The Enemies Of Empire


To the public in the fall of 1898 the President offered the image of a sorely tried pacifist in doubt about the propriety of retaining the Philippines, even speculating that “if old Dewey had just sailed away after he had smashed the Spanish fleet, what a lot of trouble he would have saved us.” But his every action was in line with what Lodge called “our large policy” of complete possession. McKinley packed the peace commission virtually four-to-one in favor of expansionism (three of them senators who would later have to vote on their own work), and gave them ever more sweeping instructions about what was to be demanded of the Spaniards, even though his Cabinet was divided on the issue. How he arrived at his final decision to tell the peace commission to demand “the whole archipelago or none” was told by the President himself on November 21, 1899, to a committee representing the General Missionary Committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, then in session in Washington. Surely it is one of the most amazing descriptions of the workings of a Chief Executive’s conscience in the field of foreign policy that has ever been recorded.

The delegation was about to leave the White House, when McKinley turned to them, and said earnestly:

Hold a moment longer! Not quite yet, gentlemen! Before you go I would like to say just a word about the Philippine business. I have been criticized a good deal about the Philippines, but don’t deserve it. The truth is I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them. … I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands, perhaps, also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-governmentand they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States [pointing to a large map on the wall of his office], and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!

The anti-imperialists’ first battle, for the mind of the President as the chief architect of the nation’s foreign policy, was thus lost to higher authority before it had hardly begun. But the country might still be persuaded to reject McKinley’s Philippine policy. On November 19, 1898, in the Boston office of Edward Atkinson, retired textile manufacturer—later to become notorious because of the Postmaster General’s closing of the mails to his publications—the Anti-Imperialist League was organized. Its object was: “to oppose, by every legitimate means, the acquisition of the Philippine Islands, or of any colonies away from our shores, by the United States.”

The only thing more remarkable than the high quality of the League’s adherents was their extreme diversity. As its perpetual secretary, Erving Winslow, remarked: “We must in our organization stand shoulder to shoulder: Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Populist, Gold-Man, Silver-Man, and Mugwump, for the one momentous, vital, paramount issue, Anti-Imperialism and the preservation of the Republic.” Such advice, however, was not always easy to follow, since the anti-imperialist leader in the Senate, George F. Hoar, regular Republican, had once called the Mugwumps “the vilest set of political assassins that ever disgraced this or any other country.”

Besides every shade in the country’s political spectrum, the League’s ever-lengthening list of vice presidents, many of whom lent only their names to the movement, included every variety of American reformer: municipal, civil service, social welfare, singletaxer, free-trader, pacifist, and prohibitionist. Education furnished a long list of college presidents: Eliot, Jordan, Rogers, Alderman, Stanley Hall, Schurman, King, and Faunce, with such distinguished teachers as Charles Eliot Norton, George Herbert Palmer, William Graham Sumner, Felix Adler, William James, John Dewey, and Franklin H. Giddings. From industry and finance came the extremely active donor Andrew Carnegie, and Richard T. Crane and George Foster Peabody. The contribution of “interest” groups (beet sugar and tobacco), which wanted no Philippine competition, was remarkably small.