Anti Imperialist Essays

This website makes available an astonishingly rich collection of material on the anti-imperialist movements of the early 20th century. The site is edited by Jim Zwick, an American Studies scholar who has published extensively on the U.S. war in the Philippines, the anti-imperialist writings of Mark Twain, and the Anti-Imperialist League, the most important of the organizations formed to combat America’s aggressive foreign policy at the turn of the century. With thousands of pages of poetry, novels, stories, political cartoons, speeches, pamphlets, essays, and platforms alongside useful historical analyses by Zwick and others, the site is an extremely valuable resource for teachers.

The sheer size of the collection is daunting, and although the organizing principles are fairly transparent, one can easily get lost. “Literature” includes at least seven full-length novels, as well as countless poems and short stories, grouped either by author or by topic. “Essays” reproduces anti-imperialist essays, speeches, and pamphlets, including more than 50 works from the years 1898 and 1899 alone.

Clicking on “Platforms” takes one to a chronological listing of more than 40 statements of principle from various organizations in the anti-imperialist movement. The most confusing section, but also perhaps the most useful, is labeled “History.” Here, one finds various secondary sources on anti-imperialism, including several essays by Zwick. But alongside these pieces are some 16 collections of primary sources grouped not by genre and chronology, but by content. One particularly fascinating section presents a treasure trove of documents related to the African American experience in the anti-imperialist movement. Another collects articles, cartoons, and other sources related to the American pursuit of a canal through either Nicaragua or Panama. A third brings together the anti-imperialist writings of William Jennings Bryan. All of these collections are contextualized with short, useful introductory essays by Zwick.

This site contains numerous advertisements (especially for books on related topics for sale at Amazon), but these are for the most part kept to the right and left margins. Once one gets accustomed to focusing on the content in the middle of the page, the advertisements are not too distracting. The site design is straightforward and unadorned. The user familiar with the basic contents of the sections described above should be able to navigate the site easily.

A search engine prominently displayed on every page uses Google and represents an effective tool for finding related documents. By searching for such terms as “Philippines” or “Mark Twain” or “Communist Party,” one can uncover significant collections of primary sources on particular topics.

The site provides many excellent opportunities for student projects. For example, in a subsection on the “Literature” page, Zwick has collected 50 anti-imperialist responses to “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem advocating imperialism and racial hierarchy. Together, these poems, editorials, essays, and cartoons shatter any simple notion of an American consensus behind expansionist policies. Teachers might ask students to consider the different ways in which various types of authors challenged Kipling’s perspective; poems such as “The Poor Man’s Burden” or “The Black Man’s Burden” enable students to consider how African Americans and other groups may have responded to U.S. imperialism abroad.

In general, the site is best used for helping students gain insight into the cultural history of U.S. foreign policy in the early 20th century. It is less useful for examining foreign perspectives. One can, for example, learn a great deal about American responses to the war in the Philippines, but much less about the Philippine experience itself. Additionally, teachers should be aware that the collection (like all collections) bears the intellectual stamp of the collector. In this context, the brief essay on the front page of the site is useful for it situates Zwick’s interest in anti-imperialist history in the context of contemporary debates about US foreign policy.

Finally, teachers should be careful to avoid giving their students the impression that anti-imperialism represented the dominant ideology of the period. The more mainstream political cartoons collected in Latin America in Caricature1 could provide students an understanding of how American attitudes of racial and cultural superiority often translated into support for U.S. imperialism.

1 John J. Johnson, Latin America in Caricature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993).

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1898 HOME > Literature of the Spanish-American War > Mark Twain

Mark Twain



Although born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the author adopted what is one of the most famous pen names in literature, Mark Twain, from a Mississippi river slang phrase. Twain is famous as an author, satirist, essayist, newspaper contributor, and lecturer. He wrote about a myriad of topics, ranging from life along the Mississippi River, detailed in famous works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1872) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), to a collection of essays written while abroad, to political essays. Twain was an influential writer of his time and remains so today. During the Spanish-American War, Twain became a fervent anti-imperialist, even joining the Anti-Imperialist League. His sentiments about the war and the war in the Phillippines were published nationwide.

Works of related interest

  • Twain, Mark. Mark Twain's Autobiography.
  • Paine, Albert Bigelow (ed). Mark Twain's Letters. New York: Harper & Bros., 1917. LCCN: 17-30756 r94.
  • Zwick, Jim (ed). Mark Twain's weapons of satire: anti-imperialist writings on the Philippine-American War. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992.


From the New York Herald, October 15, 1900:

I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with he Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Phillippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Phillippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. . .

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

A Boston Herald transcript of a speech he gave in 1900 began thus:

Oh, you have been doing many things in this time that I have been absent; you have done lots of things, some that are well worth remembering, too. Now, we have fought a righteous war since I have been gone, and that is rare in history--a righteous war is so rare that it is almost unknown in history; but by the grace of that war we set Cuba free, and we joined her to those three or four free nations that exist on this earth; and we started out to set those poor Filipinos free too, and why, why, why that most righteous purpose of ours has apparently miscarried I suppose I never shall know.

In a 1906 essay about the Moro massacre in the Phillippines, which was not published until after his death, Twain criticized the military:

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, "Kill or capture those savages." Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it had been for eight years in our army out there--the taste of Christian butchers.

In a February 1901 article titled, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," he continued to criticize the U.S.:

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .

And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one--our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

And another essay on the American flag, also from 1901:

I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Phillippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I conceded and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.

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