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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 20. The Imperial Republic

The American republic had been an expansionist nation since the earliest days of its existence. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, as the population of the United States grew and pressed westward, the government continually acquired new territory for its citizens to occupy: the trans-Appalachian West, the Louisiana Territory, Florida, Texas, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Alaska, and more. It was the nation's "Manifest Destiny," many Americans believed, to expand into new realms.

In the last years of the nineteenth century, the United States was nearing the limits of its capacity to develop new territory on the North American continent. And in those years, expansionism moved into a new phase. In the past, the nation had almost always annexed land contiguous to its existing boundaries, land that could provide new areas of settlement for the American people, land that could be organized as territories and, ultimately, admitted to the Union as states. But the expansionism of the 1890s, the new Manifest Destiny, involved acquiring possessions separate from the continental United States: island territories, many of which were already thickly populated, most of which were not suitable for massive settlement from America, few of which were expected ever to become states of the Union. The United States was acquiring colonies. It was joining England, France, Germany, and other expanding nations in the great imperial drive that was, by the end of the century, to bring much of the underdeveloped world under the control of the industrial powers of the West.

There had been some agitation in America for overseas expansion as early as the 1850s, agitation that continued after the Civil War and, to some extent, during the ensuing decades. Not until the 1890s, however, did the nation seriously embark on the new imperialism. In the wake of a brief, victorious war with Spain, the United States suddenly found itself in possession of a substantial empire and in the position of a widely recognized "world power." Out of the imperial experience of the late nineteenth century emerged many of the basic premises that would dominate American foreign policy for many decades to come. And out of it, too, would emerge many of the problems that would accompany the nation's position as a great power.

Stirrings of Imperialism

For over two decades after the Civil War, the American people seemed to have abandoned the expansionist impulse that had been so powerful in the antebellum years. They were occupied with things closer to homereconstructing the South, settling the Far West, building a network of railroads, and expanding their great industrial system. By the 1890s, however, some Americans were readyindeed, eagerto resume the course of Manifest Destiny that had inspired their forebears to wrest an empire from Mexico in the expansionist 1840s.

The New Manifest Destiny

Several developments played a part in shifting the attention of Americans from their own country to lands across the seas. The "closing of the frontier," widely heralded by Frederick Jackson Turner and many others in the 1890s, produced fears that natural resources would soon dwindle and that alternative sources must be found abroad. The depression that began in 1893 convinced some businessmen that industry had overexpanded and was producing more goods than customers at home could buy. The bitter social protests of the timethe Populist movement, the free-silver crusade, the bloody labor disputes led many people to believe that the nation was threatened with internal collapse; some politicians advocated a more aggressive foreign policy to provide an outlet for frustrations that would otherwise destabilize domestic life.

Foreign trade was becoming increasingly important to the American economy in the late nineteenth century. The nation had exported about $392 million worth of goods in 1870; by 1890, the figure was $857 million; and by 1900, it had leaped to $1.4 billion. Once convinced of the great advantages of overseas markets, many Americans began to consider the possibility of acquiring colonies that might expand such markets further. "Today," Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana cried in 1899, "we are raising more than we can consume. Today, we are making more than we can use. Therefore, we must find new markets for our produce, new occupation for our capital, new work for our labor."

Americans could not, moreover, insulate themselves entirely from the imperialist fever that was raging through Europe. In the last years of the century, the major powers of Europe were partitioning most of Africa among themselves and turning eager eyes on the Far East and the feeble Chinese Empire. Some Americans feared that their nation would soon be left out, that no territory would remain to be acquired. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a leading imperialist, warned that the United States "must not fall out of the line of march."

A philosophic justification for expansionism was provided by historians, professors, clergymen, and others who found a basis for imperialism in their interpretations of Charles Darwin's theories (interpretations that Darwin himself never intended). These intellectuals contended that nations or "races," like biological species, struggled constantly for existence and that only the fittest could survive. For strong nations to dominate weak ones was, therefore, in accordance with the law of nature. This was an application to world affairs of the same distortion of Darwinism that industrialists and others had long been applying to domestic economic affairs in the form of Social Darwinism.

One of the first to advance this argument was the popular writer John Fiske, who predicted in an 1885 article in Harper's Magazine that the English-speaking peoples would eventually control every land that was not already the seat of an established civilization. Support for Fiske's position came the same year from Josiah Strong, a Congregational clergyman and champion of overseas missionary work. In a book entitled Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, Strong declared that the Anglo-Saxon "race," and especially its American branch, represented the great ideas of civil liberty and pure Christianity and was "divinely commissioned" to spread its institutions over the earth. John W. Burgess, founder of Columbia University's School of Political Science, gave the stamp of scholarly approval to imperialism. In his 1890 study Political Science and Comparative Law, he flatly stated that the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic nations possessed the highest political talents. It was the duty of these nations, he said, to uplift less fortunate peoples, even to force superior institutions on them if necessary: "There is no human right to the status of barbarism."

The ablest and probably the most effective apostle of imperialism was Alfred Thayer Mahan, a captain and later an admiral in the navy. Mahan presented his philosophy in three major works: The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890), The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812 (1892), and The Interest of America in Sea Power (1897). His thesis was reasonably simple: The sea-power nations were the great nations of history, and the United States, a huge island, had to build its greatness on sea power. The essential links in sea power were a productive domestic economy, foreign commerce, a merchant marine to monopolize national trade, a navy to defend the trade routes and national interestsand colonies, which would provide raw materials and markets and could serve as bases for the navy. Specifically, Mahan advocated that the United States construct a canal across the isthmus of Central America to join the oceans, acquire defensive bases on both sides of the canal in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and take possession of Hawaii and other Pacific islands. "Whether they will or no," he proclaimed, "Americans must now begin to look outward."

Mahan doubted that the United States would achieve its destiny, because its navy was not large enough to play the role he envisioned for it. But Mahan did not accurately gauge the progress of the naval construction program launched in the Garfield-Arthur administration and continued by every succeeding administration. By 1898, the United States had advanced to fifth among the world's naval powers; and by 1900, to third.

Hemispheric Hegemony

The most ardent practitioner of the new, assertive diplomacy was Benjamin Harrison's secretary of state, James G. Blaine. Blaine believed that his country was destined to dominate the Caribbean and the Pacific. And he believed that it needed to do so because it had to find enlarged foreign markets for its surplus goods. The most likely foreign outlet, he thought, was Latin America, with whose countries he wanted advantageous commercial relations.

Blaine had served briefly as secretary of state once beforeunder James Garfield, in 1881. During his six months in office, he had invited the Latin nations to a Pan-American conference in Washington to discuss trade matters and the arbitration of disputes. Blaine left office after the Garfield assassination, and his successor withdrew the invitations. But sentiment for such a meeting survived, and the first Pan-American Congress finally took place in Washington in October 1889, with delegates from nineteen American nations in attendance. The Latin delegates rejected both of Blame's principal proposals: the creation of an inter-American customs union and the establishment of arbitration procedures to resolve hemispheric disputes. They preferred to buy in the cheaper European market, and they feared the dominance of the United States in arbitration. But the meeting was not a failure. Out of it arose the Pan-American Union, an agency in Washington that became a clearinghouse for distributing information to the member nations. Other congresses would meet in the future to discuss common hemispheric matters.

The Cleveland administration continued the newly aggressive approach to American interests in Latin America when it assumed office in 1893. Indeed, in 1895 President Cleveland and his secretary of state, Richard Olney, carried the country to the brink of war in a dispute with Great Britain over the boundary of Venezuela. Britain and Venezuela had been arguing for years about the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana, and the dispute assumed new importance when gold was discovered in the disputed area. Both Cleveland and Olney, as well as the American public, were disposed to sympathize with Venezuelathe little underdog country confronting the great European power. The president and Congress both urged Britain to submit the matter to arbitration, but the British government took no action.

Olney drafted a harsh note to Lord Salisbury at the Foreign Office, charging that Britain was violating the Monroe Doctrine: "Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition." Salisbury waited four months before sending a curt and condescending reply. The Monroe Doctrine, he insisted, did not apply to boundary disputes or the present situation and had no standing as international law in any case. Britain would not submit to arbitration. Cleveland was enraged. In December 1895, he asked Congress for authority to create a special commission to determine the boundary line; if Britain resisted the commission's decision, he insisted, the United States should be willing to go to war to enforce it.

Congress supported Cleveland's plan with enthusiasm, and war talk raged all over the country. Belatedly, the British government realized that it had stumbled into a genuine diplomatic crisis and was on the verge of a war with the United States it did not want and could not afford. The British quickly backed down and agreed to arbitration. And the dusty Monroe Doctrine, to which few Europeans (and not many Americans) had paid much attention in recent decades, suddenly assumed new importance. Equally significant, the peaceful settlement of the dispute began a long era of friendship between America and Britain and made it possible for the United States to consider new imperialist ventures of its own without risking opposition from the British.

Hawaii and Samoa

The islands of Hawaii in the mid-Pacific had been an important stopover station for American ships in the China trade since the early nineteenth century and was the home of a growing number of American settlers. New England missionaries had arrived in Hawaii as early in 1820; and like their fellow missionaries elsewhere, they advertised the economic possibilities of the islands in the religious press. Soon other Americans arrived to become sugar planters and to found a profitable new industry. Eventually, officers of the growing navy looked longingly on the magnificent natural base of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu.

Gradually, the American residents of Hawaii came to dominate the economic and political life of the islands, despite the presence of native rulers. Commercial relations were inexorably pushing Hawaii into the American orbit and making it, as Blaine accurately contended, a part of the American economic system. A treaty signed in 1875 permitted Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States duty-free and bound the Hawaiian kingdom to make no territorial or economic concessions to other powers. The trade arrangement tied the islands to the American economy, and the political clauses meant that, in effect, the United States was guaranteeing Hawaii's independence and hence was making the islands a protectorate. In 1887, a new treaty renewed the existing arrangements and granted the United States exclusive use of Pearl Harbor as a naval station. The course of events in the Pacific was rendering outright political union almost inevitable.

Sugar production in Hawaii boomed, and prosperity burgeoned for the American planters. Then the McKinley Tariff of 1890 dealt the planters a harsh blow; by removing the duty on foreign raw sugar and giving domestic producers a bounty, it deprived Hawaii of its privileged position in the American sugar market. Annexation (which would give Hawaiian planters the same bounty that American planters were receiving) seemed the only alternative to economic strangulation.

In the midst of growing sentiment among white Hawaiians for union with the United States, the passive native king, Kalakaua, died, to be succeeded in 1891 by Queen Liliuokalani, a nationalist determined to eliminate American influence in the government. Two years later, the American residents staged a revolution and called on the United States for protection. At a critical moment the American minister, John L. Stevens, an ardent annexationist and a friend of Blame's, ordered 160 marines from a warship in Honolulu harbor to go ashore to aid the rebels. The queen yielded her authority, and a delegation representing the triumphant provisional government set out for Washington to negotiate a treaty of annexation. President Harrison happily signed an annexation agreement in February 1893, only weeks before leaving office. But the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and Grover Cleveland, the new president, refused to support it. However disposed Cleveland was to upholding American rights under the Monroe Doctrine, his conservative ideas about the sanctity of property ownership made him wary of the proposed annexation. He withdrew the treaty and sent a special representative to the islands to investigate. When his agent reported that Americans had engineered the revolution, Cleveland endeavored to restore the queen to her throne. But Americans were now firmly in control of the kingdom and refused to budge. Reluctantly, the president had to recognize their government as the new ''republic" of Hawaii. Cleveland had only delayed the inevitable. Debate over the annexation of Hawaii continued until 1898, whenwith the Republicans again in power and with the United States constructing a colonial empire in both oceans Hawaii was annexed by joint resolution of both houses of Congress.

Three thousand miles to the south of Hawaii, the Samoan islands dominated the sea lanes of the South Pacific and had long served as a way station for American ships in the Pacific trade. As American commerce with Asia increased after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 and the extension of a steamship line from San Francisco to New Zealand, certain business groups regarded Samoa with new interest; and the navy eyed the harbor at Pago Pago on the island of Tutuila. In 1872, a naval officer visited the islands and negotiated a treaty granting the United States the use of Pago Pago; but the Senate rejected the agreement. President Grant nevertheless sent a special representative to Samoa to encourage American trading and business interests. A chain of events leading to greater American involvement was being set in motion. In 1878, the Hayes administration brought a native prince to Washington to sign a treaty, which was approved by the Senate, providing for an American naval station at Pago Pago and binding the United States to use its "good offices" to adjust any differences between a foreign power and Samoa. This treaty indicated that the American government meant to have a voice in Samoan affairs.

The opportunity to use that voice soon came. Great Britain and Germany were also interested in the islands, and they hastened to secure treaty rights from the native princes. For the next ten years the three powers scrambled and intrigued for dominance in Samoa, playing off one ruler against another and coming dangerously close to war. In 1889, warships of the contending nations appeared in one Samoan harbor, and a clash seemed imminent. But a tropical hurricane dispersed the vessels, and the German government, not wishing to antagonize the United States, suggested a conference of the interested powers in Berlin to settle the dispute. Germany and Britain would have preferred a division of the islands, but Secretary Blaine insisted on preserving native Samoan rule. The result was that the conferees agreed on a tripartite protectorate over Samoa, with the native chiefs exercising only nominal authority.

The three-way arrangement proved unsatisfactory, failing altogether to halt the intrigues and rivalries of the signatory members. It was abandoned in 1899, when the United States and Germany divided the islands between them, compensating Britain with territories elsewhere in the Pacific. Germany obtained the two largest islands, but the United States retained Tutuila with its incomparable harbor at Pago Pago.

War with Spain

Imperial ambitions had thus begun to stir within the United States well before the late 1890s. But it was the war with Spain in 1898 that turned those stirrings into an overt expansionism. The war transformed America's relationship to the rest of the world, and it left the nation with a vast overseas empire.

Controversy over Cuba

The immediate background of the Spanish-American War lay in the Caribbean island of Cuba, which with nearby Puerto Rico represented nearly all that was left of Spain's once extensive Latin American empire. The Cubans had long resented Spanish rule, and they had engaged in a notable but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow it between 1868 and 1878 (the Ten Years' War). During that revolt, the American people were strongly sympathetic to the Cuban cause, but their feelings did not go beyond vague expressions of support. America even resisted strong provocations. In 1873, Spanish authorities had seized a ship carrying arms to the Cuban rebels and had executed fifty-three members of its crew as pirates. The vessel had flown an American flag (although its owners were Cuban), and some of its seamen were Americans. Popular indignation was intense, but Secretary of State Hamilton Fish had avoided a crisis by inducing the Spanish government to return the Virginius and pay an indemnity to the families of the executed men.

In 1895, the Cubans rose up again. Not only the continuing Spanish misrule but also the American tariff policy created conditions of misery that prepared the way for revolt. Cuba's principal export was sugar, and the bulk of the crop went to the United States. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894, with its high duties on raw sugar, shut off the island's chief source of wealth and prostrated its economy.

From the beginning, the struggle took on aspects of ferocity that horrified Americans. The Cubans deliberately devastated the island to force the Spaniards to leave. To put down the insurrection, the Spanish resorted to methods equally extreme. General Valeriano Weyleror "Butcher" Weyler, as he soon came to be known in the American pressconfined all civilians in certain areas to hastily prepared concentration camps, where they died by the thousands, victims of disease and malnutrition.

Many of the same savage techniques had been employed earlier in the Ten Years' War without shocking American sensibilities. But in the 1890s a wave of anger ran through the American public. The revolt of 1895 was reported more fully and floridly by the American press than the former outbreak and so reported as to give the impression that all the cruelties were being perpetrated by the Spaniards.

At this time, Joseph Pulitzer with his New York World and William Randolph Hearst with his New York Journal were revolutionizing American journalism. The new "yellow press" specialized in lurid and sensational news; when such news did not exist, editors were not above creating it. To Hearst and Pulitzer, engaged in a ruthless circulation war, the struggle in Cuba was a journalist's dream. Both sent batteries of reporters and illustrators to Cuba with orders to provide accounts of Spanish atrocities. "You furnish the pictures," Hearst supposedly told an overly scrupulous artist, "and I'll furnish the war."

The mounting storm of indignation against Spain left President Cleveland unmoved. Convinced that both sides in Cuba were guilty of atrocities and that the United States had no interests justifying involvement in the struggle, he issued a proclamation of neutrality and attempted to stop the numerous filibustering expeditions being organized by a "junta" of Cuban refugees in New York City. When Congress, in a state of excitement, passed a resolution favoring recognition of Cuban belligerency, he ignored it. His only concession to the demands for intervention was to offer to mediate the conflict, a proposal that Spain declined.

When McKinley became president in 1897, he renewed the American mediation offer, which the Spanish again refused. Taking a stronger line than his predecessor, he protested to Spain against its "uncivilized and inhuman" conduct. The Spanish government, alarmed that McKinley's course might lead to American intervention in Cuba, recalled Weyler, modified the concentration policy, and took steps to grant the island a qualified autonomy. At the end of 1897, with the insurrection losing ground, it seemed that war might be averted.

But whatever chance might have existed for a peaceful settlement vanished as a result of two dramatic incidents in February 1898. The first occurred when a Cuban agent in Havana stole a private letter written by Dupuy de Lome, the Spanish minister in Washington, and thoughtfully turned it over to the American press. Published first in Hearst's New York Journal, and later in newspapers across the land, the minister's letter described McKinley as a weak man and "a bidder for the admiration of the crowd." This was no more than many Americans, including some Republicans, were saying about their president (Theodore Roosevelt described McKinley as having "no more backbone than a chocolate eclair"), but because a foreigner had made the remark it was considered a national insult. Popular anger was intense, and Dupuy de Lome resigned before the outraged McKinley could demand his recall.

While the excitement was still at fever pitch, even more sensational news hit the front pages: The American battleship Maine had been blown up in Havana harbor with a loss of more than 260 lives. The ship had been ordered to Cuban waters in January on a supposedly "friendly" visit but really to protect American lives and property against possible attacks by Spanish loyalists. Many Americans jumped to the conclusion that the Spanish had sunk the ship"an act of dirty treachery," Theodore Roosevelt announcedand the imperialists and the jingoists screamed for war. This opinion seemed confirmed when a naval court of inquiry reported that an external explosion by a submarine mine had caused the disaster. In fact, the real cause of the Maine disaster was never determined. Later evidence suggested that it was the result of an accidental explosion inside one of the engine rooms. Nevertheless, war hysteria swept the country, and Congress unanimously appropriated $50 million for military preparations. "Remember the Mainel" became a national chant for revenge.

After the Maine incident, there was little chance that the government could suppress the popular demand for war, although McKinley still preferred to avoid a conflict. In March 1898, he asked Spain to agree to an armistice, with negotiations for a permanent peace to follow, and an immediate ending of the concentration system. After a slight delay, Spain accepted some of the American demandsan end to hostilities, the elimination of the concentration campson April 9. But it refused to agree to an armistice or to negotiations with the rebels; and it reserved the right to resume hostilities at its discretion. Two days later, McKinley asked Congress for authority to use military force to end the hostilities in Cubain short, for a declaration of war, "in the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests." His long, dull, cautious message seemed deliberately designed not to evoke enthusiasm. But on April 19, by huge majorities, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring Cuba free and authorizing the president to employ force to expel the Spanish from the island. Spain broke diplomatic relations with the United States two days later, and a day after that McKinley established a naval blockade of the island and summoned volunteers to fight there. Finally, on April 25, Congress passed a formal declaration of war.

There was, as yet, only limited support for annexation of Cuba as a war aim. Some national leaders were calling openly for imperialism, but a powerful anti-imperialist movement more than counterbalanced them for the time. Evidence of the anti-imperialists' strength was the addition to the congressional resolution of the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any intention on the part of the United States to annex Cuba.

"A Splendid Little War"

The Spanish-American conflict was, in the words of Roosevelt's friend John Hay, "a splendid little war." Indeed, to virtually all Americanswith the exception of many of the enlisted men who fought in it it seemed almost an ideal conflict. It was the last small, short, individualistic war before the huge, protracted, impersonal struggles of the twentieth century. Declared in April, it was over in August. Newspaper readers easily and eagerly followed the campaigns and the heroic exploits of American soldiers and sailors. Only 460 Americans were killed in battle or died of wounds, but some 5,200 perished of disease: malaria, dysentery, typhoid, among others.

Blithely and confidently, the United States embarked on a war it was not prepared to fight. The agencies responsible for supplying the troops, manned by elderly bureaucratic officers, proved incapable of meeting the modest wants of the armed forces during the war. There were enough Krag-Jorgensen repeating rifles, using smokeless powder, for the regulars; but the volunteers had to make do with the old black-powder, single-shot Springfields of the Civil War. American soldiers fighting in tropical regions were clothed in the traditional heavy blue uniforms and fed canned rations that they called "embalmed beef." Medical supplies and services were inadequate, which contributed to the heavy impact of tropical diseases on the troops.

The regular armynumbering only 28,000 troops and officers scattered around the country at various postswas a tough little force, skilled at quelling Indian outbreaks, but with no experience in large-scale warfare. Hastily Congress directed the president to increase the army to 62,000 and to call for 125,000 volunteers.

National Guard units, organized by local communities and commanded for the most part by local leaders, did the bulk of the fighting. Each unit considered itself a representative of its own town, and friends and relatives at home took a special pride in the performance of their "boys" and their unit. It was, in fact, the connection between the war and this pride in community that helped make the conflict so popular. More than 1 million young men volunteered for service, nearly ten times the number the president had requested. The invasion army also included several volunteer cavalry units, including the celebrated Rough Riders, nominally commanded by Leonard Wood but actually by Theodore Roosevelt, who was about to make the front pages as a war hero.

The character or the American war effort was determined in part by the nature of the opposition. The Spanish army numbered almost 130,000 men, of whom 80,000 were already in Cuba at the beginning of the war. Despite its size, however, its commanders seemed to be paralyzed by a conviction of certain j defeat. The American navy, fifth largest in the world, '' was far superior to the Spanish in ships, guns, and personnel.

No agency in the American military had clear authority over strategic planning. Only the navy had worked out an objective, and its objective had little to do with freeing Cuba. The assistant secretary of the navy in the McKinley administration was Theodore Roosevelt, ardent imperialist, active proponent of war, and uninhibited by the fact that he was a relatively minor figure in the military hierarchy. In consultations with naval officers, Roosevelt prepared to seize Spain's Philippine Islands in the far Pacific. He strengthened the Asiatic squadron and instructed its commander, Commodore George Dewey, to attack the Philippines in the event of war.

Immediately after war was declared, Dewey left the China coast and headed for Manila, where an aging Spanish fleet was stationed. On May 1 he steamed into Manila Bay, and as his ships prepared to pass down the line of anchored enemy vessels he uttered the first slogan of the war: "You may fire when ready, Gridley." When the firing was finished, the Spanish fleet was completely destroyed, one American sailor lay dead (of a heat stroke) and George Dewey, immediately promoted to admiral, had become the first hero of the war. The Spaniards still held Manila, and Dewey had no troops with which to attack them. While he waited nervously, the American government assembled an expeditionary force to relieve him and take the city. On August 13, the Americans received the surrender of Manila. In the rejoicing over Dewey's victory, few Americans paused to note that the character of the war was being subtly altered. What had begun as a war to free Cuba was becoming a war to strip Spain of its colonies.

But Cuba was not to be left out of the war picture. Late in April, the American government learned that a Spanish fleet under Admiral Pascual Cervera had sailed for the west, presumably for a Cuban harbor. Cervera's antique armada was no match for the powerful American Atlantic squadron, as the Spanish government well knew. The Atlantic squadron, commanded by Admiral William T. Sampson, was expected to intercept and destroy Cervera before he reached his destination. But the Spaniard eluded his pursuers and slipped into Santiago harbor, on the southern coast of Cuba, where he was not discovered by the Americans until ten days after his arrival. Immediately the Atlantic fleet moved to bottle him up.

While the navy was monopolizing the first phases of the war, the War Department was trying to mobilize and train an army. The volunteer and National Guard units were collected near Chattanooga, Tennessee, while the regulars, plus the Rough Riders, were assembled at Tampa, Florida, under the command of General William R. Shafter. The entire mobilization process was conducted with remarkable inefficiency.

There were also racial conflicts. A large proportion of the American invasion force consisted of black soldiers. Some were volunteer troops put together by black communities in several states (although some governors refused to allow the formation of such units). Others were members of the four black regiments in the regular army, who had been stationed on the frontier to defend white settlements against Indians and were now transferred east to fight in Cuba. As the black soldiers traveled through the South toward the training camps, they chafed at the rigid segregation that was imposed and occasionally openly resisted the restrictions. Black soldiers in Georgia deliberately made use of a "whites-only" park; in Florida, they beat a soda-fountain operator for refusing to serve them; in Tampa, white provocations and black retaliation led to a night-long riot that left thirty wounded. Although regiments and even troop ships were strictly segregated, black and white soldiers in the heat of battle often forgot the customary separation and fought together as equals. In some areas, black officers briefly took command of white troops.

The army's commanding general, Nelson A. Miles, veteran of the Civil War, had planned to train the troops until autumn, then to occupy Puerto Rico and, in conjunction with the Cuban rebels, attack Havana. But with a Spanish naval force at Santiago, plans hastily changed. In June, Shafter left Tampa with a force of 17,000 to take Santiago. The departure occurred amid scenes of fantastic incompetence, but it was efficiency itself compared to the landing. Five days were required to put the army ashore, and this with the enemy offering no opposition.

Once landed, Shafter moved his army toward Santiago, planning to surround and capture it. On the way he fought and defeated the Spaniards at the crossroads at Las Guasimas and, a week later, in two simultaneous battles, El Caney and San Juan Hill. In all the engagements the Rough Riders were in the middle of the fighting and on the front pages of the newspapers. Colonel Roosevelt, who had resigned from the Navy Department to get into the war and who had struggled with an almost desperate fury to ensure that his regiment made it to the front before the fighting ended, rapidly emerged as a hero of the conflict. His fame rested in large part on his role in leading a bold, even reckless charge up Kettle Hill (a charge that was a minor part of the larger battle for the adjacent San Juan Hill) directly into the face of Spanish guns. Roosevelt himself emerged unscathed but nearly a hundred of his soldiers were killed or wounded. To the end of his life, he remembered the battle as "the great day of my life."

Having chased the Spaniards from the hills around Santiago, Shafter was now in position to assault the city. But his army was so weakened by sickness that he feared he might have to abandon his position When he appealed to Sampson to unite with him in a joint attack on the city, the admiral answered that mines in the harbor made it too dangerous to take his big ships in. At this point, disaster seemingly con-fronted the Americans. But unknown to them, the Spanish government had decided that Santiago was lost. On July 3, Cervera, acting under orders from home, broke from the harbor to attempt an escape that he knew was hopeless. The waiting American squadron destroyed his entire fleet. Shafter then pressed the Spanish army commander to surrender, and that official, after bargaining for generous terms, including free transportation back to Spain for his troops, turned over Santiago on July 16. While the Santiago campaign was in its last stages, an American army landed in Puerto Rico and occupied it against virtually no opposition.

Spain was defeated (more as a result of its own weakness and incompetence than because of American strength) and knew it. Through the French ambassador in Washington, the Spanish government asked for peace; and on August 12, an armistice ended the war.

Decision for Imperialism

The terms of the armistice confirmed what the military situation had already established. Spain recognized the independence of Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico (now occupied by American troops) to the United States. It also ceded to the victor the Pacific island of Guam, midway between Hawaii and the Philippines, and agreed to permit the Americans to hold Manila pending the final disposition of the Philippines.

The uncertainty of the provisions concerning the Philippines did not reflect Spanish resistance.. It reflected the confusion in the McKinley administration as to what to do about the islands the United States now occupied. There was little controversy about the annexation of Puerto Rico and Guam. Puerto Rico was close enough to the mainland to seem a tempting acquisition to almost everyone. And Guam seemed too small and insignificant to be worthy of dispute. But the Philippines constituted a large and important territory; and American annexation of it would mean a major change in the nation's position in the world.

McKinley weighed a number of options for dealing with the Philippines. Returning them to Spain was politically impossible. Granting the islands independence appealed to almost no one; Americans believed the Filipinos unfit to rule themselves.

Ultimately, McKinley decided that only actual annexation would do. He later said that he had arrived at his decision as a result of divine guidance, but growing popular sentiment for annexation in the country and the pressure of the imperialist leaders of his party undoubtedly influenced his thinking more.

In October 1898, commissioners from the United States and Spain met in Paris to negotiate a treaty formally ending the war. Spain readily agreed to recognize Cuba's independence, to assume the Cuban debt, and to cede Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. Then the American commissioners, acting under instruction from McKinley, startled the conference by demanding the cession of all the Philippines. Stubbornly the Spanish resisted the American demand, although they realized they could retain the islands only by resuming the war. They yielded to the inevitable when the United States offered to pay $20 million for the islands. The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, and sent to the United States for ratification by the Senate.

When the treaty was submitted to the Senate, it encountered immediate and fierce criticism and occasioned in that body and throughout the country one of those "great debates" that frequently precede a departure in American foreign policy. The chief point at issue was the acquisition of the Philippines, denounced by many, including prominent Republicans, as a repudiation of America's high moral position in the war and a shameful occupation of a land that wanted to be free.

The anti-imperialists were a varied and powerful group and included some of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful figures: Andrew Carnegie, John Sherman, Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers, and others. Their opposition to annexation stemmed from various motives. Some feared the "pollution" of the American population by introducing "inferior" Asian races into the national community. Industrial workers feared a flood of cheap laborers from the new colonies who would undercut their wages and take their jobs. Conservatives feared annexation would produce a large standing army and entangling foreign alliances, which would threaten American liberties. Certain economic interests (most notably sugar growers) feared the new territories would provide unwelcome competition. Many Democrats opposed annexation because they considered it a Republican tactic to enhance the party's prestige. Others saw in the annexation a repudiation of basic American principles of independence and self-determination: The United States could not impose colonial rule on other peoples without debasing its own democratic heritage.

The Anti-Imperialist League, established by upper-class Bostonians, New Yorkers, and others late in 1898 to fight against annexation, attracted a widespread following in the Northeast and waged a vigorous campaign against ratification of the Paris treaty. But the League, and the anti-imperialist movement as a whole, had a number of crippling weaknesses. Its appeal was limited for the most part to a few areas; it attracted little support in the West and the South. It suffered from internal divisions; some anti-imperialists opposed annexing any new possessions, while others opposed only the acquisition of the Philippines. Most important, however, the anti-imperialists, for all their strength, represented a distinct minority sentimentboth in the country and, of more immediate importance, in the Senate.

Favoring ratification was an equally varied group. There were the exuberant imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt, who saw the acquisition of empire as a way to reinvigorate the nation, to keep alive the healthy, restorative influence of the war. "A nation cannot safely absorb itself in its own affairs," wrote one Midwestern annexationist. "It breeds strange and dangerous disorders." Other supporters of annexation included businessmen, who saw economic potential in the Philippines and believed annexation would position the United States to dominate the Oriental trade; shipbuilders and others, who stood to benefit from the creation of a larger navy, which the new empire would certainly require; the Protestant clergy, who saw in a colonial empire enlarged fields for missionary enterprise; and most Republicans, who saw clear partisan advantages in acquiring valuable new territories in the aftermath of a war fought and won by a Republican administration. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of annexation, however, was the apparent ease with which it could be accomplished. The United States, after all, already possessed the islands as a result of its military triumph.

After weeks of bitter wrangling, the Senate ratified the treaty on February 6, 1899, but only because it received an unexpected assist from Williamjennings Bryan, a fervent anti-imperialist, who expected to be his party's candidate again in the election of 1900. Bryan persuaded a number of Democratic senators to vote for ratification. Some charged that he was looking for a campaign issue, but Bryan claimed that he wanted only to end the war. The question of the Philippines could, he believed, be decided by a national referendum. If the Democrats won in 1900, they would free the islands.

If the election of 1900 was such a referendum, it proved beyond doubt that the nation had decided in favor of imperialism. Once again, Bryan ran against McKinley; and once again, Bryan went down to defeatan even more crushing defeat than he had experienced four years earlier. It was not only the issue of the colonies, however, that ensured McKinley's victory. The Republicans effectively exploited the money and tariff issues; they harped on the continuing prosperity in the country under a Republican administration; and they exploited to the full the colorful personality of their vice-presidential candidate, the hero of San Juan Hill, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.

The Republic as Empire

The new colonial empire was a small one by the standards of the great imperial powers of Europe.

But it spanned a vast area of the globe. It stretched from the Caribbean to the far reaches of the Pacific. It embraced Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, a part of Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, and a chain of minor Pacific islands.

But with the empire came new problems. Many of the predictions of the anti-imperialists proved accurate. Ultimately, as a colonial power, the United States had to maintain large stockpiles of armaments, concern itself with the complexities of Far Eastern international politics, and modify its traditional policy of holding aloof from alliances.

Governing the Colonies

A host of perplexing questions arose as the nation tried to decide how to administer its new possessions. Did Congress have to administer the colonies in accordance with the Constitution? Did the inhabitants of the new possessions have the rights of American citizens? Could Congress levy tariff duties on colonial imports? Or, in a phrase that pleased the public fancy, did the Constitution follow the flag? The Supreme Court suggested a solution in the so-called insular cases (De Lima v. Bidwell, Dowries v. Bidwell, and others, 1900-1904), by distinguishing between "incorporated" and "unincorporated" territories. In legislating for "unincorporated" territoriesthe insular possessionsCongress had great latitude and need not be bound by all the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution followed the flag, the Court implied, only if Congress so decided. The government could administer its colonies in almost any way it saw fit.

Three of the dependenciesHawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Ricoreceived territorial status relatively quickly. A 1900 act granted American citizenship to all citizens of Hawaii, authorized an elective two-house legislature there, and vested executive authority in a governor appointed from Washington. Alaska (which had been purchased from Russia in 1869) was being governed by appointed civil officials. The discovery of gold there in 1896 caused the first substantial influx of Americans; and in 1912, Alaska received territorial status and a legislature, and its inhabitants were given the rights of citizenship. In Puerto Rico, the natives seemed readily to accept American rule. Military occupation of the island ended quickly, and a civilian government was established by the Foraker Act in 1900. The governor and upper house of the legislature were to be appointed from Washington, while only the lower house was to be elected. The 1900 act did not grant Puerto Ricans American citizenship, but a 1917 law did. Smaller possessions in the empire received more arbitrary treatment. Guam and Tutuila came under the control of naval officials; and some of the small Pacific islands, containing only a handful of inhabitants, experienced no form of American government at all.

American military forces, commanded by General Leonard Wood, remained in Cuba until 1902 under orders to prepare the island for the independence promised in the peace treaty of 1898. The occupiers built roads, schools, and hospitals, reorganized the legal, financial, and administrative systems, and introduced far-reaching sanitary reforms. They also laid the basis for years of American domination of the islanda domination that ultimately would become as intolerable to the Cuban people as the Spanish rule against which they had first rebelled.

At Wood's urging, a convention assembled to draft a constitution for independent Cuba. The document contained no provisions concerning relations with the nation responsible for Cuba's freedom. Many Americans considered this a significant oversight, for the United States, with its expanding interests in the Caribbean, expected to exercise some kind of control over the island republic. In 1901, therefore, Congress passed the Platt Amendment, as a rider to an army appropriations bill, and pressured Cuba into incorporating the terms of the amendment into its constitution. The Platt Amendment declared that Cuba could make no treaties with any foreign powers (this was equivalent to giving the United States a veto over Cuba's diplomatic policy); that the United States had the right to intervene in Cuba to preserve Cuba's independence, life, and property; and that Cuba must sell or lease to the United States lands for naval stations. The amendment left Cuba only nominally independent. With American capital taking over the island's economyinvestments jumped from $50 million in 1898 to $220 million by 1914 Cuba was in fact, if not in name, an American appendage.

The Philippine War

Americans did not like to think of themselves as imperial rulers in the European mold. Their mission, they believed, was differentto enlighten and reform the societies they had acquired, to improve the lives of their newly subjugated peoples. Yet like other imperial powers, the United States soon discovered that controlling a foreign colony required more than ideals; it required strength as well and often brutality. That, at least, was the lesson of the American experience in the Philippines, where American forces soon became engaged in a long and bloody war with insurgent forces fighting for independence.

The conflict in the Philippines is the least remembered of all American wars. It was also one of the longest (it lasted from 1898 to 1902) and one of the most vicious. It involved 200,000 American troops and resulted in 4,300 American deaths, nearly ten times the number who died in combat in the Spanish-American War. Controversy still rages over the number of Filipinos killed in the conflict, but it seems likely that over 50,000 of the natives died. (Some claim the number is far higher than that.) The American occupiers faced guerrilla tactics in the Philippines very similar to those the Spanish occupiers had faced prior to 1898 in Cuba. And they soon found themselves drawn into the same pattern of brutality that had outraged so many Americans when employed by Weyler in the Caribbean.

The Filipinos had been rebelling against Spanish rule even before 1898, and they had hailed Admiral Dewey and the expeditionary force he sent to Manila as their deliverers from tyranny. When the hard fact sank in that the Americans had come to stay, the Filipinos resolved to expel the new invaders. Ably led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who claimed to head the legitimate government of the nation, Filipinos harried the American army of occupation from island to island for more than three years. At first, American commanders believed that the rebels represented only a small minority; but by early 1900, they were beginning to recognize otherwise. General Arthur MacArthur (father of Douglas), an American commander in the islands, wrote at the time:"I have been reluctantly compelled to believe that the Filipino masses are loyal to Aguinaldo and the government which he heads."

To MacArthur and others, however, that realization was not a reason to moderate American tactics or conciliate the rebels. It was a reason to adopt far more severe measures. And gradually, the American military effort became systematically vicious and brutal. Captured Filipino guerrillas were treated not as prisoners of war, but as murderers. Most were summarily executed. On some islands, entire communities were evacuatedthe residents forced into concentration camps while American troops destroyed their villages, farms, crops, livestock, and everything else that might give sustenance to the *'rebels." A spirit of savagery grew among American soldiers, who came to view the Filipinos as almost subhuman and at times seemed to take pleasure in killing almost arbitrarily. One American commander ordered his troops "to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. . . . Shoot everyone over the age of 10." Over fifteen Filipinos were killed for every one wounded; in the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in American history to that pointone person had died for every five wounded.

By 1902, reports of the brutality and the American casualties had soured the American public on the war. But by then, the rebellion had largely exhausted itself and the occupiers had established control over most of the islands. The key to their victory was the capture of Aguinaldo in March 1901 by five American soldiers who had used deception to enter the Filipino's remote camp in the mountains. They took Aguinaldo to Manila, where he signed a document urging his followers to stop fighting and declaring his own allegiance to the United States. (He then retired from public life and lived quietly until 1964.) Fighting continued in places for another year, and the war revived intermittently until as late as 1906; but American possession of the Philippines was now secure.

President McKinley had sent a special commission to the islands in 1900, under the direction of William Howard Taft, to establish a civilian government there; and in the summer of 1901, the military transferred final authority over the islands to'Taft, who became the first civilian governor. He announced that the American purpose was to prepare the islands for independence, and he oversaw the creation of a civilian government that gave the Filipinos broad local autonomy. The Americans also built roads, schools, bridges, and sewers; instituted major administrative and financial reforms; and established a public health system. Filipino autonomy gradually increased; and on July 4, 1946, the islands finally won their independence.

The Open Door

The acquisition of the Philippines made the United States an Asian power and greatly increased American interest in the Far East, which had already grown strong as a result of the increasing trade with China. But other nations more experienced in the ways of empire were casting covetous eyes on China, ancient, enfeebled, and seemingly open to exploitation by stronger countries. By the turn of the century, the great European imperialistic powersEngland, France, Germany, and Russiaand one Asian powerJapanwere beginning to partition China into "spheres of influence." One nation would force the Chinese government to grant it "concessions" for developing a particular area; another would use pressure to secure a long-term lease to a specific region. In some cases, the outside powers even asserted ownership of territory. The process, if continued, threatened to destroy American hopes for a vast trade with China.

The situation posed a delicate problem for the men directing American foreign policy. Knowing that public opinion would not support any use of force, they had to find a way to protect American interests in China without risking war. McKinley suggested the American answer in a statement in September 1898, when he said that the United States sought trade with China, but no special advantages there. "Asking only the open door for ourselves, we are ready to accord the open door to others." McKinley's secretary of state, John Hay, translated McKinley's words into policy a year later, in September 1899, when he addressed identical messages what became known as the "Open Door notes"to England, Germany, and Russia, and later to France, Japan, and Italy. The new policy that he asked them to approve embodied three principles: Each nation with a sphere of influence was to respect the rights and privileges of other nations in its sphere; Chinese officials were to continue to collect tariff duties in all spheres (the existing tariff favored the United States); and nations were not to discriminate against other nations in levying port dues and railroad rates within their own spheres.

The Open Door policy was appealing to the United States for a number of reasons. It would preserve at least the illusion of Chinese sovereignty, thus preventing formal colonial dismemberment of the empire. More important, it allowed the United States to trade freely with the Chinese without fear of interference and without the need for American military occupation.

Hay could hardly have expected an enthusiastic response to his notes, and he got none. Russia rejected the Open Door proposals, and the remaining powers gave evasive replies. Each one stated in effect that it approved Hay's ideas in principle but could make no commitment until the others had acted. Apparently, the United States had met a humiliating rebuff; but Hay boldly announced that since all the powers had accepted the principle of the Open Door, his government considered their assent to be "final and definitive." Although the American public applauded his diplomacy, Hay had won little more than a theoretical victory. Unless the United States was willing to resort to war, it could not prevent any nation that wanted to violate the Open Door from doing so.

No sooner had the diplomatic maneuvering over the Open Door ended than a secret Chinese society known as the Boxers instigated an uprising against foreigners in China. The movement came to a blazing climax when the Boxers and their supporters besieged the entire foreign diplomatic corps in the British embassy in Peking. At this point, the powers with interests in China decided to send an international expeditionary force to rescue the diplomats. The situation seemed to offer a perfect excuse to those nations with ambitions to dismember China.

The United States contributed 2,500 troops to the rescue force, which in August 1900 fought its way into Peking and broke the siege. McKinley and Hay had decided on American participation in order to secure a voice in the settlement of the uprising and to prevent the partition of China. Again Hay sent a note to the world powers. This time he called for the Open Door not only in the spheres of influence but in "all parts of the Chinese Empire." He also called for the maintenance of China's "territorial and administrative integrity," for a return to the situation preceding the rebellion- Hay won support for his approach from England and Germany and then induced the other participating powers to accept compensation from the Chinese for the damages the Boxer Rebellion had caused.

A Modern Military System

The war with Spain had revealed glaring deficiencies in the American military system. The greatest weakness had appeared in the army, but there had been an absence of coordination in the entire military organization that might have resulted in disaster had the United States been fighting a more powerful nation. After the war, McKinley appointed Elihu Root, an extremely able administrator, as secretary of war to supervise a major overhaul of the armed forces. Between 1900 and 1903, Root put into effect, by congressional authorization or by executive order, a series of reforms that gave the United States what amounted to a new military system.

The Root reforms included a number of important provisions. They enlarged the regular army from its previous small size of about 25,000 to a maximum of 100,000. They established federal supervision of the National Guard, ensuring that never again would the nation fight a war with volunteer regiments over which the federal government had only limited control. They sparked the creation of a system of officer training schools, crowned by the Army Staff College (later the Command and General Staff School) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College at Washington. And they established, in 1903, a general staff headed by a chief of staff, to act as military adviser to the secretary of war.

It was this last reform that Root considered most important: the creation of a central planning agency modeled on the example of European staffs. The general staff was charged with many functions. It was to "supervise" and "coordinate" the entire army establishment, and it was to esablish an office that would plan for possible wars. An Army and Navy Board, on which both services were represented, was to foster interservice cooperation.

As a result of the new reforms, the United States entered the twentieth century with something resembling a modern military system. The country would have need of it, for the coming years would see the American role in the world constantly expanding.

 


 

 



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