The Enemies Of Empire

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Toll! Let him never guess/ What work we set him to …/                        Let him never dream that his bullet’s scream went wide of its island mark,/ Home to the heart of his darling land where she stumbled and sinned in the dark.

Moody’s language was mild and temperate compared with that of his fellow Chicagoan, the novelist Henry Blake Fuller, who became convinced that McKinley’s policies were not only ignorant and stupid but actually vicious. Fuller addressed the President:

Thou sweating chattel slave to swine!/ Who dost befoul the holy shrine/ Of liberty with murder! …

A much saner poetic approach was that of Ernest Crosby, president of the New York branch of the movement, whose Whitmanesque lines ran:

There is only one possession worth the capturing, and that is the hearts of men;/ And these hearts can never be won by a nation of slaves./ Be free, and all mankind will flock to your standard.

Mark Twain was one literary figure who was won over from the opposition, in part by the urging of his friend William Dean Howells. “I left these shores at Vancouver [on his way to Vienna],” he wrote, “a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.” But gradually Twain began to see the Philippines in a different light, for early in 1900 he wrote to Joseph Twichell: “Apparently we are not proposing to set the Filipinos free and give their islands to them … If these things are so, the war out there has no interest for me.” From the day of Twain’s triumphant return to this country in October, 1900, he joined forces with Howells in a steady barrage of articles, interviews, petitions, and pamphlets in behalf of anti-imperialism. The League made extensive use on cards of his “salutation-speech from the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth,” in which he said:

I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, & the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and a towel, but hide the looking glass.

At a welcoming dinner for the young English war correspondent Winston Spencer Churchill in the WaIdorf-Astoria Hotel on December 13, 1900, Mark Twain introduced the half-English, half-American speaker with these words: “I think that England sinned when she got herself into a war in South Africa which she could have avoided, just as we have sinned in getting into a similar war in the Philippines … yes, we are kin. And now that we are also kin in sin, there is nothing more to be desired. The harmony is complete, the blend is perfect—like Mr. Churchill himself, whom I now have the honor to present to you.”

One of the most effective presentations of the case for anti-imperialism was made by the peppery Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner under the striking title, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain,” but it was buried in the Yale Law Journal for January, 1899. Logic in terms of political theory, however, proved a poor match for the logic of events. Professor Richard Hofstadter has acutely observed that the Spanish-American War was fought because the American people wanted “not so much the freedom of Cuba as a war for the freedom of Cuba.” Once war was under way, in the opinion of the late Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who was a close McKinley associate, “the retention of the Philippines was inevitable. … No man, or no party, could have prevented it.” Yet in the sober judgment of Samuel Flagg Bemis, “looking back on those years of adolescent irresponsibility, we can now see the acquisition of the Philippines, the climax of American expansion, as a great national aberration.”

But it was in vain that the anti-imperialists of that era cited the words of Abraham Lincoln: “No man is good enough to govern another without that other’s consent.” The missing premise in the arguments of both sides was the lack of adequate knowledge of the Filipinos and their capacity for solving their immediate political problems. The anti-imperialists saw them as ready and able to govern themselves democratically; the imperialists were just as convinced that they were mostly untutored barbarians. Neither side had enough facts, and as a result both substituted passion for logic.