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The Education of Henry Adams

Vis Inertiae (1903)
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
 
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