On the Philippine Question

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An excerpt from the speech of Senator George F. Hoar, in the
Beveridge-Hoar Debate on the Philippine Question, delivered in the
United States Senate, April 17, 1900, as cited in the book “Something
to Say, How to Say It” written by GRenville Kleiser and published in


I have failed to discover in the speech, public or private, of the advocates of this war, or in the press which supports it and them, a single expression anywhere of a desire to do justice to the people of the Philippine Islands, or of a desire to make known to the people of the United States the truth of the case. Some of them, like the Senator from Indiana and the President of the Senate, are outspoken in their purpose to retain the Philippine Islands forever, to govern them ourselves, or to do what they call giving them such share in government as we hereafter may see fit, having regard to our own interest, and, as they sometimes add, to theirs. The others say, “Hush! We will not disclose our purpose just now. Perhaps we may,” as they phrase it, “give them liberty sometime. But it is to be a long time first.”

The catchwords, the cries, the pithy and pregnant phrases of which all their speech is full, all mean dominion. They mean perpetual dominion. When a man tells you that the American flag must not be hauled down where it has once floated, or demands of a shouting audience, “Who will haul it down?” if he mean anything, he means that that people shall be under our dominion forever. The man who says, “We will not treat with them till they submit; we will not deal with men in arms against the flag,” says, in substance, the same thing. One thing there has been, at least, given to them as Americans not to say. There is not one of these gentlemen who will rise in his place and affirm that if he were a Filipino he would not do exactly as the Filipinos are doing; that he would not despise them if they were to do otherwise. So much, at least, they owe of respect to the dead and buried history—the dead and buried history, so far as they can slay and bury it—of their country.

Why, the tariff schemes which are proposed are schemes in our interest and not in theirs. If you propose to bring tobacco from Porto Rico or from the Philippine Islands on the ground that it is for the interest of the people whom you are undertaking to govern, for their best interest to raise it and sell it to you, every imperialist in Connecticut will be up in arms. The nerve in the pocket is still sensitive, tho the nerve in the heart may be numb. You will not let their sugar come here to compete with the cane sugar of Louisiana or the beet sugar of California or the Northwest, and in determining that question you mean to think, not of their interest but of yours. The good government you are to give them is a government under which their great productive and industrial interests, when peace comes, are to be totally and absolutely disregarded by their government. You are not only proposing to do that, but you expect to put another strain on the Constitution to accomplish it.

Why, Mr. President, the atmosphere of both legislative chambers, even now, is filled with measures proposing to govern and tax these people for our interest, and not for theirs. Your men who are not alarmed at the danger to constitutional liberty are up in arms when there is danger to tobacco. As an eloquent Republican colleague said elsewhere, “Beware that you do not create another Ireland under the American flag.” Beware that you do not create many other Irelands—another Ireland in Porto Rico; another Ireland in Cuba; many other Irelands in the Philippines! The great complaint of Ireland for eight centuries was that England framed her taxation and regulated her tariff, not for Ireland's interest, but for her own; that when she dealt with the great industries of that beautiful ilse she was thinking of the English exchequer and of the English manufacturer and of the English landowner; and she reduced Ireland to beggary. Let us not repeat that process.

Certainly the flag should never be lowered from any moral field over which it has once waved. To follow the flag is to follow the principles of freedom and humanity for which it stands. To claim that we must follow it when it tands for injustice or oppression is like claiming that we must take the nostrums of the quack doctor who stamps them on his wares, or follow every scheme of wickedness or fraud, if only the flag be put at the head of the prospectus. The American flag is in more danger from the imperialists than it would be if the whole of Christendom were to combine its power against it. Foreign violence at worst could only rend it. But these men are trying to stain it.

It is claimed—what I do not believ—that these appeals have the sympathy of the American people. IT is said that the statesman who will lay his ear to the ground will hear their voice. I do not believe it. The voice of the American people does not come from the ground. It comes from the sky. It comes from the free air. It comes from the mountains where liberty dwells. Let the statesman who is fit to deal with the question of liberty or to utter the voice of a free people lift his ear to the sky—not lay it to the ground.

Mr. President, it was once my good fortune to witness an impressive spectacle in this chamber, when the Senators answered to their names in rendering solemn judgment in a great State trial. By a special provision each Senator was permitted, when he cast his vote, to state his reason in a single sentence. I have sometimes fancied that the question before us now might be decided, not alone by the votees of us who sit here to-day, but of the great men who have been our predecessors in this chamber and in the Continental Congress from the beginning of the Republic.

Would that that roll might be called! The solemn assembly sits silent while the Chair puts the question whose answer is so fraught with the hopes of liberty and the destiny of the Republic.

The roll is called.

George Washington: “No. Why should we quit our own, to stand on foreign ground?”
Alexander Hamilton: “No. The Declaration of Independence is the fundamental constitution of every state.”
Thomas Jefferson: “No. Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Every people ought to have that separate and equal station among the nations of the world to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them.”
John Adams: “No. I stood by the side of Jefferson when he brought in the Declaration; I was its champion on the floor of Congress. After our long estragement, I came back to his side again.”
James Madison: “No. The object of the federal Constitution is to secure the union of the thirteen primitive States, which we know to be practicable, and to add to them such other States as may arise in their own bosoms or in their neighborhood, which we can not doubt will be practicable.”
Thomas Corwin: “No. I said in the days of the Mexican War: ‘If I were a Mexican, as I am an American, I would welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves'; and Ohio to-day honors and loves me for that utterance beyond all her other sons.”
Daniel Webster: “No. Under our Constitution there can be no dependencies. Wherever there is in the Christian and civilized world a nationality of character, then a national government is the necessary and proper result. There is not a civilized and intelligent man on earth that enjoys satisfaction with his condition if he does not live undre the government of his own nation, his own country. A nation can not be happy but under a government of its own choice. When I depart from these sentiments I depart from myself.”
William H. Seward: “No. The framers of the Constitution never contemplated colonies or provinces at all; they contemplated states only; nothing less than states—perfect states, equal states, sovereign states. There is reason, there is sound political wisdom, in this provision of the Constitution—excluding colonies which are always subject to oppression, and excluding provinces, which always tend to corrupt and enfeeble and ultimately break down the parent state.”
John Marshall: “No. The power to declare war was not conferred upon Congress for the purpose of aggression or aggrandizement. A ware declared by Congress can never be presumed to be waged for the purpose of conquest or the acquisition of territory, nor does the law declaring the war imply an authority to the President to enlarge the limits of the United States by subjugating the enemy's country.”
John Quincy Adams: “No. The territories I helped bring into the nation were to be dwelt in by free men and made into free states.
Aaron Burr: “Yes. You are repeating my buccaneering expedition down the Mississippi. I am to be vindicated at last!”
Abraham Lincoln: “No. I said in Independence Hall at Philadelphia, just before I entered upon my great office, that I rested upon the truth Thomas Jefferson has just uttered, and that I was ready to be assassinated, if need be, in order to maintain it. And I was assassinated in order t omaintain it.”
Charles Summer: “No. I proclaimed it when I brought in Alaska. I sealed my devotion with my blood also. It was my support and solace through those many long and weary hours when the red-hot iron pressed upon my spine, the very source and origin of agony, and I did not flinch. He knows our country little, little also of that great liberty of ours, who supposes that we could receive such a transfer. On each side there is impossibility. Territory may be conveyed, but not people.”
William McKinley: “There has been a cloud before my vision for a moment, but I see clearly now; I go back to what I said two years ago: ‘Forcible annexation is criminal aggression; governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, not some of them, but all of them.' I will stand with the Fathers of the Republic. I will stand with the founders of the Republican Party. No.”

Mr. President, I know how imperfectly I have stated this argument. I know how feeble is a single voice amid this din and tempest, this delirium of empire. It may be that the battle for this day is lost. But I have an assured faith in the future. I have an assured faith in justice and the love of liberty of the American people. The stars in their courses fight for freedom. The Ruler of the heavens is on that side. If the battle to-day go against it, I appeal to another day, not distant and sure to come. I appeal from the clapping of hands and the stamping of feet and the brawling and the shouting to the quiet chamber where the Fathers gathered in Philadelphia. I appeal from the spirit of trade to the spirit of liberty. I appeal from the Empire to the Republic. I appeal from the millionaire, and the boss, and the wire-puller, and the manager, to the statesman of the elder time, in whose eyes a guinea never glistened, who lived and died poor, and who left to his children and to his countrymen a good name, far better than riches. I appeal from the Present, bloated with material prosperity, drunk with the lust of empire, to another and a better age. I appeal from the Present to the Future and to the Past.

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