An Uncommonly Dangerous Politician
excerpted from the book
The Politics of War
the story of two wars which altered
forever the political life of the American republic
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press, 1979, paper
The White House has rarely known a President more devious, crafty,
or subtle than the amiable, mild-mannered McKinley and few so
adept at getting what he wanted. He was, remarked Adams, "easily
first in genius for manipulation." That was exactly the truth.
McKinley was a political genius, and manipulation was the mode
of his genius. Among American Presidents he is the supreme example
of the political wirepuller, the leader who gets things done without
ever seeming to lead.'
If contemporaries never knew McKinley's
intentions it was because the President never candidly avowed
them to anyone. If he seemed to be the victim of events, it was
because he was master of the fait accompli, the patient contriver
of circumstances which, as he would ruefully announce, gave him
no choice but to do exactly what he privately wanted. Although
he kept his goals secret, McKinley was superbly adept at letting
those who had to divine them divine them correctly and at getting
them to do what he wanted without ever openly declaring that he
wanted it. Inevitably the men McKinley bent to his purposes often
stole the limelight from the President, but McKinley cared nothing
for the limelight. "He was a man of great power," his
secretary of war Elihu Root recalled after his death, "because
he was absolutely indifferent to credit... but McKinley always
had his way.
If McKinley appeared weak, vacillating, and passive, the tool
of others and the slave of circumstance, it was because he wished
to appear that way. The appearance was a political necessity.
In order to get what he wanted, McKinley had to go to great lengths
to deny that he wanted anything at all.
There was nothing safe or conservative
about President McKinley's political objectives. By the standards
of the nineteenth century he was not conservative but radical.
Conservatism in the 1890s still retained a republican form: It
meant adherence to the teachings of the founders; it meant disdain
for the "murky radiance" of world power; it meant respect
for constitutional forms; it meant protecting the free enterprise
system from the new menace of trusts and monopolies; it meant-especially
among rank-and-file Republicans-opposition to the growing power
of the state party machines. On the road to the White House McKinley
had been careful to heed the canons of conservatism, or at least
make no departures from them. On the Republican large policy he
had kept silent, preferring to preach the safer theme of patriotism.
On the issue of boss rule he had enthralled the party's citizen
adherents with his unprecedented antiboss nominating campaign.
In his Inaugural Address he had vowed to combat trusts and big
business combinations just as he had vowed nonintervention in
the internal affairs of other countries. On every count McKinley
intended to betray both his followers and his pledges. "The
Major," remarked Henry Adams, "is an uncommonly dangerous
The "national unity" McKinley hoped to forge... He wanted
a higher or transcendent unity, a unity that would quell discontent,
eliminate dissension, and weaken the troublesome republican spirit
which had revived so alarmingly during the preceding half-dozen
years. He wanted to impose order and discipline on the Republic's
unruly politics, order and discipline on its sprawling economy.
Above all, he wanted to replace loyalty to the American Republic
with loyalty to that very different thing, the Nation; love of
liberty with love of the flag and the mystique of proud bunting.
To those far-reaching aims, all the efforts of his administration
were to be directed.
To impose greater order on American politics,
McKinley hoped I to transform the Republican Party itself into
a rigidly disciplined national political machine-aloof, dominating,
and impregnable. Of all McKinley's betrayals none was more marked
than his determination to quash Republican insurgents, the very
people he had so captivated with his antiboss campaign. With few
exceptions all the patronage, power, and prestige of the presidency
McKinley was to put at the disposal of the state party bosses
in their fight against rank-and-file party rebels.
McKinley's economic policy, quite simply, was to encourage the
concentration of economic power in the hands of a few. This was
partly a reflection of his desire for order and partly an extension
of his party aims. The rise of great interstate trusts and monopolies
made the centralization of the Republican Party possible, for
the monopolists were beholden not to particular state bosses,
but to the national Republican Party and its policies. Consequently,
McKinley, despite his inaugural pledge to combat the trusts, did
nothing to enforce the Sherman Act, while making it abundantly
clear to Wall Street financiers that he favored the making of
combinations, a complicated endeavor that could not readily be
carried out without tacit governmental approval.
'What McKinley envisioned for the American
Republic was a genuine new order of things, a modern centralized
order, elitist in every way, profoundly alien to the spirit of
the Republic, and imposed from above on its indestructible constitutional
forms. Doubtless McKinley's vision was all light to the President
but it was not so to the American people. Had McKinley submitted
his grand design for a new modeled republic to the judgment of
the American electorate, only a small minority would have approved
of it.* Republican sentiment remained too strong in the country.
Of necessity, therefore, the key to McKinley's grand design for
national unity and cohesion was the Republican large policy. It
was the only way to supplant the republican spirit with the spirit
of nationalism, to replace love of liberty with love of the flag,
and to make the Nation a political presence strong enough to overwhelm
the Republic and supplant it in popular affections. Only by transforming
America into an active world power "in contact with considerable
foreign powers at as many points as possible" could the Nation
(which exists only in relation to other nations) become the unifying
force that McKinley and the Republican oligarchy intended to make
If the large policy was essential to McKinley's ambitions there
was only one certain way to launch it-through armed intervention
in Cuba. It was the only opportunity at hand and McKinley intended
to seize it. That intention he dared not avow; indeed it as imperative
to avow it, for in the aftermath of a resounding election victory,
some of the most powerful people in Republican ranks opposed intervention.
The party's new Wall Street allies strongly opposed war ...
It was the Presidents plan to reassure the peace faction of his
pacific intentions while he pursued a course of action that would
slowly but surely reduce it to a nullity. McKinley's Cuban policy,
a shrewd and subtle feat of political manipulation, was shaped
from the start not by his fear of warmongers - the conventional
historical view - but by his fear of Republican and Wall Street
proponents of peace.
McKinley's immediate problem, in fact,
was to rally the interventionists and keep alive their hopes.
Even before his inauguration, McKinley began privately reassuring
key Republican interventionists that his Cuban policy was not
quite what the peace faction expected it to be.
It was with reconcentration in mind that McKinley in May delivered
the well-timed stroke that decisively revived the interventionists
The stage was set on May 4 by Senator
Morgan, the ranking Democrat on the committee. Speaking in favor
of his new resolution favoring belligerency rights for Cuban rebels,
Morgan announced that he had definite proof that American citizens
in Cuba "are now literally starving to death in numbers for
this want of provisions and supplies.
On May 12, Republican Senator Gallinger, in support of Morgan,
submitted a resolution calling for a $50,000 appropriation to
feed suffering Americans in Cuba. It was a typical propaganda
tactic. A half-dozen times interventionists had taken an inflammatory
rumor, made a speech about it, submitted an appropriate resolution,
and transformed it into a senatorial fact. If the members of the
peace faction were concerned they gave no sign of it. Five days
later the blow from the White House fell. On the morning of May
17, President McKinley sent Congress a special message announcing
that, according to Consul General Lee, who was already proving
his usefulness, "a large number of American citizens in the
island are in a state of destitution.'; The President asked for
a $50,000 appropriation to relieve them.
... McKinley's message created, as expected,
an immediate nation-wide sensation. At once the war spirit revived
in the press, which hailed the message as the first logical step
toward armed intervention. "The relief-bearer," Hearst's
Journal observed, "is but the American camel intruding its
head in the Spanish tent in Cuba." Since the relief funds,
by reluctant consent of the Spanish authorities, were to be distributed
by the United States, intervention of sorts had already begun.
The New York Mail and Express, an administration paper, openly
concluded that McKinley's policy is "to secure Cuban independence,"
by arms if necessary.
While Ambassador Woodford was testing the European reaction to
a future war with Spain, the President was secretly laying the
groundwork for far-reaching wartime expansion in the Pacific.
Publicly, the President had already placed himself, as ambiguously
as he could manage it, in the Republican expansionist camp. On
June 16 he signed and submitted to the Senate a new treaty of
annexation with the Hawaiian government, although he took pains
to assure the foes of expansion that Hawaiian annexation was not
meant to lead to further expansion. It was, he said, "not
a change but a consummation," exactly the opposite of what
McKinley or the expansionists intended it to be. Carl Schurz,
for one, was not convinced. At a White House dinner on July 1,
he bluntly asked the President how the annexation of Hawaii squared
with his personal promise of "no jingo nonsense." McKinley
was momentarily taken aback. Hastily he disavowed any personal
intentions. He himself was not eager for annexation, he assured
Schurz. He was merely testing public opinion. Privately McKinley
thought otherwise. As he later confided to his personal secretary:
"We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we
did California. It is manifest destiny." Since a two-thirds
majority for ratification was nowhere in sight, the Senate adjourned
on July 24 without undermining destiny with a vote."
Several weeks later McKinley privately
conferred with his energetic assistant secretary of the navy [Theodore
Roosevelt] on aspects of "manifest destiny" considerably
more advanced than Hawaiian annexation. A decrepit Spanish fleet
lay permanently anchored in the Bay of Manila, capital of Spain's
Philippine colony. Would it not be useful, Roosevelt apparently
suggested, to plan an attack on that fleet and even seize Manila
should the United States ever intervene in Cuba to bring about
peace? McKinley piously deplored the prospect of war, but he managed
to encourage Roosevelt to pursue his Philippine assault preparations.
Indeed, after hearing McKinley deploring war with Spain, Roosevelt
promptly made plans to raise a regiment for the invasion of Cuba.
McKinley never fooled anyone he did not wish to fool. Shortly
after their meeting, Roosevelt suggested to the President that
an aggressive naval officer, Commodore George Dewey, be made commander
of the Asiatic Squadron over the heads of more senior officers.
McKinley secured the necessary congressional approval. In October
the squadron was placed on a war footing. The machinery of manifest
destiny was now emplaced. All McKinley needed was a war with Spain."
On December 2, the President ordered the U.S. battleship Maine
to the Florida Keys at the suggestion of Consul General Lee, who
had reported, with his usual mendacity, that a dangerous anti-American
conspiracy was brewing in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The
ship commander was instructed to proceed to Havana in the event
of an anti-American disturbance. It was to do so, said McKinley,
on receiving a coded signal from Lee, at whose disposal the President
now placed the great warship. The President had "full confidence
in [Lee's] judgment," the commander was informed. Exactly
so. By putting a warship of the most provocative kind in the hands
of an inveterate warmonger, McKinley had ingeniously arranged
for a minor diplomatic official to provoke an anti-American incident
in Cuba likely to inflame American passions, moot the whole question
of the Spanish reforms, and leave the President no alternative
save armed intervention to protect American lives and property.
With that McKinley sentenced Cuban autonomy to death. He had openly
assured the rebels that if they fought on for a few more months
Americans would step in and do their fighting for them. He had
robbed those Cubans who dreaded American intervention of any hope
that autonomy could stave it off. After McKinley refused the Spanish
queen request that America publicly endorse the new reforms, the
Spanish government in January had to face up to the grim truth:
The American President was deliberately subverting Spanish efforts
to achieve a negotiated settlement. Despite the generally pacific
tone of his annual message, McKinley on December 6, 1897, had
let slip the dogs of war. With America's consul general openly
working against autonomy in Havana, armed intervention in Cuba
was now only a matter of time.
A fake reform party in 1896, the Democrats, determined to drive
out reform and reformers, were becoming, as fast as they could
manage it, a token opposition as well. Just as Republicans had
agitated for war instead of opposing Cleveland's domestic policies,
so now the Democrats clamored for intervention in Cuba instead
of seriously opposing McKinley's. Had the Republican President
controlled the Democracy he could scarcely have contrived matters
better. Here was an entire national party vehemently demanding
that he do today what he intended to do tomorrow while accusing
him of being the earnest advocate of peace he was trying so hard
On January 24, after warning the Spanish ambassador that an antiAmerican
outburst in Cuba would compel him to send in troops, the President
ordered the warship to Havana to provoke an anti-American outburst.
Publicly, McKinley assured the country that the Maine was merely
paying a courtesy visit, but not many people were fooled. "A
warship is a curious kind of oil on troubled waters," wrote
Godkin in the New York Evening Post, "though the administration
would have us believe the Maine to be about the most unctuously
peaceful ship that ever sailed." That the Maine might trigger
an anti-American incident was obvious.
The Spanish authorities, for their part, did their best to foil
the American President. They received the Maine with an elaborate
show of courtesy and strained every nerve to prevent an untoward
outburst against the ship or its crewmen. McKinley, on his side,
made matters as difficult as possible: He simply would not recall
the Maine. Day after day for two weeks the menacing warship sat
in the harbor of Havana, wearing out the flimsy pretext that it
was paying a courtesy call and driving the Spanish frantic with
fear. By February 8, the Spanish government in Madrid was thoroughly
alarmed. The sheer prolongation of the visit, Madrid wired Ambassador
de Lome, "might, through some mischance, bring about a conflict.
We are trying to avoid it at any cost, making heroic efforts to
maintain ourselves in the severest rectitude." It was no
fault of Spain's, however, that on the evening of February 15
the Maine exploded in Havana harbor, killing 252 of the 350 men
It was not precisely the anti-American
incident that McKinley had hoped for; nonetheless the shocking
disaster was a stroke of good fortune for America's interventionists.
Overnight it drastically shortened the road to war, for the Maine
explosion wrought a profound change in American public sentiment.
Not that it provoked a national clamor for war. After the initial
shock and dismay the American people fell into a state of tense
and sober expectancy. What restrained popular bellicosity was
the fact, obvious to all, that whatever blew up the Maine, the
Spanish government certainly had not: nothing could have been
more contrary to its interests.
In early March a peace movement of "substantial citizens"
gathered force and began protesting loudly against intervention
in Cuba. McKinley took two quick steps to quash it. The peace
faction contended, for one thing, that America was unprepared
for war. McKinley met that objection easily. He called in Representative
Joe Cannon of Illinois, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee,
and told him to introduce a bill calling for $50 million for national
defense. Still posing as a man of peace, McKinley directed Cannon
not to associate his name with the measure. Cannon did as he was
told. The national defense bill became law on March 9. That was
the end of the preparedness argument.
... the navy board of inquiry handed the President I its fateful
report. The Maine, it concluded, had been "destroyed by the
explosion of a submarine mine," perpetrator unknown. Not
surprisingly, the board's conclusion, though not dishonest, was
unwarranted by the shaky evidence. Later inquirers have pretty
much concluded that the Maine's destruction was due to an accidental
internal explosion. With the Maine report in hand, McKinley's
difficulties were at an end. He had only to bring his diplomacy
with Spain to a crisis-never very difficult in dealing with a
fifth-rate power-while satisfying the rapidly weakening peace
faction that he was still trying to avert war if possible.
With the official release of the Maine report on March 28, he
now had overwhelming popular support for armed intervention; in
the face of it even Wall Street's opposition was crumbling. The
President's final dealings with Spain were merely a cruel farce.
On April 5, Spain agreed to lay down its arms at the behest of
the Pope-a desperate face-saving arrangement. "I believe
that this means peace," reported Woodford, who still thought
avoiding war was McKinley's objective. McKinley rejected that
offer, too. He could not, he cabled the ambassador, "assume
to influence the action of the American Congress." On April
9, notwithstanding McKinley's reply, the desperate Spanish government
formally proclaimed an armistice in Cuba at the behest of the
Pope. McKinley had now won virtually all his official demands:
revocation of reconcentration and an end to hostilities. Few sovereign
nations have ever made such concessions to a foreign power in
peacetime over their own internal affairs. It availed Spain nothing.
On April 11, the President delivered his
war message to Congress. It began with one of the more notable
deceptions in the annals of presidential messages. Tracing the
course of his diplomacy down to March 31-thereby conveniently
ignoring Spain's subsequent concessions-the President concluded
quite falsely that he had "exhausted" all diplomatic
means to secure peace: "The Executive is brought to the end
of his effort." He therefore called for "the forcible
intervention of the United States as a neutral to stop the war,
according to the large dictates of humanity .... I ask the Congress
to authorize and empower the President to take measures to secure
a full and final termination of hostilities between the Government
of Spain and the people of Cuba and to secure in the island the
establishment of a stable government... and to use the military
and naval forces of the United States as may be necessary for
... Congress, on April 19, passed a join resolution calling for
armed intervention. The "Republic of Cuba" was not to
be recognized; the guerrillas, having served their purpose, were
to be brushed ruthlessly aside. On the other hand, by the terms
of the resolution, the United States was forbidden from ever annexing
Cuba. On April 20 the President signed the resolution. The war
that so many had sought for so long was now but a few days away."
The American people were jubilant. Pushed
and prodded toward intervention for two and a half years, they
now took the last mile at the gallop. Popular support for the
war was more than overwhelming. It was joyful, exuberant, ecstatic.
Americans greeted the war in a tumultuous holiday spirit, for
in truth it was a holiday-a vacation from the years of suspicion,
dissension, disillusion, and bitterness. Was the American Republic
despoiled and corrupted? How could it be with America on the march,
defending liberty, succoring the needy, and uprooting Old World
villainy! Was the Republic in the grip of the money power? How
could it be with the Wall Street peace faction so utterly routed!
Like schoolboys tossing away their pencils on the last day of
school, the American people cast aside the heavy burdens of liberty
which they had taken up eight years before and which, for their
pains, had gained them nothing and less. What was there to fret
about? America was good! America was true! Cuba Libre! In that
spirit, generous and giddy, righteous and irresponsible, the American
people rallied to war against a fifth-rate power under the leadership
of their ostensibly peaceloving President.
It was Henry Adams who put McKinley's
role in its proper perspective. "At this distance,"
he wrote to Hay from Belgrade, "I see none of his tricks-real
or assumed-I see only the steady development of a fixed intent,
never swerving or hesitating even before the utterly staggering
responsibility of war .... He has gone far beyond me and scared
me not a little."
The Almighty Hand of God
Lying some seven thousand miles from San Francisco, the Philippines
form a vast archipelago. Its seven thousand islands extend across
three thousand miles of the western Pacific. Its inhabitants then
numbered some 6.5 million, a great many of them rude tribesmen,
a large number of whom were headhunters. To seize the Philippine
Islands from Spain would be an overt act of conquest. To possess
the Philippine Islands would mean outright colonial rule, a subject
race, and government by force. To seize and hold the Philippines
would do violence to the Constitution, to republican principles,
and to the deeply held convictions of the American people. Moreover,
it would make America a major power in distant Asia and lead to
unprecedented "connections with European complications,"
as McKinley himself had put it. To conquer and rule Spain's Philippine
colony threatened at one stroke to sunder solemn ties with the
republican past, to reorder the political life of the country
and leave all familiar havens astern. It would mean, as Andrew
Carnegie was soon to protest, "a parting of the ways"
for the American Republic. To conquer and rule the Philippines
as an American colony was William McKinley's war aim.
... Of the audacity of his imperial designs,
McKinley himself was acutely aware. Trusting no one to share his
audacity, he disclosed his ultimate intentions to no one. Even
at his death he was still disclaiming them. Responsibility for
the new American Empire he would attribute to the "march
of events," to the "Almighty hand of God" ...
On April 25, the President asked Congress not to declare war but
to declare that, since Spain had broken off diplomatic relations,
a state of war already existed. McKinley did not even wait for
Congress to declare that what he wanted had already happened.
The day he delivered his request, the President approved the historic
directive to Commodore Dewey: "War has commenced .... Proceed
at once to the Philippine Islands. Commence operations at once."
Speed was imperative; even a one-day head start for Dewey was
imperative. All through the war McKinley feared that Spain would
L surrender before America's armed forces laid hands on her colonies,
"gifts from the gods," as he would later describe them.
Dewey's victory made history but no martial
glory has ever attached to it. The Asiatic Squadron reached Manila
Bay on April 30. The next day, in about an hour's time, it destroyed
the hapless that passed for the Spanish fleet.
... The day after the battle, with only
cabled rumors from Madrid to indicate that a battle had ever taken
place, McKinley ordered an army expeditionary force to the Philippines.
It was a remarkably bold decision. The situation in Manila was
unknown. No blow had been struck as yet for Cuba Libre. Yet here
was a President sending ten thousand much needed regular troops-the
first American soldiers ever to leave the Western Hemisphere-eleven
thousand miles from the cause of humanity. If McKinley wished
"old Dewey had just sailed away" on May 1, he gave no
sign of it on May 2.
Nor did McKinley stop there. News of Dewey's
victory sent the populace into a fit of ecstatic rejoicing. The
American sky, it was said, turned red with fireworks from coast
to coast. War fever and jingoism were sweeping all before it.
Giddy already, the American people, on hearing of the victory,
grew giddier still. The iron was hot and McKinley, a master of
cautious maneuver when caution was needed, now showed he could
strike, if required, with force and dispatch. He moved quickly
on yet another expansionist front. Before Dewey's victory, his
Hawaiian annexation treaty had languished hopelessly in the Senate.
Overnight Dewey's victory gave it new life. It was now, claimed
Republicans, a vital military measure. The United States needed
Hawaiian bases to give aid to Dewey, the national hero of the
hour. Pleading wartime exigency as a pretext, Republicans on May
4 took the unusual step of introducing a joint resolution of annexation
in the House, thereby evading the Constitution's treaty-ratifying
rule. Hawaii was to be annexed by simple majority vote. Behind
the scenes as always, McKinley led the fight for annexation. Its
advantages were clear. Annexation of Hawaii, as the Philadelphia
Press had observed five years before, would "familiarize
the public mind to the acceptance of other territory." McKinley
wanted the public mind thus familiarized. Hawaiian annexation
would provide a precedent for further overseas acquisitions. McKinley
wanted that precedent.
With Hawaiian annexation safely launched in Congress, McKinley
turned next to the Caribbean. On June 4 he asked the commanding
general of the United States Army, Nelson Miles; to prepare for
an invasion of Puerto Rico at the "earliest moment."
On July 17, the Spanish troops in Santiago, Cuba, surrendered
unconditionally. The next day Spain sued for peace. In response,
McKinley promptly ordered the invasion of Puerto Rico. "On
your landing," he instructed the army, "you hoist the
American flag." This was an essential element in McKinley's
strategy of the fait accompli. Speaking of the flag a few months
later, the President would ask an Atlanta audience: "Who
will withdraw it from the people over whom it floats?"
The real battle over the Philippines was not fought in the islands.
It was fought in America. Its weapon was a torrent of propaganda;
its objective to weaken, by every possible argument-by sheer noise,
if necessary-the electorate's traditional aversion to colonial
empire and overseas dominion. It was the task of the press, as
McKinley pointed out to a newspaper publisher, to make it "appear
desirable" for America to retain the archipelago.
Above all, the propagandists, again following McKinley, made frantic
efforts to deny any imperialist intentions. America's possession
of the Philippines-still unachieved-was described from the start
as the "fortunes of war," which is to say, mere happenstance.
It was attributed to the workings of "destiny." It was
deemed not the design of men, but of "Providence." It
was ascribed to "the natural outcome of forces constantly
at work." Having happened through destiny, happenstance,
providence, or historical determinism, America's control of the
Philippines, so the propagandists insisted, brought distasteful
but unavoidable "duty" in its train, namely the duty
to rule the islands. "Destiny," as McKinley liked to
say, "determines duty." Could the United States in good
conscience "return" the archipelago to Spain and subject
Filipinos to its brutal imperial yoke? That the United States
did not control the Philippines and had nothing to return did
not stand in the way of the propagandists. The incessant pretense
that the United States had already captured the Philippines-"having
broken down the power in control of them," as Whitelaw Reid
of the New York Tribune put it was expressly designed to make
ultimate annexation by treaty seem mere recognition de jure of
what had already occurred through the fortunes of war.
In the campaign to win popular acceptance
of empire two important elements were missing. One was imperialism
itself. A full-out imperial creed, the candid laudation of empire,
played an insignificant role in the propaganda for an American
empire. McKinley himself sternly repudiated the term "imperialism."
That was the sort of thing, he said, that only vile European powers
practiced. The arguments for America's first colonial venture
were put on the most narrow circumstantial grounds: the unintended
consequences of Dewey's naval victory and the inescapable "duty"
it brought in its train. If America was becoming an imperial power,
it was an empire purely by inadvertence. So the propagandists
insisted. As McKinley told an Omaha audience, "We must follow
duty even if desire opposes." If in the end Americans accepted
the annexation of the Philippines, they did so without endorsing
the imperial principle, indeed while still rejecting it, which
was why straight-out imperialism would soon prove a dead-end for
the Republican Party"
What Republican-sponsored colonialism would mean to southern politics
was scarcely lost on southern Democrats. That the once-great Republican
Party, the historic party of Negro rights and political equality,
was now claiming the right to govern lesser breeds without their
consent gave the Democracy what it had hitherto never enjoyed:
complete license from Republicans to treat southern Negroes as
the McKinley administration intended to treat Filipinos. The Democrats
quickly made the most of it. It is no coincidence that the legal
disenfranchisement of black people-and poor whites and the elaboration
of segregation laws were carried out by southern Democrats in
1898 and the years immediately thereafter. If Republicans even
wished to protest the final dismantling of their party's historic
achievements they were now utterly compromised. Southern racist
politics, as the Boston Evening Transcript sadly observed, is
"now the policy of the administration of the very party which
carried the country into and through a civil war to free the slave."
On August 28, McKinley appointed the members of a five-man commission
charged with conducting treaty negotiations with Spain in Paris.
... Some weeks later, when negotiations
began, McKinley deemed the time ripe to take the final step: He
ordered his commissioners to demand the entire archipelago. Public
opinion, he informed them, made any other alternative impossible.
"It is my judgment," he cabled them on October 25, "that
the well-considered opinion of the majority would be that duty
requires we should take the archipelago."
On October 31 the commission, under the President's express order,
formally demanded the entire Philippines from Spain. Stunned,
the Spanish negotiators balked. Once again Spain pointed out that
the United States had no claim to the Philippines by right of
conquest since it had not conquered them. Even Manila, captured
after the armistice, by rights should be restored to Spain. The
victor, however, was adamant. The vanquished were helpless. In
the end the Spanish government, thoroughly humiliated, caved in
to McKinley demands. On December 8 the treaty of peace was signed.
The United States by formal cession from Spain now possessed the
Philippine Islands. The fait accompli that the President and Republican
propagandists had been proclaiming for six months was now at last
All McKinley had to do now was secure
Senate ratification of the treaty and crush the Filipino insurgents.
The former was gained with a heavy dose of virtual bribery by
the margin of a single vote. The latter was accomplished with
machine guns and was to take three bloody years and more. The
love of liberty for foreigners that had warmed the hearts of so
many warmongering politicians disappeared in the "march of
events." When the President asked Congress for funds to put
down Aguinaldo's mischievous troublemakers (for that, of course,
was how the administration described them) scarcely a senator
from the anti-imperialist Democracy cast a dissenting vote. With
the decline of the republican movement at home the "propaganda
of republicanism" abroad ceased to stir America's political
leaders. The very politicians who had castigated Spain for trying
to crush Cuban guerrillas now supported America's military efforts
to crush Filipino guerrillas. And they watched without opposition
as the party of White Supremacy robbed American citizens of the
right to vote and enmeshed the South in an iron net of racist
With matchless guile and unshakable aplomb,
President McKinley had carried America across a great divide.
He had ushered in a new age and it was an age of iron.
... A few years before ... Americans of
every condition had been demanding republican reforms of one kind
of another. Their demands had gone unmet, their hopes had come
to naught. The ruling politicians whose power they had threatened
now set to work ensuring that another such perilous outburst would
never occur again."
The transformation of the United States, already an imperial republic,
into an active world power had been the party's goal since the
onset of the political crisis. With jingoism rampant in the country,
with American troops stationed five hundred miles from Hong Kong,
the means for doing so for the first time lay at hand. To imperialists
and anti-imperialists alike it was obvious that the annexation
of the Philippines could give America a major voice in the affairs
of China, the then-current cockpit of European greed and ambition.
The task of making American intervention in China politically
palatable President McKinley assigned to his new secretary of
state, John Hay, as soon as the Philippines had been safely annexed.
The result of Hay's cogitations was the famous "Open Door"
policy, a policy; well-named, by which the Asian door to Europe
was to be pried open.
"In a few short months," McKinley proudly informed a
visitor to the White House, "we have become a world power."
It was true enough. The chancelleries of Europe, which a few years
before had not deigned even to send embassies to Washington, now
echoed with nervous talk of the growing "American peril."
America's grand renunciation of "dominion and power,"
one of the nobler aspects of the American Republic's often murky
history, was fast becoming, like so much else, a relic of the
past. On the slender foundation of our alleged interests in Asia,
McKinley and his party pressed for a two-ocean navy, for an Isthmian
canal controlled exclusively by the United States, for a Caribbean
Sea under American hegemony, and for protectorate rights over
Cuba, whose independence, once so ardently cherished, was soon
to become little more than a fiction. With America's "emergence
as a world power," an oft-repeated cant phrase implying that
it happened by itself, the first prop of the new political order
was in place by the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the years after 1898 the collusive exception more and more
became the rule as the Democratic Party, retrenching, ceased to
offer serious electoral competition to Republicans outside their
old southern and urban bastions. If the dominance of foreign affairs
was to be the parties' functional equivalent of the no-issue politics
of precrisis days, electoral collusion became the parties' functional
equivalent of the old Civil War party loyalties. Confining their
vote-getting efforts chiefly to their traditional post-Civil War
party bastions, the two parties actually succeeded in re-creating
the post-Civil War voting patterns in the twentieth century. In
hundreds of counties and dozens of states voters behaved more
as their grandparents had done in 1870 than their parents had
in 1890. The voting patterns were based no longer on the old passionate
party attachments. They chiefly reflected the indisposition of
voters to elect "figureheads simply put up for the purpose
of being knocked down." Unchallenged in their respective
bastions, party leaders scarcely had to appeal to the voters to
control the politics of their communities or even of entire states.
Increasingly, elections became shams; increasingly, voters declined
to vote .
In the wake of the Democrats' retirement
into a mere party of "outs," machine politics, supported
by collusion, grew not only stronger but more extensive than ever.
"The domain of the Machine," a foreign student of American
politics wrote in 1902, "is daily growing larger. The Machine
is gaining ground, especially in the West where it is invading
districts which appeared to be free of it." If men opposed
boss rule before, a few men by the turn of the century were coming
to see it as the chief menace to the American Republic. In March
1900 Charles Francis Adams bluntly told a fellow anti-imperialist
that he saw the danger to "republican principles" in
the wrong place: "You see it externally in the Philippines;
I see it internally in New York City and Pennsylvania-in Croker
and Quay and Platt .... We cant about imperialism, and look for
the 'man-on-horseback,' and all that nonsense. Our Emperor is
here now in embryo; even we don't recognize him, and we scornfully
call him a 'boss.' Just exactly as in Rome before the Caesars
systematized [matters] a succession of Tweeds, and Crokers, and
Quays had their day."
In the immediate aftermath of the Spanish-American
War the bosses indeed had their day. On the events of the preceding
years they could look back with relief and satisfaction. A grave
political crisis had been averted, a major threat to their power
repulsed; the reform spirit seemed dead, the voters apathetic.
The American Republic, torn from its old continental moorings,
was now successfully launched on the broad sea of empire and dominion.
"Unexampled political repose," as one newspaper put
it, had been ushered in by the postwar years. Both party syndicates
were stronger than ever. In the South, Achilles heel of the entire
party system, disenfranchisement, racism, and segregation laws-a
third major prop of the new order-promised to reduce southern
farmers once more to a nullity and prevent any effective revival
of the defeated Populist cause.