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Back William McKinley's Speech On Imperialism
New York City, March 3, 1900
The statement which has so often been made is not far from the truth, "Once an Ohioan, always an Ohioan." It has been some years since I was your guest. Much has happened in the meantime. We have our blessings and our burdens, and still have both. We will soon have legislative assurance of the continuance of the gold standard, with which we measure our exchanges, and we have the open door in the Far East through which to market our products. We are neither in alliance nor antagonism for entanglement with any foreign power, but on terms of amity and cordiality with all. We buy from them all and sell to them all, and our sales exceeded our purchases in the past two years by over one billion dollars. 

Markets have been increased and mortgages have been reduced. Interest has fallen and wages have advanced. The public debt is decreasing. The country is well-to-do. Its people for the most part are happy and contented. They have good times and are on good terms with the nations of the world. There are unfortunately those among us, few in number I am sure, who seem to thrive best under hard times, and who, when good times overtake them in the United States, feel constrained to put us on bad terms with the rest of mankind. With them I can have no sympathy. I would rather give expression to what I believe to be the nobler and almost universal sentiment of our countrymen in the wish, not only for our peace and prosperity, but for the peace and prosperity of all the nations and people of the earth.

After 33 years of unbroken peace came an unavoidable war. Happily, the conclusion was quickly reached without a suspicion of unworthy motive, or practice, or purpose on our part and with fadeless honor on our arms. I cannot forget the quick response of the people to the country's need, and the quarter of a million men who freely offered their lives to the country's service. It was an impressive spectacle of national strength. It demonstrated our mighty reserve power and taught us that large standing armies are unnecessary as a "Minute Man" ready to join the ranks for national defense.

Out of these recent events have come to the United States grave trials and responsibilities. As it was the nation's war, so are its results the nation's problem. Its solution rests upon us all. It is too serious to stifle. It is too earnest for response. No phrase or catchword can conceal the sacred obligation it involves. No use of epithets, no aspersion of motive of those who differ, will contribute to that sober judgment so essential to right conclusions. No political outcry can abrogate our treaty of peace with Spain, or absolve us from its solemn engagements. It is the people's question, and will be until its determination is written out in their enlightened verdict. We must choose between manly doing and base desertion. It will never be the latter. It must be soberly settled in justice and good conscience, and it will be. Righteousness which exalteth a nation must control in its solution.

No great emergency has arisen in this nation's history and progress which has not been met by the sovereigns with high capacity, with ample strength, and with ample strength, and with unflinching fidelity to every honorable obligation. Partisanship can hold few of us against solemn public duty . We have seen this so often demonstrated in the past as to mark unerringly what it will be in the future. The national sentiment and the national conscience were never stronger or higher than now.

There has been a reunion of the people around the holy altar consecrated to country newly sanctified by common sacrifices. The followers of Grant and Lee have fought under the same flag, and fallen for the same fate. Party lines have loosened and ties of Union have been strengthened. Sectionalism has disappeared, and fraternity has been rooted in the hearts of the American people. Political passion has altogether expired, and patriotism glows with unextinguishable fervor in every home of the land. The flag has been sustained on distant seas and islands by the men of all parties and sections and creeds and races and nationalities, and its stars are only those of radiant hope to the remote people over whom it floats. 

There can be no imperialism. Those who fear it are against it. Those who have faith in the republic are against it. So that there is universal abhorrence for it and unanimous opposition to it. Our only difference is that those who do not agree with us have no confidence in the virtue or capacity or high purpose or good faith of this free people as a civilizing agency: while we believe that the century of free government which the American people has enjoyed has not rendered them irresolute and faithless, but has fitted them for the great task of lifting up and assisting to better conditions and larger liberty those distant people who have through the issue of battle become our wards.

Let us fear not. There is no occasion for faint hearts, no excuse for regrets. Nations do not grow in strength and the cause of liberty and law by the doing of easy things. The harder the task the greater will be the result, the benefit, and the honor. To doubt our power to accomplish it is to lose our faith in the soundness and strengths of our popular institutions.

The liberators will never become the oppressors. A self-governed people will never permit despotism in any government which they foster and defend.

Gentlemen, we have the new care and can not shift it. And, breaking up the camp of ease and isolation, let us bravely and hopefully and soberly continue the march of faithful service and falter not until the work is done. It is not possible that 75 million American freemen are unable to establish liberty and justice and good government in our new possessions. The burden is our opportunity. The opportunity is greater than the burden. May God give us strength to bear the one and wisdom so to embrace the other as to carry to our distant acquisitions the guarantees of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
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