Friday, January 30, 2009

The Burning of the Flag

The Burning of the Flag


Robert M. Barga


Should the United States of America annex the Philippines? Should the country that strove to leave on empire attempt to create another? Does America owe it to the savages of the world to govern them with a just system? These questions plagued Americans at the turn of the 20th century and greatly influenced all future policies of the National Government. After winning the Spanish-American War, America was faced with a large problem: what to do with the island nation of the Philippines? Americans on both sides of the issue, Imperialists who supported annexation and Anti-Imperialists who supported Philippine freedom, often clashed on the issue. Emerging from this din on the imperialist side was Albert Beveridge, a Republican politician from Indiana. Humanity and religion, The American Way, and the economy, argued Beveridge, all pointed towards the annexation of the Philippines1.

Beveridge's main argument for the annexation of the Philippines revolved around his views of humanity and of religion. He believed that Americans, along with the western Europeans, were granted permission by The Almighty God to be the spreaders of liberty and freedom. By constantly referring God and what He has granted to the United States - “He has marked us as His chosen people”2 - , Beveridge was arguing that it was the solemn duty of America to colonize and work to 'free' the people of the Philippines. He was arguing that it was the God-granted duty to do this. However, to avoid merely focusing on God, he also contended that it was the humane thing to do; that to be fair to the Philippians, America must do her best to keep Germany, Japan, Russia, etc. from taking away their freedoms.

While Beveridge was able to persuade many on religious and humanistic grounds, several other thinkers contended that it was actually inhumane to annex the Philippines. William Graham Sumner, a Yale professor, was strongly opposed to the idea of annexing the Philippines3. He believed that it was fundamentally inhumane to force any class or group of citizens to change their way, merely because another group perceived them to be wrong or savage. He argued that it was inherent upon every group to be able to survive in their own way, seeking out “Their own salvation or go without4. Furthermore, Sumner contended that the Philippians hated the American system, that they did not understand western religion, and that they were hostile to American ideas5. Overall, Sumner was contending that it is not just, not humane, and definitely not Christian to force change upon a group that clearly does not want it.

Both Beveridge and Sumner were focusing on the religious and fair-treatment demographics of America; those who thought solely with God in their minds and those that were caring about the harms caused upon other persons. This is a common appeal in America, as it is quite easy to grab a large portion of the American populace merely by appealing to one of these two issues. Beveridge had a strong argument that God had endowed Americans with the right to colonize and spread. This argument hinged on the perception of Manifest Destiny which was a strong vein, at that time, running through America. Sumner, on the other hand, hit the nail on the head when he talked about the inhumanity of colonizing the Philippians.

Beveridge then moved on to argue that the Economy of the American people depended on the colonization and the annexation of the Philippines. When he wrote “We do not need more money – we need more circulation, more employment. Therefore we must find new markets...”6, Beveridge was arguing that the economy of America needed the new markets. No government or country can survive without trade and internal spending (GDP) and all economies will grow stagnant without a large GDP. Beveridge was arguing that by annexing the Philippines the United States would be expanding its monetary base and spending allowance, thus granting it a higher GDP and a better economy.

This argument appealed greatly to the American populace. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as with today, America had a problem with her economy. Coming off of the Panic of 18937, the American population was scared of a bad economy and the loss of money. By arguing towards their pocketbooks, Beveridge was able to convince many Americans that it was a good thing to expand into the Philippines.

The third, and primary, argument that both the Imperialists and the Anti-Imperialists used in their argument over the Philippines was that of The American Way. Beveridge argued that the “march of the flag8” was the essential reason for expanding. This was a basic appeal to patriotism, and it has been echoed throughout American Foreign Policy as a ‘rally around the flag’ effect9; this effect causes all Americans to identify as one identity, and thus to come together. Elihu Root, Secretary of War (now Defense) under McKinley argued that “[the] people inhabiting the Philippine Archipelago are incapable of self-government...10 and held that the United States had the duty to govern them properly. Using the examples of prisoners and Indians, both Roots and Beveridge argued that the American Way of government “...applies only to those who are capable...11”. Thus, it was the American Way to then govern the Philippians under those principles as they could not govern themselves.

The Anti-Imperialists, of course, countered this argument exceptionally well. Carl Schurz, a journalist and member of the Anti-Imperialist League, argued that “we maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed12”. By saying this, Schurz was arguing that the Hobbsian and Lockovian view of government was the only just way, and the true American Way. He was contending that unless the local people support it, it can not be truly just and proper. Using a much more US-centric approach, Sumner contended that the American policing of the Philippians would amount to not granting them the same Constitutional rights as all other Americans. When he said “If you take away the Constitution, what is American Liberty and all the rest? Nothing but a lot of phrases...13”, Sumner was clearly arguing that the only way to preserve American freedoms and ideals would be to let the Philippines to do as they themselves wished to do. That is, grant them sovereignty and self-government.

In arguing towards the American Way, both the Imperialists and the Anti-Imperialists were targeting a mainstream demographic of the American populace. Most Americans pride themselves in being patriotic and pride themselves in their country. They all think that their country is the best in the world, and they all want to keep it that way. By appealing to this patriotism, both sides were able to grab new followers. The Imperialists were able to argue that the Founding Fathers, via their slavery and Indian relations, supported the idea of US-centric government over a lesser and more savage people. The Anti-Imperialists argued back that it was against the very foundations and ideas that America was born with. Both sides used this style of argument extensively and focused most effort on it.

Both the Imperialists and the Anti-Imperialists argued extensively over the issues of annexing the Philippines or not. Both appealed to the American Way and to the religious nature that is inherent in Americans. Both sides used intellectual arguments to make their respective cases. This system of argument, though it wound up in favor of the Imperialists, would become the main argument of intellectual conversation in America. Additionally, the conversations presented had a large impact on how America viewed the world and how the world viewed America. Becoming an empire, per say, created the American super power, which we remain today.

1 Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Library of Oratory, Ancient and Modern”, page 93

2Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Library of Oratory, Ancient and Modern”, page 93

3Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “War and Other Essays”, page 95

4Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “War and Other Essays”, page 97

5Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “War and Other Essays”, page 96

6Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Library of Oratory, Ancient and Modern”, page 95

8Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Library of Oratory, Ancient and Modern”, page 95

99 James Nachtwey: “Public Opinion and Mass Communications” page 201

10Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Military and Colonial Policy of the United States”, page 109

11Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “The Library of Oratory, Ancient and Modern”, page 94

12Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “Speeches, Correspondence, and Political Papers of Carl Schurz”, page 104

13Retrieving the American Past; Excerpt from “War and Other Essays”, page 96



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