American Imperialism and the World War (1896 – 1918)

With the victory in the presidential elections of 1896, a new period of republican dominance begins which will last for sixteen years, until 1912. The two classic parties have not represented two fundamentally antithetical programs for a long time; neither the republicans are par excellence the advocates of federal power, nor the democrats of the rights of the states; neither the republicans are always the exponents, or the only exponents, of the plutocratic and imperialist interests nor the democrats the proponents of a wider participation in the government of the popular classes. The respective programs represent nothing steady and continuous. What distinguishes them is the varied attitude towards concrete problems that gradually arise in the electoral campaigns, without it being possible to find anything predetermined and ideally coherent in this position, no adherence to a priori principles. In the elections of 1896, the struggle centered on a monetary question: monometallism, as the Republicans wanted, or bimetallism, as the Democrats demanded and more insistently the democrats of the silver states of the west? The republican propaganda was more able to present its program as a promoter of national well-being, such as the one that would have relieved the agricultural producer from the severe depression of 1894 for the return of grain, as the one that would have put in value the gold fields then discovered in the Klondyke. ; and especially he was able to take advantage of the uncertainty of the Democrats of the East, many of whom disagreed, on this and other points, from the official democratic program. Republican candidate W. McKinley won the game (1897-1901). With him came to the White House the interests of big industry and imperialist tendencies: hence in 1897 a tightening of protective tariffs (Dingley tariff); in 1898 the war with Spain for Cuba and the Philippines; interested participation in Far Eastern issues; an incipient naval armament policy. Compared to Cuba, as in 1854, slave-like concerns dictated the attitude, but reasons of economic and military dominance in the Gulf of Mexico and Central America.

American capital was largely invested in Cuba, in mining, railways, plantations, etc. And, most importantly, Cuba has a dominant position in the Gulf of Mexico. It was indisputable that the Spanish administration kept the island in a state of economic and moral regression; that certain summary measures taken from 1895 onwards, to suppress the rebellion, seemed to have been made on purpose to give reasons for scandalized emotions to the concerned American humanitarianism. It was no mystery to anyone that the Cuban rebels relied on American support to gain autonomy for their island. And in the United States there was an increasing conviction that only American intervention would free the island of its ills. Under this philanthropism, in some superficial but in the most deeply felt, the imperialist tendencies were nevertheless transparent; except that the American, due to his moral structure impregnated with Calvinistic spirits, becomes obstinate and aggressive when, reconciled heaven and earth, he sees or thinks he sees a cause configured as a moral cause, as an imperative of moral conscience, as a mission. The collective efforts made by the European powers to avert a conflict and attempt mediation were in vain; after all, none of the powers was ready to commit themselves to Spain; indeed England, unlike Germany above all, was keen to show particular regard to the United States. Some cleverly exploited incidents (a letter intercepted and published by the Spanish minister in Washington; the explosion, Maine, February 15, 1898) prepared public opinion for extreme solutions. An ultimatum ordered Spain to withdraw its troops from the island. On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war. In four months, it was all over, amidst a series of American successes. Spain, left isolated, troubled by internal uprisings, forced to fight, unprepared, in very distant points, saw its fleet destroyed by Commodore G. Dewey in Manila, Philippines (1 May); another, under Admiral P. Cervera, blocked in the port of Santiago de Cuba and likewise destroyed in an attempted escape (3 July); the few ground forces, after vigorous resistance, forced to capitulate in Santiago (July 14); and drop Puerto Rico and Manila (13 August). The day before, August 12, Spain had had to acknowledge that it had won and accept the preliminaries of the peace which was signed on 10 December of the same year. By virtue of it, Spain abandoned Cuba, where American troops remained as garrison, until a regular island government was established there (which happened in 1902).

If in Cuba at least appearances were saved, elsewhere the young American imperialism was fully explained, not without some opposition from the zealots of the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, which, born a century before and in another historical climate, naturally did not he could foresee these heterodox developments in American life. The island of Puerto Rico was undoubtedly annexed, no longer in the guise of continental territories, but as colonial territory, that is, in conditions of permanent minority, to which competition concerns in the coffee and sugar cane trade were not extraneous. The purchase of the Philippines, regulated pro forma with the disbursement of 20 million dollars to Spain, also gave rise to a similar regime after a rebellion that lasted over three years was suppressed there. This energetic policy of expansion in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico could not fail to influence the attitude of the riparian or interested states in those seas and further involve the political action of the United States. In fact, in 1900 the United States actively participated in the intervention of the main powers in China against the Boxers, succeeding in affirming, against European greed, the principle of the “open door” in China, which will oblige them from now on to keep the eyes wide open on the aims of Japan especially. The McKinley administration could boast of achievements that highly tickled national self-love. In the 1900 elections he was re-elected; but in September 1901 he was seriously wounded by an anarchist of Polish origin, L. Czolgosz, and on the 14th he succumbed to his wounds. Vice-president Theodore Roosevelt (1901-05) assumed the presidency. With the decisiveness that characterized him, he carried forward the policy of the deceased towards the republics of Central America. After lively debate, the construction of a navigable canal across the Isthmus of Panama, a route of vital military and commercial importance, was approved. Negotiations were entered into with Colombia. But since the Colombian senate showed some ambition to resist American claims, a twist occurred on the isthmus, the spontaneity of which left some legitimate doubt, given the simultaneous presence on the site of American naval units: a local insurrection proclaimed the independence of the republic of Panama, immediately recognized by Washington. Colombia could only resign itself to the inevitable. And the new republic – in fact an American protectorate – hastened to conclude the treaty (February 26, 1904) in front of which Colombia had recalcitrant: it gave in perpetuity to the United States the right to occupy and dominate a strip of land across the country. isthmus, where the canal was dug in a very short time. In the century and a half of their prodigious development, the United States had never shown signs of weariness; under the animating impulse of the Roosevelt this triumphal march of a great people towards its future seemed to double its pace, carried by a wave of general optimism, aware of its economic and military power. It gave it to the old European nations, tried by centuries and centuries of hard history, the impression of a young athlete in the exuberance of his physical strength, in the fresh inexperience and lightheartedness of his spiritual energies. The workers’ agitations, which were also frequent and bitter between 1902 and 1905, did not even seem to affect the compact solidity of the nation. Immigration, which had been over 5 million in the decade 1881-90, of 3½ million between 1891-1900, now exceeded 8 million in the decade 1901-10; yet it represented only 34% of the population increase, such was the vitality of this composite people and the excess of births over deaths. With his realizing dynamism, Roosevelt was the true interpreter of the new nation; no wonder that in the 1904 elections he was confirmed in the presidency with an unprecedented majority of votes. His authority, also in the international field, he increased in his second presidency (1905-09): he was the mediator of peace between Russia and Japan (August 1905) and boldly made federal power the arbiter of causes deeply felt in the country: legislation on trusts, on immigration (immigration difficult to assimilate and ever increasing from Slavic and Mediterranean countries and of color was beginning to worry), on railways, on public lands, on waters. Through him and – significantly – without states feeling too violated in their rights and raising too high protests, the federal authority took other notable steps towards extending its jurisdiction. If it hadn’t been the traditional homage to Washington’s example, Roosevelt could easily have put his candidacy for a third presidency. In 1908, the Republican candidate he suggested, WH Taft (1909-13), was elected. The latter continued, in its broad outline, the policy of Roosevelt, but did not have the powerful suggestive personality; he let the initiative get out of hand on several occasions; towed or jammed by interested influences, it allowed urgent problems (overwhelming trusts, administrative disorder in large cities) to remain unsolved or to be cornered by the Democratic Party. A large part of the republican party, worn out by a stay in power that lasted, with few intervals, for half a century, inclined towards conservatism (the so-called standpatters) while only a progressive wing (the insurgents), headed by Senator RM La Follette and who enjoyed the sympathies of Roosevelt, asked that we proceed along the path of political, social and administrative reforms. The split, which took shape in 1909 and deepened in the following years, could only benefit the Democrats, who in the elections of 1912 won their candidate, Woodrow Wilson (1913-17). Reducing tariffs was already on the agenda of the progressive republicans; Democrat Wilson implemented it, providing the federal government’s financial needs with an income tax and regulating finance with a new Federal Reserve Act, 1913). But his attitude to Mexico was no different from that which an “imperialist” republican government would have had; only that, as it was in his nature as an intellectual ideologue and in the depths of his sentiment as a Presbyterian, he loved to motivate his politics by tracing it back to ideal and disinterested causes, which was subjectively true, even if it cannot fail to bring amazement, which on balance facts and in most cases, the most disinterested policy would also be the most profitable policy. Undoubtedly in the bloody struggle between the two Mexican factions of Victoriano Huerta and Venustiano Carranza, by favoring the latter the United States favored the cause of the minute Mexican people; but they also favored the cause of the faction which was less averse to American capitalist penetration into Mexico. When, following an accident in the port of Tampico, the Huerta refused to give satisfaction to the American flag, American troops occupied Veracruz (April 1914). The Huerta had to resign and leave Mexico. When the American contingent evacuated Veracruz in November 1914, the world war had already raged for four months.

However, the fact remains that the “black problem” is increasingly taking on characters of particular urgency and gravity.

In fact, it is clear that, since the mass of Negroes never gave the best face to attempts to lead them back to Africa to carry out a colonizing action in what could appear to be their natural environment, the presence of this conspicuous minority of color represents a serious obstacle. to the formation of ethnic unity. The most common opinion in the United States is that Negroes are in no way assimilable, either physically or intellectually or morally. How much truth is there in this opinion, referred to here in its most absolute form, it is very difficult to establish, also because some of the facts that are cited in support of it, are in fact, or can be considered, in turn as a result of the isolation in which Negroes have long been kept. And on the other hand it exists among the niggers themselves, more or less expressed or latent, a disagreement: since, born and educated in the United States where they are not, strictly speaking, less “indigenous” than a very large number of Whites, they belong to American civilization, and their very characteristics – for e.g., in folklore, in music, etc. – they seem to date back no further than the colonial period. The homeland is forgotten, even if by chance something survives in music, in certain superstitious beliefs or customs, in the impressionability and ease with which superstitions are not only received but transmitted, together with stories and songs. But, especially in the North, the Negro – like immigrants, especially starting from the second generation – it easily absorbs the elements of the civilization in the midst of which it lives and tends – also as a result of a more or less conscious feeling of their superiority – to conform to the way of life of the Whites, and to imitate them. But on the other hand, a tendency has emerged, especially among certain groups of “intellectuals”, to make isolation itself a force, to resist the environment, to form and proclaim the existence of a “race conscience”, which helps them to remain united in the struggle for the conquest of new rights and better living conditions. This explains, among other things, how the leaders of the Negro movement increasingly try to imitate the methods and systems of propaganda that seemed to belong to the class struggle.

On the other hand, among Whites, opinions are widespread that they tend to present Negroes as an inferior race, naturally and inevitably incapable of attaining a high degree of civilization. Hence the controversy and uncertainty, even among objective scholars (as a consequence of the scarcity of truly reliable information and not distorted by preconceptions in any sense) on the greater or lesser productivity of Negro labor: these are painted from time to time as workers lazy, slow, lacking in intelligence and initiative, disordered, not punctual; and as diligent, active, diligent, disciplined on a par, if not more so, than the white workers of various ethnic groups. Hence, also, other controversies and uncertainties about the morality of Negroes, who are generally accused of presenting a much greater crime, especially in relation to crimes that involve greater impulsiveness and emotionality and less adaptation to the needs of social coexistence. The data – moreover not very complete nor due to equally good sources – tend to show that the percentage of arrested, convicted and incarcerated is, among Negroes, much higher than among Whites. But it has also been observed that sentimental factors act on both arrests, convictions and conditional convictions, the most important of which is the attitude of the Whites themselves towards the Negroes; and that therefore the available data allow only to establish that “the Negro, as a social group, comes into contact with the criminal justice more often than the White; but whether or not he is more delinquent it is impossible to assert with any degree of certainty” ( Th. Sellin). It is also necessary to keep in mind the phenomenon of the centralization of Negroes in the cities, in a new environment and to which adaptation is not always easy. As for the education of the Negroes, it should not be forgotten first of all that during the slave period it was almost completely lacking: various states, such as South Carolina since 1740, Georgia (since 1770) and Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri (between 1823 and 1847) passed laws against the education of Negroes, while still other states (Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio) limited the right to attend school to whites only. public. Moreover, even in New York and Pennsylvania in the century. XVIII the few schools for Negroes were private and largely fed by charity, distinguishing themselves in this activity, as in everything that could contribute to improving the condition of the Negroes, especially the Quakers. This state of affairs explains how the governments of the so-called “Reconstruction” spent sums disproportionate to their financial capacities on schools. But still in 1880 the illiterates were about 20%: since then great progress has been made; however, especially in some states, the education of Negroes still leaves something to be desired, as well as the percentage of children attending schools remains low: in this respect, compared to Whites, Negroes are about twenty years behind. The disproportion is even greater for middle and high schools. In general, we note, especially for middle schools, a certain inferiority of Negro pupils compared to Whites, and – in the northern states – of Negroes from the South in comparison with those born in the North; this may therefore depend, up to a certain point, on the less effective elementary education given in the South, where schools for Negroes are scarce and generally have poorly paid teachers and, on the whole, of rather low intellectual level and professional preparation. As for the intelligence of Negroes, especially those who attend schools, an attempt was made to establish their average level with various investigations, applying the system of tests. The methods, their practical application, and therefore the results often appear questionable; nevertheless it cannot be hidden that from almost all the investigations, despite the variety of methods, criteria, questions asked, etc., the Negroes appeared on the whole to be inferior to the Whites; although in some cases they are also equal results, and sometimes those born and educated in the city show themselves superior to the Whites of the countryside.

It therefore seems that the assertions of an absolute nature about the “natural” inferiority, or parity, of the Negroes in comparison with the Whites, so far take too little account of the environmental element and, in short, of history. The importance of this factor is evident, precisely when we consider the physical, biological aspect of the problem. MJ Herskovits’s research has established that not only are Negro Americans the descendants of Negroes belonging to different African ethnic groups, but that there has been a strong admixture not only of white blood, but also of India; so that “mixture of all races – African, Caucasian, Mongoloid – the American Negro presents an example of a fascinating race for the scholar”. Now, the anthrodometric data show that the American Negroes constitute a perfectly homogeneous group, in the sense that they have lower variability indices than those of other anthropologically well-defined groups. The American Negro for most of the somatic characters occupies an intermediate position between the averages of the Indian-American and European populations, on the one hand, and the African ones, on the other. According to Herskovits, this would be precisely due to the conditions of isolation of the Negroes, who would no longer have been subjected to the imposition of white or Indian blood: therefore the segregation would have helped to consolidate and facilitate the formation of the “new Negro”: whose anthropological characteristics, derived from various races, they would therefore not simply be juxtaposed to each other, but combined with each other. D ‘ on the other hand Herskovits himself notes that some of the characteristics of the Negro are much less pronounced in a particular series of measures, taken among more educated and wealthy people in the Negro center of Harlem (New York City), which therefore are closer to White . And also in weddings it is noted that normally the Negro chooses a lighter colored bride: in short, the Negro suffers the attraction and tends to conform to the model of white. On the other hand, the somatological differences also correspond to differences in the anatomical conformation of internal organs, and biological, physiological and pathological differences. From studies by R. Pearl and RB Bean it would appear that Negroes have the temporal lobe of the brain of a different shape and smaller than Whites; and also minor are the spleen and liver. But also the Negroes react differently to diseases from the Whites: in particular, the mortality from cancer and malignant tumors seems to be greater among the Negroes, which among them would show a particular tendency to localize themselves in the digestive system in the liver and pancreas, among males, and in the organs of reproduction, among females; higher mortality from diseases of the respiratory system (in particular, Negroes seem to be especially prone to tuberculosis); mortality from syphilis is also very high; lesser, however, than among the Whites, for other affections. But, in general, the sanitary conditions of the Negroes are much worse than those of the Whites: which has led some to conclude that the Negro is less resistant to disease. But the fact is that the mortality of the Negroes was on the whole lower than that of the Whites, in the slave era, when the master took care of the health of the slaves he owned – while among the free Negroes mortality was in turn greater than among the Whites; and this would tend to show that the claims about the absolute and irremediable physical inferiority of the race would be rather rash, as would the catastrophic predictions that were made around 1890, foreseeing its gradual extinction. In fact, since then, health conditions have significantly improved: mortality from tuberculosis, although this remained the main cause of death at least until 1930, has significantly decreased, and so has that from other diseases. Absolute mortality, as well as infant mortality, is still higher than among Whites; but the duration. average of life, who, according to calculations by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, of New York, was only 33 years old in 1900, had risen to 45 in 1930, compared to 59 for Whites: thus equaling the average life span for Whites in 1900. Even at in this regard, therefore, the Negroes appear to lag behind the Whites; but the progress made authorizes us to believe that even on this order of phenomena environmental and historical factors exert a relevant influence.

In terms of culture, between the general disorientation of the Negroes and the difficulty of adapting to the new conditions, immediately after emancipation, there was also a notable impulse: a singular and instructive book in this regard is the famous autobiography of BT Washington. He had a large part in promoting the education of the Negroes, which at first he wished above all to start towards professional studies. But there are also – although many live a wretched life – high schools that impart a superior culture: the best, indeed perhaps the only truly worthy of the name, are the Howard universities, in Washington, Fisk, in Nashville (Tennessee), and that of Atlanta.

It should be noted that as early as 1827 JB Russwurm and SE Comish published the Freedom’s Journal in New York, and around 1850 a Providence landlord, TM Bennister, created around himself the first cenacle of black artists, followed by those of Chicago and by Naw York. Today, among the more cultured Negroes, as we have said, a tendency prevails to exalt “isolationism”, as that which would strengthen the intellectual and artistic talents of the race by preventing its dispersion. It owns numerous newspapers, the main one being the Chicago Defender. Among the cultural journals, the Journal of Negro History deserves particular mention. The various cultural centers, like the whole movement for the defense of the interests and rights of Negroes, belong to the National Association for the advancement of Colored People, based in New York.

American Imperialism

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