Recent Changes - Search:

Religion and Reform

An Industrial and Post-Industrial Nation

American Power and Cultural Hegemony



edit SideBar


Anti-Imperialist Movement from 1898 to 1900


After the end of the Spanish American War, the United States and Spain agreed to peace terms under the Treaty of Paris. Under these terms, Cuba gained independence from Spain, and the United States obtained the Spanish territories of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. The Spanish American War and the subsequent acquisition of colonies provoked opposition from many quarters of American life.

Politicians from both parties argued against the course of imperialistic foreign policy. Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and many other Democrats were anti-imperialists. The Democratic platform for the Presidential election of 1900 opposed imperialism. Republican dissidents such as Senator George Hoar and Andrew Carnegie were also anti-imperialists. Though the Republican Party was the party of imperialism and expansion, it did have its share of members who opposed the American Imperial policies. Many political independents, known as “Mugwumps” were also part of the Anti-Imperialist coalition. Most of the Republican party members and Mugwumps who were against Imperialism were elderly statesmen who had little influence in the politics of their day.1

Labor leaders were also part of the anti-imperialist coalition. Samuel Gompers was the most notable among them. Many intellectuals such as William Graham Summer, David Starr Jordan and William James argued passionately against Imperialism. A group of writers, most notably Mark Twain, also spoke out against American Imperialism.2

Anti-imperialists were a very diverse group with often conflicting interests. They opposed American Imperialism for various reasons. Some opposed it because it was against democratic principles. Labor leaders were worried about jobs. Other anti-imperialists were worried about annexing people of color. Though anti-imperialists argued passionately for their cause, they failed to change the foreign policy of the United States.3

Anti-Imperialist League

The Anti-imperialist movement had its roots in New England. On June 15, 1898, a group of anti-imperialists gathered at Faneuil Hall, in Boston, at the invitation of Gamaliel Bradford, a noted Boston reformer. Speakers at the meeting “attacked the [imperial] policy from the perspective of morality and the American tradition in diplomacy.”4 At the end of meeting, a committee of correspondence was created to form a network of anti-imperialists across the nation and to create a more permanent organization to fight imperialism. These efforts lead to the formation of Anti-Imperialist League on November 19, 1898. The League circulated a petition to oppose the ratification of Treaty of Paris, and it collected over 50,000 signatures over three months. Nonetheless, the Treaty of Paris passed the Senate.5

The situation in the Philippines grew worse as the American army engaged rebels who wanted independence for Philippines. The deteriorating situation brought more strength to the Anti-Imperialistic movement. Anti-Imperialistic Leagues were formed all over the country. A mass protest gathering was organized by Anti-Imperialists in April of 1899. This meeting was known as “Liberty Meeting,” and drew more than 3,000 attendees. In October of 1899, 10,000 delegates from around the nation meet in Chicago to form the national American Anti-Imperialist League. The League’s platform argued that “a self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people. The United States cannot act upon the ancient heresy that might makes right.”6

The American Anti-Imperialistic League’s membership showed the heterogeneity of the movement. It involved politicians from both major Parties, labor leaders, industrialists, reformers and intellectuals. Grover Cleveland, William James, Andrew Carnegie, Carl Schurz, Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers and Jane Addams were just some of its members. The leaders of the League had little in common other than their Anti-Imperialism.

The American Anti-Imperialist League produced pamphlets, known as Liberty Tracts, which attacked the expansionist policy mostly on moral and historical grounds. A Liberty Tract argues, “Is it right for this country to kill the natives of a foreign land because they wish to govern themselves – to enjoy the freedom … our fathers declared the inalienable right of every human being?”7 This tract argues that Imperialism is incompatible with the ideals that are so eloquently expressed in the Declaration fo Independence.

Another Liberty Tract asks, “Which say it be: Nation of Empire? Shall we still continue loyal to the American ideal: a Nation of free individuals … or, shall we renounce our principles of equality and liberty and engage in conquest for commercial advantage, in colonial government of aliens and dependents, and in military dominion over subject races?”8 This pamphlet argues that it is against a Republic’s character to have colonies, and that a Republic becomes an empire when it acquires colonies.

In the Presidential election of 1890, the American Anti-Imperialist League endorsed the Democratic candidacy of William Jennings Bryan. State and local leagues followed the national organization’s lead in endorsing the Democratic candidate. However, Numerous anti-imperialists refused to endorse Bryan due to his free silver policies. Some Republican anti-imperialists such as Senator Hoar and Andrew Carnegie refused to abandon the Republican Party.

After the defeat of William Jennings Bryan in the Presidential election of 1890, the American Anti-Imperialist League lost much of its influence and many of its members. The imperialistic policy seemed inevitable after the election of President McKinley and the anti-imperialism movement lost much of its support. The Anti-Imperialist League enjoyed a brief revival when the American atrocities in Philippines came out. But that support was short lived. The League devolved into competing factions, and various group split to form their own organizations. The Anti-Imperialist League continued to endorse the Democratic Party until 1912 but its endorsement was of little consequence. The American Anti-Imperialist League survived for twenty more years, and it was eventually disbanded in 1921.9

A Liberty Tract published by Anti-Imperialist League.

Prominent Anti-Imperialists

There were many leading individuals in the Anti-Imperialist movement. The following five were chosen because each of them represented a different constituency. Each of them was indicative of the larger groups that made up the Anti-Imperialist movement. Senator George F. Hoar belonged to the Republican dissidents who split with President McKinley’s policies. Carl Schurz was one of the leading Mugwumps or political independents that formed the heart of the Anti-Imperialist movement. William Jennings Bryan represented the Democratic Party faithful, and other Anti-Imperialists often accused him of playing politics with the Anti-Imperialist issue. Samuel Gompers was the leading mainstream spokesperson of the labor movement. Mark Twain was the most prominent among the many writers and intellectuals who opposed Imperialism.

Senator George F. Hoar

Senator George F. Hoar

Senator George F. Hoar was a Massachusetts Republican. He was a loyal Republican who detested both Democrats and mugwumps. His principles and party loyalty often came to conflict with each other. He had hoped to avoid war with Spain, but when President McKinley requested Congressional authorization for the Spanish-American War, Hoar complied. Hoar supported the war because he felt that the war would be fought without “the slightest thought or desire of foreign conquest or of national gain or advantage.”10 Hoar was troubled by the annexation of Hawaii, but he voted for it nonetheless. The opponents of Hawaiian annexation attacked him for his refusal to stand firm in principles.

When Treaty of Paris was agreed upon and it became clear that the Republican administration was going to support annexations of new territories, Hoar became an ardent Anti-Imperialist. He believed that the American Republic was in danger of being transformed into “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which inevitably one class must forever rule and other classes must forever obey.” 11 He further argued that the expansionists were betraying the principles of Declaration of Independence, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Constitution. He believed that Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Philippines should be given full independence after a short period of American or international protection. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Senator Hoar did not share the racial bias prevalent during his time.

Senator Hoar decided to fight against the ratification of Treaty of Paris. He hoped to defeat the treaty and introduce amendments that would have granted independence to former Spanish possessions. Hoar’s hope of defeating the treaty was destroyed after William Jennings Bryan urged his followers to support the Treaty. The Treaty of Paris was ratified with a vote of 57 to 27. Two additional no votes would have stopped the treaty. Hoar was only one of the two Republicans, the other being Eugene Hale of Maine, who voted against the treaty.

Hoar kept up his Anti-Imperialist stance even after the passage of the treaty. Despite the endorsement of Imperialist foreign policy by the Republicans, Senator Hoar supported the Republicans. He turned out to be “one of McKinley’s most effective campaigners." 12

Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz was a leading member of the Mugwumps. Mugwumps formed an important part of the Anti-Imperialist coalition. They were political independents who supported various candidates and various causes over the course of their lives. Many Mugwumps were active in the formation of the Republican Party in the 1850’s and 1860’s. They became disillusioned with the Republican Party in 1880’s due to increasing corruption in the party. By the time of the anti-imperialist movement in the 1890’s, most of the Mugwumps were elderly men with little influence in contemporary politics. These political independents were disturbed the changes that were going on in American society of their time. They were concerned about that immigrants crowding into America’s cities. They disliked the new factory workers and the newly rich industrialists. They saw an America that was changing and leaving them behind.

Carl Schurz based his opposition to imperialism on both constitutional and racist reasons. He believed that in order for the United States to maintain its republican ideals, it could never rule other lands by force. If United States was to annex a foreign territory, then that territory must be made equal to a state. Schurz further argued that the incorporation of a tropical would threaten the framework of American government, and such a state must be prevented at all costs. Thus, Annexation would either violate the constitution or destroy the homogeneity of the United States. Schurz believed in the racist views of his time and that tropical people are incapable of self-government.

When Schurz was a Senator, he voted against the treaty of annexation of Santo Domingo in 1870, which was favored by the Grant Administration. The Senate rejected that treaty. Schurz supported the strong prosecution of Spanish-American War, but he opposed any war that could turn into a war of conquest. He opposed the Treaty of Paris, and the annexation of Philippines. He vigorously campaigned against McKinley in the election of 1900. He proposed giving independence to Philippines and protecting it from outside interference. The Republican Administration ignored his suggestions. 13

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan was the most prominent Democratic Leader during the late 1890’s. He was never a clear cut Anti-Imperialist. His stances on many of the issues regarding Imperialism shifted, and other Anti-Imperialists viewed him with suspicion. Bryan and the Democratic Party were as enthusiastic as the Republicans were for the Spanish-American War. Bryan volunteered to fight, and received a commission as a colonel in the volunteer regiment. Bryan’s regiment of volunteers never saw any action in the war and was stationed in Florida for the duration of the war.

After the war, Bryan opposed the annexation of the Philippines, but he however supported Treaty of Paris. Many Anti-Imperialists argued against the ratificiation of the treaty because the United States would gain possession of Philippines. Bryan argued that once the United States gains control of the Philippines, it would have easier to give independence to Philippines rather than if Philippines was still a Spanish possession. Without Bryan’s and Democratic support, the Treaty of Paris would have surely failed.

As the Presidential election of 1900 approached, William Jennings Bryan fully embraced Anti-Imperialism. In a speech upon receiving the Democratic nomination for President, Bryan attacked McKinely’s foreign policy. He urged the United States to grant independence to Philippines. He argued that Imperialism would require having a large standing army and making Filipinos the subjects of United States. Bryan points out the contradiction between giving Cubans their freedom and not giving Filipinos their freedom. He states that might does not make right, and that Christianity does not require spreading by force. Bryan offers a solution to the problem at hand by saying, “If elected, I will convene congress in extraordinary session… to establish a stable form of government in the Philippine Island … to protect the Filipinos from outside interference while they work out their destiny.”15

Samuel Gompers

Samuel Gompers

While labor supported the Spanish-American War, it did not support the colonialism that resulted after the war. The principal spokesperson of the labor movement was Samuel Gompers, the President of American Federation of Labor. AFL was composed of skilled workers. Gompers looked down on unionizing unskilled factory workers. He fought against radicalism in the labor movement.

Samuel Gompers opposed the Treaty of Paris and colonization of Philippines. He was especially concerned with the cheap labor pool that Philippines would open up to American employers. Gompers’ arguments against imperialism were inspired mostly by the self-interest of the labor movement. In a private letter to a friend, Gompers argues that with control of Philippines “comes the contract of slave labor… There can be no question but what this may have a very deleterious effect upon the workers of our country.” 16 He shared the racial views of his contemporaries.

Samuel Gompers joined the Anti-Imperialism League. While the decrying the need for physical force, Gompers did not mind American influence in other countries. He said that “it [was] not necessary to subjugate by the force of arms any other people in order to obtain that expansion of trade.” 17

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a prominent figure in the Anti-Imperialist movement. His fame as an author, satirist, and essayist and as a man of letters catapulted him into forefront of anti-imperialist movement. His remarks were published widely over the newspapers, and writings reveal the depth of his opposition to American Imperialism. His essay "To the Person Sitting In Darkness" caused a major controversy. In the essay, he argues that America is becoming more like Europe. He was the Vice-President Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 to its demise in 1921. Mark Twain did not share the racial attitudes of his contemporaries. He doesn't use racial theories to justify Anti-Imperialism.

An example of his anti-imperialist writing from the New York Herald, October 15, 1900:

''I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with he Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which had addressed ourselves. But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. . .

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.'' 18

Reasons for opposition to Imperialism

This carton illustrates both the racial and constitutional views of the Anti-Imperialists.

Anti-Imperialists gave a variety of objections to the pursuit of colonialism. These objections can be categorized into broad categories as “constitutional, economic, diplomatic, moral, racial, political, and historical.”19

Many anti-imperialists believed that imperialist policy was against the spirit of the Constitution. They argued that a self-governing republic based on representative rule and protection of liberties cannot govern another country without contradicting its own ideals. Many argued that a nation based on self-government couldn’t subjugate other people. There are others who argued that both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution prohibited the establishment of the colonies. Some argued that there cannot be one law for a citizen and another law for a colonial inhabitant. The phrase – “Constitution follows the flag” – sums up the argument put forth by many anti-imperialists. However, the Supreme Court disagreed and endorsed the Congressional power to make separate laws for the colonies in “Insular Cases” of 1901. As Elihu Root, Secretary of War, put it, “Ye-es, as near as I can make out the Constitution follows the flag-but doesn’t quite catch up with it.”20

Labor leaders made the economic argument that the colonies will provide cheap labor that will undercut wages in the United States. This is the same argument that labor still makes about free trade. Some anti-imperialists such as Carl Schurz and Andrew Carnegie pointed out that a country does not need colonies to be successful in international trade. They rejected the imperialist argument having colonies guarantees trade with the colonies. They argued that American trade will depend on how American goods compete with goods from other nations and not on American access to exclusive markets.

Anti-imperialists were also to the most part isolationists. They did not want America to become involved in International affairs. They saw the involvement in foreign affairs as contrary to non-entanglement policy articulated by George Washington. They also saw Monroe Doctrine as meaning “Europe for the Europeans,” “Asia for the Asians” and “America for the Americans.” Anti-imperialists also feared the domestic costs that would be required by the Imperialist policies such as a large army and navy, higher taxes, and reducing attention from domestic problems.21

There was also a moral dimension to the Anti-Imperialist arguments. They believed that it was simply wrong for the United States to control the destiny of other people and other countries.

Anti-Imperialists shared the same racial attitudes of the Imperialists. They shared the belief the people of color were inferior and incapable of self-government. They believed in excluding the people of color from the United States. They argued that the United States should belong to and remain Anglo-Saxon. They were afraid that colonizing tropical people would increase the racial tensions that were prevalent in America. “As the New York World asked, did the United States which already had a “black elephant” in the South, “really need a white elephant in the Philippines, a leper elephant in Hawaii, a brown elephant in Porto Rico and perhaps a yellow elephant in Cuba.” 22

Anti-imperialists primarily cared about the United States. They were worried about its traditions, destiny, security, domestic and foreign policies. They were not preoccupied with Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba or Puerto Rico. Though they defended the liberties and rights of the colonial people, their primary concern was the United States. They simply believed that Imperialism was not in the best interests of the United States.

Impact of the Anti-Imperialists

Despite the failure of the Anti-Imperialists to stop Imperialism, they did have a significant impact. They nearly defeated the Treaty of Paris in the Senate in February of 1899. Imperialism became a major topic of public discussion in the country. Anti-Imperialists forced the Imperialists to defend their reasons for expansion. They weakened the expansionist influence, and the United States did not embark on a major colonizing effort afterwards.

However, the Anti-Imperialists were not able to turn the clock back. They were not able to stop the annexation of Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. The United States forcefully put down the insurrection in Philippines. McKinley was reelected easily despite the fervent campaigning of many Anti-Imperialists against him.

Anti-Imperialists also had little long-term impact. United States did not retreat into isolationism. It became a major player in world affairs in the twentieth century. It is involved in numerous alliances and in almost all parts of worlds. The forces of United States Army are stationed all through out the world. United States is the greatest military and economic power in the world. Most Anti-Imperialists would have been dismayed by these facts and they would have agreed with William Graham Summer when he called Imperialism “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” and the American involvement in war and power “The Final Victory of Europe.” 23

Reasons for failure of the Anti-Imperialists

They were several reasons for the failure of the Anti-Imperialists to prevent the Imperialist actions at the turn of the nineteenth century. The main reason was that Anti-Imperialists were unable to persuade their fellow voters for their arguments. Anti-Imperialists were not united, and they often attacked each other. Actions of Anti-Imperialists often contradicted their words. For example, Senator Hoar voted for the Hawaiian expansion and William Jennings Bryan voted for the Treaty of Paris. Dissident Republicans did not believe in Anti-Imperialism enough to support the Democrats. Though Mugwumps were often influential men, they held little political power and they were often disorganized.

President McKinley took decisive decisions before any protests could be lodged. He sent Admiral Dewey to the Philippines, and he sent peace commission to Paris. Anti-Imperialists were not able to protest before the actions were taken.

Another problem was that Anti-Imperialists took the negative side of the debate. Even their name included “Anti,” and they were often defined for what they stood against and not for what they stood for. As William James put it, Anti-Imperialists often had “to blow cold upon the hot excitement” 24 of Imperialism.

Legacy of Anti-Imperialism

Though the Anti-Imperialists never prevailed, their arguments still periodically reappear in American public life. The peace movement during the Vietnam War era shared some parallels with the Anti-Imperialist movement of 1898. The current anti-war movement also shares some similarities with the Anti-Imperialist movement. There are certainly differences in both participants and activities of Anti-Imperialist movement and anti-war movements – young students as opposed to elderly men and street demonstrations as opposed to published dissent.

Anti-Imperialists of 1898 would have agreed with Senator J. William Fulbright’s contention that there was a “feeling that America has betrayed its own past and its own promise … most of all, the promise of American Revolution, of free men building a society that would be an example for the world. Now the world sees that heritage betrayed; it sees a nation … reverting to vanity of past empires.”25


1. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire, 5-16.

2. Norton, A People & A Nation, 609.

3. Norton, A People & A Nation, 608.

4. Foner, The Anti-Imperialist Reader, 273.

5. Ibid.

6. Zwick,

7. Foner, The Anti-Imperialist Reader, 304.

8. Foner, The Anti-Imperialist Reader, 306.

9. Zwick, Jim

10. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire, 146.

11. Ibid., 152.

12. Ibid., 161.

13. Ibid., 19-34.

14. Foner, The Anti-Imperialist Reader, 425.

15. Foner, The Anti-Imperialist Reader, 441.

16. Ibid., 196.

17. Ibid., 185.

18. Library of Congress.

19. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire, 216.

20. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire, 216.

21. Ibid., 215-230.

22. Ibid., 219.

23. Ibid., 230.

24. Ibid., 228.

25. Ibid., xii.

Works Cited:

Beisner, Robert L. Twelve Against Empire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Nichols, John, ed. Against the Beast. New York: Nation Books, 2004.

Foner, Philip S., and Winchester, Richard C., eds. The Anti-Imperialist Reader: Volume 1. New York: H&M, 1984.

Norton, et al. A People and a Nation, Volume Two: Since 1865. 7th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 2005.

United States. Library of Congress. Hispanic Reading Room. Mark Twain. Jun. 1998. 26 Apr. 2007 <>.

Zwick, Jim. Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898-1935 23 Mar. 2007 <>

Coletta, Paolo E., Ed. "Threshold to American Imperialism: Essays on the Foreign Policies of William McKinley." New York: Exposition Press, 1970.

Karnow, Stanley. "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines." New York: Random House, 1989.

Bain, David Howard. "Sitting in Darkness: Americans in the Philippines." Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.

Coletta, Paolo E. "William Jennings Bryan." Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.

Edit - History - Print - Recent Changes - Search
Page last modified on May 02, 2007, at 10:35 AM