Imperialism speech

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William Jennings Bryan, a prominent American politician in the 1890s, made a speech during his political career that warned against the harms and hubris of American imperialism. This speech was made in the context of the Spanish–American War in Cuba and in the Philippines and the aftermath. Bryan delivered his famous speech in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 8, 1900; it was entitled "Imperialism: Flag of an Empire."[1] This was the speech that is most commented on and the only speech whose main subject was imperialism from Bryan that has been transcribed. Bryan calls for a rejection of imperialism in American policy on the grounds that imperialism is directly opposed to basic American values. He makes several references throughout the speech calling upon the ideals of democracy and basic human rights.

Political context[edit]

Bryan gave the speech during his campaign for his candidacy for the presidency in the United States presidential election, 1900. Bryan ran under the banner of anti-imperialism for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party and Bryan posed anti-imperialism as the central issue of the campaign.[2] The Republican Party defended its proposed policies of annexing the Philippines as a form of expansionism that would make the United States more powerful. Before the Presidential Election of 1900, Bryan was not clearly anti-imperialist; his stance on imperialist policies had shifted over time, as seen by his initial support of the Spanish–American War and the Treaty of Paris.[3]

Content and themes[edit]

Bryan focuses on how imperialism is a moral issue for the American peoples. It is framed as an attack on McKinley's foreign policy in the context of the Spanish–American War and the discussion of the annexation of the Philippines. Bryan argues that sustaining an imperialist policy would necessitate maintaining a large standing army, cultivating a culture of militarism, and forcing the Filipinos to be subjects of the United States rather than citizens of their own state.[4] Bryan also contrasts American policy in Cuba against the situation in the Philippines; he says that giving the Cubans freedom and not doing the same with the Filipinos is contradictory and goes against the precedent set in Cuba.[5] In the speech, Bryan states that America should not use its power to spread its forces.[6] He appeals to the values he says are inherent in American democracy and that America should follow the words of its past presidents, specifically Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.[7]

He responds to the common arguments that the Republicans put forth in defense of imperialism, specifically the arguments based in the power of the United States in the international order, the commercial incentive, and the spread of Christianity.[8] First, he says that accepting an imperialist policy would abandon the heritage of American democracy that made the United States the world power it was at that time.[9] Second, he says that trade done under the mantle of colonialism would not be legitimate and would not be sustainable for long periods of time.[10] Third, he says that fighting wars in the name of Christianity is "gun-powder gospel" and would defeat the purpose of such wars.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "William Jennings Bryan: Imperialism" American Rhetoric http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/wjbryanimperialism.htm
  2. ^ Stephen Randall "The Rhetoric of Imperialism: William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt on the Philippine War" http://www2.edutech.nodak.edu/ndsta/rendahl.htm
  3. ^ Modern America "Imperialism/Anti-Imperialism" https://wikis.nyu.edu/ek6/modernamerica/index.php/Imperialism/Anti-imperialism
  4. ^ Gardner, Elizabeth (2010). "William Jennings Bryan, 'Imperialism' (8 August 1900)". Voices of Democracy. 5: 37–56. 
  5. ^ Modern America "Imperialism/Anti-Imperialism" https://wikis.nyu.edu/ek6/modernamerica/index.php/Imperialism/Anti-imperialism
  6. ^ Modern America "Imperialism/Anti-Imperialism" https://wikis.nyu.edu/ek6/modernamerica/index.php/Imperialism/Anti-imperialism
  7. ^ Modern America "Imperialism/Anti-Imperialism" https://wikis.nyu.edu/ek6/modernamerica/index.php/Imperialism/Anti-imperialism
  8. ^ Gardner, Elizabeth (2010). "William Jennings Bryan, 'Imperialism' (8 August 1900)". Voices of Democracy. 5: 37–56. 
  9. ^ Gardner, Elizabeth (2010). "William Jennings Bryan, 'Imperialism' (8 August 1900)". Voices of Democracy. 5: 37–56. 
  10. ^ Gardner, Elizabeth (2010). "William Jennings Bryan, 'Imperialism' (8 August 1900)". Voices of Democracy. 5: 37–56. 
  11. ^ Gardner, Elizabeth (2010). "William Jennings Bryan, 'Imperialism' (8 August 1900)". Voices of Democracy. 5: 37–56.