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The Philippine Problem
How to Secure Peace -- Views of William D. Howells
New York Evening Post (Oct. 17, 1899).

Much interest attaches to the specific views of some of the signers of the declaration of principles recently adopted by the American League of this city. These principles are expressed as follows:
  1. We reaffirm the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence.
  2. We believe that all others, as well as we, are of right entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to free opportunities of earning a living.
  3. We adhere to the American idea that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.
  4. We are, therefore, opposed to the use of force in the extension of American institutions.
"I have to look at the matter," said W. D. Howells, "entirely from a moralist's point of view, for I haven't at all the politician's interest or that of the commercialist. I was opposed to the Spanish war, and I am opposed to continuing in the Philippines on any such policy as we are now following. Yes, I think we should stop hostilities at once. Why not? I don't see why we can't order a truce, and then, when the President and his Commission have reported to Congress, let us make the Filipinos a final offer of a scheme of government, and abide by their acceptance or rejection of it.

"I think our wrong consists in forcing sovereignty over a people who are unwilling to accept the change. I know our position is well enough supported by international law, but, to my mind, that is not a sufficient justification for us. I still believe in the principle of the 'consent of the governed,' as a moral principle which is the life of the republic, and in our present course in the East we are going counter to the principles of our own strength and happiness. Moral principle governs the growth of the republic, and for our own good I think we need now to act on purely moral grounds, and not upon the precedents of other nations.

"Yes, I know that 'national pride' is in the way of such a course as I suggest; but that 'national pride' doesn't appeal to me, when it is called on to support a course founded on a disregard of our own cherished principles. Why! don't you suppose this nation is great enough to stop the fighting in the Philippines because it is right, no matter what the rest of the world says? I think it is.

"If the Filipinos generally should accept a proposition for a form of government, coming from us, I suppose we should have to accept them as citizens or subjects; but that question is a very troublesome one. I am opposed to extra-territorial expansion because it involves problems with which the republican form of government seems to me unfitted to deal. The task of colonial management is a very heavy one, which has not yet been perfectly learned even by the most experienced nations, whose governmental systems are better suited to it than ours. The chances for corruption in a colonial system of our own seem to me very great, and I think our lack of practice would lead us into costly mistakes. Commercial exploitation of the Philippines seems to me utterly dishonorable. But, even with the best purposes, we should be taking charge of mingled races wholly unlike any we have had to do with; we might not have the same mishaps, but I should greatly fear worse mischief than came to us from our Indian affairs in this country. I doubt whether this country can profit by taking charge of a miscellaneous set of races, and institutions wholly at variance with our ideas. The matter has its ridiculous side, too; we propose to take a sultan into our arms, but will shut out Elder Roberts.* [*In 1899, the U.S. government made a treaty of peace with the Sultan of Sulu, a leader of the Muslim Filipinos in the southern Philippines, that was criticized by the anti-imperialists as an endorsement of slavery and polygamy. In the same year, more than seven million U.S. citizens signed petitions opposing the seating in Congress of Brigham H. Roberts, the elected representative from Utah, because he had once been convicted of polygamy.]

"As a definite plan, now, I should propose a truce and the offer of a plan of government, backed by the word of Congress. Just now we are taking the course followed by England a century ago. Then she said, 'Lay down your arms and we will treat with you.' Aguinaldo? I don't call him a second Washington. I don't know enough about him to tell whether he is a Washington or not, though I see nothing to object to in his being pushed on by others behind him. In a revolution every leader must have a pushing force behind him. Stop the fighting, I say. My position is that it is 'never too late to do right.'"

Contributed by Howells, William Dean
17 October 1899


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