Congressional Record

Author: George Frisbie Hoar  | Date: April 17, 1900

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Right of Self-Government (1900)


. . . WE are told if we oppose the policy of our imperialistic and expanding friends we are bound to suggest some policy of our own as a substitute for theirs. We are asked what we would do in this difficult emergency. It is a question not difficult to answer. I for one am ready to answer it.

1. I would declare now that we will not take these islands to govern them against their will.

2. I would reject a cession of sovereignty which implies that sovereignty may be bought and sold and delivered without the consent of the people. Spain had no rightful sovereignty over the Philippine Islands. She could not rightfully sell it to us. We could not rightfully buy it from her.

3. I would require all foreign governments to keep out of these islands.

4. I would offer to the people of the Philippines our help in maintaining order until they have a reasonable opportunity to establish a government of their own.

5. I would aid them by advice, if they desire it, to set up a free and independent government.

6. I would invite all the great powers of Europe to unite in an agreement that that independence shall not be interfered with by us, by themselves, or by any one of them with the consent of the others. As to this I am not so sure. I should like quite as well to tell them it is not to be done whether they consent or not.

7. I would declare that the United States will enforce the same doctrine as applicable to the Philippines that we declared as to Mexico and Haiti and the South American Republics. It is true that the Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine based largely on our regard for our own interests, is not applicable either in terms or in principle to a distant Asiatic territory. But undoubtedly, having driven out Spain, we are bound, and have the right, to secure to the people we have liberated an opportunity, undisturbed and in peace, to establish a new government for themselves.

8. I would then, in a not distant future, leave them to work out their own salvation, as every nation on earth, from the beginning of time, has wrought out its own salvation. . . . To attempt to confer the gift of freedom from without, or to impose freedom from without on any people, is to disregard all the lessons of history. It is to attempt

"A gift of that which is not to be given By all the blended powers of earth and heaven."

9. I would strike out of your legislation the oath of allegiance to us and substitute an oath of allegiance to their own country. . . .

Mr. President, there lies at the bottom of what is called imperialism a doctrine which, if adopted, is to revolutionize the world in favor of despotism. It directly conflicts with and contradicts the doctrine on which our own revolution was founded, and with which, so far, our example has revolutionized the world. It is the doctrine that when, in the judgment of any one nation or any combination of nations, the institutions which a people set up and maintain for themselves are disapproved they have a right to overthrow that government and to enter upon and possess it themselves. . . .

Our imperialistic friends seem to have forgotten the use of the vocabulary of liberty. They talk about giving good government. "We shall give them such a government as we think they are fitted for." "We shall give them a better government than they had before." Why, Mr. President, that one phrase conveys to a free man and a free people the most stinging of insults. In that little phrase, as in a seed, is contained the germ of all despotism and of all tyranny. Government is not a gift. Free government is not to be given by all the blended powers of earth and heaven. It is a birthright. It belongs, as our fathers said and as their children said, as Jefferson said and as President McKinley said, to human nature itself. There can be no good government but self-government. . . .

I have failed to discover in the speech, public or private, of the advocates of this war, or in the press which supports it and them, a single expression anywhere of a desire to do justice to the people of the Philippine Islands, or of a desire to make known to the people of the United States the truth of the case. . . .

The catchwords, the cries, the pithy and pregnant phrases of which all their speech is full, all mean dominion. They mean perpetual dominion. When a man tells you that the American flag must not be hauled down where it has once floated, or demands of a shouting audience, "Who will haul it down?" if he mean anything, he means that that people shall be under our dominion forever. The man who says, "We will not treat with them till they submit; we will not deal with men in arms against the flag," says, in substance, the same thing. One thing there has been, at least, given to them as Americans not to say. There is not one of these gentlemen who will rise in his place and affirm that if he were a Filipino he would not do exactly as the Filipinos are doing; that he would not despise them if they were to do otherwise. So much, at least, they owe of respect to the dead and buried history—the dead and buried history, so far as they can slay and bury it—of their country.

Why, the tariff schemes which are proposed are schemes in our interest and not in theirs. If you propose to bring tobacco from Porto Rico or from the Philippine Islands on the ground that it is for the interest of the people whom you are undertaking to govern, for their best interests to raise it and sell it to you, every imperialist in Connecticut will be up in arms. The nerve in the pocket is still sensitive, though the nerve in the heart may be numb. You will not let their sugar come here to compete with the cane sugar of Louisiana or the beet sugar of California or the Northwest, and in determining that question you mean to think not of their interest but of yours. The good government you are to give them is a government under which their great productive and industrial interests, when peace comes, are to be totally and absolutely disregarded by their government. You are not only proposing to do that, but you expect to put another strain on the Constitution to accomplish it.

Why, Mr. President, the atmosphere of both legislative chambers, even now, is filled with measures proposing to govern and tax these people for our interest, and not for theirs. Your men who are not alarmed at the danger to constitutional liberty are up in arms when there is danger to tobacco. . . .

Is there any man so bold as to utter in seriousness the assertion that where the American flag has once been raised it shall never be hauled down? I have heard it said that to haul down or to propose to haul down this national emblem where it has once floated is poltroonery. Will any man say it was poltroonery when Paul Jones landed on the northeast coast of England that he took his flag away with him when he departed? Was Scott a poltroon, or was Polk a poltroon? Was Taylor a poltroon? Was the United States a nation of poltroons when they retired from the City of Mexico or from Vera Cruz without leaving the flag behind them? . . .

Mr. President, this talk that the American flag is never to be removed where it has once floated is the silliest and wildest rhetorical flourish ever uttered in the ears of an excited populace. No baby ever said anything to another baby more foolish.

Now, what are the facts as to the Philippine Islands and the American flag? We have occupied a single city, part of one of four hundred islands, and with a population of 120,000 or thereabouts out of 10,000,000. The Spanish forces were invested and hemmed in by the people of those islands, who had risen to assert their own freedom when we got there. Now, what kind of Americanism, what kind of patriotism, what kind of love of liberty is it to say that we are to turn our guns on that patriot people and wrest from them the freedom that was almost within their grasp and hold these islands for our own purposes in subjection and by right of conquest because the American flag ought not to be hauled down where it has once floated, or, for the baser and viler motive still, that we can make a few dollars a year out of their trade?

, 56 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington, 1900) XXXIII, 4303–4305 passim, April 17, 1900.


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Chicago: George Frisbie Hoar, "Right of Self-Government (1900)," Congressional Record in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2023,

MLA: Hoar, George Frisbie. "Right of Self-Government (1900)." Congressional Record, Vol. XXXIII, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Hoar, GF, 'Right of Self-Government (1900)' in Congressional Record. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2023, from