William Graham Sumner denounced America’s war against Spain and thought that “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery” would result in imperialsm (1898)

William Graham Sumner

In a lecture given in 1898, the great American sociologist William Graham Sumner pondered the long term economic and constitutional consequences of the war against Spain:

Now what will hasten the day when our present advantages will wear out and when we shall come down to the conditions of the older and densely populated nations? The answer is: war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery - in a word, imperialism…
The point which I have tried to make in this lecture is that expansion and imperialism are at war with the best traditions, principles, and interests of the American people, and that they will plunge us into a network of difficult problems and political perils, which we might have avoided, while they offer us no corresponding advantage in return.

Numerous thinkers have argued that there is a continuity in American foreign policy that goes back at least to the Spanish-American War of 1898. Sumner, who lived through this war, was one of these thinkers. He predicted that the end result of continuous “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery” would be the opposite of what America was intended to be, namely “imperialism”.