Mark Twain on U.S. Imperialism, “To the Person Sitting in the Darkness” (1901) primary source essay with reading questions

 Mark Twain on Imperialism

In 1896, Filipino Rebels led by Emilio Aguinaldo, began fighting to expel the Spanish. Aided by U.S. arms, Aguinaldo’s troops won several battles and issued a declaration of independence in June 1898. But within months, Spain ceded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the U.S in exchange for $20 million. Unwilling to disband their provisional government or agree to U.S. control, Filipino forces attacked U.S. soldiers. Four years of fierce guerilla warfare ensued. Dispatching 125,000 troops, the U.S. lost 4,000 men in the struggle. At the same time, over 20,000 Filipino soldiers and perhaps 200,000 civilians perished. In 1902, Congress reached a compromise in which a presidential appointee governed the islands in conjunction with a Filipino assembly. In 1946, the Philippines were granted independence.

Many Americans opposed U.S. imperialism. Prominent citizens, including William Jennings Bryan, Jane Addams, and Andrew Carnegie, argued that acquisition of foreign territories violated national ideals. Some anti-imperialists also claimed that U.S. colonies would jeopardize white supremacy and undermine capitalism.

Mark Twain was a vociferous critic of imperialism. Twain’s writings, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, brought him international acclaim. He traveled widely and encountered indigenous peoples in several countries.

In much of his work, Twain used satire combined with facts to comment on international relations. He was also an active member of the American Friends of Russia and the Anti-Imperialist League. In this essay, Twain attacks the imperialistic ambitions of President William McKinley and other world leaders.

Attached is a primary source essay written by Mark Twain with reading questions.


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