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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 35. Imperialism and Expansion

In the meantime a startling change took place in foreign policy. From the close of the Civil War to 1898 the native mania for territorial expansion was held in restraint. Alaska, it is true, had been acquired, but an excuse was found in a desire to accommodate Russia. The offer by Denmark and Sweden of their West Indian possessions was rejected. Instead of annexing Hawaii in 1894 the sovereignty of a native queen was openly supported. With this sort of background came the Spanish-American War of 1898, and with it the annexation of Hawaii, and in its train the establishment of a protectorate over Porto Rico and the acquisition of the Philippines. For this sudden shift to a policy of territorial expansion economic conditions were largely responsible. By 1890 more manufactured goods were produced than were necessary for home consumption and the national began to compete with European countries in the markets of the world. By 1898 the country was filled with capital, production was greater than consumption, and interest rates were falling. The leaders of industry were alarmed over the unrest in labour and intellectual circles; to them the remedy seemed to lie in a foreign policy which would encourage trade expansion. The argument for such a policy was ably presented by Charles A. Conant:

  • There are three important solutions of this enormous congestion of capital in excess of legitimate demand. One of these is the socialistic solution of the abandonment of saving, the application of the whole earnings of the labourer to current consumption, and the support of old age out of taxes levied upon production of the community. It will be long before this solution will be accepted in a comprehensive form in any modern civilized state. The second solution is the creation of new demands at home for the absorption of capital. This has occurred at several previous stages of the world’s history, and is likely to continue as long as human desires continue expansible. But there has never been a time before when the proportion of capital to be absorbed was so great in proportion to possible new demands.
  • Aside from the waste of capital in war, which is only a form of consumption, there remains, therefore, as the final resource, the equipment of new countries with the means of production and exchange. Such countries have yet to be equipped with the mechanism of production and of luxuries which has been created in the progressive countries of recent generations. They have not only to obtain buildings and machinery—the necessary elements in producing machine-made goods—but they have to build their roads, drain their marshes, dam their rivers, build aqueducts for water supplies, and sewers for their towns and cities.
  • The United States cannot afford to adhere to a policy of isolation while other nations are reaching out for the commerce of these new markets.… The interest rates have greatly declined here during the last five years. New markets and new ports must, therefore, be found if surplus capital is to be profitably employed.
  • The argument for foreign territory met vigorous opposition. Prominent among its critics were those who had been identified with the abolition of slavery, notably George S. Boutwell, George F. Hoar, George F. Edmunds, Samuel Bowles, John Sherman, Charles Francis Adams, and Carl Schurz. Illustrative of the sentiments of these men is the following passage from the Autobiography of George F. Hoar upon the conquest of the Philippines:

  • When I think of my party, whose glory and whose service to Liberty are the guide of my life, crushing out this people in their effort to establish a republic, and hear people talking about giving them good government and that they are better off than they ever were under Spain, I feel very much as if I had learned that my father or some other honoured ancestor had been a slave trader in his time and had boasted that he had introduced a new and easier kind of handcuffs or fetters to be worn by the slaves during the horrors of the middle passage.
  • Co-operating with this group were Samuel Gompers, the labour leader, Edward Atkinson, statistician, Professor Sumner, David Starr Jordan, President of Leland Stanford University, and Andrew Carnegie. As an organ for propaganda the New England Anti-Imperialistic League was formed at Boston in 1899, and about one hundred subsidiary branches were established. A notable episode was the exclusion from the mails by the postmaster at San Francisco of three pamphlets addressed to members of the Philippine Commission, written by Edward Atkinson. These were entitled The Cost of a National Crime, The Hell of War and Its Penalties, and Criminal Aggression; By Whom Committed. They pointed out the cost of imperialism, its “moral, physical, and social degradation,” and the responsibility of President McKinley for the annexation of the Philippines. Not daunted by the action of the government Atkinson promptly reprinted the pamphlets and gave them a wide circulation in his serial publication, The Anti-Imperialist. Other noteworthy pamphlets were Sumner’s Conquest of the United States by Spain (1898), Schurz’s American Imperialist (1899), and Hoar’s No Power to Conquer Foreign Nations (1899).

    These protests were ineffectual. The triumph of the manufacturing and commercial interests in shaping public policy was well illustrated by two practical problems: Did the Constitution and the laws of the United States apply to conquered territory without special legislation by Congress? Was Congress bound by all of the principles of the Constitution in legislating for the territories? Regarding the first of these the policy of the President was negative, and Congress took a similar position in regard to the second. The issue involved was the application of tariff duties to goods coming from the newly acquired territories, the beet sugar and other trade interests opposing free competition and demanding the application of tariff duties to Porto Rican and Philippine products. The position of the executive and the legislature was upheld by the Supreme Court in the celebrated Insular Cases, but the reasoning of the majority opinions was notoriously confusing and unsatisfactory from the standpoint of constitutional law.