Primary Documents

Name _________________________________
Following are primary source documents from the period 1885 to 1900. They include passages from: a
Protestant minister’s book arguing for the national destiny of the United States (A); a U.S. senator’s argument
for expansionism (B); an anti-imperialist protest against U.S. policy in the Philippines (C); and President
McKinley’s justification of that policy (D).
Document A. The Anglo-Saxon People
Mr. [Charles] Darwin is not only inclined to see; in the superior strength of our people, an example of
his favorite theory of natural selection, but even communicates that the world’s history thus far has been simply
preparing us for our future, and contributing to it. He says: “There is apparently much truth in the belief that the
wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural
selection; for the more energetic, restless and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during
the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best…”
There is abundant reason to believe that the Anglo-Saxon race is to be, is, indeed, already becoming,
more effective here than in the mother country…
It may be easily shown, and is of no small significance, that out of the two groups of Anglo-Saxons, the
United States are having fuller development than Great Britain. There [Great Britain] the union of Church and
State tends strongly to paralyze some of the members of the body of Christ. Here there is no such influence to
destroy spiritual life and power. Here, also, has been evolved the form of government consistent with the largest
possible civil liberty. Furthermore, it is significant that the marked characteristics of this race are being here
emphasized most. Among the most striking features of the Anglo-Saxon is his money-making power, a power
of increasing importance in the widening commerce of the world’s future. We have seen… that, although
England is by far the richest nation of Europe, we have already outstripped her in the race after wealth, and we
have only begun the development of our vast resources.
Josiah Strong Our Country, 1885
Document B. “Commerce Follows the Flag”
Washington withdrew us from the affairs of Europe, but at the same time he pointed out that our true
line of advance was to the West. He never for an instant thought that we were to remain stationary and cease to
move forward. He saw, with prophetic vision, as did no other man of his time, the true course for the American
people. He could not himself enter into the promised land, but he showed it to his people, stretching from the
Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. We have a record of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion
unequalled by any people in the nineteenth century…
There is a very definite policy for American statesmen to pursue in this respect if they would prove
themselves worthy inheritors of the principles of Washington and [John Quincy] Adams. We desire no
extension to the south, for neither the population nor the lands of Central or South America would be desirable
additions to the United States. But from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Ocean there should be but one flag and
one country. Neither race nor climate forbids this extension, and every consideration of national growth and
national welfare demands it. In the interests of our commerce and of our fullest development we should build
the Nicaragua canal (in the 1890s, Nicaragua was generally considered a more likely route than Panama for
building a canal through Central America), and for the protection of that canal and for the sake of our
commercial supremacy in the Pacific we should control the Hawaiian Islands and maintain our influence in
Samoa (Alaska). England has studded the West Indies with strong places which are a standing menace to our
Atlantic seaboard. We should have among those islands at least one strong naval station, and when the
Nicaragua canal is built, the island of Cuba, still sparsely settled and of almost unbounded fertility, will become
a necessity. Commerce follows the flag, and we should build up a navy strong enough to give protection to
Americans in every quarter of the globe and sufficiently powerful to put our coasts beyond the possibility of
successful attack.
Henry Cabot Lodge “Our Blundering Foreign Policy,” March 1895
Document C. “Slaughter of the Filipinos”
We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil
from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington
and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist
that the control of any people is “criminal aggression” and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our
We earnestly condemn the policy of the present national administration in the Philippines. It seeks to
extinguish the spirit of 1776 in those islands. We grieve over the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, whose
bravery deserves admiration even in an unjust war. We condemn the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless
horror. We protest against the extension of American rule by Spanish methods.
We demand the immediate end of the war against the liberty, begun by Spain and continued by us. We
urge that Congress be promptly convened to announce to the Filipinos our purpose to grant to them the
independence for which they have so long fought and which is rightly theirs.
The United States have always protested against the doctrine of international law which permits the
conquer of the weak by the strong. A self-governing state cannot act upon the ancient political doctrine of
conquer and control.
Platform of the American Anti-imperialist League October 17, 1899
Document D. A President’s Decision
I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you,
gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one
night. And one night late it came to me this way, I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) that we could not
give them back to Spain, that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to
France or Germany, our commercial rivals in Asia, that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we
could not leave them to themselves, they were unfit for self-government, and they would soon have anarchy and
misrule there worse than Spain was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to
educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we
could by them…
William McKinley, speech to a Methodist Church group, November 1899