Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To the Person Sitting in Darkness



The title of this blog refers to an essay of the same name written by Mark Twain in 1901. Twain wrote the essay during the McKinley administration and likened American imperialism to a trust – which is to say, a monopoly. “The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played.” 

And Twain was also cognizant of what the American people had been led to believe. Namely, that American military adventures abroad – first in Cuba, later in the Philippines – were motivated by the following lofty ideals.


Why am I bringing this up? The McKinley administration was a long time ago. What’s past is past, you might say. The McKinley Era is long over. But, as any honest Whig will tell you, the past is always present. 

Blessed with the benefit of hindsight, there’s no mistaking what McKinley was about. McKinley was beholden to Mark Hanna. Hanna was a businessman-politician who orchestrated McKinley's campaign for the presidency, hired skilled orators to stump for McKinley, and collected generous campaign contributions from the heads of Big Business. 

McKinley’s opponent, Democrat William Jennings Bryan, had this to say, 

“When I say that the contest of 1900 is a contest between Democracy on the one hand and plutocracy on the other I do not mean to say that all our opponents have deliberately chosen to give to organized wealth a predominating influence in the affairs of the Government, but I do assert that on the important issues of the day the Republican party is dominated by those influences which constantly tend to substitute the worship of mammon for the protection of the rights of man.”
It’s no coincidence that McKinley was both a tool of Big Business and an imperialist. He sent American troops to fight and die in Cuba so that American companies could protect their economic interests there. One soldier went to the Philippines believing in lofty ideals but when he left the battlefield he said, “We came here to help, not to slaughter, these natives ... I cannot see that we are fighting for any principle now (source).”


While American soldiers were advancing imperialist aims abroad, Mark Hanna took care of the domestic front. Now, any Texas school book will tell you that Mr. Hanna was a friend to labor. It is true that he supported labor unions, but at the time, workers were breaking out in spontaneous riots owing to their deplorable working conditions, and compared to that, unions seemed preferable. And Hanna very convincingly stood up for decent working conditions.

Nonetheless, Mark Hanna took money from Standard Oil and other monopolies. The plutocrats wanted nothing more fervently than to deny William Jennings Bryan the presidency. This makes sense. They could not abide Bryan, who once said, 

“Are you rich? If yes, how did you get rich? Is somebody else poor because you are rich? Are you rich because somebody else was willing to work while you loafed around? Did you get rich by taking from the man who worked for you four-fifths of all he produced? If yes, is that sort of thing creditable to you? When you started out to get rich why didn't you do it by working yourself? Couldn't you get rich without stealing what another produced (source)?”
Words like those are simply too coarse and distasteful to the ear of an aristocrat. 

Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan were both members of the Anti-Imperialist League. And it bears emphasis that another members was labor leader Samuel Gompers. Members of the league believed – in the words of their leader, George Stalwart Boutwell, that:

Every ambitious would-be empire clarions it abroad that she is conquering the world to bring it peace, security and freedom, and is sacrificing her sons only for the most noble and humanitarian purposes.
That is a lie, and it is an ancient lie, yet generations still rise and believe it! If America ever does seek Empire, and most nations do, then planned reforms in our domestic life will be abandoned, States Rights will be abolished in order to impose a centralized government upon us for the purpose of internal repudiation of freedom, and adventures abroad.
The American Dream will then die—on battlefields all over the world—and a nation conceived in liberty will destroy liberty for Americans and impose tyranny on subject nations.