Study Guide

Imperialism Quotes

By William Jennings Bryan

  • Imperialism

    If it is right for the United States to hold the Philippine Islands permanently and imitate European empires in the government of colonies, the republican party ought to state its position and defend it, but it must expect the subject races to protest against such a policy and to resist to the extent of their ability. (23)

    This was Bryan's "don't say I didn't warn you" statement. After all, when you nag and nag and nag someone to the nth degree, there is going to be a point when they just snap and go all Chuck Norris on you. Bryan was trying to say that the Filipinos will snap and fight back too.

    If we have an imperial policy we must have a great standing army as its natural and necessary complement. The spirit which will justify the forcible annexation of the Philippine islands will justify the seizure of other islands and the domination of other people, and with wars of conquest we can expect a certain if not rapid, growth of our military establishment. (38)

    If you're anything like us, you always plan on eating only a few handfuls of potato chips. Because, you know, you're saving room for dinner. But that's not where it ends, is it? You always just want one more chip.

    That's the argument here. Sort of. Bryan was saying that when it comes to empire, no one stops at one country.

    The acquisition of the Louisiana territory, Florida, Texas and other tracts which have been secured from time to time enlarged the republic and the constitution followed the flag into the new territory. It is now proposed to seize upon distant territory already more densely populated than our own country and to force upon the people a government for which there is no warrant in our constitution or our laws. (34)

    The phrase "time to time" is a total copout. At this point in his speech, Bryan very conveniently forgot the fact that the entire United States came about under expansionist policies. And those policies really weren't all that different from what the pro-imperialists wanted to do with the Philippines. Not cool, Bryan. Not cool.

    The army is the personification of force, and militarism will inevitably change the ideals of the people and turn the thoughts of our young men from the arts of peace to the science of war. The government which relies for its defense upon its citizens is more likely to be just than one which has at call a large body of professional soldiers. (42)

    If Bryan were a post-apocalyptic-military-science-fiction-book author, this would totally be his premise. He's talking about Americans becoming automaton androids bent on creating war and destruction. But that's only if the U.S. decides to go the imperial route. Without that, Bryan has no story. And the world remains safe.

    Some argue that American rule in the Philippine islands will result in the better education of the Filipinos… If we are to govern them without their consent and give them no voice in determining the taxes which they must pay, we dare not educate them, lest they learn to read the Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States and mock us for our inconsistency. (76)

    One of the most popular arguments that pro-imperialists made for taking over the Philippines was that they would receive a top-class education and therefore fall in love with their oppressors. But on the Truth-O-Meter scale, this falls in the False Category.

    First, the Philippines had schools already.

    Second, those who went to school learned about a little thing called the Declaration of Independence and typically thought that it sounded like a really good idea to have one for themselves as well.

    And third, they had traditions and histories of their own that were not going to be taught in their imperial schools, which only fueled the fire for revolution.

  • Race

    The white race will not live so near the equator. Other nations have tried to colonize in the same latitude. The Netherlands have controlled Java for three hundred years and yet today there are less than sixty thousand people of European birth scattered among the twenty-five million natives. (35)

    Okay, we're just gonna tell it like it is: this is a weird one. We suppose Bryan was thinking that white people burn easily. Or that they melt in hot weather. Or maybe that they turn invincible in colder climates. Needless to say, there're some bizarre assumptions about skin color going on here.

    Is he to be a citizen or a subject? Are we to bring into the body politic eight or ten million Asiatics, so different from us in race and history that amalgamation is impossible? Are they to share with us in making the laws and shaping the destiny of this nation? (44)

    Imagine the United States as a tall, fit white male. While you're at it, make him devastatingly good looking. Take your time.

    Don't be shy. We know that Bryan wouldn't be. We know this because this is sort of what he's doing. He's making the entire country look Chris-Hemsworth-gorgeous…

    The point is that Bryan is calling the country a body. One that looks good. But it's also one that looks white, fit, speaks English, believes in one religion, etc. And he is claiming that once the Filipinos are allowed in, that body is gonna get all flabby and lose all of its hair. This is racism, folks.

    In addition to the evils which he and the farmer share in common, the laboring man will be the first to suffer if oriental subjects seek work in the United States; the first to suffer if American capital leaves our shores to employ oriental labor in the Philippines to supply the trade of China and Japan; the first to suffer from the violence which the military spirit arouses and the first to suffer when the methods of imperialism are applied to our own government. (95)

    If you thought that losing jobs overseas was a problem that we only started facing in recent years, think again. He's trying to conjure up the image of swarms of disgruntled workers screaming, "They took our jobs!" But, according to Bryan, if the U.S. doesn't imperialize, those jobs can stay at home where they belong.

    The religious argument varies in positiveness from a passive belief that Providence delivered the Filipinos into our hands for their good and our glory, to the exultation of the minister who said that we ought to "thrash the natives (Filipinos) until they understand who we are," and that "every bullet sent, every cannon shot and every flag waved means righteousness." (98)

    Unfortunately, people did believe this. All there really is to say is, "Wow. That's messed-up."

    At least Bryan didn't want to have anything to do with it.

    Third, to protect the Filipinos from outside interference while they work out their destiny, just as we have protected the republics of Central and South America, and are, by the Monroe doctrine, pledged to protect Cuba. (106)

    Let's be clear: the notion that the United States has the right to intervene on the behalf of the entire Western Hemisphere is a tad narrow-minded. Who gave the U.S. the right to do this? No one. And what was the justification for all of this? Basically, just because.

    But even Bryan had a hard time getting away from that arrogant perspective. That's why he's bringing up the Monroe doctrine. He wanted to say that the fighting the Spanish in Cuba was totally legit, but fighting the Filipinos? That's an entirely different territory. Not our turf, not our problem.

  • Principles

    Once admit that some people are capable of self-government and that others are not and that the capable people have a right to seize upon and govern the incapable, and you make force — brute force — the only foundation of government and invite the reign of a despot. (69)

    If you follow these five examples in this "Thought and Quotes" section, you'll see what Bryan was doing with this speech. He didn't start off with a religious argument right off the bat. He's too smart for that. He knew that jumping right in to religion would scare off those listeners who believed in the separation of Church and State.

    Instead he showed how politics and principles can go together like chicken and waffles (and if you haven't tried chicken and waffles, you need to—like, right now). No American would disagree with that statement.

    Hook, line, and sinker. He's got the audience's attention now so he can start pushing in the morality stuff later on. Smooth.

    Every one [sic] recognizes the obligation imposed upon individuals to observe both the human and the moral law, but as some deny the application of those laws to nations, it may not be out of place to quote the opinions of others. Jefferson, than whom there is no higher political authority, said:

    "I know of but one code of morality for men, whether acting singly or collectively." (59-60)

    Bryan "the Great Orator" shows off his mad skills by slowly easing in the "moral law" talk at this point in the speech. He's made a connection between "moral law" and "political authority" and does so with Thomas Jefferson. Again, what good American would argue with Jefferson?

    And so with this nation. It is of age and it can do what it pleases; it can spurn the traditions of the past; it can repudiate the principles upon which the nation rests; it can employ force instead of reason; it can substitute might for right; it can conquer weaker people; it can exploit their lands, appropriate their property and kill their people; but it cannot repeal the moral law or escape the punishment decreed for the violation of human rights. (73)

    At this point, Bryan has completely inverted the argument he started with. He begins with something that all people can agree with: that politics should be about doing the right thing. He then claims that politics and morality are actually part of the same system.

    But here, he's claiming that, politically speaking, Americans can do anything they want as long as it is democratically agreed on. But that doesn't make it right. Right is following the moral code that Bryan so happens to be arguing. Coincidence? We think not. Either way, he completely turned the political/morality argument around in a way that can be rather convincing when listened to.

    The command "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" has no Gatling gun attachment. (101)

    Here's Bryan's ka-bam moment.

    Bryan goes for the religious throat with this one. It's the most famous bit from this speech and for good reason. He's saying that those Christians who believe in imperialism are no Christians at all. He's calling them hypocrites. He's calling them liars. He's calling them a bunch of violent jerks. But he also does it with eloquence.

    When our opponents are unable to defend their position by argument they fall back upon the assertion that it is destiny, and insist that we must submit to it, no matter how much it violates our moral percepts and our principles of government. This is a complacent philosophy. It obliterates the distinction between right and wrong and makes individuals and nations the helpless victims of circumstance. (108)

    This quote comes in at the end of the speech. And at this point, Bryan has done his job. He successfully turned a political argument into a moral one. He even attacked those Christians that morally disagreed with his political worldview.

    At this point in the speech, he's just saying that not only are Republicans politically wrong in their decision-making regarding the Philippines, but they're flat-out morally wrong. And who can argue with that?

    Well, pro-imperialism Republicans can, actually…

  • Politics

    When I say that the contest of 1900 is a contest between Democracy on the one hand and plutocracy on the other I do not mean to say that all our opponents have deliberately chosen to give to organized wealth a predominating influence in the affairs of the Government, but I do assert that on the important issues of the day the Republican party is dominated by those influences which constantly tend to substitute the worship of mammon for the protection of the rights of man. (3)

    If you're sick and tired of reading about Democrats ripping on Republicans and Republicans ripping on Democrats in the same ole merry-go-round political hatespeak, stop reading now. Because that's what Bryan is doing here. He's calling them a bunch of Scrooge McDucks, in their swimming pools filled with gold and laughing maniacally as they try to conquer the world.

    The forcible annexation of territory to be governed by arbitrary power differs as much from the acquisition of territory to be built up into states as a monarchy differs from a democracy. The democratic party does not oppose expansion when expansion enlarges the area of the republic and incorporates land which can be settled by American citizens, or adds to our population people who are willing to become citizens and are capable of discharging their duties as such. (33)

    Sometimes it seems like politics attracts hypocrisy like flies to honey.

    Even though Bryan's trying to take the higher ground here, there's a teensy-weensy double standard going on. He wants to criticize Republicans for acting like imperial monarchists, but he's defending the Democratic Party for the expansionism that they've supported in the past.

    Manifest Destiny? Eh, that's okay in Bryan's book. Colonialism? Sure, why not. Decepticon Transformers taking over earth? Well, maybe that doesn't work in Bryan's political worldview.

    Either way, it shows that Bryan is willing to look the other way and be a little hush-hush when it comes to criticizing the role that Democrats have played in American expansionism.

    A republic can have no subjects. A subject is possible only in a government resting upon force; he is unknown in a government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. (45)

    This statement was the whole reason Bryan started throwing out historical names left and right like he just took an American History course last semester at the local community college. Patrick Henry (24-25), Daniel Webster (30), Thomas Jefferson (5, 25, 32, 59)—those guys were real republicans. Not like those posers in the Republican Party. And real republicans don't believe in dominating other people. That's Bryan's message.

    The republican party has accepted the European idea and planted itself upon the ground taken by George III., and by every ruler who distrusts the capacity of the people for self-government or denies them a voice in their own affairs. (48)

    If Bryan had written this speech after WWII he would be calling the Republican Party a bunch of Hitler-following Nazis. Instead, comparing them to King George III-following monarchists was the worst political slur he could think of.

    If, in this country where the people have a right to vote, republican leaders dare not take the side of the people against the great monopolies which have grown up within the last few years, how can they be trusted to protect the Filipinos from the corporations which are waiting to exploit the islands? (51)

    We think you get the picture that Bryan was trying to paint with all of these quotes. Republicans = bad.