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The North American Review/Volume 168/Issue 506/Americanism versus Imperialism

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For several grave reasons I regard possessions in the Far East as fraught with nothing but disaster to the Republic. Only one of these, however, can now be considered—the dangers of war and of the almost constant rumors and threats of war to which all nations interested in the Far East are subject. There is seldom a week which does not bring alarming reports of threatened hostilities, or of new alliances, or of changes of alliances, between the powers arming for the coming struggle. It is chiefly this Far Eastern question which keeps every shipyard, gunyard, and armor yard in the world busy night and day, Sunday and Saturday, forging engines of destruction. It is in that region the thunderbolt is expected; it is there the storm is to burst.

It is only four years since Japan defeated China and had ceded to it a portion of Chinese territory, the fruits of victory. Then appeared upon the scene a combination of France, Russia and Germany, which drove Japan out of China. Russia took part of the spoils for herself, and Germany later took territory near by. Japan got nothing. Britain, the most powerful of all, stood by neutral. Had she decided to defend Japan, the greatest war ever known would have been the probable result; the thunderbolt would have fallen. Were the question to be decided to-day, it is now considered probable that Britain would support Japan.

Germany obtained a concession in China, and Britain promptly appeared, demanding that Germany should maintain the “open door” in all her Chinese territory; the same demand was made on Russia. Both perforce consented. The Far East is a mine of dynamite, always liable to explode.

Into this magazine the United States proposes to enter and take a hand in the coming contest. It is obvious that what was done with Japan in regard to Chinese territory may be done with the United States in regard to her territory, the Philippines, and for the same reason, that the dictator is overwhelmingly strong and the victim helplessly weak.

The relative strength of the powers contending for Empire in the Far East is as follows: Great Britain has 80 first class ships of war, 581 warships in all; France has 50 first class warships, and a total of 403; Russia has 40 first class warships, 286 in all; Germany has 28 first class warships, a total of 216. Japan will soon rank with Germany, and be stronger there because close to the scene of action.

The United States proposes to enter into the zone of danger with 18 first class, and a total of 81 ships. These would hardly count as half that number, however, owing to her greater distance from the battle ground. Russia is 8,000 miles, the other Europeans about 9,000 miles from it. The United States is from 15,000 to 17,000 miles distant via the Cape and via the Straits; the route via Europe is about 12,000 miles, but that would be impracticable during war time, as the American ships going via Europe would pass right into the trap of their European enemies.

The armies of the European nations are as follows: Germany’s army on a peace footing numbers 562,352 men, on a war footing 3,000,000 (and a large addition ordered); France’s army on a peace footing, 615,413, on a war footing, 2,500,000; Russia’s, on a peace footing, 750,944, on a war footing, 2,512,143. All Frenchmen and Germans over 20, and all Russians over 21 years of age, are subject to military service. They are, in fact, first soldiers, then citizens.

It is obvious that the United States cannot contest any question or oppose any demand of any one of its rivals which secures the neutrality of the other powers, as France, Germany and Russia did that of Britain. She cannot stand alone. What the Saturday Review says here is true:

“Let us be frank and say outright that we expect mutual gain in material interests from this rapprochement. The American Commissioners at Paris are making their bargains, whether they realize it or not, under the protecting naval strength of England, and we shall expect a material quid pro quo for this assistance. We expect the United States to deal generously with Canada in the matter of tariffs, and we expect to be remembered when the United States comes into possession of the Philippine Islands, and above all we expect her assistance on the day, which is quickly approaching, when the future of China comes up for settlement, for the young imperialist has entered upon a path where it will require a strong friend, and a lasting friendship between the two nations can be secured not by frothy sentimentality on public platforms, but by reciprocal advantages in solid material interests.”

Bishop Potter has recently stated that we must become the “catspaw of Britain,” if we venture into the arena, and that is true. By Britain’s neutrality, and by that alone, were we permitted to take the Philippines at all from Spain. But for that, France, Germany and Russia never would have stood aloof, and the price demanded President McKinley has had to pay—the “open door,” which secures the trade of our possessions for Britain. Nothing more significant has occurred than the statement of Senator Davis, Chairman of the Senate Committee upon Foreign Relations, whose ability, influence and position are alike commanding. He says:

“I favor a treaty of alliance including the United States, Great Britain and Japan, for the protection of all their interests north of the equator. The rest of the world would have a wholesome fear, synonymous with respect, for us.”

We may assume after this that it is true, that, just as we were allowed by Britain to take the Philippines from Spain, so our position in the East depends upon her continued support or alliance—rather a humiliating position, I should say, for the Republic. But let us see about alliances. Can we depend upon an alliance? National combinations change with alarming rapidity in Europe. France and Britain allied, fought the Crimean War; they took Sebastopol as we took Manila. Their flags waved together there, but they did not consider that that fact gave them the right to demand territory. To-day Russia and France are in firm alliance against Britain and other nations. Germany fought Austria; to-day they are in the Triple Alliance together. Italy allied with France fought the Battle of Solferino; to-day Italy is a member of the Triple Alliance against France. Europe is a kaleidoscope, where alliances change, dissolve, recombine and take other forms with passing events. During the past week the bitter enmity which recently existed between Germany and Britain, owing to German interference in the Transvaal, is changed, and it is announced that “they see together upon many points and expect to co-operate more and more in the future.” This morning the question is: Shall France and Germany combine for some common ends? This would have been considered remarkable a short time ago, but statesmen will remember that Germany and France did combine with Russia to drive Japan out of China. There is no alliance, not even the most apparently incongruous, that cannot be made, and that will not be made, to meet the immediate interests or ambitions of nations. Senator Davis seems to rest satisfied with an alliance for his country with Britain and Japan. If he had an alliance to-day, it might not be worth the paper it was written upon to-morrow.

I say, therefore, that no American statesman should place his country in any position which it could not defend, relying only upon its own strong right arm. Its arm at present is not much to depend upon; its 81 ships of war are too trifling to be taken into account; and as for its army—what are its 56,000 regulars? Its volunteers are being disbanded. Both its Navy and its Army are good for one thing only—for easy capture or destruction by either one of the stronger powers. It is the protection of Britain, and that alone, upon which we have to rely—in the Far East—a slender thread indeed. Upon the shifting sands of alliances we are to have our only foundation.

The writer is not of those who believe that the Republic cannot make herself strong enough to walk alone, and to hold her own, and to be an imperial power of herself, and by herself, and not the weak protegé of a real imperial power. But, in order to make herself an imperial power she must do as imperial powers do—she must create a navy equal to the navy of any other power. She must have hundreds of thousands of regular troops to co-operate with the navy.

If she devoted herself exclusively and unceasingly to creating a navy equal to that of Britain, for instance, which is what she will need, if she is not to be at the mercy of stronger powers, that will be the work of more than twenty years, building twenty warships per year; hitherto our navy has added only six per year. In order to get the men to man these ships, she must take the means to educate them. That she can do this there is no question; that the American either on sea or land is at least equal to the man of any other nation cannot be gainsaid. More than this, I know the American workman, especially the mechanic, to be the most skillful, most versatile, in the world—and victories at sea depend as much upon the mechanic below as upon the gunner on deck, and American gunners have no equals. It was no surprise to me that the American warships sunk those of Spain without loss. I spent last winter abroad in the society of distinguished men of European nations who congregate at Cannes. The opinion was universally held by them that for a time the Spanish Navy would be master over us, although it was admitted the superior resources of the United States must eventually ensure victory. I said then that, whenever any warships in the world met those of the American Navy, the other worships would go to the bottom—for two reasons; first, our ships were the latest and their equipment was the best, and, second, I knew the kind of men who were behind the guns. If ever the Republic falls from her industrial ideals and descends to the level of the war ideals of Europe she will be supreme. I have no doubt of that. The man whom this stimulating climate produces is the wiriest, quickest, most versatile of all men, and the power of organization exists in the American in greater perfection than in any other. But what I submit is that at present the Republic is an industrial hive, without an adequate navy and without soldiers; that she therefore must have a protector; and that if she is to figure in the East she cannot be in any sense an imperial power at all. Imperialism implies naval and military force behind; moral force, education, civilization, are not the backbone of Imperialism; these are the moral forces which make for the higher civilization, for Americanism—the foundation for Imperialism is brutal physical strength, fighting men with material forces, warships and artillery.

The author of “A Look Ahead,” which first appeared in this Review, is not likely to be suspected of hostility to the coming together of the Englisb-speaking race. It has been my dream, and it is one of the movements that lie closest to my heart. For many years the United flag has floated from my summer home in my native land, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack sewn together—the first of that kind of flag ever seen. That flag will continue to fly there and the winds to blow the two from side to side in loving embrace. But I do not favor a formal alliance, such as that desired by Senator Davis. On the contrary, I rely upon the “alliance of hearts,” which happily exists to-day. Alliances of fighting power form and dissolve with the questions which arise from time to time. The patriotism of race lies deeper and is not disturbed by waves upon the surface. The present era of good feeling between the old and the new lands means that the home of Shakespeare and Burns will never be invaded without other than native-born Britons being found in its defence. It means that the giant child, the Republic, is not to be set upon by a combination of other races and pushed to its destruction without a growl coming from the old lion which will shake the earth. But it should not mean that either the old land or the new binds itself to support the other in all its designs, either at home or abroad, but that the Republic shall remain the friend of all nations and the ally of none; that, being free to-day of all foreign entanglements, she shall not undertake to support Britain, who has these to deal with. Take Russia for instance. Only last year leading statesmen were pushing Britain into a crusade against that country. They proposed to prevent its legitimate expansion toward the Pacific—legitimate, because it is over coterminous territory, which Russia can absorb and Russianize, keeping her empire solid. She knows better than to have outlying possessions open to attack. Russia has always been the friend of the United States. When Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of Great Britain, proposed to recognize the South, Russia sent her fleet to New York. Russia sold us Alaska; we have no opposing interests to those of Russia; the two nations are the only two great nations in the world, solid, compact, impregnable, because each has developed only coterminous territory, upon which its own race could grow. Even in the matter of trade with Russia, our exports are increasing with wonderful rapidity. Shiploads of American locomotives, American steel bridges and American electrical machinery for her leave our shores. Everything in which our country is either supreme or becoming supreme goes to Russia. Suppose Britain and Russia clash in the Far East and we have an alliance with Britain, we are at war against one of our best friends.

The sister Republic of France and our own, from her very beginning, have been close friends. The services France rendered at the Revolution may be, but should never be, forgotten by the American. That some interests in France sympathized with Spain was only natural. The financial world in France held the Spanish debt. The religion of France is the religion of Spain. The enemies of the French Republic sided with the monarchy. But this can be said without fear of contradiction, that those who govern France stood the friends of our Republic, and that our enemies in France were also the enemies of the French Government. An alliance with Britain and Japan would make us a possible enemy of France. I would not make an alliance which involved that. I would make no alliance with any power under any circumstances that can be imagined; I would have the Republic remain the friend of all powers. That has been her policy from the beginning, and so it should remain.

When “the world shall have a wholesome fear synonymous with respect for us,” as Senator Davis desires, it will not be a good day for the Republic. Adherence to Washington’s desire seems better to me—that we should be the “friends of all nations”—a wholesome friendship instead of a “wholesome fear.”

Reference has been made to possible difference arising between the protector and its ward, but I do not wish to be understood as entertaining the belief that actual war is probable between them. Far from this, my opinion is that actual war will never exist again between the two branches of the English-speaking race. Should one have a grievance, the other would offer Arbitration, and no government of either could exist which refused that offer. The most powerful government ever known in Britain was that of Lord Salisbury, when President Cleveland rightfully demanded Arbitration in the Venezuelan case. As is well known, Mr. Gladstone’s government had agreed to Arbitration. Lord Salisbury, upon coming into power, repudiated that agreement. Lord Salisbury denied President Cleveland’s request, and what was the result? Some uninformed persons in the United States believe that he was compelled to withdraw his refusal and accede to President Cleveland’s request by the attitude of the United States. That was only partially true. The forces in Britain supporting Lord Salisbury compelled him to reverse his decision. This is an open secret. Those nearest and next to him in power who sided with President Cleveland could be named; but the published cables are sufficient. The heir and the next heir to the throne cabled “that they hoped and believed the question would be peacefully settled.” That behind this cable was the Queen herself, always the friend of the Republic, need not be doubted.

The idea of actual war between Great Britain and the Republic can be dismissed as something which need not be taken into account; but what is to be feared is this: the neutrality of Britain —even to-day desired by other powers—in case her ward gave her offence, or was as she supposed, ungrateful, and did not make full return for the protection accorded to the weakling, as we have said. It did not require the active hostility of Great Britain to thwart Japan and push her out of her possessions, but simply her decision not to interfere on Japan’s behalf. Had Japan had satisfactory advantages to offer to Britain, she might have had Britain’s support. It is the satisfactory bargain that alliances are founded upon in Europe; every European nation has its price, and every one of them has something which the other covets. France could give Britain a free hand in Egypt, Germany could concur in Britain’s acquisition of Delagoa Bay and end her troubles in the Transvaal. This is something Britain dearly covets. Russia could give Britain a desired frontier in India. These nations have all co-related interests and desires, and no man can predict what alliances will be broken and what made—it is all a matter of self-interest. The United States has not this position. She has little desirable to offer in exchange for alliance, and in all probability she would be sacrificed for the aims of her strong rivals—at least she might be, being herself powerless.

When a statesman has in his keeping the position and interests of his country, all speculation as to the future fruition of ideas of what should be or what will one day rule the world, and of the “good day coming” when the pen shall supersede the sword, and of all the noble hopes and aspirations for a better future, must be resolutely dismissed. It is not with things as they are to be in the future, but with things as they are in the present, that it is his serious duty to deal. The dream, in which no one perhaps indulges more than the writer, of the union of the English-speaking race, even that entrancing dream must be recognized as only a dream. The “Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World,” we know is to come. The evolutionist has never any doubt about the realization of the highest ideals from the operation of that tendency within us, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness. But he is no. statesman—he is only a dreamer—who allows his hopes to stand against facts, and he who proposes that the United States, as she stands to-day, shall enter into the coming struggle in the Far East, depending upon any alliance that can be made with any or all of the powers, seems unsuited to shape the policy or deal with the destinies of the Republic.

Just consider her position, solid, compact, impregnable; if all the naval forces were to combine to attack her what would be her reply? She would fill her ports with mines, she would draw her ships of war behind them, ready to rush out as favorable opportunities might offer to attack. But she would do more than this in extremity; she would close her ports—a few loaded scows would do the business—and all the powers in the world would be impotent to injure her seriously. The fringe only would be troubled; the great empire within would scarcely feel the attack.

The injury she would inflict upon the principal powers by closing her ports would be much more serious than could be inflicted upon her; because non-exportation of food-stuffs and cotton would mean famine and distress to Britain and injure her to a greater degree than loss in battle. Even in France and in Germany the results of non-exportation would be more serious than the effects of ordinary war. It would only be a matter of a short time until the powers recognized how futile was their attempt to injure seriously this self-contained Republic, whose estate here lies secure within a ring fence.

The national wealth would not grow as fast during the blockade, but that is all. Our foreign trade would suffer, but that is a trifle, not more than four per cent. of our domestic commerce. No expert estimates the annual domestic exchanges of the people at less than fifty thousand millions of dollars; those of exports and imports have never yet reached quite two thousand millions. The annual increase of domestic exchanges is estimated to be just about equal to the total of all our Foreign Trade, Imports and Exports combined. Labor would be displaced, but the new demand upon it caused by the new state of affairs would employ it all. We should emerge from the embargo without serious injury. So much for the impregnability of the Republic. To-day Fortune rains upon her. For the first time in her history, she has become the greatest exporting nation in the world, even the exports of Britain being less than hers. Her manufactures are invading all lands, commercial expansion proceeds by leaps and bounds; New York has become the financial centre of the world. It is London no more, but New York, which is to-day the financial centre. This, however, is not yet to be claimed as permanent, but it promises to become so ere long, unless the Republic becomes involved in European wars through Imperialism. Labor is in demand at the highest wages paid in the world; the Industrial supremacy of the world lies at our feet. Two questions are submitted to the decision of the American people: First—Shall we remain as we are, solid, compact, impregnable, republican, American; or, Second—Shall we creep under the protection, and become, as Bishop Potter says, “the catspaw,” of Britain, in order that we may grasp the phantom of Imperialism?

If the latter be the choice, then it is submitted that we must first begin quietly to prepare ourselves for the new work which Imperialism imposes.

We need a large regular army of trained soldiers. There is no use trying to encounter regular armies with volunteers—we have found that out. Not that volunteers would not be superior to the class of men we shall get to enlist simply for pay in the regular army, if they would enlist there and be trained, but because they are not trained. Thirty-eight thousand more men are to be called for the regular army; but it is easy “to call spirits from the vasty deep”—they may not come. The present force of the army is 62,000 men by law; we have only 56,000, as the President tells us in his message. Why do we not first fill up the gap, instead of asking for legislation to enlist more? Because Labor is well employed and men are scarce in some States to-day; because men who now enlist know for what they are wanted, and that kind of work is not what American soldiers have been asked to perform hitherto. They have never had to leave their own country, much less to shoot down men whose only crime against the Republic was that they too, like ourselves, desired their country’s independence and believed in the Declaration of Independence—in Americanism. The President may not get the soldiers he desires, and whom he must have if he is not to make shipwreck of his Imperialism. There is very grave reason to doubt whether the army can be raised even to one hundred thousand men without a great advance in pay, perhaps not without conscription.

But surely before we appear in the arena in the Far East we must have a large regular army.

The second indispensable requirement is a navy corresponding, at least in some degree, to the navies of the other powers interested in the East. We can get this in twenty years, perhaps, if we push matters, but this means building twenty ships a year. The securing of men trained to man them will be as difficult a task as the building of the ships.

When we have armed ourselves thus, but not till then, shall we be in a position to take and hold territory in the Far East “by the sole power of our unlorded will,” as we should hold it, or not hold it at all. To rush in now, without army or navy, trusting to the treacherous shifting foundation of anybody’s “protection,” or “neutrality,” or “alliance,” is to court defeat, and such humiliation as has rarely fallen to the lot of any nation, even the poorest and most madly or most foolishly governed. It is not good sense.

This ends the subject upon which I undertook to write, but there remains the practical question: What shall we do with the Philippines? These are not ours, unless the Senate approves the Treaty; but, assuming that it will, that question arises.

The question can best be answered by asking another: What have we promised to do with Cuba? The cases are as nearly parallel as similar cases usually are. We drove Spain out of both Cuba and the Philippines. Our ships lie in the harbors of both. Our flag waves over both. To Cuba the President in his message renews the pledge given by Congress—she is to be aided to form a “Free and Independent Government, at the earliest possible moment.”

The magic words “Free and Independent” will be accepted by the people of Cuba and our soldiers hailed as deliverers. So well assured of this is our government, that only one-half the number of troops intended for Cuba are now to be sent there.

Even if we were tempted to play false to our pledge, as the enemies of the Republic in Europe predict we shall, the aspirations of a people for Independence are seldom quenched. There are a great number of Americans, and these of the best, who would soon revolt at our soldiers being used against the Cubans fighting for what they had been promised. The latest advices I have from Cuba are from a good source. This necessity is not likely to arise. Cuba will soon form a government, and, mark my prediction, she will ask for annexation. The proprietors of Cuba who will control the new government, and many Americans who are becoming interested with them in estates there, will see to this. “Free sugar” means fortune to all. Will the United States admit Cuba? Doubtful. But Cuba need not trouble us very much. There is no “Imperialism” here—no danger of foreign wars.

Now why is the policy adopted for the Island of Cuba not the right policy for the Philippine Islands? General Schofield states that 30,000 troops will be required there, as we may have to “lick them.” What work this for Americans! General Miles thinks 25,000 will do. If we promised them what we have promised Cuba, half the number would suffice, as with Cuba—probably less—and we should be spared the uncongenial task of shooting down people who were guiltless of offence against us.

If we insist “the slaves are ours because we bought them,” and fail to tell them we come not as slave drivers, but as friends to assist them to Independence, we may have to “lick them” no doubt. It will say much for the Filipinos if they do rebel against “being bought and sold like cattle.” It would be difficult to give a better proof of their fitness for self government.

Cuba is under the shield of the Monroe doctrine; no foreign interference is possible there. Place the Philippines under similar conditions until they have a stable government, when eight millions of people can be trusted to protect themselves. The truth is that none of the powers would risk the hostility of eight millions of people, who had tasted the hope of Independence. “Free and Independent” are magical words, never forgotten, and rarely unrealized.

Only one objection can be made to this policy. They are not fit to govern themselves. First, this has not been proved. This was said of every one of the sixteen Spanish Republics as they broke away from Spain; it was said even of Mexico within this generation; it was the belief of the British about ourselves. There is in the writer’s opinion little force in the objection. In the Far East I have visited the village communities in India, to find even there a system of self-government dating back for two thousand years. In no country, not even the most backward, are not to be found government and “orders and degrees” of men.

The head men of tribes and others of lesser authority are often selected by the members. In the wild lands of the Afridis—a tribe in India which has just baffled seventy thousand soldiers, native and British, the largest army ever assembled there—there is a system of self-government, and a rigid one. Human societies cannot exist without establishing, as a rule, peace and order in greater or less perfection.

The Filipinos are by no means in the lowest scale—far from it—nor are they much lower than the Cubans. If left to themselves they will make mistakes, but what nation does not? Riot and bloodshed may break out—in which nation are these absent? certainly not in our own; but the inevitable result will be a government better suited to the people than any that our soldiers and their officers could ever give.

Thus only can the Republic stand true to its pledges, that the sword was drawn only in the cause of humanity and not for territorial aggrandizement, and true to the fundamental principles upon which she rests: “that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed;” that the flag, wherever it floats, shall proclaim “the equality of the citizen,” “one man’s privilege every man’s right”—“that all men are created equal,” not that under its sway part only shall be citizens with rights and part only subjects without rights—freemen and serfs, not all freemen. Such is the issue between Americanism and Imperialism.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.


The author died in 1919, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.