Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 301–314 | Cite as

Transatlantic dimensions of the American anti-imperialist movement, 1899–1909

  • M. Patrick CullinaneEmail author


The common perception of the American anti-imperialist movement that opposed US expansion after the Spanish-American War is one that was driven by domestic concerns like economics, security and political traditions. While this was certainly a component, there also existed a transnational element that was not spurred by domestic motives, but rather by the international context. Two particular contexts captured the attention of anti-imperialists in these years: the Boer War and the reform of the Congo Free State. The anti-imperialists presented the Boer War as a challenge to traditional US notions of republican brotherhood and as a test of the Anglo-American relationship. In the case of the Congo, they argued that the atrocities in that territory were a challenge to the American understanding of human rights. Both cases also exhibit the development of the Anglo-American relationship and international context that was central to anti-imperialism.


anti-imperialism Boers Congo militarism human rights 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The first standard account of the anti-imperialist movement was that of Fred Harvey Harrington who argued that the movement ‘was based almost exclusively on grounds of abstract political principle’, and the ideas of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Harrington does not recognise international influences. The influx of research during the Vietnam-era added great depth to Harrington’s essay, but still failed to add an international dimension to the influences of the movement. The publications of Paul Kramer and Jim Zwick in more recent years have elaborated on the transnational influences on the movement. Fred Harvey Harrington, ‘The Anti-Imperialist Movement in the United States, 1898-1900’, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 22 (September 1935): 211–30Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968)Google Scholar
  3. 1b.
    E. Berkeley Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States the Great Debate, 1890-1920 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 1c.
    Richard E. Welch, ‘Atrocities in the Philippines: The Indictment and the Response’, The Pacific Historical Review 43 (May 1974): 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 1d.
    Daniel B. Schirmer, Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Schenk-man Publishing Company, 1972)Google Scholar
  6. 1e.
    Jim Zwick, ‘The Anti-Imperialist Movement, 1898-1921’, in Whose America? The War of 1898 and the Battles to Define the Nation, ed. Virginia M. Bouvier (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2001), 171–92Google Scholar
  7. 1f.
    Paul A. Kramer, ‘Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and US Empires, 1880-1910’, in The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives, ed. Anne L. Foster and Julian Go (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 43–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 2.
    Robert L. Beisner, ‘The Anti-Imperialists’ Case and Failure’, in Imperial Surge: The United States Abroad, The 1890s-Early 1900s, eds. Thomas G Paterson and Stephen G Rabe (Lexington: Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992), 113.Google Scholar
  9. 3.
    Another issue with the earlier historical readings of the anti-imperialists is that they do not look beyond the election of 1900 for ways in which the movement developed. Harrington, Beisner and Schirmer only examined three years of anti-imperialist activity, 1898-1900. Tompkins book does mention the activities of the movement past 1900, but does not give any analysis or provide any context to the movement after 1904. Jim Zwick’s work is the most well-rounded analysis of the movement after 1900, and he concurs that more attention should be given to the movement after that year. Jim Zwick, Confronting Imperialism - Essays on Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League (West Consho-hocken, Pennsylvania: Infinity Publishing, 2007), 53.Google Scholar
  10. 4.
    No explanations for the Boer War overlook the economic and mining motivations of the British. Most historians that argue that economics were primary imagine Britain as a classic mercantile empire. Of course part of the race for resources in 1899 included a hegemonic battle between the nations of Europe and in the 1890s Britain’s fear of Germany as an inevitable rival may have contributed to her actions in South Africa. For an examination and debate on both empire and hegemony in these cases see, Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century: A Study of Empire and Expansion (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1976)Google Scholar
  11. 4a.
    Russell Ally, Gold and Empire: The Bank of England and South Africa’s Gold Producers, 1886-1926 (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1994)Google Scholar
  12. 4b.
    Deryck M. Schreuder, The Scramble for Southern Africa, 1877–1895 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980)Google Scholar
  13. 4c.
    Ian Phimister, ‘The Absent Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain’, English Historical Review 120 (2005): 1061–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 4d.
    Martin Kroger, ‘Imperial Germany and the Boer War’, in The International Impact of the Boer War, ed. Keith Wilson (Durham: Acumen, 2001), 25–42.Google Scholar
  15. 5.
    Deryck M. Schreuder, Gladstone and Kruger: Liberal Government and Colonial ‘Home Rule’, 1880-1885 (London: Routledge, 1969)Google Scholar
  16. 5a.
    Diana Rose Cammack, An Illusion of Unity: Uitlander Politics Before the Anglo-Boer War (Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 1984).Google Scholar
  17. 6.
    For a more extensive breakdown of the reasons for the Boer War as well as its historiographical developments and transnational context see, Peter Henshaw, ‘The Origins of the Boer War: The Periphery, the Centre and the “Man on the Spot”’, in The International Impact of the Boer War, ed. Keith Wilson (Durham: Acumen, 2001), 8–24.Google Scholar
  18. 7.
    Leslie Butler excellently imagines the battle as one between the Liberal and Conservative Parties of Gladstone and Disraeli. Paul Kramer uses race to disseminate a similar binary Anglo-Saxon identity. Alan Dobson highlights security and defense policies. There are several other examples of this dichotomy in US-UK relations. This impression of a dual-British identity was not only an American conception. Germany also made it clear that their perception of Britain was also a duality of tyranny and liberty. Leslie Butler, Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 224–40Google Scholar
  19. 7a.
    Paul Kramer, ‘Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and US Empires, 1880-1910’, in The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives, eds. Julian Go and Anne L. Foster (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 43–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 7b.
    Sidney Whitman and Professor Theodor Mommsen, ‘German Feeling Toward England and America’, North American Review 170, no. 519 (1900): 240–4Google Scholar
  21. 7c.
    Alan Dobson, Anglo-American Relations in the Twentieth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 18–29.Google Scholar
  22. 8.
    Bradford Perkins, The Great Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1895–1914 (New York: Antheneum, 1968), 10–15.Google Scholar
  23. 9.
    Carl Schurz is perhaps the best example of an anti-imperialist labeled an Anglophobe who went out of his way to present himself as neutral when it came to Britain. As a German immigrant he was of that class that was predisposed to Anglophobia, but Schurz frequently argued that he was neither an Anglophobe nor Anglophile. ‘Speech to the Chicago Mass Meeting, December 5, 1901’, Carl Schurz Papers, Library of Congress.Google Scholar
  24. 10.
    George S. Boutwell, Address by the President, 1st Annual Meeting of the New England Anti-Imperialist League, November 25, 1899’, in Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, ed. M. Patrick Cullinane, 4–10, docs/1stAnnualMeeting.pdf (accessed July 1, 2008).Google Scholar
  25. 11.
  26. 12.
  27. 13.
    Congressional Record (6 December 1899), 98; (2 February 1900), 1443.Google Scholar
  28. 14.
    John MacMillan, On Liberal Peace: Democracy, War, and the International Order (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1998), 240–60; ‘Pacific Settlement of International Disputes’, in Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949, ed. Charles I. Beavans, Vol. 1 ‘Multilateral, 1776-1917’ (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968), 230-46.Google Scholar
  29. 15.
    Richard B. Mulanax, The Boer War in American Politics and Diplomacy (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1994), 148–9.Google Scholar
  30. 16.
    ‘Montagu White’s Statement’, New York Times, 3 February 1900.Google Scholar
  31. 17.
    ‘Gossip of the Capital’, New York Tribune, 4 February 1900Google Scholar
  32. 18.
    ‘Plans of Boer Envoys’, Chicago Daily, 16 May 1900.Google Scholar
  33. 19.
    John H. Ferguson, American Diplomacy and the Boer War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939), 145–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 20.
    Congressional Record (7 May 1900), 5210-5; (29 May 1900), 6190-2.Google Scholar
  35. 21.
    Congressional Record (29 May 1900), 6190.Google Scholar
  36. 22.
    Congressional Record (27 March 1900), 3391.Google Scholar
  37. 23.
    C.W Van der Hoogt, The Story of the Boers (New York: The Bradley Company, 1900), 69.Google Scholar
  38. 24.
    Fred Harvey Harrington, ‘The Anti-Imperialist Movement in the United States, 1898-1900’, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 22 (September 1935): 211–30.Google Scholar
  39. 25.
    ‘Regrets Boer Telegram’, Chicago Tribune, 8 July 1901; Alleged Boer Atrocities’, New York Tribune, 8 July 1901; ‘British Have Been Very Cruel to Brughers’, Los Angeles Times, 3 August 1901; Van der Hoogt, The Story of the Boers, 63.Google Scholar
  40. 26.
    ‘Charles D. Pierce to William Augustus Croffut, July 28, 1900’, William Augustus Croffut Papers, Library of Congress.Google Scholar
  41. 27.
    Muriel E. Chamberlain, The Scramble for Africa (London: Longman, 1999).Google Scholar
  42. 28.
    United States Department of State, Annual Message of the President, December 4, 1883’, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883), ix.Google Scholar
  43. 29.
    ‘Declaration as to the Intention of the International Association of the Congo and the Recognition of its Flag by the United States, April 22, 1884’, in Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols, and Agreements between the United States and Other Powers, 1776-1909, ed. William M. Malloy (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), 327-8.Google Scholar
  44. 30.
    ‘National Capital Topics, Naval Intelligence’, New York Times, 16 June 1885.Google Scholar
  45. 31.
    For an account of George Washington Williams’ report see, John Hope Franklin, George Washington Williams: A Biography (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 180–200, 243-80.Google Scholar
  46. 32.
    William Roger Louis and Jean Stengers, E. D. Morel’s History of the Congo Reform Movement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 87–92.Google Scholar
  47. 33.
    William Roger Louis, ‘Casement and the Congo’, The Journal of African History 5 (1964): 102.Google Scholar
  48. 34.
    Sir Roger Casement, The Eyes of Another Race: Roger Casement’s Congo Report and 1903 Diary, eds. Seamas O’Siochain and Michael O’Sullivan (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  49. 35.
    Robert E. Park, ‘Trying to Reform the Congo State’, Chicago Tribune, 2 August 1904.Google Scholar
  50. 36.
  51. 37.
    Paul McStallworth, The United States and the Congo Question (Ohio State University: Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, 1954), 226.Google Scholar
  52. 38.
    ‘The President’s Wise Choice’, Washington Post, 9 October 1904.Google Scholar
  53. 39.
  54. 40.
    Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy (Boston: R. Warren, Co., 1905), 33–4.Google Scholar
  55. 41.
    Hunt Hawkins, ‘Mark Twain’s Involvement with the Congo Reform Movement: “A Furious Indignation”’, New England Quarterly 51 (1978): 156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 42.
    ‘The Wrongs of the Congo Free State’, Friend’s Intelligencer, 7 October 1905.Google Scholar
  57. 43.
    Elihu Root wrote a letter to Michigan Representative Edwin Denby at the end of February, 1906 indicating that the Roosevelt administration was content with its policy of keeping out of Congo affairs. He particularly noted that the US would not be able to effectively investigate human rights violations. This letter to Denby is celebrated by Root to Belgian Ambassador Wilson which makes Root’s turn-around even more remarkable. A flurry of propaganda emerged from the CRA in the early months of 1906 that surely contributed to this. United States Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, December 3, 1906, Part I (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 88–9, 94.Google Scholar
  58. 44.
    Jerome L. Sternstein, ‘King Leopold II, Nelson W Aldrich, and the Strange Beginnings of American Economic Penetration of the Congo’, African Historical Studies 2 (1969), 198.Google Scholar
  59. 45.
    ‘American Agent for Congo’, New York Times, 24 June 1906.Google Scholar
  60. 46.
    ‘Ryan Gets Rubber Lands?’, New York Times, 15 November 1906; ‘Opening Up the Congo’, New York Tribune, 20 November 1906.Google Scholar
  61. 47.
  62. 48.
    ‘Leopold Denies Charges’, New York Times, 11 December 1906.Google Scholar
  63. 49.
    ‘Morgan’s Clerk Out’, Washington Post, 13 December 1906; Aids in Congo Lobby’, Chicago Tribune, 12 December 1906.Google Scholar
  64. 50.
    Congressional Record (10 December 1906), 192.Google Scholar
  65. 51.
    ‘Wants a Congo Inquiry’, New York Tribune, 11 December 1906.Google Scholar
  66. 52.
    Gary Bass, Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College CorkCorkIreland

Personalised recommendations