The Writings of Carl Schurz/Our Future Foreign Policy


The future foreign policy of the United States will be largely determined by the peace soon to be concluded with Spain. Although a preliminary protocol has been signed, I shall discuss the matter as if it were an open one, which it really will be so long as the Senate has not ratified the treaty.

If our Government insists upon Spain altogether withdrawing her power from this hemisphere, or even from all of her colonies, there will hardly be much dissent among us. The serious differences of opinion begin with the question whether those colonies or any of them shall be annexed to the United States, or whether they shall be made independent, to govern themselves, or whether other arrangements shall be made to provide for their future.

The question whether any of them shall be annexed to the United States presents itself under three different aspects: (1) as a question of morals, of honor; (2) as a question of institutional policy; and (3) as a question of commercial interests.

As to the question of morals, of honor, we have to remember that President McKinley in his annual message in December last, in discussing various methods of solving the Cuban difficulty, made the following emphatic declaration: “I speak not of forcible annexation, for that cannot be thought of. That by our code of morals would be criminal aggression.” It will not be denied that although speaking of Cuban affairs, the President thus stated a principle of general application. It would be absurd to say that to annex Cuba by means of force would be “criminal aggression,” but that it would be something quite justifiable to annex Porto Rico or the Philippine Islands by the same means.

We have also to remember that the war with Spain was virtually initiated by a resolution adopted by Congress, April 19th, which declared that the people of Cuba should be free and independent, that, moved by a sense of duty, the United States demanded the withdrawal of the Spanish forces from Cuba, that the President should use the Army and Navy and Militia “to the extent as may be necessary to carry these resolutions into effect”—that is, to liberate Cuba and that such liberation and the pacification of Cuba accomplished, the United States, emphatically disclaiming any disposition or intention to annex Cuba, would leave the government of that island to the people thereof.

This resolution was adopted to justify our war with Spain before the public opinion of mankind. All the world was to understand that only a sense of duty put arms in our hands; that we were impelled by a high purpose of noble disinterestedness; that this was to be a war of liberation and humanity, not of conquest or self-aggrandizement. This we solemnly proclaimed. In proclaiming it we asked the world to believe what we said. It is quite evident that if this proclamation had been open to the construction that, while we would not annex Cuba, we would annex whatever else might come conveniently our way, it would have met with general derision and contempt. Our own people would have indignantly protested against the mockery; and when some foreign papers charged us with hypocrisy, and predicted that this war of liberation and humanity would turn out to be a land-grabbing scheme, we grew very angry and loudly repelled the vile imputation.

It may be somewhat old-fashioned, but I still believe that a nation, no less than an individual man, is in honor bound to keep its word; that it can neither preserve its self-respect nor safe standards of morality among its own people, nor the esteem and confidence of mankind, unless it does, and that the maintenance of perfect good faith will finally turn out to be the best investment—that honesty is and will remain the best policy. And now I ask the advocates of annexation among us, whether if this Republic under any pretext annexes any of the Spanish colonies, it does not really turn this solemnly advertised war of liberation and humanity into a war of self-aggrandizement! I ask them what they will have to say when our detractors repeat against us their charges of hypocrisy and selfish motives! I ask them who will trust us again when we appear once more before mankind with fine words about our unselfish devotion to human freedom and humanity! I ask them whether as patriotic men they really think it will become or profit this great American Republic to stand before mankind as a nation whose most solemn professions cannot be trusted!

If these questions cannot be satisfactorily answered, this might be the end of the discussion. But in these days of ours it is, perhaps, well to go on proving that honesty is really the best policy. What shall we do with these Spanish colonies if we annex them? They will either have to become States of this Union, on an equal footing with the other States, or they will have to be governed as subject provinces. These are questions which concern not only our commercial interests, but which touch the working and perhaps even the very existence of our democratic institutions.

There may be men who have ceased to care much about those democratic institutions, and who confess themselves tired when we talk about the government of the people, by the people and for the people, preferring that a debate like this should be confined to matters commercial. I trust we do not belong to that class. At any rate, I think that those democratic institutions are worth preserving. I believe that it is our greatest responsibility and our highest mission to transmit those institutions unimpaired to our children, and to maintain and develop them for the esteem and emulation of mankind in their greatest possible perfection and beneficence. I believe, therefore, that at this hour the most important question before us is, not how we can acquire the largest territory or make the most money, but how the annexation of the Spanish colonies would affect the character of our Government.

Are those colonies or any of them such that we could with safety make States of our Union of them not only to govern themselves as to their home concerns, but also to help govern the whole Union by participating in the making of its laws and in the election of its Presidents?

All those islands are situated in the tropics. They are more or less densely peopled. Their population consists in Cuba and Porto Rico of Spanish Creoles and of people of negro blood, with some native Spaniards and a slight sprinkling of North Americans, English, Germans and French; in the Philippines of a large mass of more or less barbarous Asiatics, descendants of Spaniards, mixtures of Asiatic and Spanish blood, a number of natives of Spain and a very few persons of northern races.

Now I challenge the advocates of annexation to show me a single instance of a tropical country in which people of that kind have shown themselves able to carry on democratic government in a manner fitting it for statehood in our Union. Show me a single one! The best governed of such countries is no doubt the northernmost, Mexico, under the firm hand of Porfirio Diaz. But his government is a hardly disguised military dictatorship which in this country would not be tolerated a week. That he has maintained it so long in Mexico speaks volumes for his ability and energy. He being an enlightened despot, his government is probably the best Mexico can get. But what will become of Mexico when Porfirio Diaz dies, is not easily foretold.

Our annexationists tell us, that such difficulties will soon disappear—that, if we keep the Spanish colonies, a stream of Anglo-Saxon immigration will at once pour into them and entirely transform the character and habits of the population.

I challenge them to show me a single tropical country into which a stream of Anglo-Saxon, or more broadly speaking, of Germanic immigration has poured so as to give its population at large an Anglo-Saxon or Germanic character! Opportunity has not been lacking. India, long under British rule, shows in a population of 300,000,000 hardly more than 200,000 Englishmen, many of whom are in the employ of the Government, and very few of permanent residence. The Hawaiian Islands, having of tropical climates probably the best, and having invited American immigration for many years, have, in a population of over 100,000, hardly more than 3000 Americans. It is true, some persons of Germanic blood will go to the tropics some merchants and their employees to found or run mercantile establishments; some planters to work their lands with men belonging to other races; some speculators in mines or railroads; some professional men and some mechanics and small tradesmen—most of them hoping to make money quickly, and then to go home again. But the number of such people is comparatively very small. They may improve economic and social conditions somewhat in and around the places where they go, but they will not change the general character and the political capabilities of the population at large in any essential degree.

In order to bring about important changes in that respect by immigration, it must be immigration in mass; and people of Germanic blood will not immigrate in mass to the tropics. The bulk of the population, that is, the decisive element in democratic government, consists everywhere of the laboring people; and all efforts to get men of Germanic blood to become the bulk, or even a large part, of the laboring force of any tropical country, have utterly failed. It is not only the low rate of wages prevailing there that repels them, but the climatic conditions which cannot be changed. I do not mean here particular diseases, like the yellow-fever, which may be combated, but the generally enervating effect of the tropical climate. Hence the Anglo-Saxon has indeed been able to establish more or less arbitrary governments in the tropics, but he has never been able to found democracies there. I challenge the annexationists to deny this.

We shall, therefore, have to take those populations substantially as they are. What will happen? As to the Philippines, I suppose no sane American thinks of taking them into the Union as States to help govern us. But look at Porto Rico. It has a population of 900,000 souls, about one-half of them colored people, about 140,000 natives of Spain and a little over 12,000 Frenchmen, Germans and Englishmen, with a few Americans, whose number may, indeed, be somewhat increased. If admitted as a State, Porto Rico would have two Senators and five Representatives in Congress, and seven votes in the Electoral College. “Not much of a force,” you will say. Apparently not, but a good deal of force when political parties run close, and when the passage of an important law, the determination of the general policy of the Government or even the election of a President may depend, as they often have done, on a few votes. And such votes are then to come from a population which in language, in traditions, habits and customs, in political, social and even moral notions are utterly unlike our people and can, under the tropical sun at least, never be assimilated. It will be a good deal of a force when party politicians begin to bargain and traffic with them to win their support.

Nor will those seven Porto Rico votes be the only ones we shall have to reckon with. Looking at the map you will find that the islands of San Domingo, with Hayti, and Cuba, are situated directly between Porto Rico and the United States. We shall be told that this is a dangerous, indeed, an intolerable, state of things, and that we must have those islands; and having shaken off all mawkish sentimentality as to the keeping of faith and as to the “criminality,” according to President McKinley, of “forcible annexation,” we shall just take Santo Domingo and the negro republic of Hayti. As to Cuba, our promise will not stand in the way of superior reasons for making that island a part of our Union. One of those reasons has already found expression. Not long ago I read in a newspaper—and you can hear the same kind of talk from many people—that if the Cubans, having had their chance, show themselves incapable of governing themselves, we must of course annex that island and make a couple of States of it. In other words, if the Cubans are hopelessly incapable of orderly self-government, we must permit them to help govern our own country.

Well, these annexations accomplished, we shall have another lot of over 2,000,000 Spanish-Americans and negroes, who will probably send six or eight Senators and something like twelve to fifteen Representatives into Congress and command over twenty votes in the Electoral College, together with Porto Rico about thirty. That will be a political force five times as great in the Senate and nearly as great in the Electoral College as that of the State of New York—a force, if sticking together, strong enough frequently to hold the balance of power and to dictate its terms to the traders of our political parties.

But we shall hardly stop there. Being once fairly started in the career of aggrandizement regardless of consequences, our imperialists will find an open ear when they tell us that our control of the Nicaragua canal cannot possibly be safe unless that canal be bordered on both sides by United States territory, and that therefore we must have the whole country down to that canal and a good piece beyond. That would bring us another lot of about 13,000,000 of Spanish-Americans mixed with Indian blood, and perhaps some twenty Senators and fifty or sixty Representatives, with seventy to eighty votes in the Electoral College, and with them a flood of Spanish-American politics, notoriously the most disorderly, tricky and corrupt politics on the face of the earth. What thinking American who has the future of the Republic at heart will not stand appalled at such a prospect?

You may say that this is mere conjecture and that such things will not happen. Do not deceive yourselves. Some Members of Congress voted for the annexation of Hawaii, hoping that would be the last step. What are they told now? “What good will Hawaii do us if we are not to go beyond?” I tell you, there is but one thing that will be sure to prevent the things I have spoken of from happening. It is that we carefully abstain from starting on the road towards them. It is not yet too late. If we once fairly begin to slide down on that inclined plane, what brakes will be strong enough to stop us before we have reached bottom? And reaching bottom means the moral ruin of the Anglo-Saxon republic. If we are to stop, we must stop before annexing Porto Rico. If we annex that island, we shall be on the slope.

There are multitudes of Americans who say now that if they had known what a sorry lot the Cubans are, we would never have gone to war in their behalf. However that may be, the same Americans should at least not permit those same Cubans to take part in governing us. And the Porto Ricans are of exactly the same stuff. But we are told that they wish to be annexed. What does it mean, if they do? They come to us and, virtually, say: “We like your Union and wish to enter it. Let us help you govern your country.” If we are wise, and have a patriotic regard for the welfare and dignity of our Republic we shall answer: “Very kind, thank you. Govern yourselves first. If you are not fit to govern yourselves, you are certainly not fit to take part in governing us.” Will this be uncharitable? Charity begins at home. To perpetuate our institutions is our first duty. It would be criminal to disregard it.

It may be answered that we might prevent such evil results by not admitting any of the Spanish colonies as States, by governing them as subject provinces. That we can do this as far as the power of Congress to make all needful regulations concerning the territory of the United States is concerned, I do not question. But I affirm that we cannot permanently govern by arbitrary power millions of people as subject populations without doing ruthless violence to the spirit of our Constitution and to all the fundamental principles of democratic government. Nor would such a repudiation of the government of, by and for the people fail to produce a crop of demoralization and corruption beyond what this country has ever seen, even in the palmiest days of the carpet-bag governments in the South after our civil war.

We hear already of the formation of numerous syndicates with much money behind them, to exploit the resources of our new acquisitions, and also of their anxiety to have United States officers appointed who will favor their operations; and also of influential politicians being largely interested in these syndicates. And all these forces are to work together in far-away countries, remote from home observation, among more or less ignorant people for whose rights and interests Anglo-Saxon respect is not always the most scrupulous; and those populations long accustomed to the grossest corruption. The United States offices there will be simply like colossal Indian agencies, with opportunities and temptations infinitely greater than any Indian agent in this country ever dreamed of. Can anybody doubt what the effect upon our public morals will be?

These are not all the troubles the possession of those islands would bring us. We have now race problems on our hands in this country, the solution of which is exceedingly problematical. We have still to atone for our long toleration of slavery. The ills we thus have we must bear as best we can. But would it not be sinful folly to add to them tenfold by the incorporation in our body-politic of millions of persons belonging partly to races far less good-natured, tractable and orderly than the negro is?

And can we permit ourselves to forget the fact that in tropical regions there is always a strong tendency, under the plea of necessity, to use for the exploitation of the resources of those countries people of colored races, black or yellow, often under systems of contract labor which in various ways are akin to temporary slavery—at any rate entirely incompatible with our principles as to the freedom and dignity of labor and hostile to its interests? Have we not an example of this in the presence of the more than 40,000 Chinese and Japanese laborers in Hawaii, which imposes upon us a problem of most perplexing nature?

But this is not all. Who will deny that if we expand territorially, especially in the Far East, we shall at once become involved in the quarrels and jealousies of the Old-World nations that are competing there for colonial acquisition with constant danger of armed collision?

And shall we not be exposed to such chances infinitely more than ever before, when our interests, our pride, our ambitions and jealousies are engaged in complicated enterprises far away? And are not such chances especially fraught with danger in a democracy, in which public sentiment, when nervously excited, does sometimes run away with sober judgment and may precipitate great conflicts which calm and patient reason, acting only on full and trustworthy information, would avoid?

It is, therefore, by no means idle talk when I say that when we are once plunged into the vortex of the competition of the Old-World powers for colonial expansion, especially in the Far East, the danger of war—not excluding unnecessary or foolish war—will be constantly near us. And what does that signify? Perpetual unrest and the maintenance of big naval and military armaments imposing immense burdens upon the people—heavier here in proportion than anywhere else, owing to our habitual administrative wastefulness—not to forget a pension-roll without calculable limit—all this producing militarism of the most prodigal kind.

Finally I come to the question of commercial interest. Our annexationists talk as if our commerce and our industries were in terrible distress for outlets; as if we were in imminent danger of suffocation for want of air, and as if nothing but territorial conquest could open markets for our surplus agricultural and industrial products. And this at a time when the bureau of Foreign Commerce of our State Department reports as follows:

The United States is no longer the “granary of the world” merely. Its sales of manufactured goods have continued to extend with a facility and promptitude of results which have excited the serious concern of countries that, for generations, had not only controlled their home markets, but had practically monopolized certain lines of trade in other lands. When we consider that this result has been reached with comparative ease, in spite of added impediments to United States exports, in the form of discriminations of various kinds, and notwithstanding that organized effort to reach foreign markets for our manufacturers is as yet in its infancy, the ability of the United States to compete successfully with the most advanced industrial nations in any part of the world, as well as with those nations in their home markets, can no longer be seriously questioned.

This statement, which is amply borne out by statistics, shows that we have made wonderful progress in selling goods abroad, not only without possessing colonies and without owning the respective markets, but competing with nations which do possess colonies and do own the markets we invaded. It seems, therefore, that the possession of colonies on our part is not necessary to open markets for our goods, and that, on the other hand, the possession of colonies by other nations does not altogether protect their markets from the invasion of our goods. I take it we owe our remarkable success to the fact that in various branches of industry we produce better goods at a proportionately lower price than others do. Evidently, if we adhere to that practice, there is hope that it alone will save us from the suffocation so much dreaded.

However, the report I have quoted also advocates the opening of further markets for our commerce. I fully agree. We cannot have too many. But can such markets be opened only by annexing to the United States the countries in which they are situated? Must we govern, and even permit to help govern us, the populations with which we wish to trade? Is there, even aside from our producing better goods at a proportionately lower price, no other means to give increased facilities to our commerce?

Suppose that, true to our plighted faith, we abstain from annexing any of the conquered islands. What will there be in the way of our opening those islands to the fullest freedom of commerce and of industrial enterprise? Suppose Cuba and Porto Rico are made independent republics, made so virtually by our action in their behalf, will it not be perfectly feasible to bring about such arrangements with them as will give our commercial and industrial enterprise all possible freedom for trading in their ports, for building up mercantile establishments and factories in their cities, for constructing railroads, for developing mines and for cultivating plantations within their boundaries, and incidentally also for exercising all the civilizing influences that can profitably be brought to bear upon the native population? And as to the Philippines, will it not be possible to make similar arrangements there—whether all those islands be taken out of the hands of Spain or only a part, and whether what is so taken be, upon agreement of the parties concerned, intrusted to the governmental control of such a state as Holland or Belgium, neither of which is large enough to excite the jealousy of any of the great Powers, or whether other provisions be made for their future? If American diplomacy, having, after our successful war, the decisive voice in regard to those islands, is not skillful enough to bring about such results in the final settlement, it would certainly not be skillful enough to handle the more thorny problems which it would surely have to deal with in case all those islands should pass into our full possession. And as to coaling-stations and naval depots, can we not have as many as we need without owning large and populous countries behind them? Must Great Britain own Spain in order to hold Gibraltar?

This, then, is, in my humble opinion, the way of safety as well as of advantage: Let the thought of annexing those islands and their population to the United States either as States or as subject provinces be abandoned. Let Cuba and Porto Rico be occupied by our military forces under able and discreet commanders, until they are thoroughly pacified and until the people thereof, with such aid on the part of the United States as may be necessary, will have formed effective civil governments and an armed force of their own for the maintenance of public order and security. Let then, in accordance with the explicit promise given in the resolution of Congress, the control of those islands be turned over to the people thereof; and let this final settlement include agreements with them securing to American citizens on the islands the fullest protection in the right of owning property and of carrying on all kinds of business, and, if you please, of establishing and maintaining churches and educational institutions and whatever other agencies of civilization there may be.

In this way we shall do our full duty to them without disregard of the superior duty which we owe to our own Republic. We shall have delivered them from Spanish misrule and given them a chance to govern themselves. The governments they then receive will indeed not be ideal governments. They will be Spanish-American governments, somewhat tempered and mitigated, perhaps, by the influence which American enterprise may carry there. But those governments will, at any rate, be their own, and if they become disorderly and corrupt, they will at least not infect with that disorder and corruption this Republic of ours. There are people who think that the annexation to the United States of such countries as Porto Rico and Cuba, and whatever else, is as simple a transaction as the acquisition by a rich farmer of a few more acres to enlarge his farm. Those who think so overlook the momentous fact that if we annex those islands, we shall not only have them, but in a very important sense they will have us too. The policy I recommend of making with them the suggested agreements concerning the rights of American citizens in them, and then letting them carry on governments of their own, would offer us all that is to us really desirable in them, without their having us too.

The problem of the future of the Philippines is no doubt much more complicated, and I should hesitate to form an opinion upon several phases of it without more definite information as to local conditions. But as to the main point that concerns the United States, I say that the same principle should be adhered to as in the case of Cuba and Porto Rico—that is, we should obtain, by means of agreement, the greatest possible facilities for commerce and civilizing influences with the least political responsibilities and entanglements; in other words, we should not annex, but secure the opening to our activities of the territories concerned.

Holding fast to this principle we shall gain commercial opportunities of so great a value that they will more than compensate for the cost of the war; we shall have won high prestige by a remarkable display of National strength, valor and spirit, as well as magnanimity, and we shall have done our full duty to the cause for which we took up arms—and all this without breaking our plighted faith; without giving the world any reason to say that we have become hypocrites by turning a professed war of liberation and humanity into a war of conquest; without committing that act of “criminal aggression” which President McKinley denounced as violating the American code of morality; without becoming faithless to the grave responsibility and the high mission of the American people to preserve intact the principles of free government; without endangering the working of our democratic institutions by introducing into our Union hopelessly incongruous elements and the contamination of Spanish-American and Spanish-Asiatic politics.

Thus we shall deserve and possess the increased confidence of mankind, and enhance the credit of republican government by showing how an intelligent democracy can, unseduced by vulgar ambition, remain true to itself. Thus we shall render a noble service to civilization, of which the American people will be the greatest beneficiary.

As to the future foreign policy of the United States beyond the problems immediately devolved upon us by the Spanish war, I think the following general maxims are eminently worthy of respect:

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. Harmony, and a liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest.

These are precepts laid down in Washington's Farewell Address, a document which, I grieve to say, is in our days sometimes spoken of with supercilious flippancy as a bundle of old-fogyish notions—although while following its teachings the American people have won the greatness, power, prosperity and happiness they now enjoy. I am probably not wrong in believing that the statesmen of this generation are not much wiser than George Washington was; I fear even that some of the loudest of them are not as wise. To my mind Washington's greatest achievement consisted not in the battle of Trenton, nor in the campaign of Yorktown, but rather in the fact that as the first Constitutional head of this Republic he conducted his high office with such wisdom, rectitude and patriotism that if any one of his successors is ever in doubt as to the motives which should inspire him, the principles upon which he should act, or the general policy he should follow, he can always turn to the acts and the teachings of the first President, and be sure to find there the safest guide. This Nation can never be too thankful for the exceptional blessing a benign fortune bestowed upon it in erecting at the very threshold of its career so noble a standard of public virtue and statesmanship; and it will be an evil day for the American people when they cease to appreciate the inestimable value of the treasure they possess in George Washington's counsel and example.

  1. Address at Saratoga, N. Y., Aug. 19, 1898, before a National Conference held under the auspices of the Civic Federation, for the purpose of considering our future attitude toward Cuba, Porto Rico, etc.