"Let the poor and the men who earn their bread by the labor of their hands pause and consider well before they give their assent to a policy so deliberately forgetful of the equality of rights.…"
Excerpt from "American Imperialism: An Address Opposing
Annexation of the Philippines, January 4, 1899"
Reprinted from American Imperialism in 1898
Edited by Theodore P. Greene
Published in 1955
When the United States declared war on Spain in April 1898, it promised to make Cuba a free and independent country after securing peace there. It made no such promises, however, with respect to the other Spanish colonies involved in the conflict: Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. During the war, American troops achieved military and naval victories on all these fronts. Under the terms of the cease-fire negotiated on August 12, 1898, Spain promised to give Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States as compensation for its war expenses. The fate of the Philippines would be determined in a second series of negotiations that took place in Paris beginning October 1, 1898.
The end of the war ignited a debate in the United States over imperialism—the act of controlling foreign people who have no governmental rights or powers. Imperialists believed that the United States should grow into a world power by acquiring colonies. Foreign lands would provide markets for American farmers and manufacturers, who already exported over $2 billion worth of goods each year. Colonies would give the United States a base for further economic and political expansion throughout the world. Some imperialists also believed colonialism would help Americans spread Christianity, the dominant religion in the United States.
Anti-imperialists did not want the United States to have foreign colonies. Some believed possessing colonies violated the spirit of the American Declaration of Independence. With that document, in 1776, America's Founding Fathers broke away from British colonialism because they believed that people should govern themselves in a democracy. Other anti-imperialists feared the introduction of foreign races to America. Many also felt the U.S. government should help farmers and manufacturers by negotiating trade agreements with other countries rather than by adding colonies.
One of the most outspoken anti-imperialists was Carl Schurz. Schurz was born in Prussia (now northern Germany and Poland) in 1829. After the Prussian Revolution of 1848 failed to overthrow King Frederick William IV, Schurz sought political freedom in the United States. Over the next fifty years, he participated in the anti-slavery movement, fought for the Union Army in the American Civil War (1861-65), served as a U.S. senator from 1869 to 1875, and worked as a writer, editor, and political activist.
Schurz opposed imperialism. When the United States tried to annex (to add to an existing country or area) Santo Domingo by treaty in 1869, Senator Schurz helped defeat the effort. When the United States thought about acquiring Hawaii when U.S. president William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry in Biographies section) took office in 1897, Schurz met with McKinley to urge him not to do so. According to Robert L. Beisner in Twelve Against Empire, McKinley reassured Schurz by saying, "Ah, you may be sure there will be no jingo nonsense under my Administration. You need not borrow any trouble on that account." (Jingo was a term for people who wanted to use war to expand American territory.) Yet despite his statement, McKinley ended up taking Hawaii in July 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
When the war started in April 1898, Schurz supported the goal of freeing Cubans from colonial rule by Spain. He strongly opposed using the war to take colonies from the enemy, however. When imperialism became a hot topic in the middle of the war, Schurz wrote often to McKinley, urging him to remain true to the American spirit of democracy by saying "no" to colonialism.
In December 1898, the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris to end the war officially. In the treaty, Spain gave Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States and sold it the Philippines for $20 million. Because treaties need to be ratified—approved—by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, the debate over imperialism heated up. In this atmosphere, Schurz, a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, gave the following address at the University of Chicago on January 4, 1899.
Things to remember while reading "American Imperialism: An Address Opposing Annexation of the Philippines, January 4, 1899":
• Schurz's opposition to imperialism was not entirely well-principled. Schurz believed that in taking other countries, the United States had a moral obligation to make them states. But Schurz did not want the Spanish colonies to become American states. He thought the Latino and African people in Puerto Rico and the Asian natives in the Philippines and Guam were savages and barbarians. Schurz did not want such people participating in the government of the United States.
"American Imperialism: An Address Opposing Annexation of the Philippines, January 4, 1899"
It is proposed to embark this republic in a course of imperialistic policy by permanently annexing to it certain islands taken, or partlytaken, from Spain in the late war. The matter is near its decision, but not yet decided. The peace treaty made at Paris is not yet ratified by the Senate; but even if it were, the question whether those islands, although ceded by Spain, shall be permanently incorporated in the territory of the United States would still be open for final determination by Congress. As an open question therefore I shall discuss it.
If ever, it behooves the American people to think and act with calm deliberation, for the character and future of the republic and the welfare of its people now living and yet to be born are in unprecedented jeopardy. To form a candid judgment of what this republic has been, what it may become, and what it ought to be, let us first recall to our minds its condition before the recent Spanish War.
Our government was, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people." It was the noblest ambition of all true Americans to carry this democratic government to the highest degree of perfection and justice, in probity, in assured peace, in the security of human rights, in progressive civilization; to solve the problem of popular self-government on the grandest scale, and thus to make this republic the example and guiding star of mankind.…
Then came the Spanish War. A few vigorous blows laid the feeble enemy helpless at our feet. The whole scene seemed to have suddenly changed. According to the solemn proclamation of our government, the war had been undertaken solely for the liberation of Cuba, as a war of humanity and not of conquest. But our easy victories had put conquest within our reach, and when our arms occupied foreign territory, a loud demand arose that, pledge or no pledge to the contrary, the conquests should be kept, even the Philippines on the other side of the globe, and that as to Cuba herself, independence would only be a provisional formality.…
What, then, shall we do with such populations? Shall we, according, not indeed to the letter, but to the evident spirit of our constitution, organize those countries as territories with a view to their eventual admission as states? If they become states on an equal footing with the other states they will not only be permitted to govern themselves as to their home concerns, but they will take part in governing the whole republic, in governing us, by sending senators and representatives into our Congress to help make our laws, and by voting for president and vice-president to give our national government its executive. The prospect of the consequences which would follow the admission of the Spanish creoles and the negroes of WestIndia 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.
But this may be avoided, it is said, by governing the new possessions as mere dependencies, or subject provinces. I will waive the constitutional question and merely point out that this would be a most serious departure from the rule that governed our former acquisitions, which are so frequently quoted as precedents. It is useless to speak of the District of Columbia and Alaska as proof that we have done such things before and we can do them again. Every candid mind will at once admit the vast difference between those cases and the permanent establishment of substantially arbitrary government over large territories with many millions of inhabitants, and with the prospect of there being many more of the same kind, if we once launch out on a career of conquest. The question is not merely whether we can do such things, but whether, having the public good at heart, we should do them.
If we do adopt such a system, then we shall, for the first time since the abolition of slavery, again have two kinds of Americans: Americans of the first class, who enjoy the privilege of taking part in the government in accordance with our old constitutional principles, and Americans of the second class, who are to be ruled in a substantially arbitrary fashion by the Americans of the first class, through congressional legislation and the action of the national executive—not to speak of individual "masters" arrogating to themselves powers beyond the law.…
If we do, we shall transform the government of the people, for the people, and by the people, for which Abraham Lincoln lived, into a government of one part of the people, the strong, over another part, the weak. Such an abandonment of a fundamental principle as a permanent policy may at first seem to bear only upon more or less distant dependencies, but it can hardly fail in its ultimate effects to disturb the rule of the same principle in the conduct of democratic government at home. And I warn the American people that a democracy cannot so deny its faith as to the vital conditions of its being—it cannot long play the king over subject populations without creating within itself ways of thinking and habits of action most dangerous to its own vitality—most dangerous especially to those classes of society which are the least powerful in the assertion, and the most helpless in the defense of their rights. Let the poor and the men who earn their bread by the labor of their hands pause and consider well before they give their assent to a policy so deliberately forgetful of the equality of rights.…
What can there be to justify a change of policy fraught with such direful consequences? Let us pass the arguments of the advocates of such imperialism candidly in review.
The cry suddenly raised that this great country has become too small for us is too ridiculous to demand an answer, in view of the fact that our present population may be tripled and still have ample elbow-room, with resources to support many more. But we are told that our industries are gasping for breath; that we are suffering from over-production; that our products must have new outlets, and that we need colonies and dependencies the world over to give us more markets. More markets? Certainly. But do we, civilized beings, indulge in the absurd and barbarous notion that we must own the countries with which we wish to trade? …
"But we must civilize those poor people!" Are we not ingenious and charitable enough to do much for their civilization without subjugating and ruling them by criminal aggression?…
It is objected that they are not capable of independent government. They may answer that this is their affair and that they are at least entitled to a trial. I frankly admit that if they are given that trial, their conduct in governing themselves will be far from perfect. Well, the conduct of no people is perfect, not even our own. They may try to revenge themselves upon their tories in their Revolutionary War. But we, too, threw our tories into hideous dungeons during our Revolutionary War and persecuted and drove them away after its close. They may have bloody civil broils. But we, too, have had our Civil War which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and devastated one-half of our land; and now we have in horrible abundance the killings by lynch law, and our battles at Virden. They may have troubles with their wild tribes. So had we, and we treated our wild tribes in a manner not to be proud of.…
No, we cannot expect that the Porto Ricans, the Cubans, and the Filipinos will maintain orderly governments in Anglo-Saxon fashion. But they may succeed in establishing a tolerable order of things in their own fashion, as Mexico, after many decades of turbulent disorder, succeeded at last, under Porfirio Diaz, in having a strong and orderly government of her kind, not, indeed, such a government as we would tolerate in this Union, but a government answeringMexican character and interests, and respectable in its relations with the outside world.
This will become all the more possible if, without annexing and ruling those people, we simply put them on their feet, and then give them the benefit of that humanitarian spirit which, as we claim, led us into the war for the liberation of Cuba.…
Ask yourselves whether a policy like this will not raise the American people to a level of moral greatness never before attained! If this democracy, after all the intoxication of triumph in war, conscientiously remembers its professions and pledges, and soberly reflects on its duties to itself and others, and then deliberately resists the temptation of conquest, it will achieve the grandest triumph of the democratic idea that history knows of.…
What happened next…
One month after Schurz's address, the Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris on February 6, 1899 by just two votes. Two days earlier, a revolution had erupted in the Philippines. The U.S. and the Filipino sides accused each other of firing the first shot. The last shot was not fired until April 1902. During those three years, more than two hundred thousand people died in the fighting. After its victory over the rebels, the United States controlled the Philippines from 1902 until it became an independent nation in 1946.
Did you know…
• The United States still has colonies. Neither Puerto Rico nor Guam, islands acquired by America during the Spanish-American War, has a voting representative in Congress or an electoral college member (a person who participates in the selection of the president of the United States). Residents of these U.S. territories thus cannot cast votes for the president, vice-president, or members of Congress during national elections. The same is true for people who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea and in the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean.
For More Information
Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
Greene, Theodore P., ed., American Imperialism in 1898. Boston, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1955.
Langellier, John P. Uncle Sam's Little Wars: The Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, and Boxer Rebellion, 1898-1902. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 2001.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. 20th anniversary ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
The most prominent foreign-born American in 19th-century public life, Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was soldier, statesman, and journalist. He was at the center of many political reform movements.
Carl Schurz was the foremost of a remarkable group of emigrés who went to the United States after the failure of the 1848-1849 revolution in Germany. In his adopted land Schurz crusaded against slavery, campaigned for his friend Abraham Lincoln, fought for the North in the Civil War, helped shape a Reconstruction policy that enfranchised the freed slaves, championed civil service reform, founded the Liberal Republican movement, was a leader of the "Mugwump" exodus from the Republican party, and denounced American imperialism in the Spanish-American War.
Carl Schurz was born on March 2, 1829, in Liblar near Cologne, Germany. He graduated from the gymnasium at Cologne and entered the University of Bonn in 1847 as a candidate for the doctorate in history. At the age of 19 he was a leader of the student movement that became the spearhead of democratic revolutionary ferment in many parts of Germany. In 1849 Schurz was commissioned a lieutenant in the revolutionary army, which was finally defeated by the Prussians. Knowing he would be shot if captured, he fled the country. He later returned under a false passport to rescue a professor from Spandau prison and spirit him out of Germany in the most daring exploit of the entire revolution.
American Civil War Record
After short residences in France and England, in 1852 Schurz went to the United States. He joined the antislavery movement and helped build the Republican party in Wisconsin, where he settled in 1856. An excellent orator, Schurz made speeches for John C. Frémont in the 1856 presidential election and for Lincoln against Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. He was chairman of the Wisconsin delegation to the 1860 Republican convention. He campaigned tirelessly in the 1860 election and was gratified by a letter from Lincoln declaring that "to the extent of our limited acquaintance, no man stands nearer my heart than yourself." Rewarded by appointment as minister to Spain, Schurz resigned that post in 1862 and returned to the United States to work for Union victory and emancipation.
Schurz's military experience was limited to a few weeks of fighting in Germany 13 years earlier, but he worked hard at mastering military strategy and was finally promoted to major general of volunteers in 1863. He was popular with his troops, but his battle record was mixed. After limited success as a division commander at Chancellorsville and a corps commander at Gettysburg, he was given charge of an instruction corps at Nashville. This was not to his liking, and in 1864 he obtained release from command to campaign for Lincoln's reelection. Schurz finished out the war as a chief of staff in William T. Sherman's army.
Postwar Political Career
In the summer of 1865 Schurz began investigating Southern conditions for President Andrew Johnson and a Boston newspaper. He found that many Southerners were defiant and recalcitrant, determined to keep Negroes subordinate. Schurz's long report contradicted the premises of Johnson's Reconstruction policy, and the President did not acknowledge the report. But congressional Republicans secured its publication and wide distribution. This document was of great influence in molding a radical Reconstruction policy based on Negro suffrage.
Schurz was Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune, then editor of the Detroit Post, and in 1867 he became part owner and editor of the German-language St. Louis Westliche Post. Schurz made the keynote address at the Republican national convention in 1868 and the next year was elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri. His views on Reconstruction had become less radical; he advocated the removal of all political disabilities from former Confederates and was increasingly critical of Federal intervention in behalf of what he considered corrupt and oppressive Republican regimes in Southern states.
A proponent of civil service reform, Schurz was also repelled by the corrupt political atmosphere of Ulysses S. Grant's administration. In 1872 he led reformers out of the regular Republican party and organized the Liberal Republican party, which nominated Horace Greeley to run against Grant. Schurz's actions split the Republican party in Missouri and allowed the Democrats to capture the legislature, so he was not reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1875. In 1876 he returned to the regular Republican party and supported the presidential reform candidacy of Rutherford B. Hayes. Schurz was rewarded with appointment as secretary of the interior, and he made considerable progress in reform of Indian affairs and introduction of the merit system into the department.
Journalism and Reform
In 1881 Schurz returned to journalism, serving for 2 years as an editor of the New York Evening Post and of the Nation. For several years thereafter he free-lanced, and from 1892 to 1898 he was chief editorial writer for Harper's Weekly. In 1884 he joined the revolt of the "Mugwumps" (reform Republicans) against the party's presidential nominee, James G. Blaine, and supported Grover Cleveland. Schurz was president of the National Civil Service Reform League (1892-1900) and of the Civil Service Reform Association of New York (1893-1906). Opposing the Spanish-American War in 1898, he became a leading anti-imperialist, urging independence for the Philippines rather than American colonialism there. Schurz died in New York City on May 14, 1906. His wife had died some years before; he was survived by three of his five children.
The basic source for Schurz's life is The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz (3 vols., 1907-1908). Also of value are Frederic Bancroft, ed., Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz (6 vols., 1913), and Joseph Schafer, ed., Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869 (1928). There is no biography of Schurz incorporating modern scholarship. The best account is Claude M. Fuess, Carl Schurz, Reformer (1932). □