The Enemies Of Empire

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The anti-imperialists saw the whole problem as a simple matter of political morality, which could never be settled until settled “right.” By their indefatigable agitating they administered such a shock to sensitive American consciences that the burden of guilt could not be lifted. In time it came to be assumed that the pledge of Philippine independence defeated by a single vote in 1899 had, morally speaking, been given.

What the imperialists, notably Theodore Roosevelt, could never grasp was the Filipinos’ yearning for self-government. Both sides entertained illusions: the imperialists saw a mirage of untold wealth in trade with the Orient, which did not materialize; the anti-imperialists foresaw “tyranny at home” as the sure result of “tyranny abroad.” The latter were also incorrect in their belief that their opponents would never “let go” of the archipelago, although it was not until 1935 that the Commonwealth was established, with complete independence promised in 1946. The promise was kept, and the Philippines became “the first colony ever to be surrendered voluntarily.”

The annual reports of the Anti-Imperialist League, which continued until its nineteenth and last meeting in 1917, make melancholy reading as the necrology lengthened and the budgets shrank. Treasurer Greene declared doggedly: “Anti-Imperialists are not quitters”; but when Erving Winslow died in 1923, Moorfield Storey wrote: “Almost everybody who belonged to the League is dead, and the young men do not take up the work. I am still its representative, but I have no followers.”

One of the striking characteristics of the League in its heyday was the lack of contact between its zealous leaders in America and the Filipinos in whose behalf they were enduring a steady rain of epithets: little Americans, seditionists, cowards, and traitors. But the Filipinos had subtle ways of showing their appreciation. Long before they were allowed the privilege of self-government, they named the square directly in front of the Malacañang Palace in Manila, the official residence of the American Governor General, La Liga Anti-Imperialistica.