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On this date, President James Monroe drew a line down the entire Atlantic Ocean and declared, "You see this line right here, Europe? That side's yours and this one's mine. Don't you even think about crossing it ever again. Or else."
They didn't know it at the time, but seventy-five years later, this U.S. foreign policy of keeping an eye on the Americas (all of them) would lead them to a war with Spain. And thus the predicament of owning the Philippine Islands. Oops…
Cubans decided they had wanted nothing more to do with Spain. Enough's enough. That's that. And other repeated words that mean no more.
Spain and Cuba never really got along that well and had falling-outs before. But this one was different. This time the Cubans meant it. They wanted to be their own country.
Cuba Libre! (Free Cuba!)
The Philippines wanted in on that revolutionary party that Cuba was throwing. They didn't like Spain either and decided to have a little revolution of their own.
With the help of radical leaders like Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines too were going after what they had their eyes set on for quite some time: independence.
Let's see how long we can stretch out this party metaphor:
Cuba and the Philippines were asking the U.S. to join their jubilant shindigs for a while, but the U.S. kept coming up with excuses. We might be busy that night…We don't really like dancing…We don't have anything to wear to that kind of party.
And then: BANG!
The USS Maine randomly explodes in the Havana Harbor and everybody starts pointing the finger at Spain. It's on at this point. The U.S. wants in. It's ready to fight.
This party just turned into a brawl.
The party premise has probably run pretty thin at this point, so let's get to the point here. After a bit of fighting the U.S. eventually sent the Navy to Manila Bay with a butt-kicker named George Dewey.
Needless to say, the U.S. demolished the vast majority of the Spanish fleets and sealed the deal on Spain's demise in the Philippines.
Another decisive victory for the U.S., this time in Cuba. After the U.S. took over San Juan Hill, Spain was on its way out and holding on to its empire by a very small thread.
True, this was an important battle, but it really became famous for another reason.
This skyrocketed the career of a certain Theodore Roosevelt. He turned into a celebrity rock-star when it became known that he and his Rough Riders took over the hill on horseback. Never mind the fact that he has probably taken way more credit for this event than he deserves—what proper celebrity hasn't?
Philippines, Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico all fall into Uncle Sam's lap on this day. The war with Spain ended with this treaty, but this was also when the U.S.'s identity crisis started to set in.
Should we remain true to the ideals of the American Revolution and grant these islands freedom and independence? Or should we continue with Spain's tradition, claiming them as territories that we own and control? These were questions that were running through the heads of politicians and average Americans alike on this day.
At this point the U.S. just couldn't take the hint that they were no longer welcome in the Philippines. They both worked well together when they fought the Spanish, but wow did they get on each other's nerves when there was nothing else to do.
The Filipinos (with the aid of the U.S.) defeated the Spanish empire and were feeling crazy good about themselves. But then the U.S. just refused to leave. Now the islanders had to deal with another imperial force. How aggravating. So, war it was.
It's election time and William Jennings Bryan wants to give another speech. Last election it was all about silver and gold. This time, empire.
Oddly enough—and totally unlike the Philippines—the U.S. government was willing to grant Cubans their independence on this day. It came with all sorts of terms and conditions, but what doesn't in the modern world?
One of these conditions included complete access to Guantanamo Bay, a major institution in the 21st century's War on Terror.
WWI has been described as the "Collision of Empires." And for good reason.
All those gimmie, gimmie, gimmie attitudes of the world's empires turned into an all-out global brawl. This war didn't spell the end for imperialism, but its popularity soon faded throughout Europe and North America.
You've got to hand it to William Jennings Bryan. He lost three presidential elections, lost the argument against empire, and lost the gold and silver debate. But you just couldn't bring him down.
He remained active in politics for quite some time after giving his "Imperialism" speech, including being a central figure of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In fact, this was probably his most famous moment of many already famous moments.
Bryan decided to use his verbose oratory skills and unyielding faith in the Christian bible to argue against the teaching of evolution in public schools. And when teacher John Scopes found himself in the middle of a trial on that very topic, Bryan simply could not refuse.
Unfortunately for Bryan, he didn't fare well in the end. Even though his side technically won the case, Bryan was totally ripped apart by the defense and the media sent all sorts of mean media attention his way. Poor Bryan: he just couldn't seem to catch a break.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have expressed it as, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
But for the thousands of Filipinos that fought and for individuals like Emilio Aguinaldo, they probably were thinking, "It's about time."
Either way, the Philippines finally are freed from imperialism on this day. Between the United States, Spain, and China all imperializing the island nation at one time or another, this was long overdue.
FYI, both Guam and Puerto Rico are still commonwealth territories of the United States.