At the turn of the twentieth century, during the watershed period of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was in its thirty-sixth year since incorporating as an officially recognized denomination. By December of 1899, the church reported 1,386 ministers and missionaries, almost 1,800 churches, and a worldwide membership of 64,003.1 As the denomination continued to grow and mature, church leaders perceived the implications of the Adventist message for the social and political events of the time.
Between 1898 and 1902, politicians and religious leaders exerted their influence to sway public opinion in support of America’s wars with Spain and the Philippines. As the world witnessed the United States’ debut as a world empire, several Seventh-day Adventists articulated their dissent against American imperialism, based on the Adventist understanding of the prophecies of Revelation 13.
War Against Spain’s Colonial Empire, 1898
Since the sixteenth century, Spain’s colonial empire included territory in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Two important colonies in its domain were the Philippines and the island of Cuba. With Cuba’s proximity to the southern coast of the United States, affairs in that territory were considered vital to American economic, military, and political interests. In February of 1895, Cuban insurrection sparked a three-year struggle against Spanish rule, provoking Spain to respond with harsh policies that included concentration camps. Aware of the international attention generated by the political instability, and drawn by the strategic benefits of weakening Europe’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, American officials and the New York press saw the crisis as an opportunity to intervene in Cuba.
By April 25, 1898, developments led to military conflict. President William McKinley (1843–1901) had issued his war message, Congress passed a resolution favoring intervention in Cuba, and both Spain and the United States had declared war. The actual combat of the Spanish-American War lasted a mere four months. “It was a splendid little war,” remarked Ambassador John Hay.2 After the U.S. Navy crushed the Spanish fleet both at the Philippine capital of Manila and also at Santiago Bay in Cuba, representatives of the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Peace in Paris on December 10, 1898. Not only did the treaty officially end the war, but it also ceded to the United States all of Spain’s colonial lands in the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Pacific (Guam and Philippines). Without any consent of the Filipinos, a US$20-million payment was made to Spain to purchase the Philippines.3
With the resounding victory of its first war outside North America, the United States successfully seized control over an overseas empire that, as some newspapers proudly exclaimed, “stretched 10,000 miles from tip to tip.”4 Mainstream Protestants were among the most earnest voices supporting the war with Spain. They billed it as a “humanitarian war,” not fought for self-interest or conquest, but rather for the benefit of humanity. By viewing the triumph as an opportunity for missionaries to extend Christian civilization in Catholic territory, Protestant leaders ascribed a religious meaning to the war.5
Unlike the widespread pro-war sentiments among mainstream Protestants, Seventh-day Adventist periodicals expressed concern about the consequences of American military involvement against Spain. The Oriental Watchman noted that while “the press and the public generally” are “urging that the country shall push on along the path of Imperialism,” “more thoughtful” observers could sense the need for a warning against the dangers of empire.6
During the “President’s Address” at the 1899 General Conference session, George A. Irwin (1844–1913) emphasized the significance of the war-frenzied times. He spoke of “the threatening attitude of the nations of earth toward one another; the almost constant alarm of war from some quarter; the constantly increasing armament of the nations, while planning for peace conferences; the Spanish-American war, which astonished the world with its result in so brief a time, and brought America into prominence, and hopelessly entangled her with the ‘powers’ of the earth.”7 Adventists warned that the war would bring more wars in its wake as the nation embroiled itself further in various international conflicts. The “old isolated America is passing away,” reported one Adventist newspaper, “and a great ‘world power’ is being born under our eyes.”8 But the global nature of that American powerhouse was linked to an imperialism that was in violation of the nation’s principles of civil and religious liberty. Those violations would become apparent in the nation’s policy toward one of its newly acquired territories, the Philippines.
Philippine-American War (1899–1902)
After the U.S. Navy, under the leadership of Admiral George Dewey (1837–1917), defeated the Spanish fleet off the coast of Manila on May 1, 1898, the Filipinos expected the Americans to leave the island and grant them their independence. It soon became clear to them that they were not free and that the United States army was not leaving. Americans had simply replaced the Spanish colonizers and now laid claim to the Philippine archipelago. Insisting on their freedom, the Filipinos revolted, and on February 4, 1899, the first shots were fired in the Philippine-American War.9
Economic and military incentives influenced American imperialism in the Philippines, but there was also a religious justification that played a key role. The majority consensus among Protestant Americans was that the United States had the right to impose rule over the Filipinos in order to “civilize” the “barbaric” natives by evangelizing them. Despite the injustice of forceful annexation, many Americans believed that God’s providence had granted them jurisdiction over the islands and that the nation was duty bound to spread American Christianity to the Philippines, regardless of the Filipinos’ disapproval.10 Protestant periodicals declared that Jesus Himself was an imperialist, and to oppose the government’s foreign policy was, in essence, to hinder Christian missions and thus sin against God.11
A minority group of dissenters emerged to protest against America’s colonial policy. These included figures like Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and others associated with the Anti-Imperialist League, an organization that included a strong representation of Unitarians and Episcopalians.12 Thus the anti-imperialists consisted largely of either secular leaders or religious leaders associated with the liberal branches of American Christianity.
Adventist leaders were among the few anti-imperialist voices who dissented from the majority opinion and opposed the United States’ imperialist policy in the Philippines. Between 1898 and 1902, Adventist periodicals––Signs of the Times based in California, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (ARH) in Michigan, and American Sentinel in New York––published articles exposing America’s contradiction in professing to be a Christian nation while violating civil and religious freedoms.13 Adventist leader A. T. Jones (1850–1923) rejected what he considered a false patriotism that condoned the “buying and selling” of an entire nation, “as if seven millions of the people in the Philippine Islands were of no more importance than a bale of cotton.” Jones decried such cruel policies as stemming from a warped nationalism that permeated American society as a result of the church going into politics.14
Basing his critique on an understanding of Bible prophecy, Jones was adamant about applying Revelation 13’s lamblike beast to America’s infringements on republicanism, and not merely religious liberty issues. While most Adventist expositors pointed to America’s apostasy from the principles of Protestantism, “very little has been said about the apostasy of the nation from its fundamental principle of republicanism.” Imperialism, Jones maintained, was a breach of both the principles of Protestantism and republicanism, and failure to recognize that fact would result in missing out on the opportunity of declaring “the true significance” of America’s current events in light of Revelation’s prophecy.15
Other Adventists also invoked their interpretation of Revelation 13 and their understanding of America in prophecy to oppose the way in which religious groups depicted America as a nation fulfilling the providence of God.16 Percy T. Magan (1867–1947), the prominent Adventist educator and administrator who would later serve as president of Loma Linda University, wrote a provocative book titled The Peril of the Republic of the United States of America (1899), in which he denounced America’s imperialistic foreign policy. The book was so radical that, in an effort to avoid backlash, several delegates at the fifty-sixth General Conference committee meeting voted to publish the manuscript with a company unaffiliated with the denomination.17
In the book, Magan rebuked the nation for professing to be a beacon of liberty while simultaneously subjugating the Filipinos against their will. Though he believed that there were legitimate grounds to intervene on behalf of the oppressed Cubans, he maintained that in the Philippines the United States was shamefully mimicking colonial policies. “Colonial empires are wrong in principle. The conception of the thing itself is wrong.”18 America, argued Magan, was not enacting God’s will, it was actually modeling the brutality of Old World empires.19 As foretold in the prophetic symbol of the “lamblike” beast of Revelation 13, the United States was Christian only in name in that it was contradicting its principles of civil and religious liberty.20
Pro-imperialists often displayed deep-seated racism with religious overtones in their support for expansion into the Philippines. U.S. Senator Alfred J. Beveridge (1862–1927) declared that “Providence” was leading “the greatest nation the world has ever seen” to help the Filipinos who, as a racially inferior people, were unfit for self-rule. The Filipinos, insisted Beveridge, needed to be civilized by “those in whose blood resides the genius of administration.”21 Thus, the Filipino freedom-fighters must be overcome, lest they thwart the providential leading of God. As the editor of the Disciples of Christ weekly periodical Christian Evangelist put it, “We cannot allow the course of destiny to be blocked by the reluctance of these savages to receive our aid.”22
Some African-American Seventh-day Adventists responded to such racist nationalism by undermining the providentialist notions of American destiny. Franklin Henry Bryant (1877–1909), the first African-American Seventh-day Adventist to publish a book, applied his literary talents to capture the national apostasy of American colonization during the Philippine-American War. As an Adventist “fully imbued with a love of the truth,” Bryant used his poetry to articulate his anti-imperialist dissent.23 Several months after the forced surrender of Filipino resistance leaders, Bryant personified America as “Columbia,” and lamented the nation’s unjust wars:
How are thou fallen, Columbia!
No longer Freedom’s gem,
The former hope for the oppressed
Today oppresseth them . . .
The rights of men no more
Columbia’s thoughts employ;
Their cherished hopes of liberty
Her guns and gold destroy.
There Cuba tells us so;
So do the Philippines . . .
Ah why, Columbia, why
Wilt thou thy birthright sell?
Why leave the courts of righteousness
To with the wicked dwell?24
In the June 1902 edition of the Sentinel of Christian Liberty, Adventist editors continued their anti-imperialist dissent by publishing articles that condemned the war in the Philippines as “a race war, particularly a war of Anglo-Saxons against a colored race.”25 A later edition of the same periodical scorned the way in which both politicians and clergymen alike were forwarding arguments that the “inferior races” were to be granted only as much freedom as the superior races deemed them worthy of. These are the kind of shameful arguments, continued the editorial, that kings have made for “enslaving the people in all ages of the world.”26 This critique was a direct challenge to the blind nationalism displayed by many of the Christian churches throughout the nation.
According to the editors of the ARH, it was erroneous to suggest that there was “complete barbarism and entire lack of civilization among the Filipinos.” Not only did the editors reject such racist bigotry, but they even sided with the Filipino freedom fighters whose primary aim was to secure their own liberty. “In his actions, one can not find fault with the Filipino. He is obeying the ‘first law of nature,’ and is only following the example of his civilized and so-called Christian teachers.”27 If American patriots could justifiably launch a Revolutionary War against a foreign monarch to demand their liberties, then surely the Filipinos had legitimate grounds to demand their freedom as well.
As the war dragged on and intensified, disturbing reports reached the United States revealing the nature of guerrilla warfare between American and Filipino troops. American soldiers were using methods of torture to extract information from the Filipinos. The reports showed that among other forms of torture, United States military generals gave orders to use the waterboarding method.28
The Adventist periodical Gospel Herald highlighted the shock among Americans at the news of such “barbaric methods of warfare.” Pro-expansionists were late in realizing the horrors of a war that led to “the killing of boys of ten years” and other “bloody and cruel” realities. The editors of the Gospel Herald suggested that there were “a good many people who seriously question the rightfulness of the whole war.”29
In the Sentinel of Christian Liberty, the June issue of 1902 published an article provocatively titled, “Anglo-Saxon Atrocities,” strongly condemning the war in the Philippines. “Brutality has been common,” it claimed, and has “become a recognized feature of the military operations.” The article specifically denounced the fact that the United States Army used “the water torture” as part of its strategy.30 The following month, in July of 1902, the Philippine-American War came to an official close.
In the turbulent period of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, Adventists took their place among other anti-imperialists who resisted the pressures of public opinion. The Adventist press criticized President Theodore Roosevelt for his disregard for the “fundamental principles of the nation” and his penchant for intimidating those who opposed the annexation of the Philippines.31 As historian Douglas Morgan observes: “Adventists, in this period, were not hesitant to apply their apocalyptic world view to the foreign policy of their own government, and in so doing to hold the government to its own highest standards of human rights.”32 The church’s prophetic tradition provided a framework through which it could challenge the prevalent notions of American exceptionalism.
“America’s Foolish and Wicked Course.” Sentinel of Christian Liberty, June 1902, 404.
“Americanism.” American Sentinel, May 19, 1898.
“Anglo-Saxon Atrocities.” Sentinel of Christian Liberty, June 1902.
Brands, H. W. Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Brewer, Susan A. Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Bryant, Franklin Henry. “Hail Columbia.” Colored American, August 24, 1901.
Cherry, Conrad, ed. God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
“Editorial.” Gospel Herald, May 7, 1902.
“The Future of Our Country.” Signs of the Times, August 1, 1900.
General Conference Committee Minutes, October 24, 1899. General Conference Archives.
“Imperial America.” Oriental Watchman, December 1898.
Irwin, George A. “The President’s Address.” Daily Bulletin of the General Conference, February 16, 1899.
Kinzer, Stephen. The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018.
Magan, Percy T. The Peril of the Republic of the United States of America. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1899.
McCullough, Matthew. The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
Miller, Stuart Creighton. Benevolent Assimilation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.
Moore, Colin D. American Imperialism and the State, 1893-1921. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Morgan, Douglas. Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.
“News and Notes.” ARH, April 18, 1899; February 12, 1901; April 2, 1901.
“News, Notes, and Comments.” American Sentinel, May 12, 1898.
“A Novel Christian Duty.” ARH, July 12, 1898.
Preston, Andrew. Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy. New York: Anchor Books, 2012.
“Present Truth.” ARH, May 16, 1899.
“A Result of the War with Spain.” Signs of the Times, April 18, 1900.
Smith, Joseph. “The ‘Splendid Little War’ of 1898: A Reappraisal.” History 80, no. 258 (February 1995): 22–37, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24423068, accessed July 29, 2018.
Takagi, Makoto. Divergent Influences in the Anti-Imperialist League, United States, 1898-1900. University of Tokyo, 1950.
“This and That.” Oriental Watchman, June, 1898.
“Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain; December 10, 1898.” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sp1898.asp, accessed July 29, 2018.
Untitled paragraph. Sentinel of Christian Liberty, February 12, 1903.
Untitled paragraph. Signs of the Times, November 22, 1899.
White, James Edson, letter to Ellen G. White. March 22, 1899, J. Edson White Correspondence, Ellen G. White Estate, http://ellenwhite.org/content/correspondence/white-je/003189pdf, accessed July 29, 2018.
“Summary of Statistics of Conferences and Missions for the Year Ending December 31, 1899,” General Conference Bulletin. Annual Statistical Report for 1899, Office of Archives and Statistics, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR1899.pdf, accessed July 29, 2018.↩
“Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain; December 10, 1898,” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sp1898.asp, accessed July 29, 2018; Stephen Kinzer, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018), 92–93. While the Treaty ceded colonial possessions to the U.S., the remaining island possessions in Micronesia were sold to Germany soon afterward.↩
Colin D. Moore, American Imperialism and the State, 1893-1921 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 67.↩
Matthew McCullough, The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 19–27.↩
“Imperial America,” Oriental Watchman, December 1898, 126.↩
George A. Irwin, “The President’s Address,” Daily Bulletin of the General Conference, February 16, 1899, 5, 6.↩
“This and That,” Oriental Watchman, June 1898, 30.↩
H. W. Brands, Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), vi; Susan A. Brewer, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 33.↩
Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2012), 207, 208, 212.↩
“The Imperialism of Jesus,” Missionary Record (Cumberland) 25 (December 1899), in Stuart Creighton Miller, Benevolent Assimilation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982), 18; McCullough, The Cross of War, 107.↩
Makoto Takagi, Divergent Influences in the Anti-Imperialist League, United States, 1898-1900 (Tokyo: University of Tokyo, 1950), 122, 123.↩
“News, Notes, and Comments,” American Sentinel, May 12, 1898, 297; Untitled paragraph, Signs of the Times, November 22, 1899, 9; “A Result of the War with Spain,” Signs of the Times, April 18, 1900, 8; “The Future of Our Country,” Signs of the Times, August 1, 1900, 7; “News and Notes,” ARH, April 2, 1901, 220, 224; February 12, 1901, 112.↩
“Americanism,” American Sentinel, May 19, 1898, 311, 312.↩
“Present Truth,” ARH, May 16, 1899, 312.↩
“A Novel Christian Duty,” ARH, July 12, 1898, 444, 445.↩
“The Fifty-Sixth Meeting of the General Conference Committee,” October 24, 1899, General Conference Committee Minutes, General Conference Archives.↩
Percy T. Magan, The Peril of the Republic of the United States of America (Fleming H. Revell, 1899), 78–81, 89, 90.↩
Conrad Cherry, ed., God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 146–148.↩
McCullough, Cross of War, 131, 132.↩
James Edson White to Ellen G. White, letter, March 22, 1899, J. Edson White Correspondence, Ellen G. White Estate, http://ellenwhite.org/content/correspondence/white-je/003189pdf, accessed July 29, 2018.↩
Franklin Henry Bryant, “Hail Columbia,” Colored American, August 24, 1901, 10.↩
“America’s Foolish and Wicked Course,” Sentinel of Christian Liberty, June 1902, 404.↩
Untitled paragraph, Sentinel of Christian Liberty, February 12, 1903, 100.↩
“News and Notes,” ARH, April 18, 1899, 254.↩
McCullough, The Cross of War, 133; Richard Welch, “American Atrocities in the Philippines: The Indictment and the Response,” Pacific Historical Review 43, no. 2 (May 1974): 234–238.↩
“Editorial,” Gospel Herald, May 7, 1902, 144.↩
“Anglo-Saxon Atrocities,” The Sentinel of Christian Liberty, June 1902, 406–408.↩
Untitled paragraph, Sentinel of Christian Liberty, February 12, 1903, 100.↩
Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 70.↩