Mark Twain on Imperialism

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Mark Twain on Imperialism
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Mark Twain, The Greatest American Humorist, Returning Home, New York World [London, 10/6/1900]

You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question. I am at the disadvantage of not knowing whether our people are for or against spreading themselves over the face of the globe. I should be sorry if they are, for I don't think that it is wise or a necessary development. As to China, I quite approve of our Government's action in getting free of that complication. They are withdrawing, I understand, having done what they wanted. That is quite right. We have no more business in China than in any other country that is not ours. There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it -- perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands -- but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector -- not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.


Mark Twain in America Again, Chicago Tribune [New York, 10/15/1900]

"You've been quoted here as an anti-imperialist."

"Well, I am. A year ago I wasn't. I thought it would be a great thing to give a whole lot of freedom to the Filipinos, but I guess now that it's better to let them give it to themselves. Besides, on looking over the treaty I see we've got to saddle the friars and their churches. I guess we don't want to."

"Then you're for Bryan?"

"I guess not. I'm rather inclined toward McKinley, even if he is an imperialist. But don't ask political questions, for all I know about them is from the English papers."

Mark Twain Home, New York Tribune [New York, 10/15/1900]

Once I was not anti-imperialist. I thought that the rescue of those islands from the government under which they had suffered for three hundred years was a good business for us to be in. But I had not studied the Paris Treaty. When I found that it made us responsible for the protection of the friars and their property I changed my mind.


Mark Twain Home, An Anti-Imperialist, New York Herald [New York, 10/15/1900]

I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

We have also pledged the power of this country to maintain and protect the abominable system established in the Philippines by the Friars.

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.


Source: From Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War, Jim Zwick, ed., (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992).

Mark Twain and Imperialism

To the Person Sitting in Darkness by Mark Twain

Part of Uncle Sam Plants the Flag: Imperialism in Latin America a HistoryWiz exhibit

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