Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chile, the Unknown Land – Part I

What Americans knew and did not know about Chile during Joseph Smith’s time is an important factor in further understanding some of the early views of Church leaders regarding Lehi’s landing site. 
   To begin with, the first contact an actual representative of any foreign government had with the country of Chile did not take place until December 1811 when Joel Roberts Poinsett, a “special agent” representative of the United States arrived in Santiago, Chile’s capitol.
Poinsett, a physician by schooling, but an adventurer with an avid interest in the military, traveled all over Europe, Russia, Baku in the Caucasus, and the Middle East between 1801 and 1808.
    He returned to the U.S. suddenly when word finally reached him about the British warship H.M.S. Leopard in June 1807 firing upon the American frigate U.S.S. Chesapeake off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. When Britain hanged one of the sailors and pressed three others of the crew into British service, Poinsett considered that war between Britain and the United States seemed certain and he wanted to be part of it. So in 1813 when the U.S. frigate Essex arrived in Chilean waters and cleared them of English whalers and cruisers, Poinsett decided to return home.
Having met and visited with Czar Alexander in Moscow several times, and other foreign leaders as well as U.S. Ambassadors during his travels, Poinsett returned home to South Carolina with a certain amount of prestige and President James Madison appointed him as Consul in General in 1809, making Poinsett the highest ranking U.S. representative wherever he would be sent. That destination was to Chile and Argentina to investigate the prospects of the revolutionists in their struggle for independence from Spain.
    Poinsett was not officially received in Chile until February 1812, when he became the first accredited agent of a foreign government to reach that land after two months of dickering within the Chilean factions, some of which opposed his appointment favoring Spain or Britain, while others wanted to establish trade relations with America. At the time, Chile had been beset by two opposing factions, the Larrain and Carrera families, who were jockeying for power, but by the time Poinsett arrived, the Carreras had gained control under its leader, José Miguel Carrera.
    Poinsett was instrumental in assisting the Patriots in drawing up a national constitution, which they did in his residence. He also urged Chile to close its port to belligerent Peru who had been conducting acts of war against both America and Chile, seizing U.S. ships in the Pacific; however, the authorities in Santiago did not feel they were strong enough to take such a step, and instead urged Poinsett to aid them in obtaining arms and supplies from the U.S. The belligerent seizure of American ships by royalist Peru continued and Poinsett accepted a commission into the Chilean Patriot army to fight against the Spanish Royalists based in Peru. He was later given the rank of General by Carrera and led a cavalry charge in the Battle of San Carlos, securing a victory for Chilean Patriots over the Royalists.
    Throughout this period, American presence in the region had been extremely limited, with their few wooden ships driven from the southern Pacific by Peruvian warships and a strong effort to deny American presence by the Royalists.
    During this time, American was becoming embroiled in a war with Britain and lacked any real interest in South America. Poinsett desiring to be part of that war, finally managed to return to America in 1815, where he spent two years traveling the U.S. between New York and the west, returning to South Carolina. He was offered a position as special commissioner to South America by Robert Rush, secretary of State, because “No one has better qualifications for this trust,” but turned it down as he has just been elected to the State Legislature of South Carolina, where he spent the next few years working on his passion, “internal improvements and waterways” of South Carolina, serving as President of the Board of Public Works of that state. In 1820 he was elected to the House of Representatives in Washington where he worked on internal improvements for the country.
    He served as a special envoy to Mexico in 1822-1823. He was then sent to negotiate the acquisition of new territories for the U.S. including Texas, New Mexico and Upper California, including Lower California, Sonora, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon (along the Texas border); however, Mexico rejected the U.S. offer to buy these territories.
    In 1825, Poinsett was sent to Mexico as minister plenipotentiary, invested with the full power of independent action on behalf of the government to interact with the Mexican Republic, where he was embroiled in the country’s political turmoil, trying to further U.S. interests by seeking preferential treatment of American goods over those of Britain, attempting to shift the U.S.-Mexico boundary, and urging the adoption of a constitution patterned on that of the United States. This continued until 1830 when he was recalled, returning to South Carolina, where he was again elected to the state legislature. He married in 1833. In 1837 to 1841 he served as Secretary of War, and retired to his plantation in South Carolina in 1841.
    American involvement in Chile was dormant for the next forty-five years, but in 1882 Chile refused US mediation in the War of the Pacific and emerged two years at war’s end as a potential threat to the growing leadership in the Pacific of the United States. Chile, with the strongest naval fleet in the Pacific. During the Panama crisis of 1885, when Panama was part of Colombia, and to counter a growing show of force by Chile, the U.S. intervened and occupied Colón to protect Colombia’s interests, which had removed troops in Panama to fight rebels in Cartagena. Chile feared American disregard of the U.S.-Colombia treaty of 1846 obligating America to maintain “neutrality” in the Colombian state of Panama.
Chilean 7,000 ton steel-armored Cruiser Esmeralda, with its 513-member crew, during the buildup of the naval arms race between Argentina, Brazil and Chile

As a result, the Chilean government sent its most powerful protected armored cruiser “Esmeralda” (which represented a serious threat for the American wooden warships) to Panama City to stop a possible annexation of Panama by the U.S., and ordered not to leave until after the American forces evacuated Colón. However, by the time the Chilean warship arrived, the crisis had been solved, U.S. troops withdrew and Colombia reoccupied its Panama state. In 1888 Chile annexed Easter Island, joining the imperial nations by extending its rule of authority over a foreign country.
    By 1891 the balance in the Pacific was changing with the U.S. possessing more naval power and, more significantly, a workable understanding of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s famed theories on the importance of naval power in securing the growing influence of the United States in Latin America. During the Chilean Civil War, the U.S. backed the insurgents of President José Manuel Balmaceda as a way to increase their influence in Chile and the British backed the Congressional forces. However, when Balmaceda was defeated, America was determined to push out Britain through any means necessary, including war, and assert their influence in Chilean domestic affairs and eliminating British interests in the region.
    The U.S. attempted an arms shipment on the Chilean ship Itata from America to Chile, loading offshore from the schooner Robert and Minnie, near San Clemente Island, meant to assist the insurgents, but it was foiled by U.S. Marshals under orders of a new Secretary of State, leading to the Baltimore Crisis, an incident of Chilean mob attacking and killing U.S. sailors in Valparaiso, which in turn was one of the reasons that Benjamin Harrison was not reelected to a second term as President.
    This extensive history is meant to show that the knowledge and involvement between the U.S. and Chile was at a minimum, yet information available to early Church Leaders suggests an intimate knowledge and understanding of the remote areas of central Chile, especially around La Serena where Lehi is claimed to have made his home in the area of First Landing.
(See the next post, “Chile, the Unknown Land – Part II,” for a more complete understanding of what was known by Church Leaders about Chile that was not common knowledge in the United States during Joseph Smith’s time)

No comments:

Post a Comment