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January 1899: Senate Debate over Ratification of the Treaty of Paris

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AtkinsonAfter the Treaty of Paris was signed in December 1899, the treaty required ratification by at least a two thirds majority of the U.S. Senate. The debate regarding the ratification of the treaty polarized the Senate on imperialism and nation's future role in Cuba and the Philippines.

During the debate, Senator Hoar and Senator Vest were outspoken opponents of the treaty. Senator Hoar maintained, "This Treaty will make us a vulgar, commonplace empire, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and other classes must forever obey." Senator Knute Nelson exclaimed, "Providence has given the United States the duty of extending Christian civilization. We come as ministering angels, not despots." Henry Cabot Lodge declared that if the U.S. were to reject the treaty, "we are branded as a people incapable of taking rank as one of the greatest world powers!"

Senator NelsonThe anti-imperialist movement had been growing since the beginning of the Spanish-American War. In addition to Anti-Imperialist League members Edward Atkinson and Carl Shurtz, the movement attracted many prominent politicians, such as Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, and William Jennings Bryan and leading intellectuals of the day, including Mark Twain, William James, and E. L. Godkin. Many objected to the extension of American domain overseas because they found the use of the military and economic power to conquer and control foreign peoples morally reprehensible.

CarnegieSome anti-imperialists maintained that expansionism violated the most basic tenets of the Constitution. They argued that neither Congress nor the President had the right to pass laws governing colonial peoples who were not represented by law-makers. On the other hand, expansionists maintained that the Constitution applied only to the citizens of the United States. Congress, expansionists continued, should not be able to prevent the President from exercising the same powers enjoyed by the heads of European states.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish born American industrialist, steel magnate, and philanthropist, was an outspoken member of the Anti-Imperialist League and vigorously condemned U.S. foreign policy during the war. Senator Vest As the Senate debate went on, Carnegie and former President Cleveland petitioned the Senate to reject the treaty.

In the end, the Treaty of Paris was ratified by the Senate in a 57-27 vote. Under the terms of the treaty, the U.S. gained possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and for $20 million, the Philippines. Though the Senate debate over ratification may have ended, the debate over imperialism and the United States' role abroad would continue. In fact, the issues grew more complicated and led the United States into war with the Philippines and a future of tension with Cuba.


Beisner, Robert L. Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Dyal, Donald H.. Historical Dictionary of the Spanish American War. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, 1996.

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