Our New Possessions
Robert Green Ingersoll
As I understand it, the United States went into this war against Spain in the cause of freedom. For three years Spain has been endeavoring to conquer these people. The means employed were savage. Hundreds of thousands were starved. Yet the Cubans, with great heroism, were continuing the struggle. In spite of their burned homes, their wasted fields, their dead comrades, the Cubans were not conquered and still waged war. Under those circumstances we said to Spain, "You must withdraw from the Western World. The Cubans have the right to be free!"
It was understood and declared at the time, that we were not waging war for the sake of territory, that we were not trying to annex Cuba, but that we were moved by compassion — a compassion that became as stern as justice. I did not think at the time there would be war. I supposed that the Spanish people had some sense, that they knew their own condition and the condition of this Republic. But the improbable happened, and now, after the successes we have had, the end of the war appears to be in sight, and the question, arises: What shall we do with the Spanish islands that we have taken already, or that we may take before peace comes?
Of course, we could not, without stultifying ourselves and committing the greatest of crimes, hand back Cuba to Spain. But to do that would be no more criminal, no more infamous, than to hand back the Philippines. In those islands there are from eight to ten millions of people, and they have been robbed and enslaved by Spanish officers and soldiers. Undoubtedly they were savages when first found, and undoubtedly they are worse now than when discovered — more barbarous. They wouldn’t make very good citizens of the United States; they are probably incapable of self- government, but no people can be ignorant enough to be justly robbed or savage enough to be rightly enslaved. I think that we should keep the islands, not for our own sake, but for the sake of these people.
As far as the Philippines are concerned, I think that we should endeavor to civilize them, and to do this we should send teachers, not preachers. We should not endeavor to give them our superstition in place of Spanish superstition. They have had superstition enough. They don’t need churches, they need schools. We should teach them our arts; how to cultivate the soil, how to manufacture the things they need. In other words, we should deal honestly with them, and try our best to make them a self-supporting and a self-governing people. The eagle should spread its wings over those islands for that and for no other purpose. We can not afford to give them to other nations or to throw fragments of them to the wild beasts of Europe. We can not say to Russia, "You may have a part," and to Germany, "You may have a share," and to France, "You take something," and so divide out these people as thieves divide plunder. That we will never do.
There is, moreover, in my mind, a little sentiment mixed with this matter. Manila Bay has been filled with American glory. There was won one of our greatest triumphs, one of the greatest naval victories of the world — won by American courage and genius. We can not allow any other nation to become the owner of the stage on which this American drama was played. I know that we can be of great assistance to the inhabitants of the Philippines. I know that we can be an unmixed blessing to them, and that is the only ambition I have in regard to those islands. I would no more think of handing them back to Spain than I would of butchering the entire population in cold blood. Spain is unfit to govern. Spain has always been a robber. She has never made an effort to civilize a human being. The history of Spain, I think, is the darkest page in the history of the world.
At the same time I have a kind of pity for the Spanish people. I feel that they have been victims — victims of superstition. Their blood has been sucked, their energies have been wasted and misdirected, and they excite my sympathies. Of course, there are many good Spaniards, good men, good women. Cervera appears to be a civilized man, a gentleman, and I feel obliged to him for his treatment of Hobson. The great mass of the Spaniards, however, must be exceedingly ignorant. Their so-called leaders dare not tell them the truth about the progress of this war. They seem to be afraid to state the facts. They always commence with a lie, then change it a little, then change it a little more, and maybe at last tell the truth. They never seem to dare to tell the truth at first, if the truth is bad. They put me in mind of the story of a man telegraphing to a wife about the condition of her husband. The first dispatch was, "Your husband is well, never better." The second was, "Your husband is sick, but not very." The third was, "Your husband is much worse, but we still have hope." The fourth was, "You may as well know the truth we buried your husband yesterday." That is about the way the Spanish people get their war news.
That is why it may be incorrect to assume that peace is coming quickly. If the Spaniards were a normal people, who acted as other folks do, we might prophesy a speedy peace, but nobody has prophetic vision enough to tell what such a people will do. In spite of all appearances, and all our successes, and of all sense, the war may drag on. But I hope not, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the Spaniards themselves. I can’t help thinking of the poor peasants who will be killed, neither can I help thinking of the poor peasants who will have to toil for many years on the melancholy fields of Spain to pay the cost of this war. I am sorry for them, and I am sorry also for the widows and orphans, and no one will be more delighted when peace comes.
The argument has been advanced in the National Senate and elsewhere, that the Federal Constitution makes no provision for the holding of colonies or dependencies, such as the Philippines would be; that we can only acquire them as territories, and eventually must take them in as States, with their population of mixed and inferior races. That is hardly an effective argument.
When this country was an infant, still in its cradle, George Washington gave the child some very good advice; told him to beware of entangling alliances, to stay at home and attend to his own business. Under the circumstances this was all very good. But the infant has been growing, and the Republic is now one of the most powerful nations in the world, and yet, from its infant days until now, good conservative people have been repeating the advice of Washington. It was repeated again and again when we were talking about purchasing Louisiana, and many Senators and Congressmen became hysterical and predicted the fall of the Republic if that was done. The same thing took place when we purchased Florida, and again when we got one million square miles from Mexico, and still again when we bought Alaska. These ideas about violating the Constitution and wrecking the Republic were promulgated by our great and wise statesmen on all these previous occasions, but, after all, the Constitution seems to have borne the strain. There seems to be as much liberty now as there was then and, in fact, a great deal more. Our Territories have given us no trouble, while they have greatly added to our population and vastly increased our wealth.
Beside this, the statesmen of the olden time, the wise men with whom wisdom was supposed to have perished, could not and did not imagine the improvements that would take place after they were gone. In their time, practically speaking, it was farther from New York to Buffalo than it is now from New York to San Francisco, and so far as the transportation of intelligence is concerned, San Francisco is as near New York as it would have been in their day had it been just across the Harlem River. Taking into consideration the railways, the telegraphs and the telephones, this country now, with its area of three million five hundred thousand square miles, is not so large as the thirteen original colonies were; that is to say, the distances are more easily traveled and more easily overcome. In those days it required months and months to cross the continent. Now it is the work of four or five days.
Yet, when we came to talk about annexing the Hawaiian Islands, the advice of George Washington was again repeated, and the older the Senator the fonder he was of this advice. These Senators had the idea that the Constitution, having nothing in favor of it, must contain something, at least in spirit, against it. Of course, our fathers had no idea of the growth of the Republic. We have, because with us it is a matter of experience. I don’t see that Alaska has imperiled any of the liberties of New York. We need not admit Alaska as a State unless it has a population entitling it to admission, and we are not bound to take in the Sandwich islands until the people are civilized, until they are fit companions of free men and free women. It may be that a good many of our citizens will go to the Sandwich Islands, and that, in a short time, the people there will be ready to be admitted as a State. All this the Constitution can stand, and in it there is no danger of imperialism.
I believe in national growth. As a rule, the prosperous farmer wants to buy the land that adjoins him, and I think a prosperous nation has the ambition of growth. It is better to expand than to shrivel; and, if our Constitution is too narrow to spread over the territory that we have the courage to acquire, why we can make a broader one. It is a very easy matter to make a constitution, and no human happiness, no prosperity, no progress should be sacrificed for the sake of a piece of paper with writing on it; because there is plenty of paper and plenty of men to do the writing, and plenty of people to say what the writing should be. I take more interest in people than I do in constitutions. I regard constitutions as secondary; they are means to an end, but the dear, old, conservative gentlemen seem to regard constitutions as ends in themselves.
I have read what ex-President Cleveland had to say on this important subject, and I am happy to say that I entirely disagree with him. So, too, I disagree with Senator Edmunds, and with Mr. Bryan, and with Senator Hoar, and with all the other gentlemen who wish to stop the growth of the Republic. I want it to grow.
As to the final destiny of the island possessions won from Spain, my idea is that the Philippine Islands will finally be free, protected, it may be for a long time, by the United States. I think Cuba will come to us for protection, naturally, and, so far as I am concerned, I want Cuba only when Cuba wants us. I think that Porto Rico and some of those islands will belong permanently to the United States, and I believe Cuba will finally become a part of our Republic.
When the opponents of progress found that they couldn’t make the American people take the back track by holding up their hands over the Constitution, they dragged in the Monroe doctrine. When we concluded not to allow Spain any longer to enslave her colonists, or the people who had been her colonists, in the New World, that was a very humane and wise resolve, and it was strictly in accord with the Monroe doctrine. For the purpose of conquering Spain, we attacked her fleet in Manila Bay, and destroyed it. I can not conceive how that action of ours can be twisted into a violation of the Monroe doctrine. The most that can be said is, that it is an extension of that doctrine, and that we are now saying to Spain, "You shall not enslave, you shall not rob, anywhere that we have the power to prevent it."
Having taken the Philippines, the same humanity that dictated the declaration of what is called the Monroe doctrine, will force us to act there in accordance with the spirit of that doctrine. The other day I saw in the paper an extract, I think, from Goldwin Smith, in which he says that if we were to bombard Cadiz we would give up the Monroe doctrine. I do not see the application. We are at war with Spain, and we have a right to invade that country, and the invasion would have nothing whatever to do with the Monroe doctrine. War being declared, we have the right to do anything consistent with civilized warfare to gain the victory. The bombardment of Cadiz would have no more to do with the Monroe doctrine than with the attraction of gravitation. If, by the Monroe doctrine is meant that we have agreed to stay in this hemisphere, and to prevent other nations from interfering with any people on this hemisphere, and if it is said that, growing out of this, is another doctrine, namely, that we are pledged not to interfere with any people living on the other hemisphere, then it might be called a violation of the Monroe doctrine for us to bombard Cadiz. But such is not the Monroe doctrine. If, we being at war with England, she should bombard the city of New York, or we should bombard some city of England, would anybody say that either nation had violated the Monroe doctrine I do not see how that doctrine is involved, whether we fight at sea or on the territory of the enemy.
This is the first war, so far as I know, in the history of the world that has been waged absolutely in the interest of humanity; the only war born of pity, of sympathy; and for that reason I have taken a deep interest in it, and I must say that I was greatly astonished by the victory of Admiral Dewey in Manila Bay. I think it one of the most wonderful in the history of the world, and I think all that Dewey has done shows clearly that he is a man of thought, of courage and of genius, So, too, the victory over the fleet of Cervera by Commodore Schley, is one of the most marvelous and the most brilliant in all the annals of the world. The marksmanship, the courage, the absolute precision with which everything was done, is to my mind astonishing. Neither should we forget Wainwright’s heroic exploit, as commander of the Gloucester, by which he demonstrated that torpedo destroyers have no terrors for a yacht manned by American pluck. Manila Bay and Santiago both are surpassingly wonderful. There are no words with which to describe such deeds — deeds that leap like flames above the clouds and glorify the whole heavens.
The Spanish have shown in this contest that they possess’ courage, and they have displayed what you might call the heroism of desperation, but the Anglo-Saxon has courage and coolness — courage not blinded by passion, courage that is the absolute servant of intelligence. The Anglo-Saxon has a fixedness of purpose that is never interfered with by feeling; he does not become enraged — he becomes firm, unyielding, his mind is absolutely made up, clasped, locked, and he carries out his will. With the Spaniard it is excitement, nervousness; he becomes frantic. I think this war has shown the superiority, not simply of our ships, or our armor, or our guns, but the superiority of our men, of our officers, of our gunners. The courage of our army about Santiago was splendid, the steadiness and bravery of the volunteers magnificent. I think that what has already been done has given us the admiration of the civilized world.
I know, of course, that some countries hate us. Germany is filled with malice, and has been just on the crumbling edge of meanness for months, wishing but not daring to interfere; hateful, hostile, but keeping just within the overt act. We could teach Germany a lesson and her ships would go down before ours just the same as the Spanish ships have done. Sometimes I have almost wished that a hostile German shot might be fired. But I think we will get even with Germany and with France — at least I hope so.
And there is another thing I hope — that the good feeling now existing between England and the United States may be eternal. In other words, I hope it will be to the interests of both to be friends. I think the English-speaking peoples are to rule this world. They are the kings of invention, of manufactures, of commerce, of administration, and they have a higher conception of human liberty than any other people. Of course, they are not entirely free; they still have some of the rags and tatters and ravelings of superstition; but they are tatters and they are rags and they are ravelings, and the people know it. And, besides all this, the English language holds the greatest literature of the world.
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