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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

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Colonial Administration

A Constitutional Question Settled.—In colonial administration, as in foreign policy, President Roosevelt advanced with firm step in a path already marked out. President McKinley had defined the principles that were to control the development of Porto Rico and the Philippines. The Republican party had announced a program of pacification, gradual self-government, and commercial improvement. The only remaining question of importance, to use the popular phrase,—“Does the Constitution follow the flag?”—had been answered by the Supreme Court of the United States. Although it was well known that the Constitution did not contemplate the government of dependencies, such as the Philippines and Porto Rico, the Court, by generous and ingenious interpretations, found a way for Congress to apply any reasonable rules required by the occasion.

Photograph from Underwood and Underwood, N.Y.
A Sugar Mill, Porto Rico

Porto Rico.—The government of Porto Rico was a relatively simple matter. It was a single island with a fairly homogeneous population apart from the Spanish upper class. For a time after military occupation in 1898, it was administered under military rule. This was succeeded by the establishment of civil government under the “organic act” passed by Congress in 1900. The law assured to the Porto Ricans American protection but withheld American citizenship—a boon finally granted in 1917. It provided for a governor and six executive secretaries appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate; and for a legislature of two houses—one elected by popular native vote, and an upper chamber composed of the executive secretaries and five other persons appointed in the same manner. Thus the United States turned back to the provincial system maintained by England in Virginia or New York in old colonial days. The natives were given a voice in their government and the power of initiating laws; but the final word both in law-making and administration was vested in officers appointed in Washington. Such was the plan under which the affairs of Porto Rico were conducted by President Roosevelt. It lasted until the new organic act of 1917.

The Philippines.—The administration of the Philippines presented far more difficult questions. The number of islands, the variety of languages and races, the differences in civilization all combined to challenge the skill of the government. Moreover, there was raging in 1901 a stubborn revolt against American authority, which had to be faced. Following the lines laid down by President McKinley, the evolution of American policy fell into three stages. At first the islands were governed directly by the President under his supreme military power. In 1901 a civilian commission, headed by William Howard Taft, was selected by the President and charged with the government of the provinces in which order had been restored. Six years later, under the terms of an organic act, passed by Congress in 1902, the third stage was reached. The local government passed into the hands of a governor and commission, appointed by the President and Senate, and a legislature—one house elected by popular vote and an upper chamber composed of the commission. This scheme, like that obtaining in Porto Rico, remained intact until a Democratic Congress under President Wilson’s leadership carried the colonial administration into its fourth phase by making both houses elective. Thus, by the steady pursuit of a liberal policy, self-government was extended to the dependencies; but it encouraged rather than extinguished the vigorous movement among the Philippine natives for independence.

Copyright by Underwood and Underwood, N.Y.
Mr Taft in the Philippines

Cuban Relations.—Within the sphere of colonial affairs, Cuba, though nominally independent, also presented problems to the government at Washington. In the fine enthusiasm that accompanied the declaration of war on Spain, Congress, unmindful of practical considerations, recognized the independence of Cuba and disclaimed “any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for the pacification thereof.” In the settlement that followed the war, however, it was deemed undesirable to set the young republic adrift upon the stormy sea of international politics without a guiding hand. Before withdrawing American troops from the island, Congress, in March, 1901, enacted, and required Cuba to approve, a series of restrictions known as the Platt amendment, limiting her power to incur indebtedness, securing the right of the United States to intervene whenever necessary to protect life and property, and reserving to the United States coaling stations at certain points to be agreed upon. The Cubans made strong protests against what they deemed “infringements of their sovereignty”; but finally with good grace accepted their fate. Even when in 1906 President Roosevelt landed American troops in the island to quell a domestic dissension, they acquiesced in the action, evidently regarding it as a distinct warning that they should learn to manage their elections in an orderly manner.

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