God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902


When the U.S. liberated the Philippines from Spanish rule in 1898, the exploit was hailed at home as a great moral victory, an instance of Uncle Sam freeing an oppressed country from colonial tyranny. The next move, however, was hotly contested: should the U.S. annex the archipelago? Thedisputants did agree on one point: that the United States was divinely appointed to bring democracy--and with it, white Protestant culture--to the rest of the world. They were, in the words of U.S. Senator Albert Beveridge, "God's arbiters," a civilizing force with a righteous role to play on theworld stage. Mining letters, speeches, textbooks, poems, political cartoons and other sources, Susan K. Harris examines the role of religious rhetoric and racial biases in the battle over annexation. She offers a provocative reading both of the debates' religious framework and of the evolution of Christiannational identity within the U.S. The book brings to life the personalities who dominated the discussion, figures like the bellicose Beveridge and the segregationist Senator Benjamin Tillman. It also features voices from outside U.S. geopolitical boundaries that responded to the Americans' ventureinto global imperialism: among them England's "imperial" poet Rudyard Kipling, Nicaragua's poet/diplomat Ruben Dario, and the Philippines' revolutionary leaders Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini. At the center of this dramatis personae stands Mark Twain, an influential partisan who was, formany, the embodiment of America. Twain had supported the initial intervention but quickly changed his mind, arguing that the U.S. decision to annex the archipelago was a betrayal of the very principles the U.S. claimed to promote. Written with verve and animated by a wide range of archival research, God's Arbiters reveals the roots of current debates over textbook content, evangelical politics, and American exceptionalism - shining light on our own times as it recreates the culture surrounding America's global mission at theturn into the twentieth century.


“What then is the American, this new man?”

—J. Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, 1782

“We are a Christian nation.”

—Senator Henry U. Johnson, 1899

“I am an anti-imperialist,” Mark Twain announced to reporters in New York on October 15, 1900, upon arriving home after a nine-year sojourn abroad. “I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” But Twain immediately amended his declaration, noting that his anti-imperialism was new. “I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist,” he recalled,

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 thought it would be a real
good thing to do.

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three cen
turies. 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.

However, the New York Herald continued, Twain had changed his mind. “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 . . .

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