The Enemies Of Empire

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Bradford was soon joined by another Pilgrim descendant, Erving Winslow, who was to prove the most undiscourageable of all the anti-imperialists, and by the able Boston lawyer Moorfield Storey, who was to become the acknowledged long-time champion of the movement. Presiding at the June 15 meeting that he had convened, Bradford took good care to say that its purpose was not to oppose “the vigorous prosecution of the war,” but rather to check “the rush of reckless and unbridled ambition for dominion” evident in “a certain faction in Congress,” which might turn “a war of liberation into a war of conquest.” Storey laid down what was to be the most enduring plank in the anti-imperialist platform when he declared: “When Rome began her career of conquest, the Roman Republic began to decline … Let us once govern any considerable body of men without their consent, and it is a question of time how soon this republic shares the fate of Rome.” The Evening Transcript spoke of the meeting as “a solemn warning against surrendering to the madness of the hour”; but Lodge depicted it to Roosevelt (en route to Cuba with his Rough Riders) as “a very comic incident.”

The strange mixture of popular war hysteria, whipped up for their own purposes by Joseph Pulitzer of the World and William Randolph Hearst of the Journal, and the as-yet-unshaken confidence of many intellectuals in the pacific intentions of McKinley was vividly portrayed and analyzed by the philosopher William James in a letter written to his French friend François Pillon, just before James left his house in Cambridge to attend the Faneuil Hall meeting: 

A curious episode of history, showing how a nation’s ideals can be changed in the twinkling of an eye, by a succession of outward events partly accidental. It is quite possible that, without the explosion of the Maine, we should still be at peace … The actual declaration of war by Congress, however, was a case of psychologie des foules, a genuine hysteric stampede at the last moment … Our Executive has behaved very well. The European nations of the Continent cannot believe that our pretense of humanity, and our disclaiming of all ideas of conquest, is sincere. It has been absolutely sincere! The self-conscious feeling of our people has been entirely based in a sense of philanthropic duty … But here comes in the psychologic factor: once the excitement of action gets loose, the taxes levied, the victories achieved, etc., the old human instincts will get into play with all their old strength, and the ambition and sense of mastery which our nation has will set up new demands. We shall never take Cuba … But Porto Rico, and even the Philippines, are not so sure. We had supposed ourselves (with all our crudity and barbarity in certain ways) a better nation morally than the rest, safe at home, and without the old savage ambition, destined to exert great international influence by throwing in our “moral weight,” etc. Dreams! Human Nature is everywhere the same, and at the least temptation all the old military passions rise, and sweep everything before them … It all shows by what short steps progress is made …

It soon became evident that William James had not overestimated the immense task facing the small band of anti-imperialists: no less than the complete reversal of public opinion in the face of easy victories, promised spoils, and a flag-waving press. For one thing, during the summer of 1898, history was being made at a furious pace. Whether one accepts the John Hay version, “a splendid little war,” or “a jolly war,” or the London Saturday Review’s estimate, “never a more shabby war,” it was decidedly a short one. In less than four months it was all over but the disposition of “the waifs of the world deposited on our doorsteps.” At a foreign policy conference at Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 18, 1898, just five days after the armistice, Carl Schurz, who had embarked upon a one-man crusade to impress McKinley, delivered a vigorous anti-imperialist address in which, ironically, he used against Senator Lodge and his fellow expansionists “the very principles which Lodge was to exalt so extravagantly twenty years later in the fight against the Covenant of the League of Nations.” A delegation from the Saratoga conference, with Samuel Gompers as one of its members, waited upon McKinley but was received only with suave hospitality.