American History

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Why did Americans engage in imperialism (1890-1914)? 

What pushed Americans to drop traditional isolationism and engage a more interventionist, imperialist foreign policy?

 a discussion of 1 political cartoon that helps demonstrate/illustrate their answer to the above questions.  

Hobson, Lenin, and Schumpeter on Imperialism

Author(s): Daniel H. Kruger

Source: Journal of the History of Ideas , Apr., 1955, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr., 1955), pp. 252-

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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In recent years the charge that capitalism is imperialistic has taken
on new meaning. In the ideological war being fought between the free
world and Communism, this charge has become an important weapon in
the Communist propaganda arsenal. As the “cold war” developed and
lines were clearly drawn, the Communists have been beating the prop-
aganda drums incessantly: “Capitalism is imperialistic!” “Capitalism
feeds on war and aggression!” “The capitalist countries are warmon-
gers! ” Variations on this theme have been used doggedly by Communist
writers and speakers. Whenever the Soviet delegate arises to speak in the
United Nations, some variant of this theme appears. In numerous articles
in Pravda, as reported in The New York Times in the last few years, the
same charges have reappeared in one form or another. There is a deter-
mined attempt on their part to portray capitalism as imperialistic-
especially to the countries of Asia and Africa.

In view of this ” official position” of the Communists, a study of im-
perialism has a modem flavor. The bases for such declarations need to
be examined in an effort to place them in their proper perspective. The
intellectual roots for these charges are found in the writings of Nicolai
Lenin, who in turn borrowed heavily from John A. Hobson. In this paper
the writings of Hobson and Lenin on imperialism will be examined, as well
as those of Joseph A. Schumpeter, who has advanced, in the writer’s
opinion, the best counter-declaration to the Communist claim that capital-
ism is inherently imperialistic.

It must be stated at the outset that this study does not purport to
exhaust the subject, even as to the writers covered. Adequate research
on a single item in the vast complex that constitutes imperialism would
require more than a single lifetime. This should not discourage endeavors
to relate the present phenomenon to its intellectual foundation in an effort
to understand better one of the dominant issues in today’s ideological battle.

One difficulty in the study of imperialism has been to ascribe a mean-
ingful definition to this term.1 It is certainly misleading to describe by
the same word “imperialism” both the European statesman who plans
ruthlessly to overrun a country in Asia or Africa and the American company
building an automobile assembly plant in Israel. Because the term is
so elusive and covers practices and procedures of such varying and oft-
times contradictory character, no attempt will be made to contribute to
the confusion by spelling out another definition. The definitions used by
the writers under consideration will be presented.


In discussing Hobson’s writings on imperialism, two time periods must
be considered. In 1902, Mr. Hobson wrote the book on imperialism in
which his original position is stated. After 1911, he altered his theory
so as to negate his original position completely. At the outset of his
Imperialism, Hobson uses the word with some reluctance.

1 For a good discussion of the pitfalls encountered in the use of this term, see
E. M. Winslow, The Pattern of Imperialism (New York, 1948), 60-64.

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Amid the welter of vague political abstractions, to lay one’s finger
accurately upon any “ism” so as to pin it down and mark it out by
definition seems impossible. … A certain broad consistency in its rela-
tions to other kindred terms is the nearest approach to definition which
such a term as Imperialism admits. Nationalism, internationalism,
colonialism, its three closest congeners, are equally elusive, equally shifty
and the changeful overlapping of all four demands the closest vigilance
of students of modem politics.2

Imperialism he defines as “the endeavor of the great controllers of
industry to broaden the channel for the flow of their surplus wealth by
seeking foreign markets and foreign investments to take off the goods and
capital they cannot sell or use at home.” 3 Thus, according to Hobson, the
most important factor in the economics of imperialism is foreign invest-
ments. The great banking institutions, which form the central ganglion
of international capitalism, are the sinister elements which promote im-
perialistic policies and find profitable markets for investment. These
financial houses use the instrument of the state for private business pur-
poses to implement their policies.4

Imperialism is not a choice; it is a necessity. Markets must be ob-
tained for growing manufacturers; new outlets must be found for the
investment of surplus capital and for the energies of the adventurous sur-
plus of the population. With the great and growing powers of production,
such expansion is a necessity to the life of an industrial power. Imperial-
ism, Hobson writes, is thus the natural product of economic pressures of a
sudden advance of capitalism which cannot find occupation at home and
needs foreign markets for goods and investment. As the nations become
more industrialized, the growth of production exceeds the growth in con-
sumption; more goods are produced than can be sold at a profit; more
capital exists than can find remunerative investment. Since it becomes
more difficult for manufacturers, merchants, and financiers to dispose of
their economic resources, they bring pressure to bear on the government
to secure for their particular use some distant, underdeveloped country
by annexation and protection. It is these economic conditions which form
the ” taproot of Imperialism.” 5

Hobson contends that it is not industrial progress that demands the
opening up of new markets and areas of investment, but the mal-distribu-
tion of consuming power which prevents the absorption of commodities
and capital within the country. Oversaving is the economic root of
imperialism. This oversaving consists of rents, monopoly profits, and
other unearned or excessive elements of income, which, not being earned
by any labor, have no legitimate raison d’etre. Since these types of
income have no relation to the productive process, and do not increase
consumption, they form a surplus wealth, which, because they have no
proper place in the natural economy of production and consumption, tend
to accumulate as excessive savings.

2 John A. Hobson, Imperialism, a Study (New York, 1902), p. 1.
3Ibid., 91. 4Ibid., 61-68. Ibid., 85-86. Ibid., 91-92.

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According to Hobson, the causes of imperialism would be eliminated
if there were better distribution of wealth.6 If the surplus wealth, that is,
oversavings, were distributed either to the workers in the form of higher
wages or to the community in the form of taxes, so that it were spent
instead of being saved, serving in either of these ways to increase con-
sumption, there would be no need to fight for foreign markets or foreign
areas of investment. A progressive community with substantial equality
of economic and educational opportunities would increase consumption
to correspond with every increase in production and could find uses for
an unlimited quantity of capital and labor within the economy. If incomes
were distributed so as to enable all groups in the economy to increase their
consumption, there could be no overproduction, no underemployment of
capital and labor, and no necessity for the state to pursue a policy of

This, in essence, was Hobson’s theory of imperialism in 1902. In a
work published in 1938, he confessed that his heretical view of capitalism
as the source of mal-distribution, oversaving, and the economic impulse
to adventurous imperialism had led him, for a time, to an excessive and
perhaps oversimplified advocacy of the economic determination of history.7
He admitted that when he wrote his volume on imperialism he had not yet
gathered into clear perspective the nature of the interaction among
economics, politics, and ethics. Practical experience with movements and
causes (one of which was anti-imperialism), he added, had given him a
clearer perspective.

In his Imperialism, Hobson viewed international finance as the sinister
element promoting imperialistic policies. By 1911, he had altered this
view and concluded that international finance might be the guarantee of
peace. Though other non-economic motives might eventually bring about
an organized endeavor to expel Western political and financial control from
the backward areas, a prolonged utilization of Western capital would
afford the strongest assurance of pacific development in which all the
creditor nations would take their share of profitable exploitation.8

While nine years previously Hobson had chastised the policies of the
United States, especially those of the larger financial houses, he now stated
that the maintenance of the ” open door” policy by the United States
was likely both to promote good order and development among the back-
ward nations and to assuage the jealousies of the Great Powers. He went
on to point out that “unless some reckless racial animosity should over-
power the operation of these economic motives,” 9 the capitalist countries
investing capital in the backward areas would make for peace and good
government in proportion as finance grew more distinctively international.
Cross ownership of capital involved in international investment would
be a strong and steady pledge of peace.

7Hobson, Confessions of an Economic Heretic (London, 1938), 63.
Hobson, An Economic Interpretation of Investment (London, 1911), 116-17.

Note the shift away from an economic interpretation.
9 Ibid., 118. o1 Ibid., 95-96. 11 Ibid., 98-102.

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In Imperialism, Hobson deprecates foreign investment by Western
countries in the ” backward ” areas. In his Economic Interpretation of
Investments, foreign investment is viewed as stimulating home industries
to turn out large quantities of goods at lower costs and prices for both
domestic and foreign markets. Another and equally important objective
of foreign investment is to raise the standard of living of the people in
” backward ” areas. By building roads for them, by developing their mines,
fields and forests, by supplying them with machinery and other manu-
facturing equipment, by helping to build and equip their cities, by building
railroads to join the sources of raw materials to the ports, by training
and organizing an industrial population, the Western countries would
undoubtedly be raising these people towards a better standard of living.l0

In Hobson’s view of 1911, foreign investments aid in a better distri-
bution of income both in the investing country and in the country being
developed.” Large imports accruing from foreign investments are advan-
tageous to the consumers of the investing country, in that real incomes
are raised by the lower prices resulting from the accessions to domestic
supplies. With the development of these areas, foreign trade would more
and more be based on the doctrine of comparative advantages, each coun-
try producing that which is most advantageous to it-with the result that
goods would become cheaper both in the undeveloped areas and in the
country supplying the capital. In the former countries, with every sort
of wealth being produced, the competing farmers, transport companies, and
other dealers, by the very process of seeking markets for their goods, would
be obliged to hand over a large share of the gains of development, not
merely to the foreign capitalists in the form of interest, but to local groups
of consumers and other producers who have had dealings with them. Thus
investments would be the great dynamic instrument of the economic system
in determining the distribution of economic energies over the various locali-
ties and industries so as to produce the largest amount of marketable goods
and services. They would forward the production and distribution of
world wealth.


These later views of Hobson were completely ignored by Lenin in his
book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. His theory of im-
perialism grew out of a study of two books, Hobson’s Imperialism and
Rudolf Helferding’s Finanz-Kapitalismus (1910). In his analysis, Lenin
attempted a three-fold objective: (1) to save revolutionary Marxism; (2)
to annihilate the ” opportunists,” namely, Kautsky, who is painted as the
villain for his defilement of Marxism; and (3) to provide a truly Russian
or Eastern version of socialism which would be applicable to backward,
agricultural, semi-colonial and colonial countries. With the publishing of
this book, a new chapter in European history, “Leninism,” was opened.
Leninism, as defined by Stalin, ” is Marxism in the epoch of imperialism
and proletarian revolution.” 12

12 Joseph Stalin, Leninism tr. E. & C. Paul (New York, 1928), 13.

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Hobson is the hero of Lenin’s book. In his preface, Lenin charges
Hobson with adopting the point of view of bourgeois social reformism, but
holds that he nevertheless gives an excellent and comprehensive description
of the principal economic and political characteristics of imperialism. To
lend credibility and support to his thesis, Lenin quotes Hobson, whom he

… as a more reliable witness, since he cannot be suspected of leaning
towards orthodox Marxism; moreover, he is an Englishman who is very
well acquainted with the situation in the country which is richest in
colonies, in finance capital, and in imperialist experience.l3

In his economic analysis of imperialism, Lenin merely echoes Hobson:

Imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism, or, capitalism in that
stage of development in which the domination of monopolies and finance
capital has taken shape; in which the export of capital has acquired pro-
nounced importance, in which the division of the world by the international
trusts has begun, and in which the partition of all the territory of the earth
by the greatest capitalist countries has been completed.l4

According to Lenin, the economic quintessence of imperialism is
monopoly capitalism. Monopoly grew out of the concentration of produc-
tion into the cartels, syndicates and trusts which play a very important
role in modern economic life. These monopolies have ” captured the most
important sources of raw materials,” which fact in turn has enormously
increased the power of ” big capitalists ” and has sharpened “the antag-
onism between cartelized and noncartelized industry.” 15

The banks have contributed heavily to this development. Several of
the largest financial institutions in each of the foremost capitalist countries
control the bulk of the capital and income and exert great influence over
all the economic and political institutions of their particular country.

Finally, this growth of monopoly has been accentuated by colonial
policies. Finance capital has intensified the struggle for the sources of
raw materials, for the export of capital, for spheres of influence, for profit-
able deals, concessions, and monopolist profits and economic territory in
general. When the whole world had been divided up, a period of colonial
monopoly was ushered in with an intense struggle for the partition and
repartition of the world. The growth of these powerful monopolies and
oligarchies, with their striving for domination, annexation, and ruinous
exploitation of backward areas, has given rise to imperialism, which, as
Lenin puts it, is parasitic or decaying capitalism.

When Lenin was writing his book, the war of 1914-18 was being fought.
He viewed the war as the ” first imperialist war,” and concluded that the
struggle of world imperialism was becoming more aggravated. As capital-
ism develops, competition becomes more bitter, in obtaining both markets
and sources of raw materials. This in turn has intensified the struggle for

13Nicolai Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York,
1939), 102.

14Ibid., 88-89. 15lbid., 123-127. 16Ibid., 82. 17Ibid., 10.

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the acquisition of colonies. “Possession of colonies alone gives complete
guarantee of success to the monopolies against all the risks of the struggle
with competitors, including the risk that the latter will defend themselves
by means of a law establishing a state monopoly.” “1 Thus capitalism has
grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of financial strangu-
lation of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world, by a hand-
ful of large capitalist countries, which involves “the whole world in their
war over the sharing of their booty.” 17 Under capitalism, Lenin wrote,
the only way to remove the disparity between the development of produc-
tive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one hand, and the
division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the
other, is through war.


While Hobson and Lenin looked to the basic causes of imperialism in
the market place, Schumpeter viewed it as a throwback to a primitive
form of human behavior. In Hobson, this atavistic character of imperial-
ism is incidental and implied rather than worked out. It was left to
Joseph A. Schumpeter to take this idea and develop it into a well-rounded
theory, and at the same time to provide the proponents of capitalism with
a refutation of the charge that capitalism must inherently utilize its
resources for militarism and war in order to find markets for goods and
surplus capital.

At the outset Schumpeter points out that the word ” imperialism ” has
been so abused as a slogan that it threatens to lose all meaning. Whenever
the word imperialism is used, there is an implication of aggressiveness-of
aggression for its own sake, as reflected in such terms as ” hegemony ” and
“world dominion.” In the light of this common usage, Schumpeter defines
imperialism as “the objectless disposition on the part of a state to un-
limited forcible expansion.” 1 By “objectless,” he means that the ex-
pansion has no adequate object beyond itself.

To illustrate imperialisms and the basic trait they have in common,
Schumpeter examines the historical record. From his studies he concludes
that not all the causes of imperialism are economic. Among these are:
the necessities of the social structure, the inherited dispositions of its ruling
class, the personal whims of rulers, imperialist individuals who need ever
new military successes to maintain their positions, tradition, and the avail-
ability of appropriate means. Furthermore, his analysis, he contends, has
shown that many wars for expansion and conquest have been waged ” with-
out adequate reason-not so much from the moral viewpoint as from that
of reasoned and reasonable interest.” 19 Secondly, this ” drive to action ”
or ” will to war ” has developed from situations which have required peoples
to become warriors in order to avoid extinction. These psychological dis-
positions and social structures, acquired in the dim past in such situations,
once firmly established, tend to maintain themselves and to continue in

8 Joseph A. Schumpeter, Imperialism and Social Classes, tr. Heinz Norden
(New York, 1951), 7. 19 Ibid., 83.

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effect long after they have lost their meaning and their life-preserving
function. Thirdly, these inclinations and social structures orientated
toward war are perpetuated by the domestic interests of the ruling class
and by all who stand to gain economically or socially by a war policy.
Therefore, Schumpeter argued, imperialisms differ greatly in detail, but
they all have a common basic trait which makes for a single sociological
problem of imperialism in all ages.2
Imperialism, Schumpeter maintains, is a feature surviving from earlier

ages that plays an important role in every concrete situation. It is ” an
atavism in the social structure, in individual, physiological habits of
emotional reaction.”21 Since the vital needs which created imperialism
have passed away, it too must gradually disappear, even though every
warlike involvement, no matter how non-imperialist in character, tends to
revive it. Imperialism tends to disappear

… as a structural element because the structure that brought it to the
fore goes into a decline, giving way, in the course of social development, to
other structures that have no room for it, and eliminating the power factors
that supported it. It tends to disappear in an element of habitual emotional
reaction, because of the progressive rationalization of life and mind, a
process in which old functional needs are absorbed by new tasks, in which
heretofore military energies are functionally modified.22

By this line of reasoning, Schumpeter takes the position that imperialisms
should decline in intensity the later they occur in the history of a people
and of a culture.

As capitalism developed, Schumpeter wrote, the active structure of
society was rebuilt or modified. The entrepreneurs fought for and won
freedom of action. By their success, position, resources, and power, they
became increasingly important elements of the political and social scene.
The working class was also created with its new forms of the working day,
of family life and interests. The capitalist processes continued to raise the
demand for labor and with it the economic level and social power of the
workers until they too were able to assert themselves in a political sense.23
Then too, capitalism provided opportunities for the professionals-jour-
nalists, lawyers, etc. These new groups were democratized, individualized,
and rationalized. They were democratized by an environment of continual
change which the industrial revolution had set in motion. They were in-
dividualized because subjective opportunities to influence their lives took
the place of immutable objective factors. They were rationalized in that
their instability of economic positions made their survival depend on
continual rationalistic decisions.

The capitalist system absorbed the full energies of these newly formed
groups at all economic levels. As conditions of survival within the system,
there was constant application, attention, and concentration of energy.
There was much less excess energy to be vented in war and conquest than

20 Ibid., 84. 21 Ibid., 85. 22 Loc. cit.
23 One immediately notes the conflict with Marxism and its theory of increasing

misery and the reserve army.

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in any pre-capitalist society. What excess energy there is largely flows into
industry itself and the rest is applied to art, science, technology and the
social struggle. What was formerly energy for war now becomes energy
for labor of every kind. Wars of conquest and adventure in foreign policy
are bound to be regarded as troublesome distractions and destructive of
life’s meaning. Business becomes the normal state of affairs and war,

Though Schumpeter’s thesis brings hope that imperialism and war may
eventually give way to more economic and rational behavior, the fact
remains that they are still able to challenge the movement towards ration-
alism.24 These tendencies persist in the remnants of the military caste,
in historic memories and military traditions, and in the minds of those who
have not learned to think in terms of economic rationality, but still think
in terms of exclusive rivalry. Although militarism is not at home in an
age of industrialism and is inconsistent with it, it must still be reckoned
as a great force. Recent wars have demonstrated its power to imbue
entire nations with grandiose ideas of conquest by force of arms which,
when backed by modern technology and industry, are frightfully destruc-
tive. But the wars themselves cannot be blamed on the existence of

economic power; blame must rest on other forces which are still powerful
enough, on occasion, to engulf the entire economy in all-out war. Schum-
peter concludes that when these sociological factors-warlike instincts,
structural elements and organizational forms oriented towards war-dis-
appear, imperialism will wither and die.

Schumpeter appears to have presented a theory which exonerates
capitalism from the charge of being inherently imperialistic. He discards
the attempts of Hobson and Lenin to ascribe a purely economic inter-
pretation to the phenomenon of imperialism. Such an interpretation
is incomplete, as non-economic factors must also be considered. Wars,
conquests, annexations and whatever else is included in the term im-
perialism do not necessarily have their roots in the economic soil. The
desire for power for its own sake, the machinations of demented rulers, the
desire to imprint an ideology upon other peoples, the desire to be free, all
have been causes of war.

Imperialism is not built into American capitalism. Since World War II
American capitalism has reached the zenith of its influence in the Council
of Nations. Presumably, if it were imperialism, as the Lenin-Stalin
doctrine maintains, it would have displayed its bellicose actions in policy-
shaping. The Communists and the Non-Communists strongly impregnated
with Marxism insist that such has been the case. They have accepted this
view more or less completely. However, the testimony of the rest of the
world is in complete contradiction. The greater majority of countries in
the free world, at a showdown, have acted to display their confidence in
the United States.

University of Alabama.

24 bid., 96-130.

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  • Contents
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    • image 4
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  • Issue Table of Contents
    • Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 16, No. 2, Apr., 1955
      • George Hakewill: The Virility of Nature [pp. 135 – 150]
      • Voltaire’s Philosophy of History [pp. 151 – 178]
      • The Moral Defenses of the Physiocrats’ Laissez-Faire [pp. 179 – 197]
      • Hume and Kant in Their Relation to the Pragmatic Movement [pp. 198 – 208]
      • William Whewell and John Stuart Mill: Their Controversy about Scientific Knowledge [pp. 209 – 231]
      • “Barbarian Assault”: The Fortunes of a Phrase [pp. 232 – 239]
      • The Presentness of the Past in Ireland [pp. 240 – 246]
      • Charles Gildon’s Total Academy [pp. 247 – 251]
      • Hobson, Lenin, and Schumpeter on Imperialism [pp. 252 – 259]
      • Toynbee the Prophet [pp. 260 – 274]
      • Toynbee as Poet [pp. 275 – 280]
      • Books Received [pp. 281 – 284]


F ellow citizens,  it is a noble land that God has
given us; a land that can feed and clothe the world;

a land whose coastlines would enclose half the countries of Europe; a land set like a sentinel between
the two imperial oceans of the globe, a greater England with a nobler destiny. It is a mighty people that
He has planted on this soil; a people sprung from the most masterful blood of history; a people
perpetually revitalized by the virile, man-producing workingfolk of all the earth; a people imperial by
virtue of their power, by right of their institutions, by authority of their Heaven-directed purposes 
the propagandists and not the misers of liberty. It is a glorious history our God has bestowed upon His
chosen people; a history whose keynote was struck by [the] Liberty Bell; a history heroic with faith in
our mission and our future; a history of statesmen who flung the boundaries of the Republic out into
unexplored lands and savage wildernesses; a history of soldiers who carried the flag across the blazing
deserts and through the ranks of hostile mountains, even to the gates of sunset; a history of a
multiplying people who overran a continent in half a century; a history of prophets who saw the
consequences of evils inherited from the past and of martyrs who died to save us from them; a history
divinely logical, in the process of whose tremendous reasoning we find ourselves to-day.
Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question.
It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their resistless march toward the
commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children
of liberty wax in strength, until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all
Have we no mission to perform, no duty to discharge to our fellow-man? Has God endowed us
with gifts beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar favor, merely to rot in our
own selfishness, as men and nations must, who take cowardice for their companion and self for their
deity  as China has, as India has, as Egypt has? . . .

 Albert J. Beveridge 


Address to an Indiana Republican Meeting
Indianapolis, Indiana, 16 September 1898


Library of Congress

Albert Beveridge, 1900

Ah! the heroes of Vicksburg and Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Mission Ridge, the Wilderness, and
all those fields of glory, of suffering, and of death!
Soldiers of 1861! A generation has passed and you have reared a race of heroes worthy of your
blood � heroes of El Caney, San Juan, and Cavite, of Santiago and Manila � ay! and 200,000 more
as brave as they, who waited in camp with the agony of impatience the call of battle, ready to count the
hellish hardship of the trenches the very sweets of fate, if they could only fight for the flag.
For every tented field was full of Hobsons, of Roosevelts, of Wheelers, and their men; full of the
kind of soldiers that in regiments of rags, starving, with bare feet in the snows of winters made Valley
Forge immortal; full of the same kind of boys that endured the hideous hardships of the Civil War,

*Excerpted, and images added, by the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC. 2005.

drank from filthy roadside pools as they marched through swamps of death, ate food alive with
weevils, and even corn picked from the horses� camp, slept in the blankets of the blast with sheets of
sleet for covering, breakfasted with danger and dined with death, and came back � those who did
come back � with a laugh and a shout and a song of joy, true American soldiers, pride of their county,
and envy of the world.
For that is the kind of boys the soldiers of 1898 are, notwithstanding the slanders of politicians and
the infamy of a leprous press that try to make the world believe our soldiers are suckling babes and
womanish weaklings, and our government, in war, a corrupt machine, fattening off the suffering of our
armies. In the name of the sturdy soldiery of America I denounce the hissing lies of politicians out of
an issue, who are trying to disgrace American manhood in the eyes of the nations. . . .

And the burning question of this campaign is, whether the American people will accept the gifts of
events; whether they will rise as lifts their soaring destiny; whether they will proceed upon the lines of
national development surveyed by the statesmen of our past; or whether for the first American people
doubt their mission, question fate, prove apostate to the spirit of their race, and halt the ceaseless march
of free institutions.
The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer, The
rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies
only to those who are capable of self-government. We govern the Indians without their consent, we
govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. How do they
know that our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines
prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage
and extortion from which we have rescued them?

Library of Congress

Our Victorious Fleets in Cuban Waters, lithograph (Currier & Ives), 1898

Do not the blazing fires of joy and the ringing bells of gladness in Porto Rico prove the welcome of
our flag?
And, regardless of this formula
of words made only for
enlightened, self-governing people,
do we owe no duty to the world?
Shall we turn these peoples back to
the reeking hands from which we
have taken them? Shall we
abandon them, with Germany,
England, Japan, hungering for
them? Shall we save them from
those nations, to give them a self-
rule of tragedy? It would be like
giving a razor to a babe and telling
it to shave itself. It would be like
giving a typewriter to an Eskimo
and telling him to publish one of
the great dailies of the world. This proposition of the Opposition makes the Declaration of
Independence preposterous, like the reading of Job�s lamentations would be at a wedding or an Altgeld
speech on the Fourth of July.
They ask us how we shall govern these new possessions. I answer: Out of local conditions and the
necessities of the case methods of government will grow. If England can govern foreign lands, so can
America. If Germany can govern foreign lands, so can America. If they can supervise protectorates, so
can America. Why is it more difficult to administer Hawaii than New Mexico or California? Both had


a savage and an alien population; both were more remote from the seat of government when they came
under our dominion than Hawaii is to-day.

Library of Congress

U.S. Navy  first hoisting of the stars and stripes by the marines

on Cuban soil  June 11th, 1898, print, 1898

Will you say by your vote that American ability to govern has decayed; that a century�s experience
in self-rule has failed of a result? Will you affirm by your vote that you are an infidel to American
power and practical sense? Or will you say that ours is the blood of government; ours the heart of
dominion; ours the brain and genius of administration? Will you remember that we do but what our
fathers did  we but pitch the tents of
liberty farther westward, farther
southward  we only continue the
march of the flag?
The march of the flag!
In 1789 the flag of the Republic
waved over 4,000,000 souls in
thirteen states, and their savage
territory which stretched to the
Mississippi, to Canada, to the
Floridas. The timid minds of that day
said that no new territory was needed,
and, for the hour, they were right. But
Jefferson, through whose intellect the
centuries marched; Jefferson, who
dreamed of Cuba as an American
state; Jefferson, the first Imperialist of
the Republic  Jefferson acquired
that imperial territory which swept from the Mississippi to the mountains, from Texas to the British
possessions, and the march of the flag began!
The infidels to the gospel of liberty raved, but the flag swept on! The title to that noble land out of
which Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana have been carved was uncertain; Jefferson, strict
constructionist of constitutional power though he was, obeyed the Anglo-Saxon impulse within him,
whose watchword then and whose watchword throughout the world to-day is, �Forward!�: another
empire was added to the Republic, and the march of the flag went on!
Those who deny the power of free institutions to expand urged every argument, and more, that we
hear, to-day; but the people�s judgment approved the command of their blood, and the march of the
flag went on!
A screen of land from New Orleans to Florida shut us from the Gulf, and over this and the
Everglade Peninsula waved the saffron flag of Spain; Andrew Jackson seized both, the American
people stood at his back, and, under Monroe, the Floridas came under the dominion of the Republic,
and the march of the flag went on!
The Cassandras prophesied every prophecy of despair we hear, to-day, but the march of the flag
went on! Then Texas responded to the bugle calls of liberty, and the march of the flag went on! And, at
last, we waged war with Mexico, and the flag swept over the southwest, over peerless California, past
the Gate of Gold to Oregon on the north, and from ocean to ocean its folds of glory blazed. . . .

. . . To-day, we are making more than we can use. To-day, our industrial society is congested; there
are more workers than there is work; there is more capital than there is investment. We do not need
more money � we need more circulation, more employment. Therefore we must find new markets for


our produce. And so, while we did not need the territory taken during the past century at the time it
was acquired, we do need what we have taken in 1898, and we need it now.
Think of the thousands of Americans who will pour into Hawaii and Porto Rico when the
republic�s laws cover those islands with justice and safety! Think of the tens of thousands of
Americans who will invade mine and field and forest in the Philippines when a liberal government,
protected and controlled by this republic, if not the government of the republic itself, shall establish
order and equity there! Think of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who will build a soap-and-
water, common-school civilization of energy and industry in Cuba, when a government of law replaces
the double reign of anarchy and tyranny! � think of the prosperous millions that Empress of Islands
will support when, obedient to the law of political gravitation, her people ask for the highest honor
liberty can bestow, the sacred Order of the Stars and Stripes, the citizenship of the Great Republic!
What does all this mean for every one of us? It means opportunity for all the glorious young
manhood of the republic � the most virile, ambitious, impatient, militant manhood the world has ever
seen. It means that the resources and the commerce of these immensely rich dominions will be
increased as much as American energy is greater than Spanish sloth; for Americans henceforth will
monopolize those resources and that commerce. . . .
Do you indorse that policy with your vote? It means creative investment for every dollar of idle
capital in the land � an opportunity for the rich man to do something with his money besides hoarding
it or lending it. It means occupation for every workingman in the country at wages which the
development of new resources, the launching of new enterprises, the monopoly of new markets always
brings. . . .

Library of Congress

Bombardment of San Juan. Porto Rico [12 May 1898], lithograph, 1898

For the conflicts of the future are
to be conflicts of trade  struggles
for markets  commercial wars for
existence. And the golden rule of
peace is impregnability of position
and invincibility of preparedness. So,
we see England, the greatest strategist
of history, plant her flag and her
cannon on Gibraltar, at Quebec, in the
Bermudas, at Vancouver, everywhere,
until, from every point of vantage, her
royal banner flashes in the sun. So
Hawaii furnishes us a naval base in
the heart of the Pacific; the Ladrones
another, a voyage further on; Manila
another, at the gates of Asia  Asia,
Asia, to the trade of whose hundreds
of millions American merchants,
American manufacturers, American farmers, have as good a right as those of Germany or France or
Russia or England; Asia, whose commerce with England alone, amounts to billions of dollars every
year; Asia, to whom Germany looks to take the surplus of her factories and foundries and mills; Asia,
whose doors shall not be shut against American trade. Within two decades the bulk of Oriental
commerce will be ours, � the richest commerce in the world. In the light of that golden future, our
chain of new-won stations rise like ocean sentinels from the night of waters, � Porto Rico, a nobler
Gibraltar; the Isthmian canal, a greater Suez; Hawaii, the Ladrones, the Philippines, commanding the


Ah! as our commerce spreads, the flag of liberty will circle the globe, and the highways of the
ocean � carrying trade of all mankind, be guarded by the guns of the republic. And, as their thunders
salute the flag, benighted peoples will know that the voice of Liberty is speaking, at last, for them; that
civilization is dawning, at last, for them � Liberty and Civilization, those children of Christ’s gospel,
who follow and never precede, the preparing march of commerce!
It is the tide of God�s great purposes made manifest in the instincts of our race, whose present
phase is our personal profit, but whose far-off end is the redemption of the world and the
Christianization of mankind. And he who throws himself before that current is like him who, with
puny arm, tries to turn the gulf stream from its course, or stay, by idle incantations, the blessed
processes of the sun. . . .

Duke University/Library of Congress

�Stars and Stripes Forever,� by John Philip
Sousa, sheet music cover, 1898

Fellow Americans, we are God�s chosen people. Yonder at Bunker Hill and Yorktown his
providence was above us. At New Orleans and on ensanguined seas his hand sustained us. Abraham
Lincoln was his minister and his was the Altar of Freedom, the boys in blue set on a hundred
battlefields. His power directed Dewey in the East and delivered the Spanish fleet into our hands on the
eve of Liberty�s natal day, as he delivered the elder Armada into the hands of our English sires two
centuries ago. His great purposes are revealed in the progress of the flag, which surpasses the
intentions of Congresses and Cabinets, and leads us like a holier pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire
by night into situations unforeseen by finite wisdom, and duties unexpected by the unprophetic heart of

selfishness. The American people cannot use a dishonest
medium of exchange; it is ours to set the world its example
of right and honor. We cannot fly from our world duties; it
is ours to execute the purpose of a fate that has driven us to
be greater than our small intentions. We cannot retreat from
any soil where Providence has unfurled our banner; it is
ours to save that soil for Liberty and Civilization. For
Liberty and Civilization and God�s promise fulfilled, the
flag must henceforth be the symbol and the sign to all
mankind � the flag! �

�Flag of the free heart�s hope and home
By angel hands to valor given,
Thy stars have lit the welkin dome,
And all their hues were born in heaven!
Forever wave that standard sheet,
Where breathes the toe but falls before us
With freedom�s soil beneath our feet
And freedom�s banner streaming o�er us!�*

Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), �The American Flag,� 1810s, final stanza of poem.


Matthew Frye Ja c obso n



The United States Encounters Foreign

Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917


A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

New York

Hill and Wang

A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
19 Union Square West, New York 10003

Copyright ® 2000 by Matthew Frye Jacobson
All rights reserved

Distributed in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.

Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Lisa Stokes

First edition. 2000

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. 1958-

Barbarian virtues : the United States encounters foreign peoples
at home and abroad, 1876-1917 / Matthew Frye Jacobson. — 1st ed.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8090-2808-5 (alk. paper)

1. United States—Politics and government-1865-1933. 2. United
States—Foreign relations-1865-1921. 3. United States—Ethnic

relations. 4. United States—Race relations. 5. Nationalism—
United States—History-19th century. 6. Nationalism—United
States—History-20th century. 7. Political culture—United States—
History-19th century. S. Political culture—United States—

History-20th century. 9. National characteristics, American.
1. Title.
E661.J34 2000

973- dc21 99-40574

ix Acknowledgments

Introduction: Barbarism, Virtue, and Modern American

Nationalism 3

1. Export Markets: The World’s Peoples as Consumers 15

2. Labor Markets: The World’s Peoples as American Workers 59

3. Parables of Progress: Travelogues, Ghetto Sketches, and

Fictions of the Foreigner 105

4. Theories of Development: Scholarly Disciplines and the

Hierarchy of Peoples 139

5. Accents of Menace: Immigrants in the Republic 179

6. Children of Barbarism: Republican Imperatives

and Imperial Wards 221

Conclusion: The Temper of U.S. Nationalism—Coming

of Age in the Philippines 261

Notes 267

Bibliographic Essay 301

Index 315

Children of Barbarism: Republican
Imperatives and Imperial Wards

It would be better to abandon this com-
bined garden and Gibraltar of the Pacific
[i.e., the Philippines) . . . than to apply
any academic arrangement of self-
government to these children. They are
not capable of self-government. How
could they be? They are not a self-
governing race. . . . What alchemy will
change the oriental quality of their blood
and set the self-governing currents of the
American pouring through their Malay
veins? How shall they, in the twinkling of
an eye, be exalted to the heights of self-
governing people which required a thou-
sand years for us to reach, Anglo-Saxons
though we are?

—Albert Beveridge to the
U.S. Senate, January 1900

AMID HEATED DEBATE over the disposition of the Philippines in
1899, Whitelaw Reid, owner of the New York Tribune, candidly de-
clared, “It is time to begin teaching the American people the ab-

surdity of that clause in the Declaration of Independence which derives all
just powers of government from the consent of the governed.” No such con-
stitutional niceties were required, the expansionist argument now went,
among peoples who were innately unfit for the tasks and rigors inherent in
self-government. New circumstances in Spain’s former colonies gave free rein
to a set of racially inflected ideas about self-possession and governance—the


proposition, for example, that consent itself was beyond the intellectual and
moral reach of certain backward races.

American expansionism had its economic engines, to be sure: the out-
ward thrust for new markets and its ancillary requisites of coaling stations
and naval bases had brought the United States into close encounters with the
peoples of Hawaii, Samoa, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Cuba in
the first place. As Henry Cabot Lodge remarked to President McKinley in
May 1898, the nation’s domestic market “is not enough for our teeming in-
dustries.” Were the United States to acquire the Philippine archipelago, for
example, and protect it with a high tariff wall, “its ten million inhabitants,
as they advance in civilization, would have to buy our goods, and we should
have so much additional market for our home manufactures.” “Our largest
trade must henceforth be with Asia,” seconded Indiana Senator Albert Bev-
eridge. “Where shall we turn for consumers of our surplus? … The Philip-
pines gives us a base at the door of all the East.”

But once that encounter had taken place, pressing questions arose in the
political realm. Just as immigration taxed the workings of American democ-
racy, so the nation’s expansive mission abroad—the migration of the state, as
it were—brought under American influence more and more peoples whose
racial character spelled trouble to Anglo-Saxon supremacists. What would be
the political relationship between Americans and the peoples of the potential
colonies? Was citizenship thinkable? If not, could a free republic hold an ar-
ray of lands in despotic dependency and still remain a free republic? Could it
be, asked Mark Twain in his anti-imperialist tract, “To the Person Sitting in
Darkness” (1901), “that there are two kinds of Civilization—one for home
consumption and one for the heathen market?” Untroubled by the contra-
diction, for his part Senator Beveridge railed against the very idea that the
peoples of the Pacific could ever be “self-governing” in quite the way of the
masterful Anglo-Saxons. “How dare any man prostitute this expression
(“self-governing race”) … to a race of Malay children of barbarism?” he

The complexities and possible contradictions were evident at once. As
Theodore Roosevelt pronounced in his popular appeal for a renewed racial
and “manly” vigor, “The Strenuous Life” (1899), “Many of [the Philippine]
people are utterly unfit for self-government, and show no signs of becoming


fit. Others may in time become fit, but at present can only take part in self-
government under a wise supervision, at once firm and beneficent. We have
driven Spanish tyranny from the islands. If we now let it be replaced by sav-
age anarchy, our work has been for harm and not for good.”

Trouble, then, potentially lay in either direction. To let peoples like the
Filipinos have their hard-won independence would be to refuse a sacred na-
tional duty and to invite calamity upon these hapless natives in the form of
an inevitable reversion to savagery. And yet American stewardship of these
inferior peoples raised problems of its own: How did Americans propose to
rule a group that they had defined as innately unruly? What precisely would
it mean to let them “take part” in self-governance only under “supervision”?
Could such supervision indeed remain “beneficent” if it were rejected—even
violently so—by those who were allegedly in need of it? And what was the
imagined duration of U.S. involvement lurking in the assertion that these
peoples might “in time” achieve the requisite civic habits of independence
and self-governance?

American discussion of expansionism and national policy was tensely
strung between the poles of duty and distrust, of missionary zeal and the
missionary’s skepticism toward the prospect of the heathen’s redemption.
Like Francis Amasa Walker’s “beaten men from beaten races” or Lord Bryce’s
“droves of squalid men” who now took up their place in the urban, working-
class wards of the American polity, the “savage” Caribbean and Pacific na-
tives who came under the sway of U.S. power at the turn of the century
sorely tested American ideals of liberty, governance, and consent. As Teddy
Roosevelt wrote to Brooks Adams, “In the long run civilized man finds he
can keep the peace only by subduing his barbarian neighbor.” This was a ver-
sion of “keeping the peace” that, beginning with the wars of 1898-1902,
would characterize American foreign policy throughout much of the twenti-
eth century, and would indeed become a central tenet in the canons of Amer-
ican nationalism.

Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism
Expansionism did not spring upon the United States from nowhere in the
summer of 1898. No nation whose history had been so expansive—including


trans-Atlantic migration, settlement, and conquest; trans-Appalachian mi-
gration; the Louisiana Purchase and Indian Removal; Manifest Destiny; the
Mexican War, and the annexations of Texas, California, the Southwestern ter-
ritories, and Alaska—could plausibly feign surprise when, at the end of the
very decade in which the superintendent of the census had declared the fron-
tier “closed,” a new frontier opened up farther west, across the Pacific. “We
had not pondered [the 1890 census) a single decade,” remarked Woodrow
Wilson, “before we made new frontiers for ourselves beyond the seas.” But
many felt at the time that trans-Pacific expansion represented something al-
together new; and this has become a comforting conceit for later generations.
Disavowing the continuity in the nation’s expansionist history allows for
phrases like “the imperialist moment of 1899,” or the “imperialist experi-
ment in the Philippines,” as though this fleeting episode were utterly de-
tached from the balance of U.S. history—as though it were fleeting.

In fact, the entire period from 1876 to 1917 is best understood as an im-
perialist epoch. These years witnessed Indian wars in the West, the last phase
in the subjugation of the continent in the 1870s; trans-Pacific involvement
in Samoa, Hawaii, Wake, Guam, and the Philippines, and Caribbean inter-
ventions in Cuba and Puerto Rico at the century’s close; and a number of
Latin American interventions in the 1900s and 1910s, including the taking
of Panama. Expansionism likewise held a conspicuous place in cultural rit-
ual, celebration, and representation throughout the period—in popular fic-
tion, in Wild West shows, in the novel cultural form of motion pictures
(whose earliest narrative endeavors included re-enactments of the U.S. war in
the Philippines, staged in the jungles of New Jersey), and in the string of
lavish world’s fairs from Philadelphia (1876) to Chicago (1893) to St. Louis
(1904) to San Francisco (1915), each profoundly structured by the asper-
sions, the aspirations, and the national self-ascriptions associated with em-

Despite such a diffuse currency, however, the issue of empire did come
into exceptionally sharp focus in 1898, when the war with Spain raised ur-
gent questions regarding military necessity (would the United States “need”
Hawaii as a way station to the Asian theater?) and the spoils of war (how
should vanquished Spain’s colonies be disposed?). Now Americans were


called upon to debate directly and to pronounce upon the fate of a variety of
peoples who inhabited what might conceivably become “isthmian ap-
proaches” and trans-Pacific coaling stations and bases for a far-flung Ameri-
can empire. The United States had established its first governing presence
overseas, in Samoa (along with Germany and Great Britain), in 1890. Now,
eight years later, as Spain retreated from its colonies and U.S. naval and
ground forces spread from the Caribbean to the Far East, policy-makers pon-
dered questions of territorial status and governance in Hawaii, whose white
elites had been seeking annexation ever since their coup against Queen Lili-
uokalani in 1893; and in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, whose lib-
eration from Spain left many questions open regarding their future, their
potential peril at the hands of yet other European predators, and their proper
political relationship to their American “allies.”

Here one sees with unremitting clarity the tension between, on the one
hand, aggrandizing national designs, and, on the other, civic fears of those
strange peoples whom national aggrandizement had rather suddenly brought
into the compass of U.S. concern. Both economic aspiration and long-
standing tradition of racial noblesse oblige seemed to dictate that these “island
treasures” simply be taken by the United States, these savage populations
gradually “uplifted” and “civilized” under the tutelage of their racial betters.
And yet, as commentators from across the political spectrum noted, precisely
the racial inferiority that suggested U.S. stewardship over these peoples in
the first place also raised vexing questions about their presence within the
bounds of the self-governing republic. As New York Senator Carl Schurz
wrote in 1899, the consequences following “the admission of the Spanish
creoles and the negroes of the West India islands and of the Malays and
Tagals of the Philippines to participation in the conduct of our government
is so alarming that you instinctively pause before taking the step.” Ameri-
cans did pause, therefore, before taking the step. And though they did ulti-
mately take the step of assuming “the white man’s burden” in the Caribbean
and the Pacific, the various political arrangements under which these islands
entered the U.S. sphere—ingeniously excluding their “participation in the
conduct of our government”—reflected the very alarm of which Schurz had


Certainly one of the dominant strains in the discussion of U.S. policy
toward the peoples of the Caribbean and the Pacific was good old spread-
eagled, racialist, masculinist bluster and venom. Albert Beveridge’s impas-
sioned Senate speech in January 1900 offered the clearest distillation of the
nationalist imperatives now commonly evoked by proponents of expansion-
ism—economic, racial, religious, and political concerns all atangle. “The
Philippines are ours forever,” Beveridge announced.

And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will
not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the Orient. We
will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustees under God, of
the civilization of the world And we will move forward to our work, not
howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude
for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that
He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration
of the world.

But the presumed Anglo-Saxon superiority that justified American ex-
pansion over distant reaches of the globe also called into question the proper
relationship between the United States and its new, inferior stewards. As
Teddy Roosevelt wrote to Rudyard Kipling, in dealing with the Philippines
he had first to deal with “the jack-fools who seriously think that any group of
pirates and head-hunters needs nothing but independence in order that it
may be turned forthwith into a dark-hued New England town meeting.”
“Only the exceptional people have ever succeeded in the experiment of self-
government,” he remarked elsewhere, “because its needs, its interest, and its
successful working imply the existence within the heart of the average citi-
zen of certain very high qualities. There must be control. There must be
mastery, somewhere, and if there is no self-control and self-mastery, the con-
trol and the mastery will ultimately be imposed from without.” Having lib-
erated these peoples so lacking in republican virtue, the United States could
now only succeed Spain as the power who, by force if necessary, would im-
pose “control and mastery” upon them from without.

Even Beveridge had to concede the perils of governance in a case so
shaky as that of the Filipinos. “It will be hard for Americans who have not


studied them to understand the people,” he said, “… My own belief is that
there are not 100 men among them who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon
self-government even means, and there are over 5,000,000 people to be gov-
erned.” But for Beveridge and others, the contradictions were easily resolved.
The Declaration of Independence, first of all, was never meant to apply to
peoples like the Filipinos. And though that particular piece of American po-
litical tradition did not apply in the case of the Philippines, there was never-
theless one that did: Manifest Destiny. “God has not been preparing the
English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but
vain self-contemplation and self-admiration,” insisted Beveridge, echoing
the mid-century expansionist orators on Mexico and the West. “No! He has
made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos
reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of re-
action throughout the earth. He has made us adept in government that we
may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not
for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night.”

William Howard Taft, who was to become the Philippine commissioner
in 1900, also calculated that 90 percent of the Philippine population was “in
a hopeless condition of ignorance, and utterly unable intelligently to wield
political control.” “Our little brown brothers,” in his formulation, would
need “fifty or one hundred years” of close supervision “to develop anything
resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.” Likewise, the popu-
lar Philippine exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 was a living
monument to the idea of the Filipino’s unfitness for self-government. As one
journalist remarked, this authentic re-creation of the Filipinos’ savage life-
ways amid an imported assemblage of genuine Philippine thatched huts
“disabused (Americans) of any impression that the natives could take care of
themselves.” The task, as it was articulated in policy circles and in street-
level discussion, then, would be not only to take these islands but to “take
care of” their people—to draw them under U.S. control without granting
any of the rights or privileges that, in the hands of such “savages,” might ex-
pose the nation’s porous political culture to inferior influences or taint.

As Albert Beveridge’s unceremonious scrapping of the Declaration of In-
dependence might suggest, expansionist thought did generate its own
heated opposition. On June 2, 1898, a month after Admiral Dewey’s victory


over the Spanish in Manila Bay had lent the imperialism question its unex-
pected urgency, Boston reformer Gamaliel Bradford called a meeting at Fa-
neuil Hall to protest the “insane and wicked ambition which is driving the
nation to ruin.” His call brought forward hundreds of prominent reformers
and aging abolitionists. Over the course of the summer and autumn, the
protest broadened, and in November the movement crystallized in the New
England Anti-Imperialist League. Sensing its growing strength, the league
made an ambitious promise to President McKinley to deliver an anti-
imperialist petition bearing no fewer than ten million signatures. But within
the next several months, although the league had gone national and claimed
over seventy thousand members, the petition drive died out at a miserable
five thousand signatures; and the United States, meanwhile, strengthened its
hold on Samoa, annexed Hawaii outright, and extended its influence in vari-
ous forms over Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Wake, and Guam.

The momentum of these events should not conceal the breadth of anti-
imperialist sentiment. In the Senate vote on the Treaty of Paris (by which
Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States), one staunch and unam-
biguous anti-imperialist resolution was defeated by the single tie-breaking
vote of Vice President Garret Hobart; a watered-down resolution actually
passed by a vote of twenty-six to twenty-two. Even so enthusiastic an impe-
rialist as Henry Cabot Lodge had to admit that the battle over ratification
had been “the closest, hardest fight I have ever known.”

Nor should the league be mistaken for the anti-imperialist movement it-
self. Led by ex-abolitionist George Boutwell and a prestigious body of forty-
one officers—a veritable Who’s Who, including Andrew Carnegie, Carl
Schurz, Benjamin Harrison, Jane Addams, Grover Cleveland, Moorfield
Storey, and E. L. Godkin—the league ultimately failed to gather disparate
anti-imperialists at the grassroots level. By its strategy of bringing political
pressure to bear primarily through the nation’s “better elements,” the league
neglected many of its natural allies—African Americans, immigrants, and
labor most notably. Moreover, by its genteel reformist style, its old republi-
canist stance, its Anglo-Saxon biases, and its didactic social bearing, the
league fully alienated many others.

The arguments against imperialism in 1899 were so varied as to pre-
clude any viable political coalition; it was this, rather than any absence of op-


position, that expansionists like Roosevelt and Lodge exploited in their effort
to make imperialist designs into national policies. We must stand “shoulder
to shoulder,” exhorted anti-imperialist leader Erving Winslow, “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.” Winslow knew something about such motley
coalition-building: he and fellow “Mugwump” reformers had broken
with their beloved Republican Party on principle in 1884, and their alliance
with the Democrats had helped to put Grover Cleveland in the White

Still, “standing shoulder to shoulder” with diverse anti-imperialists at
century’s end was easier said than done. Indeed, deep differences among their
visions of “the Republic” and its virtues within this assembly made a unified
statement on this “paramount issue” impossible. Anti-imperialist Mark
Twain could acidly denounce “the Blessings-of-Civilization Trust” and its
mistreatment of the so-called savages; anti-imperialist Samuel Gompers
frankly worried over “an inundation of Mongolians” swarming to the U.S.
mainland to overwhelm white labor. Andrew Carnegie could object that a
colonial adventure in the tropics would provoke Europe, alienate Latin
America, and so jeopardize important foreign markets for American goods;
his anti-imperialist “ally” Eugene Debs, meanwhile, rather bristled at the
prospect of “making a market by the force of arms and at the expense of .. .
a people whose only offense has been their love of freedom and self-control.”
John Mitchell, the African American editor of the Richmond Planet, could ob-
ject that the United States should not export its race prejudice across the
Pacific; and white supremacist “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman of South Carolina
shuddered at the notion of importing “any more colored men into the body
politic.” The anti-imperialist movement thus inherited long-standing feuds
of Anglophiles with immigrants, capital with labor, radicals with conserva-
tives, goldbugs with silverites, and African Americans with white Southern

E. L. Godkin had rather impressively conveyed the ideological tensions
within anti-imperialist thought when he amassed the objections to Hawaiian
annexation in a piece for The Nation as early as January 1898. Among the
reasons to oppose imperialism, according to Godkin, were:




The sudden departure from our traditions; the absence from our system of any
machinery for governing dependencies; the admission of alien, inferior, and
mongrel races to our nationality; the opening of fresh fields to carpet-baggers,
speculators, and corruptionists; the un-Americanism of governing a large
body of people against their will, and by persons not responsible to them; the
entrance on a policy of conquest and annexation while our own continent is
still unreclaimed, our population unassimilated, and many of our most seri-
ous political problems still unsolved; and finally the danger of the endorse-
ment of a gross fraud for the first time by a Christian nation.

Godkin here spins out a veritable color wheel of high principle and low
invective. High-sounding appeals to the best principles of the Constitu-
tion—what Lincoln might have meant by the “better angels of our na-
ture”—shade into frank denunciations of “mongrel races” and insinuating
allusions to the “unassimilated” peoples and unsolved problems within this
“Christian” nation. In a single breath, Godkin endorses the aspirations of a
people spurning government “against their will” by an outside power, and
he fears for the future of that outside power itself, should this “inferior” peo-
ple gain admission to nationality. The ease with which Godkin makes
these moves illuminates what a peculiar beast American anti-imperialism
could be.

In the present context, the most significant ideological strands were
those that linked many anti-imperialists—like Godkin—with their pre-
sumed enemies in the expansionist camp. It is true that some articulated a 1
radical and uncompromising anti-imperialism. Just a few weeks after fight-
ing had broken out in Manila in 1899, for instance, Harvard philosopher
William James denounced the “brutal piracy” of U.S. policy, calling for free-
dom for the Filipinos, whether ” ‘fit’ or ‘unfit,’ “—”home rule … and what-
ever anarchy may go with it until the Filipinos learn from each other, not
from us, how to govern themselves.” Mark Twain, too, declared in a letter to
Albert Sonnichsen, whose Ten Months a Captive Among Filipinos offered a rare,
sympathetic portrait of the independence movement, “The hearts of men are
about alike, all over the world, no matter what their skin-complexions may
be.” Wherever one finds a nation “whose hearts are not debauched,” he went t



on, “the civilization that obtains in that nation is high, and its possessors
may be trusted to be able to govern themselves about as well as we, the sub-
jects of Mr. Croker, could do it for them.”

But two decidedly racialist (paradoxically, imperialist) strains of anti-
imperialist comment did unite many dissenters with their avowed political
adversaries. One we might call the constitutionalist argument: Godkin’s con-
cern, for instance, over the proposed “departure from our traditions,” the na-
tion’s lack of suitable legal “machinery for governing dependencies,” the
“opening of fresh fields to carpet-baggers, speculators, and corruptionists”—
in a word, the “un-Americanism” of the project. Though perhaps advancing
the cause of Philippine independence, such argument was inherently imperi-
alist in that it identified not Filipinos but Americans, and their hallowed tra-
ditions, as the real victims of expansion and violent dispossession.

Like their counterparts in the expansionist camp, that is, these com-
batants in the debate took but little account of Filipino lives. “Much as we
abhor the war of ‘criminal aggression’ in the Philippines,” ran the Anti-
Imperialist League’s platform, “greatly as we regret that the blood of the Fil-
ipinos is on American hands, we more deeply resent the betrayal of American
institutions at home. The real firing line is not in the suburbs of Manila. The
foe is of our own household. The attempt in 1861 was to divide the country.
That of 1899 is to destroy its fundamental principles and noblest ideals.”
The duration of the protracted slaughter in the Philippines “is but an inci-
dent in a contest that must go on until the Declaration of Independence and
the Constitution of the United States are rescued from the hands of their be-
trayers.” The league did recoil at the “needless horror” of the slaughter in the
Philippines but, finally, saw this as merely incidental to the weightier matter
of democracy’s peril at home.

In some cases such reasoning may have been but a rhetorical ploy, an ef-
fort to win over an American audience by enumerating the costs of empire in
strictly American terms. But the constitutionalist argument is suspect in
that it was so often combined, as in Godkin’s formulation, with a second,
fundamentally imperialist strain of thinking, an overtly racialist disdain for
the “alien, inferior, and mongrel races” of the Philippines. And Godkin was
scarcely the worst in this regard. Even the German ’48er and onetime aboli-


tionist Carl Schurz worried that, should any of the Caribbean or Pacific is-
lands be admitted to the union on equal footing with the other states, “they
will not only be permitted to govern themselves as to their home concerns,
but will take part in governing the whole republic, in governing us, by send-
ing senators and representatives into our Congress to help make our laws,
and by voting for president and vice-president to give our national govern-
ment its executive.” It was here that Schurz opined how “alarming” was the
prospect of granting the peoples of the former Spanish colonies the right to
participate “in the conduct of our government.”

Many whites from Southern and border states were less restrained on the
racial question, if this can be called restraint. Sharpening the polemic edge
on Schurz’s basic premise, Representative Champ Clark of Missouri snapped,
“No matter whether they are fit to govern themselves or not, they are not fit
to govern us [applause).” But, questions of innate fitness aside, if Southern
history taught nothing else it at least taught that racial diversity was not to
be taken lightly in a self-governing republic, and that racial homogeneity
represented a virtue in and of itself. As “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman explained,
Southerners “understand and realize what it is to have two races side by side
that can not mix or mingle without deterioration and injury to both and the
ultimate destruction of the civilization of the higher.” As a senator from
South Carolina, “with 750,000 colored population and only 500,000 whites,
I realize what you [expansionists) are doing, while you don’t; and I would
save this country from the injection into it of another race question which
can only breed bloodshed and a costly war and the loss of the lives of our
brave soldiers.”

Tillman’s colleague in the Senate, John Daniel of Virginia, raised this
racial specter in sexual terms, moving quickly from annexation as a kind of
figurative miscegenation to the certainty of literally mingled blood: “Today
we are the United States of America,” he warned. “Tomorrow … we will be
the United States of America and Asia. It is a marriage of nations. This twain
will become one flesh. They become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
Henceforth and forever, according to the terminology of this treaty, the Fil-
ipinos and Americans are one.”

Given the stresses that expansion into the world’s “waste spaces” was


perceived to put on the functioning of republican government and on the
very notion of competent citizenship, it is not surprising that the ranks of
the anti-imperialist movement would be populated by many who were even
more virulent in their racism than imperialists like Albert Beveridge. Racial-
ism thus constituted the very ground upon which the imperialism question
was largely debated among white Americans: some espoused expansionism
because of their pronounced racial disdain for the peoples of the Pacific and
elsewhere; some opposed expansion based on precisely the same set of pre-
suppositions and patterns of disdain. As one senator put it during the debate
over Hawaiian annexation in 1898, “How can we endure our shame when a
Chinese senator from Hawaii, with his pigtail hanging down his back, with
his pagan joss [idol) in his hand, shall rise from his [honored seat in the Sen-
ate) . .. and in pidgin English proceed to chop logic with George Frisbee
Hoar or Henry Cabot Lodge?” Or, as Major General John Dickman wrote
with perhaps more candor still when Cubans accused the United States of
harboring plans for annexation, “You ought to see them squirm when I tell
them that your Uncle Samuel has too many niggers already.”

This impulse, too, had a rather long pedigree in American political
thinking: during Senate debate over Mexican annexation fifty years earlier,
one Southern senator had expressed anxiety over the nation’s receiving “not
merely the white citizens of California and New Mexico, but the peons, ne-
groes, and Indians of all sorts, the wild tribe of Comanches, the bug-and-
lizard-eating ‘Diggers,’ and other half-monkey savages in those countries, as
equal citizens of the United States.” However attractive might be the riches held
out by expansionism, in other words, from a civic standpoint racial isolation
had much to recommend it.

From the debate on Hawaii in the summer of 1898, then, to the conclu-
sion of the war against Philippine independence in 1902 (and, indeed, up
through the Wilson administration, which passed new Organic Acts for both
Puerto Rico and the Philippines), white Americans articulated a double-
edged disdain for the “children of barbarism” who populated the islands of
the Caribbean and the Pacific. One argument ran that such backward peoples
were fit for nothing but domination by a progressive power like the United
States—indeed, that the United States was divinely “intended” for just such


a task; the other, that their savagery itself presented a compelling reason to
let these peoples alone. “Tis not more than two months since ye lamed
whether they were islands or canned goods,” quipped Finley Peter Dunne’s
organic wit, Mr. Dooley. But the unresolved fate of these hitherto obscure is-
lands were “makin’ puzzles f’r our poor tired heads” just the same. “Ivry
night, whin I’m countin’ up the cash,” Dooley moaned, “I’m askin’ meself
will I annex Cubia or lave it to the Cubians? Will I take Porther Ricky or
put it by? An’ what shud I do with the Ph’lippeens? Oh, what shud I do
with thim?” Should such places be taken? And how could they be smoothly

The Disposition of “Our New Island Treasures”
Anti-imperialists may have lost every battle over U.S. policy between the
Hawaiian annexation debate in 1898 and the passage of the various acts de-
termining U.S. governance in the Caribbean and the Philippines early in the
new century. But the mechanisms of governance developed in these areas did
reflect the broad, undergirding consensus on race that united many anti-
imperialists with their triumphant expansionist counterparts. Each region
found itself gripped in U.S. possession only at arm’s length: the United
States held them, to be sure, but at a safe distance from anything approxi-
mating full citizenship, equality, or participation in the sacred workings of

Hawaii was a peculiar case among the territories seized in this period in
that it had a sizable population of European and American settlers who, after
the revolution staged against Queen Liliuokalani in 1893, held political con-
trol of the islands and actively sought admission to the United States. Ac-
cording to a census in 1896, native Hawaiians constituted 28 percent of the
population; Japanese, 22 percent; Americans and Europeans, 22 percent;
Chinese, 20 percent; and racially mixed peoples, 8 percent. But the terms of
the 1894 Constitution drawn up by whites made it very difficult for the
multiethnic nonwhite plurality to participate in the governance of the is-
lands (after the revolution, the franchise was narrowed from fourteen thou-
sand to only twenty-eight hundred, many of whom were employees of Dole


Pineapple). Among other things, the qualifications for suffrage included a
pledge to support the new Hawaiian Constitution, which in its turn pro-
vided for eventual annexation to the United States. The very aspiration of
Hawaiian independence, that is, was grounds for disenfranchisement. Thus,
although three-quarters of the population were, in racialist estimations of the
day, only questionably capable of self-government, the islands did have a
“natural” white aristocracy who not only held jealously the reins of power
but did so avowedly toward the end of ultimate annexation to the United
States. Once annexation had been accomplished, would the terms of state-
hood allow the exclusive rule of this white minority to continue?

President Cleveland had rebuffed the annexationists’ hopes in 1893; an
annexation treaty put forward by McKinley in 1897 failed to win the neces-
sary two-thirds vote. Throughout these years, antiannexationist sentiment
drew upon a cluster of principles that were at bottom racial and that, by
now, are quite familiar: the population of the islands was too dissimilar from
the existing American population to be safely admitted; the well-established
principle of Chinese Exclusion precluded any arrangement that would allow
for the admission of a population like Hawaii’s; Asian and Pacific (“tropical”)
peoples were as unsuited to the rigors of American political culture as
Anglo-Saxons were to tropical climates; and the United States had never had
a happy result from its experiments with “inferior” races. Asked one senator
from Indiana, in what was to become a standard refrain throughout the de-
bate, “Shall great public issues affecting the vital interests of all our people
be submitted for determination to the Senators and Representatives from

The war with Spain was a turning-point in the debate. Now the pressing
issue of military necessity, not the abstract principles of governance, decided
the question. The islands were hailed as an indispensable way station for the
U.S. fleet in the Pacific, notwithstanding the reasonable objection of Repre-
sentative Champ Clark that, if Dewey’s “great victory proves anything at all
about these islands, it is that we have no earthly use for them, for he could
not have done better if we owned all the islands in all the seas.” Congres-
sional opposition to annexation creaked and collapsed in July 1898, in part
under the weight of the emboldened wartime rhetoric of national destiny, in


part under the weight of the compelling (if specious) argument of “military
necessity.” In late summer, the Hawaiian flag came down for the last time
and the U.S. flag was raised amid the mournful weeping of the relatively few
native Hawaiians who showed up for the ceremony.

Their sorrow was well founded. The government that Congress estab-
lished for the Territory of Hawaii extended Chinese Exclusion to the islands,
and it limited U.S. citizenship to “all white persons, including Portuguese,
and persons of African descent, and all persons descended from the Hawaiian
race … who were citizens of the Republic of Hawaii immediately prior to
transfer (of sovereignty).” Property qualifications to hold office in either the
Senate or the House of Representatives of Hawaii ensured that governance
remained in the hands of the white elite; and a combination of property and
literacy qualifications (in addition to a rigorous set of procedural rules) sig-
nificantly narrowed the franchise. Further, every applicant for suffrage would
be examined by a board of registration that held broad discretion to pro-
nounce upon his qualifications, including the power to summon its own wit-
nesses. Leaving nothing at all to chance, Congress also provided that private
citizens, too, had the right to challenge and to cross-examine any person
whose claims to eligibility for the vote they deemed questionable. This
rather impressive array of obstacles to political participation led one South-
ern legislator, William Kitchin of North Carolina, to remark that the laws
were “very like ours”—that is, very like the laws that disenfranchised blacks
across the “redeemed” South in the wake of Reconstruction.

Hawaiian petitions for statehood were rejected in 1903, 1911, 1913,
and 1915. Thus the United States took the Hawaiian Islands without, as it
were, taking the Hawaiians. The practical effect of this political limbo was
perhaps best summed up by the secretary of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’
Association, testifying before Congress in 1910: “The Asiatic has had only an
economic value in the social equation,” he asserted. “So far as the insti-
tutions, laws, customs, and language of the permanent population go, his
presence is no more felt than is that of the cattle on the ranges.” This pre-
sumption would be contested in myriad ways for many years to come, just as
Asians had contested similar presumptions in the courts and in the culture of
the American West. As a statement of political intent, however, the secretary


had voiced an impeccable truth regarding the civic standing of the “Asiatic”
in American—and now Hawaiian—political culture.

Cuba represented yet another variation on this pattern of the United
States’ assuming control of a territory without opening itself up to the haz-
ards of democratic participation. Given the outpourings of American sympa-
thy for Cubans who suffered the yoke and the lash of Spanish General
Valeriano “Butcher” Weyler in the years leading up to the Spanish-Cuban-
American War, one might have expected some enthusiasm for the idea of
Cuban independence in the years after the Spanish were vanquished. But if
Cuba was personified as a white damsel in distress in the melodramas of
American political discourse through mid-1898, the island symbolically be-
came a guileless plantation “darky” once discussion had turned to the politi-
cal fate of the newly freed island—an unruly, decidedly black male whose
claims to political independence were made ridiculous by his disqualifying
racial traits. Indeed, political cartoons of the era demonstrate precisely this
transformation in the Cubans’ image among North Americans.

As historian Louis Perez, Jr., has found, the Cubans’ unfitness for self-
government was the central theme of U.S. debate once Spain had been re-
moved from the picture, particularly among those military and political
figures engaged in the day-to-day business of administering the island’s af-
fairs in the interim. “Why(,) those people are no more fit for self-government
than gunpowder is for hell,” declared General William Schafter. Others, if
less colorful in their pronouncements, concurred with Schafter’s assessment.
General Samuel Young: the “insurgents are a lot of degenerates, absolutely
devoid of honor and gratitude. They are no more capable of self-government
than the savages of Africa.” Major George Barbour, the U.S. sanitary com-
missioner in Santiago de Cuba: the Cubans “are stupid, given to lying and
doing all things in the wrong way…. Under our supervision . .. the people
of Cuba may become a useful race and a credit to the world; but to attempt
to set them afloat as a nation, during this generation, would be a great mis-
take.” And Governor General Leonard Wood: “We are dealing with a race
that has steadily been going down for a hundred years and into which we
have to infuse new life, new principles and new methods of doing things.”
When the United States declared war on Spain, Wood asserted, it had be-


come “responsible for the welfare of the people, politically, mentally and

The chief task of American stewardship in the wake of Spain’s departure
was to establish stable and reliable mechanisms for Cuban government. Iron-
ically, what Cuba had most to be protected from, in American eyes, was the
overzealous program of Cuban independentistas. As a start, the United States
enacted Cuban franchise legislation whose restrictions reduced the electorate
to roughly 5 percent of the island’s population. The restrictions were de-
signed to keep power out of the hands of Cuba’s “mass of ignorant and in-
competent” inhabitants, in Secretary of War Elihu Root’s phrase, and so to
weaken the independence movement, whose most radical force was among
the lower classes. Or so Americans thought. Despite the narrow franchise,
the independentistas prevailed in municipal and assembly elections in 1900;
Americans would have to find another way of achieving “stable” government
on the island.

The eventual instrument of U.S. aims in Cuba was a parcel of provisions
designed by Root in 1901 and incorporated into a treaty with Cuba as the
Platt Amendment in 1903. Deftly navigating within the difficult parameters
of U.S. concern on the matter—a congressional amendment to the U.S. Dec-
laration of War with Spain had proscribed the annexation of Cuba, and yet
the idea of true independence for the island was rejected as absurd—Root’s
proposal, like the provisions for government in the Territory of Hawaii, as-
sumed U.S. control over Cuba without quite assuming any Cubans. The
Platt Amendment forbade Cubans to enter into treaties with foreign powers
on their own behalf; it limited the Cuban government’s power to assume or
contract public debt; it provided for the cession of necessary lands to the
United States for coaling and naval stations; and, most significantly, it
granted the United States “the right to intervene for the preservation of
Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the pro-
tection of life, property, and individual liberty.”

At the heart of this arrangement was the U.S. certainty that Cubans
were not fit to manage their own affairs. Though Cuba might be protected
from the predatory powers of Europe, warned Albert Beveridge, “the welfare
of the Cuban people was still open to attack from another enemy and at their


weakest point. That point was within and that enemy was themselves.” If it
was Americans’ business to see that the Cubans were not destroyed by any
foreign power, was it not also their duty to see that Cubans were not de-
stroyed by their own incapacities? For his part, Elihu Root asserted that the
character of the Cubans themselves would “require the restraining influence
of the {the United States} for many years to come,” and he flatly declared
that this proposal represented the “extreme limit” of U.S. “indulgence” in
the matter of Cuban independence. Thus did one Caribbean dream of inde-
pendence sink in the American waters of race and self-governance. As revo-
lutionist José Marti had wondered back on the eve of U.S. intervention in
the war with Spain, “Once the United States is in Cuba who will get her

Governmental affairs in Puerto Rico assumed yet a third configuration,
though to precisely the same effect. Spanish military rule in Puerto Rico of-
ficially came to an end on October 18, 1898, when U.S. Major General John
Brooke became the island’s military governor. (Spain retained nominal sover-
eignty until the treaty of peace was ratified.) Most significant for the inhabi-
tants of Puerto Rico, as for those of the Philippines, was a provision in the
Treaty of Paris stipulating that “the civil rights and political status of the na-
tive inhabitants of the territories hereby ceded to the United States shall be
determined by Congress.” For the time, the military governor maintained
his rule on the island just as he had before the treaty was signed; he prepared
the island—or so he thought—for the governmental status of a “territory”
whose eventual political fate would be statehood. President McKinley, too,
acted at first as though Puerto Rico could expect to go the way of Alaska and
other U.S. territories, with the single foreboding exception that in his
scheme the president and the Senate of the United States would undertake
certain decisions and appointments for the islands that in other territories
devolved upon the people themselves. “I have not thought it wise to com-
mit the entire government of the island to officers selected by the people,”
he explained, “because I doubt whether in habits, training, and experience
they are such as to fit them to exercise at once so large a degree of self-

Though many continued to assume that Puerto Rico would enjoy nor-

~ .

~.::. ..~


mal territorial status, the doubts voiced by McKinley and others were in as-
cendance in the critical legislative months of early 1900. An initial bill in-
troduced by Senator Foraker of Ohio (chairman of the Committee on the
Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico) specified that inhabitants of the island
would be deemed “citizens of the United States,” and that all legal proceed-
ings conducted by this body politic “shall run in the name of ‘The United
States of America, island of Puerto Rico.’ ” But a massive revision of that bill
in ensuing months resulted in a novel governmental status for Puerto Rico,
the creation of a legal entity virtually unknown elsewhere in American his-
tory. Inhabitants were no longer “citizens of the United States,” for example,
but, rather, “citizens of Porto Rico, and as such entitled to the protection of
the United States.” The revised version also did away with all references to
the U.S. Constitution as providing the legal framework for the islands; and it
revoked one of the major rights of other American territorial governments,
the right to elect one delegate to serve as a nonvoting member of the United
States House of Representatives. A Senate report justifying the changes
stated baldly that, since Puerto Ricans represented an “illiterate” population
of a “wholly different character,” they were “unacquainted” with traditions of
self-government and were “incapable of exercising the rights and privileges
guaranteed by the Constitution.” “If we should acquire territory populated
by an intelligent, capable and law-abiding people,” the report ran, “to whom
the right of self-government could be safely conceded, we might at once,
with propriety and certainly within the scope of our constitutional power,
incorporate that territory and people into the Union as an integral part of
our territory, and, by making them a State as a constituent part of the United
States, and extend to them at once the Constitution of the United States.”
Were the territory inhabited by the politically unfit, on the other hand, as
was the case in Puerto Rico, it behooved Congress to “hold the territory as a
mere possession” and to “govern the people thereof as their situation and the
necessities of their case might seem to require.”

Throughout continued debates over statehood and citizenship for Puerto
Ricans in the 1900s and 1910s, the racialist argument regarding “fit” repub-
licanism held tremendous sway. In 1912, William Atkinson Jones, chair of
the Committee on Insular Affairs, submitted a second Organic Act for


Puerto Rico, which would pass only after five more years of bitter debate and
periodic shelving. The major article of the bill granted U.S. citizenship to
Puerto Ricans, a point that would be debated with some rancor until the
Jones Act passed in 1917. The war with Spain had bequeathed to the United
States “an incongruous, inharmonious, and entirely unassimilable people,”
declared one Texas congressman in a rather backhanded plea for Puerto Ri-
can independence early on in this drawn-out discussion. In both the Philip-
pines and the West Indies, “we got a people who can make no contribution
to our political institutions, no contribution to our civilization in any way,
that we would regard as valuable.” “Political mixing with alien people is as
dangerous and unprofitable to the State as physical mixing is sinful and hurt-
ful ro us as a people,” he warned. Echoed a Mississippi senator in 1917, as
the question still loomed, “I think we have enough of that element in the
body politic already to menace the nation with mongrelization.” As far as he
was concerned, “It is a misfortune to take that class of people into the body
politic. They will never, no, not in a thousand years, understand the genius
of our government or share our ideals of government.”

The final terms of the Jones Act did grant Puerto Ricans U.S. citizen-
ship, but also imposed literacy and property requirements for suffrage that
privileged Puerto Rican whites and effectively disenfranchised 70 percent of
the adult male population of the island. Thus, as one historian has put it, did
the United States impose “a system of government less democratic than the
government previously allowed by autocratic Spain.”

The Philippines represented at once the most complex and the simplest
of these imperialist forays: complex because the battle was so hard-fought on
the part of Filipinos set on independence, simple because here, at the barrel
of a gun and under the “tutelage” of a bureaucratic colonial administration,
Filipinos succumbed to U.S. imperial power in its most naked form. Ten-
sions arose soon after Admiral Dewey’s victory over the Spanish fleet in
Manila Bay in May 1898. Like their Cuban counterparts, Filipinos had to
wonder about the role of the United States in their country once the Spanish
tyrants had been vanquished. Nationalist leader Emilio Aguinaldo entered
into a military partnership with the United States with the understanding,
as he put it in his diary, that “the United States would at least recognize the


independence of the Philippines under the protection of the U.S. Navy.”
On this point Aguinaldo settled for the oral assurances of E. Spencer Pratt,
the U.S. consul at Singapore, who purported to speak for Admiral Dewey.
Aguinaldo also cook solace in American political tradition itself: “I have
studied attentively the Constitution of the United States,” he told U.S. Gen-
eral T. M. Anderson, “and I find in it no authority for colonies, and I have no

Although the Englishman who served as interpreter for the Aguinaldo-
Pratt discussions swore that Aguinaldo’s version was correct, Washington
(and Dewey himself) disavowed any such promise of Philippine indepen-
dence. Dewey did deem the Filipinos “far superior in intelligence and more
capable of self-government than the natives of Cuba,” but still he kept his
distance, avoiding what he called “any entangling alliance” with the Filipino
insurgents. Thus, as the Spanish regime in Manila toppled, U.S. and Philip-
pine forces were already jockeying for potential control of the city. But as the
War Department cabled the U.S. general in the field, “There must be no
joint occupation with the insurgents…. The insurgents and all others must
recognize the military occupation and authority of the United States.”

What ensued, after several tense months during which Aguinaldo vainly
continued to pursue recognition for the independence movement, was the
United States’ first land war in Asia. Filipinos had lodged a list of grievances
against the U.S. occupying force, among them its failure to include the Fil-
ipino army in the Spanish capitulation at Manila, its aggressive expansion
beyond the boundaries of Manila proper, its seizure of several small Philip-
pine craft, and its insulting prohibition against the flying of the Philippine
flag. U.S. troops, for their part, were “just itching to get at the ‘niggers,'”
according to one contemporary report. Hostilities broke out between
Aguinaldo’s troops and the U.S. Army on the outskirts of Manila on Febru-
ary 4, 1899, and organized warfare continued in one form or another until
the last of the insurgents surrendered in May 1902. Sporadic violence punc-
tuated later years as well.

This was a brutal war. Approximately three thousand Filipino soldiers
died on the very first day of fighting alone. Nor was this the quick, token,
face-saving skirmish that General Elwell Otis had predicted of the Filipinos.


Rather, after that first, extraordinarily grim day of battle, the war rolled on
for some eleven hundred additional days—a conventional war of set-piece
battles from February to May of 1899, followed, upon Aguinaldo’s orders to
disperse, by a protracted guerrilla war that dragged well into the spring of
1902. Estimates vary wildly, but most modern historians set the death toll at
around 220,000 for the Filipinos (attributed to the war and to the indirect
ravages of war—pestilence, disease, and famine) and forty-two hundred for
the Americans. Some set the Filipino toll as high as a million, once all war-
derived health perils have been duly considered.

Most Americans were stunned by the tenacity of what they thought a
hopelessly outmatched enemy. As one editorial in The Call summarized early
on, General Otis’s ” `crushing blows’ do not crush. We have probably killed
thousands…. Our troops have pushed the unavailing butchery of war with
uncomplaining endurance and dash. Yet the barefooted enemy, remembering
his hut burned and his paddy field destroyed, lurks in the jungle and fights.”

On the U.S. side, the savagery of the war certainly derived from the
racial preconceptions of this “barefooted,” “savage” enemy. As a correspon-
dent for the Philadelphia Ledger explained, “It is not civilized warfare, but we
are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know and fear is
force, violence, and brutality, and we give it to them.” Such views were ax-
iomatic among American military leaders in the Philippines, many of whom,
including Generals Wesley Merritt, Adna Chaffee, and Jacob (“Hell Roarin’
Jake”) Smith, had cut their military teeth in the Indian Wars of the Ameri-
can West. But racial thinking permeated the ranks from boots to brass. As
one Kingston, New York, volunteer wrote home in May 1899, in a letter
that was widely circulated in the press as far away as San Francisco, “Last
night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately
orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every
native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women and
children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am
in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trig-

Thus among American soldiers the distinction between Filipino com-
batants and Filipino civilians blurred and often vanished altogether over the


years of warfare—one private reported that his company had been ordered to
open fire on a native wedding party. More and more reports of U.S. atrocities
filtered back home. American techniques for obtaining intelligence com-
monly included the “water cure”—a torture in which enormous volumes of
water were forced down the throat of the victim while interrogators knelt or
jumped on his distended abdomen. Historically constant casualty-to-kill ra-
tios were dramatically reversed in the Philippines, with the Filipino dead
outnumbering the wounded by fifteen to one. A Washington volunteer could
identify “this shooting of human beings” as a ” ‘hot game’ [that] beats rabbit
hunting all to pieces.” By 1902, General Smith had ordered the summary
death, not of actual Filipino combatants, but of “all persons … who are capa-
ble of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” When
asked by a marine commander where the line should be drawn between mere
children and potential combatants, Smith replied, “ten years of age.” In re-
porting Smith’s new orders for the conduct of the war, American newspa-
pers in April 1902 blared the headline “Samar to Be Made ‘A Howling
Wilderness.’ ” Echoing generations of pioneers who had waged war against
“savages” across North America, one veteran of the Philippine war later ex-
plained, “The only good Filipino is a dead one. Take no prisoners; lead is
cheaper than rice.”

The killing wore on, even after Aguinaldo himself was captured in the
spring of 1901. The problem of governance, meanwhile, remained. McKin-
ley had appointed a civilian commission consisting of Jacob Gould Schur-
man (the president of Cornell University), Charles Denby (former minister
to China), and Dean Worcester (an ornithologist whose researches had ac-
quainted him with the peoples of the Philippines). The commission pledged
to the Filipinos “the most ample liberty of self-government” possible, consis-
tent with “a wise, just, stable, effective, and economical administration of
public affairs.” Given long-standing American assumptions regarding race
and “fitness for self-government,” Filipinos were rightly skeptical as to how
much “liberty of self-government” this would actually turn out to be. Apoli-
nario Mabini, president of the Philippine Cabinet, responded sharply to the
commission’s pledge, declaring that, even if the United States granted Fil-
ipinos all the rights of the U.S. Constitution (which itself was unlikely),
American racism would still undermine the Filipinos’ standing.


Once the war had broken out, moreover, the very fact of this violent bid
for independence paradoxically became grist for the American contention
that such independence was beyond the Filipinos’ capabilities. “The war on
the part of the Filipinos has been conducted with the barbarous cruelty com-
mon among uncivilized races,” declared Secretary of War Elihu Root, as if to
prove that the Filipinos’ aim of political independence was plainly illegiti-
mate. Even a popular gift-book published in Chicago as the war still raged,
Exciting Experiences in Our Wars with Spain and the Filipinos (1899), was in-
clined to draw lessons on Filipino mental capacity from the fact of their bel-
ligerence: the natives “are not capable of deep cognition or continued logical
thought,” according to this account; “such a thing as acting upon settled
conclusions from logical deductions is not possible with them. No better
example of this could be given than that of their foolish attack on the
Americans…. They were not able to grasp the situation nor to restrain
themselves.” Frederick Funston, a general in the field, put the matter more
plainly still:

1 am afraid some people at home will lie awake nights worrying about the
ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right of self-
government. The word independent, which these people roll over their tongues
so glibly, is to them a word, and not much more. It means with them simply
a license to raise hell, and if they get control they would raise a fine crop of
it. They are, as a rule, an illiterate, semi-savage people, who are waging
war, not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency.

In an attempt to win the trust of the Filipinos, McKinley in 1900 ap-
pointed a second Philippine commission to establish civil administration on
the islands, this one headed by William Howard Taft. The very language of
the second commission’s charge was telling: in an effort to “secure the confi-
dence and the affection of the Filipinos,” ran the report that authorized the
new commission, the United States would have “(so far as the public safety
permits) to let them in all local affairs govern themselves in their own way.”
This parenthetic concern for the public safety in the face of Filipino self-rule
was more than a running leitmotif in American discussion: it was—as in
Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico—a bedrock, structuring principle. At one


extreme, General Arthur MacArthur’s brash but widely shared opinion, ac-
cording to Dean Worcester, was that “what the Filipinos needed was ‘mili-
tary government pinned to their backs for ten years with bayonets.’ ” Softer
words were spoken by Commissioner Taft, who identified the U.S. task in
the Philippines as preparing “a whole people for self-government, and that
problem includes not only the teaching of that people how to read, write and
figure in arithmetic, but also to teach them how to labor.” But whether one
saw the task as brute control (like MacArthur) or mere tutelage (like Taft),
the bottom line was much the same: as Taft himself put it, “We must have a
self-governing people before we turn this government over to them.” Real
independence would have to wait.

“Ye-es,” said Secretary Root, candidly summing up the legal situation of
the archipelago, “as near as I can make out the Constitution follows the
flag—but doesn’t quite catch up with it.” The United States continued to
hold the Philippines in this problematic status—pursuing what McKinley
had called “benevolent assimilation”—until the Philippine Autonomy Act
became law under Woodrow Wilson in 1916. In the language of the new
law’s preamble, “It was never the intention of the people of the United States
in the incipiency of the War with Spain to make it a war of conquest or for
territorial aggrandizement”; indeed, “it has always been the purpose of the
people of the United States to … recognize [Philippine) independence as
soon as a stable government can be established.” By 1916, it had become
“desirable to place in the hands of the people of the Philippines as large a
control of their domestic affairs as can be given them” without impairing the
exercise of the rights of sovereignty by the United States, thus setting the
Philippines on a road toward “all the privileges of complete independence.”
The Philippine Autonomy Act replaced the former commission and Philip-
pine Assembly with a Senate and House of Representatives to be elected by
the Filipinos themselves. The governor general, appointed by the president
of the United States, possessed a veto that could be overridden, but any item
passed over his veto was subject to approval or rejection by the president.

In each of these cases, then, where it was tempered at all, the impetus to
acquire new territories and their peoples was tempered primarily by a perva-
sive fear among American whites that the people themselves, by their very
degeneracy or savagery, held the power to bring the self-governing republic


down in ruin. For enthusiastic expansionists like Albert Beveridge, Theodore
Roosevelt, or Henry Cabot Lodge, this was simply a matter of unapologeti-
cally seizing the islands in the name of progress and assuming the respon-
sibility of both tutoring and governing the natives as their patent racial
superiors. For anti-imperialists like Champ Clark, Ben Tillman, and Carl
Schurz, better to leave the islands alone completely. If most expansionists
doubted that these people would ever participate smoothly in America’s
democratic culture (approximating, in Roosevelt’s phrase, some kind of
“dark-hued New England town meeting”), many anti-imperialists worried
about the fate of the United States’ democratic culture itself upon the infu-
sion of such “dark hues.” Combatants on either side of the question could
fiercely disagree on the economic merits of an expansionist policy. So could
they dispute the proper interpretation of political “consent,” and whether or
not Hawaiians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or Filipinos were competent to enter
into such a social compact and to cast votes on their own behalf. But upon
one point there was broad agreement: these peoples were not competent to
cast votes that would in any way influence the lives of white Americans.

The fact of American stewardship over these peoples and the ingenious
mechanisms of that stewardship—the political arrangements by which
Americans seized control of the islands without ceding any of the reciprocal
powers inherent in democratic governance—embody the deep racial ambiva-
lence within American thinking on questions of empire: such inferior peo-
ples ought to be brought under American influence, but, emphatically, they
ought not to be brought close enough to influence America. We want the
Philippines, much of the popular press clamored, but we do not want the
Filipinos. From the standpoint of political voice, at any rate, in the Pacific
and the Caribbean between 1898 and 1903 the United States found four dif-
ferent ways of attaining exactly this.

Anglo-Saxon Empire and
America’s Non-Anglo-Saxons

Race, it was plain, lay at the heart of these cases for combatants on every side
of the discussion. As Filipino leader Apolinario Mabini put it, even if Amer-
icans were to grant the Filipinos “all, absolutely all, the rights and liberties


of American citizens”—itself too sanguine a hope for most to entertain—
race hatred would still undermine this status. Thus within the American
polity it was the nation’s racialized minorities—African Americans and im-
migrants—who tended to articulate the sharpest, most egalitarian, and most
democratically animated critiques of empire. While the American trade-
union movement worried over the impact of so-called coolie labor in the case
of annexation; while many socialists dismissed native resistance in the Pacific
and the Caribbean as irrelevant in the face of the mechanistic forces of ma-
turing capitalism; while Mugwump reformers and Southern Democrats
fretted over the havoc that imperialism might wreak, not on the far-flung is-
lands, but on America’s republican institutions themselves; and while others
lodged their protests in a frank language of national “mongrelization” or
racial degeneration, many among the United States’ maligned, non-Anglo-
Saxon minorities forged a critique of imperialist designs and conduct from
the vantage point of the conquered, and insisted on the broad principle of
the right to self-determination. “It is a sorry, though true, fact,” wrote one
African American observer, “that wherever this government controls, injus-
tice to the dark race prevails. The people of Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii and
Manila know it as well as do the wronged Indian and outraged black man in
the United States.” Or, as Irish nationalist Bourke Cochran asked on the floor
of the Senate, “Is it part of the principles of our free, independent govern-
ment to proceed to civilize a weaker people by first shooting and then rob-
bing them?”

Of course, even among these dissenters there was no unanimity on the
terms of dissent. For African Americans in particular the issues were many.
The entire expansionist enterprise had begun amid the hopeful talk of “lib-
erating” the Spanish colonies and of the fruits to be won for blacks on the
proving-ground of national belonging, the battlefield. Powerful sentiments
regarding the “duties” of citizenship died hard and only unevenly once the
cause of liberation had given way to the quest for domination. For some,
most disconcerting was the evident reconciliation of the white North and the
white South as they faced the external enemies of Spain and—especially—
the Filipinos. As the editor of the Norfolk Recorder worried in the summer of
1898, “The closer the North and South get together by this war, the harder


[the Negro) will have to fight to maintain a footing.” The Indianapolis Free-
man likewise hoped that “in the great act of complete conciliation between
north and south . .. the Negroes will not be ground to dust between the up-
per and nether millstone of national cohesion.” Imperialism constituted a
rather foreboding coda to the War Between the States. Nor did it ease the
tensions within African American political discussion that the Republicans,
the long-beloved party of Lincoln, now championed a new racial oppression
in the form of American empire, while the hated Democrats represented the
legitimate opposition.

There was also significant disagreement over what, precisely, American
empire would mean for the annexed territories. Some saw the islands of the
Caribbean and the Pacific as an attractive refuge for persecuted blacks from
the American South, and backed various programs of U.S. annexation and
black resettlement; others were certain that it was only a matter of time be-
fore American patterns of racial hatred and violence tainted the onetime
racial calm of these tropical paradises. Still others, like journalist Ida B.
Wells, felt that, whatever the outcomes in places like Cuba and the Philip-
pines, the United States had no business assuming burdens of any kind
abroad until it could protect blacks from lynch mobs here at home. And
some, particularly after U.S. control of the islands was a fait accompli, voiced
a dim hope that in further diversifying its population the United States
might overcome once and for all the harsh white-over-black dynamics of its
civic and social life.

But whatever the particulars of their stance on imperialism, most
African Americans did have to reckon in some fashion with the scissor grip
of their own racial identity and civic aspirations on the one hand, and the
ever-sharpening affinity between American nationalism and white suprema-
cism on the other. As the election of 1900 approached, Howard University
sociologist Kelly Miller asked, “Will the Negro stultify himself” by endors-
ing the self-aggrandizing designs of American nationalism, “and become
part of the movement which must end in his own humiliation?” It was this
inevitable racial lens, and the tremendously high stakes of the imperialism
debate for American blacks, that lent such power and urgency to much
African American anti-imperialism.


Among the most common concerns expressed by black dissenters was
that, in this period of Jim Crow legislation, massive disenfranchisement, and
rampant antiblack violence and lynching at home, the United States was
simply going to export a bitter cargo of Mississippi- or Louisiana-style racial
practices abroad. This became a running theme in African American com-
mentary, beginning with the annexation of Hawaii, which Richmond Planet
editor John Mitchell characterized immediately as “The Rape of the Islands.”
The “black natives of the Hawaiian islands,” as one black writer in Colorado
called them, would soon enough “wish the infernal regions to open and re-
ceive them rather than bear the torments, persecutions and abuses” that U.S.
hegemony surely held in store for them. The same argument quickly applied
to the former Spanish colonies as well. “The color line is being lastly drawn
here,” one black missionary wrote from Cuba in the summer of 1898, “and
the Cubans {are) abused as Negroes.” In the Philippines, meanwhile, white
American soldiers’ treatment of Filipinos and black American soldiers (all of
whom they routinely lumped together as “niggers”) prompted one black sol-
dier to comment that it was “enough to make a colored man hate the flag of
the United States.” In addition to the widespread and widely reported sav-
agery in the U.S. conduct of the war against this “dark-hued” foe, blacks ob-
jected to the daily slights presented by the establishment of “white-only”
accommodations for the American military, or popular soldiers’ ballads like
“I Don’t Like a Nigger Nohow.”

Comment on the nation’s racially freighted policy in the Philippines was
constant and quite sharp among black journalists and clergy. “We would
rather be called traitors,” declared the Chicago Broad Ax, flatly, “than permit
ourselves to shoulder a musket for the purpose of deliberately murdering Fil-
ipinos who are fighting for liberty and independence.” To black missionary
H.C.C. Astwood, U.S. imperialism was a “diabolical outrage”: “American
manliness and the spirit of the fathers are trampled under the feet of the im-
perialists,” he wrote. Early on in the war against the Philippines, Edward
Cooper, editor of the Colored American, had noted that a comparison between
the “enlightened civilization” of the United States and the “customs of bar-
barians” in the Philippines would “not appear to our advantage.” John
Mitchell of the Planet also sighed with notable irony, “With the government
acquiescing in the oppression and butchery of a dark race in this country and


the enslaving and slaughtering of a dark race in the Philippines, we think it
time to call all missionaries home and have them work on our own people.”

As the election of 1900 neared, a group of black Democrats issued a
public anti-imperialist statement under the aegis of the Negro National
Democratic League. “We insist that the subjugation of any people is ‘crimi-
nal aggression,’ ” the league announced. “Whether the people who will be af-
fected by such a policy be or consider themselves Negroes is of but little
moment. They are by nature entitled to liberty and freedom. We being an
oppressed people … should be the ‘loudest in our protestations against the
oppression of others.’ ”

Nor were such bitter critiques limited to those who observed far-off
events from the vantage point of the U.S. mainland: African American sol-
diers in the field were perhaps even more appalled by the racist sentiments
and deeds they witnessed among their white fellow soldiers, and they often
denounced quite sharply the policy of expansion whose battle lines they were
defending. By mid-1900, there were over two thousand black regulars serv-
ing in the Philippines, including two Negro volunteer regiments, the Forty-
eighth and Forty-ninth Infantry, who had been recruited specifically for
service there. “The whites have begun to establish their diabolical race ha-
tred in all its home rancor,” reported one black infantryman, noting that
white Americans had even endeavored “to propagate the (race) phobia
among the Spaniards and Filipinos so as to be sure of the foundation of their
supremacy when the civil rule … is established.”

In a letter reprinted in the Cleveland Gazette, another complained, “The

poor whites don’t believe that anyone has a right to live but the white Amer-
ican, or to enjoy any rights or privileges that the white man enjoys.” “I have
mingled freely with the natives,” wrote another,

and l must confess they have a just grievance. All this never would have oc-
curred if the army of occupation would have treated them as people. The
Spaniards, even if their laws were hard, were polite and treated them with
some consideration; but the Americans, as soon as they saw that the native
troops were desirous of sharing in the glories as well as the hardships of the
hard-won battles with the Americans, began to apply home treatment for col-
ored peoples: cursed them as damned niggers.


As for the approaching election in the United States, “Party be damned!” he
wrote of the so-called Party of Lincoln. “We don’t want these islands, not in
the way we are to get them, and for Heaven’s sake, put the party in power
that pledged itself against this highway robbery. Expansion is too clean a
name for it.” In the Savannah Tribune, even one soldier who persisted in see-
ing the Philippines as offering “the best opportunities of the century” for
“our people” had to concede that “color prejudice has kept close in the wake
of the flag.”

Instances of black desertion to join the Filipino insurgents numbered
only about a dozen, yet these received considerable attention among white
officials and in the press. White deserters, reported New York Herald journal-
ist Stephen Bonsai, were most often merely “lazy and idle,” whereas black
deserters were far more likely to leave U.S. ranks for ideological reasons, or
even to jump sides. The most notorious of these cases was David Fagen of the
Twenty-fourth Infantry, who deserted in November 1899, evidently after
coming across a placard from Aguinaldo addressed “To the Colored Ameri-
can Soldier.” “It is without honor that you are spilling your costly blood,”
such broadsides proclaimed. “You must consider your situation and your his-
tory, and take charge that the blood … of Sam Hose proclaims vengeance.”
(Sam Hose had been the victim of a particularly gruesome and infamous
lynching in Coweta County, Georgia, earlier that year.)

Fagen took a commission in the insurgent army and appealed to other
black soldiers to do the same. When Fagen’s (Filipino) outfit surrendered in
1901, the American escaped, becoming the subject of wild rumor and spec-
ulation on both sides of the Pacific. General Funston put a $600 bounty on
him, and took great pleasure in Fagen’s capture and beheading at the hands
of a Filipino scout in late 1901. “Fagen was a traitor and died a traitor’s
death,” opined one black editor in Indianapolis; “but,” he went on, reflecting
African Americans’ inherent ambivalence during this war for Anglo-Saxon
glory, “he was a man no doubt prompted by honest motives to help a weaker
side, and one with which he felt allied by ties that bind.”

The issues confronting recently arrived immigrants from Europe during
this period may not have been so highly charged or, ultimately, so fraught
with peril as for American blacks, whose rights and personal safety at home
were under siege just as the United States embarked on this imperialist ad-


venture among the “savages” overseas. But as non-Anglo-Saxons in the midst
of this national crusade for Anglo-Saxon supremacy, immigrants did share
some fundamental concerns with African Americans, and much immigrant
commentary echoed precisely the concerns and the sensibilities voiced in the
black press and in letters from black soldiers. Like African Americans, many
immigrants had been drawn to the initial humanitarian and liberatory
rhetoric of McKinley’s war against Spain, and they, too, were stunned to find
themselves on the aggressing end of a war for “Anglo-Saxon” conquest. One
Polish American journal summed up its view of Cuban “liberation” in a
front-page cartoon in 1900: a Cuban is seated on a bench reading a newspa-
per; a poster behind him proclaims that the U.S. Army will remain in Cuba
only until law and order reign, while the blaring headlines of his newspaper
announce various lynchings across the United States. Remarks the Cuban,
“When I read of these atrocities, I come to the conclusion that my old,
bloody friend Weyler is now the chief commander of the United States.”

Like many African Americans, immigrants from Europe’s underdog na-
tions expressed a profound sympathy with the oppressed inhabitants of the
Pacific and Caribbean islands, no matter that it was suddenly their adopted
country that was now doing the oppressing. “Those miserable foreigners in
Manila, Cuba, Porto Rico or wherever you please,” wrote Irish nationalist
James Jeffrey Roche, “if they are not ready to accept and adopt every ‘Yankee
notion’ offered them, are manifestly unfit for self-government, and our
equally manifest duty and destiny is to pitchfork our institutions down their
throats, or, failing that, to govern them ourselves in the good old, time-
honored ‘Anglo-Saxon’ way.” Thus were the natural interests of Filipinos,
Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic at once
comprehended and articulated as being in wonderful alignment.

Roche also gave the lie to the American pretentions toward “civilizing”
the savages in a fetching little piece of doggerel, which he cast as an ex-
change between Uncle Sam, who is “green” when it comes to the business of
empire, and John Bull, his mentor:

Said Samuel Green, a ‘prentice hand,
“I don’t exactly understand.
Suppose this heathen locks his store,


And don’t give us an open door.”
But Burglar Bull he winked his eye:
“Open a winder then, says I.
And if he kicks when we surprise him,
Let’s take our clubs and civilize him!”

Chief among the political accents in immigrant discussion of American
policy was Old World nationalism—a sense that the injuries and woes of an
Ireland or a Poland could shed an unerring light on the plight of a Cuba or a
Philippine archipelago. When Father McKinnon, the chaplain of the First
California Volunteer Regiment, lectured in favor of American expansionism
on the grounds that Filipinos were incapable of “understanding what free-
dom means,” he was heckled for making “the English argument.” “Why
shouldn’t they be free?” one member of his largely Irish New York audience
shouted before being escorted from the hall. Patrick Ford, the fiery editor
of the Irish World, continually condemned U.S. policy in the unmistakable
strains of a liberatory philosophy developed under the Saxon’s heel in Ire-
land. “Today the Filipinos are treated in their own country by their would-be
foreign masters the same way the Irish were treated by the English in 1798,”
wrote Ford. “Like the Irish, they see their religion insulted and their most
sacred rights infringed on by insolent foreigners, who are trying to steal their
country from them. They would be deserving of contempt if they did not re-
sist to the last the ‘benevolent assimilation’ William McKinley would force
upon them.” It also seems to have been a feeling of affinity with the Fil-
ipinos, based in part upon an admiration for their dauntless spirit of rebel-
lion, that led Irish American soldiers in the Philippines to nickname the
insurgents, almost affectionately, “the smoked Irish” and “the O’Hoolies.”

Poles, too, invoked the plight of their homeland (then partitioned
among Prussia, Russia, and Austria) in denouncing American policy toward
the former Spanish colonies. Dziennik Chicagoski decried the self-proclaimed
U.S. role as “culture-bearers” (kulturtraegerzy) in the Philippines, employing
a word whose German root implicitly likened McKinley’s policies to Bis-
marck’s anti-Catholic and Slavophobic Kulturkampf policies in Prussian
Poland. The journal further questioned the logic by which the United States

• 255

seemed willing to kill off half of the Filipino population in order to “lift” the
other half out of “barbarism.” In Manila, as in Poland, violence and victim-
ization seemed to be among the chief blessings of “civilization” and “culture-
bearing.” In Zgoda, the Chicago-based organ of the Polish National Alliance,
Stefan Barszczewski likewise argued that “the Filipinos are defending their
independence, and our government should not be treating them as it is.” “It
could very well be that the Filipinos are completely incapable of self-
government,” he conceded; “but that does not exclude their right of fighting
for the liberty of their native land.” Like Ford, Roche, and other nationalists
from Ireland, Barszczewski set his compass on the imperialism question ac-
cording to the lights of an Old World struggle whose own racial logic—in
this case Teuton versus Slav—had proscribed the cultural practices and de-
fined the rights of an oppressed majority.

Unlike African Americans, however, Europeans could find an alternative
location for themselves on the racially keyed map of New World political
identity: if their status as non-Anglo-Saxons in some instances gave rise to a
fierce dissent against the brute Anglo-Saxonist arrogance of U.S. conduct,
their status as “whites” also offered a way comfortably to embrace their
adopted country’s aggrandizing mission as their own. The limits of political
affinity among European immigrants and the Filipinos were indicated most
suggestively in an editorial in Milwaukee’s Kuryer Polski soon after fighting
had broken out in Manila in 1899. “For us Poles, this war is not necessarily
pleasant,” wrote Michael Kruszka. “Traditionally we always stand on the side
of the oppressed; since we have repeatedly taken up arms in defense of our in-
dependence, we naturally sympathize with all other peoples struggling for
independence—even if they be half-savage Malays.” Kruszka’s “even if” here
points up the possibility of the immigrants’ accepting the racialist terms of
imperial discourse, although they themselves were the subject of like preju-
dices on the part of German or English rulers on one side of the Atlantic and
American rulers like Henry Cabot Lodge on the other. Kruszka ultimately
decided that, since the Filipinos came nowhere near the Poles in terms of
“civilization,” they could indeed benefit from the stewardship of a country
like the United States.

Many immigrant commentators went even further down this road than


Michael Kruszka. Indeed, the discourse of empire, though premised on pre-
cisely the same racial principles of republican exclusivity as immigration
restriction, worked considerable magic in transforming unwanted immi-
grants—as “white” Europeans—into the very stuff of good American citi-
zenship. In a piece titled “Why We Don’t Want the Philippines,” the Irish
American editor of the Catholic Citizen, Humphrey Desmond, advanced the
familiar argument that imperialism would mean “American citizenship is to
be diluted by Malay citizenship, and that America’s democracy is to stand
the trial of working itself out among inferior people.” Elsewhere he had in-
sisted that “our acquisitions should be civilized Caucasian communities,
such as can adapt to our democratic system.” The Lower East Side’s Yiddishes
Tageblatt, too, likened the Filipino insurgents to the Biblical Levites, who,
bedazzled by their newfound freedom, had mistaken Moses, their beneficent
liberator, for an enemy. Just so, Aguinaldo and his followers were “so savage
and confused by their freedom that they do not recognize their liberators and
their friends.” And even the generally sympathetic Boston Pilot could lapse
into the white-supremacist logic so common in American anti-imperialism:
“‘The Philippine vote’ will become an important, possibly a decisive, factor
in a national election. Dost like the picture?”

Central to discussion of the United States’ “large policies” abroad, the
capabilities and rights of the natives of the new island possessions, and, if
only by inference, the civic standing of non-Anglo-Saxons within the Amer-
ican polity, then, was the notion of the “White Man’s Burden.” Rudyard
Kipling’s noxious poem of that title had exhorted Americans to assume the
British imperial mantle of white supremacy and to govern these islands’
“newcaught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child.” Could the republican
imperative of reasoned self-government be squared with the nation’s taking
on several million imperial wards? And what of the “ties that bind,” as the
Indianapolis Freeman had put it, which united non-Anglo-Saxons within the
American polity with the new, non-Anglo-Saxon wards of the state in
Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines? What did McKinley’s no-
tion of “benevolent assimilation” abroad portend for the inclusion of the so-
called inferior races—whether Negro, Celt, Slav, or Hebrew—within U.S.
borders? Just what sort of transformation was American citizenship undergo-


In response to Kipling, H. T. Johnson, a black clergyman and editor of
the Christian Recorder, protested that imperialism constituted a burden not
for the white man but for the black:

Pile on the Black Man’s Burden.
‘Tis nearest at your door;

Why heed long bleeding Cuba,
or dark Hawaii’s shore?

Hail ye your fearless armies,
Which menace feeble folks

Who fight with clubs and arrows
and brook your rifle’s smoke.

For his part, James Jeffrey Roche quipped, “The ‘White Man’s Burden’ … is
never so heavy that he cannot carry it out of the door or window of the house
which he has just burglarized.” Roche, like so many of his Celtic compatri-
ots, and like so many other non-Anglo-Saxons now on the American scene,
thought he knew a larceny when he saw one.

A popular book on the territories of expansionist concern appeared at the
turn of the century under the title Our New Island Treasures and Their Peoples.
As historian Oscar Campomanes has remarked, the title tells all: the frankly
economic rendering of the islands as “treasures” nicely conveys U.S. aspira-
tion in these regions, while the logical bifurcation between possession and
rejection—”our” islands and “their” peoples—indicates a major source of
American ambivalence, a hangover from the days of “the winning of the
West.” What happens when “waste spaces” turn out to be populated? Can
territories be taken and their peoples disowned? What is the desirable polit-
ical status of those who happen to inhabit “our treasures”?

Like the “winning of the West,” the extension of American power into
the Caribbean and the Pacific required a very particular pattern of certainties
regarding the relative merit of diverse cultures and humanity’s prospects for
self-governance. Summing up the Supreme Court’s ruling in the so-called in-
sular cases (a series of cases determining the rules under which persons and
commodities could move between the new possessions and the United


States), William Howard Taft quipped, four of the judges ruled that the
Constitution does follow the flag, four ruled that it does not, and the ninth
ruled that it sometimes follows the flag and sometimes does not, and he
would determine which is which.

Nor did questions of U.S. expansion and the fate of subjected peoples
end with the territories ceded by Spain. In his annual message of 1901,
Teddy Roosevelt declared that intervention among “barbarous and semi-
barbarous peoples” was “a most regrettable but necessary international police
duty which must be performed for the sake of the welfare of mankind.” In-
deed, his “corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine extended to the entire hemi-
sphere precisely the principle that the United States had developed in
Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in the preceding years: the
right of the United States to control strategic areas in the Caribbean and the
Americas without opening itself up to the perceived hazards of annexing any
alien or barbarous populations.

As Roosevelt wrote in a letter to the Senate regarding U.S. conduct in
Santo Domingo and Haiti, “Our position is explicitly and unreservedly that
under no circumstances do we intend to acquire [these territories)…. Even
if the two republics desired to become a part of the United States, the United
States would certainly refuse its assent.” But when it came to collecting cus-
toms receipts or maintaining the “stability” necessary for American business
transactions, the sovereignty of the republics was of relatively little concern.
The United States intervened in Santo Domingo in 1904, sent a commission
in 1908, and established a military government in 1916. As one American
observer wrote in 1920, “The Government of Santo Domingo has been ab-
solutely in the hands of the military forces of the United States” since No-
vember 1916. “How absolutely one is not prepared to appreciate until one
goes to the country. A Rear Admiral of the United States Navy is the Presi-
dent of the republic, and his cabinet is made up of officers of the United
States Marine Corps. There is no semblance of a Dominican legislative body.”

Similarly, the United States undertook the occupation of Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, in 1915, ostensibly “to help the Haitian people and prevent them
from being exploited by irresponsible revolutionists.” Invoking Haiti’s
proud history as a free republic, Booker T. Washington warned that “the


white men sent [by the United States] must be able to be white men in a
black man’s country if their work is to be fundamental.” But the United
States disregarded Haiti’s traditions of governance and its long-standing
Constitution, hand-picking instead a puppet regime; and Americans demon-
strated little respect for the individual inhabitants of the black republic. As
one editorial in Outlook put it, the Haitians evidently attempted to receive
the Americans as friends, but “the troops apparently treated the Haitians as

As the prominent black Philadelphian Chris J. Perry had predicted back
at the turn of the century, the scourge of the Cubans was going to turn out to
be more deadly than scorpions: Americans would block Cuban indepen-
dence, he warned, “by alleging a desire to teach her people self-government.”
The “Anglo-Saxon begins with you by an appeal to heaven to witness his in-
nocence and honesty, and ends by ‘stealing your spoons.’ ” By the era of the
Great War, the regime of the Platt Amendment, diverse in its formal struc-
tures but the same in its effects, had been extended across the nation’s “new
frontiers” in the Caribbean and the Pacific. While Woodrow Wilson was
busy making the world safe for democracy in the wake of the war, the de jure
president of the Dominican Republic went to the Paris peace conference to
present his country’s case, fully expecting that amid all the talk about self-
determination and the integrity of territories the League of Nations might
extend benevolent supervision to the Western Hemisphere. “Mr. Wilson,” as
The Nation reported, “could not find time to see him.”

• • • •

Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). See also Marc Schell and Werner
Sollors, eds., Multilingnal America (New York: New York University Press, 1998),
and Robert Park, The Immigrant Press and Its Control (New York: Harper and Broth-
ers, 1922). Robert Di Pietro and Edward Ifkovic, eds., Ethnic Perspectives in American
Literature: Selected Essays on the European Contribution (New York: MLA, 1983), pro-
vides compact sketches of various national and ethnic literary traditions. Various
ethnic political traditions are captured in John Higham, ed., Ethnic Leadership in
America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), and Victor
Greene, American Immigrant Leaders, 1800-1910: Marginality and Identity (Baltimore,
Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987). David Gutierrez, Walls and Mirrors:
Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants. and the Politics of Ethnicity (Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1995), offers a rich analysis of immigrant political sensibili-
ties and voices. On immigrant nationalisms, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Special
Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish. Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United
States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995); Kerby A. Miller, Emi-
grants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1985); Thomas N. Brown, Irish-American Nationalism, 1870-1890
(Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980); James Paul Rodechko, Patrick Ford and
His Search for America: A Case Study of Irish-American Journalism (New York: Arno,
1976); Michael Hunt, The Making of a Special Relationship: The United States and
China to 1914 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); and Victor Greene,
For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America.
1860-1910 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975). Susanne Klingenstein,
Jews in the American Academy: The Dynamics of Intellectual Assimilation (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1991), is a very solid case study of the intellectual history of


Good general treatments of imperialism and race in the texture of American po-
litical thought at the turn of the century include Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwin-
ism in American Thought [1944) (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955); Thomas Dyer, Theodore
Roosevelt and the Idea of Race (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press, 1980); David Healy, U.S.
Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890s (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1970); Kaplan and Pease, eds., Cultures of United States Imperialism; and
Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America [1963) (New York: Schocken,
1965). On the specifics of various interventions abroad, in addition to those cited
in the bibliography for chapter 1 above, see Oscar Campomanes, “Filipino-American
Post-Coloniality and the U.S.-Philippines War of 1898 to 1910s,” (unpublished


Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 1999); Reynaldo Ileto, Payson and Revolu-
tion: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 (Quezon City, 1979); Stuart
Creighton Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines,
1899-1903 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Vincente Rafael, Discrepant
Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
1995); H. W. Brands, Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Richard Welch, Response to Imperialism: The
United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1979); Ernest May, Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of Amer-
ica as a Great Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1961); Philip S. Foner, The Spanish-
Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism, 1895-1902 (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1972); Jeffrey Belknap and Raul Fernandez,JoséMartf’s “Our
America”: From National to Hemispheric Cultural Studies (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 1998); Louis Perez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1995); Kelvin Santiago-Valles, “Subject People” and Colonial
Discourses: Economic Transformation and Social Disorder in Puerto Rico, 1898-1947 (Al-
bany: State University of New York Press, 1994); Gavan Daws, Shoal of Time: A
History of the Hawaiian Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1968); Lili-
uokalani, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen [1898) (Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle, 1964); and
Rubin Weston, Racism in U.S. Imperialism: The Influence of Racial Assumptions on Amer-
ican Foreign Policy, 1893-1946 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press,
1972). Radical History Review, Winter 1999, devoted an entire issue to the U.S. in-
terventions of 1898 and 1899. Gary Okihiro, Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in
American History and Culture (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), and
Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke
University Press, 1996), are particularly insightful analyses of the ways in which
Asian American history and the figure of the Asian American illuminate the dy-
namic relationship between global politics and U.S. domestic political culture.

On various brands of anti-imperialism in the United States, see Daniel
Schirmer, Republic or Empire?: American Resistance to the Philippine War (Cambridge,

Mass.: Schenckman, 1972); Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-
Imperialists, 1898-1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968); E. Berkeley Tompkins,
Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate, 1890-1920 (Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970); Jim Zwick, ed., Mark Twain’s Weapons of

Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syra-

cuse University Press, 1992); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Special Sorrows: The Diasporic
Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States (Cambridge,

Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995); David Noel Doyle, Irish Americans: Native

Rights and National Empires: The Structure, Divisions, and Attitudes of the Catholic Mi-

• •

nority in the Decade of Expansion, 1890-1901 (New York: Arno Press, 1976); Christo-
pher Lasch, “The Anti-Imperialist as Racist,” in Thomas Paterson, ed., American Im-
perialism and Anti-Imperialism (New York: Crowell, 1973); Richard Welch, “Twelve
Anti-Imperialists and Anti-Imperialists Compared,” in ibid.; Willard B. Gatewood,
Jr., Black Americans and the “White Man’s Burden,” 1898-1903 (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1975); and Gatewood, Jr., ed., “Smoked Yankees” and the Struggle for Em-
pire: Letters from Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,

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