Great Britain agrees to U.S. arbitration in a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, defusing a dangerous U.S.-British diplomatic crisis.
In 1841, gold was discovered in eastern British Guiana (now the independent nation of Guyana), intensifying a long-standing boundary dispute between Britain and Venezuela. In 1887, Venezuela accused Britain of pushing settlements farther into the contested area and cut diplomatic ties with Great Britain. In 1895, Britain refused to submit the quarrel to U.S. arbitration, which provoked a belligerent reaction from U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s administration.
In July 1895, Secretary of State Richard Olney, invoking a new and broader interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, demanded U.S. arbitration on the basis that any quarrel in the Western Hemisphere directly affected American interests and thus the United States had a right to intercede. The Marquis of Salisbury, the British prime minister, rebuffed Olney, prompting President Cleveland to appeal to the U.S. Congress in December 1895 to denounce British authority over the disputed zone. Congress, in support of the president, created a committee to settle the boundary, and there was talk of war in both the Capitol and the British Parliament.
Britain, however, was suffering from European troubles and increasing difficulties in South Africa, and on February 27, 1897, Prime Minister Salisbury sent a conciliatory note to the United States recognizing Cleveland’s broad interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine and agreeing to U.S. arbitration. A U.S. commission was appointed, and in 1899 a border was decided on that largely upheld Britain’s original claims.