The Treaty of Paris Launches America as an Imperialist Power, December 10, 1898

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Date: 2004
The Progressive Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1890 to 1914
Publisher: ABC-Clio
Series: Debating Historical Issues in the Media of the Time
Document Type: Law overview; Event overview
Pages: 16
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Chapter 8: The Treaty of Paris Launches America as an Imperialist Power, December 10, 1898

It took the United States three years to go to war with Spain over Cuba (see Chapter 7), but once it declared war on April 24, 1898, it did so with great fervor. Whipped up by sensational news accounts of atrocities against the Cuban insurgents and the terrible destruction of the U.S.S. Maine, volunteers swamped recruiting offices. Theodore Roosevelt resigned from his position as under-secretary of the navy to volunteer for the army and helped organize a dashing cavalry unit called the Rough Riders. Newspapers rushed to get their own men and even a few women to cover every aspect of the war.

The war was not limited to Cuba alone and quickly engulfed the other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific—Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The Spanish fleet in the Philippines was destroyed in Manila Harbor by Admiral John Dewey on May 1, and the Spanish fleet in the Caribbean was destroyed by the U.S. Navy on July 3. The U.S. Army won major battles in Cuba and Puerto Rico and took possession of both islands by the end of July. The Philippine Islands were taken in August and an armistice with Spain was signed on August 12. By its terms, Spain was to grant Cuba complete freedom and the United States was to keep Puerto Rico indefinitely. In the Pacific, the United States was to hold Manila until the fate of the Philippines was decided. The armistice was to be considered a suspension of hostilities rather than a definitive end to them. America’s “splendid little war” cost only 289 American lives in battle, but due to poor sanitary conditions and sweltering humid heat, more than four thousand troops were lost to typhoid, yellow fever, dysentery, and food poisoning.

It took another four months—longer than the actual war—to hammer out a peace treaty acceptable to all parties, not the least of which were the U.S. Congress and the American public. The Filipinos, who had been Page 120  |  Top of Articleconducting their own insurgency against Spain, now wanted complete independence. McKinley instead proposed annexing the Philippines on the grounds that the Filipinos were unprepared for self-government and self-defense. Though his arguments for annexation were couched in paternalistic terms, they were largely motivated by the United States’s commercial and military interests in retaining the islands and their control of the trade routes to Asia.

The fate of the Philippines was debated widely, with much of the argument centering on self-interest, democratic principles, expansionism, and imperialism. Those in favor of annexation used four basic arguments. First, as the victor, America had the right to claim the spoils of war (the former Spanish territories). Second, control of the Philippines would ensure protection of U.S. trade routes to China and the rest of Asia. Third, if America didn’t claim the Philippines, a European power would. Fourth, the Filipinos were not ready to govern themselves and needed American protection and guidance.

A Long Reach, But His Arms Are Equal to the Emergency. Chicago Tribune, 2 August 1898, p. 3. “A Long Reach, But His Arms Are Equal to the Emergency.” Chicago Tribune, 2 August 1898, p. 3. Anti-imperialists were concerned that America was taking on more than it could handle by annexing the Philippines as part of the treaty ending the Spanish-American War. Opponents feared that America’s standing army would have to be increased in size and that the country’s resources would be stretched too thin. Imperialists, however, believed the victor should get the spoils. This cartoon, which first appeared in the Boston Globe, was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune.

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Those who opposed annexation had three basic arguments. First, they maintained, the United States would join the league of imperialistic colonial nations—including Spain, which it had just defeated—if it were to annex the Philippines. Second, annexation would be antidemocratic and would violate American principles. Third, the United States would be required to commit military resources to protect the Philippines, which would overtax its resources. If the United States were to annex the islands, they argued, the country would have to increase the size of its standing army at considerable expense.

The imperialists prevailed and the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10. By its provisions, the United States annexed the Philippines and paid Spain $20,000,000 for the privilege of doing so. One of the immediate results of the treaty was that on December 21 the United States established military rule on the Philippine Islands. Another result was that a month later, Filipino rebels under Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed an independent republic. In February 1899 hostilities began between the insurgents and American troops. The ensuing Philippine war for independence from the United States, which was as bloody and costly to the Filipinos as had been their rebellion from Spain, was to last another three years. It ended in 1902 with the defeat of the insurgents. The United States governed the Philippines directly until the mid-1930s and indirectly until 1946, when it finally granted the island nation its independence.

During the debate over the fate of the Philippines, newspapers were torn between pride in America’s quick victory in the war with Spain and concern that a just and manageable treaty be made that would be in keeping with American democratic principles. The editorials and news articles in this chapter are organized in three sections: the first section provides readings urging thorough and open debate and consideration of all sides of the issue before a decision is made; the second section provides examples that support annexation; and the third section provides examples that oppose annexation.

Urging Consideration of All Sides

While many newspapers, politicians, and members of the public already had strong opinions about how the United States should treat its conquered territories, theNew York Times represented the voice of reason and caution. Throughout the Spanish-American War, the Times had provided a relatively rational and accurate account of events in comparison with its more sensational peers like William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Here, also, the Page 122  |  Top of ArticleTimes attempted to maintain that tone of rational analysis. In the following editorial, by presenting the various issues that would be involved in the annexation of the Philippines, the Times sets the stage for the debates to follow.

New York Times, 13 August 1898

The Future of the Philippines

Senor Sagasta semi-officially announces the position of the Spanish Government regarding the Philippines: “The Government is of the opinion that the most critical period of the peace negotiations has now arrived, as it depends on the arrangement of details as to whether the peace will be more or less advantageous. Spain wishes to preserve her sovereignty over the whole of the Philippines to which she proposes to accord all political and administrative reforms consistent with the maintenance of her sovereignty.” This is obviously a question that will come fairly and fully within the discretion of the peace Commissioners acting under the instructions of their respective Governments. The summary of the reply of President McKinley to the overtures of Spain, given out to the public on Aug. 2, contained the following broad statement, which is repeated verbatim in the protocol: “The United States will occupy and hold the city, bay, and harbor of Manila pending the conclusion of a treaty of peace, which shall determine the control, disposition, and government of the Philippines.”

It will be seen that this leaves to the negotiators of the treaty of peace the consideration of “the control, disposition, and government of the Philippines.” It also provides, however, for the evacuation by Spain of the only important city, fortified place, and adequate bay and harbor in the islands, and for their occupation by the United States. In other words, the United States, as victors in the war, practically take possession, with the assent of the defeated Government, of the key to the Philippine group. Whatever modification of this arrangement may be made will be in the nature of concessions by the United States. Not only is Spain, as the result of her defeat, generally incapacitated to dictate terms, but she specifically surrenders all means of disputing by force the control of the islands.

This does not imply that our Government will make indefinite use of the advantage given by the fortunes of war. It means only that we have taken ample security that whatever policy we may finally decide upon can be carried out with freedom and according to our judgment. It is our clear duty to make such provision as we can for a stable, just, and orderly government of the islands, for our own advantage, for the protection of the present population, and, still more, to secure the development of the region and its opening to the influences of modern civilization. What that provision can be and Page 123  |  Top of Articleshould be is a large question, and will tax the ability and sagacity of the statesmen to whom its solution is to be entrusted.

Once the McKinley administration and Spain reached an agreement over the conditions of the treaty in early December, it was handed over to Congress for ratification. Rather than debating the conditions of the treaty in open session, the Senate conducted its debates in closed sessions. This meant that neither the public nor the press knew what was actually being said on the Senate floor and could not, therefore, form an opinion on the arguments being made. Several anti-imperialist senators objected to this, and their cry was quickly taken up by the press. For newspapers, this was not just the principle that the Senate should be providing information about all sides of the debate; this was a First Amendment issue of freedom of the press. In the following editorial, theNew York World takes up the demand for open debate. Here, it reiterates the fundamental democratic principle that a free press, open access to information, and an informed citizenry are essential to self-government.

New York World, 12 December 1898

Throw the Doors Open

Senators Hoar, Hale and Caffery will lead the Senate opposition to the ratification of a treaty that commits the country to a policy of expansion and imperialism.

They insist that this whole matter shall be discussed in open session of the Senate. They rightly contend that so radical a change in the national policy and practice should not be “made in the dark.” They justly say that for the information and enlightenment and education of the public the arguments that are to be made for and against the proposed policy ought to be heard through the newspapers by all the people. They demand an “open door” of discussion, so that the public may hear and consider the arguments, so that the press may comment upon and supplement them, and so that the people may sit as a court of last resort upon this question.

It is the people’s right to decide.

Publicity! Publicity! Publicity! That is the watchword of self-government. Throw open the doors! Let nothing be done in the dark!

Supporting Annexation

As the politicians debated the future of the Philippines, some newspapers saw no need for deep thought over the matter and considered the annexation Page 124  |  Top of Articleof the Philippines to be a logical resolution. TheChicago Tribune, which during this period published on its editorial page a picture of the American flag under the slogan “One Flag, One Cause, One Country,” saw this as a historic moment in which the nation was entering upon its “imperial career.” In the following editorial, the jingoisticTribune states its impatience with “mugwumps” and “Bryanites”—party independents who would vote their own conscience rather than tow the party line. The Tribune does not mince words in its basic argument for annexation—“to the victor go the spoils.”

Chicago Tribune, 12 August 1898

The War Is Over

The Spanish Cabinet, after due consideration of the terms of the peace protocol, yesterday decided to accept it…. Virtually it was an ultimatum. It recognized none of Spain’s attempts at evasion or diplomatic trickery, but went straight to the point, showing the superiority of “shirt-sleeve” diplomacy, and forced the usually wily, tricky Spaniards to take action….

The government is now in a position to proceed to the negotiations of terms of peace, and the next step will be the appointment of peace commissioners, who, in compliment to the French government, will meet in Paris. Under the protocol which Spain has accepted Porto [sic] Rico will be ceded to the United States, Cuba will be freed, and Spain at the earliest practicable day will evacuate all its West Indian possessions…. Manila Bay, with the city and surrounding territory, will be retained by the United States, and the future government of the Philippine Islands will be determined by the commission. There is nothing in the latest proposition which debars the United States from retaining the whole of the islands, and if the commissioners are live Americans and not mugwumps or Bryanites, and if they are in sympathy with the spirit of the American people, they will decide that this country shall permanently hold the territory which it has cost so much to take. The United States is the victor in this war and it has just the same right to hold the Philippines that it has to hold Cuba and Porto [sic] Rico. No permanent peace can be made which is not based upon their possession. To give these islands back to Spain or to leave them in such a condition that they become the property of other nations would be a violation of the national honor and a cowardly shirking of responsibility….

The war has been shorter than even the most sanguine anticipated. Since April 21, the date fixed by Congress as the beginning of the struggle, Porto [sic] Rico, Cuba, the Ladrones, and the Philippines have passed into our possession, two Spanish fleets have been destroyed, one Spanish army Page 125  |  Top of Articlehas been captured, and in every engagement the enemy has been defeated in the face sometimes of overwhelming obstacles. The valor, endurance, skill, and discipline of American soldiers have been fairly tested, and they have compelled the admiration of the foreign military observers. The navy has covered itself with glory and challenged the plaudits of the whole world. In these few weeks the United States has taken position as one of the strong naval nations and a military power which must hereafter be taken into account in world movements. The country has entered upon its imperial career. The Maine has been remembered. Spain will never forget it.

Another newspaper to support annexation was theSan Francisco Chronicle. In this article, published as Democrats were maneuvering to frame a position regarding expansionism on their party platform, the Chronicle equates expansionism with inevitability, patriotism, and the American spirit. In this paean to Manifest Destiny, the West Coast paper evokes the spirit of “virile yeomanry” espoused by presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

San Francisco Chronicle, 12 August 1898

Democracy and Expansion

It does not now look as if the Democracy [Democratic Party] would agree upon the general anti-annexation platform which Bryan, Jones and Bailey are urging it to adopt. Many Democrats and perhaps some Democratic organizations cling to the hermit policy of Cleveland, but the influence of earlier and better Democratic traditions sways the mass of the party. Besides, the history of Democratic efforts to stem the tide of advancing national sentiment does not encourage the wiser leaders to oppose the vastly popular doctrine of a Greater America. It is politic as well as patriotic in this case to go with the flood.

But few state conventions of either party have as yet passed upon what Bryan is pleased to call “imperialism,” but those that have left but a meager heritage of comfort to the contractionists….

Mr. Bailey’s plea [to the Texas State Democratic Convention] that no territory should be admitted to the Union which will necessitate an increase of the standing army would have excluded Texas and California from the sisterhood of states. No doubt the Texans argued as did the American of 1846 that it is better to have a few more regiments of our own to hold strategic outposts than to have them occupied by the armies of a possible enemy. A standing army is an undoubted evil, but when it comes to one at our own Page 126  |  Top of Articledoors we had better control it instead of leaving the matter to a rival power or to a commerce-wrecking and trade-smashing junta of guerrillas….

While bloodless pedagogues of the Mugwump stripe are remembering Sumner and Cleveland, the virile yeomanry of the Democratic party are thinking of Jefferson and Jackson. They do not object to the spread of American civilization and the increase of American strength and prosperity…. Nor do they doubt the wisdom of acquiring outposts and trade preserves. It is this sentiment which leaders of the Bryan and Bailey sort…have tried in vain to contend with, and which is bound in the long run to force them to the rear of the column. Whatever they may undertake they cannot, we believe, induce their party to make even a brief trial of strength against manifest destiny.

A good number of the American public accepted reductive arguments that presented the Philippine situation in terms of either-or solutions and left no room for recognition of the Filipinos as capable of self-determination. This misleading dichotomy was aptly captured by theChicago Tribune in a brief editorial as Congress prepared to ratify the treaty in December. The editorial also captures the evangelical and progressive spirit expressed in many of the arguments for the so-called salvation of the Philippines.

Chicago Tribune, 8 December 1898

Save the Philippines for Civilization

To give these islands up to barbarism, into which they would revert if left to themselves, or to give them up to Spain to be harried, or even to give them over to some European power, to please Senator Hoar [who opposed annexation], is something the American people will not tolerate.

Opposing Annexation

The New York World, which had been criticized for urging the country into war with its yellow tactics, showed remarkable restraint in its response to the conditions of the protocol. From the beginning, it had supported war against Spain as a fight for freedom and democracy in Cuba. When the war ended in August, the World hailed America’s victory, declaring, “It is a peace with honor, because it secures its sole object on our part—freedom for the oppressed [in Cuba]…. The settlement extends the area and the blessings of freedom, rids this hemisphere of the last remnant of tyranny and oppression, enlarges the boundaries, and greatly enhances Page 127  |  Top of Articlethe prestige, power and influence of the United States.”1 The World quickly changed its tune, however, as the annexation of the Philippines became a prominent part of the negotiations in Paris. When those opposed to annexation formed the Anti-Imperialist League, the World gave members like industrialist Andrew Carnegie, reformer Jane Addams, author Mark Twain, and labor leader Samuel Gompers generous coverage, frequently boxing articles about them and reproducing letters written by them. It also gave prominent coverage to others opposed to imperialism and the annexation of the Philippines, such as Senators George Hoar and George Vest, former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and former Secretary of State John Sherman. The following page-one article captures some of the major arguments of the anti-imperialists. Based on a letter by Sherman, the arguments made against imperialism are largely pragmatic and smack of more than a little cultural ethnocentrism.

New York World, 8 December 1898

John Sherman Says Reject the Treaty

Declares Annexation of Philippines Would Be Degrading to Present States

Let the Islands be Free

To Hold Them as Conquered Territories a Departure from Our Established Policy

United States and West Indies

No Entangling Alliances, but Needed Coaling Stations and Facilities for Our Commerce
(Special to The World)

BOSTON, Dec. 7—A letter from John Sherman, ex-Secretary of State, taking strong ground against the annexation of the Philippine Islands, was read at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Anti-Imperialistic League to-day.

Bishop Potter and James C. Carter, of New York, were added to the list of vice-presidents of the league.

Mr. Sherman’s letter is a long one. In part, he said:

“I concur with you in opposition to the acquisition of the Philippines as a part of the United States.

“The harsh and cruel despotism of Spain over the inhabitants of Cuba fully justified the intervention of the United States to drive out Spanish soldiers from that island. This has been my desire for thirty years and more.

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“No Entangling Alliance”

“Here the Spanish war ought to have ended. Cuba will be free and will have the hearty support of the United States. The other islands of the Caribbean Sea are wisely governed by foreign powers. The friendly influence and example of a great nation like the United States will always be of value to these islands. Our Government should make no entangling alliance with any of them, but it can easily obtain from them coaling stations and other facilities for our commerce.

“This, I believe was the desire of the President, but the eager greed of some of our people to extend our territories to remote parts of the earth has apparently led him to acquiesce in the seizure of the Philippine Islands on the opposite side of the globe in the tropical zone, near the equator.

“These islands are said to contain ten million people, composed of Malays, Japanese, Chinese, and of many nations and tribes. They are now at war with the Spaniards, and will be at war with us if we undertake to govern them. It will be necessary to maintain an army and a fleet to hold them in subjection.

Increasing the Public Debt

“What good can come of such an acquisition? We already feel the evil result of our threats to occupy and hold the islands. Our debt is already on the increase at a time when we had a reasonable hope for its full payment.

“The United States now embraces the better part of a great continent in a compact form with a population of seventy million people speaking the same language, increasing annually nearly 3 percent, with ample territory for several million more.

“Our flag is the token of friendship wherever it is unfolded. Why then should we seek to acquire and govern the Philippine Islands?

Annexation Degrading to Us

“Will we allow them to be represented in Congress? Will we form them into States? The general voice will be against either proposition.

“There are special objections to the acquisition of the Philippine Islands by the United States. The great body of the inhabitants do not speak our language and are inferior in intelligence and education to any part of the people of Europe or of the American Continent. To annex them as States in the Union would be to degrade all the States. To hold them as conquered territories would be a departure from the established policy of the United States. Nor is it certain if we pay Spain $20,000,000 for her disputed title to the Philippines that we can get peaceful possession.

“The geography of the islands alone should condemn their acquisition by the United States. They number 1,500 or more and lie between the fifth and twentieth degrees of north latitude, a latitude that begets sloth and Page 129  |  Top of Articlefeebleness, and has never in the history of the world produced a strong, virile people or nation.

Give the Islands Independence

“My hope is that the Senate of the United States will reject the treaty and leave the people of the Philippine islands free from the shackles of Spain and the distant domination of the United States.

“I sympathize with [Philippine insurgent leader Emilio] Aguinaldo in his ambition to found a republic in the China Sea near the equator, and hope he may become the Washington of a new nation, absolutely free from European and American influence.”

More than five hundred petitions protesting against an imperialistic policy regarding Spain’s conquered possessions have been received, each petition bearing many signatures, and it was decided to-day to begin immediately the presentation of the petitions to the Senate.

One of the anti-imperialist arguments was that although the United States had conquered Spain, it had not conquered the Philippine people and had no right to treat them as chattel. Anti-imperialists argued that since the Filipinos had already been attempting a revolution against the Spanish, it would be logical to assist them in obtaining that independence rather than annexing them. In the following brief editorial comment, theLouisville Post contrasts the situation of the Filipinos to that of the American colonists at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Louisville Post, 7 December 1898

Buying People Like Merchandise

In their unwillingness to be sold to the United States, the Filipinos must feel as George Washington and his followers would have felt if France had claimed the right to govern this country after the Revolutionary War. After all, it appears that we have agreed to pay $20,000,000 to Spain for a rebellion.

The Monroe Doctrine, first put into words in 1823 and then reinterpreted in 1845 and every decade thereafter, had established the principle that the affairs of the New World should be left to those people who had by that time settled and supposedly civilized it. While this effectively barred European nations from further colonizing North, Central, and South America, it at the same time established a de facto sway of influence by the United States in the Americas. As expansionists eyed territories to the west of the Page 130  |  Top of Articlecontinental United States, anti-imperialists argued that the United States should stay within her own hemisphere. She should stay out of the Pacific, even though she had already ventured into it with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1892 and then the annexation of Hawaii earlier that year. In this brief editorial comment, theSan Francisco Call warns that by annexing the Philippines, the United States would undermine her own position forbidding European excursions into the Americas.

San Francisco Call, 7 December 1898

Abandoning the Monroe Doctrine

The purchase of the Philippines, if that folly be ratified by the Senate, will be the final, formal, and official abandonment of the Monroe Doctrine by the United States. It is the consummation of an act of aggression against a European state, concluded outside of our own hemisphere. Having broken out of our own hemisphere we can no longer oppose the breaking into it by any power that has strength.

The Filipinos’ desire for independence served as a strong argument for anti-imperialists who opposed annexation. One option that did not fit the either-or mold that limited the possibilities to either complete independence or annexation was to make the Philippines a protectorate. This would be a temporary measure to remain in effect only as long as the island nation needed it. This solution was attractive to some, for it would let the United States maintain her principles as a democratic nation that had gone into the war only to protect the oppressed. In the following news story, theNew York Times presents the position of the Filipino leader, someone who was often ignored in the debate regarding the islands’ future.

New York Times, 8 December 1898

Future of the Philippines

Filipinos Desire Independence with This Country’s Protectorate

Want Freedom First of all

Aguinaldo And His Followers Realize that the Islands May Be a Prey of Other Nations

MANILA, Dec. 7—The native press continues to advocate independence and a reimbursement to the United States Government of the amount to be Page 131  |  Top of Articlepaid to Spain for the Philippines. It insists that the Filipinos have aided the Americans solely because they believed they were fighting for independence. The paper quotes liberally from President McKinley’s last speech in Chicago to support its contention that the Americans are pledged to give the Filipinos independence.

Chief Aguinaldo and his principal advisors fully recognize the importance of a strong protectorate in some form. One of the latter has even ventured the assertion that if the Filipinos were granted independence, in accordance with the demand of the leaders, the United States would be immediately asked to establish a protectorate, as otherwise the Philippines must sooner or later become prey of a less liberal-minded country.

Despite the arguments for Philippine independence or the establishment of a protectorate, President McKinley committed the United States to the annexation of the Philippines in the final version of the treaty. According to the New York Times , McKinley failed in his role as leader of the nation, for he had failed to listen to public opinion, which opposed this move. Above all, according to theTimes , the president failed to make his case to the public in such a way as to bring about consensus.

New York Times, 9 December 1898

Tell the People

Without a word to the people or the slightest attempt to explain and justify his policy, the President has committed the country to the policy of expansion and has contracted an obligation to pay twenty million dollars. The Peace Committee at Paris were his agents, they did what he bade them to do. It is to him that the people look for some announcement of what he has done and of the reasons which have prompted him to spend this money and add to their domain. He is silent. He treats them as if the acquisition of the Philippines were none of their business. We think he has made a serious mistake. The taking over of this remote territory and our appearance among the nations of the earth as a colony-holding power are changes of momentous importance in our national policy. The raising of our flag over millions of aliens who are to be governed by us without their consent is a sudden and wide departure from the fundamental principles and established traditions of the Republic. A great part of our people, including many of the wisest, look with grave misgivings on these new imperial fashions. Some of the leading men of the President’s own party condemn the policy to which we stand committed by his act. The contract to pay twenty millions to Spain is Page 132  |  Top of Articlenot to be passed lightly by even in these times of great expenditures. It is the people’s money he is spending—the President must not forget that.

President McKinley would have been wise to devote a great part if not the whole of his message to the new policy. These are stirring days of great events, but he gives us a perfectly humdrum message. The people do not care for a recital of the perfectly well-remembered events of the Spanish war; they turn with impatience from a rehash of department reports. History is making before their eyes, but their servant who is making it with their money, renders no account of his work. It cannot be urged in defense of the President that the public interest would have suffered or that the success of the diplomatic negotiations would have been put in jeopardy by an official revelation of our policy. The whole world knows it. The President’s Peace Commissioners at Paris have given to the press practically a full report of all their important proceedings. We knew weeks ago that we were to take the Philippines. We knew that we were to pay Spain twenty million dollars. Why did not the President tell us his reasons for taking the islands, and for what we are to spend the twenty millions?

We hope President McKinley will presently repair this omission by sending to Congress a special message on imperialism. The people want to know what he has to say for his policy. They want to know what reason he can show for adding $20,000,000 to the heavy cost of the war. The treaty will go to the Senate for discussion in secret session. The President ought not to work in the dark. He should take the people into his confidence to the extent of discussing their own affairs with them.

The Treaty of Paris was ratified by the Senate by a narrow margin of 57 to 27—just one vote more than the necessary two-thirds and was signed December 10. This act formalized the United States’s abandonment of its former official policy of isolationism and set it formally on the path to becoming a world power it was to pursue for the next century. In the following editorial, theNew York World expresses dark forebodings of what this act will signal for the nation’s future.

New York World, 11 December 1898

The Treaty and the People

The treaty of peace with Spain was signed last night at Paris. The American Commissioners will sail home on Saturday next, bringing the document with them. No treaty in the past fifty years has wrought such a change as this will make in the political geography of the globe, or has been fraught with ultimate consequences so important to the race and to the cause of free government.

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The treaty alienates from Spain and puts in the possession or under the protection of the United States more than 2,000 islands with nearly 200,000 square miles of territory and 10,000,000 of inhabitants. It makes changes in the map of the world as it has stood for hundreds of years. It will, if carried to its logical length, effect changes in the fundamental principles and the traditional system of our Government such as those who founded and those who have developed it into the greatest power on earth never dreamed of.

It is likewise the first treaty in the history of the world, so far as we are aware, which not only does not exact one cent for indemnity to the victors—who spent $200,000,000 in the war—but which pledges $20,000,000 to the vanquished for territory which they could not have retained and possession of which they are not asked to guarantee.

Equally remarkable is the treaty for the fact that it contains, as the result of a war undertaken in behalf of freedom and independence for an oppressed colony of Spain, a title to the sovereignty, the land, and the people of the Philippine group, with their 8,000,000 inhabitants, on the other side of the globe. This ends a war for freedom with a peace of subjugation. We set out to free the Cubans. We end by taking Spain’s place as the master of the Filipinos.

In sending this extraordinary treaty to the Senate it is to be presumed that President McKinley will make good the omission in his message and give to the people who must pay the bills and assume the burdens of these new ventures his reasons for “expansion” and his plan, if he has any, for the disposition of government of the new possessions.


  1. Why did so much of the debate about the annexation of the Philippines revolve around the concepts of freedom and democracy, tyranny and oppression? Why would these concepts be particularly resonant for American newspapers?
  2. At least two of the newspapers cited in this chapter compared the Philippine insurgency to the American Revolution. What are the names, words, and phrases used to evoke this comparison? Do you think this was an effective rhetorical device to influence public opinion at that time? Would it be as effective today?
  3. What were some of the strategies (rhetorical, editorial, typographical, and journalistic) used by the newspapers cited in this chapter to support or promote one side or another in the debate?
  4. The New York World was criticized by many contemporary newspapers for being a yellow journal that sensationalized events and partly responsible Page 134  |  Top of Articlefor pushing America into the war with Spain. Yet it opposed annexing the Philippines at the end of the war. Why does this seem contradictory? What arguments can you use to explain why it would not be contradictory?
  5. Many of the terms and phrases used to describe the Filipinos (and the Spanish) in the stories and editorials reveal cultural ethnocentrism and racial and ethnic stereotyping. What are some of these words and phrases? What attitudes do they reveal? How might these stereotypes have served as persuasive devices? How might they have undermined the explicit arguments being made regarding democracy and freedom?


1. “Peace with Freedom,” New York World, 13 August 1898, p. 6.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2891600019