The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President McKinley, September 22d, 1898


Bolton Landing, Sept. 22, 1898.

I have just received from Mr. McAneny a report on the interview you granted to the committee of the Saratoga conference, on which I beg leave to submit to you a few observations.

A majority of that conference were really not in favor of any annexations, but wished this Republic to use this opportunity for exerting civilizing influences upon the populations of the conquered territories, and for opening markets for our commerce, without burdening itself with any political responsibilities in the regions concerned. And I sincerely believe, the vociferous clamor of the jingoes notwithstanding, that this is to-day the feeling of a large majority of the American people. I go further, and confidently predict that this popular feeling against such political entanglements by the proposed annexations will very much grow in intensity as the burdens which the imperialistic policy will put upon us become more apparent to the public mind.

Permit me to invite your attention to a feature of the case which may bring on grave political consequences. Garrison service in the “colonies” is decidedly unpopular with the volunteers as well as with the regulars. The papers report that the volunteers retained in the service are mostly very unwilling to go to the tropics, and that among the regulars destined for that duty desertions are frequent and new enlistments unusually scarce. (I enclose some newspaper clippings referring to this.) In other words, it becomes questionable whether you will have soldiers enough for the distant garrisons. And if it should turn out that you have not, and cannot get enough, the situation might become extremely humiliating and disastrous.

But if you still have volunteers enough to fill the gap, and they go to the distant garrisons unwillingly, almost every one of them will be among his relatives and friends an agitator, first against the Administration, and eventually against the annexation policy. This is going on now, and it will constantly spread as the volunteers are kept in the ranks against their wish, and as the sickly climate of the tropics tells upon them.

The investigation of the Army management which you have ordered cannot remedy this. It cannot silence the complaints of the returned soldiers. It cannot avert the effects of the tropical climate nor quell the dissatisfaction of the volunteers still in the service who think that they ought to have been sent home after the close of the war. They will continue to fill the air with their lamentations through their friends and relatives. Neither will the investigation encourage enlistments for the regular Army, at least not for some time to come. In the meantime the financial burdens brought upon the people by the annexation policy will also make themselves more felt, and appropriations will go on increasing, while the expected commercial benefit will necessarily be slow to come in. All these elements of discontent will coöperate to make the great mass of the people heartily sick of the whole business. Disease spreading among the tropical garrisons, or anything like a mutinous demonstration of restlessness among the volunteers, might put the public mind in a state of critical excitement. The political consequences apt to follow, I need not point out. They have so far only partially manifested themselves, but they will grow worse and worse as the obnoxious concomitants of the annexation policy develop themselves, which they will necessarily do.

As you may perhaps remember, at the beginning of the war I ventured to suggest that no opportunity be lost by your Administration for demonstratively declaring that, according to the pledge put forth by Congress, this was a war of liberation and humanity and not for aggrandizement, and that therefore annexations of territory were out of the question. Had that been done, your moral position would have been so strong and unassailable as to command the general support of the people, with the exception, perhaps, of that of the most reckless and unscrupulous jingo element. Then you would have had no trouble at all about the final settlement. When you failed to take that impregnable moral ground, your troubles began, and I am profoundly convinced that they will go on increasing and finally overwhelm your Administration, unless you avail yourself of your last opportunity to take the same moral ground now.

You are still, although now not without some embarrassment, in a certain sense master of the situation; but you will not be that much longer. You might still instruct your Peace Commissioners, when negotiating about the surrender by Spain of any territory, in no manner to commit the United States to the annexation of any such territory, but to leave the question of the ultimate disposition of it entirely open. You might then in your message to Congress say that with regard to the annexation question you had kept in view the pledge implied in the resolution of Congress as to the cause and object of the war, as well as of your own declaration that “annexation by force cannot be thought of because it would, by our code of morality, [be] criminal aggression”; that the annexation of any of the Spanish colonies would not only involve the repudiation of those declarations, but also require the keeping of large garrisons in tropical regions, which would cause heavy sacrifice of life and treasure; that all desirable commercial facilities could be obtained by international agreement, and that all the naval stations needed could be secured without the annexation of populous territories behind them, by which arrangement burdensome political responsibilities and entanglements would be avoided and only small garrisons would be required, while all material advantage of real importance would be secured.

This would open a prospect of a speedy return of most of the soldiers sent to the tropics, and I am sure by the time the message comes out, a large majority of the people will be in a condition of mind to receive this with a sigh of relief.

I would entreat you not to imagine that any half-way measures will relieve you of your troubles. The keeping of “only” the island of Luzon with its large and unruly population, or even of “only” the city of Manila, will not settle anything, but become only the source of new and endless complications and perplexities. It is just so with Porto Rico. The annexation of “only” Porto Rico in the West Indies will inevitably cause a constant and troublesome agitation for the annexation of the islands situated between Porto Rico and the United States. There will be no end of restlessness then, while the “strategical position,” if such a one is needed, could be obtained by securing a naval station without annexing a populous district behind it, just as England holds Gibraltar without owning Spain or a province of it.

Would it not be perfectly feasible to settle the future status of the Philippines by a conference with the Powers most interested in that region, and at the same time to obtain all the commercial and strategical advantages we require? And would it not be equally feasible, with equal advantage for ourselves, to help Porto Rico to an independent government as we are helping Cuba, and then endeavor to bring about a “Confederation of the Antilles,” embracing Cuba, Porto Rico, San Domingo and Hayti—which would give those islands a respectable international standing, while it would, of course, recognize our leadership?

But however that may be, I earnestly hope that it will commend itself to your judgment so to direct the Peace Commissioners that they will leave the question, whether any of the islands or parts thereof shall be or shall not be annexed, entirely open and unembarrassed for future decision when the people will have learned more clearly what such annexations involve.

Mr. McAneny informs me that the question he asked you in my behalf whether there had really been any matter [?] of difference between the United States and Germany concerning the Philippines, had remained unanswered. I regret this, for it was my purpose to do something toward allaying the unpleasant feeling which at present seems to exist between the German-Americans and a part of their fellow-citizens. But I have to be silent with regard to this matter so long as I am not myself well informed.

I take the liberty of sending you herewith a pamphlet copy of the speech I delivered at the Saratoga conference.