In each of the Presidential contests which have occurred
within the last half-century the result has hinged, in large
measure, upon a single issue. The campaign of 1852 resulted in the
almost unanimous election of Pierce upon the supposed
settlement of the slavery question by the compromise measures of
the preceding Congress. Four years later, the salient question
was the power of Congress over slavery in the Territories. Upon
this issue the Democrats succeeded by a slender margin in
electing Buchanan to the Presidency. In the exciting contest of 1860,
every phase of the slavery question was, for months, the subject
of heated discussion. In fact, that contest - intensified by the
Dred Scott decision - was but the renewal of the struggle upon
the burning question which had so evenly divided parties at the
preceding Presidential election. The vigorous prosecution of
the war was the slogan of the victors in the campaign four years
later. And Reconstruction, in its various phases, was the
overshadowing issue upon which General Grant was triumphant in
the two Presidential contests immediately succeeding the second
election of Mr. Lincoln.
In 1876, old things had passed away and a new issue was to
the forefront. Reform was the watchword of the Democracy.
With this good word, with all that it implied, as the symbol of
the paramount issue, the friends of Mr. Tilden waged an almost
successful battle. The result, long in doubt, and finally reached
by the decision of an extra-Constitutional tribunal, was adverse
to the Democratic candidate by a single electoral vote.
In the three contests immediately succeeding the historic
struggle last mentioned, the pivotal question in debate and the
decisive one - affected in some degree by the personality of the
candidates - was Tariff Reform. Special prominence was given
to this issue by the passage of the McKinley bill, and
denunciation of high protection as robbery by the Democratic
Convention of 1892. In the first contest between the now opposing
candidates for the Presidency, the question of Tariff Reform
was held in abeyance, and Silver became the one vital issue of the
It is by no means asserted that, in these political contests of
the past, no questions were discussed other than those I have
mentioned. On the contrary, the entire pathway of the history
of parties is luminous with debate along all lines of political
thought. In the early days of the Republic, and before party
organizations had attained to anything approximating their
present discipline and authority, the "Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian
Theories of Government," the Line of Demarcation between
State and Federal Authority," "Internal Improvements," "the
United States Bank," "the Resolutions of 98," "Strict
Construction," "The Compromises of the Constitution," etc., were
subjects of endless debate for months preceding every Presidential
The contention is that, while there were many questions of
minor importance, and much expenditure of oratory upon mere
abstract questions of government, yet, in the main, a single
question was the storm-centre of controversy, and was decisive.
History has but repeated itself in the contest for political
supremacy upon us now. One living question is to the forefront.
It is in very truth the pivotal issue of the campaign. Political
platforms may ignore it, yet it will not down. It is in the
thoughts of men. It is with us to stay until it shall have been
determined by the American peoplethe final arbiters, from
whose judgment there is no appeal.
Imperialism is a new word in American politics. It had no
place in the platform or the political controversies of the past.
There had been no forecast of its possible existence as an issue in
this campaign. It is a new question. How did it originate?
Why is it here?
Events have followed upon each other so rapidly that we
seem to have forgotten the avowed purpose of the late war with
Spain. Our solemn declaration, before breaking the peace of
the world in behalf of Cuba, was: The United States hereby
disclaims any disposition to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or
control over said island except for the pacification thereof, and
asserts its determination when that is accomplished to leave the
government and control of the island to its people.
This disclaimer alone justified the declaration of war to our
own conscience. It was believed by the American people to be a
war waged solely in the interest of humanity, and in no sense
for commercial or territorial gain. An eminent Republican Senator,
while the joint resolution was pending, voiced the sentiments
of his countrymen when he declared: It is a war in which there
does not enter the slightest thought or desire of foreign conquest
or of material gain or advantage. No one doubted at the time
that this disclaimer upon our part applied not only to Cuba, but
to all Spanish dependencies.
The pacification of the Island of Cuba - the avowed purpose
of the war - has been achieved. Spain has sustained crushing
and retributive defeat, and her flag, the hated emblem of
tyranny to Cuban and Filipino alike, has disappeared forever
from our hemisphere. Spain is at peace, well rid of colonial
possessions that had been for centuries an obstacle to her material
progress. But our Government is still engaged in war; not with
our ancient foe, but against our former allies in the war with
Spain. It has been prosecuted at a fearful cost of treasure and
of blood; little less than two hundred millions in money and
many thousand valuable lives. Sixty thousand American soldiers
are now in the Philippine Islands - and the end is not yet.
What is the justification for all this? Is it a war of self-
defense, a war in the interest of humanity, or does it but add
another to the long list of wars of subjugation and of conquest?
These questions must give us pause. It is not strange that one
whose love of liberty is inherited should have declared:
Uneasy consciences are multiplying in the Republican party.
When the ten million people of these twelve hundred islands
are to abandon all hope of independence; when they are to lay
down their arms and become our peaceable subjects; when the
drain upon our blood and treasure is to cease - are questions no
man is wise enough to answer. But granted that such, in the
near or the remote future, is to be the termination of the
struggle, what then? How are these people to be held and governed?
What is to be their status? Are they to be citizens or subjects?
If, as is claimed, they are incapable of self-government, are they
to be vested by us with the dignity and the privileges of American
citizenship, and entitled to representation in our National
Legislature and in the Electoral College? No sane man can believe
it. The only alternative, then, is government by force, by the
power of the army and of the navy.
It need hardly be said that such government is wholly without
Constitutional authority. Ours is a government of citizens, not
of subjects. It is a government of limited powers, and its
founders made no provision for holding conquered provinces
or alien peoples. The government of this far-away people,
then, can only be by methods outside of the Constitution. In
other words, there must be engrafted upon our body politic
European methods of colonial governmenta government that, in
spirit, if not in form, pertains to the Empire and not to the
The justification for all this by Imperialists is that we can
give these islanders a better government than they are capable
of creating for themselves. What, then, becomes of the doctrine,
so dear to our fathers, that governments derive their just
powers from the consent of the governed ? What of the words of
Lincoln: "No man is good enough to govern another man
without that others consent; when he governs himself and also
governs another man, then that is more than self-government - that
It is claimed that we have outgrown the doctrines of the
founders of the Government, and that we are henceforth to be
a World Power. This is, indeed, a high-sounding phrase, but it
is well to know its real meaning. As a model to the builders of
republics - and an inspiration to all peoples who desire a larger
measure of freedom - our Republic has, from its beginning,
been "a World Power." But in the sense used by Imperialists,
the term is one of terrible significance. To become a World
Power is to break with the past ; to abandon the traditions and dis-
regard the warnings of the patriots and the sages of the
Revolution. It implies, of necessity, the equipments of the World
Powers of Europe. It means an immense standing army, with its
continuing and ever increasing burdens of taxation. The picture
is not pleasing, but at no less cost can we hold place as a
Our colonial possessions will, of necessity, be governed by
methods that are despotic. The lessons of history are full of
warnings. Creasy, the historian, in his "Decisive Battles of the
World," says: "There has never been a republic yet in history
that acquired dominion over another nation that did not rule it
selfishly and oppressively. There is no single exception to this
rule, either in ancient or modern times. Carthage, Rome, Ven-
ice, Genoa, Florence, Holland and republican France, all tyran-
nized over every province and subject state where they gained
In the event of the defeat which is inevitable to the islanders,
in their conflict with the great Power, what is to be our
compensation for the fearful sacrifice of life and of treasure?
"Commercial gain." To whom? Surely not to the plain people.
It is only theirs to bear the additional taxation the new policy
imposes. It can only be to the "syndicated wealth" described in
a recent letter of an eminent statesman of New England. Trade -
"the calm health of nations" - is profitable only with peoples
with whom we are at peace. Trade knows no sentiment. It
goes only where it is profitable. Ninety per cent. of our exports
reach European markets, for "only the civilized man is the
consumer. Is commercial gain the low plane upon which we stand?
Is this our justification for abandoning the pathway marked out
by the fathers, and along which we have found contentment and
safety? Commercial gain to a class as the end of a war of con-
quest! Are there no higher motives to which appeal can be
made? The words of Patrick Henry to the Virginia Convention
may be recalled: "You are not to consider how your trade is to
be increased, but how justice may be done, and how your
liberties may be preserved."
The lust of empire is the plague that has come upon us in
these closing hours of the century. Against it we are warned by
the wrecks that lie along the entire pathway of history.
The new policy of Imperialism finds its inspiration in
"corporate greed." This influence is potent as never before, in all
the channels of authority. It has touched the springs of
political power. Against it are the warnings of those whom we have
been accustomed to revere. No statesman of the last generation
discerned more clearly its appalling danger to republican
government than did Mr. Lincoln. It is well now, when the attempt
is made to enthrone commercial gain as the supreme good, to
recall his prophetic words. In a letter written in 1864, he said:
"But I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves
me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As
a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era
of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power
of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon
the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a
few hands, and the Republic is destroyed."
Authoritative declaration should be made at once to the
people of the Philippine Islands that it is not our purpose to conquer
or to subjugate them. Under existing conditions, they should
be protected against the cupidity and aggression of foreign
nations. All this, upon our part, to the end that the Filipinos may
have the full enjoyment of liberty, and stable government
fashioned by their own hands.
In view of all that has occurred, and of what must inevitably
follow, in the event of the Republican Administration receiving
a vote of confidence at the polls, are not Democrats justified
in declaring Imperialism the paramount issue of the campaign?
Other questions will be discussed. In terse words, the
Democratic platform calls attention to the enormous growth of the
Trust evil, and justly characterizes it as a menace to our free
institutions. The Hay-Pauncefote treaty is condemned, as a
surrender of rights not to be tolerated by the American people.
But, in the presence of the overshadowing issue, even these are
questions of secondary importance. Imperialism is the
paramount issue. Around this, the battle will be most fiercely waged.
Is it too much to say that its determination will be for the weal
or the woe of the Republic?
ADLAI E. STEVENSON.