Remarks in Fargo, North Dakota
My fellow citizens:
The Northwest, whose sons in the Civil War added such brilliant pages to the honor roll of the Republic, likewise bore a full share in the struggle of which the war with Spain was the beginning—a struggle slight indeed when compared with the gigantic death wrestle which for four years stamped to and fro across the Southern States in the Civil War—but a struggle fraught with consequences to the Nation, and indeed to the world, out of all proportion to the smallness of the effort, upon our part.
Three and a half years ago President McKinley spoke in the adjoining State of Minnesota on the occasion of the return of the Thirteenth Minnesota Volunteers from the Philippine Islands, where they had served with your own gallant sons of the North Dakota regiment. After heartily thanking the returned soldiers for their valor and patriotism, and their contemptuous refusal to be daunted or misled by the outcry raised at home by the men of little faith who wished us to abandon the islands, he spoke of the islands themselves as follows:
"That Congress will provide for them a government which will bring them blessings, which will promote their material interests as well as advance their people in the path of civilization and intelligence, I confidently believe. They will not be governed as vassals or serfs or slaves. They will be given a government of liberty, regulated by law, honestly administered, without oppressing exactions, taxation without tyranny, justice without bribe, education without distinction of social condition, freedom of religious worship, and protection in 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"
What he said then lay in the realm of promise. Now it lies in the realm of positive performance.
It is a good thing to look back upon what has been said and compare it with the record of what has actually been done. If promises are violated, if plighted word is not kept, then those who have failed in their duty should be held up to reprobation. If, on the other hand, the promises have been substantially made good; if the achievement has kept pace and more than kept pace with the prophecy, then they who made the one and are responsible for the other are entitled, of just right, to claim the credit which attaches to those who serve the Nation well. This credit I claim for the men who have managed so admirably the military and the civil affairs of the Philippine Islands, and for those other men who have so heartily backed them in Congress, and without whose aid and support not one thing could have been accomplished.
When President McKinley spoke, the first duty was the restoration of order; and to this end the use of the Army of the United States an Army composed of regulars and volunteers alike—was necessary.
To put down the insurrection and restore peace to the islands was a duty not only to ourselves but to the islanders also. We could not have abandoned the conflict without shirking this duty, without proving ourselves recreants to the memory of our forefathers. Moreover, if we had abandoned it we would have inflicted upon the Filipinos the most cruel wrong and would have doomed them to a bloody jumble of anarchy and tyranny. It seems strange, looking back, that any of our people should have failed to recognize a duty so obvious; but there was such failure, and the Government at home, the civil authorities in the Philippines, and above all our gallant Army, had to do their work amid a storm of detraction. The Army in especial was attacked in a way which finally did good, for in the end it aroused the hearty resentment of the great body of the American people, not against the Army, but against the Army's traducers. The circumstances of the war made it one of peculiar difficulty, and our soldiers were exposed to peculiar wrongs from their foes. They fought in dense tropical jungles against enemies who were very treacherous and very cruel, not only to ward our own men, but toward the great numbers of friendly natives, the most peaceable and most civilized among whom eagerly welcomed our rule. Under such circumstances, among a hundred thousand hot blooded and powerful young men serving in small detachments on the other side of the globe, it was impossible that occasional instances of wrongdoing should not occur. The fact that they occurred in retaliation for well nigh intolerable provocation cannot for one moment be admitted in the way of excuse or justification. All good Americans regret and deplore them, and the War Department has taken every step in its power to punish the offenders and to prevent or minimize the chance of repetition of the offence. But these offences were the exception and not the rule. As a whole our troops showed not only signal courage and efficiency, but great humanity and the most sincere desire to promote the welfare and liberties of the islanders. In a series of exceedingly harassing and difficult campaigns they completely overthrew the enemy, reducing them finally to a condition of mere brigandage; and, wherever they conquered, they conquered only to make way for the rule of the civil government, for the introduction of law, and of liberty under the law. When, by last July, the last vestige of organized insurrection had disappeared, peace and amnesty were proclaimed.
As rapidly as the military rule was extended over the islands by the defeat of the insurgents, just so rapidly was it replaced by the civil government. At the present time the civil government is supreme and the army in the Philippines has been reduced until it is sufficient merely to provide against the recurrence of trouble. In Governor Taft and his associates we sent to the Filipinos as upright, as conscientious, and as able a group of administrators as ever any country has been blessed with having. With them and under them we have associated the best men among the Filipinos, so that the great majority of the officials, including many of the highest rank, are themselves natives of the islands. The administration is incorruptibly honest; justice is as jealously safe guarded as here at home. The government is conducted purely in the interests of the people of the islands; they are protected in their religious and civil rights; they have been given an excellent and well administered school system, and each of them now enjoys rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" such as were never before known in all the history of the islands.
The Congress which has just adjourned has passed legislation of high importance and great wisdom in the interests of the Filipino people. First and foremost, they conferred upon them by law the present admirable civil government; in addition they gave them an excellent currency; they passed a measure allowing the organization of a native constabulary; and they provided, in the interests of the islands, for a reduction of twenty-five per cent in the tariff on Filipino articles brought to this country. I asked that a still further reduction should be made. It was not granted by the last Congress, but I think that in some shape it will be granted by the next. And even without it, the record of legislation in the interests of the Filipinos is one with which we have a right to feel great satisfaction.
Moreover, Congress appropriated three million dollars, following the precedent it set when the people of Porto Rico were afflicted by sudden disaster; this money to be used by the Philippine government in order to meet the distress occasioned primarily by the terrible cattle disease which almost annihilated the carabao or water-buffalo, the chief and most important domestic animal in the islands. Coming as this disaster did upon the heels of the havoc wrought by the insurrectionary war, great suffering has been caused; and this misery, for which this government is in no way responsible, will doubtless in turn increase the difficulties of the Philippine government for the next year or so. In consequence there will doubtless here and there occur sporadic increases of the armed brigandage to which the islands have been habituated from time immemorial, and here and there for their own purposes the bandits may choose to style themselves patriots or insurrectionists; but these local difficulties will be of little consequence save as they give occasion to a few men here at home again to try to mislead our people. Not only has the military problem in the Philippines been worked out quicker and better than we had dared to expect, but the progress socially and in civil governments has likewise exceeded our fondest hopes.
The best thing that can be done in handling such a problem as that in the Philippine Islands, so peculiar, so delicate, so difficult and so remote, is to put the best man possible in charge and then give him the heartiest possible support, and the freest possible hand. This is what has been done with Governor Taft. There is not in this Nation a higher or finer type of public servant than Governor Taft. He has rendered literally inestimable service, not only to the people of the Philippine Islands but also to the people of the United States, by what he has done in those islands. He has been able to do it, because from the beginning he has been given absolute support by the War Department, under Secretary Root. With the cessation of organized resistance the civil government assumed its proper position of headship. The army in the Philippines is now one of the instruments through which governor Taft does his admirable work. The civil government, of which Governor Taft is the head, is supreme, and will do well in the future as it has in the past, because it will be backed up in the future as it has been in the past.
Remember always that in the Philippines the American Government has tried and is trying to carry out exactly what the greatest genius and most revered patriot ever known in the Philippine Islands—José Rizal—steadfastly advocated. This man shortly before his death, in a message to his countrymen, under date of December 16, 1896, condemned unsparingly the insurrection of Aguinaldo, terminated just before our navy appeared upon the scene, pointed out the path his people should follow to liberty and enlightenment. Speaking of the insurrection and of the pretense that Filipino independence of a whole some character could thereby be obtained, he wrote:
"When, in spite of my advice, a movement was begun, I offered of my own accord, not only my services, but my life and even my good name to be used in any way they might believe effective in stilling the rebel lion. I thought of the disaster which would follow the success of the revolution, and I deemed myself fortunate if by any sacrifice I could block the progress of such a useless calamity.
"My countrymen, I have given proof that I was one who sought liberty for our country and I still seek it. But as a first step I insisted upon the development of the people in order that, by means of education and of labor, they might acquire the proper individual character and force which would make them worthy of it. In my writings I have commended to you study and civic virtue, without which our redemption does not exist... I cannot do less than condemn, and I do condemn, this absurd and savage insurrection planned behind my back, which dishonors us before the Filipinos and discredits us with those who otherwise would argue in our behalf. I abominate its cruelties and disavow any kind of connection with it, regretting with all the sorrow of my soul that these reckless men have allowed themselves to be deceived. Let them return, then, to their homes, and may God pardon those who have acted in bad faith."
This message embodied precisely and exactly the avowed policy upon which the American Government has acted in the Philippines. What the patriot Rizal said with such force in speaking of the insurrection before we came to the islands applies with tenfold greater force to those who foolishly or wickedly opposed the mild and beneficent government we were instituting in the islands. The judgment of the martyred public servant, Rizal, whose birthday the Philippine people celebrate, and whom they worship as their hero and ideal, sets forth the duty of American sovereignty; a duty from which the American people will never flinch.
While we have been doing these great and beneficent works in the islands, we have yet been steadily reducing the cost at which they are done. The last Congress repealed the law for the war taxes, and the War Department has reduced the Army from the maximum number of one hundred thousand allowed under the law to very nearly the mini mum of sixty thousand.
Moreover, the last Congress enacted some admirable legislation affecting the Army, passing first of all the militia bill and then the bill to create a general staff. The militia bill represents the realization of a reform which had been championed ineffectually by Washington, and had been fruitlessly agitated ever since. At last we have taken from the statute books the obsolete militia law of the Revolutionary days and have provided for efficient aid to the National Guard of the States. I believe that no other great country has such fine natural material for volunteer soldiers as we have, and it is the obvious duty of the nation and of the States to make such provision as will enable this volunteer soldiery to be organized with all possible rapidity and efficiency in time of war; and, furthermore, to help in every way the National Guard in time of peace. The militia law enacted by Congress marks the first long step ever taken in this direction by the National Government. The general-staff law is of immense importance and benefit to the Regular Army. Individually, I would not admit that the American regular, either officer or enlisted man, is inferior to any other regular soldier in the world. In fact, if it were worth while to boast, I should be tempted to say that he was the best. But there must be proper training, proper organization and administration, in order to get the best service out of even the best troops. This is particularly the case with such a small army as ours, scattered over so vast a country. We do not need a large Regular Army, but we do need to have our small Regular Army the very best that can possibly be produced. Under the worn-out and ineffective organization which has hitherto existed, a sudden strain is absolutely certain to produce the dislocation and confusion we saw at the outbreak of the war with Spain; and when such dislocation and confusion occur it is easy and natural, but entirely improper, to blame the men who happen to be in office in stead of the system which is really responsible. Under the law just enacted by Congress this system will be changed immensely for the better, and every patriotic American ought to rejoice; for when we come to the Army and the Navy we deal with the honor and interests of all our people; and when such is the case party lines are as nothing, and we all stand shoulder to shoulder as Americans, moved only by pride in and love for our common country.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Fargo, North Dakota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343412