we are a conquering race -- 10/21/15

Today's selection -- from The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman. The year 1898 was a watershed moment in American history, since it brought the Spanish American War and the capture of the Philippines as the first American colony. It was America's first halting step toward becoming an empire. Yet many Americans were appalled and as a result galvanized into an "Anti-Imperialist" League:

"War was declared on April 25, 1898. ... On April 30 Commodore Dewey's squadron steamed into Manila Bay and with a day's bombardment, loosed by the classic order, 'You may fire when ready, Gridley,' destroyed or put out of action the Spanish squadron and shore batteries. Never had the country felt such a thrill of pride. GREATEST NAVAL ENGAGEMENT OF MODERN TIMES was one headline. It faced the country suddenly with a new problem which none but a few had thought of: What to do next? The American people on the whole, as Mr. Dooley said, did not know whether the Philippines were islands or canned goods, and even McKinley confessed 'he could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles.' The disciples of [U.S. Admiral Alfred] Mahan knew well enough where they were and what must become of them. Within four days of Dewey's victory, [Senate majority leader Henry Cabot] Lodge wrote, 'We must on no account let the islands go .... The American flag is up and it must stay.' Since there had been a Filipino independence movement in existence for thirty years, for which many had fought and suffered prison, exile and death, Senator Lodge's simple solution took little account of the consent of the governed. Its leader was Emilio Aguinaldo, a young man of twenty-eight who had been in exile in Hong Kong. Upon Dewey's victory, he had returned at once to the Philippines.

"In America the outbreak of a war to be carried to the enemy and posing no danger to the homeland did not silence its opponents but galvanized them. Suddenly they became an entity with a name: the Anti-Imperialists. [Harvard] Professor [Charles Eliot] Norton, now over seventy, brought upon himself torrents of abuse and threats of violence to his house and person by urging his students not to enlist in a war in which 'we jettison all that was most precious of our national cargo.' Although a Boston Irish politician proposed to send a lynching party for him and the press called him a 'traitor' and even Senator Hoar of Massachusetts denounced him, Norton's grief at his country's course was too great to be contained. At a meeting of the Congregational Church in Cambridge he spoke of how bitter it was that now, at the end of a century which had seen the greatest advance in knowledge and the hope of peace, America should be turning against her ideals and 'plunging into an unrighteous war.'

"Others in Boston spoke out. Moorfield Storey, president of the Massachusetts Reform Club and Civil Service Reform League, and a former president of the American Bar Association, was one; Gamaliel Bradford, a rampant critic of government known for his one-man crusades through a flow of letters to newspapers, was another. The first Story (minus the e) had settled in Massachusetts in 1635 and Bradford was descended from the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony. Together they assembled a meeting of protest at Faneuil Hall, and here on June 15, 1898, three days after Aguinaldo in the, Philippines issued a declaration of independence, the Anti-Imperialist League was founded. Its president was the eighty-year-old Republican George S. Boutwell, former Senator from Massachusetts and former Secretary of the Treasury under President Grant. Its stated purpose was not to oppose the war as such, but to insist that having been undertaken as a war of liberation, it must not be turned into one for empire. ...

"Reformers ... now banded together under the banner of the [Anti-Imperialist] League. Its forty-one vice-presidents soon included ex-President Cleveland; his former Secretary of War, William Endicott; former Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker Carlisle; Senator 'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman; President David Starr Jordan, of Stanford; President James B. Angell, of the University of Michigan; Jane Addams; Andrew Carnegie; William James; Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, and numbers of other Congressmen, clergymen, professors, lawyers and writers. The novelist William Dean Howells thought the war 'an abominable business.' When his friend Mark Twain came home from an extended trip abroad, he too became a member of the League. ...

"[But many] were imbued with a fever to fight Spain as a cruel European tyrant stamping out liberty at America's doorstep. ... The taste of empire, the rising blood of nationalism expressed in terms of wide-flung dominion, found in Albert Beveridge its most thrilling trumpet. Like Bryan, he possessed that dangerous talent for oratory which can simulate action and even thought. The war sent Beveridge into transports of excitement.

"'We are a conquering race,' he proclaimed in Boston in April, even before the victory of Manila Bay. 'We must obey our blood and occupy new markets and if necessary new lands. . . . In the Almighty's infinite plan . . . debased civilizations and decaying races' were to disappear 'before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.' Pan-Germans in Berlin and Joseph Chamberlain in England also talked of the mission of the superior race, variously Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon, but Beveridge had nothing to learn from them; it was all his own. He saw in present events 'the progress of a mighty people and their free institutions' and the fulfillment of the dream 'that God had put in the brain' of Jefferson, Hamilton, John Bright, Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant and other 'imperial intellects'; the dream 'of American expansion until all the seas shall bloom with that flower of liberty, the flag of the great Republic.' "


Barbara W. Tuchman


The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914


Random House Trade Paperbacks


Copyright 1962, 1963, 1965 by Barbara W. Tuchman


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