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Ex-President Grover Cleveland on the Philippine Problem

by Grover Cleveland

Boston: New England Anti-Imperialist League, 1904

When our Government entered upon a war for the professed purpose of aiding to self-government and releasing from foreign rule a struggling people whose cries for liberty were heard at our very doors, it rallied to its enthusiastic support a nation of freemen, in whose hearts and minds there was deeply fixed by heredity and tradition the living belief that all just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed.

It was the mockery of Fate that led us to an unexpected and unforeseen incident in this conflict, and placed in the path of our Government, while professing national righteousness, representing an honest and liberty-loving people, and intent on a benevolent, self-sacrificing errand, the temptation of sordid aggrandizement and the false glitter of world-power.

No sincerely thoughtful American can recall what followed without amazement, nor without sadly realizing how the apathy of our people's trustfulness and their unreflecting acceptance of alluring representations can be played upon.

No greater national fall from grace was ever known than that of the Government of the United States, when in the midst of high design, while still speaking words of sympathy with the weak who struggled against the strong, and while still professing to exemplify before the world a great Republic's love for self-government and its impulse to stay the bloody hand of oppression and conquest, it embraced an opportunity offered by the exigencies of its beneficent undertaking, to possess itself of territory thousands of miles from our coast, and to conquer and govern, without pretense of their consent, millions of resisting people -- a heterogeneous population largely mixed with elements hardly within the light of civilization, and all far from the prospect of assimilation with anything American.

In one hand the party in power held aloft before our people the dazzling and misleading promise of commercial advantage and the glory of rivaling monarchical expansion, while with the other it slaughtered thousands of the abject possessors of the soil it coveted, and sent messages of death and disease to thousands of American homes.

In the wildest exhibition of partisan rancor the Democratic party cannot be accused of reactionary opposition to any movement within the lines fixed by our national mission and traditions that tends to increase our country's greatness. It demands, however, that this mission and these traditions shall above all things be inviolably preserved as guides to our national activity and standards for the measurement of every national achievement. Democracy will not be cajoled into silence by the transient appearance of a manufactured or heedless public sentiment, but will speak, and trust for its vindication to the sober second thought of our people. Refusing to accept the shallow and discreditable pretense that our conquest in the Philippines has gone so far as to be beyond recall or correction, we insist that a nation as well as an individual is never so magnanimous or great as when false steps are retraced and the path of honesty and virtue is regained.

The message of the Democracy to the American people should courageously enjoin that, in sincere and consistent compliance with the spirit and profession of our interference in behalf of Cuba's self-government, our beneficent designs toward her should also extend to the lands which, as an incident of such interference, have come under our control; that the people of the Philippine Islands should be aided in the establishment of a government of their own; and that when this is accomplished our interference in their domestic rule should cease.
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