William Jennings Bryan
Delivered at Denver, Colo., in the winter of 1898-9, and one of the earliest protests made against colonialism.
THE Bible tells us that Ahab, the king, wanted the vineyard of Naboth and was sorely grieved because the owner thereof refused to part with the inheritance of his fathers. Then followed a plot, and false charges were preferred against Naboth to furnish an excuse for getting rid of him.
“Thou shalt not covet!” “Thou shalt not bear false witness!” “Thou shalt
not kill”—three commandments broken, and still a fourth, “Thou shalt not
steal,” to be broken in order to get a little piece of ground! And what
was the result? When the king went forth to take possession, Elijah, that
brave old prophet of the early days, met him and pronounced against him
the sentence of the Almighty. “In the place where the dogs licked the blood
of Naboth shall the dogs lick thy blood, even thine.”
Neither his own exalted position nor the lowly station of his victim could save him from the avenging hand of outraged justice. His case was tried in a court where neither wealth, nor rank, nor power, could shield the transgressor.
Wars of conquest have their origin in covetousness, and the history of the human race has been written in characters of blood because rulers have looked with longing eyes upon the lands of others.
Covetousness is prone to seek the aid of false pretense to carry out its
plans, but what it cannot secure by persuasion it takes by the sword.
Senator Teller’s amendment to the intervention resolution saved the Cubans
from the covetousness of those who are so anxious to secure possession
of the island, that they are willing to deny the truth of the declaration
of our own Congress, that “the people of Cuba are, and of right ought to
Imperialism might expand the nation’s territory, but it would contract
the nation’s purpose. It is not a step forward toward a broader destiny;
it is a step backward, toward the narrow views of kings and emperors.
Dr. Taylor has aptly expressed it in his “Creed of the Flag,” when he asks:
Shall we turn to the old world again
With the penitent prodigal’s cry?
I answer, never. This republic is not a prodigal son; it has not spent
its substance in riotous living. It is not ready to retrace its steps and,
with shamed face and trembling voice, solicit an humble place among the
servants of royalty. It has not sinned against heaven, and God grant that
the crowned heads of Europe may never have occasion to kill the fatted
calf to commemorate its return from reliance upon the will of the people
to dependence upon the authority which flows from regal birth or superior
We cannot afford to enter upon a colonial policy. The theory upon which a government is built is a matter of vital importance. The national idea has a controlling influence upon the thought and character of the people. Our national idea is self-government, and unless we are ready to abandon that idea forever we cannot ignore it in dealing with the Filipinos.
That idea is entwined with our traditions; it permeates our history; it
is a part of our literature.
That idea has given eloquence to the orator and inspiration to the poet.
Take from our national hymns the three words, free, freedom and liberty,
and they would be as meaningless as would be our flag if robbed of its
red, white and blue.
Other nations may dream of wars of conquest and of distant dependencies
governed by external force; not so with the United States.
The fruits of imperialism, be they bitter or sweet, must be left to the
subjects of monarchy. This is the one tree of which the citizens of a republic
may not partake. It is the voice of the serpent, not the voice of God,
that bids us eat.