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The Enemies Of Empire
To the question of acquiring new territories overseas, and owning colonies, one group of Americans answered with a resounding “No!”
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
Mahan’s advice to Roosevelt in May, 1897, was: “Do nothing unrighteous; but take the [Hawaiian] islands first, and solve afterwards.” The Roosevelt of 1898, described by William James as “still mentally in the Sturm und Drang period of early adolescence,” needed little urging. He had been frustrated by President Cleveland’s blocking of the annexation of Hawaii, but with the advent of a Republican administration his hopes were high. He was, however, soon indignant over the hesitancy of President McKinley, who, he said, “has no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” Behind McKinley stirred the powerful boss Mark Hanna, senator from Ohio, who flatly opposed the coming Spanish war at a Gridiron dinner on March 26, 1898, less than three weeks before it was declared. Introduced by the toastmaster at the same dinner as “At least one man connected with this administration who is not afraid to fight,” Theodore Roosevelt, by that time in the Navy Department, declared: “We will have this war for the freedom of Cuba, Senator Hanna, in spite of the timidity of commercial interests.” As William James put it, “Roosevelt gushes over war as the ideal condition of human society, for the manly strenuousness which it involves, and treats peace as a condition of blubberlike and swollen ignobility, fit only for huckstering weaklings, dwelling in gray twilight and heedless of the higher life. … One foe is as good as another, for aught he tells us.”
Roosevelt’s superior, Secretary John D. Long, seems to have had few inklings of what was to come, and “every time his back was turned,” says David S. Barry, “Roosevelt would issue some kind of order in the line of military preparedness....” On February 25, 1898, Long went home early, and as Acting Secretary of the Navy for a few hours, Roosevelt proceeded to send his momentous cable to Dewey in Hong Kong specifying “offensive operations in the Philipine [ sic ] islands.” Next morning Long found that “in his precipitate way,” his assistant had “come very near causing more of an explosion than happened to the Maine … He has gone at things like a bull in a china shop.” Roosevelt was never again left in charge of the Navy Department for even part of a day, but his order to Dewey was not rescinded. Long seems to have thought he was dealing merely with a young subordinate who was unduly impetuous, rather than with the representative of a coterie with an elaborate imperialist philosophy and the determination to do something about it. Roosevelt was showing what a man of daring with a plan, influential associates, amenable superiors, and a little brief authority could do in the making of American foreign policy.
That the American people were unprepared for the new possessions supposedly “flung into their arms by Dewey’s guns” is a gross understatement of the facts. McKinley freely confessed that, before consulting a globe, he could not have told “within two thousand miles” where the Philippines were. Incredible as it may seem to us, Dewey’s staff did not include a public relations officer, and the presence of two newspapermen on board the revenue cutter McCulloch was a pure accident.
The public’s state of bewilderment, after the first delirious celebrations of Dewey’s bloodless victory had subsided, was best expressed by Finley Peter Dunne, editor of the Chicago Journal, whose Mr. Dooley conversed with his friend Mr. Hennessy “On the Philippines.”
“I know what I’d do if I was Mack,” said Mr. Hennessy, “I’d hist a flag over th’ Ph’lipeens, an’ I’d take in th’ whole lot iv thim.”
“An’ yet,” said Mr. Dooley, “‘tis not more thin two months since ye larned whether they were islands or canned goods … If yer son Packy was to ask ye where th’ Ph’lipeens is, cud ye give him anny good idea whether they was in Rooshia or jus’ west iv th’ thracks?”
“Mebbe I cudden’t,” said Mr. Hennessy, haughtily, “but I’m f’r taking thim in, annyhow.”
Not everyone in the country, however, went along with the bulk of the press and the expansionist-led administration. One month and one day after Dewey’s triumph, the first recorded protest was made against “the insane and wicked ambition which is driving this country to ruin … and a slavery worse for Massachusetts, at least, than that of the Negro.” It came in the form, classically correct for a proper Bostonian, of a letter to the editor of the Evening Transcript of June 2, 1898, entitled “A Cry for Help.” It was written by Gamaliel Bradford, father of the wellknown biographer. He was a seventh-generation descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth, a retired banker, a Republican mugwump (he had deserted Blaine for Cleveland in 1884), and the author of several thousand letters to the newspapers in behalf of various reforms. His offer to join with any others who would help him in securing Boston’s traditional Cradle of Liberty, Faneuil Hall, resulted in the first public meeting “to protest against the adoption of a so-called imperial policy by the United States.”