The “Divine Mission”
War in the Philippines
And of all our race He has marked the American people as his chosen nation
to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission
of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness
possible to man.
Senator Albert J. Beveridge, 1900
I thought it would be a great thing to give a whole lot of freedom to the
Filipinos, but I guess now it’s better to let them give it to themselves.
Mark Twain, 1900
AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Americans and Filipinos fought bitterly for control of the Philippine Islands. The United States viewed the Pacific islands as a stepping-stone to the markets and natural resources of Asia. The Philippines, which had belonged to Spain for three hundred years, wanted independence, not another imperial ruler. For the Americans, the acquisition of a colony thousands of miles from its shores required a break with their anti-imperial traditions. To justify such a break, the administration of William McKinley proclaimed that its policies benefited both Americans and Filipinos by advancing freedom, Christian benevolence, and prosperity. Most of the Congress, the press, and the public rallied to the flag, embracing the war as a patriotic adventure and civilizing mission. Dissent, however, flourished among a minority called anti-imperialists. Setting precedents for all wartime presidents who would follow, McKinley enhanced the power of the chief executive to build a public consensus in support of an expansionist foreign policy.
By promoting national unity and progress, McKinley successfully navigated the transition of the United States to great power status. A skilled