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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

by
Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 18
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p189 Chapter XVII
Island Territories

Dewey's theory of capacity of Filipinos for self-government put in practice — Why Virgin Islands were acquired — Porto Rico and Hawaii helped — Haiti and San Domingo saved from European control — Dollar diplomacy ended — Closer relations with Latin America

"Here we are trustees." — Wilson

One of the first acts of keeping faith, after President Wilson had safely launched the tariff and currency reform measures, was to take steps to give the Filipinos what the Americans had solemnly promised that people. Admiral Dewey, who combined statesmanship with naval greatness, was no party to the war that followed in the Philippines. He had, as a true discipline of his naval hero, sailed into Manila Bay, acting in the spirit of Farragut's "damn the torpedoes, go ahead." When war with Spain began, few people foresaw that Manila Bay would bring glory to a naval hero. The naval commanders were eager for a command near the waters of Cuba. Dewey alone of the officers of rank applied for Asiatic duty. He was regarded as "out of the war" as he sailed away. On the morning of May 2, 1898, the world woke up to find Dewey the one hero of the Spanish-American War. He was more than that: he performed no act in the Philippines while in direction there, that committed his country to any course of action. Without p190any commitment he had dealings with Aguinaldo and other leaders. He reported that the Filipinos were "far superior in intelligence to the Cubans and more capable of self-government." Instead of following Dewey's lead, the administration at Washington proceeded to buy the islands from Spain and to send troops to coerce the people to accept American rule. When the Filipinos objected to being transferred, they were shot down. Without adopting either the Jeffersonian principle of "consent of the governed" or Wilson's "self-determination," this country asserted title to the islands and sovereignty of the people by purchase from Spain. Many brave American soldiers gave their lives in the conquest of the islands. In vain did Senator Hoar invoke the fundamentals of American ideals. In vain did the cry of the Filipinos resound in the hearing of all who had ears, pleading for the right to govern themselves. The policy of "benevolent assimilation" at the point of the bayonet went forward, though good President McKinley at heart wished to help those peoples.

Under the Governorship of Mr. Taft, many ameliorating influences contributed to friendship. Schools were organized, roads built, and internal improvements undertaken. Mr. Taft, speaking of the McKinley policy of "benevolent assimilation," asserted that it "must logically reduce and finally end the sovereignty of the United State." Later he declared that "when the Filipino people, as a whole, show themselves reasonably fit to conduct a popular self-government, maintaining law and order and offering equal protection of the laws and civil rights to rich and poor, and desire complete independence, they shall be given it." But up to 1913, while Mr. Taft gave kindly and paternal regard to the Filipinos, they p191had been given little chance to show whether, as Dewey had said, they were "more capable of self-government than the Cubans," whose right to independence Congress declared April 19, 1898, their independent government following the war.

That was the situation in the Philippines when the Democratic Convention nominated Mr. Wilson for the Presidency. That body made this declaration:

"We affirm the position thrice announced by the Democratic National Convention assembled against a policy of imperialism and colonial exploitation in the Philippines or elsewhere. We condemn the experiment in imperialism as an inexcusable blunder which has involved us in enormous expense, brought us weakness instead of strength, and laid our nation open to the charge of abandonment of the fundamental doctrine of self-government.

"We favor an immediate declaration of the nation's purpose to recognize the independence of the Philippine Islands as soon as a stable government can be established, such independence to be guaranteed by us until the neutralization of the Islands can be secured by treaty with other powers. In recognizing this independence of the Philippines, our government should retain such land as may be necessary for coaling stations and naval bases."

In his address to Congress, December 2, 1913, Wilson said: "We must hold steadily in view their ultimate independence, and we must move toward the time of that independence as steadily as the way can be cleared and the foundations thoughtfully and permanently laid."

President Wilson's practical mind took practical direction. Legislation was enacted giving to the Filipinos a larger measure of freedom than they had been enjoying. p192Mr. Wilson coupled the announcement of the passage of the act with the definite assurance that this step had been taken "with a view to the ultimate independence of the island and as preparation for that independence." He declared: "By their counsel and experience, rather than by our own, we shall learn how best to serve them and how soon it will be possible to withdraw our supervision." The Jones Law, passed in response to the President's recommendation, in its preamble, declared that "it is, as it has always been, the purpose of the people of the United States, to withdraw their sovereignty over the Philippine Islands and to recognize their independence as soon as a stable government can be established therein." For the first time the Filipinos had cause to rejoice at the policy of the American government, and for the first time the principle of self-determination had a chance in those islands. Under the governorship of Mr. Wilson's appointee, Francis Burton Harrison, the provisions of the Jones Act were carried out in friendly spirit and with the best results. The Governor gave it as his opinion that "by temperament, by experience, by financial ability, in every way, the ten million Filipinos are entitled to be free from every government except of their own choice. They are intelligent enough to decide for themselves."

The Danish Islands of the West Indies came under the American flag during the Wilson administration. The paramount advantage to be gained by the United States from its acquisition of these islands was the large measure of safety they confer upon the Panama Canal. The strategic wisdom of gaining control of the islands lay not so much in the need of the United States of a naval base located in one of the harbors. It was the danger to the safety and amicable relations of the United p193States which would result from the acquirement of the islands by some other power.

Toward Porto Rico and Hawaii and all territories separated from the continent, Wilson's attitude was expressed when he said, "We are trustees." They "are ours, indeed, but not ours to do what we please with." His whole attitude as to them and the Philippines was thus stated: "Such territories, once regarded as mere possessions, are no longer to be selfishly exploited; they are part of the domain of public conscience and of serviceable and enlightened statesmanship. We must administer them for the people who live in them and with the same sense of responsibility to them as toward our own people in domestic affairs."

"Dollar Diplomacy" as practiced on this continent, which had been assailed in 1912, found no support from President Wilson. Consular officers, indeed, were alert and were encouraged to advance America's good offices to promote trade in Latin-America, but no diplomacy directed to secure purely commercial advantages to favored Americans was even winked at. In the presence of the diplomats from Latin-American countries, President Wilson, in his famous Mobile speech October 27, 1913, opened the way for the better understanding with those neighbor nations. He was speaking at the time of the opening of the Panama Canal, and predicted an "emancipation" of those states from "subordination to foreign enterprise." He pointed out that they had "harder bargains driven with them in the matter of loans than any other peoples in the world," and he declared, "we ought to be the first to take part in assisting that emancipation."

The Pan-American Conference and the tender and p194acceptance of the mediation of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in the Mexican controversy were but two of the outstanding practical evidences of the growth of lasting understanding and friendship with Latin-American nations, which in the World War blessed mankind.

The spirit of the Monroe Doctrine that no European country may add territory on this continent caused the President in 1914 to direct the Navy Department to bring about tranquillity in the neighbor island of Haiti and San Domingo. It was necessary for this government to take action in those lands to prevent European countries landing to prevent what they regarded as jeopardy of their interests by repeated revolutions. As to Haiti the aim of the United States in connection with the landing of Marines by the United States and the seizure of customs houses and their administration by American officials was well set forth in a statement issued by Secretary Lansing August 25, 1915, in which he said: "We have only one purpose — that is, to help the Haitian people and prevent them from being exploited by irresponsible revolutionists. . . . The United States Government has no purpose of aggression and is entirely disinterested in promoting this protectorate." Similar purposes animated the Government in its establishment of a temporary protectorate in San Domingo.

No selfish aggression.


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