filled an ex-private secretary of 1861 with open-mouthed astonishment, Hay had been helped by the appointment of Michael Herbert as his successor, who counted for double the value of an ordinary diplomat. To reduce friction is the chief use of friendship, and in politics the loss by friction is outrageous. To Herbert and his wife, the small knot of houses that seemed to give a vague unity to foreign affairs opened their doors and their hearts, for the Herberts were already at home there; and this personal sympathy prolonged Hay's life, for it not only eased the effort of endurance, but it also led directly to a revolution in Germany. Down to that moment, the Kaiser, rightly or wrongly, had counted as the ally of the Czar in all matters relating to the East. Holleben and Cassini were taken to be a single force in Eastern affairs, and this supposed alliance gave Hay no little anxiety and some trouble. Suddenly Holleben, who seemed to have had no thought but to obey with almost agonized anxiety the least hint of the Kaiser's will, received a telegram ordering him to pretext illness and come home, which he obeyed within four-and-twenty hours. The ways of the German Foreign Office had been always abrupt, not to say ruthless, towards its agents, and yet commonly some discontent had been shown as excuse; but, in this case, no cause was guessed for Holleben's disgrace except the Kaiser's wish to have a personal representative at Washington. Breaking down all precedent, he sent Speck von Sternburg to counterbalance Herbert.
Welcome as Speck was in the same social intimacy, and valuable as his presence was to Hay, the personal gain was trifling compared with the political. Of Hay's official tasks, one knew no more than any newspaper reporter did, but of one's own diplomatic education the successive steps had become strides. The scholar was studying, not on Hay's account, but on his own. He had seen Hay, in 1898, bring England into his combine; he had seen the steady movement which was to bring France back into an Atlantic system; and now he saw suddenly the dramatic swing of Germany towards the west -- the movement of all others nearest mathematical certainty. Whether the Kaiser meant it or not, he gave the effect of meaning to assert his independence of Russia, and to Hay this change of front had enormous value. The least was that it seemed to isolate Cassini, and unmask the Russian movement which became more threatening every month as the Manchurian scheme had to be revealed.
Of course the student saw whole continents of study opened to him by the Kaiser's coup d'etat. Carefully as he had tried to follow the Kaiser's career, he had never suspected such refinement of policy, which raised his opinion of the Kaiser's ability to the highest point, and altogether upset the centre of statesmanship. That Germany could be so quickly detached from separate objects and brought into an Atlantic system seemed a paradox more paradoxical than any that one's education had yet offered, though it had offered little but paradox. If Germany could be held there, a century of friction would be saved. No price would be too great for such an object; although no price could probably be wrung out of Congress as equivalent for it. The Kaiser, by one personal act of energy, freed Hay's hands so completely that he saw his problems simplified to Russia alone.
Naturally Russia was a problem ten times as difficult. The history of Europe for two hundred years had accomplished little but to state one or two sides of the Russian problem. One's year of Berlin in youth, though it taught no Civil Law, had opened one's eyes to the Russian enigma, and both German and French historians had labored over its proportions with a sort of fascinated horror. Germany, of all countries, was most vitally concerned in it; but even a cave-dweller in La Fayette Square, seeking only a measure of motion since the Crusades, saw before his eyes, in the spring of 1903, a survey of future order or anarchy that would exhaust the power of his telescopes and defy the accuracy of his theodolites.
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The Education of Henry Adams -by- Henry Adams