CHAPTER XVIII. IMPERIALISM

"The guns of Admiral Dewey did something more than destroy a Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila. Their echo came back to us in a question new in the history of our government." The new problem was Imperialism - was it wise policy and was it constitutional to annex and govern territories outside the limits of continental North America? In colonial problems the United States had had no experience; and if the Philippines, Cuba or Porto Rico were annexed, it would be necessary to administer the affairs of peoples whose languages, racial characteristics and forms of government were utterly strange. Such objections arose in the minds of many Americans as the conference assembled at Paris on October 1 to settle the terms of peace.[1]

The chief controversies between the Spanish and the American negotiators related to Cuba and the Philippines. The Spanish commissioners early proposed to transfer Cuba to the United States, the latter to turn it over to the Cuban people in due time. With the sovereignty of Cuba was to go the debt of the island. On the refusal of the Americans to accede to this, the Spanish commissioners urged the transfer of Cuba to the United States without any promise as to its future. Instructions from Washington both on possession and on debt, however, were explicit and in the end Spain had to relinquish all claim to Cuba and assume responsibility for its indebtedness. The proper disposition of the Philippines presented far greater difficulty. Not only was there a difference of opinion between the two groups of commissioners, but the American government was in doubt about the wisest course to pursue, and grave diversity of opinion existed among the people and in the peace commission itself. Moreover the capture of the city of Manila had taken place after the protocol had been signed and after hostilities had been ordered suspended, but before news of these facts had reached Admiral Dewey. The original instructions of President McKinley to the peace commissioners were to the effect that the outcome of the war had placed new duties and responsibilities on the United States, that the commercial opportunity which possession of the Philippines would present could not be overlooked and that the island of Luzon at least must be ceded. So little was known about the people and the possibilities of the islands that the American commission was compelled to go far afield to obtain information from writers and investigators in regard to questions of defence, the political capacity of the inhabitants, the danger that another nation might step in if the United States should evacuate, commercial prospects, and so on. President McKinley soon came to the opinion that the proper course was to take the entire archipelago. To give them back to Spain seemed "dishonorable"; to turn them over to our commercial rivals, France or Germany, seemed "bad business"; to leave them to themselves would be to leave them to "anarchy and misrule"; hence there was nothing to do but to take all of them and attempt to spread American civilization among the Filipino people. The American commissioners therefore demanded the Philippines, but realizing the defect in their case, since the conquest of Manila had taken place after the conclusion of the protocol, agreed to pay Spain $20,000,000. The Spanish commissioners thereupon yielded to necessity and reluctantly agreed.

As finally signed, the treaty of December 10, 1898, contained the following points: Spain agreed to relinquish Cuba, and the United States was to protect life and property during its occupancy of the island; Spain also ceded Porto Rico and the other Spanish West Indies, Guam in the Ladrones, and the Philippines on payment of $20,000,000; the United States agreed to return to Spain, at its own cost, all Spanish prisoners taken at the time of the capture of Manila; the civil and political rights of the inhabitants of the ceded territories were to be determined by Congress; and freedom of religion was guaranteed.

The reference of the treaty to the Senate for ratification elicited many divergences of opinion, the ablest opposition being presented by members of the President's own party. In particular, the position taken by Senator Hoar, a rigid Republican and a close friend of President McKinley, made a strong impression. That there can be no just government without the consent of the governed, he asserted, was the central doctrine of the Declaration of Independence. Moreover, the acquisition of foreign lands, he believed, would lead us into competition with European powers for territory, and thus tempt us away from the international policy which had been laid down by the "fathers" and followed by the nation ever since. Most of the Democrats held similar views, but some of them heeded the advice of Bryan, who urged that the treaty be ratified in order to end the war, and that the ultimate disposition of the new possessions be decided in the next presidential campaign. The point of view which seems to have prevailed with most Republicans was that the United States, being a sovereign nation, possessed power to acquire territory and to determine its future status, and that as a matter of expediency it was better to take the Philippines than to risk the dangers which lay in leaving them alone. Shortly before the final vote was taken, an insurrection broke out in the Philippines against American control, which may have influenced some senators to accept the President's settlement. Even with this aid, however, ratification was brought about by the narrow margin of one vote more than the required two-thirds majority.[2]