The Writings of Carl Schurz/The Policy of Imperialism
THE POLICY OF IMPERIALISM
More than eight months ago I had the honor of addressing the citizens of Chicago on the subject of American imperialism, meaning the policy of annexing to this Republic distant countries and alien populations that will not fit into our democratic system of government. I discussed at that time mainly the baneful effect that the pursuit of an imperialistic policy would produce upon our political institutions. After long silence, during which I have carefully reviewed my own opinions, as well as those of others in the light of the best information I could obtain, I shall now approach the same subject from another point of view.
We all know that the popular mind is much disturbed by the Philippine war, and that, however highly we admire the bravery of our soldiers, nobody professes to be proud of the war itself. There are few Americans who do not frankly admit their regret that this war should ever have happened. I think I risk nothing when I say that it is not merely the bungling conduct of military operations, but a serious trouble of conscience, that disturbs the American heart about this war, and that this trouble of conscience will not be allayed by a more successful military campaign, just as fifty years ago the trouble of conscience about slavery could not be allayed by any compromise.
Many people now, as the slavery compromisers did then, try to ease their minds by saying: “Well, we are in it, and now we must do the best we can.” In spite of the obvious futility of this cry in some respects, I will accept it with the one proviso, that we make an honest effort to ascertain what really is the best we can do. To this end let us first clearly remember what has happened.
In April, 1898, we went to war with Spain for the avowed purpose of liberating the people of Cuba, who had long been struggling for freedom and independence. Our object in that war was clearly and emphatically proclaimed by a solemn resolution of Congress repudiating all intention of annexation on our part, and declaring that the Cuban people “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent.” This solemn declaration was made to do justice to the spirit of the American people, who were indeed willing to wage a war of liberation, but would not have consented to a war of conquest. It was also to propitiate the opinion of mankind for our action. President McKinley also declared with equal solemnity that annexation by force could not be thought of, because, according to our code of morals, it would be “criminal aggression.”
Can it justly be pretended that these declarations referred only to the island of Cuba? What would the American people, what would the world, have said if Congress had resolved that the Cuban people were indeed rightfully entitled to freedom and independence, but that as to the people of other Spanish colonies we recognized no such right; and if President McKinley had declared that the forcible annexation of Cuba would be criminal, but that the forcible annexation of other Spanish colonies would be a righteous act? A general outburst of protest from our own people, and of derision and contempt from the whole world, would have been the answer. No, there can be no cavil—that war was proclaimed to all mankind to be a war of liberation, and not of conquest, and even now our very imperialists are still boasting that the war was prompted by the most unselfish and generous purposes, and that those insult us who do not believe it.
In the course of that war Commodore Dewey, by a brilliant feat of arms, destroyed the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila. This did not change the heralded character of the war—certainly not in Dewey's own opinion. The Filipinos, constituting the strongest and foremost tribe of the population of the archipelago, had long been fighting for freedom and independence, just as the Cubans had. The great mass of the other islanders sympathized with them. They fought for the same cause as the Cubans, and they fought against the same enemy—the same enemy against whom we were waging our war of humanity and liberation. They had the same title to freedom and independence which we recognized as “of right” in the Cubans—nay, more; for, as Admiral Dewey telegraphed to our Government, “they are far superior in their intelligence, and more capable of self-government, than the natives of Cuba.” The Admiral adds: “I am familiar with both races, and further intercourse with them has confirmed me in this opinion.”
Indeed, the mendacious stories spread by our imperialists, which represent those people as barbarians, their doings as mere “savagery” and their chiefs as no better than “cut-throats,” have been refuted by such a mass of authoritative testimony, coming in part from men who are themselves imperialists, that their authors should hide their heads in shame; for surely it is not the part of really brave men to calumniate their victims before sacrificing them: We need not praise the Filipinos as in every way the equals of the “embattled farmers” of Lexington and Concord, and Aguinaldo as the peer of Washington; but there is an overwhelming abundance of testimony—some of it unwilling—that the Filipinos are fully the equals, and even the superiors, of the Cubans and the Mexicans. As to Aguinaldo, Admiral Dewey is credited with saying that he is controlled by men abler than himself. The same could be said of more than one of our Presidents. Moreover, it would prove that those are greatly mistaken who predict that the Filipino uprising would collapse were Aguinaldo captured or killed. The old slander that Aguinaldo had sold out the revolutionary movement for a bribe of $400,000 has been so thoroughly exploded by the best authority that it requires uncommon audacity to repeat it. (See 55th Cong., 3d session, Senate Doc. 62, Part 1, page 421.)
Now let us see what has happened. Two months before the beginning of our Spanish war, our Consul at Manila reported to the State Department: “Conditions here and in Cuba are practically alike. War exists, battles are of almost daily occurrence. The crown forces (Spanish) have not been able to dislodge a rebel army within ten miles of Manila. A republic is organized here as in Cuba.” When, two months later, our war of liberation and humanity began, Commodore Dewey was at Hong Kong with his ships. He received orders to attack and destroy the Spanish fleet in those waters. It was then that our Consul-General at Singapore informed our State Department that he had conferred with General Aguinaldo, then at Singapore, as to the coöperation of the Philippine insurgents, and that he had telegraphed to Commodore Dewey that Aguinaldo was willing to come to Hong Kong to arrange with Dewey for “general coöperation, if desired”; whereupon Dewey promptly answered: “Tell Aguinaldo come soon as possible.” The meeting was had. Dewey sailed to Manila to destroy the Spanish fleet, and Aguinaldo was taken to the seat of war on a vessel of the United States. His forces received a supply of arms through Commodore Dewey, and did faithfully and effectively coöperate with our forces against the Spaniards, so effectively, indeed, that soon afterwards by their efforts the Spaniards had lost the whole country, except a few garrisons in which they were practically blockaded.
Now, what were the relations between the Philippine insurgents and this Republic? There is some dispute as to certain agreements, including a promise of Philippine independence, said to have been made between Aguinaldo and our Consul-General at Singapore before Aguinaldo proceeded to coöperate with Dewey. But I lay no stress upon this point. I will let only the record of facts speak. Of these facts the first, of highest importance, is that Aguinaldo was “desired,” that is, invited, by officers of the United States to coöperate with our forces. The second is that the Filipino Junta in Hong Kong immediately after these conferences appealed to their countrymen to receive the American fleet, about to sail for Manila, as friends, by a proclamation which had these words: “Compatriots, divine Providence is about to place independence within our reach. The Americans, not from any mercenary motives, but for the sake of humanity, have considered it opportune to extend their protecting mantle to our beloved country. Where you see the American flag flying, assemble in mass. They are our redeemers.” With this faith his followers gave Aguinaldo a rapturous greeting upon his arrival at Cavité, where he proclaimed his government and organized his army under Dewey's eyes.
The arrival of our land forces did not at first change these relations. Brigadier-General Thomas M. Anderson, commanding, wrote to Aguinaldo, July 4th, as follows:
General, I have the honor to inform you that the United States of America, whose land forces I have the honor to command in this vicinity, being at war with the kingdom of Spain, has entire sympathy and most friendly sentiments for the native people of the Philippine Islands. For these reasons I desire to have the most amicable relations with you, and to have you and your people coöperate with us in military operations against the Spanish forces, etc.
Aguinaldo responded cordially, and an extended correspondence followed, special services being asked for by the party of the first part, being rendered by the second and duly acknowledged by the first. All this went on pleasantly until the capture of Manila, in which Aguinaldo effectively coöperated by fighting the Spaniards outside, taking many prisoners from them, and hemming them in. The services they rendered by taking thousands of Spanish prisoners, by harassing the Spaniards in the trenches and by completely blockading Manila on the land side, were amply testified to by our own officers, Aguinaldo was also active on the sea. He had ships which our commanders permitted to pass in and out of Manila Bay, under the flag of the Philippine Republic, on their expeditions against other provinces.
Now, whether there was or not any formal compact of alliance signed and sealed, no candid man who has studied the official documents will deny that in point of fact the Filipinos, having been desired and invited to do so, were, before the capture of Manila, acting, and were practically recognized, as our allies, and that as such they did effective service, which we accepted and profited by. This is an indisputable fact, proved by the record.
It is an equally indisputable fact that during that period the Filipino government constantly and publicly, so that nobody could plead ignorance of it or misunderstand it, informed the world that their object was the achievement of national independence, and that they believed the Americans had come in good faith to help them accomplish that end, as in the case of Cuba. It was weeks after various proclamations and other public utterances of Aguinaldo to that effect that the correspondence between him and General Anderson, which I have quoted, took place, and that the useful services of the Filipinos as our practical allies were accepted. It is, further, an indisputable fact that during this period our Government did not inform the Filipinos that their fond expectations as to our recognition of their independence were mistaken. Our Secretary of State did, indeed, on June 16th write to Mr. Pratt, our Consul-General at Singapore, that our Government knew the Philippine insurgents, not indeed as patriots struggling for liberty, and who, like the Cubans, “are and of right ought to be free and independent,” but merely as “discontented and rebellious subjects of Spain,” who, if we occupied their country in consequence of the war, would have to yield us due “obedience.” And other officers of our Government were instructed not to make any promises to the Filipinos as to the future. But the Filipinos themselves were not so informed. They were left to believe that, while fighting in coöperation with the American forces, they were fighting for their own independence. They could not imagine that the Government of the great American Republic, while boasting of having gone to war with Spain under the banner of liberation and humanity in behalf of Cuba, was capable of secretly plotting to turn that war into one for the conquest and subjugation of the Philippines. Thus the Filipinos went faithfully and bravely on doing for us the service of allies, of brothers in arms, far from dreaming that the same troops with whom they had been asked to coöperate would soon be employed by the great apostle of liberation and humanity to slaughter them for no other reason than that they, the Filipinos, continued to stand up for their own freedom and independence.
But just that was to happen. As soon as Manila was taken and we had no further use for our Filipino allies, they were ordered to fall back and back from the city and its suburbs. Our military commanders treated the Filipinos' country as if it were our own. When Aguinaldo sent one of his aides-de-camp to General Merritt with a request for an interview, General Merritt was “too busy.” When our peace negotiations with Spain began, and representatives of the Filipinos asked for audience to solicit consideration of the rights and wishes of their people, the doors were slammed in their faces, in Washington as well as in Paris. And behind those doors the scheme was hatched to deprive the Philippine Islanders of independence from foreign rule, and to make them the subjects of another foreign ruler; and that foreign ruler their late ally, this great Republic which had grandly proclaimed to the world that its war against Spain was not a war of conquest, but a war of liberation and humanity.
Behind those doors which were tightly closed to the people of the Philippines, a treaty was made with Spain, by the direction of President McKinley, which provided for the cession of the Philippine Islands by Spain to the United States for a consideration of $20,000,000. It has been said that this sum was not purchase-money, but a compensation for improvements made by Spain, or a solatium to sweeten the pill of cession, or what not. But, stripped of all cloudy verbiage, it was really purchase-money, the sale being made by Spain under duress. Thus Spain sold, and the United States bought, what was called the sovereignty of Spain over the Philippine Islands and their people.
Now look at the circumstances under which that “cession” was made. Spain had lost the possession of the country, except a few isolated and helpless little garrisons, most of which were effectively blockaded by the Filipinos. The American forces occupied Cavité and the harbor and city of Manila, and nothing more. The bulk of the country was occupied and possessed by the people thereof, over whom Spain had, in point of fact, ceased to exercise any sovereignty, the Spanish power having been driven out or destroyed by the Filipino insurrection, while the United States had not acquired, beyond Cavité and Manila, any authority of whatever name by military occupation, nor by recognition on the part of the people. Aguinaldo's army surrounded Manila on the land side, and his government claimed organized control over fifteen provinces. That government was established at Malolos not far from Manila; and a very respectable government, it was. According to Mr. Barrett, our late Minister in Siam, himself an ardent imperialist, who had seen it, it had a well-organized Executive, divided into several departments, ably conducted, and a popular Assembly, a Congress, which would favorably compare with the Parliament of Japan—an infinitely better government than the insurrectionary government of Cuba ever was.
It is said that Aguinaldo's government was in operation among only a part of the people of the islands. This is true. But it is also certain that it was recognized and supported by an immeasurably larger part of the people than Spanish sovereignty, which had practically ceased to exist, and than American rule, which was confined to a harbor and a city, and which was carried on by the exercise of military force under what was substantially martial law over a people that constituted about one-twentieth of the whole population of the islands. Thus, having brought but a very small fraction of the country and its people under our military control, we bought by that treaty the sovereignty over the whole from a Power which had practically lost that sovereignty, and therefore did no longer possess it; and we contemptuously disdained to consult the existing native government, which actually did control a large part of the country and people, and which had been our ally in the war with Spain. The sovereignty we thus acquired may well be defined as Abraham Lincoln once defined the “popular sovereignty” of Senator Douglas's doctrine—as being like a soup made by boiling the shadow of the breastbone of a pigeon that had been starved to death.
No wonder that treaty found opposition in the Senate. Virulent abuse was heaped upon the “statesman who would oppose the ratification of a peace treaty.” A peace treaty? This was no peace treaty at all. It was a treaty with half a dozen bloody wars in its belly. It was, in the first place, an open and brutal declaration of war against our allies, the Filipinos, who struggled for freedom and independence from foreign rule. Every man not totally blind could see that. For such a treaty the true friends of peace could, of course, not vote.
But more. Even before that treaty had been assented to by the Senate, that is, even before that ghastly shadow of our Philippine sovereignty had obtained any legal sanction, President McKinley assumed of his own motion the sovereignty of the Philippine Islands by his famous “benevolent assimilation” order of December 21, 1898, through which our military commander at Manila was directed forthwith to extend the military government of the United States over the whole archipelago, and by which the Filipinos were notified that, if they refused to submit, they would be compelled by force of arms. Having bravely fought for their freedom and independence from one foreign rule, they did refuse to submit to another foreign rule, and then the slaughter of our late allies began—the slaughter by American arms of a once friendly and confiding people. And this slaughter has been going on ever since.
This is a grim story. Two years ago the prediction of such a possibility would have been regarded as a hideous nightmare, as the offspring of a diseased imagination. But to-day it is a true tale—a plain recital of facts taken from the official records. These things have actually been done in these last two years by and under the Administration of William McKinley. This is our Philippine war as it stands. Is it a wonder that the American people should be troubled in their consciences? But let us not be too swift in our judgment on the conduct of those in power over us. Let us hear what they have to say in defense of it.
It is pretended that we had a right to the possession of the Philippines, and that self-respect demanded us to enforce that right. What kind of right was it? The right of conquest? Had we really acquired that country by armed conquest, which, as President McKinley has told us, is, according to the American code of morals, “criminal aggression”? But if we had thrown aside our code of morals, we had then not conquered more than the bay and city of Manila. The rest of the country was controlled, if by anybody, by the Filipinos. Or was it the right of possession by treaty? I have already shown that the President ordered the enforcement of our sovereignty over the archipelago before the treaty had by ratification gained legal effect, and also that, in making that treaty, we had bought something called sovereignty which Spain had ceased to possess and could therefore not sell and deliver. But let me bring the matter home to you by a familiar example.
Imagine that in our revolutionary times, France, being at war with England, had brought to this country a fleet and an army, and had, without any definite compact to that effect, coöperated as an ally with our revolutionary forces, permitting all the while the Americans to believe that she did this without any mercenary motive, and that, in case of victory, the American colonies would be free and independent. Imagine then that, after the British surrendered at Yorktown, the King of France had extorted from the British King a treaty ceding, for a consideration of $20,000,000, the sovereignty over the American colonies to France, and that thereupon the King of France had coolly notified the Continental Congress and General Washington that they had to give up their idea of National independence, and to surrender unconditionally to the sovereignty of France, wherefor the French King promised them “benevolent assimilation.” Imagine, further, that upon the protest of the Americans that Great Britain, having lost everything in the colonies except New York City and a few other little posts, had no sovereignty to cede, the French King answered that he had bought the Americans at $5 a head, and that if they refused to submit he would give them benevolent assimilation in the shape of bullets. Can there be any doubt that the Continental Congress and General Washington would have retorted that, no matter what the French King might have bought, Great Britain had no sovereignty left to sell; that least of all would the Americans permit themselves to be sold; that the French, in so treating their American allies after such high-sounding professions of friendship and generosity, were a lot of mean, treacherous, contemptible hypocrites, and that the Americans would rather die than submit to such wolves in sheep's clothing? And will any patriotic American now deny that, whatever quibbles of international law about possible cessions of a lost sovereignty might be invented, such conduct of the French would have been simply a shame and that the Americans of that time would have eternally disgraced themselves if they had failed to resist unto death? How, then, can the same patriotic American demand that the Filipinos should surrender and accept American sovereignty under circumstances exactly parallel? And that parallel will not be shaken by any learned international law technicalities, which do not touch the moral element of the subject.
It is also pretended that, whatever our rights, the Filipinos were the original aggressors in the pending fight, and that our troops found themselves compelled to defend their flag against assault. What are the facts? One evening early in February last some Filipino soldiers entered the American lines without, however, attacking anybody. An American sentry fired, killing one of the Filipinos. Then a desultory firing began at the outposts. It spread until it assumed the proportions of an extensive engagement in which a large number of Filipinos were killed. It is a well-established fact that this engagement could not have been a premeditated affair on the part of the Filipinos, as many of their officers, including Aguinaldo's private secretary, were at the time in the theaters and cafés of Manila. It is further well known that the next day Aguinaldo sent an officer, General Torres, under a flag of truce to General Otis to declare that the fighting had not been authorized by Aguinaldo, but had begun accidentally; that Aguinaldo wished to have it stopped, and proposed to that end the establishment of a neutral zone between the two armies, such as might be agreeable to General Otis; whereupon General Otis curtly answered that the fighting, having once begun, must go on to the grim end. Who was it that really wanted the fight?
But far more important than all this is the fact that President McKinley's “benevolent assimilation” order, which even before the ratification of the treaty demanded that the Philippine Islanders should unconditionally surrender to American sovereignty, in default whereof our military forces would compel them, was really the President's declaration of war against the Filipinos insisting upon independence, however you may quibble about it. When an armed man enters my house under some questionable pretext, and tells me that I must yield to him unconditional control of the premises or he will knock me down—who is the aggressor, no matter who strikes the first blow? No case of aggression can be clearer, shuffle and prevaricate as you will.
Let us recapitulate. We go to war with Spain in behalf of an oppressed colony of hers. We solemnly proclaim this to be a war—not of conquest—God forbid!—but of liberation and humanity. We invade the Spanish colony of the Philippines, destroy the Spanish fleet, and invite the coöperation of the Filipino insurgents against Spain. We accept their effective aid as allies, all the while permitting them to believe that, in case of victory, they will be free and independent. By active fighting they get control of a large part of the interior country, from which Spain is virtually ousted. When we have captured Manila and have no further use for our Filipino allies, our President directs that, behind their backs, a treaty be made with Spain transferring their country to us; and even before that treaty is ratified, he tells them that, in place of the Spaniards, they must accept us as their masters, and that if they do not, they will be compelled by force of arms. They refuse, and we shoot them down; and, as President McKinley said at Pittsburgh, we shall continue to shoot them down “without useless parley.”
I have recited these things in studiously sober and dry matter-of-fact language, without oratorical ornament or appeal. I ask you now what epithet can you find justly to characterize such a course? Happily, you need not search for one, for President McKinley himself has furnished the best when, in a virtuous moment, he said that annexation by force should not be thought of, for, according to the American code of morals, it would be “criminal aggression.” Yes, “criminal” is the word. Have you ever heard of any aggression more clearly criminal than this? And in this case there is an element of peculiarly repulsive meanness and treachery. I pity the American who can behold this spectacle without the profoundest shame, contrition and resentment. Is it a wonder, I repeat, that the American people, in whose name this has been done, should be troubled in their consciences?
To justify, or rather to excuse, such things, nothing but a plea of the extremest necessity will avail. Did such a necessity exist? In a sort of helpless way the defenders of this policy ask: “What else could the President have done under the circumstances?” This question is simply childish. If he thought he could not order Commodore Dewey away from Manila after the execution of the order to destroy the Spanish fleet, he could have told the people of the Philippine Islands that this was, on our part, a war not of conquest, but of liberation and humanity; that we sympathized with their desire for freedom and independence, and that we would treat them as we had specifically promised to treat the Cuban people in furthering the establishment of an independent government. And this task would have been much easier than in the case of Cuba, since, according to Admiral Dewey's repeatedly emphatic testimony, the Filipinos were much better fitted for such a government.
Our ingenious Postmaster-General has told us that the President could not have done that because he had no warrant for it, since he did not know whether the American people would wish to keep the Philippine Islands. But what warrant, then, had the President for putting before the Filipinos, by his “benevolent assimilation order,” the alternative of submission to our sovereignty or war? Had he any assurance that the American people willed that? If such was his dream, there may be a rude awakening in store for him. But I say that for assenting to the aspiration of the Filipinos to freedom and independence he would have had the fullest possible warrant in the spirit of our institutions and in the resolution of Congress stamping our war against Spain as a war of liberation and humanity. And such a course would surely have been approved by the American people, except perhaps some Jingoes bent upon wild adventure, and some syndicates of speculators unscrupulous in their greed of gain.
There are also some who, with the mysterious mien of a superior sense of responsibility, tell us that the President could not have acted otherwise, because Dewey's victory devolved upon us some grave international or other obligations which would have been disregarded had the President failed to claim sovereignty over the Philippines. What? Did not the destruction of Cervera's fleet and the taking of Santiago devolve the same obligations upon us with regard to Cuba? And who has ever asserted that therefore Cuba must be put under our sovereignty? And did ever anybody pretend that our victories in Mexico fifty years ago imposed upon us international or other obligations which compelled us to assume sovereignty over the Mexican Republic after we had conquered it much more than we have conquered the Philippines? Does not, in the light of history, this obligation-dodge appear as a hollow mockery?
An equally helpless plea is it, that the President could not treat with Aguinaldo and his followers because they did not represent the whole population of the islands. But having an established government and an army of some 25,000 or 30,000 men, and in that army men from various tribes, they represented at least something. They represented at least a large part of the population and a strong nucleus of a national organization. And, as we have to confess that in the Philippines there is no active opposition to the Filipino government except that which we ourselves manage to excite, it may be assumed that they represent the sympathy of practically the whole people.
But, pray, what do we represent there? At first, while the islanders confided in us as their liberators, we represented their hope for freedom and independence. Since we have betrayed that hope and have begun to slaughter them, we represent, as a brute force bent upon subjugating them, only their bitter hatred and detestation. We have managed to turn virtually that whole people, who at first greeted us with childlike trust as their beloved deliverers, into deadly enemies. For it is a notorious fact that those we regard as amigos to-day will to-morrow stand in the ranks of our foes. We have not a true friend left among the islanders unless it be some speculators and the Sultan of Sulu with his harem and his slaves, whose support we have bought with a stipend like that which the Republic in its feeble infancy paid to the pirates of the Barbary States. And even his friendship will hardly last long. Yes, it is a terrible fact that in one year we have mace them hate us more, perhaps, than they hated even their Spanish oppressors, who were at least less foreign to them, and that the manner in which we are treating them has caused many, if not most, of the Filipinos to wish that they had patiently suffered Spanish tyranny rather than be “liberated” by us.
Thus it appears that we who represent in the Philippines no popular element at all, but are unpopular in the extreme, cannot enter into relations with an established government for the pretended reason that it does not represent all the people, while it does represent a very important part of them, and would probably soon represent them all if we did not constantly throw obstacles in its way—aye, if we did not seek to extinguish it in blood. Was there ever a false pretense more glaring?
But the ghastliest argument of all in defense of the President's course is that he had to extend American sovereignty over the whole archipelago even before the ratification of the treaty, and that he was, and is now, obliged to shoot down the Filipinos, to the end of “restoring order” and “preventing anarchy” in the islands. We are to understand that if our strong armed hand did not restrain them from doing as they pleased—that is, if they were left free and independent—they would quickly begin to cut one another's or other people's throats, and to ravish and destroy one another's or other people's property. We may reasonably assume that if this were sure to be the upshot of their being left free and independent, they would have shown some such tendency where they have actually held sway under their own revolutionary government.
Now for the facts. We have the reports of two naval officers and of two members of the signal corps who travelled extensively behind Aguinaldo's lines through the country controlled by his government. And what did they find? Quiet and orderly rural or municipal communities, in all appearance well organized and governed, full of enthusiasm for their liberty and independence, which they thought secured by the expulsion of the Spaniards, and for their leader Aguinaldo, and at the time—it was before President McKinley had ordered the subjugation of the islands—also for the Americans, whom, with childlike confidence, they still believed friendly to their freedom from all foreign rule. We may be sure that if any anarchical disturbances had happened among them, our imperialists would have eagerly made report. But there has been nothing at all equivalent to such things of our own as the famous “battle of Virden” in Illinois, or the race troubles in our own States, or the numerous lynchings we have witnessed with shame and alarm in various parts of our Republic. The only rumors of so-called “anarchy” have come through a British consul on the island of Borneo, who writes that bloody broils are occurring in some of the southernmost regions of the Philippine archipelago, and that the Americans are wanted there. But the Americans are engaged in killing orderly Filipinos—Filipino soldiers of just that Filipino government which, on its part, would probably soon restore order in the troubled places, if it had not to defend itself against the “criminal aggression” of the Americans.
The imperialists wish us to believe that in the Philippines there is bloody disorder wherever our troops are not. In fact, after the Filipinos had expelled the Spaniards from the interior of their country, bloody disorders began there only when our troops appeared. Here is an example. In December last the city of Iloilo, the second city in commercial importance in the Philippines, was evacuated by the Spaniards and occupied by the Filipinos. General M. P. Miller of our Army was sent in command of an expedition to take possession of it. As he has publicly stated, when he appeared with his ships and soldiers before the city he “received a letter from the business people of Iloilo, principally foreigners, stating that good order was being maintained, life and property being protected, and requesting him not to attack at present.” But soon afterwards he received peremptory orders to attack, and did so; and then the killing and the burning of houses and other work of devastation began. Can it be said that our troops had to go there to “restore order” and prevent bloodshed and devastation? No, order and safety existed there, and it was only with our troops that the bloodshed and devastation came which otherwise might not have occurred.
I am far from meaning to picture the Philippine Islanders as paragons of virtue and gentle conduct. But I challenge the imperialists to show me any instances of bloody disturbance or other savagery among them sufficient to create any necessity for our armed interference to “restore order” or to “save them from anarchy.” I ask and demand an answer: Is it not true that, even if there has been such a disorderly tendency, it would have required a long time for it to kill one-tenth as many human beings as we have killed and to cause one-tenth as much devastation as we have caused by our assaults upon them? Is it not true that, instead of being obliged to “restore order,” we have carried riot and death and desolation into peaceful communities whose only offense was not that they did not maintain order and safety among themselves, but that they refused to accept us as their rulers? And here is the rub.
In the vocabulary of our imperialists “order” means, above all, submission to their will. Any other kind of order, be it ever so peaceful and safe, must be suppressed with a bloody hand. This “order” is the kind that has been demanded by the despot since the world had a history. Its language has already become dangerously familiar to us—a familiarity which cannot cease too soon.
From all these points of view, therefore, the Philippine war was as unnecessary as it is unjust. A wanton, wicked and abominable war—so it is called by untold thousands of American citizens, and so it is at heart felt to be, I have no doubt, by an immense majority of the American people. Aye, as such it is cursed by many of our very soldiers whom our Government orders to shoot down innocent people. And who will deny that this war would certainly have been avoided had the President remained true to the National pledge that the war against Spain should be a war of liberation and humanity and not of conquest? Can there be any doubt that, if the assurance had honestly been given and carried out, we might have had, for the mere asking, all the coaling-stations, and facilities for commercial and industrial enterprise, and freedom for the establishment of schools and churches we might reasonably desire? And what have we now? After eight months of slaughter and devastation, squandered treasure and shame, an indefinite prospect of more and more slaughter, devastation, squandered treasure and shame.
But, we are asked, since we have to deal with a situation not as it might have been, but as it is, what do we propose to do now? We may fairly turn about and say, since not we, but you, have got the country into this frightful mess, what have you to propose? Well, and what is the answer? “No useless parley! More soldiers! More guns! More blood! More devastation! Kill, kill, kill! And when we have killed enough, so that further resistance stops, then we shall see.” Translated from smooth phrase into plain English, this is the program. Let us examine it with candor and coolness.
What is the ultimate purpose of this policy? To be perfectly fair, I will assume that the true spirit of American imperialism is represented not by the extremists who want to subjugate the Philippine Islanders at any cost and then exploit the islands to the best advantage of the conquerors, but by the more humane persons who say that we must establish our sovereignty over them to make them happy, to prepare them for self-government, and even recognize their right to complete independence as soon as they show themselves fit for it.
Let me ask these well-meaning citizens a simple question. If you think that the American people may ultimately consent to the independence of those islanders as a matter of right and good policy, why do you insist upon killing them now? You answer: Because they refuse to recognize our sovereignty. Why do they so refuse? Because they think themselves entitled to independence, and are willing to fight and die for it. But if you insist upon continuing to shoot them down for this reason, does not that mean that you want to kill them for demanding the identical thing which you yourself think that you may ultimately find it just and proper to grant them? Would not every drop of blood shed in such a guilty sport cry to Heaven? For you must not forget that establishing our sovereignty in the Philippines means the going on with the work of slaughter and devastation to the grim end, and nobody can tell where that end will be. To kill men in a just war and in obedience to imperative necessity is one thing. To kill men for demanding what you yourself may ultimately have to approve, is another. How can such killing adopted as a policy be countenanced by a man of conscience and humane feelings? And yet, such killing without useless parley is the policy proposed to us.
We are told that we must trust President McKinley and his advisers to bring us out “all right.” I should be glad to be able to do so; but I cannot forget that they have got us in all wrong. And here we have to consider a point of immense importance, which I solemnly urge upon the attention of the American people.
It is one of the fundamental principles of our system of democratic government that only the Congress has the power to declare war. What does this signify? That a declaration of war, the initiation of an armed conflict between this Nation and some other Power—the most solemn and responsible act a nation can perform, involving as it does the lives and fortunes of an uncounted number of human beings—shall not be at the discretion of the Executive branch of the Government, but shall depend upon the authority of the legislative representatives of the people—in other words, that, as much as the machinery of government may make such a thing possible, the deliberate will of the people Constitutionally expressed shall determine the awful question of peace or war.
It is true there may be circumstances of foreign aggression or similar emergencies to precipitate an armed conflict without there being a possibility of consulting the popular will beforehand. But, such exceptional cases notwithstanding, the Constitutional principle remains that the question of peace or war is essentially one which the popular will is to decide, and that no possibility should be lost to secure upon it the expression of the popular will through its legislative organs. Whenever such a possibility is wilfully withheld or neglected, and a war has been brought upon the country without every available means being employed thus to consult the popular will upon that question, the spirit of the Constitution is flagrantly violated in one of its most essential principles.
We are now engaged in a war with the Filipinos. You may quibble about it as you will, call it by whatever name you will—it is a war; and a war of conquest on our part at that—a war of barefaced, cynical conquest. Now, I ask any fairminded man whether the President, before beginning that war, or while carrying it on, has ever taken any proper steps to get from the Congress, the representatives of the people, any proper authority for making that war. He issued his famous “benevolent assimilation” order, directing the Army to bring the whole Philippine archipelago as promptly as possible under the military government of the United States, on December 21, 1898, while Congress was in session, and before the treaty with Spain, transferring her shadowy sovereignty over the islands, had acquired any force of law by the assent of the Senate. That was substantially a declaration of war against the Filipinos asserting their independence. He took this step of his own motion. To be sure, he has constantly been telling us that “the whole subject is with Congress,” and that “Congress shall direct.” But when did he, while Congress was in session, lay a full statement before that body and ask its direction? Why did he not, before he proclaimed that the slaughter must go on without useless parley, call Congress together to consult the popular will in Constitutional form? Why, even in these days, while “swinging around the circle,” the President and his Secretaries are speaking of the principal thing, the permanent annexation of the Philippines, not as a question still to be determined, but as a thing done—concluded by the Executive, implying that Congress will have simply to regulate the details.
Now you may bring ever so many arguments to show that the President had technically a right to act as he did, and your reasoning may be ever so plausible—yet the great fact remains that the President did not seek and obtain authority from Congress as to the war to be made, and the policy to be pursued, and that he acted upon his own motion. And this autocratic conduct is vastly aggravated by the other fact that in this democratic Republic, the government of which should be that of an intelligent and well-informed public opinion, a censorship of news has been instituted, which is purposely and systematically seeking to keep the American people in ignorance of the true state of things at the seat of war, and by all sorts of deceitful tricks to deprive them of the knowledge required for the formation of a correct judgment. And this censorship was practised not only in Manila, but directly by the Administration in Washington. Here is a specimen performance revealed by a member of Congress in a public speech; the War Department gave out a despatch from Manila, as follows: “Volunteers willing to remain.” The Congressman went to the War Department and asked for the original, which read: “Volunteers unwilling to reenlist, but willing to remain until transports arrive.” You will admit that such distortion of official news is a downright swindle upon the people. Does not this give strong color to the charge of the war correspondents that the news is systematically and confessedly so doctored by the officials that it may “help the Administration?”
Those are, therefore, by no means wrong who call this “the President's war.” And a war so brought about and so conducted the American people are asked to approve and encourage, simply because “we are in it”—that is, because the President of his own motion has got us into it. Have you considered what this means?
Every man of public experience knows how powerful and seductive precedent is as an argument in the interpretation of laws and of constitutional provisions, or in justification of governmental practices. When a thing, no matter how questionable, has once been done by the government, and approved, or even acquiesced in, by the people, that act will surely be used as a justification of its being done again. In nothing is the authority of precedent more dangerous than in defending usurpations of governmental power. And it is remarkable how prone the public mind is, especially under the influence of party spirit, to accept precedent as a warrant for such usurpations, which, judged upon their own merits, would be sternly condemned. And every such precedent is apt to bring forth a worse one. It is in this way that the most indispensable bulwarks of free government, and of public peace and security, may be undermined. To meet such dangers the American people should, if ever, remember the old saying that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
I am not here as a partisan, but as an American citizen anxious for the future of the Republic. And I cannot too earnestly admonish the American people, if they value the fundamental principles of their government, and their own security and that of their children, for a moment to throw aside all partisan bias and soberly to consider what kind of a precedent they would set, if they consented to, and by consenting approved, the President's management of the Philippine business merely because “we are in it.” We cannot expect all our future Presidents to be models of public virtue and wisdom, as George Washington was. Imagine now in the Presidential office a man well-meaning but, it may be, short-sighted and pliable, and under the influence of so-called “friends” who are greedy and reckless speculators, and who would not scruple to push him into warlike complications in order to get great opportunities for profit; or a man of that inordinate ambition which intoxicates the mind and befogs the conscience; or a man of extreme partisan spirit, who honestly believes the victory of his party to be necessary for the salvation of the universe, and may think that a foreign broil would serve the chances of his party; or a man of an uncontrollable combativeness of temperament which might run away with his sense of responsibility—and that we shall have such men in the Presidential chair is by no means unlikely with our loose way of selecting candidates for the Presidency. Imagine, then, a future President belonging to either of these classes to have before him the precedent of Mr. McKinley's management of the Philippine business, sanctioned by the approval or only the acquiescence of the people, and to feel himself permitted—nay, even encouraged—to say to himself that, as this precedent shows, he may plunge the country into warlike conflicts of his own motion, without asking leave of Congress, with only some legal technicalities to cover his usurpation, or, even without such, and that he may, by a machinery of deception called a war-censorship, keep the people in the dark about what is going on; and that into however bad a mess he may have got the country, he may count upon the people, as soon as a drop of blood has been shed, to uphold the usurpation and to cry down everybody who opposes it as a “traitor,” and all this because “we are in it”! Can you conceive a more baneful precedent, a more prolific source of danger to the peace and security of the country? Can any sane man deny that it will be all the more prolific of evil if in this way we drift into a foreign policy full of temptation for dangerous adventure?
I say, therefore, that, if we have the future of the Republic at heart, we must not only not uphold the Administration in its course, because “we are in it,” but just because we are in it, have been got into it in such a way, the American people should stamp the Administration's proceedings with a verdict of disapproval so clear and emphatic, and “get out of it” in such a fashion, that this will be a solemn warning to future Presidents instead of a seductive precedent.
What, then, to accomplish this end is to be done? Of course, we, as we are here, can only advise. But by calling forth expressions of the popular will by various means of public demonstration, and, if need be, at the polls, we can make that advice so strong that those in power will hardly disregard it. We have often been taunted with having no positive policy to propose. But such a policy has more than once been proposed and I can only repeat it.
In the first place, let it be well understood that those are egregiously mistaken who think that if by a strong military effort the Philippine war be stopped, everything will be right and no more question about it. No, the American trouble of conscience will not be appeased, and the question will be as big and virulent as ever, unless the close of the war be promptly followed by an assurance to the islanders of their freedom and independence, which assurance, if given now, would surely end the war without more fighting.
We propose, therefore, that it be given now. Let there be at once an armistice between our forces and the Filipinos. Let the Philippine Islanders at the same time be told that the American people will be glad to see them establish an independent government, and to aid them in that task as far as may be necessary; that, if the different tribes composing the population of the Philippines are disposed, as at least most of them, if not all, are likely to be, to attach themselves in some way to the government already existing under the Presidency of Aguinaldo, we shall cheerfully accept that solution of the question, and even, if required, lend our good offices to bring it about; and that meanwhile we shall deem it our duty to protect them against interference from other foreign Powers—in other words, that with regard to them we mean honestly to live up to the righteous principles with the profession of which we commended to the world our Spanish war.
And then let us have in the Philippines, to carry out this program, not a small politician, nor a meddlesome martinet, but a statesman of large mind and genuine sympathy who will not merely deal in sanctimonious cant and oily promises with a string to them, but who will prove by his acts that he and we are honest; who will keep in mind that their government is not merely to suit us, but to suit them; that it should not be measured by standards which we ourselves have not been able to reach, but be a government of their own, adapted to their own conditions and notions—whether it be a true republic, like ours, or better, or a dictatorship like that of Porfirio Diaz, in Mexico, or an oligarchy like the one maintained by us in Hawaii, or even something like the boss rule we are tolerating in New York and Pennsylvania.
Those who talk so much about “fitting a people for self-government” often forget that no people were ever made “fit” for self-government by being kept in the leading-strings of a foreign Power. You learn to walk by doing your own crawling and stumbling. Self-government is learned only by exercising it upon one's own responsibility. Of course there will be mistakes, and troubles and disorders. We have had and now have these, too—at the beginning our persecution of the Tories, our flounderings before the Constitution was formed, our Shays's rebellion, our whisky war and various failures and disturbances—among them a civil war that cost us a loss of life and treasure horrible to think of, and the murder of two Presidents. But who will say that on account of these things some foreign Power should have kept the American people in leading-strings to teach them to govern themselves? If the Philippine Islanders do as well as the Mexicans, who have worked their way, since we let them alone after our war of 1847, through many disorders, to an orderly government, who will have a right to find fault with the result? Those who seek to impose upon them an unreasonable standard of excellence in self-government do not seriously wish to let them govern themselves at all. You may take it as a general rule that he who wants to reign over others is solemnly convinced that they are quite unable to govern themselves.
Now, what objection is there to the policy dictated by our fundamental principles and our good faith? I hear the angry cry: “What? Surrender to Aguinaldo? Will not the world ridicule and despise us for such a confession of our incompetency to deal with so feeble a foe? What will become of our prestige?” No, we shall not surrender to Aguinaldo. In giving up a criminal aggression, we shall surrender only to our own consciences, to our own sense of right and justice, to our own understanding of our own true interests and to the vital principles of our own Republic. Nobody will laugh at us whose good opinion we have reason to cherish. There will, of course, be an outcry of disappointment in England. But from whom will it come? From such men as James Bryce or John Morley or any one of those true friends of this Republic who understand and admire and wish to perpetuate and spread the fundamental principles of its vitality? No, not from them. But the outcry will come from those in England who long to see us entangled in complications apt to make this American Republic dependent upon British aid and thus subservient to British interests. They, indeed, will be quite angry. But the less we mind their displeasure as well as their flattery, the better for the safety as well as the honor of our country.
The true friends of this Republic in England, and, indeed, all over the world, who are now grieving to see us go astray, will rejoice, and their hearts will be uplifted with new confidence in our honesty, in our wisdom and in the virtue of democratic institutions when they behold the American people throwing aside all the puerilities of false pride, and returning to the path of their true duty. The world knows how strong we are. It knows full well that if the American people chose to put forth their strength, they could quickly overcome a foe infinitely more powerful than the Filipinos, and that, if we, possessing the strength of the giant, do not use the giant's strength against this feeble foe, it is from the noblest of motives—our love of liberty, our sense of justice and our respect for the rights of others—the respect of the strong for the rights of the weak. The moral prestige which, in fact, we have lost, will be restored, while our prestige of physical prowess and power will certainly not be lessened by showing that we have not only soldiers, guns, ships and money, but also a conscience.
Therefore, the cry is childish, that, unless we take and keep the Philippines, some other Power will promptly grab them. Many a time this cry has been raised to stampede the American people into a policy of annexation—in the San Domingo case, twenty-eight years ago, and more recently in the case of Hawaii—and in neither case was there the slightest danger—not that there were no foreign Powers that would have liked to have those islands, but because they could not have taken them without the risk of grave consequences. Now the old bugbear must do service again. Why should not American diplomacy set about to secure the consent of the Powers most nearly concerned to an agreement to make the Philippine Islands neutral territory, as Belgium and Switzerland are in Europe? Because some of those Powers would like to have the Philippines themselves? Well, are there not among the European Powers some that would like to have Belgium or Switzerland? Certainly; and just because there are several watching each other, the neutrality of those two countries is guaranteed. But even if such an agreement could not be obtained, we may be sure that there is no foreign Power that would lightly risk a serious quarrel with the United States, if this Republic, for the protection of the Philippine Islanders in their effort to build up an independent government, said to the world: “Hands off!” So much for those who think that somebody else might be wicked enough to grab the Philippine Islands, and that, therefore, we must be wicked enough to do the grabbing ourselves.
There are some American citizens who take of this question a purely commercial view. I declare I am ardently in favor of the greatest possible expansion of our trade, and I am happy to say that, according to official statistics, our foreign commerce, in spite of all hindrances raised against it, is now expanding tremendously, owing to the simple rule that the nation offering the best goods at proportionately the lowest prices will have the markets. It will have them without armies, without war fleets, without bloody conquests, without colonies. I confess I am not in sympathy with those, if there be such men among us, who would sacrifice our National honor and the high ideals of the Republic, and who would inflict upon our people the burdens and the demoralizing influences of militarism for a mere matter of dollars and cents. They are among the most dangerous enemies of the public welfare. But as to the annexation of the Philippines, I will, for argument's sake, adopt even their point of view for a moment and ask: Will it pay?
Now, it may well be that the annexation of the Philippines would pay a speculative syndicate of wealthy capitalists, without at the same time paying the American people at large. As to people of our race, tropical countries like the Philippines may be fields of profit for rich men who can hire others to work for them, but not for those who have to work for themselves. Taking a general view of the Philippines as a commercial market for us, I need not again argue against the barbarous notion that in order to have a profitable trade with a country we must own it. If that were true, we should never have had any foreign commerce at all. Neither need I prove that it is very bad policy, when you wish to build up a profitable trade, to ruin your customer first, as you would ruin the Philippines by a protracted war. It is equally needless to show to any well-informed person that the profits of the trade with the islands themselves can never amount to the cost of making and maintaining the conquest of the Philippines.
But there is another point of real importance. Many imperialists admit that our trade with the Philippines themselves will not nearly be worth its cost; but they say that we must have the Philippines as a foothold, a sort of power station, for the expansion of our trade on the Asiatic continent, especially in China. Admitting this, for argument's sake, I ask what kind of a foothold we should really need. Coaling-stations and docks for our fleet, and facilities for the establishment of commercial houses and depots. That is all. And now I ask further, whether we could not easily have had these things if we had, instead of making war upon the Filipinos, favored the independence of the islands. Everybody knows that we could. We might have those things now for the mere asking, if we stopped the war and came to a friendly understanding with the Filipinos to-morrow.
But now suppose we fight on and subjugate the Filipinos and annex the islands—what then? We shall then have of coaling-stations and commercial facilities no more than we would have had in the other case; but the islanders will hate us as their bloody oppressors, and be our bitter and revengeful enemies for generations to come. You may say that this will be of no commercial importance. Let us see. It is by no means impossible, nor even improbable, that, if we are once in the way of extending our commerce with guns behind it, we may get into hot trouble with one or more of our competitors for that Asiatic trade. What then? Then our enemies need only land some Filipino refugees whom we have driven out of their country, and some cargoes of guns and ammunition on the islands, and we shall soon—all the more if we depend on native troops—have a fire in our rear which will oblige us to fight the whole old fight over again. The present subjugation of the Philippines will, therefore, not only not be a help to the expansion of our Asiatic trade, but rather a constant danger and a clog to our feet.
And here a word by the way. A year ago I predicted in an article published in the Century Magazine, that if we turned our war of liberation into a war of conquest, our American sister republics south of us would become distrustful of our intentions with regard to them, and soon begin to form combinations against us, eventually even with European Powers. The newspapers have of late been alive with vague rumors of that sort, so much so that a prominent journal of imperialistic tendency has found it necessary most earnestly to admonish the President, in his next message, to give to the republics south of us the strongest possible assurances of our friendship and good faith. Suppose he does—who will believe him after we have turned our loudly heralded war of liberation into a land-grabbing game—a “criminal aggression”? Nobody will have the slightest trust in our words, be they ever so fair. Drop your conquests, and no assurances of good faith will be required. Keep your conquests, and no such assurances will avail. Our southern neighbors, no less than the Filipinos, will then inevitably distrust our professions, fear our greed and become our secret or open enemies. And who can be foolish enough to believe that this will strengthen our power and help our commerce?
It is useless to say that the subjugated Philippine Islanders will become our friends if we give them good government. However good that government may be, it will, to them, be foreign rule, and foreign rule especially hateful when begun by broken faith, cemented by streams of innocent blood and erected upon the ruins of devastated homes. The American will be and remain to them more a foreigner, an unsympathetic foreigner, than the Spaniard ever was. Let us indulge in no delusion about this. People of our race are but too much inclined to have little tenderness for the rights of what we regard as inferior races, especially those of darker skin. It is of ominous significance that to so many of our soldiers the Filipinos were only “niggers,” and that they likened their fights against them to the “shooting of rabbits.” And how much good government have we to give them? Are you not aware that our first imperialistic Administration is also the first that, since the enactment of the civil service law, has widened the gates again for a new foray of spoils politics in the public service? What assurance have we that the Philippines, far away from public observation, will not be simply a pasture for needy politicians and for speculating syndicates to grow fat on, without much scruple as to the rights of the despised “natives”? Has it not been so with the British in India, although the British monarchy is much better fitted for imperial rule than our democratic Republic can ever be? True, in the course of time the government of India has been much improved, but it required more than a century of slaughter, robbery, devastation, disastrous blundering, insurrection and renewed bloody subjugation to evolve what there is of good government in India now. And have the populations of India ever become the friends of England? Does not England at heart tremble to-day lest some hostile foreign Power come close enough to throw a firebrand into that fearful mass of explosives?
I ask you, therefore, in all soberness, leaving all higher considerations of justice, morality and principle aside, whether, from a mere business point of view, the killing policy of subjugation is not a colossal, stupid blunder, and whether it would not have been, and would now be, infinitely more sensible to win the confidence and cultivate the friendship of the islanders by recognizing them as of right entitled to their freedom and independence, as we have recognized the Cubans, and thus to obtain from their friendship and gratitude, for the mere asking, all the coaling-stations and commercial facilities we require, instead of getting those things by fighting at an immense cost of blood and treasure, with a probability of having to fight for them again? I put this question to every business man who is not a fool or a reckless speculator. Can there be any doubt of the answer?
A word now on a special point: There are some very estimable men among us who think that even if we concede to the islanders their independence, we should at least keep the city of Manila. I think differently, not from a mere impulse of generosity, but from an entirely practical point of view. Manila is the traditional, if not the natural capital of the archipelago. To recognize the independence of the Philippine Islanders, and at the same time to keep from them Manila, would mean as much as to recognize the independence of Cuba and to keep Havana. It would mean to withhold from the islanders their metropolis, that in which they naturally take the greatest pride, that which they legitimately most desire to have, and which, if withheld from them, they would most ardently wish to get back. The withholding of Manila would inevitably leave a sting in their hearts which would never cease to rankle, and might, under critical circumstances, give us as much trouble as the withholding of independence itself. If we wish them to be our friends, we should not do things by halves, but enable them to be our friends without reserve. And I maintain that, commercially as well as politically speaking, the true friendship of the Philippine Islanders will, as to our position in the East, be worth far more to us than the possession of Manila. We can certainly find other points which will give us similar commercial as well as naval advantages without exciting any hostile feeling.
Although I have by no means exhausted this vast subject, discussing only a few phases of it, I have said enough, I think, to show that this policy of conquest is, from the point of view of public morals, in truth “criminal aggression”—made doubly criminal by the treacherous character of it; and that from the point of view of material interest it is a blunder—a criminal blunder, and a blundering crime. I have addressed myself to your reason by sober argument, without any appeal to prejudice or passion. Might we not ask our opponents to answer these arguments, if they can, with equally sober reasoning, instead of merely assailing us with their wild cries of “treason” and “lack of patriotism,” and what not? Or do they really feel their cause to be so weak that they depend for its support on their assortment of inarticulate shouts and nebulous phrases?
Here are our “manifest destiny” men who tell us that, whether it be right or not, we must take and keep the Philippines because “destiny” so wills it. We have heard this cry of manifest destiny before, especially when, a half century ago, the slave-power demanded the annexation of Cuba and Central America to strengthen the slave-power. The cry of destiny is most vociferously put forward by those who want to do a wicked thing and to shift the responsibility. The destiny of a free people lies in its intelligent will and its moral strength. When it pleads destiny, it pleads “the baby act.” Nay, worse; the cry of destiny is apt to be the refuge of evil intent and of moral cowardice.
Here are our “burden” men, who piously turn up their eyes and tell us, with a melancholy sigh, that all this conquest business may be very irksome, but that a mysterious Providence has put it as a “burden” upon us, which, however sorrowfully, we must bear; that this burden consists in our duty to take care of the poor people of the Philippines; and that in order to take proper care of them we must exercise sovereignty over them; and that if they refuse to accept our sovereignty, we must—alas! alas!—kill them, which makes the burden very solemn and sad.
But cheer up, brethren! We may avoid that mournful way of taking care of them by killing them, if we simply recognize their right to take care of themselves, and gently aid them in doing so. Besides, you may be as much mistaken about the decrees of Providence as before our civil war the Southern Methodist bishops were who solemnly insisted that Providence willed the negroes to remain in slavery.
Next there are our “flag” men, who insist that we must kill the Filipinos fighting for their independence to protect the honor of the stars and stripes. I agree that the honor of our flag sorely needs protection. We have to protect it against desecration by those who are making it an emblem of that hypocrisy which seeks to cover a war of conquest and subjugation with a cloak of humanity and religion; an emblem of that greed which would treat a matter involving our National honor, the integrity of our institutions and the peace and character of the Republic as a mere question of dollars and cents; an emblem of that vulgar lust of war and conquest which recklessly tramples upon right and justice and all our higher ideals; an emblem of the imperialistic ambitions which mock the noblest part of our history and stamp the greatest National heroes of our past as hypocrites or fools. These are the dangers threatening the honor of our flag, against which it needs protection, and that protection we are striving to give it.
Now, a last word to those of our fellow-citizens who feel and recognize as we do that the Philippine war of subjugation is wrong and cruel, and that we ought to recognize the independence of those people, but who insist that, having begun that war, we must continue it until the submission of the Filipinos is complete. I detest, but I can understand, the Jingo whose moral sense is obscured by intoxicating dreams of wild adventure and conquest, and to whom bloodshed and devastation have become a reckless sport. I detest even more, but still I can understand, the cruel logic of those to whom everything is a matter of dollars and cents and whose greed of gain will walk coolly over slaughtered populations. But I must confess I cannot understand the reasoning of those who have moral sense enough to recognize that this war is criminal aggression—who must say to themselves that every drop of blood shed in it by friend or foe is blood wantonly and wickedly shed, and that every act of devastation is barbarous cruelty inflicted upon an innocent people—but who still maintain that we must go on killing, and devastating, and driving our brave soldiers into a fight which they themselves are cursing, because we have once begun it. This I cannot understand. Do they not consider that in such a war, which they themselves condemn as wanton and iniquitous, the more complete our success, the greater will be our disgrace?
What do they fear for the Republic if, before having fully consummated this criminal aggression, we stop to give a people struggling for their freedom what is due them? Will this Republic be less powerful? It will be as strong as ever, nay, stronger, for it will have saved the resources of its power from useless squandering and transformed vindictive enemies into friends. Will it be less respected? Nay, more, for it will have demonstrated its honesty at the sacrifice of false pride. Is this the first time that a powerful nation desisted from the subjugation of a weaker adversary? Have we not the example of England before us, who, after a seven-year war against the American colonists, recognized their independence? Indeed, the example of England teaches us a double lesson. England did not, by recognizing American independence, lose her position in the world and her chances of future greatness; on the contrary, she grew in strength. And secondly, England would have retained, or won anew, the friendship of the Americans, if she had recognized American independence more promptly, before appearing to have been forced to do so by humiliating defeats. Will our friends who are for Philippine independence, but also for continuing to kill those who fight for it, take these two lessons to heart?
Some of them say that we have here to fulfill some of the disagreeable duties of patriotism. Patriotism! Who were the true patriots of England at the time of the American Revolution—King George and Lord North, who insisted upon subjugation; or Lord Chatham and Edmund Burke, who stood up for American rights and American liberty?
Who were the true patriots of France when, recently, that ghastly farce of a military trial was enacted to sacrifice an innocent man for the honor of the French army and the prestige of the French Republic—who were the true French patriots, those who insisted that the hideous crime of an unjust condemnation must be persisted in, or those who bravely defied the cry of “traitor!” and struggled to undo the wrong, and thus to restore the French Republic to the path of justice and to the esteem of the world? Who are the true patriots in America to-day—those who drag our Republic, once so proud of its high principles and ideals, through the mire of broken pledges, vulgar ambitions and vanities and criminal aggressions—those who do violence to their own moral sense by insisting that, like the Dreyfus iniquity, a criminal course once begun must be persisted in, or those who, fearless of the demagogue clamor, strive to make the flag of the Republic once more what it once was—the flag of justice, liberty and true civilization, and to lift up the American people among the nations of the earth to the proud position of the people that have a conscience and obey it?
The country has these days highly and deservedly honored Admiral Dewey as a National hero. Who are his true friends—those who would desecrate Dewey's splendid achievement at Manila by making it the starting-point of criminal aggression, and thus the opening of a most disgraceful and inevitably disastrous chapter of American history, to be remembered with sorrow, or those who strive so to shape the results of that brilliant feat of arms that it may stand in history not as a part of a treacherous conquest, but as a true victory of American good faith in an honest war of liberation and humanity—to be proud of for all time, as Dewey himself no doubt meant it to be?
I know the imperialists will say that I have been pleading here for Aguinaldo and his Filipinos against our Republic. No—not for the Filipinos merely, although as one of those who have grown gray in the struggle for free and honest government, I would never be ashamed to plead for the cause of freedom and independence, even when its banner is carried by dusky and feeble hands. But I am pleading for more. I am pleading for the cause of American honor and self-respect, American interests, American democracy—aye, for the cause of the American people against an administration of our public affairs which has wantonly plunged this country into an iniquitous war; which has disgraced the Republic by a scandalous breach of faith to a people struggling for their freedom whom we had used as allies; which has been systematically seeking to deceive and mislead the public mind by the manufacture of false news; which has struck at the very foundation of our Constitutional government by an Executive usurpation of the war-power; which makes sport of the great principles and high ideals that have been and should ever remain the guiding star of our course; and which, unless stopped in time, will transform this government of the people, for the people and by the people into an imperial government cynically calling itself republican—a government in which the noisy worship of arrogant might will drown the voice of right; which will impose upon the people a burdensome and demoralizing militarism, and which will be driven into a policy of wild and rapacious adventure by the unscrupulous greed of the exploiter—a policy always fatal to democracy.
I plead the cause of the American people against all this, and I here declare my profound conviction that if this administration of our affairs were submitted for judgment to a popular vote on a clear issue, it would be condemned by an overwhelming majority.
I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves too clear-headed not to appreciate the vital difference between the expansion of the Republic and its free institutions over contiguous territory and kindred populations, which we all gladly welcome if accomplished peaceably and honorably—and imperialism which reaches out for distant lands to be ruled as subject provinces; too intelligent not to perceive that our very first step on the road of imperialism has been a betrayal of the fundamental principles of democracy, followed by disaster and disgrace; too enlightened not to understand that a monarchy may do such things and still remain a strong monarchy, while a democracy cannot do them and still remain a democracy; too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: “Our country, right or wrong!” They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: “Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.”
Address at the Anti-imperialistic Conference in Chicago, Oct. 17, 1899.
This conference adopted the following:
PLATFORM OF THE AMERICAN ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEAGUE
We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is “criminal aggression” and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our Government.
We earnestly condemn the policy of the present National Administration in the Philippines. It seeks to extinguish the spirit of 1776 in those islands. We deplore the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, whose bravery deserves admiration even in an unjust war. We denounce the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless horror. We protest against the extension of American sovereignty by Spanish methods.
We demand the immediate cessation of the war against liberty, begun by Spain and continued by us. We urge that Congress be promptly convened to announce to the Filipinos our purpose to concede to them the independence for which they have so long fought and which of right is theirs.
The United States have always protested against the doctrine of international law which permits the subjugation of the weak by the strong. A self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people. The United States cannot act upon the ancient heresy that might makes right.
Imperialists assume that with the destruction of self-government in the Philippines by American hands, all opposition here will cease. This is a grievous error. Much as we abhor the war of “criminal aggression” in the Philippines, greatly as we regret that the blood of the Filipinos is on American hands, we more deeply resent the betrayal of American institutions at home. The real firing line is not in the suburbs of Manila. The foe is of our own household. The attempt of 1861 was to divide the country. That of 1899 is to destroy its fundamental principles and noblest ideals.
Whether the ruthless slaughter of the Filipinos shall end next month or next year is but an incident in a contest that must go on until the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rescued from the hands of their betrayers. Those who dispute about standards of value while the foundation of the Republic is undermined will be listened to as little as those who would wrangle about the small economies of the household while the house is on fire. The training of a great people for a century, the aspiration for liberty of a vast immigration are forces that will hurl aside those who in the delirium of conquest seek to destroy the character of our institutions.
We deny that the obligation of all citizens to support their Government in times of grave National peril applies to the present situation. If an Administration may with impunity ignore the issues upon which it was chosen, deliberately create a condition of war anywhere on the face of the globe, debauch the civil service for spoils to promote the adventure, organize a truth-suppressing censorship and demand of all citizens a suspension of judgment and their unanimous support while it chooses to continue the fighting, representative government itself is imperiled.
We propose to contribute to the defeat of any person or party that stands for the forcible subjugation of any people. We shall oppose for reëlection all who in the White House or in Congress betray American liberty in pursuit of un-American ends. We still hope that both of our great political parties will support and defend the Declaration of Independence in the closing campaign of the century.
We hold, with Abraham Lincoln, that “no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. When the white man governs himself, that is self-government, but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government that is despotism.” “Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it.”
We cordially invite the coöperation of all men and women who remain loyal to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
- See ante, Vol. v., p. 502.