George Hoar

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"I can see no difference in the lynching of a Southern [African American] postmaster and lynching [the Filipinos] because they think a government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and got those ideas from the Constitution of the United States."

George Hoar quoted in Twelve Against Empire.

George Hoar

Born August 29, 1826
Concord, Massachusetts
Died September 30, 1904
Worcester, Massachusetts

American politician

Before the Spanish-American War (April-August 1898), the domain of the United States stretched no farther then the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the borders of Canada and Mexico. Led by President William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry), the United States ended the war by acquiring the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, Guam in the Pacific Ocean, and the Philippines in Asia, and by establishing military control over newly independent Cuba. McKinley's Republican Party led this mission of imperialism, or control of foreign people who lack representation in government. By acquiring colonies, many Americans hoped to provide foreign markets for their manufactured goods.

In the nineteenth century, Massachusetts was one of America's industrial centers, particularly in the manufacture of shoes and textiles. Yet one of the most vocal opponents of the Republican Party's imperialistic policies was an otherwise loyal Republican senator from Massachusetts. His name was George "Frisbie" Hoar, and his crusade against imperialism put personal values ahead of party loyalty.


George Frisbie Hoar was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1826. Fifty-one years earlier, at North Bridge, three of Hoar's ancestors had fought in the second battle of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). In 1776, Hoar's grandfather, Roger Sherman, was one of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence. This connection with history helped Hoar develop a love for democracy, upon which he believed the country had been founded.

Hoar grew up in Concord with four older siblings in a hard-working New England family. His father, Samuel Hoar, was a successful attorney. His mother, Sarah (Sherman) Hoar, founded a school to teach reading and sewing to African American children in New Haven, Connecticut. George shared his mother's respect for education and acceptance of people of different races.

Attorney and politician

After graduating from Harvard University with both an undergraduate degree in 1846 and a law degree in 1949, Hoar opened a law practice in Worcester, Massachusetts. The debate over slavery that would lead to the American Civil War (1861-65) in 1861 was heating up at the time. The Free Soil Party had formed in 1848 to give people an alternative to the Whig Party, which did not oppose the extension of slavery into new American territories in the West. Free Soilers opposed slavery, mostly because it was hard for non-slaveowners to compete against farms and businesses that used slaves for labor. Hoar, however, thought slavery was immoral.

"Frisbie," as Hoar's friends called him, spent twenty years practicing law in Worcester, a town he would call home until he died. In 1852, at age twenty-five, Hoar spent one term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a member of the Free Soil Party. In 1857 he served a term in the state senate as a member of the Republican Party, which had recently formed to replace the Free Soil Party. To Hoar's great approval, the Republican Party made morality part of its opposition to slavery while also seeking to protect the interests of businesses in the North.

From the House to the Senate

In 1869, the people of Massachusetts elected Hoar to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served four terms there until his election in 1877 to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1904. As a Republican, Hoar voted in favor of measures to build American industries and to protect them from foreign competition. He believed that hard work in a system of capitalism (an economic system where goods are owned by private businesses and price, production, and distribution are privately determined based on competition in a free market) was God's plan for the progress of civilization.

Yet Hoar also supported a number of social and economic policies that were more popular with the Democratic Party than with his colleagues. Viewing education as the key to personal improvement, Hoar proposed a national plan for public education, especially to help newly freed slaves in the South. (Congress did not pass his plan, however.) Hoar also supported the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was designed to prevent businesses from getting big enough to reduce competition. He also supported the right of women to vote and the right of workers to form labor unions to bargain for fair working conditions. Thanks to his positions on these issues, Hoar became known as a "Half-Breed Republican."

The Spanish-American War

Spain faced a rebellion in its colony of Cuba beginning in February 1895. Led by General Máximo Gómez y Báez (1836-1905; see entry), the Cuban rebels wanted freedom to govern their country and control their economic and foreign trade policies. While both sides engaged in violent tactics, newspapers in the United States focused on the Spanish practice of executing prisoners and imprisoning civilians in concentration camps, where hundreds of thousands died from starvation and disease. This swayed Americans to favor the Cubans and call for war with Spain.

Senator Hoar resisted war. Publicly, he said the United States should negotiate for peace, as President McKinley was doing. Privately, he knew that Boston capitalists opposed war, because war might upset the strong U.S. economy, which had finally recovered from the severe depression of 1893. In December 1897, Hoar asked Boston business leader T. Jefferson Coolidge to rally Bostonians to contribute to a presidential relief fund for starving Cubans. Hoar hoped the fund would help the United States stay out the war while still expressing sympathy for the oppressed.

On February 15, 1898, the U.S. warship Maine exploded mysteriously in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, killing more than 250 people aboard. A U.S. naval investigation concluded that a mine had caused the explosion, but the naval court could not assign blame for the incident. Frenzied Americans blamed Spain and cried "Remember the Maine " to push McKinley to declare war. In this environment, the American business community finally came to support U.S. intervention in the war. On April 11, McKinley asked Congress to give him authority to use American forces to send Spain back to Europe.

Loyal to his party whenever his conscience did not strongly object, Hoar publicly supported McKinley's decision to go to war. He also supported the Teller Amendment, a statement by Congress that the United States intended to leave Cuba to govern itself after securing peace for the island. Yet Hoar refused to support a resolution recognizing the Cuban government as legitimate, and when the Senate met on April 25 to officially declare war, Hoar was absent.

The annexation of Hawaii

McKinley used the war as an opportunity to seize the independent country of Hawaii for the United States. American naval action against Spain in the Philippines (located south of China) on May 1 made Hawaii appear to be a valuable stepping stone to Asia. Moreover, American businesses, especially the sugar, pineapple, and banana industries, would profit greatly from U.S. control of the Hawaiian islands. The capitalist Hawaiian government—run by Sanford B. Dole, who had organized a revolt against the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893—was favorable to American intervention, although the majority of native Hawaiians opposed it.

Senator Hoar had great concerns about taking Hawaii. In December 1897, he had submitted a petition to Congress opposing annexation (adding territory to an existing country) that had been signed by more than twenty-one thousand Hawaiians. Hoar saw annexation as the first step on the path to U.S. imperialism. This path might open wide if the United States won the war with Spain, which had colonies around the globe. In a conversation in the summer of 1898, McKinley assured Hoar that he wanted only to protect Hawaii from Japan, which had its eye on the islands, and had no intention of using its annexation to begin to build a global empire.

In a speech before the Senate on July 5, 1898, Hoar revealed that he would support the resolution to annex Hawaii. According to Frederick H. Gillett in George Frisbie Hoar, however, Hoar warned the country not to look beyond Hawaii for other possessions:

If this be the first step in the acquisition of barbarous archipelagoes [large group of islands] in distant seas; if we are to enter into competition with the great powers of Europe in the plundering of China, in the division of Africa; if we are to quit our own to stand on foreign lands; if our commerce is hereafter to be forced on unwilling people at the cannon's mouth; if we are ourselves to be governed in part by peoples to whom the Declaration of Independence is a stranger; or worse still, if we are to govern subject and vassal states, trampling, as we do it, on our own great character which recognizes alike the liberty and the dignity of individual manhood, then let us resist this thing in the beginning, and let us resist it to the death. I do not agree with those gentlemen who think we should wrest the Philippine Islands from Spain and take charge of them ourselves.

The Treaty of Paris

Fighting between Spain and the United States ended on August 13, 1898, the day after the two countries signed a peace protocol. The U.S. Navy had defeated Spain at Manila in the Philippines and at Santiago in Cuba. These victories allowed the U.S. Army to force surrenders at both islands, as well as at the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico. In addition, the U.S. Army had captured the Pacific island of Guam on its way to reinforce the U.S. Navy in the Philippines.

The peace protocol forced Spain to give freedom to Cuba and to give Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. The fate of the Philippines would be decided later in treaty negotiations in Paris beginning October 1. To represent the United States, McKinley appointed five members to a peace commission: three imperialists, one moderate, and only one anti-imperialist. Filipinos were not invited to the negotiations, even though they had been fighting for independence from Spain. Despite this fact, and contrary to his promise to Hoar, McKinley said Americans had a duty first to Christianize (teach the ways of the Christian religion) and educate the Filipinos before leaving them to govern themselves.

Hoar opposed colonization of the Philippines. He believed that under the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, governments get their power only from the consent of the governed. Seizing a foreign colony that wanted to govern itself would violate the very principle of democracy upon which the United States had separated itself from Great Britain in 1776. Indeed, Hoar compared imperialism to slavery, saying that neither should exist in a free society.

Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris to end the war on December 10, 1898. Spain agreed to sell the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. (The United States got Puerto Rico and Guam at no charge to compensate for its war expenses.) Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate had to ratify the treaty by a two-thirds majority before it could become American law. A majority of American business journals published that winter favored ratification.

The battle for ratification

McKinley submitted the treaty to the Senate on January 4, 1899. Five days later, Hoar spoke in the Senate to urge his colleagues to reject it. According to the Congressional Record, Hoar said, "The question with which we now have to deal is whether Congress may conquer and may govern, without their consent and against their will, a foreign nation, a separate, distinct, and numerous people, a territory not hereafter to be populated by Americans, to be formed into American States and to take its part in fulfilling and executing the purposes for which the Constitution was framed."

Newspapers printed Hoar's speech under many headlines, including one in the New York World that said "No Nation Was Ever Created Good Enough to Own Another," according to Richard E. Welch Jr. in George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in steel, sent Hoar $1,000 to pay for distributing the speech. Five days later, Hoar introduced a Senate resolution that would require the United States to support the right of the Filipinos to govern themselves.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924), also from Massachusetts, gave a speech in response to Hoar and other anti-imperialists on January 24, 1899. One of his most effective arguments was that the Treaty of Paris did not amount to imperialism because it only ended the war and gave the United States time to decide what was best for the Philippines. He also suggested that "civilizing" the Filipinos would benefit America's economy.

On February 6, 1898, the Senate approved the treaty by a vote of 57 to 27—barely over the required two-thirds majority. Only two more votes in opposition would have defeated it. Hoar and Senator Eugene Hale were the only Republicans to oppose the McKinley administration by voting against the treaty. In gratitude, Hoar sent Hale a gift that he inscribed, according to Gillett, "To the Honorable Eugene Hale, who alone of my colleagues voted with me against the repeal of the Declaration of Independence."

The Philippine rebellion

Two days before the Senate voted on the treaty, fighting broke out between Filipino rebels and the American military. It was the start of a bloody war that lasted three years and cost tens of thousands of lives. Hoar, who had been in contact with Filipino representatives in London, believed the rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964) and his government were perfectly capable of running the country.

Despite the break with his party over the Philippines, Hoar ran for reelection in 1900 as a Republican and won. Four years later, on September 30, 1904, he died at his home in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Philippines had to wait until 1946 to get the full independence that Hoar wanted for the country in 1898. Writing about the incident in his autobiography, Autobiography of Seventy Years, a year before his death, Hoar said:

When I think of my party, whose glory and whose service to Liberty are the pride of my life, crushing out this people in their effort to establish a Republic, and hear people talking about giving them good government, and that they are better off than they ever were under Spain, I feel very much as if I had learned that my father, or some other honored ancestor, had been a slave-trader in his time, and had boasted that he had introduced a new and easier kind of hand-cuffs or fetters to be worn by the slaves during the horrors of the middle passage.

For More Information


Beisner, Robert L. Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Gillett, Frederick H. George Frisbie Hoar. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin,1934.

Hoar, George F. Autobiography of Seventy Years. 2 vols. New York: CharlesScribner's Sons, 1903.

Musicant, Ivan. Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

Welch, Richard E., Jr. George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.


Congressional Record, 55th Congress, 3rd session. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. 1898 (493-503, 958-960.)

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George Hoar