The Film & More|
Introduction | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
A Great Civilized Power (50 minutes)
In Washington the last summer of the 19th century began quietly.
Tourists moved through the city, guidebooks in hand, wandering from one
government building to the next. Washington was more like a small town than
the capitol of a great nation... so informal that one government bureaucrat
kept a hen by his desk.
In June, President McKinley was meeting with advisors organizing the Republican
Convention. The Democrats were already denouncing, the war in the Philippines,
and McKinley was worried. In 1900, it was beneath the dignity of the president
to campaign. McKinley would need a strong running mate to take his case for an
American Empire to the American people.
On June 19, at the Republican Party Convention in Philadelphia, he found him.
As the Governor of New York stepped forward to second McKinley's nomination,
the delegates went wild. "He was all that the idolizing thousands wanted," one
reporter noted "direct, dashing, fearless, possibly a little careless...and
everything he was, the people liked him for."
JOHN MILTON COOPER, JR.:
Theodore Roosevelt is literally the rising star of American politics in 1900.
He's gone within the space of a little over a year, from obscurity to being,
one of the most famous people in America. He's a war hero. He's the war hero,
the single greatest war hero to come out of the Spanish-American War. He
becomes the man of the hour.
Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill had captured the imagination of the
country. One Kansas newspaperman wrote Theodore Roosevelt: "is the coming
American of the twentieth Century." When Roosevelt won his party's nomination
for vice-president, McKinley had the running mate he needed.
But as the delegates cheered, a crisis was brewing half-way around the world
that would test McKinley's resolve to make the United States a world power and
challenge his hopes for re-election.
Dear Loved Ones,
Did you hear of the trouble the Christians are having in the two provinces just
East of us? There is a native secret society called the Boxers , who
say they are going to overthrow the Protestant religion in China. Just how far
they will be allowed to persecute missionaries and their converts is not easy
to say. With love to you all, Eva.
Eva Price was a missionary from Des Moines, Iowa, one of thousands of Americans
about to be swept up in a brutal war that would rivet the attention of the
country all through that summer.
One of the great ironies about 1900 is that the United States appears as one of
the great world powers at the very moment that the world is exploding into
Eva had arrived in China 11 years before to find an angry, frustrated people,
their country carved up by hostile, foreign powers bent on exploiting its vast
By 1900, China is looked at as a nation that can not defend itself. China
would be described as a "bone among the dogs... The dogs are, of course, the
imperial powers. And the United States is one of the dogs competing for the
bone." China is seen as a great prize, as a bottomless market for both
industrial exports and for missionaries.
In 1900, thousands of missionaries, inspired by the evangelical fervor sweeping
American universities, were spreading the Gospel in Asia. "China is open to
the gospel now," missionary leaders said. "It may not be so when she becomes
strong enough to dictate her treaties."
Eva and her husband Charles had sacrificed a comfortable life in America to
live in an isolated province in China with their 7-year-old daughter Florence.
Eva was a very home-loving person. She had her family here. She loved them
dearly, and it was very hard for her to leave... She longed for letters from
home and from her loved ones. She was very lonesome. But they wanted to do
something for the betterment of the world and to, ah, spread Christianity was
Eva and Charles ran a school, nursed the old, and the sick, taught the Bible.
Eager to record the exotic world around her, Eva brought along a camera. Like
most Americans, she saw the Chinese as a backward people, mired in superstition
and magic, worshiping idols, waiting for the blessings of conversion. The
Chinese saw Eva as a barbarian, corrupting their ancient culture and religion.
"The missionaries destroy the gods we worship," protested the Chinese. "They
revile our ethics, ignore reason. Their aim is to engulf the country."
The Chinese couldn't figure out why the missionaries were coming into their
land. Their main word for them was foreign devils. And that's what they
called them--foreign devils. With hatred of outsiders growing, a mysterious
sect began roaming the countryside, burning churches, and killing missionaries.
They were called the Boxers. Their rallying cry--"Exterminate the foreigner."
Their prime target--the missionaries.
It is not surprising that the Boxers would target the missionaries. Once
American missionaries were able to get into interior provinces of China, it
opened these provinces up to American business people, and consequently
American diplomatic officials on the scene nicely call the American
missionaries the pioneers for American trade and business, because once they
opened up an area, then the other Americans could come along behind and sell
goods. The Chinese did not miss this.
By the summer of 1900, the Boxer uprising had spread to the province where the
Prices lived and worked.
Dear Home Folks,
We are all well and as happy as circumstances will allow, putting our trust in
Him for whose sake we are here. Florence has quite a curiosity to see the
"Boxers" but I hope she'll not get a chance. Love to you all, Eva
All summer, the new, fast trans-Atlantic steamers were fully booked, and had
been for months. 75 thousand Americans were sailing for France--teachers from
Ohio, meatpackers from Kansas City, firemen from Chicago, all bound for the
1900 Paris Exposition. Over fifty-seven million people came that
year to see thousands of exhibits from every corner of the globe.
The world's fairs were a showplace for the wonders of the present and the
wonders of the future, a place for every country, every product, every
nationality, every ethnic group to show off. And you got a sense that the
world was a bit smaller, and America was very much a part of it.
American businessmen found the Exposition a glorious opportunity to hawk
everything from linotype machines to processed meats. "The Americanization of
the World," an English writer noted, is well under way." The Paris Exposition
was a tribute to technology and progress. Visitors marveled at moving
sidewalks, wireless telegraphy, the most powerful telescope ever built, and the
first escalator anyone had ever seen. At night, the city was ablaze. An
electrical search light was said to be "like the finger of some Sun God."
JOHN M. STAUDENMAIER, S.J.:
The conscious intent of the people designing the world's fairs is clearly... to
teach people that progress works. So the Hall of Electricity, the electric
light displays are terrific things, fountains with different colored lights in
them, dazzling stuff. Call them wonderments, the sorts of things where you
just walk around shaking your head and say, "What will they think of next?" You
also have scenes of colonial superiority... from India and from Africa and
places like this that are steeped in a kind of white man's superiority, racist
sort of a thing that say, "Come here and you will really see what progress is
doing," because you will see the counterpoint to progress, which is backward,
savage, uncivilized, interesting, salacious, stuff."
Each world's fair catalogued in hierarchical rank peoples of the world
and the white folk were always at the top and the people of color, far at the
bottom. People from the Philippines or from Africa were displayed as examples
of the brutish savagery that highlighted the essential goodness, by contrast,
of white Americans and white Europeans.
In 1900, the belief that people of color were inferior to white people was as
widespread in the United States as any place in the world. Popular songs,
theater, vaudeville all portrayed African Americans as ignorant, foolish, and
American culture was so racist, and thought of African Americans as inferior,
as a matter of course. We were depicted as buffoons, oftentimes eating
watermelon, with huge red lips and large eyes. And they essentially made
African Americans ridiculous. This kind of racism was kind of a paternalism.
Yes, these people are inferior, they will never be as great as we are, but we
can help them.
Although many black Americans were doctors, ministers, teachers, writers, most
found themselves trapped in a hostile world. 9 out of 10 still lived in the
South where they were denied the freedoms that other Americans took for
granted--even the right to vote.
By 1900, we had no rights. We were not treated like second-class citizens, we
were treated as non-citizens.
After the Civil War, African Americans had voted, sent representatives to
Congress, served as sheriffs, justices of the peace, and sat alongside whites
on juries, school boards and city councils.
But by 1900, all that had come to an end. Through poll taxes, literacy tests,
and dozens of other schemes, Southern whites had stripped African Americans of
their most basic rights as citizens.
By 1900 the South was what we call Jim Crowed. That meant that it was
segregated. We were not going to be seated next to whites. We couldn't use
the same facilities as whites.
And to make sure that African Americans did not attempt to assert themselves in
any way, the white South resorted to terrorism.
The last 16 years of the 19th century, there were 2500 lynchings in the South.
And the majority of them were African Americans. And that terrorism reached an
intensity in 1900.
Early that year, Representative George White of North Carolina had
put a bill before Congress to make lynching a federal crime. Not long before,
there had been 22 black Congressmen in Washington. Now, in both the House and
Senate, George White was the only one who remained. "To cheapen Negro life,"
he said, "is to cheapen all life. The first murder paves the way for the second
until crime ceases to be abhorrent."
There had been 107 reported lynchings in 1899, White told the House. His bill
was designed to stop the killing.
George White's anti-lynching bill really didn't have a chance... a bill by the
last remaining African American Congressman was not going to get anywhere...
whites in Congress, many of them from the South said, we need to keep the
vicious, brutal African American males in line to keep them from attacking the
flower of white womanhood.
With terror and oppression part of daily life, America's 9 million blacks
looked to one man more than any other for leadership. Booker T. Washington was
just finishing his autobiography, "Up From Slavery," which would inspire
generations of black Americans.
Washington had worked his way from being a slave to being a coal miner as a
little boy, to working for a wealthy white woman, to setting up this school in
Back in 1881, Washington had founded Tuskegee Institute, dedicated to teaching
black Americans practical skills. "Our knowledge," he said, "must be harnessed
to the real things in life."
He was advocating for African Americans to be carpenters, to be bricklayers, to
be seamstresses... to create black businesses and to become a self-reliant
people. Booker T. Washington was an accommodationist. And his program was to
accommodate the social and political situation of the South. Washington felt
that if you don't have economic power, then you're going to the white man
Black progress, Washington said, "must be laid on love of work, economy,
ownership of property, bank accounts." But in 1900, a new black leader was
emerging, unwilling to compromise with white America. W.E.B. Du Bois believed
that without political power African Americans would never achieve equality.
Du Bois did not feel that you could accommodate injustice. He felt that if you
didn't demand your rights as other citizens, you were really selling your
Du Bois never intended to be an activist. He wanted to be a scholar. Born
free in a small New England town, he had studied Greek and Latin as a boy, and
became the first black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. By the spring of 1899,
Du Bois was a 31 year old professor of sociology at Atlanta University. He
believed he could fight bigotry and hatred with reason and scholarship.
Du Bois believed in the power of social science to transform the society. He
kept saying, "Americans are thinking wrong about race because they don't
But then Du Bois witnessed a crime so vicious that it convinced him that
writing alone was not enough to overcome the prejudice of white Americans.
In Atlanta, in April, 1899, Sam Hose, an African American, was lynched, burned,
then brutally dismembered, and put on display in a downtown store window.
And Du Bois passed the storefront in which the dismembered parts of Mr. Hose
were on display, he stopped, riveted to the spot and went back to campus, and
decided that social science wouldn't transform society, that politics would.
Du Bois becomes convinced that the cure for society's ills was not to tell
people the truth, but to convince them to act upon that truth.
Du Bois would soon break openly with Booker T. Washington: "Mr. Washington," Du
Bois would write "asks black people to give up political power, civil rights,
higher education of Negro youth. But Negroes must insist that voting is
necessary for modern manhood, that discrimination is barbarism, that black boys
need education as well as white boys." The problem of race, he said in 1900,
would be the problem for the 20th century.
All through the spring and early summer, Americans were reading that the Boxer
Rebellion had spread... more churches had been destroyed, more missionaries,
killed. "We have heard," Eva Price wrote "that the Boxers are in our own
city... We have learned what it is to have the feeling that we were facing
death itself." 300 miles North of the Prices, in Peking, the capital of China.
The compound where hundreds of foreign diplomats lived had come under siege.
Among those trapped inside were Americans and their families--surrounded by
more than 20,000 angry Chinese.
"They advanced in a solemn mass," wrote one hostage. "Their yells were
deafening, while the roar of gongs, drums, and horns sounded like thunder."
And everyone understands that if this siege succeeds, that they are probably
going to massacre all of the foreigners that they can get their hands on.
On June 13, the Boxers cut the telegraph lines connecting the foreign compound
with the rest of the world. With American soldiers already dying in an
unpopular war in the Philippines, McKinley was being forced once again to take
action on the other side of the globe.
McKinley has to make an historic decision. And the decision is whether or not
to send US troops out of Manila and onto the mainland of Asia. And what
McKinley does is not only order the troops onto the Asian mainland to fight on,
in China, but he does it without consulting anyone. He essentially goes to war
without asking Congress anything about it. And it becomes a very important
historic precedent, that later American presidents will use to order American
troops around the world.
By the end of June, 2,500 American soldiers had left Manila to join an
international army. Their mission--to put an end to the Boxer Rebellion and
liberate the hostages. Far from Peking, the Prices faced increasing danger.
"We're living in a suspense that cannot be imagined," Eva wrote. "We live
moment by moment."
A killer heat wave hit America that summer, holding most of the nation in its
grip. From Portland, Maine to the Great Lakes, summer meant escaping to the
shore--if only for a day. As never before, vacations were becoming a part of
American life. The wealthy spent their summers in exclusive enclaves. In 1900,
there were 4,000 millionaires, and with no income tax, a million dollars went a
long way. The rich idled their summers away--living much as kings would, if
kings had the money.
By 1900, the great American fortunes far surpassed the fortunes of the leading
dukes and lords and royal heads of Europe. In the summers, these people went
to Newport, to Southampton, to Maine. And they built fabulous, luxurious
chateaux, especially in Newport. That was the fashionable colony.
There were ornate palaces with over a hundred rooms, called cottages, and
competitions to see who could hold the most outrageous party. One host invited
his guests to bring their horses to a sit-down dinner.
People gave elaborate costume balls; in which, at one of them, there were
something like 14 people who came as Louis XVI. There were lots of Napoleons
and a few Marie Antoinettes.
In small towns that summer, there were picnics, sports, fireworks, and the
music of John Philip Sousa.
John Philip Sousa was everywhere in 1900 and band music was
everywhere... there weren't too many middle-class people in America listening
to Beethoven, because how could they? They were no recordings, yet. They
couldn't go to the concert halls. The philharmonic was not accessible. Band
music on tour, the concert in the park, was cookin' in 1900.... John Philip
Sousa was the Arthur Fiedler of his time. But people loved it, he didn't have
any strings, he didn't have any violins. He couldn't do a lot of things. He
didn't have any pianists. He had bands. Horns. I mean you had to be heard
across the park.
Sousa was king, but in 1900, outdoor band concerts had a new kind of
competition. Americans everywhere were listening to records, buying sheet
music and pianos, and singing the same songs. The music industry had just been
born. Songs had become commodities.
It was possible to publish a tune in New York on Friday and have copies of it
in San Francisco next week, not to mention Des Moines and everywhere in
between...The five and ten. That's where the music was merchandised... Rural
free deliver, RFD, kicked in in 1897. So the farmers could get some music...
Here was finally a business. An industry. There's money to be made and out of
the woodwork come all of these young dudes saying, "Hey, man, let's go into the
music business!" "I don't know anything about it." "Never mind. we can sell
sheet music. They sold a million copies in Chicago last week. Let's go."
In 1900, a new hit was flying off the racks of five and dime stores all across
the country--"The Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin.
Eighteen-ninety-nine, late in the year, Scott Joplin's first
successful rag "The Maple Leaf Rag" is published out in Sedalia, Missouri. In
1900, it snowballed, it sold and sold and sold and it's probably the best
selling rag of all time.
Joplin had learned classical music from his father, a former slave, who was an
accomplished violinist, and the syncopated style of plantation songs and dances
from his mother, who played the banjo and sang in church choirs.
Ragtime is not an unsophisticated music... Rhythmically it's complex, the left
hand keeps a constant beat, the right hand is constantly going off that beat.
And when it does that continuously, it creates an elation. I can't explain why
that is, but in the hands of someone that knows how to do it, it's exciting.
In 1900, Joplin was 32 years old, and had spent most of his life traveling
around the Midwest, making music with other African American musicians--the
musicians who invented ragtime.
In 1900, you have these very talented young black musicians who are now
absorbing all of the music that's around them... they heard French quadrilles,
they heard Baptist hymns, plus they heard the European masters. They heard
Chopin, they heard Mendelssohn.
But because it came from the black world...the whole thing was considered... as
gross, an intrusion, bad. "This invasion of vulgarity in music [is] a national
calamity," wrote one critic. "This plague is upon us... like an epidemic of
cholera... The people have sold themselves body and soul to the musical
satan... alas, this is what sells."
It's going to take some time for the pianists, not to mention the ears of
Americans, to say, "What is that? Wow, I like that. What are they playing,
Harriet? I mean it's exciting. What do they call that? Oh, they call it rag
In China, the crisis grew more ominous as the siege in Peking continued.
Inside the foreign compound, 480 men were holding off 20,000 Chinese with just
5 cannons. 7 Americans had been killed, many more wounded. Supplies were
dwindling. The diplomats and their families were surviving on rice and the meat
from slaughtered horses. American consul Edwin Conger , managed to
smuggle out one last desperate message: "Quick relief only can prevent general
But American soldiers were still many miles from Peking, fighting their way
through the countryside alongside Welsh Fussiliers, Bengal Lancers, Punjabis,
Sikhs, Russians, Japanese, French, Italians.
The United States had never sent a military force outside the Western
Hemisphere until 1898. Suddenly in 1900, we have 5,000 American troops on the
mainland of Asia, fighting in league with the European powers. This was
something that was unimaginable two years before.
"If only soldiers would come into our province," Eva Price wrote home, "we
would probably be saved. We have so longed and prayed they may come in
they were virtually trapped because they were in the interior and there really
was almost no way out. And all they could hope for really was that the allied
soldiers would come soon.
On July 5, Theodore Roosevelt, campaigning in the Midwest, defended McKinley's
decision to send troops to China. America's new role as a world power demanded
it, he said. As for the war in the Philippines we should hold on to that
island nation at any cost. "I am for expansion every time," Roosevelt told the
crowds. "I do not want this flag to come down where our men have fought and
shed their blood for it."
That same day, from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president, challenged the Republican
party's vision of a more militant America. 4 years before, Bryan, had also won
the nomination, and gone down to defeat calling McKinley a pawn of big
business. Now he labeled the president an imperialist. "Imperialism," Bryan
told reporters, "is the most dangerous of the evils now menacing our
This was a time which the Philippine insurrection was going badly. This was
the time when the Boxers were besieging the foreign compound and we did not
know whether or not they were going to massacre all of the foreigners in China
and it looked as though, ah, McKinley's foreign policies were in shambles.
All summer, Bryan drew huge crowds across the country as he lashed out at the
president for trampling the rights of the people of Asia. "We dare not educate
the Filipinos," Bryan said, "lest they learn to read the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution of the United States."
Bryan believes that American foreign policy is immoral and that the United
States has no business fighting these kinds of wars. He believes that what
McKinley has done has not only corrupted American society, but has corrupted
the American Constitution.
While McKinley managed his campaign from behind the scenes in Canton, Ohio,
Roosevelt answered Bryan's charges.
Theodore Roosevelt was the best possible spokesman McKinley could have found to
make the imperialist case in 1900. He was "the" symbol of American imperialism
- the Rough Rider of the War of the 1898, the person who had written more about
the glories of American expansionism than probably any other person at that
"Every expansion of a great civilized power," Roosevelt wrote, "means a victory
for law, order, and righteousness."
The Democrats attacked the Republicans on the grounds that they were using
force to impose American society on other races in the Philippines and in
China. Roosevelt thought this was absurd. Roosevelt pointed out that this is
exactly what we had done with the Indians and he hadn't known too many
Democrats who really objected to this. And, as he said at one point, "If we
are going to turn the Philippines back to the Filipinos, then we should turn
Arizona back to the Apaches."
As the summer wore on, Americans waited anxiously for news from Peking. The
siege was now in its second month. Then, on August 13, after more than a month
of fierce fighting, the international army at last reached the Chinese capital
to be met by the sickening stench of unburied dead. The Chinese had dug
trenches around the city wall and controlled all the gates. The next morning,
the international forces attacked. They stormed the walls, broke through the
gates, and routed the Chinese. After fifty-five days of fear and waiting, the
siege of the foreign compound was lifted--the hostages freed. That same day,
300 miles to the South, Eva and Charles Price prepared to leave with their
They received word that 20 soldiers were coming to escort them to Peking. They
were very leery. They were frightened. But they had no choice.
2 weeks before, Eva had written her final letter:
Dear Home Folks,
During the past 6 weeks, we have lived from day to day expecting it to be our
last on earth. 33 of our friends were beheaded. Among them were 12 children
and two pregnant women.
May God increase our faith and trust, our peace and willingness to do his
with a heartful of love to you all, from us three
Charles, Eva, and Florence
On the morning of the 15th, the Chinese soldiers brought a wagon to the
compound and ordered the Prices to get in.
Before they left that day she hugged Florence. And Florence did not exactly
what was ahead. And when Florence left the room,
Aunt Eva got down on her knees and prayed that if it was going to happen, that
Florence would be taken first before she would be taken. And they were loaded
in the wagon. It was a beautiful morning, such a beautiful morning that they
sang going part of the way... They left the compound because they were assured
that they would be given security. And they were tricked.
After a journey of just twenty miles, the Chinese soldiers drew their guns, and
They were hacked to death, and they were thrown in the ditch, and after it was
all over, some of their Chinese friends went back and got their bodies and
In Peking, some of the soldiers in the international army had already begun to
take revenge. But the hostages were free. "Once more," the London Times
exulted, "a small segment of the civilized world, cut off and surrounded by an
Asiatic horde, has exhibited those moral qualities which render mere numbers
powerless." For nearly two months, the president had prayed daily that the
hostages would be saved. Now, at the end of August, McKinley had one more
cause for alarm. King Humbert the First of Italy had just been assassinated in
his summer palace by an anarchist. And anarchists had recently attempted to
kill the Prince of Wales and the Shah of Persia. Now they were targeting the
president of the United States.
JOHN MILTON COOPER, JR.:
The anarchists were the international terrorists of their day. They went
around killing heads of state or even just prominent people because they
believed in some way this would bring the system down. They believe that the
system is corrupt, that it's unfair to little people, and that if you lop off
the head, then the body itself will die.
The president, was warned of the danger, but went about his life as he always
had, returning to Canton, Ohio, to spend the summer with Ida in the house they
both so loved. "We began our married life in that house," McKinley said, "our
children were born there, one of them died and was buried from there. Some of
the tenderest memories of my life are centered there, and some of the
All that summer McKinley tried to spend as much time with Ida as he could. Ida
desperately needed her husband. She lived in constant fear of the violent
seizures that threatened to overcome her.
SYLVIA JUKES MORRIS:
And they would come on suddenly. They would be playing cards, or dining out
with friends or something. And there was a hissing noise, that was always the
warning sign, there was a loud hissing through her teeth and he knew it was
coming on. So he would throw either his handkerchief over her head, to spare
her embarrassment, or a napkin, whichever, if they were at the dining table.
Ida took to knitting slippers, which she gave away to charities. It was said
that she knit 3500 pairs while she was First Lady. She cherished the daily
rides alone with her husband on the lonely back roads outside of Canton.
On a small farm just 60 miles away, Leon Czolgosz was living with
his parents. Twenty-eight year old Czolgosz hated the American government. He
believed that all rulers were the enemies of working people.
JOHN MILTON COOPER, JR.:
He is the son of immigrants, but American born, who had sort of knocked
around. Leon would drift off and he would work at various jobs in cities and he
would come back to the farm. He was almost certainly mentally disturbed.
Later his family would recall that Leon had stayed up night after night reading
accounts of King Humbert's assassination.