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chapter 97: The New Transmarine Dominions - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 2 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Vol. 2.
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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The New Transmarine Dominions
The last preceding chapter, written in 1894, has been allowed to stand because it describes what was then the character of the foreign policy of the United States and the attitude of the nation towards other powers.
Much has happened since then—much which nobody expected—and in order to present a view of the facts as they stand in 1910, some important events that have befallen in and since 1898 must be briefly set forth but without the comments which might be proper if the events were more remote.1
For many years before 1898 the disturbed condition of the island of Cuba, where risings against the Spanish government occurred from time to time, had engaged the attention of the American public. Suggestions were often made, but always rejected, that the United States should, as the nearest neighbour, interfere to set things right. At last an insurrection which, sometimes smouldering and sometimes blazing out, had continued for many months, the Spanish troops being apparently unable to stamp it out, aroused public sentiment and led the United States government into a correspondence with Spain which ended in a war between the two nations. Hostilities began on April 21, 1898, and were virtually over in the July following.
During the campaign the United States forces had occupied the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, while the fleet had destroyed that of Spain in an engagement in the bay of Manila, and had occupied that town. Though neither the government nor the people of the United States had in April, 1898, the slightest idea of acquiring any of the dominions of Spain, a sentiment sprang up against abandoning a conquest that had been almost accidentally achieved, and in particular against losing a port which would be serviceable as a naval station, so the administration, obeying this sentiment, stipulated in the treaty of peace (signed in April, 1899), for the cession of the Philippine Islands. For this a sum of $20,000,000 was paid by the United States to Spain, which at the same time ceded the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean and also the island of Puerto Rico, with a population of about a million. Moreover, at the very outbreak of the war the United States, by a joint resolution of both houses of Congress, annexed the Hawaiian Islands, in which a sort of republic had been set up by the American residents, who had five years before overthrown the native monarchy, then in the incompetent hands of Queen Liliuokalani. The self-constituted authorities of this republic had forthwith asked the United States government for annexation; and this, though it had been previously refused by President Cleveland, was in 1898 accorded with general approval, partly because the war with Spain had evoked a wish to have a naval station in the central part of the Pacific, partly because there had been a large influx of Japanese labourers into the isles, and the Americans feared that if they did not take the islands, Japan would.
Thus in 1899 the United States found itself suddenly and unexpectedly in the possession of three considerable pieces of transmarine tropical territory, inhabited by races diverse in blood, speech, and customs from its own people and from one another. A fourth bit of territory, extremely small, but serviceable from the excellent harbour it contains, is the island of Tutuila in the Samoan group. As far back as 1872 the United States had acquired a sort of interest in it; and this, by a treaty with Britain and Germany, was turned into sovereignty in 1899. Still later a fifth acquisition, small in extent but great in value, was made by the cession to the United States of a strip of land five miles wide on each side of the line to be followed by the interoceanic ship canal from the Atlantic at Colon to the Pacific at Panama. This grant, which under a right of administration practically amounts to sovereignty, was obtained from the little republic of Panama immediately after it had revolted and severed itself from the much larger republic of Colombia.
Each of these five acquisitions has been dealt with in a separate and distinct way. Hawaii has been erected into a Territory with a governor and legislature of two houses, much as if it were on the continent of North America. As its population of American and British stock is very small, the bulk of the inhabitants being Japanese and Chinese, with nearly 30,000 Hawaiian aborigines and almost as many Portuguese, there is no present likelihood of its being turned into a state of the Union. The Constitution of the United States is, however, in full force in Hawaii, as in other Territories, and it is for tariff purposes a part of the United States.
The island of Puerto Rico has received a sort of colonial organization, with a legislature, the lower branch of which is elected on a limited suffrage, while the upper is composed of a few officials and other persons appointed by the federal government. The inhabitants, though they did not object to annexation, and have gained by it in material prosperity, are far from satisfied with these arrangements, desiring a fuller autonomy, or even to be admitted as a state of the Union. Considering, however, that they speak Spanish only, and contain a Negro element amounting to nearly one-third of the whole population, in which only 17 per cent can read and write, these wishes may have to wait some time for fulfilment. The people are orderly, and education has begun to make rapid progress.
Guam and Tutuila are nothing more than naval coaling stations. But the Philippine group, with their area of 128,000 square miles and their population of nearly eight millions, much of it uncivilized or semi-civilized, while the rest consists of Malays who have received with a slight admixture of Spanish blood a Spanish Roman Catholic type of civilization, presents administrative problems of no small difficulty. Although there was in the islands much disaffection with Spanish rule, and an insurrection had broken out shortly before the American fleet appeared on the scene, there was no sort of wish to be transferred to the United States, and when the islanders found themselves ceded by their late masters, the insurgents quickly turned their arms against those whom they had at first regarded as deliverers. Resistance was stamped out after a guerrilla warfare of three years, and in the large island of Mindanao, as well as in Luzon, a regular administration has been created, but local troubles have from time to time occurred, and the risk of their recurrence may not be past. In Luzon great improvements have been effected in the way both of constructing roads and other public works, and of introducing sanitary reforms. Municipal councils have been set up, elected by the people; natives are being appointed to administrative posts, and the friars, who were large landowners and enjoyed great power, have been settled with on liberal terms.
Chinese immigration has been forbidden, and the taking up of land by incorporated companies restricted. It may fairly be said that the American authorities have exerted themselves in a worthy spirit for the benefit of all sections of the population irrespective of race or religion. Nevertheless the natives have so far shown themselves less grateful for benefits received than desirous of an autonomy for which neither their rulers nor impartial foreign observers deem them qualified. They are not the only people which apparently prefers governing itself badly to being well governed by strangers.
A sharp controversy arose in the United States over both the constitutionality and the wisdom of the annexation of the Philippines, most of the Democrats and a section of the Republican party arguing that the fundamental principles of the Constitution were being forsaken, and that these remote tropical territories, inhabited by a population diverse in blood and speech from their rulers, would be rather an encumbrance than a source of strength to the Republic. The subject was a prominent issue at the presidential election of 1900. This controversy has since then gradually subsided, and it played little part in subsequent elections. There has, however, continued to exist much difference of opinion as to the benefits derivable by the United States from the acquisition of the islands, and as to the action proper to be taken regarding them in the future. The absorption of men’s minds in domestic questions and the fact that few have proposed to withdraw forthwith from the islands, leaving them “to sink or swim,” has latterly reduced public interest in the matter, the discussion of which began to seem rather academical than practical when it appeared that feeling had so far cooled and opinions so far approximated that the one party no longer claimed any credit for the conquest and the other could not suggest how to get rid of it.
Large sums have been voted from the revenues of the United States to be expended in the islands, and the tariff upon their products entering United States ports was in 1909 lowered almost to the point of extinction. Were they deemed to be a part of the United States within the meaning of Article I, § 8, par. 1 of the Constitution, their products would of course be subject to no import duties at all. A legislature has been established, one house of which is elected on a property qualification, the other being composed of officials, as in some British Crown colonies. The progress made in the provision of instruction is very remarkable when the difficulties of the country are considered, for out of about 2,000,000 of children between the ages of five and eighteen, 529,660 were in 1912 enrolled, with an average attendance of 329,073. Provision has been made for the establishment of a university, and the medical school which is to form a part of it is already at work.
The Canal Zone (as it is called) at the Isthmus of Panama is important not for its area, only 474 square miles, but from its position, for it brings the United States into direct contact with Central America, while the future control of the Canal opens up a vista of closer relations with the commerce and possibly the politics of western South America. The strip of territory which has been ceded is administered by the War Department, and the legal status of its inhabitants under the federal Constitution does not seem to have been precisely determined. Great difficulty has indeed been found in adjusting to these new transmarine possessions the provisions of an instrument framed with no idea that it might ever have to be applied to remote countries inhabited by alien peoples and held by the sword. The overwhelming naval strength of the United States as towards the weak republics of Colombia and Costa Rica, and the still weaker new republic of Panama, makes the defence of the Zone an easy matter, for the great difficulty of former days—a high mortality due to frequent outbreaks of yellow fever and the constant presence of malarial fevers—has been removed by the sanitary measures carried out here, as previously in Cuba, by the American authorities with an admirable energy and skill which entitle them to the undying gratitude of mankind.
Cuba, the island whose troubles led the United States into the war which brought about these recent acquisitions, was not herself annexed, nor was even any protectorate established. But in 1901, at the time when the American forces were in occupation, though preparing to leave the island, Congress passed a statute the provisions of which were subsequently incorporated in an ordinance appended to the Cuban constitution and ultimately embodied in a treaty between the United States and the republic of Cuba in 1903. These provisions declare, inter alia, that the Cuban government shall never permit any foreign power to obtain lodgment in or control over any part of the island; that the United States may intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty; that the Cuban government shall carry out sanitary measures such as will prevent the recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases, and that it will also lease or sell to the United States lands for coaling or naval stations at points to be subsequently agreed upon. Under these provisions, commonly known as “the Platt amendment,” the harbours of Guantanamo and Bahia Honda were subsequently leased to the United States. The closeness of the tie uniting Cuba with her powerful neighbour was ultimately further recognized by the special treatment extended by each country to the other in the framing of customs duties.
The stipulations above mentioned create a very peculiar relation between the United States and Cuba, although they neither amount to an alliance nor destroy the character of the island as a sovereign state, independent in general international relations. In 1906 effect was given to the clause providing for intervention. Disorders having arisen in Cuba, a small body of American troops was despatched thither. Having reestablished tranquillity and supervised the election of a new president, it withdrew early in 1909. It is generally believed that if similar difficulties were to recur, a similar intervention would follow. But the United States government has given every evidence of its honest desire to avoid the annexation of the island or the assumption of any further responsibilities in respect of it, nor is there reason to think that this policy, deliberately adopted, will be soon or lightly forsaken. Reciprocal reductions have been made in the respective tariffs of the two governments, and a good deal of American capital has now been invested in the island.
The notion that all the republics of the New World ought, simply because they are called republics, to stand closely together apart from the rest of the world—a notion as old as the early part of last century and savouring of those simple days—was revived, but with a view rather to business than to sentiment, when in 1899 a Pan-American Congress was invited to meet in Washington chiefly for the purpose of trying to arrange something approaching a general tariff system for the independent states of the Western Hemisphere. That project came to nothing, but three subsequent congresses have been held, in Mexico, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Buenos Aires, at the two latter of which various questions of common interest have been discussed, and a certain reciprocal interest is believed to have been awakened. Under the auspices of these gatherings, moreover, there has been established in Washington an institution called the Pan-American Union, which collects and supplies to all enquirers, information relating to the industry, products, commerce, and legislation of these states which promises to be of real value, and doubtless tends to bring the American countries into closer commercial touch with one another, each republic having a right to be represented in the organization of the Union. In other ways also the relations of the United States with Latin America have become closer and more frequent. On several occasions there have been pacific interventions by the former, sometimes in order to give protection against European powers, sometimes for the purpose of averting conflicts. In the case of Central America, where the independent states are the smallest, the most turbulent, the most bellicose, and the least advanced in point of civilization, efforts were made in 1907–1908 to take action in conjunction with Mexico, as being the republic not only the nearest to the disturbed area, but also more powerful under the rule of Diaz, than its petty neighbours to the south. Later, under the joint auspices of Mexico and the United States, there was set up a Central American Court of Arbitration, by whose action, if the rather irresponsible presidential dictators can be compelled to resort to it, it is hoped that the constantly recurring strife that has retarded progress in these countries may be prevented.
The temptation to intervene and either bring to reason or dethrone and expel the military adventurers who rule most of these states is often a strong one, especially to a nation which, eager to develop its trade on its own continent, perceives that till peace and order are secured, trade cannot advance. But the wisest statesmen of America feel that the temptation ought to be resisted. The example of other countries, and especially of Great Britain in India and of Russia in Central Asia, has shown how difficult it is for a strong power, when once it has interfered to put down one government and set up another, to withdraw and leave the new government to take its chances. Most of the advances of Russia in Central and Northern and of England in Southern Asia have arisen because an interference which seemed justifiable or even necessary led on to an annexation that was never intended, and in many cases never desired. With this lesson before them such statesmen have generally sought to restrain any popular impulse, whether ambitious or philanthropic, to step out of their own sphere. They have another sound reason in the fact that any action on their part that could seem aggressive or overbearing would rekindle all over Spanish America those suspicions of the too powerful sister republic which have been more or less felt ever since the Mexican war of 1846. To allay such suspicions ought to be a main aim of United States policy.
Americans have latterly been wont to speak of themselves as having become, through the events of 1898, a world power. So far as potential strength was concerned, they were a world power even before that year, for their material resources were at least equal to those of any other state. But it is true that the acquisition of transmarine dominions and the wider horizon which the control of these opened out before them, had led to their taking a larger part in the affairs of the planet as a whole than they had ever done before. To this tendency another cause also has contributed. The immense expansion of the productive and manufacturing industries of the country has induced a desire to have a larger share in world commerce and to increase the mercantile marine.2 “New foreign markets for American goods” loom larger in the eyes of the mercantile class, and administrations have proclaimed the wish and purpose to do all that can be done to promote American enterprise abroad. This tendency, which seems likely to grow stronger in the years to come, has taken concrete shape not only in stimulating the effort to claim for the United States a sort of hegemony among the republics of its own hemisphere, but also in the adoption of a forward commercial policy in the Far East, where the doctrine of what is called “the Open Door” for trade in Manchuria and China has been repeatedly proclaimed as the watchword of the United States, and as the principle it seeks to urge upon other powers.
A question has been raised as to whether the traditional maxim that the United States should confine the assertion of its interests to the Western Hemisphere—a maxim correlative to the declaration in which Monroe and Adams stated their objection to any fresh establishment of European powers therein—applies to the eastern side of Asia as well as to the rest of the Old World.3 Is or is not the Pacific Ocean to be the boundary of American action on the one side as the Atlantic is on the other? To this question no answer has so far been returned.
As after the Spanish war the regular army of the United States was more than doubled, so with the acquisition of territories beyond the sea and the assumption of wider responsibilities in the world, there came an even greater expansion of the navy, which had in 1910 become one of the three strongest afloat. In 1889 it had cost only $25,000,000 and in 1912 was costing $123,000,000.
What have been the broad results of these changes, and what future do they portend for the United States as a world power?
If ever there was a warning administered to overconfident prophets, that warning was given by the events of 1898. It was the unforeseen that happened. There was nothing in the world which the American people less expected when they went into the war against Spain than that they should come out of it the sovereigns of the Philippine Islands, four thousand miles from their own shores. Even the victory at Manila was won with no intent to acquire the isles. That was the result of a series of accidents. The Americans drifted into dominion, and were amazed to find whither they had drifted.
But without speculating about the future, a few remarks may be made on the present state of national opinion.
The people have not been seized by any lust for further conquests. From 1903 till 1912 they appeared to be taking comparatively little interest in their new possessions, which were seldom mentioned even at election time, and regarding the administration of which no more controversy was arising in the national legislature than in the British parliament about Ceylon or Borneo. It is only tariff questions affecting these transmarine territories that have latterly given rise to debates in Congress.
Among statesmen, who must of course study the position both in its actualities and its possibilities, there is a difference of opinion as to the best mode of dealing with the possessions already acquired; for though no one proposes to give up Hawaii or Puerto Rico, the Democratic Convention of 1912 recommended the abandonment of the Philippines, while others, including the administrations in power from 1898 till 1913, have held that the islands ought to be retained, at least until their people can be pronounced fit for self-government. But as to future policy, all agree in the view that the United States ought to make no further conquests and, if possible, avoid the annexation of any more territory. Such territory, they observe, would lie within the tropics, for there is none to be had elsewhere, and therefore the population would not be of American or North European stock. It would either have to be governed as a subject colony or else admitted to the Union as a state. The objection to the former alternative is that not only the Constitution and frame of government, but the political habits of the American people, are not well fitted for ruling over distant subjects of another race. The thing may no doubt be done, and in the Philippines it is being done, and that in a worthy spirit. But it is not a welcome task. The Declaration of Independence is a plant ill fitted for transplantation to tropical lands inhabited by backward races. The latter alternative (admission to the Union) presents still greater difficulties, because a state composed of citizens speaking a different language, unused to constitutional self-government, imbued with quite other notions and traditions, would be detrimental to the political life of the American people, as a foreign substance lodged in the physical body injures or endangers its vital forces. Or, to put it shortly, democratic government requires for its success the equality and the homogeneity of the citizens.
Thoughtful Americans feel that the Republic has already a sufficiently heavy load to carry in ten millions of Negroes and four or five millions of recent immigrants, ignorant of its institutions. To add other millions of mixed Spanish-Indian or Spanish-Negro blood would be an evil not compensated by the gain of territory and possible growth of trade. The recognition of these facts and the dying down of the sudden imperialistic impulse of 1898–1900 make it probable that for some time to come American policy will aim at avoiding annexations, or interventions likely to lead to annexations. As to the more distant future—let us again remind ourselves of 1898 and beware of prophesying.
In realizing herself as a world power America has not become more arrogant or more combative. Relations with Mexico were during the prudent rule of President Diaz better than ever before, and still more noteworthy has been the growth of friendliness between the United States and Canada, evidenced by the conclusion (in 1908–11) of a group of treaties designed to remove, or provide means for the settlement of, all possible causes of controversy. Though there are in her people, as in all peoples, latent bellicose tendencies capable under excitement of bursting into a blaze, the better sentiment which desires peace and endeavours to substitute arbitration for war has gained strength; and all that recent administrations have done in concluding arbitration treaties, and in urging on other powers the desirability of establishing permanent courts of arbitration, has been heartily approved by the nation.
 A comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of the political problems presented in the foreign relations of the United States may be found in a book by Mr. A. C. Coolidge, entitled The United States as a World Power, published in 1908.
 Mr. Coolidge observes that whereas in 1880 manufactured goods formed but 12½ per cent of the total exports (in value) from the United States in 1906 these had risen to 36½ per cent. (The United States as a World Power, p. 177.)
 See upon this subject the remarks of Mr. Coolidge ut supra, pp. 117–19.