Imperialism, Evolution and Social Darwinism

What you should know:

            Evolution and Social Darwinism.

What you should understand:

            Scientific theories were applied to nations and were used as justifications for imperialism.

What you should be able to do:

Analyze documents in order to determine how Social Darwinism was used to justify imperialism.

War and oppression have always been components of human history; however with the advent of Darwin's theory of evolution man had a new justification for his cruelty. Recall that the prime component of Darwin's ideas revolves around the notion that life progresses by natural selection - the survival of the fittest. Couple this with the racist teachings in the scientific world of his day and you have the rational to pursue any exploitive agenda. "Might makes right", so why not declare yourself the master race and conquer others?

Assignment: Read the following excerpts and answer the questions.

Imperialist Reading Questions:

  1. How do both Roosevelt and Josiah Strong use Social Darwinism justify US expansion?
  2. Are their arguments logical? Why/why not?
  3. What examples do they give to prove their arguments (be specific!)?
  4. What is your personal response to their reasoning?

Anti Imperialist Reading Questions:

Anti- Imperialist Platform:

  1. What is the Anti-Imperialist argument?
  2. What evidence do they use to support it?
  3. How do the anti-imperialists use Locke theories to support their claim?
  4. Who is the targeted audience of this speech? What does the author urge the reader to do?

Ruben Dario: Translate this poem stanza by stanza to determine what Dario is saying to Roosevelt about the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (Europe must stay out of Latin America...) and decision to build the Panama Canal. You may write directly on the poem.

Mark Twain: What is the argument against the Pilipino War? Sound familiar?



Social Darwinism:

Within the human species, nations are locked in a struggle for survival. Everywhere, civilized nations are supplanting barbarous nations. Advanced civilization, obviously, has inherited valuable traits from its ancestors. Underdeveloped cultures, except in hostile climates, will soon die off. Therefore, natural order obligates powerful, civilized nations to appropriate the limited resources of the weak.


Teddy Roosevelt
Inaugural Address (excerpted)

The Philippines offer a yet graver problem. Their population includes halfcaste and native Christians, warlike Moslems, and wild pagans. Many of their people are utterly unfit for self-government, and show no signs of becoming fit. Others may in time become fit but at present can only take part in self- government under a wise supervision, at once firm and beneficent. We have driven Spanish tyranny from the islands. If we now let it be replaced by savage anarchy, our work has been for harm and not for good. I have scant patience with those who fear to undertake the task of governing the Philippines, and who openly avow that they do fear to undertake it, or that they shrink from it because of the expense and trouble; but I have even scanter patience with those who make a pretense of humanitarianism to hide and cover their timidity and who cant about "liberty" and the "consent of the governed," in order to excuse themselves for their unwillingness to play the part of men. Their doctrines, if carried out, would make it incumbent upon us to leave the Apaches of Arizona to work out their own salvation, and to decline to interfere in a single Indian reservation. Their doctrines condemn your forefathers and mine for ever having settled in these United States.

England's rule in India and Egypt has been of great benefit to England, for it has trained up generations of men accustomed to look at the larger and loftier side of public life. It has been of even greater benefit to India and Egypt. And finally, and most of all, it has advanced the cause of civilization. So, if we do our duty aright in the Philippines, we will add to that national renown which is the highest and finest part of national life, will greatly benefit the people of the Philippine Islands, and, above all, we will play our part well in the great work of uplifting mankind. But to do this work, keep ever in mind that we must show in a very high degree the qualities of courage, of honesty, and of good judgment.

Josiah Strong
on Anglo-Saxon Predominance, 1891

…the highest Christian…and…civil liberty… are the forces which, in the past, have contributed most to the elevation of the human race, and they must continue to be, in the future, the most efficient ministers to its progress. It follows, then, that the Anglo-Saxon, as the great representative of these two ideas, the despositary of these two greatest blessings, sustains peculiar relations to the world's future, is divinely commissioned to be, in a peculiar sense, his brother's keeper...

Mr. Darwin is not only disposed to see, in the superior vigor of our people, an illustration of his favorite theory of natural selection, but even intimates that the world's history thus far has been simply preparatory for our future, and tributary to it. He says: "There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection; for the more energetic, restless, and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best…

Among the most striking features of the Anglo-Saxon is his money-making power of increasing importance in the widening commerce of the world's future…

Again, another marked characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon is what may be called an instinct or genius for colonizing. His unequaled energy, his indomitable perseverance, and his personal independence, made him a pioneer. He excels all others in pushing his way into new countries. It was those in whom this tendency was strongest that came to America, and this inherited tendency has been further developed by the westward sweep of successive generations across the continent…

It seems to me that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to come in the world's future….There are no more new worlds. The unoccupied arable lands of the earth are limited, and will soon be taken. The time is coming when the pressure of population on the means of subsistence will be felt here as it is now felt in Europe and Asia. Then will the world enter upon a new stage of its history-the final competition of races, for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled. Long before the thousand millions are here, the mighty centrifugal tendency, inherent in this stock and strengthened in the United States, will assert itself. Then this race of unequaled energy,

with all the majesty of numbers and the might of wealth behind it-the representative, let us hope, of the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilization-having developed peculiarly aggressive traits calculated to impress its institutions upon mankind, will spread itself over the earth. If I read not amiss, this powerful race will move down upon Mexico, down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond. And can any one doubt that the results of this competition of races will be the "survival of the fittest?" "Any people," says Dr. Bushnell, "that is physiologically advanced in culture, though it be only in a degree beyond another which is mingled with it on strictly equal terms, is sure to live down and finally live out its inferior. Nothing can save the inferior race but a ready and pliant assimilation. Whether the feebler and more abject races are going to be regenerated and raised up, is already, very much of a question. What if it should be God's plan to people the world with better and finer material?"


Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League

(October 18, 1899).

We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is "criminal aggression" and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our government.

We earnestly condemn the policy of the present national administration in the Philippines. It seeks to extinguish the spirit of 1776 in those islands. We deplore the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, whose bravery deserves admiration even in an unjust war. We denounce the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless horror. We protest against the extension of American sovereignty by Spanish methods.

We demand the immediate cessation of the war against liberty, begun by Spain and continued by us. We urge that Congress be promptly convened to announce to the Filipinos our purpose to concede to them the independence for which they have so long fought and which of right is theirs.

The United States have always protested against the doctrine of international law which permits the subjugation of the weak by the strong. A self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people. The United States cannot act upon the ancient heresy that might makes right.

Imperialists assume that with the destruction of self-government in the Philippines by American hands, all opposition here will cease. This is a grievous error. Much as we abhor the war of "criminal aggression" in the Philippines, greatly as we regret that the blood of the Filipinos is on American hands, we more deeply resent the betrayal of American institutions at home. The real firing line is not in the suburbs of Manila. The foe is of our own household. The attempt of 1861 was to divide the country. That of 1899 is to destroy its fundamental principles and noblest ideals.

Whether the ruthless slaughter of the Filipinos shall end next month or next year is but an incident in a contest that must go on until the declaration of independence and the constitution of the United States are rescued from the hands of their betrayers. Those who dispute about standards of value while the foundation of the republic is undermined will be listened to as little as those who would wrangle about the small economies of the household while the house is on fire. The training of a great people for a century, the aspiration for liberty of a vast immigration are forces that will hurl aside those who in the delirium of conquest seek to destroy the character of our institutions.

We deny that the obligation of all citizens to support their government in times of grave national peril applies to the present situation. If an administration may with impunity ignore the issues upon which it was chosen, deliberately create a condition of war anywhere on the face of the globe, debauch the civil service for spoils to promote the adventure, organize a truth-suppressing censorship, and demand of all citizens a suspension of judgement and their unanimous support while it chooses to continue the fighting, representative government itself is imperiled.

We propose to contribute to the defeat of any person or party that stands for the forcible subjugation of any people. We shall oppose for re-election all who in the white house or in congress betray American liberty in pursuit of un-American ends. We still hope that both of our great political parties will support and defend the declaration of independence in the closing campaign of the century.

We hold with Abraham Lincoln, that "no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. When the white man governs himself, that is self-government, but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism." "Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it."

We cordially invite the co-operation of all men and women who remain loyal to the declaration of independence and the constitution of the United States.


Citation: American Anti-Imperialist League. "Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League." Text from Carl Schurz, The Policy of Imperialism, Liberty Tract No. 4 (Chicago: American Anti-Imperialist League, 1899). In Jim Zwick, ed., Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898-1935.


Rubén Darío (1867-1916): To Roosevelt

 Theodore Roosevelt was the individual who most represented the US incursions into Latin America that outraged even nonpolitical poets such as Rubén Darío (Nicaragua, 1867-1916). Latin Americans had admired the energy, wealth, and democracy of the United States, but now they feared the bullying of their northern neighbor. President Roosevelt supported a 1903 revolution in Panama that resulted in the annexation by the U.S. of territory for the Panama Canal, and in 1904 proclaimed a coorollary to the Monroe Doctrine which justified the use of the U.S. military to "police" Latin America.


It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt Whitman,
that I should come to you, Hunter,
primitive and modern, simple and complicated,
with something of Washington and more of Nimrod.

You are the United States,
you are the future invader
of the naive America that has Indian blood,
that still prays to Jesus Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are the proud and strong exemplar of your race;
you are cultured, you are skillful; you oppose Tolstoy.
And breaking horses, or murdering tigers,
you are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar.
(You are a professor of Energy
as today's madmen say.)

You think that life is fire, that progress is eruption,
that wherever you shoot you hit the future.


The United States is potent and great.
When you shake there is a deep tremblor
that passes through the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If you clamor, it is heard like the roaring of a lion.
Hugo already said it to Grant: The stars are yours.
(The Argentine sun, ascending, barely shines,
and the Chilean star rises...) You are rich.
You join the cult of Hercules to the cult of Mammon,
and illuminating the road of easy conquest,
Liberty raises its torch in New York.


But our America, that has had poets
since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
that has walked in the footprints of great Bacchus
who learned Pan's alphabet at once; that consulted the stars, that knew Atlantis
whose resounding name comes to us from Plato,
that since the remote times of its life
has lived on light, on fire, on perfume, on love.

America of the great Montezuma, of the Inca,
the fragrant America of Christopher Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America in which noble Cuahtemoc said:
"I'm not in a bed of roses"; that America
that trembles in hurricanes and lives on love,
it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and barbarous soul.

And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates, and it is the daughter of the Sun.
Be careful. Viva Spanish America!
There are a thousand cubs loosed from the Spanish lion.
Roosevelt, one would have to be, through God himself,
the-fearful Rifleman and strong Hunter,
to manage to grab us in your iron claws.

And, although you count on everything, you lack one thing: God!
Translated by Bonnie Frederick



Mark Twain, To the Person Sitting in Darkness (excerpted), 1901


In 1901 Mark Twain was world famous. He was not only the author of works like Tom Sawyer and Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn; he was also a sought-after speaker and humorist. But he saw nothing funny about the imperial policy
of the US. He published this satiric protest in The North American Review. One of Twain’s concerns was that in implementing
its imperial policies claiming to civilize the backward people’s of the world, the US would itself indulge in acts of
barbarism. That fear was realized in the US military campaign against the Filipinos. The fighting was especially fierce on
the island of Samar. In order to defeat the enemy, US troops burned villages, killed wounded soldiers, and tortured and
killed civilians. There were also reports of rape and robbery. The war was finally brought to an end when US troops dressed
in enemy uniforms to infiltrate enemy headquarters and capture the rebel leader, General Aguinaldo. The US justified this
violation of the code of war agreed upon by all “civilized” nations because Aguinaldo had not been a signatory of the Hague
Convention that ratified the code. Thus in dealing with him, the US claimed to have no obligation to follow the code. In
contrast, because Aguinaldo and his troops were combating the US, which had agreed to the code, the US claimed that the
rebels should be held accountable to it. Aguinaldo was captured a year after Twain’s piece appeared, so Twain cannot refer to
it, but his satire does make us wonder who sits in light and who sits in darkness. —BROOK THOMAS


Shall we? That is, shall we go on conferring our Civilization upon the peoples that sit in darkness, or shall we give those poor things a rest? Shall we bang right ahead in our old-fashioned, loud, pious way, and commit the new century to the game; or shall we sober up and sit down and think it over first?

Extending the Blessings of Civilization to our Brother who Sits in Darkness has been a good trade and has paid well, on the whole -- but not enough, in my judgement, to make any considerable risk advisable…. The most of those People that Sit in Darkness have been furnished with more light than was good for them or profitable for us. We have been unwise….

Christendom has been playing it badly of late years, and must certainly suffer by it. She has been so eager to get every stake, that the People who Sit in Darkness have noticed it, and have begun to show alarm…. This is not well. The Blessings of Civilization are all right. In the right kind of a light, and at a proper distance, with the goods a little out of focus, they furnish this desirable exhibit to the Gentlemen who Sit in Darkness:


There. Is it good? Sir, it is pie…. But not if we abuse it…. it is merely an outside cover, gay and pretty and attractive, displaying the special patterns of our Civilization which we reserve for Home Consumption, while inside the bale is the Actual Thing that the Customer Sitting in Darkness buys with his blood and tears and land and liberty.

We all know that the Business [of colonization] is being ruined. The reason is not far to seek. It is because our Mr. McKinley, and Mr. Chamberlain, and the Kaiser, and the Czar and the French have been exporting the Actual Thing with the outside cover left off. This is bad for the Game ….

And by and by comes America, and our Master of the Game [President McKinley] plays it badly, [for one] who was playing it so well in Cuba. In Cuba, he was playing the usual and regular American game, and it was winning. The Master, contemplating Cuba, said: "Here is an oppressed and friendless little nation which is willing to fight to be free; we go partners, and put up the strength and the resources of the United States: play!" There, in Cuba, he was following our great traditions in a way which made us very proud of him. He threw out those stirring words which proclaimed that forcible annexation would be "criminal aggression…." [But] he forgot it within the twelvemonth….

For, presently, came the Philippine temptation. It was strong; it was too strong, and he made that bad mistake: he played the European game. . . . It was a great pity, that error; that one grievous error…. For it was the very place and time to play the American game again…. Not land, not money, not dominion -- no, something worth many times more than that: our share, the spectacle of a nation of long harassed and persecuted slaves set free through our influence; our posterity's share, the golden memory of that fair deed. The game was in our hands. If it had been played according to the American rules, Dewey would have sailed away from Manila as soon as he had destroyed the Spanish fleet…. But we played the [European] game, and lost the chance to add another Cuba and another honorable deed to our good record.

The more we examine the mistake, the more clearly we perceive that it is going to be bad for the Business. The Person Sitting in Darkness is almost sure to say: "There is something curious about this…. 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…."

 [The Business] will elect the Master of the Game to the vacant place in the Trinity of our national gods; and there on their high thrones the Three will sit, age after age, in the people's sight, each bearing the Emblem of his service: Washington, the Sword of the Liberator; Lincoln, the Slave's Broken Chains; the Master, the Chains Repaired….

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.