Speeches of Carl Schurz
It is not mere light-minded hero-worship that moves the American people to celebrate the anniversary of Washington's birth as a national holiday. PreŰminent among the monumental figures of the world's history stand the founders of nations; and preŰminent among them stands he whose virtue, fortitude and wisdom are honored by all mankind without a dissenting voice. It may well be said that, however men may differ in their judgment of other heroes, George Washington's character has long ceased to be a subject of debate, the verdict which places him in the first rank among the great citizens in history being universally concordant and final. And when we honor his name we celebrate what is noblest and best and most glorious in our national being.
It is not my purpose to undertake here an elaborate review of his principles, his policies and his achievements. I shall only recall to your memory some of the ideal inspirations of his mind which are of special interest as they bear upon the most important problems of our day — and first his reverential appreciation of the extraordinary favors he thought to have been bestowed by Providence upon the American people.
In his first inaugural address he said: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.” This sentiment, profoundly cherished by him, frequently appears in his writings with remarkable fervor of utterance. And well might he entertain it. I will point out what may well be called three exceptional blessings of Providence vouchsafed to the American people, the first of which Washington witnessed and profoundly valued.
Look back upon the time when our country first rose into view. Europe was in the throes of the bloody and destructive struggles following the Reformation. The efforts for religious freedom seemed rather to hamper than to promote the efforts for the political enfranchisement of peoples. On the European continent modern absolutism issued from the confusion. Even in England, where a certain measure of political freedom had been won by long contests, and where at last the crown was overthrown by the great rebellion, the Commonwealth quickly degenerated into a military absolutism, which in its turn had to yield to the restoration of the royal power. And when a new revolution resulted in firmly establishing constitutional government, still that government remained preponderantly aristocratic, and the church continued to be united with the state.
While these troubles were afflicting the peoples of Europe who were painfully staggering under the inherited burdens and shackles of feudal institutions and privileges and customs and traditions, heaped upon them by past centuries, the soil now occupied by this great Republic was opened to the best aspirations of a new era. The Englishmen, Germans, Dutch, Frenchmen, Swedes, Celts who sought their fortunes here, found a free field for their activities. No matter whether they came in search of an asylum for their religious beliefs, or in quest of wealth or adventure — no matter whether kings still claimed this new world as theirs, and whether aristocrats or great proprietaries tried to preserve something like feudal authority — all pretensions adverse to political freedom speedily vanished in this atmosphere. Here that freedom had not to struggle through any established institutions or customs inherited from the past. Here the seed of democracy planted itself in virgin soil, to grow and bear fruit without hindrance. Here was, therefore, the natural birthplace of that great charter of human rights and human liberty, the Declaration of Independence, pointing out the goal to be reached, and destined to serve as a guiding star to all mankind. If here the momentous problem of government of, for and by the people is not to be solved, where in the world can it be?
This greatest of all opportunities was the providential favor Washington recognized; and he did not fail to point out the awful responsibility arising from it when he said: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.” And the manner in which he thought that this our great opportunity should be turned to the benefit of mankind, he forcibly indicated by expressing, in his Farewell Address, his ardent wish
that the happiness of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made so complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection and the adoption of every nation which is as yet a stranger to it.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all; religion and morality enjoin this conduct, and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened and, at no distant day, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too-novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
Thus did Washington view the first providential favor bestowed upon this people, and also our duty to spread this blessing among the nations, not by the force of arms, but by the moral power of example.
The second was no less extraordinary, although Washington himself would have been too modest to avow it. It consisted in the fact that the first President of this Republic furnished in himself, by his character, the principles he followed, the motives that inspired him and the wisdom of his policies, the most perfect model of a republican chief magistrate in the history of the world — a President to whose teachings and example all his successors — indeed, all those wielding public power in this Republic — could with the utmost confidence look for safest guidance. Surely, no other nation has ever been so signally blessed.
The third unique providential favor enjoyed by the American people consists, owing to their geographical situation, in their happy exemption from those embarrassments and dangers by which other nations, being in constant touch with powerful, jealous and possibly hostile neighbors, feel themselves obliged to keep up vast, burdensome and constantly increasing armaments on land and sea. For more than three-quarters of a century — a war of our own making and the period of our civil conflict excepted — the American people have enjoyed the inestimable boon of a substantially unarmed peace in perfect security. Until recently we valued this priceless privilege so heartily and proudly that we looked down with pitying superiority upon the nations of the Old World, seeing them grievously burdened with their monstrous military and naval establishments; and we watched with an almost disdainful smile their incessant efforts to increase those burdens in their nervous anxiety lest some rival might get an advantage; until at last one of their mightiest rulers truthfully confessed that the ruinous competition could not much longer go on without fatal consequences. And we were the only great nation on earth securely free from these drag weights and worries.
This is no mere fancy picture. The history of a century bears it out. Excepting the period of our civil war, we had, compared with other great powers, neither army nor navy. And yet our rights and our honor were safe all over the globe. The greatest sea-power on earth yielded to us far more deference than to any other nation. Why all this? While a hostile power wishing to attack us would have had the advantage of greater readiness, it could not strike at a vital point in our continental stronghold. It would have had to count upon a discouragingly long struggle against immense resources and an incalculable staying-power on our side, and during that struggle it would have offered dangerous opportunities to its jealous rivals in the Old World. Moreover, it was thought that our Monroe doctrine, looking to the primacy of this Republic in this hemisphere, would keep us from unnecessary meddling with Old-World affairs.
Therefore, we could not have a war unless we kicked some foreign nation into it. Even all our wishes concerning Cuba would probably have been conceded by Spain without firing a gun, if we had only waited. In one word, it was the first precept of European statesmanship to remain on good terms with this Republic at almost any cost. And therefore it was that we were secure in the enjoyment of the inestimable blessing of unarmed peace, with the fullest liberty to devote all our social energies to the development of our immense material resources and of our mental and moral capabilities; to the solution of the great problem of popular government given in our charge; and to our glorious mission to promote the cause of liberty and civilization among mankind by the peaceable moral force of our example.
These were the extraordinary providential favors be stowed upon the American people, part of which Washington witnessed, part of which he foresaw and the duties and responsibilities flowing from which he felt so deeply.
What have we done with these blessings? While the conduct of the American democracy has indeed not reached the ideal which was in Washington's mind, and while for this reason it has had its failures, and those failures have had to be dearly paid for, yet remaining until recently substantially true to the most essential principles upon which it was founded, and especially to Washington's precepts concerning its intercourse with the outside world, the Republic has achieved a measure of development in wealth, greatness and power that has in a like space of time never been equaled by any nation in history.
But now we are told that we have come to a turning-point; that the very power we have won in walking that providential path obliges us to strike out in a different direction; that we must no longer content ourselves with making this vast continent the home of a free, peaceable and happy people, with an honest endeavor to solve on this virgin soil the momentous problem of popular self-government, and with advancing the cause of liberty and civilization among mankind by the moral force of our example, but that we must give up the priceless privilege of unarmed peace; that we must have big fleets and armies in order to play a new part in the affairs of the world; that we must become conquerors to spread our commerce and have far-away possessions and rule foreign peoples as our subjects — no matter what the original design of our Republic and the fundamental principles of our democracy may have been. And when the advocates of this new course are hard pressed in argument, they always resort, as their last refuge, to the plea that Providence has precipitated us into this new course, and that it is vain to resist.
Nobody can be less disposed than I am to pose as a mouthpiece of Providence. But I do maintain that when we speak of something having been so ordained by Providence that no human being could be held responsible for it, we can only mean that the will of man one way or the other could not play a determining part in it. In this sense it may be said that geographic, climatic and other such conditions, which made the building up of a great democracy on this American soil so natural, were providential; that the rising up of an ideal leader at the beginning of our government was providential; that the peculiar situation of this republic among the powers of the earth, enabling it to build up that great democracy in the New World, untroubled by the jealousies and quarrels of other nations, was providential. But can it be maintained that in the same sense the conquest of the Philippines was providential, and that President McKinley was right when he said in Boston, February 16, 1899: “The Philippines were intrusted to our hands by the providence of God; it is a trust we have not sought”? Look at the facts.
Some time before our war with Spain broke out, its possible contingencies were attentively considered by the Administration. Commodore Dewey, commanding our Asiatic squadron, informed himself about the state of the Spanish power in those regions, and weeks before the declaration of war, on March 31, 1898, he reported to our government that he could destroy the Spanish fleet and reduce the defenses of Manila in a single day, and added: “There is every reason to believe that, with Manila taken, or even blockaded, the rest of the islands would fall either to the insurgents or ourselves.”
Dewey was instructed to make his squadron ready for battle, and then, when war was declared, to seek the Spanish fleet and destroy it. All this was done, not by any mysterious dispensation, but by order of the Navy Department. When Spain, after a series of defeats, got ready for peace, the Secretary of the Navy telegraphed to Dewey as follows:
Washington, August 13, 1898: The President desires to receive from you any important information you may have of the Philippines; the desirability of the several islands; the character of their population; coal and other mineral deposits; their harbor and commercial advantages, and in a naval and commercial sense, which would be the most advantageous, etc.
Thus, it appears that the President was then not yet quite certain how far it would be profitable to us that Providence should impose that “unsought” trust upon us. When he had received information which made him think it would be profitable to have the whole archipelago intrusted to us, he instructed our Peace Commissioners at Paris to insist that Spain should cede us the whole. And after a long and arduous wrestle with the representatives of Spain, as described in Senate document no. 62, our Commissioners at last succeeded in extorting from them the cession of what sovereignty Spain had over all those islands, and they agreed that the United States should pay $20,000,000 therefor.
Thus the record shows most conclusively that the conquest of the Philippines was not thrust upon the Administration by a mysterious and overruling power, but that it was deliberately planned with a cool calculation of profit, and that if the business so far has not been as successful as expected, it proves only that the calculation was not quite correct. And when now President McKinley tries to make the American people accept his interpretation that the Philippines were simply “intrusted to our hands by the providence of God,” and that “it is a trust we have not sought,” he has, to say the least, taken liberties with Providence which he may answer for. With the same right Napoleon invading Spain and making one of his brothers king of that country, and Maximilian, made Emperor of Mexico by the bayonets of French invaders, might have piously turned up their eyes, saying that the providence of God had intrusted those countries to their hands, and that it was a trust they had not sought. Coming from their mouths Mr. McKinley himself would have called such words hypocritical cant, if not blasphemy.
Let us now see in what manner the policy for which the President makes divine Providence responsible was carried out. We made war upon Spain, as our Congress solemnly declared to the American people and to all mankind, for the purpose of liberating the Cuban people from Spanish oppression, declaring that they were, and of right ought to be, free and independent. It was a grand spectacle — a great nation voluntarily undergoing the burdens and horrors of war merely to secure to a foreign population that freedom and independence they were painfully struggling for. It was a purpose so noble in its unselfishness that many persons abroad would not believe in its sincerity, but charged us with some secret selfish design of conquest. At this we were extremely angry.
Then came Dewey's victory in Manila Bay, and with it the temptation testing our sincerity. Dewey invited the chief of the Filipino insurgents, Aguinaldo, to join him and encouraged and aided him with arms and ammunition to organize the revolutionary movement against Spain on a great scale. Aguinaldo did so; he formed an army of about 30,000 men, set up a civil government which, according to the testimony of the imperialist agitator Barrett, who had seen it, compared in its Congress favorably with the Parliament of Japan, and had well constructed and active executive departments, and an internal administration working admirably, as described by gentlemen belonging to the Navy, and vouched for by Admiral Dewey — an army, a civil government and an internal administration infinitely superior to anything of the kind the insurgent Cubans ever had.
The Filipino army went to work fighting the Spaniards most successfully, taking many thousands of them prisoners. In fact, it virtually did the only fighting against the Spaniards on the Philippine Islands between the time of Dewey's victory on May 1, 1898, and the time of the surrender of Manila on August 12th, and that fighting redounded to the benefit of our forces; for the Filipino army cleared the interior of the country of Spanish troops and cooped up the Spanish garrison of Manila, effectually blockading that city on the land side, while our ships and the American troops that had meanwhile assembled, blockaded it on the sea side, so that the Spaniards in Manila could neither get reinforcements nor withdraw into the interior.
While these services were being rendered by the Filipinos, and their effective co÷peration sought and accepted by us, the Filipinos acted as our allies against a common foe. And then when we had taken Manila and assembled a large land force there — did we remember that we had gone to war against Spain with the solemn proclamation that this should be a war of liberation, and not of conquest, and that our Filipino allies were fairly entitled to the full benefit of that pledge? No, not that. President McKinley entered into peace negotiations with the common enemy, Spain — negotiations from which our allies, the Filipinos, who urgently asked to be heard, were carefully shut out, and through his Peace Commissioners President McKinley concluded, behind the backs of our allies, a treaty with Spain, the common enemy, by which he recognized, not that the Philippine Islanders were, and of right ought to be, free and independent, like the Cubans, but that Spain, even after having been actually ousted from that country, was still the rightful sovereign of the Philippine Islanders, so that she could sell them; and he bought them and their country for the sum of $20,000,000. It was in this singular way that, as President McKinley wishes to have us believe, “the providence of God in trusted to our hands the Philippines — a trust we have not sought.”
Thus, in the first place, he contrived to turn the much-vaunted unselfish war of liberation into a vulgar land-grabbing game, and to strip the American people of the unique glory of a most generous act, grand in its unselfishness. Does he think such a breach of faith can be pleasing to the sight of an all-righteous Providence? Or does he imagine he can deceive an omniscient God by the wily plea that the pledge of an unselfish generosity applied only to the western hemisphere, and that the liberating of one people gave us a right to subjugate another?
But more than this. Recognizing the fact that Dewey invited Aguinaldo to the Philippines to help him in his operations by organizing the insurrection against the Spaniards; that the Filipinos did do effectual service as our allies, being permitted to believe that they were fighting for their own independence; that we left them undisturbed in that belief until we had sufficient troops on the spot to need their aid no longer, and until Manila was taken, and that then behind their backs we bought them from defeated Spain to subjugate them as our own subjects, every fairminded man will agree that this was an act of downright perfidy. Does President McKinley think that so treacherous a use of power by the strong to despoil the feeble of their rights can be looked upon with favor by an all-just God?
The excuses given by the President and by his spokesmen for this faithless deed are worthy of the deed itself. They show how far the moral sense of men may be debased by the defense of a bad cause. I have read with care the famous “preliminary report” made by the Philippine Commission “at the request of the President” just before the last November elections; and I must confess that some passages of it have filled me with painful astonishment. That report, for instance, in order to justify what has been done, asserts “that no alliance of any kind was entered into with Aguinaldo, nor was any promise of independence made to him then or at any other time.” I was sorry to see such a statement signed by gentlemen of high standing. Was it worthy of such men to forget that while there was no alliance in form, signed, sealed and delivered, there was co÷peration amounting to an alliance in fact, and that this carried with it moral obligations of a class which no man of honor will disregard?
Let us hear the “preliminary report” itself. After having recited how Aguinaldo was brought to the scene of operations on a United States ship at the desire of Dewey “for the purpose of strengthening the United States forces and weakening those of the enemy,” the report goes on:
Shortly afterwards the Filipinos began to attack the Spanish. Their numbers were rapidly augmented by the militia who had been given arms by Spain, all of whom revolted and joined the insurgents. Great Filipino successes followed, many Spaniards were taken prisoners, and while the Spanish troops now quietly remained at Manila, the Filipino forces made themselves masters of the entire island, except that city.
Well, according to this very statement of the Commission, did not the Filipinos do for us the business of allies, and very effectively, too? I venture to say that at the time they were regarded as our allies by everybody except those who had already then in their minds the scheme of turning the war of liberation into a land-grabbing game.
But they were also virtually recognized as our allies by our very commanders in a manner which the Commissioners in their preliminary report did not see fit to mention. I do not refer here merely to the often-quoted correspondence between General Anderson and Aguinaldo, in which our General greeted the Filipinos with assurances of friendship and requests for co÷peration and assistance in terms usually addressed by one ally to another. Nor do I refer only to the fact that armed vessels of the Filipinos, flying the flag of the Filipino republic, were plying to and fro and going out on expeditions against various Spanish posts, under the very eyes of our Admiral.
But here is still something more. On July 13, 1898, Admiral Dewey sent the following despatch to the Secretary of the Navy:
Aguinaldo informed me his troops had taken all of Subig Bay except Isla Grande, which they were prevented from taking by the German man-of-war Irene. On July 7th sent the Raleigh and the Concord there; they took the island and about 1300 men with arms and ammunition; no resistance.
Now what became of those 1300 Spanish prisoners? They were turned over to the Filipinos. Only recently those prisoners taken in Subig Bay have been liberated from their captivity in Filipino hands, and it was reported that some of them intended to make a claim against the United States for damages on the plea that before capitulating they had been promised by our Navy officers that they would be permitted to surrender to the American, and not to the Filipino forces, and that they had been turned over to the Filipinos in violation of that promise. No denial has been made of this story, except as to the giving of that pledge.
Now, what did it mean, this turning over by American forces to the Filipinos of Spanish prisoners of war captured in a joint enterprise? What else could it mean than that, whether there was any formal compact of alliance duly signed or not, Aguinaldo with his army was practically recognized as a belligerent ally of good standing? But for this would not the prisoners taken from the common enemy have necessarily been kept under the control of the American forces? Had the Filipinos been considered a mere half-barbarian band accidentally helping us, and of no substantial right in the premises, how could such a turning over of prisoners to them have been justified?
But let us hear Admiral Dewey himself. In a recent letter answering an inquiry from Senator Lodge as to what pledges were given to Aguinaldo, the Admiral says: “I never treated him as an ally, except to make use of him and the natives to assist me in my operations against the Spaniards.” Precisely so. We “used” them practically as allies against the common enemy, profiting from their co÷peration as allies. And then, having so used them, we refused them the recognition morally due to an ally. Does not the Admiral “give away” the whole case?
Again, when our Peace Commissioners sat at Paris, the testimony of Rear-Admiral Bradford was taken, and Senator Frye asked him:
Suppose the United States in the progress of that war found the leader of the present Philippine rebellion an exile from his country in Hong Kong, and sent for him and brought him to the islands in an American ship, and then furnished him 4000 or 5000 stands of arms and allowed him to purchase as many more stands of arms in Hong Kong, and accepted his aid in conquering Luzon, what kind of a nation, in the eyes of the world, would we appear to be to surrender Aguinaldo and his insurgents to Spain to be dealt with as they please?
To which Admiral Bradford answered: “We become responsible for all he has done; he is our ally; and we are bound to protect him.” Senator Frye forgot to ask the further question, what kind of a nation we would be in the eyes of the world if we bought our allies like a drove of sheep from Spain, the defeated common enemy, to treat them, not as they, but as we, please.
After all this, what fairminded man will deny that to all intents and purposes the Filipinos were our allies; that they were fairly entitled at our hands to every consideration due from one ally to another; and that when our Administration refused them audience at the peace negotiations which were to decide their fate, and then behind their backs bought them like a herd of cattle from the defeated common enemy, it did a thing so mean in its disloyalty that it is no wonder its sponsors shrink from looking it in the face, but nervously strive to hide its hideousness from their own eyes by covering it up with all sorts of pretexts and sophistries? But, truly, what a pitiable sight is that presented by the respectable signers of the “preliminary report,” who argue that because no formal compact of alliance was made — that is, because the Filipinos with their generous confidence in our good faith trusted American honor so imprudently that they neglected to put every stipulation in black and white before going with us into a common fight against the common enemy they have lost all moral right to be respected and treated by us as allies! Shame, where is thy blush?
The contention of the Commissioners that “no promise of independence was ever made” to the Filipinos is of the same moral grade. Again there is, I admit, no instrument in writing signed by an American in authority. Neither do I care whether our consuls or Admiral Dewey made a formal promise of independence to the Filipinos. That is not the question. The question is whether we gave the Filipinos any reason for believing that, after defeating the common enemy, this Republic would recognize their independence, and whether they were permitted so to believe while they were fighting against the common enemy.
On July 22, 1898, General Anderson reported to the Secretary of War: “Aguinaldo declares dictatorship and martial law all over the islands. The people expect independence.” What reason had they to expect that this Republic would recognize their independence? The best in the world — a reason, too, most honorable to them as well as to the American people. They knew that, when beginning the war against Spain, we had loudly disclaimed all idea of conquest and had declared the Cubans of right entitled to their independence. They knew that in all things which in our eyes gave the Cubans their right and title to independence, the people of the Philippines held the same, if not a superior, title. They would have considered it an insult to the great and magnanimous American Republic to entertain on their part even the slightest suspicion that our professions of unselfish purpose were a mere humbug, and that while liberating one people we were capable of scheming the subjugation of another because we coveted their land. In one word, as ever so many of their proclamations showed, they expected their independence because they believed the American people to be an honest people, and the American government to be an honest government. And in this belief they acted as our allies against the common enemy.
We permitted them to entertain that belief while so acting. It is true, in Washington the scheme was meanwhile hatched to rob them of their fairly earned independence. Was the Administration at least honest enough then to inform them that their expectation of independence might be disappointed? It was not. Indeed, the Administration did secretly instruct our consuls and commanders not to make any promises to the Filipinos that might embarrass the execution of the treacherous scheme. But the Filipinos themselves were left in their happy confidence so long as their service as our allies was of any value to us. I say, therefore, although there was no written engagement promising them their independence, our solemn proclamation at the beginning of the war that this would be a war of liberation, and not of conquest, and our permitting them to expect their independence accordingly while we accepted their aid as our allies, constituted a promise so complete and morally so binding that it is difficult to understand how any honest man can so forget himself as to question it.
And thus when the Spaniards were thoroughly defeated everywhere, and Manila was taken, and our Filipino allies were of no further practical use to us, the Administration instructed our Peace Commissioners in Paris to obtain from Spain the cession of her sovereignty over the Philippines, not to the people of those islands, but to the United States. Now I shall show, I trust, to the satisfaction of every candid mind, that this proceeding involved on our part the grossest betrayal of our own professed principles, and one of the most glaring self-stultifications ever committed by any government. When we made war upon Spain for the liberation of Cuba, we could not, and did not, deny that Spain, historically, possessed the sovereignty of Cuba. But we maintained that Spain by her tyrannical and oppressive misgovernment had morally forfeited that sovereignty; that she had ceased to possess it as a matter of right, and that, although the Spanish forces were still in actual occupation of the principal cities and harbors, and of a very large portion of the interior of the island, the people of Cuba, having risen up against Spanish misrule, had won the right of sovereignty for themselves. We therefore solemnly declared in that famous resolution of Congress, not merely that Spain must be driven out of Cuba, but that the people of Cuba “of right ought to be and are free and independent” — that is, that the sovereignty of Spain over Cuba was no longer valid, but of right ought to be possessed, and actually was possessed, by the Cuban people themselves.
How does this bear upon the case of the Philippines? It is a fact, not questioned by anybody, that Spanish sovereignty was historically no better founded in the Philippines than in Cuba; that Spanish misrule was fully as grievous in the Philippines as in Cuba; that the people of the Philippines had risen against the misrule as the Cubans had; that the case of the Philippines was, therefore, identical with that of Cuba — with this difference, that the Filipinos had achieved much greater military successes, and organized a far better and stronger native government than the Cubans ever had; so that, in the Philippines, the Spaniards had not only, as they had in Cuba, forfeited the moral title to sovereignty, but had actually lost also the exercise and possession of it. The right of the Filipinos to sovereignty over their country was, therefore, according to our own professed principles, even stronger than that of the Cubans.
The Spanish title to sovereignty over the Philippines was thus utterly discredited by ourselves. By word and act we had, in the parallel case of Cuba, maintained that the Spanish title had rightfully passed to the people of the country. And yet that Spanish title so utterly discredited by ourselves we then recognized again as valid, in order to enable Spain to sell our Filipino allies to us. And we bought that title, although we knew full well that Spain had actually lost it all, and could not deliver anything of it; but we bought the sham, in order to steal the substance from the Philippine Islanders, to whom, by our own doctrine, it rightfully belonged. This is the farcical and contemptible predicament in which the action of the Administration has placed the great American Republic.
I am well aware that astute lawyers may find some quirk or quibble to persuade people who wish to be so persuaded that under the law of nations Spain had still a technical title to a sovereignty which she had morally forfeited and practically lost and could not deliver, and that this she could sell, and we could buy. But will such a technicality satisfy our consciences and protect our honor? Most of us have learned by experience to distinguish between the class of men who in their dealings with their neighbors are governed by an innate moral sense of right and who will never condescend to take an unfair advantage even when the law permits them to do so with impunity — and another class consisting of persons claiming to be respectable, but to whom the question of moral right is of no concern, and who do not scruple at any moral wrong for their own benefit, taking care only not to run foul of the penal code. The first class we call “gentlemen,” and we respect and trust them. The second class we do not — at least, we ought not to — call gentlemen, for we feel like carefully guarding our pockets when we meet them. Let there be no illusion about this. He who uses the technicalities of the law to take a wrongful advantage of his neighbor may keep clear of the penitentiary, but he is not an honest man.
And now I soberly ask you, does not the purchase of that Spanish sovereignty put the American people plainly into that category? How pitiably the Administration itself has been at sea as to the origin of our title to sovereignty! On December 21, 1898, in his famous “benevolent assimilation” order, which, in fact, was his declaration of war against the Filipinos, President McKinley said:
The destruction of the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila by the United States naval squadron, followed by the reduction of the city and the surrender of the Spanish forces, practically effected the conquest of the Philippine Islands and the suspension of Spanish sovereignty therein. With the signature of the treaty of peace between the United States and Spain on the 10th instant, and as the result of the victories of American arms, the future control, disposition and government of the Philippine Islands are ceded to the United States. In fulfilment of the right of sovereignty thus acquired,
he ordered immediate military occupation.
That this was not a truthful statement of the case — that is, that we had then acquired no rights by the treaty, which at that time, not yet having been ratified, was of no force; and that we had not acquired the Philippines by conquest, for which we are still fighting — everybody will admit. Why, even the President himself admitted it, for several months later he said in a speech at Pittsburgh:
Until the treaty of peace was ratified [which it was only seven weeks after the issue of the order before quoted], we had no authority beyond Manila city, bay and harbor. Spain was in full possession of the remainder of the archipelago.
This was correct as to the extent of our authority, but it was again strikingly erroneous as to the status of Spain; for, as everybody knows, Spain was not only not “in full possession of the remainder of the archipelago,” but she was not in possession of any part of it. The so-called remainder of the archipelago was possessed, if by anybody, by the people thereof — a notorious fact of which the President of this Republic was strangely unmindful.
At last Mr. Day, late Secretary of State, and chairman of the commission that made the peace treaty, comes to the rescue, and declares in a public letter that we have acquired the Philippines not by conquest — for, says he, “the United States has never undertaken, so far as I know, to wrest from a foreign country lands or possessions simply by right of conquest” — but by purchase, paying $20,000,000 for them. But he does not say in his letter what everybody knows, that we bought something from Spain which Spain no longer owned, and did not and could not deliver, as we are painfully aware, inasmuch as we have ever since been engaged in killing our late Filipino allies, who defend the rightful title belonging to the people. And finally comes the President, who coolly observes in his message that the Philippine Islands “belong to us by every title of law and equity.”
“Law and equity” forsooth! Consider it from the ethical standpoint, which to honest men is the only true one. What is our position in truth? That of a powerful and rich man who, artfully abusing the confidence of poor and feeble people, robs them of their dues by legal jugglery and force, and then blandly tells his victims that Providence has so ordered it for their good, putting upon him a trust which he has not sought.
And to enforce such a title of sovereignty resting, not upon anything akin to moral right, but at best upon a shrewd legal technicality which in private life every gentleman would despise, we have proceeded to kill thousands upon thousands of men and devastated the homes of thousands upon thousands of innocent people who had never done us any harm and whose only offense consisted in having confidently expected that the generous and liberty-loving Americans would be true to their professed principles, and who, being grievously disappointed in this, still wished to be free and independent. What defense in the world can there be of such an outrage? Aside from shifting the responsibility on Providence, the excuse is brought forth that our soldiers were attacked and had to “defend” the American flag.
Defend the American flag? Let us see. There are certain facts admitted by all. The first shot was not fired by a Filipino, but by an American soldier, killing a Filipino who had not attacked him, but had simply crossed the American line. Some shots were fired in return, and then the firing spread and developed into an extended engagement which evidently was not planned by the Filipinos. Aguinaldo promptly disavowed the collision, and made a fair proposition to stop it. It would thus have been stopped had our commander agreed; but he insisted upon continuing the fight. General Otis says in his report: “The engagement was one strictly defensive on the part of the insurgents and of vigorous attack by our forces.” The only excuse given for his action is that the Filipinos would have wanted to fight if they had been ready, and that they had become “abusive,” and “insulting,” and “defiant” — terms often freely applied by some Anglo-Saxons to people of other, especially darker, races who presume to think that they have some rights. Thus the plain fact is that our men actually began the slaughter, and that our commander refused to stop it when he might have done so with honor.
But more important is the other fact, also set forth in General Otis's report, that the President had directly provoked a collision with the Filipinos by his notorious order of December 21, 1898 — a document so inflammatory in its character that General Otis found it necessary to suppress it and to substitute a proclamation of his own — a scheme which failed, as the President's order became public through a subordinate commander. General Otis knew that the President's order would be taken by the Filipinos as a declaration of war, which in fact it was. No criticism of the President's action can place the responsibility for the Filipino war more conclusively upon the President than this part of General Otis's report. And when, after all this, we hear the President say, as last summer he did say in his speech at Pittsburgh, “the first blow was struck by the insurgents”; and at Fargo, “then it was that the insurgent leader made an attack upon our men, and then our boys let loose”; and in his message, “An attack, evidently prepared in advance, was made all along the American lines” — when we hear him say to the people such things, in the face of such facts, we fairly hold our breath and bow our heads.
After all this we must not be surprised that the imperialists are so anxious to make the American people believe that there would have been no fight in the Philippines had there been no speeches made in the United States against the policy of conquest and subjugation, and that the authors of such speeches are therefore traitors giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Has it been forgotten that the Filipinos have more than once risen against Spanish tyranny long before we took any interest in those islands and their people? Does not this show them capable of rising without any such outside encouragement?
But we are told that to rise against the Americans is quite a different thing; that a majority of the Filipinos really are fond of us, and hail American sovereignty as the satisfaction of a long-felt want; and that there are only a few mischievous leaders whose “sinister ambition,” as the President calls their desire for freedom and independence, has stirred up disorder, and who would soon have desisted had not the speeches of American anti-imperialists encouraged them. I hardly could trust my eyes when I read in the President's annual message this amazing statement: “I had every reason to believe, and I still believe, that this transfer of sovereignty was in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the great mass of the Filipino people.” And this in the face of the fact that we need there for the enforcement of that sovereignty the largest Army this Republic has ever had in active field service, except during our civil war an Army twice or three times as large as any we had in the Revolutionary war, or in the War of 1812, or in the Mexican war, or in Cuba in the late war — an Army ten times as large as that which is thought necessary to keep order in Cuba now.
Why do we need so tremendous a force? To beat the Filipino army which as our Secretary of War told us, in a speech at Chicago, represented almost too infinitesimally small a portion of the Filipino people to be mathematically expressed by way of percentage? Or do we need it, as others tell us, to protect the “good Americans” among the Filipino people against the so-called “rebels”? But if, as the President says, “this transfer of sovereignty was in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the great mass of the Filipino people,” why do we not put arms into the hands of the great mass to enable it to tackle that small rebellious minority and hand it over to the police? Why not? The reason is simple: Because, as everybody knows, there is too much reason to fear that this great mass of “good Americans” would, upon occasion, turn out to be good Filipinos and eventually use those arms against us.
A few months ago I said in a public address: “We have not a true friend left among the islanders, unless it be some speculators and the Sultan of Sulu; we have managed to turn virtually the whole population into deadly enemies.” This statement was hotly impugned by Professor Worcester in a published paper in which he actually named three prominent Filipinos who, he says, are not speculators, but our fast friends; and he adds that “we have many another honest and able American friend among the leading men of the archipelago.” With the same assurance, the same Professor Worcester had told us of the splendid success of the local government established under American auspices on the island of Negros, and about the enthusiasm with which the native people had received it. But shortly afterwards came the news of the “treason” of some of the principal native officers, whose “benevolent assimilation” and devotion to the American liberators had been praised so highly. And we have had similar experiences in other places. I doubt whether even Professor Worcester's three elect are quite safe.
Certainly, we may here and there find a Filipino who for some reason attaches his fortune to ours. Napoleon found some such men in Spain in 1809. The Emperor Maximilian found even a larger number in Mexico. But did that make the great mass of the Spanish people Napoleon's friends, or the Mexican people the friends of the French and the Austrian invaders? By the steady pressure of force we can compel obedience, but not friendship and fidelity. Nor will mere “good government” prove a remedy; for the best government will always be unpopular, if it is foreign government — especially when the imposition of foreign sovereignty has been accomplished by treacherous breaches of faith and bloody terrorism. Sincere acceptance of rule by a foreign race a race so utterly foreign as ours is to theirs, so foreign in origin, customs, habits, traditions, ways of thinking, and a race withal so imperious, so grasping and so disdainful of all other races it considers inferior — sincere acceptance of such a rule by the great mass of a people is impossible. It is against human nature.
British rule in India has in part been recognized as beneficial. But in spite of some theatrical demonstrations of loyalty we hear of, Great Britain would not to-day with any confidence leave the maintenance of the Indian Empire to the fidelity of the native population. The British heart secretly trembles at the thought of what would come if a torch were thrown into that mass of Indian combustibles. As to the Philippine Islands, our government, whatever otherwise its quality, will always be essentially government by garrison. Those who carried on their struggle for freedom will always remain the heroes of the people, and whatever banquet we as foreign rulers may spread to them, the shade of their betrayed and murdered independence will, like Banquo's ghost, always claim the first seat at the board. If President McKinley really believes that “the transfer of sovereignty was in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the great mass of the Filipino people,” it shows only how hopelessly blind he is to the true nature of the problem.
No, the Filipino people needed no impulse from the outside to encourage their resistance to subjugation by foreign arms. If they had needed such encouragement, they would have first had it from President McKinley himself when he told the world — it was before the snake of imperialistic ambition had bitten his heart — that “annexation by force could not be thought of, because, according to the American code of morals, it would be CRIMINAL AGGRESSION.” Nothing truer and nothing severer has been said by anybody in condemnation of his present policy. That, while the fight was going on, the Filipinos were pleased to hear of men in this country opposing their subjugation, was natural enough — just as natural as was the comfort the revolutionary American colonists took in the utterances of Chatham and Burke. But would the American colonists have ceased to struggle if Burke and Chatham had been silent?
And besides, what does it mean that no American citizen should permit himself to denounce a public wrong or to advocate the principles upon which this Republic is founded, lest people who feel themselves betrayed and oppressed find comfort in his words? If the Administration has led us into policies which cannot bear discussion in the light of the Declaration of Independence, of the Constitution of the United States and of the teachings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, must we bury the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Washington's and Lincoln's teachings out of sight so that they may not interfere with the ambitions and schemes of our rulers? Is it not rather high time to bury such policies so that the great American Republic may dare to be itself again?
No, the shrewd trick of representing those who labored to prevent and to stop the Filipino war as responsible for that war will not succeed with an intelligent people. Is there a sane man in the world who believes that there would have been any Filipino war had the President remained true to the solemn pledge that the war against Spain would be a war of liberation, and not of conquest — and mindful of his own affirmation that annexation by force could not be thought of because it would be criminal aggression? Would there have been a Filipino war if the President had inspired the Filipino people with the hope that their rights would be respected as we had promised to respect those of the Cubans, instead of treating our allies as if they were mere interlopers in their own country, who could be bought and sold like dumb animals, and then flinging in their faces that outrageous “benevolent assimilation” order, so insulting and inflammatory a provocation that General Otis, foreseeing with alarm the certain consequences of its issue, anxiously but ineffectually sought to conceal it?
No, there can be no question as to the responsibility for this disgraceful conflict, and all the blood spilled in it. Those who had the power to prevent or stop it by being simply faithful to the principles the American people have hitherto so proudly professed — they will be held forever answerable for this wanton and wicked war by impartial history, and no sanctimonious cant, no cunning sophistry, can disguise their guilt, or save them from that awful judgment.
I am aware that an arraignment like this puts our imperialists very much out of temper, and they impatiently exclaim: “Why say such things while you know that the case is finally settled and your criminations serve only to smirch the good name of the country?” I have this to answer:
First, what I have spoken is the truth. I challenge any defender of the Administration policy to disprove the correctness of a single one of my statements of fact, or of the conclusions drawn.
Secondly, those have smirched the good name of the country who have done and are doing these nefarious things, not those who denounce them. Nay, the repute of the country would be still more smirched if we permitted the world to believe that such things could be done in the Republic of Washington and Lincoln with the general approval of the people, even without calling forth a voice of protest.
Thirdly, the case is not finally settled, and it will not be finally settled until it be settled aright. A most unscrupulous and crafty “confidence game” has been worked upon the American people. When after Dewey's victory more troops were sent to the Philippines than the war against the Spaniards seemed to require, we were told that criticism was unpatriotic, because the President was best informed, and must be trusted. When the peace negotiations came and it was rumored that the Administration would demand the cession of the Philippines to the United States, we were admonished to hush all unfavorable discussion because it would encourage the Spaniard to obstreperousness in the peace negotiations. When the peace treaty with that cession in it was before the Senate, we were warned that no patriot would oppose the ratification of a treaty of peace, and as to the final disposition of the Philippines, that would rest with Congress. And all the while the President repeated over and over that Congress would have to speak the decisive word. But now, when Congress is to take up the great question, we are told that the whole case is settled, and that any attempt to shake or even to criticize that settlement will be useless and unpatriotic.
Oh, no, gentlemen, this will not do. This artful dodge has been played long enough, and too long. The President's attempt, while constantly speaking of Congress as the ultimate arbiter, to anticipate the action of Congress, and thus to force its hand by accomplished facts, has advanced to a dangerous stage, but it has, after all, not quite succeeded; and if that spirit of liberty which gave birth to this Republic still lives, it will never succeed. Unless I am much mistaken, the people are still sovereign in this country, and they will not permit any President to purloin that sovereignty from them by a sleight of hand. The people will still have to pronounce the final verdict, and I trust they will do so after a conscientious consideration, not of the mere question of profit, but, what is infinitely more important, of the moral merits of the case. It is, therefore, not only the right, but the duty of every good citizen to form an honest opinion on this momentous subject and to speak out without fear or favor.
The people will find, if they have not found it already, that a great wrong has been done in their name, which, unless it be undone, so far as it can be, will cover them with eternal disgrace. I challenge any one of the President's defenders to point out in the whole history of the world a single act of perfidy committed by a republican government more infamous than that which has been committed by this Administration against our confiding Filipino allies. Show me a single one! You will search for it in vain in all the annals of mankind.
This is strong language, you may say. So it seems. But it is time to call things by their right names, and I am weighing my words. Have the courage to look the facts once more in the face:
We invite the co÷peration of the insurgent Filipinos against the common enemy, the Spaniards. As our allies, the Filipinos do valiant and effective service. While we accept and profit from their aid as our allies, we knowingly permit them to believe that they are fighting for their own independence, and that we are fighting for their independence, too, having solemnly proclaimed to the world that our war against Spain, the common enemy, was to be a war of liberation, and not of conquest. When we have no further use for our Filipino allies, we begin peace negotiations with the common enemy from which our Filipino allies are sternly excluded, and behind their backs we purchase from the common enemy his title of sovereignty over them — a title utterly discredited by ourselves — so that from subjects of Spanish foreign rule they may become subjects of American foreign rule. And when then our late allies insist upon being free and refuse to be bought from the defeated enemy like a herd of cattle, we slaughter them by thousands.
Look at this and consider it soberly. What have you to say? Is “infamy” too strong a word for it? I wish I could find a more scorching one to brand it as it deserves. Why, if anybody did anything like this in private life it would be a queer kind of gentlemen that would admit him to their company. And this is what has been done in the name of the great American Republic — the Republic born of the Declaration of Independence, the Republic of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Again, I say, Shame, where is thy blush?
And what do we hear in justification of this? Some clergymen tell us that this is one of the ways of spreading abroad Christianity and virtue and superior civilization. Would not these holy men do well to consider what effect the teachings involved in the justification of so criminal an outrage may have upon the Christianity, virtue and superior civilization of their flocks at home?
Then we are told that those islands are rich, and will be a foothold for our Chinese trade, and that therefore we must have them. Indeed, in the soundful sophomoration of the young Senator from Indiana, recently delivered in the Senate, a picture of the wealth of the Philippine Islands was unrolled gorgeous enough to make the mouth of the most virtuous pirate water. He looked down with the loftiest pity upon every one who would be so blind as not to lay hold of that wealth if he had a chance; and to make sure that our chance should be fully used, he proposed a system of government for the Philippines so absolutely despotic — a despotism so entirely undiluted with any American idea of human rights — that it would more than satisfy the sternest Russian autocrat. No more brutal appeal to sordid greed, no appeal so utterly hostile to the vital principles of our free institutions, expressed in the most high-sounding verbiage of American patriotism, has ever been addressed to our people. If this be the spirit animating the youth of America, then the great American Republic will soon cease to be an encouragement to the progress of political liberty and become a warning example to all the world.
And this is the spirit of imperialism. I am well aware that some imperialists have protested against the cynicism with which others have appealed to sordid motives, and that the Commission has framed a plan to give the Philippine Islanders a share in their government under American sovereignty. But who will deny that if the motive of pecuniary profit were taken out of the imperialist movement, that movement would lose its vital impulse and speedily collapse? When Colonel Denby, the most influential of the Philippine Commissioners, some time ago publicly declared that we wanted the Philippines for our own profit, and not for their good, and that if we found their possession unprofitable we would drop them and let the Filipinos cut each other's throats if they liked — when he said that, was he not only a little more brutally candid than most of his friends? And can any sane man doubt that, whatever plans of imperial government may be devised, the rule of our race over another which we consider inferior will always be essentially arbitrary and consistently beneficent only when selfish interest permits it?
Listen to the wail of misery and despair coming from the Porto Ricans who were promised liberty and happiness under the American flag! Do not now powerful interests demand a policy which means to them poverty and oppression? Now, was there ever a sound reason why we should have wanted that possession, unless it were to get a naval station which we might easily have had on some other little island without much population? May we not well ask whether it would not be much better for our own comfort, as well as for the Porto Ricans, to let them go free and help them form a confederation of the Antilles with Cuba, Hayti and San Domingo?
And can you be blind to the effects which the tendencies of imperialism are already exercising among ourselves upon the popular mind? Do you not hear the scoffing levity with which the Declaration of Independence and the high ideals of liberty and human rights which so long have been sacred to our people, are made sport of; how the teachings of Washington and Lincoln are derided as antiquated nursery rhymes, and how the Constitution, when it stands in the way of grasping schemes, is lightly brushed aside with the flippant word, that constitutions are made for men and not men for constitutions?
It cannot be repeated too often that there are things which may be done by monarchical or aristocratic governments without making them less strong as monarchies or aristocracies, but which cannot be done by a democracy based upon universal suffrage, without fatally demoralizing it as a democracy; and that one of those things is the arbitrary ruling of foreign populations as subjects. By the way, England is sometimes quoted as an example and called a democracy. This is a mistake. England is not a democracy, but a monarchy with democratic tendencies, but very powerful and tenacious aristocratic traditions.
What a democracy, based upon universal suffrage, like ours needs most to insure its stability is an element of conservative poise in itself. This can be furnished only by popular faith in the principles underlying the democratic institutions; by popular reverence for high ideals and traditions; by popular respect for constitutional forms and restraints. Take away these conservative and ennobling influences, and the only motive forces left in such a democracy will be greed and passion. I can hardly imagine any kind of government more repellent than a democracy that has ceased to believe in anything, and in which all ambitions are directed towards a selfish use of power.
And in this direction the policy of imperialism is evidently driving us. Have you considered what this means? What will it lead to if our people accept the teaching that all our traditional creeds about liberty and the rights of men are mere sentimental rubbish; that the most solemn professions and pledges may be repudiated if they stand in the way of our ambition; that even such base treachery as has been committed against our late Filipino allies will be justifiable if it profits us; that only old fogies in their dotage talk about legal principles and constitutional restrictions when they obstruct the gratification of our desires; and that might need not be too scrupulous about right? Many of our rich men have become imperialists, believing that the possession of the Philippines, in whatever way acquired, will offer favorable chances of gain to speculative capitalists. Have they thought of it that the doctrine of might, not needing to be scrupulous about right, may be applied not only to the unscrupulous might of arms and not only to the unscrupulous might of wealth, but also, in a democracy, to the might of numbers becoming unscrupulous? And this is the tendency of imperialism in this democratic republic.
I am by no means blind to the commercial side of the question. I desire the greatest possible commercial expansion, honorably accomplished. And more than once have I argued that all the commercial advantages and naval facilities we can reasonably desire in the Philippines, we might easily have had from the Philippine Islanders if we had faithfully respected their title to independence; and that those advantages would be much more secure with the Filipinos free and friendly than with the Filipinos subjugated and hostile. This argument has never been answered. It never will be. How criminally wanton is it to seek those commercial advantages needlessly at the price of crying injustice to others and fatal demoralization among ourselves — a price we should never pay for anything!
But now I am asked, admitting all this to be true: What can we do, after having gone so far? The case is simple. Indeed, we cannot wake up the dead whose innocent blood has been spilled. We cannot altogether expunge the disgraceful page of history that has been written. But the American people can rise up and declare that the great wrong attempted by misguided men in power in the name of the Republic shall not be consummated; that as we solemnly promised at the beginning of our Spanish war, that war shall stand in history as a war of liberation, and not of conquest; that our government shall recognize the Philippine Islands as free and independent, and that if the present Congress and Executive will not do so, the people will elect a Congress and an Executive who will.
But what will become of the Philippine Islanders if unfit for independent government? Of course, every man who either himself wishes to keep the Philippines, or who serves the Administration, strenuously insists that the islanders are utterly unable to govern themselves. It is always so. He who seeks to make another man his subject, always maintains that the other is incapable of being a freeman. Thus, as a last resort, the agitators for imperialism are now all busily engaged in abusing the Filipinos and their leader. But here we have Admiral Dewey's emphatic and repeated official statement: “In my opinion, these people are far superior in their intelligence and more capable of self-government than the natives of Cuba, and I am familiar with both races.” Has this weighty declaration been invalidated by the subservient talk of others who thought likewise until the desire of the Administration that the Philippine people should not be held capable of independent government became public? Let our government take the position that the Philippines are to be independent, and Admiral Dewey's original opinion will be promptly and generally accepted as the correct one.
And what of the danger that, if we recognize the independence of the Philippines, some other power will at once rush in to clutch them? Does any sane man believe that there will be such a danger if this great Republic forbids it? And why should not American diplomacy succeed in bringing the powers most nearly concerned to an agreement to declare the Philippines neutral territory as Belgium and Switzerland are in Europe? I have often asked this question, and it has never been answered. The President says in his message: “We fling them a golden apple of discord, among the rival powers, no one of which could permit another to seize them unquestioned.” Precisely. No one of them permitting another to seize them, it will be easily feasible to make them all agree to their neutrality, so that none of them shall have them.
These are phantom dangers. Neither have we a right to say that the Philippine people must be held to be incapable of independent government if they cannot form an ideal republic, in which liberty and peace and order and honesty will reign in unclouded sunshine. They may easily be as orderly as Kentucky and as honestly governed as the city of New York. What if they have their troubles and turmoils? They may be like some South American republics, or develop into something like the orderly dictatorship in Mexico. Do we question the title of those countries to their independence? Let us not indeed “scuttle away” from the Philippines, like baffled thieves, but assist and protect them until they stand upon their own feet; and if this is done in perfect good faith, difficulties now deemed ever so formidable will vanish like morning mist.
Besides, it is not the most important question how perfect their government will be. More important is it that their government should be their own, and more important still that the American people should not become unfaithful to the fundamental principles of their democracy; that they should not lose their high ideals of liberty, right and justice, and that they should wash from the escutcheon of the Republic the foul blot with which the great perfidy to our late allies has defiled it.
I entreat you soberly to contemplate the alternative now before us. If we permit the great wrong attempted by the Administration to be consummated, our moral credit with the world will be gone forever. Having started in our Spanish war with the solemn proclamation that this would be a war of liberation and not of conquest, and then having turned that war into one of land-grabbing and self-confessed “criminal aggression,” nobody will ever again believe in any profession of virtue or generosity we may put forth. It will be hooted down the world over as sheer hypocrisy disguising greedy schemes. We shall be guilty of the meanest as well as, in its consequences, the most dangerous iniquity a nation can commit — the betrayal of an ally. There is nothing so perfidious that thenceforth we shall not be thought capable of, and other nations will prudently take care not to make common cause with us for anything upon a mere assurance of good faith on our part. This is the “glory” we shall have won. Our sister republics in this hemisphere have looked upon the United States as their natural protector, and they were our natural friends. Since we have dishonored our professions of disinterested motive, they will always suspect us of a design to stretch out our rapacious hands also against them. Already they speak of this Republic no longer as their strong and trusty friend, but as the “peligro del Norte,” the “danger in the North.” And they will do this so long as we hold any of our conquests. In constant fear of our greed and perfidy, they will, in case of critical complications, be inclined to coalesce even with Old-World powers against us, and we shall have secret or open enemies instead of trustful friends at our very doors. We shall have the Philippines with a population bitterly hating us, and, in case of trouble with some foreign power, eager to kindle a fire in our rear. We shall, instead of enjoying the inestimable blessing of exemption from the burdens of militarism, be obliged to keep up large and costly armaments to hold down our discontented subjects and to provide for our own security. And more. We shall have a bad conscience. We shall have betrayed the fundamental principles of our democracy, robbed the American people of their high ideals and beliefs, and thus destroyed the conservative element without which a democracy based on universal suffrage cannot long endure.
And all this to gain some commercial advantage and naval facilities which we might have had just as fully, and much more securely, had we kept good faith with ourselves, with our allies and with the world.
Now contemplate the other side of the alternative. If the American people, even after the monstrous aberrations of their government, repudiate the policy of criminal aggression and renounce their conquests; if they declare that their profession of unselfish motive and generous purpose in the Spanish war was sincere, and must be maintained at any cost — what then? They will forever put to shame the detractors of the American democracy. They will show that, although the powers of their government may some time be put to base uses by men of misguided ambition, the American people are honest, and can be counted upon to resist even the strongest of temptations, the intoxication of victory, and to submit even to the mortifying ordeal of a confession of wrong done in their name, in order that right, justice and liberty may prevail. Such an attitude will secure to the American people the confidence of mankind as it has never been enjoyed by any nation in the world's history, and with it the fruits of that confidence. Our democratic institutions will issue from the trial with a luster they never had before. By so splendid a proof of good faith this Republic will achieve a position of unexampled moral grandeur and influence. It will naturally become the trusted umpire between contending states, a peaceable arbiter of the world's quarrels. It will not only be a great world-power by its strength, but the greatest of all existing world-powers by its moral prestige.
It may be asked whether this is not an ideal picture. Well, this is the idealism cherished by George Washington, the soberest and most practical of men. This is what he wished and hoped the Republic of the United States, which he loved so much, would become.
But is there any chance of its accomplishment? Are not present circumstances rather discouraging? So they appear. But we old anti-slavery men have in our days seen darker situations than this. I remember the period after the compromise of 1850 which was accepted by both political parties as a finality never to be disturbed. The popular conscience concerning slavery seemed absolutely dead. Those who still spoke against slavery were on all sides, by commercialism and by the politician, denounced as bad citizens, incendiaries, traitors to their country. A prediction of a speedy anti-slavery triumph would have sounded like the freak of a madman. But the conscience of the American people was not dead. A new condition soon illumined the question as with a flood of new light. The popular conscience suddenly rose up in its might and did not rest until slavery was wiped out.
Let the imperialists not delude themselves. If the present Congress fails to undo the great wrong that has been done, appeal will be taken to the people. And it will be kept there, and, if need be, renewed year in and year out. It will give you no rest, as the slavery question gave us no rest, until finally settled aright. And — take heed! — the longer the right settlement is delayed, the greater will be its cost. You may call the upholders of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution, the followers of Washington's and Lincoln's teachings, “traitors” or “bores” — no matter, they will not give up the belief that the American people are an honest people, and, like the anti-slavery men, they will not cease to appeal to the popular conscience, fully confident that the time will come when on Washington's Birthday we may feel that we are again worthy of him, and that his great monition has not been in vain:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all; religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened and, at no distant day, a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
Speeches of Carl Schurz