Mr. White to Mr. Foster.
St. Petersburg , February 16, 1893 . (Received March 6.)
Sir: The Imperial rescript recently published appointing the heir to the throne president of the trans-Siberian railway commission is a document which, brief as it is, seems worthy of careful note.
Nothing has recently occurred in Russia of more direct importance to the internal development of the Empire, and of more indirect importance to the commerce of the world.
The thought and words of the rescript find echoes on all sides in the Russian press.[Page 535]
Two points are clearly brought out in it. First, the intention to press forward the trans-Asiatic railway. The Emperor lays stress upon the fact that the heir to the throne has already visited Vladivostok to make a formal beginning of the work at its Pacific terminus, and the whole document is clearly in the nature of a guarantee of the Imperial determination to make this railway one of the special claims of his reign to honor in history.
The second point which comes out clearly, is the intention to promote a colonization of Siberia with peasants now in need of land.
This is accepted in various quarters as the decision of a question which has for some time been debated and as to which no clear indication of the Imperial will had hitherto been made known to the public.
One phrase used by the Emperor in addressing his son is specially significant; it is as follows:
I charge you to bring to a happy conclusion this work of peace and civilization of Russia in the East.
This has been echoed especially in the press. The idea underlying it is one which has evidently taken strong hold upon the more thoughtful minds of Russia.
It is on this point that Western Europe seems to have no adequate understanding of Russian feeling. From various conversations which I have had with men in important positions here, I am satisfied that there is a genuine conviction among those who have something to do with directing the affairs of the Empire that Russia has a great civilizing mission in Asia. During such conversations I have never failed to bring out a statement of the conviction by suggesting an analogy between the work of the United States on the American continent and that of Russia in Asia.
The mistake into which the newspapers of Central Europe and Great Britain largely fall is that Russia is animated in Asia by a mere brutal love of military conquest and domination; this is, at least, an utterly inadequate statement of the case. After conversations with two of the eminent explorers in Asia; with the general who, more than any other, has been connected with Russian railway enterprise in Asia; with ministers who have had the work in charge, and with other persons of influence, I feel sure that there is a very strong feeling in Russia akin to what in the United States a generation or two since was known as “the manifest destiny idea,” and, whatever other desires this feeling may promote among Russians, it is evident that there is a constantly growing sentiment in the highest quarters that Russia should be respected in carrying on this work, whose value was recognized even as far back as the time of Catherine the Great, and which is now to be pressed more earnestly than ever.
The use of the great Island of Saghalien for penal purposes seems likely to remove the taint which was attached even to the fairest portions of Siberia.
The second point, regarding the promotion of colonization, is also a matter of very great importance; a certain analogy between this plan and that carried out as regards colonization along the line of our own great transcontinental railway, so far as its general scope is concerned, is evident.
Not the least important feature in the whole matter is the probable effect of this and similar enterprises on the question of a European war.
Hardly anything can be more favorable to European peace, so far as Russia is concerned, than to have her national pride and her interests [Page 536] bound up in great civilizing enterprises of this kind, whose development will require large financial resources, such as can only be secured by a long period of peace. There is much reason to hope that the feeling of the Emperor, which clearly comes out in this rescript, must incline him very strongly to peaceful councils.
The ultimate bearing of this new trans-Asiatic railway on our own trans-American system is so evident as to require no discussion by me.
I have, etc.,