Racism in the Expansionist Controversy of 1898-1900

Clark Atlanta University
Racism in the Expansionist Controversy of 1898-1900
Author(s): Allen H. Merriam
Source: Phylon (1960-), Vol. 39, No. 4 (4th Qtr., 1978), pp. 369-380
Published by: Clark Atlanta University
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/274902
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Racism in the Expansionist Controversy
of 1898-1900
HE CONTROVERSY over United States expansion in the years immedi-
ately surrounding the Spanish-American War provided considerable
evidence of the racism pervasive in the nation at the close of the nine-
teenth century. Interestingly, advocates on both sides of that debate
used a belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority to justify their position. By
analyzing representative rhetoric of the period, this essay explores how
opposing views concerning United States foreign policy shared a com-
mon racism.
Expansionism lies at the heart of the American experience. The na-
tion itself resulted from the outward extension of Europeans, and con-
tinued growth eventually stretched the country’s boundaries from the
Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.1 By the 1890s the American concern with
territorial expansion produced imperialistic designs on outlying lands in
the Caribbean and the Pacific. For example, the Republican Party Plat-
form of 1896 called for “control of the Hawaiian Islands, costruction of a
Nicaraguan Canal, purchase of the Danish West Indies, and an expres-
sion of sympathy for the Cuban rebels.”2 America’s festering hostility
against Spain ignited openly after the sinking of the battleship Maine in
Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 and Congress declared war as of
April 21. Within three months the United States had crushed Spain mili-
tarily, with Commodore Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay on May 1 being
the most dramatic event in the short war.
Finally freed from Spanish domination, the Filipinos declared their
independence on September 15, 1898. But President McKinley decided
that the United States should retain control of the islands. The Peace
Treaty, signed in Paris December 10, called for the United States’ an-
nexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in exchange for $20
million. Cuba was also taken from Spain, and put under the control of
United States forces until independence was granted in 1902. American
troops insured the United States occupation of the Philippines by sup-
pressing a nationalist insurrection led by Emilio Aguinaldo in 1899, with
about 5,000 Filipinos being killed.3
1 For discussions of the consuming American concern with territorial acquisition, see
Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (New York, 1963)
and Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in Ameri-
can History (Baltimore, 1935).
2 Foster Rhea Dulles, The Imperial Years (New York, 1956), p. 108.
3For descriptions of the often brutal actions of the American military, see Moorfield Storey
and Marcial P. Lichauco, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925
(New York, 1926); Henry F. Graff, ed., American Imperialism and the Philippine Insurrec-
tion (Boston, 1969); and Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace, American Violence; a
documentary history (New York, 1971), pp. 283-291.
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Meanwhile, United States interest in other parts of the Orient also in-
creased. Congress approved the annexation of Hawaii on July 7, 1898. A
year later, Secretary of State John Hay, supported by England, Germany,
Russia, France, Italy and Japan, engineered the “Open Door” policy
towards China in an effort to open China’s markets to international
commerce while ostensibly preserving her integrity as a nation. In De-
cember, 1899 Samoa became a United States territory by treaty with the
United Kingdom and Germany. And the United States joined other na-
tions in exacting large concessions and indemnities from China following
the abortive Boxer Rebellion in Peking in June, 1900.
The McKinley Administration thus seemed to enjoy rapid success in
spreading United States power and influence. But not all Americans sup-
ported such expansion. For at issue were not only the immediate aspects
of war, but also the larger question of America’s relationship to the
various ethnic, cultural, and racial groups of Asia and Latin America.
The ensuing controversy gave rise to much public debate.
Expansionists defended their policy with a variety of arguments, in-
cluding the desirability of new markets, the need for sea power to main-
tain military security, the missionary imperative to evangelize the world,
considerations of power politics, and the hope of extending republican
institutions throughout the world.4
The opponents of imperalism employed numerous arguments against
McKinley’s policies. For example, anti-expansionists contended that the
establishment of colonial rule in foreign lands contradicted the U. S. Con-
stitution, that the United States need not rule Asian lands to enjoy their
markets, that the war was too expensive, that military conquest of
colonial subjects was morally wrong, and that a policy of imperialism
would destroy the nation’s own democratic institutions.5
Undeniably, the pro-expansionists “won” the controversy in that their
ideas became government policy and public opinion remainded sym-
pathetic to their cause. The election of 1900 offered a kind of referendum
on the issue, and McKinley defeated anti-expansionist William Jennings
Bryan by an even larger margin than he enjoyed four years earlier. The
anti-imperialists failed to persuade the nation because they never be-
came a united political force, often argued among themselves, and were
forced into a negative position in a nation optimistic about America’s
role in the new century.
4 Walter LaFeber, The New Empire (Ithaca, 1963), p. 305; Merle Curti, The Growth of
American Thought (New York, 1951), pp. 670-71; Julius William Pratt, Expansionists of
1898: the Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands (Baltimore, 1936); and Theodore
P. Greene, ed., American Imperalism in 1898 (Boston, 1955).
5 See Edelwina C. Legaspi, “The Rhetoric of the Anti-Imperalist Movement, 1898-1900, with
Special Emphasis on the Role of the Anti-Imperialist League,” (Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, Cornell University, 1967); Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire: the
Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900 (New York, 1968), pp. 216-20; and John H. Sloan, “American
Imperalism,” America in Controversy; History of American Public Address, ed. DeWitte
Holland (Dubuque, Iowa, 1973), pp. 123-34.
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Among all of the arguments used in the expansionist controversy, per-
haps none permeated the conflict more than the notion that the peoples of
Asia and the Caribbean were racially inferior to Americans. Historical
usage of the term race, however, has seldom differentiated between phys-
iology, genetics, and cultural anthropology, making racial classification
one of the most misunderstood concepts in all human relationships.6
While many present-day scholars seek to limit “race” solely to its bio-
logical meaning, the word has traditionally been used to include all of the
cultural, political, linguistic, and religious characteristics of a given
community. In emphasizing the essential ambiguity of the term, soci-
ologist Brewton Berry listed ten different kinds of groups which have
been typically referred to as races.7
Thus, racism has traditionally been based not on genetic proof, but on
the assumption that observed cultural differences result from inherent
characteristics and capabilities of people. As Ruth Benedict asserted,
“racism is essentially a pretentious way of saying that ‘I’ belong to the
Best People.”8 In this study, racism is defined as the belief that non-
white, non-English speaking, non-Americans are innately inferior people.
By the latter decades of the nineteenth century the well-established
American proclivity to believe in white supremacy gained additional
intellectual respectability from the work of Charles Darwin. The prin-
ciples of natural selection and “the survival of the fittest,” contained in
Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and expanded in his The Descent of
Man (1871), were easily adapted to societies. The amazing material ad-
vancement of the United States could therefore be explained as the
logical product of the unique mentality and vitality of white Americans,
and as the inevitable result of competition between the world’s races.9
Further popular appeal for the race idea was nurtured by Rudyard
Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” which appeared in the
February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, and was reprinted in hun-
dreds of American newspapers. By the time of the Spanish-American
War, concluded Gossett, “the idea of race superiority had deeply pene-
trated nearly every field” of American thought and life.10 Such an en-
vironment was ideally suited for racially based arguments whether in
6For elaborations on this theme, see Jacques Barzun, Race: a Study in Modern Superstition
(New York, 1937); M. F. Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of
Race (Cleveland, 1964); and Otto Klineberg, The Human Dimension in International Re-
lations (New York, 1965).
7The ten groups are: citizens of a particular nation (the Japanese), those who speak a
certain language (the Latin race), a religious group (the Hindu race), a caste (the
Gypsy race), a local population (the Basques), a hypothetical “pure” type (the Nordic
race), a recognizable type (the Arabs), one of the major biological divisions of mankind
(Mongoloid, Caucasoid, Negroid), a race-conscious group (the American Negro), and a
group with a common tradition (the Scottish). Brewton Berry, Race Relations: the Inter-
action of Ethnic and Racial Groups (Boston, 1951), pp. 58-63.
8Ruth Benedict, Race and Racism (London, 1943), p. 98.
9 The classic study of this mentality is Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American
Thought, 1860-1915 (Philadelphia, 1945). See also Social Darwinism: Selected Essays of
William Graham Sumner, introd. by S. Person (Englewood Cliffs, 1963) and Paul F. Boller,
Jr., American Thought in Transition: the Impact of Evolutionary Naturalism, 1865-1900
(Chicago, 1969).
0 Thomas F. Gossett, Race: the History of an Idea in America (New York, 1969), p. 311.
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support of, or in opposition to, United States imperialism.
Among the most prominent advocates of American expansion was
Theodore Roosevelt, who became a national hero after leading his “Rough
Riders” in the capture of San Juan Hill, Cuba in 1898. Roosevelt illus-
trated the racial justification of imperialism when, as Governor of New
York, he addressed Chicago’s Hamilton Club on April 10, 1899. Calling
on the nation to play a vigorous role in world affairs, Roosevelt en-
dorsed American control of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philip-
pines. Predicting that “savage anarchy” would result if the United
States abandoned these areas, the future president described the Filipino
population as “half-caste and native Christians, warlike Moslems, and
wild pagans. Many of their people are utterly unfit for self-government,
and show no signs of becoming fit.””
Roosevelt suggested that Americans were engaged in a competition be-
tween races by claiming that if the United States failed to control
the Philippines, then “some stronger and more manful race” would. He
argued that a strong army and navy were necessary to advance “the
cause of civilization,” for “with such people as those… weakness is the
greatest of crimes.”12
The governor amplified his belief in the necessity of using force against
supposedly inferior people in an essay, “Expansion and Peace,” published
in the Independent December 21, 1899. In advancing the curious logic
that peace can come only through war, Roosevelt claimed that “war is
generally normal” in the confrontation of “civilization and barbarism”:
In the long run civilized man finds he can keep the peace only by
subduing his barbarian neighbor; for the barbarian will yield only to
force… Every expansion of a civilized power means a victory for
law, order, and righteousness.13
Roosevelt’s militant expansionism resulted in his apparent call for racial
war on a global scale, a view somewhat ironic for a man who won the
Nobel Peace Prize seven years later:
It is only the warlike power of a civilized people that can give peace
to the world…. Peace follows … the power of the mighty civilized
races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their
expansion are gradually bringing peace into red wastes where the
barbarian peoples of the world hold sway.14
Albert J. Beveridge, a Republican senator from Indiana, provided
another racially based defense of imperialism in his Senate speech of
1 Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life,” in The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (New
York, 1901), XII, 19.
12 Ibid., pp. 18, 17, and 21.
13 Theodore Roosevelt, “Expansion and Peace,” in ibid., p. 29. As examples of barbarians
he cited “the Red Indian on the frontier of the U. S.” and “the Afghan on the border of
British India.”
14 Ibid., pp. 35-36.
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January 9, 1900. Having already established himself as one of the most
powerful orators of the day, Beveridge enjoyed additional prestige by
having recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the Philippines and
the Far East.15 Armed with first-hand observations, the senator an-
nounced his conclusion that the Filipinos were incapable of self-govern-
ment due to their racial background:
There are not 100 among them who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon
self-government even means…. They are not capable of self-govern-
ment. How could they be? They are not a self-governing race. They
are Orientals, Malays, instructed by Spaniards in the latter’s worst
The contention that a person’s blood determines his political capacities
would undoubtedly be denied by any modern hemotologist, but Bev-
eridge was emphatic in his assertion:
What alchemy will change the oriental quality of their blood and set
the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their
Malay veins? … Savage blood, Spanish example – are these the ele-
ments of self-government?’7
The speaker then denounced the anti-imperialists who criticized
colonialism as inconsistent with the Declaration of Independence, call-
ing such criticism a misinterpretation of the great American document:
The Declaration applies only to people capable of self-government.
How dare any man prostitute this expression of the very elect of
self-governing peoples to a race of Malay children of barbarism… ?18
Beveridge took comfort in the fact that “the authors of the Declaration
themselves governed the Indian without his consent… after the fashion
of our governing race.”19
Frequently referring to the Filipinos as “primitive” and “warlike chil-
dren,” Beveridge contrasted them to the Anglo-Saxons, whom he called
“the proudest, ablest, purest race of history.”20 The senator cited the
tendency to explore, expand, and subdue “decaying peoples” as the
“ruling tendency” of the Anglo-Saxon race, a force as “resistless as the
currents of the sea or the process of the suns or any other elemental
movement of nature.”12
Near the end of his long speech, the flamboyant orator declared that
God had been preparing “the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples”
for a great purpose:
15 Such a trip was consistent with Beveridge’s personal dictum that the “man or woman
who presumes to talk to an audience should know more about the subject discussed than
anybody and everybody in that audience.” Albert Beveridge, The Art of Public Speaking
(Boston, 1924), p. 25.
16 Albert J. Beveridge, “On the Philippine Question,” U. S. Congressional Record, XXXIII,
Part I, 705 and 708.
17 Ibid., p. 708.
18 Ibid., pp. 709-10.
19 Ibid., p. 710.
20 Tbid., p. 711.
21 Ibid.
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He has made us adept in government that we may administer gov-
ernment among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a
force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And
of all our race he has marked the American people as His chosen
nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the
divine mission of America.22
This majestic peroration produced a tumultuous and enthusiastic reac-
tion in the crowded Senate chamber, as reported by Ross:
As Beveridge resumed his seat a storm of applause swept the gal-
leries, which was prolonged to an unusual extent…. He was quoted
by newspapers all over the country, and he was firmly established
not only as a governmental spokesman but as an authority on the
Philippines and an outstanding advocate of expansion.23
Later in 1900 there appeared another racist rationale for American
overseas expansion with the publication of Josiah Strong’s Expansion
Under New World-Conditions. The author was a prominent preacher and
missionary official whose earlier book, Our Country (1885), had popu-
larized Social Darwinism and allied God with the spread of Anglo-Saxon
civilization. Now, at the turn of the century, Strong envisioned a racially
based showdown between Russia and the United States. He urged con-
trol of Hawaii and the Philippines as strategically necessary in “the
final death-struggle between absolutism and liberty, with the Slav on
one side and the Anglo-Saxon on the other.”24 Quoting Alfred Thayer
Mahan and other military leaders, Strong called for a powerful navy to
make the Pacific Ocean “an Anglo-Saxon sea.”25
The clergyman reiterated his conviction that the Almighty sided with
the Anglo-Saxons in the race struggle. Such a union was natural, Strong
felt, since God’s interest lay in “progress and in civil and religious
liberty” and these were exactly the qualities Strong attributed to Anglo-
Saxons. Thus, the cleric noted “providential meaning” in United States
victories in the Pacific, and pictured Anglo-Saxon expansion as “God’s
great alphabet with which he spells for man his providential purposes.”26
Strong’s descriptions of tropical people further revealed his racist
orientation. He claimed that most of the Pacific Islands “are occupied
by savages or semi-civilized tribes” and described “the swarming millions
of Asia” as being “awakened by the quickening currents of Western in-
fluence.”27 The Philippines, in the writer’s view, were composed largely
of “various tribes speaking different languages, and representing dif-
ferent degrees of civilization down to simple savagery.”28 Since such
persons obviously lacked the capacity for self-government in Strong’s
22 Ibid.
23Herold Truslow Ross, “Albert J. Beveridge,” in A History and Criticism of American
Public Address, ed. William Norwood Brigance (New York, 1943), II, 932-33.
24Josiah Strong, Expansion Under New World-Conditions (New York, 1900), p. 203.
25 Ibid., p. 205.
26 Ibid., pp. 208, 212.
27 Ibid., p. 180.
28 Ibid. p. 293.
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opinion, he concluded that the United States should rule them for the
benefit of all concerned.
To explain the differences between the manufacturing people of the
temperate zone and the agriculturally oriented people of the tropics,
Strong developed an elaborate theory of racial inherency:
It is interesting and important to note that the advanced and the be-
lated races are not travelling the same path…. They are travelling
different roads which involve different conditions and therefore dif-
ferent results. The difference between races and civilizations is not
simply one .of time and of degree, but one of kind.29
The superiority of Anglo-Saxons, suggested Strong, resulted from the
cultivation of the manufacturing arts: “Long ages of struggle” produced
qualities of “strength and fibre of character” which are “born in Anglo-
Saxons today.”30 The “belated races, he argued, could now get machinery
from the United States and therefore “will not become inventive, be-
cause they will not have to.” Thus, according to the cleric:
Among races, as among individuals of the same race, there will be
permanent differences of temperament and tendency, of adaptation
and skill. And these inherent differences, together with those of
climate and natural resources, will afford a permanent basis for the
organization of a world industry and a world commerce.31
Strong seemed to be portraying a racially determined Pax Americana.
Such thinking typified the buoyant optimism pro-expansionists held
for Anglo-Saxon imperialism.
Just as the advocates of United States imperialism defended their
position with assumptions of Anglo-Saxon superiority so, too, their ponents argued against expansion with racially based ideas. Illustrative
of the rhetorical efforts to reverse McKinley’s expansionist policies was
Carl Schurz’s speech to the Civic Federation’s national conference on
foreign policy in Saratoga, New York on August 19, 1898. A German-
born journalist who had served as an adviser to President Lincoln and as
Secretary of the Interior during the Hayes Administration, Schurz
achieved national recognition as a social reformer and editor of news-
papers in Detroit, St. Louis, and New York. At the Saratoga conference
Schurz charged that the proposed annexation of Cuba and the Philippines
would destroy America’s political institutions. Maintaining that the hot
climate of the tropics was antithetical to democracy, he displayed an
obvious sense of superiority to the people of the tropics:
29 Ibid., pp. 36-37.
30 Ibid., p. 38.
:1 Ibid., p. 41.
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Their population consists in Cuba and Puerto Rico of Spanish creoles
and of people of negro blood … ; in the Philippines of a large mass of
more or less barbarous Asiatics, descendents of Spaniards, mixtures
of Asiatic and Spanish blood, a number of natives of Spain and a very
few persons of northern races.32
Achieving a touch of humor through the use of reductio ad absurdum,
Schurz pictured what would happen if the “barbarous” people of the
tropics were granted participation in the United States government.
First, he considered the possibility of statehood for Puerto Rico, where
“one-half of them [are] colored people.” Puerto Rico would get two
senators, five representatives in Congress, and seven votes in the Elec-
toral College where an important law often depends on “a few votes.”33
Then the speaker depicted the addition of Santo Domingo, Haiti, and
… we shall have another lot of over 2,000,000 Spanish Americans and
negroes, who will probably send six or eight Senators and some-
thing like twelve or fifteen Representatives into Congress,. and com-
mand over twenty votes in the Electoral College, together with Porto
Rico about thirty.34
This would represent a political force in the Senate “five times as great”
as that of New York State! Next, the pro-expansionists would undoubt-
edly seek to annex Nicaragua, to protect the proposed canal, and this
would add “another lot of about 13,000,000 of Spanish Americans mixed
with Indian blood, and perhaps some twenty Senators and fifty or sixty
This process of government infiltration would continue in Hawaii and
beyond. The final result, according to Schurz, would be the “moral ruin
of the Aglo-Saxon republic” and “demoralization and corruption beyond
what this country has ever seen.” Noting the “race problems on our
hands in this country” already, Schurz posed a rhetorical question:
Would it not be sinful folly to add to them tenfold by the incor-
poration in our body politic of millions of persons belonging partly
to races far less goodnatured, tractable and orderly than the negro
With this series of hypothetical situations, each gaining in emotional
intensity, Schurz sought to instill fear in his Anglo-Saxon audience-
fear of numerical domination by people he described as “Spanish cre-
oles, racial mixtures,” and “barbarous Asiatics.” In characterizing tropi-
cal people as ill-natured, immoral, corrupt, uncivilized, and barbaric,
Schurz claimed that expansionism would erode the social homogeneity
32 Carl Schurz, “Our Future Foreign Policy,” Speeches, Correspondence, and Political Papers
of Carl Schurz, ed., Frederic Bancroft (New York, 1913), V, 481.
33 Ibid., p. 483.
” Ibid., p. 484.
S5 Ibid., pp. 484-85.
“6 Ibid., pp. 485-87.
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and political stability of the United States.
The same month that Schurz addressed the foreign policy conference,
the North American Review published an essay against expansion by the
billionaire steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The
wealthy businessman, who once offered to purchase the Philippines’
freedom with a personal check for twenty million dollars,37 advanced a
theory that foreign possessions are of two kinds, with their distinction
hinging upon race. “Colonies” he defined as possessions where the ruling
power could establish and reproduce its own race, as in Canada and
Australia. “Dependencies,” according to Carnegie, were areas where “it
is impossible for our race to grow,” and he cited India as an example.38
In applying these definitions to the current controversy Carnegie
contended that the Philippines would be a “dependency” because
“Americans cannot be grown there.” He described the Philippines as
composed of “alien races, ignorant of our language and institutions,” and
he emphasized that his opposition to expansion grew out of a desire
to preserve what he called “the English-speaking race.”39
In another article seven months later Carnegie further clarified his
notion that successful colonizing presupposes the capacity for racial
No superior race ever gave it [self-government] to an inferior with-
out settling among and amalgamating with that race. In the Philip-
pines, and in the tropics generally, this is impossible. The intruding
race cannot be grown there, and where we cannot grow our own
race we cannot give civilization to the other.40
The writer failed to explain why his race could not flourish in the tropics;
he simply assumed that American women :and children could not live
there. Like Schurz, Carnegie thus viewed climate as a determinant of
racial survival. And, after surveying the dependencies of European colon-
ial powers, he concluded that “the mass of authority declares that the
influence of a superior race upon an inferior in the tropics is not elevat-
ing, but demoralizing.”41
Carnegie’s low-keyed, almost sympathetic discussion of “poor back-
ward races” contrasted sharply from the fervent rhetoric of the noted
biologist and educator, David Starr Jordan. The recipient of numerous
honorary doctorates, Jordan served as president of Stanford University
from 1891 to 1913. Like Schurz and Carnegie, he signed the Anti-
Imperialist League’s 1899 Appeal which sought to end hostilities in the
Philippines and to establish a government there in accordance with the
wishes of the Filipinos. And with the others, Jordan shared the strong
87 Beisner, op. cit., p. 165.
88Andrew Carnegie, “Distant Possessions: The Parting of the Ways,” North American Review,
CLXVII (August, 1898), 239-40.
o Ibid., pp. 239, 243.
40 Andrew Carnegie, “Americanism vs. Imeprialism – II,” North American Review, CLXVIII
(March, 1899), 370-71.
al Ibid., p. 367.
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ethnocentrism of his day.
Speaking to the Congress of Religions meeting in Omaha, Nebraska
in October, 1898, Jordan stated his opposition to the annexation of
Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines on the grounds that
those areas were “incapable of civilized self-government.”42 Picturing
a “deficiency of oxygen” near the Equator, Jordan declared: “Civilization
is, as it were, suffocated in the tropics.” The people of the tropics he
characterized as “reckless and dirty, [preferring] the lottery, cockfight
and games of chance” to “telegraphic communication, literature, art,
education, and all the joys of Saxon civilization.” According to Jordan,
“the advances of civilization are wholly repugnant to the children of the
tropics.”43 But whereas pro-expansionists like Roosevelt and Beveridge
viewed these “children” paternalistically and in need of American guid-
ance and control, Jordan saw their inferiority as reason for avoiding
contact with them. He warned that colonies of such people would produce
problems similar to those on the domestic scene:
… wherever degenerate, dependent or alien races are within our
borders today, they are not part of the United States. They constitute
a social problem, a menace to peace and welfare.44
Reasoning analogically, the educator concluded that racial degeneracy
would likely occur in the proposed colonies:
The race problems of the Tropics are perennial and insoluble, for
free institutions cannot exist where free men cannot live…. The
Latin republics fail for reasons inherent in the nature of the people.
… [Colonial expansion] would not extend our nation, because these
regions are already full of alien races, and not inhabitable by Anglo-
Saxon people.45
Jordan amplified his opposition to imperialism four months later while
addressing Stanford’s Graduate Club on February 14, 1899. Using vitriolic
language, he again denounced the tropics as “Nature’s asylum for de-
generates,” arguing that “China, Corea, Siam, Turkey, Tartary, Arabia,
and the peoples of Asia generally, ‘half devil and half child,’ are none of
them under good government.”46 While claiming that the “malarial heat
of the tropics” meant “personal vice and dissipation” for “men of north-
ern blood,” Jordan asserted that life in a hot climate would lead to the
“social decay” and “race degeneration” of Anglo-Saxons.47
Injecting a new racial argument against expansion in his Stanford
speech, Jordan portrayed war as a menace to the superiority of the
whites because it destroyed the strongest men of the race. This left the
weaker to foster the next generation, resulting in “the survival of the
David Starr Jordan, “Colonial Expansion,” in Imperial Democracy (New York, 1901), p. 44.
“4 Ibid., p. 45.
” Ibid., p. 44.
45 Ibid., pp. 44-45. 46 Jordan, “A Blind Man’s Holiday,” in ibid., pp. 89 and 93. The phrase “half devil and half
child” is the concluding line of the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The White
Man’s Burden.”
47 Ibid., pp. 93-97.
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unfittest.” Since colonial expansion woud require a strong military and
increase the possibility of war, Jordan opposed it saying:
The most insidious foe to race development is military selection….
The greatest loss to America in her Civil War rests in the fact that a
million of her strongest, bravest, and most devoted men have left no
While Jordan did not develop this concept any further in the Stanford
address, it became a major theme in two later books, The Blood of the
Nation (1902) and War and the Breed (1915), his subject in numerous
lectures in the United States, Europe and Japan, and undoubtedly con-
tributed to the strong pacifism of his later life.
This essay has investigated the racist rhetoric of three representative
spokesmen on each side of the expansionist controversy of 1898-1900.
Pro-expansionists used the following arguments based on a belief in
Anglo-Saxon superiority:
(1) The people of the Spanish islands and Asia were incapable of
self-government, and therefore the United States had a duty to govern
them to prevent “savage anarchy” (Roosevelt, Beveridge, and Strong);
(2) World peace requires the civilization of nations to subdue their
barbarian neighbors (Roosevelt);
(3) Expansion was inevitable because it is the “ruling tendency” of
the Anglo-Saxon (Beveridge);
(4) God has chosen Anglo-Saxons to lead in the world’s regeneration
(Beveridge and Strong);
(5) Anglo-Saxons are engaged in a bitter race-competition with the
Slavs (Strong).
Anti-expansionists, rather than challenging their adversaries’ racism,
denounced American imperialism by using arguments similarly based on
racist assumptions:
(1) The control of alien peoples would corrupt United States political
institutions and destroy the homogeneity of the nation (Schurz, Carnegie,
and Jordan);
(2) The superiority of Anglo-Saxons could not be maintained in tropi-
cal climates (Schurz, Carnegie, and Jordan);
(3) The troubles of the American South showed the difficulty of
assimilating different races (Schurz, Carnegie, and Jordan);
(4) Military selectivity weakens a race by destroying its best men
Thus, two groups advocating diametrically opposed points of view never-
theless shared (and promoted) a common racism.
48 Ibid., p. 111. By his own admission Jordan was indebted to Charles Darwin’s The Descent
of Man (1871) for the theory of military selectivity. See David Starr Jordan, The Days of
a Man, (Yonkers-on-Hudson, N. Y., 1922), I, 618.
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Not surprisingly, this racist rhetoric consisted of highly vitriolic,
emotion-laden words to describe the supposedly inferior people. All of
the speakers studied, with the notable exception of Andrew Carnegie,
characterized non-Anglo-Saxons with adjectives such as “warlike, wild,
pagan, barbaric, decadent, savage, dull, stupid, senile, deficient, immoral,
corrupt, dirty,” and “degenerate.” None of the advocates conceived of
race in its scientific, genetic meaning, but rather used the concept am-
biguously to refer to a wide range of linguistic, political, and religious
The inflammatory language common to this controversy indicated a
high degree of emotionalism. Certainly an emotional appeal would be
expected in racist argumentation, since the subject of one’s own ethnic
identity readily lends itself to personal involvement by the audience. But
the two sides on this issue concentrated on different emotions. The pro-
expansionists clearly appealed to the pride of their Anglo-Saxon audi-
ences, as exemplified in Roosevelt’s concentration on manliness, Bev-
eridge’s exaggerated glorification of his race, and Strong’s insistence on
United States expansion as divine will. They called on the nation to
proudly advance the cause of civilization throughout the world. The
anti-expansionists, however, utilized fear as their primary emotional
weapon. Schurz, Carnegie, and Jordan all voiced concern with the nega-
tive effects of imperialism, emphasizing political corruption, the loss of
national homogeneity, and declines in both racial strength and personal
This analysis suggests that racist thinking possessed considerable per-
suasive appeal in the United States in 1900, a fact clearly recognized by
numerous black writers of the period.49 The pervasiveness of racial
prejudice is underscored by the cross-section of society represented by
the six persons studied. They included a governor, a United States
senator, a journalist, a businessman, a clergyman, and a university presi dent-all prominent citizens. The evidence of this controversy over
foreign policy provides sobering support for claims that American history
is steeped in contempt for nonwhites.
49 See George P. Marks, III, ed., The Black Press Views American Imperialism, 1898-1900
(New York, 1971).
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