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How U.S. Became Imperialist Power

May 30, 1998

The U.S. Senate debated long and bitterly over the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and established America as an imperialist power.

The treaty brought three ex-Spanish colonies _ the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam _ under the U.S. flag. A fourth, Cuba, became independent under close U.S. supervision.

Sen. Benjamin R. Tillman, D-S.C., accused Republican President William McKinley of going to war against Spain to widen the market opportunities for American industry.

``The commercial instinct ... is pressing this country madly to the final and ultimate annexation of these people regardless of their own wishes,″ he declared.

Another anti-expansionist Democrat, George Vest of Missouri, said the Constitution did not authorize a president to hold territory permanently as a colony.

But an expansionist mood prevailed in the country, fed by a jingoistic press. The Navy viewed Puerto Rico as a Caribbean sentinel for a Panama canal soon to be built. Business leaders viewed the Philippines as a steppingstone to China, a huge potential market.

McKinley himself spoke of a divine mission. He said he had walked the White House floors at night praying for guidance on the Philippines, and finally saw ``there was nothing left for us to do but take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.″

The treaty was ratified on Feb. 6, 1899, by a vote of 57-27, barely over the required two-thirds majority.

A downhearted Mark Twain, declaring himself an anti-imperialist, wrote afterward, ``I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.″

The Philippines gained independence in 1946, but the others remain U.S. possessions.

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