A Question of “Simple Justice”

The Independent, which has all along supported the present national policy of foreign conquest, now—in view of certain developments in Congress—raises the significant inquiry, “Shall simple justice be done to Porto Rico?” “Congress,” it says, “is asked, by papers and persons of influence, to say to the Porto Ricans, in effect:—

‘The blessings which we enjoy as a nation are not for you; they are peculiar to us. United States laws and liberties and privileges are solely for the people of the United States, and when we say ‘United States’ we mean continental United States. We dare not extend the Constitution and laws of this definitely founded Continental area over any neighboring territory which is not contiguous and geographically a part of the solid earth of States and Territories. We must not cross a sea, however narrow, with our sacred Constitution and laws. They will not bear transportation. We may not carry them to Alaska or Hawaii. We dread the effect of the intervening sea upon them. We are tied to the mainland. If Manitoba were offered now, we would even be afraid to the great lakes. We must be careful, very careful, because what we do in Porto Rico will be a precedent for Hawaii, and worse still for the Philippines.’”

“What,” The Independent proceeds to inquired, “is the specter which these fearful souls see and shudder over as they look across the West India ferry, and the Alaskan and Hawaiian? Statehood, they say. When they come down to the ocean and see the islands marshaling as Territories for the peaceful honors of Statehood, they are choked with spasms of a sort of hydrophobia. The sight of the water is too much for them, and they turn to Congress and say: ‘This is a terrible thing. Don’t make a dangerous precedent! Don’t let in little Porto Rico, except in chains! The nation may go mad. Don’t say ‘Territory’ to the Porto Ricans. They may call back, ‘State.’ Don’t give them our Constitution and laws, as such, but say, ‘These laws are for you, especially, as a province or dependency, or colony. They are not given to you as United States laws, but as Porto Rican laws. Take them and be happy, if you can; but don’t expect anything like equality, for that can never be.’”

This is certainly a strange manifestation to come at this date from The Independent, or from any source from which the foreign-conquest policy has derived support. The Independent looked over and approved the tree, and now holds up its hands almost in horror at the fruit it is beginning to bear. There was plenty of opportunity to discover at the first, from an inspection of the tree, just what would be its fruit.

Right at the outset of the application of the “expansion” policy to the government of the new territory, it becomes necessary for a leading advocate of that policy to raise the question whether “simple justice” shall be done to the people of a part of that territory. This, from the standpoint it has occupied, is a very damaging admission.

What is the prospective injustice which The Independent fears? For one thing, the answer is, Porto Rico is not to be allowed free trade with the United States. Some of the trusts in the United States are against it, and these representatives of the money power are instructing Congress how it must act in the matter. For example, “There are senators and representatives whose constituents raise tobacco and sugar, and they argue that if more tobacco and sugar are raised within the bounds of the United States, the crops will be less remunerative to them.” It is now beginning to be discovered by the advocates of foreign conquest, that expansion across the sea is a different thing from the expansion of Jefferson’s day, which they have persistently sought to use as a precedent.

“If Porto Rico is covered by the Constitution,” says The Independent, “our ports and its ports will be as open to each other as the slips on either side of the Hudson River are to the ferryboats that connect New York with Jersey City.” But it is proposed that a tariff barrier shall be erected between the ports of Porto Rico and those of the United States, contrary to the Constitution. So many holes have now been made in the Constitution that it has ceased to be a very efficient cover for anything. And so “simple justice” to this people under the Constitution is denied.

The Independent proceeds to say that “If the United States cannot restore to Porto Ricans what it took from them, or give them an equivalent, it were better to turn them over to the tenderer mercies of some other nation. It is a monstrous thought that we, so boastful of our free and generous spirit, should even contemplate such a tariff as Senator Platt proposes. It would be a cruelty such as Spain, selfish and oppressive as she is, never committed. We are in a fair way, if Senator Platt and some of his colleagues (we trust there are not many of them) have their will, to crush aspirations which Spain did not wholly discourage.”

Then The Independent proceeds to notice the President’s plan for the government of the island, as being “by no means a liberal one,” and declares that it contrast unfavorably with the old plan of Spain. And in all this The Independent is not alone, but voices the sentiments of other journals which have been and are yet ardent advocates of the new expansion doctrine of government by consent of some of the governed.

The situation is worth contemplating. Porto Rico is the very nearest of the captured islands which the Government has announced its intention of holding. And it was acquired with the least trouble. The people instantly submitted to American rule; they have been friendly and have caused no trouble. They are fairly intelligent. There was therefore every reason to expect that the United States would do the best by Porto Rico that it would do for any of its new island possessions. And yet, at the very outset of the practical application of its “benevolent” designs, it is so apparent that the Porto Ricans will not get even “simple justice,” that journals which have all along supported the nation’s policy are now forced to cry out against what they see taking place under it, and denounce the proposed rule as being worse than that of Spain.

Such are the firstfruits of American imperialism, as seen under the most favoring conditions. What, then, must be its final fruits?

And now that The Independent and other prominent journals see that the budding fruit of the tree is evil, will they be convinced that the tree itself is evil? or will they think that somehow a good tree can bear evil fruit? Will they go to the root of the matter, and renounce the evil principles from which such practises are beginning to result?

The Independents query can be answered: No; Porto Rico will not get “simple justice” under the Constitution, and that for the simple reason that “simple justice” under the Constitution was denied to its people when their territory was forcibly annexed to the United States. The initial step in the matter was contrary to “simple justice,” and succeeding steps that are taken can only be expected to be of the same kind.

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