The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Charles Francis Adams, Jr., October 25th, 1900


New York, Oct. 25, 1900.

You are certainly right in believing that we are “in perfect unison” as to the desirability of the election of a House of Representatives in opposition to the Republican Administration should Mr. McKinley be reëlected President; and I sincerely hope every possible effort may be made to that end. But while joining you in the expression of that hope, I cannot share your opinion that the election of an opposition House of Representatives alone would, “with a Republican Administration, bring about every practical result the opponents of imperialism have in view.”

As you are aware, the “criminal aggression” policy of the present Administration was originated and has been carried forward by the Executive. Congress only accepts, directly or indirectly, what the Executive presents to it as pretended “accomplished facts.” That the President might have had more trouble in pursuing his policy had there been an opposition majority in the House is doubtless true. But we know from experience that a parliamentary opposition cannot always be depended upon sturdily to maintain its convictions of duty when brought face to face with a situation of a warlike character, and we know also from experience that an Executive not overscrupulous in the choice of means has more than once succeeded, by the employment of its resources of influence, in breaking an opposition not very strong in numbers.

I regret, therefore, not to be able to agree with you in thinking that a small Democratic majority in the House would be more constant in its opposition to imperialism with an imperialist, than with an anti-imperialist, in the Presidency, and that thus the election of an opposition House with a Republican Administration would “bring about every practical result the opponents of imperialism have in view.”

You will admit that what you predict as probable to happen in case of Mr. McKinley's defeat is more or less conjectural, as all such predictions are. But we know what has happened, and we can, each one of us for himself, form an opinion as to whether we should do anything apt to be construed as an approval of it, and as an encouragement of a continuance of the same policy. It is indeed said that the reëlection of Mr. McKinley cannot be rightly understood as a popular approval of his so-called Philippine policy, because it will be well known that many voters supported him on other grounds, while they strongly condemned that policy.

However that may be, nothing is more certain than that Mr. McKinley's reëlection will—wrongfully, to be sure—be represented as a popular verdict and will be so accepted by a large part of the American people. The first man so to take it will be Mr. McKinley himself. Remember the election of 1896. It was well known that the money question, not the tariff question was the paramount issue of that campaign, and that hundreds of thousands of citizens who then supported him were strongly opposed to his policy of high protection. But the first thing Mr. McKinley's party claimed was that his election was a popular indorsement of his high protective policy, and the first thing Mr. McKinley did was to call an extra session of Congress, not for the purpose of giving the country a sound-money law, but for the purpose of constructing the highest protective tariff we had ever known.

In the same way Mr. McKinley, if reëlected, will claim, and the bulk of his adherents, especially the most reckless and unscrupulous of them, will also claim, that his reëlection was a clear popular indorsement of all he had done and an encouragement to go on in the same direction. To that apparent approval and real encouragement I, for my part, can never conscientiously contribute.

I have laboriously and carefully studied what has happened in all its details and bearings, and that study has profoundly convinced me that the story of our “criminal aggression” upon the Philippines is a story of deceit, false pretense, brutal treachery to friends, unconstitutional assumption of power, downright betrayal of the fundamental principles of our democracy, wanton sacrifice of our soldiers in a wicked war, cruel slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people, and that of horrible blood-guiltiness, without a parallel in the history of republics, and that such a policy is bound to bring upon this Republic evils infinitely more disgraceful and disastrous in their effects than anything that has been predicted as likely to result from Mr. McKinley's defeat. This is my honest conviction. I, for one, cannot, therefore, conscientiously cast a vote of constructive approval and of real encouragement of that policy, and I can only advise others not to do so.

I repeat, however, that I cheerfully join you in admonishing anti-imperialists who take a different view concerning the Presidency to help in securing at least an opposition House of Representatives. While an anti-imperialist majority in that body will, in my humble opinion, with a Republican Administration, not be able to “bring about every practical result the opponents of imperialism have in view,” it may find opportunity for rendering valuable service.