the documentary competition. that line is this thursday said that your 5 to 8 minute video to c-span for your chance to win the grand prize of $5,000. this year's topic washington d.c. through my lens. the competition is open to students grades 6 through 12. go to studentcam.org. .. >> to industrial centers led by businessmen like andrew carnegie, john d. rockefeller
and cornelius vanderbilt. the author discusses his book at the pritzker military center in chicago. it's about 90 minutes. [applause] >> long after they returned home, veterans of the civil war often spoke of battle as a sort of proving ground for man, a test of principle and character like other young men of his generation, teddy roosevelt heard those veterans x -- and he itched for a conflict of his own. in 198 he would receive it with the spanish-american war. others would contrast the glory of myth with the harsh light of reality. though much had changed about the way america fought wars, an equally profound transformation had taken place in the terms of quiet america who had fought them. what role did titans of business play in the transformation? our guest tonight will explore
the intersection of military power and economic might and take an in-depth look at the creation of the american colossus. this program is coming to you from the pritzker military library in downtown chicago. later on we'll be taking questions from our studio audience at pritzker pritzkermilitarylibrary,.org. h.w. brands is the author of of several books, "the first american," "the life and times of benjamin franklin, ""and traitor to his class," for which he was a finalist for the pulitzer prize for biography. he joins us tonight to discuss his new book, "american colossus: the triumph of capitalism, 1865-1900." please join me in welcoming back to the pretty kerr military library, h.w. brands. [applause]
>> thank you, ed. i'm delighted to be back at pritzker. this is the foremost institution of its kind in the country, and it's quite an honor to speak here once and even a greater honor to speak twice. i'm going to be talking about, well, roughly ant a book that i -- about a book that i published a couple weeks ago. it's about the gilded age, the last third of the 19th century. the essential part of the story is what i call the capitalist revolution this -- in america. it is the emergence of america as an industrial power with the economy based on the principles and practices of capitalism which on its face doesn't necessarily, doesn't, obviously, lend itself to the kind of things that the pritzker does. however, i'm going to contend that there is a central connection here. and this despite the fact that in this book, it's a tearily long book -- fairly long book,
it's 600-some pages -- i spend very little time on military history per se. and this partly because the period that i discuss from 1865 to 1900 -- and if i stopped in -- let's say 1965 -- 1865 to 1890, it's the longest stretch in american history without an organized war. we can leave aside the frontier against the indians because they didn't rise to the level of a congressionally-declared war. it's the long e period in which america's formally at peace. so it would seem that there's not much here for the military historian, for somebody who's interested in how america or why america goes to wars, how america fights the wars and how all these things turn out. but as i hope i will make clear before the end of the evening, there is a close connection. the first thing i will say is it was a period bracketed by war. 1865 is chosen, of course,
because it's the end of of the civil war. but i cheated a little bit in the book. the argument of the of book really starts in about 1860 or 1861. i didn't put that in the subtitle of the book because the subtitle has the years 1865-1900 because i didn't want readers to think i was going to write a history of the civil war of which there have been many and better than i could write in the space that i was going to give to it. although here i will say parenthetically that i'm at work on a biography of ulysses grant, so i'm going to get back to work on the civil war in greater detail. anyway, it has a lot to do with how and why america industrialized. and my story ends, really, with the war with spain in 1898 and the war in the philippines, the war with spain triggers. so it's an era that begins in war and ends in war.
so it's a little bit deceptive to think or to argue that it's a peaceful period. again, more on this in just a moment. now i'm going to tell you what i have been talking to my students about increasingly over the last several years. i've been teaching american history initially to high school students, and then to community college students and i now to unfortunate students. and i've been doing this -- university students. and the longer i do it, the more i'm convinced that the questions of history are relatively few but very profound. and one of the most profound questions and the one that relates to what i'm talking about tonight and, in fact, i'm teaching a seminar on the subject at the university of texas this semester. i spoke to my students just a couple nights ago about this. the question is, why is there war? and this is a question that transcends american history although i tend to confine
myself to the period of the wars of american history. i'm teaching a course at the university of texas right now called america's wars. and the question is, how does america go to war, what do americans expect out of war, what do they accomplish, how do the wars end, and how does it all turn out? and the question i pose to my students, in this case i'm teaching undergraduates. and the students in my class range in anal from about -- age from about 19 to 23 or 23 -- 21 or 22. i posed the question on the first day, is there war? i'm asking them specifically because historically young people their age have been the ones who fight the wars. now, i look at the young men in my class, and maybe it won't surprise you -- maybe it will -- to know that when i teach this class which is a class in american military, it's called
america's wars, or it's a seminar. so i have 20 students, and typically i get maybe 14 or 15 young men and five or six young women. so there's an overrepresentation of young men, and i don't find that lahrly surprising. -- particularly surprising. i look at the young men in particular and actually in this class, in this version i have a number of either active duty or recently active military. men. and actually i've had a couple of military women. but i ask the question to them, and i put it this way: i say, why do you go to war? and i point to them and say why do you go to war? historically, it's been the case that people of my age -- barack obama is the first president than i'm older than. [laughter] so, you know, it's roughly people my age who make the decisions to send people their age to war. and i ask them, so, why do you do it? and i pose some answers. and i say, okay, these are some
possible answers. i don't pretend that there is a single answer by any means. in this regard i remind them that history and human affairs are not like physics. in physics you want to reduce the number of answers, the number of problems, slice through all that extraneous stuff. but i in history the more answers you can give, the more complete your explanation is. if there is an army of a thousand or 10,000 or 10 million or 12 million or 16 million as there was in world war ii, there are probably almost as many reasons people go to war as there are participants in the war. anyway, one of the possibilities i present to them is that maybe we choose -- that is we, i'm calling myself the generation of decision makers -- we are very clever at pulling the wool over the eyes of these young and gullible generations. and we get them to do our dirty work. and can so we say we're going to
war, now, you guys go off and fight. so i think that's a possibility. now, another possibility is we choose them because they are young and strong and virile, and if you have to choose your warriors, you choose young people because they can do it better than -- the 20-year-olds in my class could fight better than i can. so maybe that's a reason. and then there are other reasons having to do with, well, i have, i was talking to some people in the reception before we came in about have any of you been to the museum of the pacific war in fredericksburg, texas? if you get into texas, you definitely should go. it's one of the great military museums in the country, and it's hiding out there in fredericks burg primarily because admiral anymore miss was from fredericksburg. but there's a symposium there every september, and it's attended by academics like me
and also by world war ii vets. now, i say this because it's very clear in speaking to the world war ii veterans -- and now we're 60 years out from world war ii -- that this was for very many of them the most important experience in their lives. this was, in my -- many ways, the thing that defined their lives. when ed was giving the introduction, he pointed out that theodore roosevelt felt this way, that he had missed something by being too young for the civil war. and as one of the contributors of theodore roosevelt's enthusiasm -- and that's not putting it too strongly -- >> spiewz yam for war in the 1890s. it was said that he was looking for a war. he didn't care who the enemy was, he was just looking for any war. and the point was to define himself the way, for example, the generation of world war ii has defined it. and i say this with the greatest
respect because for people who participate in war there is probably never a time when they do anything quite is so selfless, quite so grand in a very moral way in their lives. because when we send people to war, we ask them to die not for family members, but for people they don't even know, for rather nebulous ideals. and they do. you really can, you can hardly find a human experience that brings out that kind of selflessness, that kind of courage like war, and it's always no wonder that people who didn't participate in war felt as though they've missed something. i point out to my students that there is a generational kind of regularity to america' wars. they don't occur every five years, and they don't occur just haphazard. the revolution war's fought from
1775-1783 and then another generation before the war of 1812, and then while the civil war it's hard to know exactly where to fit this one because it's not a foreign war, but it's a war among americans. then a fairly long generation passes before the war of 1898, then the first world war, the second world war. things come faster after the second world war. but anyway, so i pose these questions to my students. it's interesting. and they have various responses. i say i pose the question in particular to the young men in the group because i tell them, and they realize this, that historically they're the ones who go and do the fighting. but then i point to the young women in the class and i say, well, if you think there's a hook to be let off of, you're not getting off the hook because one of the reasons young men go off to fight is that young women encourage them to do so.
and there are innumerable cases of young men who are trying to decide should i enlist or not, and they see the young women of the community getting all dreamy-eyed when they see the other soldiers in uniform, and they realize that if they don't serve, they will be branded as a coward forever after. i'll come right now back to theodore roosevelt. boy, i really hate to use the word warmonger, but i cannot think of another president in american history who really valued war the way theodore roosevelt did. now, i have to be careful because all of the stuff that theodore roosevelt says about war, about -- he gives a famous speech before the naval war college in 1897 in which he says that the greatest triumphs of of peace pale beside the triumphs of war. that war is the test of an
individual's character, of a nation's soul. roosevelt is one of those rare examples in american history who actually glorifies war. most other leaders in american history, well, they'll take the point of view that war is sometimes necessary but is not something we should really praise. roosevelt goes beyond that necessary stuff to it's really something praiseworthy. and you know why theodore roosevelt thought this way? it was both a generational kind of thing, but it was also a very personal thing. theodore roosevelt idolized his father. theodore roosevelt sr. was handsome, well educated, high-minded, he was the greatest man i have ever known, young theodore roosevelt said. but there was one thing, one flaw in his father, and do you know what that flaw was?
his father had not served in the military during the civil war. during the nation's crisis when other people his age, other people of his health were going off to fight, the senior theodore roosevelt did not fight. now, it was probably a decision that was the best for the country. theodore roosevelt sr. became what was called an allotment commissioner, and during the civil of war he went around to the union camps to persuade the union soldiers to allot a portion of their pay to the support of their wives, children and family back home. there was nothing was required, but he persuaded them to do it and almost certainly strengthened the home front. theodore roosevelt sr. definitely did more for his country in that position than if he had joined the military and taken a position on some general's staff which is probably what he would have
become. however, this did not suit the imagination of the young theodore roosevelt. the younger was born two years, three years before the civil war began. and he grew up seeing, reading stories of valor and gallantry in the civil war x he spent the rest of -- and he spent the rest of his youth and young adulthood hearing the war stories of other adults, other adult men and hearing his contemporaries talk about what heroic action their father had done, and he had nothing comparable. and his younger sister corine said that although theodore roosevelt himself would never admit this that the younger theodore felt this was the one thing that kept his father from being the perfect man. and in some way -- oh, i should point out that the elder theodore roosevelt died when the younger theodore roosevelt was in college. so the younger theodore
roosevelt only had this perspective of his father of, well, what should i say? a soldier-age young man. he didn't grow to adulthood with his father where he could talk about this and realize that what his father had done was really the right thing. in fact, theodore roosevelt jr. believed that somehow his father had failed, and he was going to correct this failure. and so at the first opportunity, his sister said this was the origin of the younger theodore's obsession with the military. okay. this is part of my story. when i write about this era of the gilded age. but a larger part of the story is the emergence of modern america. modern in an economic sense, modern in a political sense, modern in a diplomatic sense and modern in a military sense. i've told you some of the discussions that i've had, that i have with my students. i'll tell you something else, i
try to get my students to boil down the lessons of history into manageable size. and so i half seriously explain to the students what i call -- half seriously -- brands' laws of history. and when the subject turns to foreign policy and military policy, i say brands' first law of history is the following. and the reason i put it in this form to my students is that i tell my students i don't want you to take notes. i want you simply to listen and think. i'm going to tell you some stories, and i want you to remember the stories. and when there's something i want you to write down, i will tell you this. so i tell them, okay, this is brands' first law of history, write it down. and the brands' first law of history is sooner or later every country gets the foreign policy it can afford.
and i tell them this by way of explanation as to how is it that the united states during the 19th century, during the 18th century and the 19th century waged wars with only this generational frequency? and can the wars that it waged were not particularly large wars. the revolutionary war was, well, it became this large war, but the united states had a relatively small part in the fighting. the war of 1812 was almost a frontier war from the standpoint of the british empire. it was a war for the united states because the united states was a small country. the war with mexico, again, a war on the frontier. the civil war is the big exception to this rule, but it's exceptional in a lot of ways. but then the war with spain in 1898, the next war. this is, well, it begins as a skirmish in the caribbean. now, it winds up as a war that
stretches all the way across the pacific, but that's part of the surprise. however, once you get to the 20th century, the united states engages in the greatest wars in human history, and after the second world war the wars come quite frequently. now, the argument that i make to my students in is, and this comes from calling brandts' first law of history, and that is nations get the foreign policy they can afford. sooner or later this is critical pause by 1900 -- because by 1900, the end of my period of the book, the united states is the most powerful country in the world economically. but american foreign policy remains relatively unambitious. at least compared to the foreign policies of the other great powers. so britain's foreign policy in 1900 is far more global, is far
more ambitious than that of the united states. france's foreign policy, germany's foreign policy, even japan's foreign policy. the united states was stronger economically than any of those countries, but the united states was still -- americans were still thinking in terms of a 19th century mindset where the united states was surrounded, well, as a french diplomat once said, it is america's great good fortune to be surrounded on the north by canada, a relatively weak power, on the south by mexico, another weak power. on the east by fish, on the west by fish. so america could emerge, america could come to maturity relatively unconcerned with what was happening in the rest of the world. in contrast to other countries that were trying to emerge at this time, italy. italy was unified in the 19th century, germany was unified in the 19th century. and they had power countries
right next door. america didn't assert itself in term t of foreign policy until, well, the first time during the first world war, but then u.s. backed off after that. and from 1919 and 1920 when the senate voted twice on the treaty of versailles and rejected the treaty of versailles, until 19, well, we could go all the way up until 1931. the united states, americans tried to stay out of world affairs. but from 1941, from be 1941 until now americans have never wavered from the belief that almost anything that happens almost anywhere around the world is something the united states needs to pay attention to and that might impinge on america's national security. okay. back to the late 19th century. i said the period 1865-1900 is bracketed by wars. the first war, the civil war, occurs at a time when the united
states is still relatively unindustrialized. but this is an impetus that the civil war gives to the industrial process. in fact, one of the arguments that i make in the book and elsewhere is that there is a kind of synergy between war and industrialization. i'll even go beyond industrialization, between war and the evolution of the american economy. now, i'm not contending that economic imperatives drive wars. not at all. that's one of the side effects, but there is this connection that works both ways. war causes the economy to accelerate, to develop in ways it wouldn't have otherwise. and the more powerful economy makes it possible, even makes it desirable, almost inevitable that the united states will engage in a more ambitious foreign policy up to and including war. so the civil war starts at the leading edge of this, and the
key to the contribution of the civil war to industrialization is partly direct and partly indirect. start with the indirect. the civil war begins after the election of abraham lincoln. abraham lincoln is elected in 1860, south carolina secedes before lincoln gets ip august rateed -- inaugurated, several southern states follow. lincoln has to decide what to do, he decides to defend the federal fortress, south carolina, fort sumter. the confederate forces fire on fort sumter, and the civil war is on. and that is that. there's more, of course. but a side effect of that which is absolutely critical for the development of the american industrial economy is when the south secedes, the democratic party essentially abdicates its role in national politics. leaving the federal government
for the first time in the complete control of a party that is overtly friendly to business development. the whigs had had a program of business development, but they never had such control of the federal government as the republicans had during the years of the civil war and early reconstruction. and so the republicans who, of course, are remembered in history as the party of anti-slavery, were also the party of pro-business. and the republicans because they had no democratic opposition, they very quickly put in their program of federal aid to business. and the federal aid to business took various forms. it took, for example, an increase in the federal tariffs to protect american manufacturers. the creation of a national banking system, for the first time a national currency. it included such measures as the building of a transcontinental
railroad which you might think was simply a matter of economic development or maybe it was log rolling with the california legislature. but do you know why the trans-pacific, the pacific railroad was with authorized when it was authorized? it was a war measure. and it was a war measure to keep california in the union. california and california's gold were strongly pro-southern. and there was a strong sentiment in california when the south seceded that california should she e seed as well. should secede as well. not to join the confederacy, but to become an independent republic. because in the days when it took, well, it took a month to get to california by the shortest route. steamship from the east coast to panama, donkey ride or railroad across panama, another steamship up to san francisco. that was the shortest route. if you walked across north america, it took you anywhere
from four to five months. if you went around south america, it could take as much as six months. under those circumstances the connection between california and the rest of the country seemed tenuous at best. lincoln, in order to prevent california from leaving the union and taking its gold with it -- and this gold was essential to maintaining the liquidity of the union government during the civil war, something the confederacy never maintained, central to keeping california in with the promise of a railroad. once those californians, who all came from the eastern part of the united states, once they learned they were going to be able to get back to the rest of the country in four days rather than four weeks or four months, all thought of seceding vanished overnight. but the result of this -- oh, and i should point out something i'm sure many of you know, that the transcontinental railroad would not have been built without strong federal underwriting. there simply wasn't the private market for it. i might adhere that i'm not --
is there any high-speed rail project that is projected for illinois? okay. well, california's trying to build a high-speed rail project to connect san francisco and can los angeles. and it's not going to happen without a huge infusion of government money. why not? because the market doesn't exist for it. well, there wouldn't have been a transcontinental railroad without the huge infusion of federal money either because the market didn't exist for it. but the feds built it. and what happened was the first transcontinental railroad is followed by four others. so the last one was the only one built with private money. the others were all government funded. these created a national market, a single market in which american manufacturers if you had a steel mill in pittsburgh, if you had a shoe factory in connecticut, if you produce -- if you process tobacco in the north carolina, you could build
a factory big enough to feed the entire national market because all of a sudden the cost of transport had fallen dramatically. the u.s. constitution, excuse me, forbids states from are establishing political barriers to trade across state lines. the national rail system eliminated the geographic and economic barriers to trade. so if there's a single secret of america's emerging economic hegemony, if there's a single secret, it was the largest single national market on earth. french manufacturers could produce for the french market, but they had to deal with tariffs in this shipping to italy, france or britain. americans didn't have to do this. okay. so the republican agenda during the civil war laid the basis for the emergence of modern american capitalism. the civil war directly contributed to this by, well,
one of the things that wars are is to use the terminology of modern times, they are very large federal stimulus packages. and during war the federal government spends money like there's no tomorrow on the belief ha if -- that if we lose the war, there will be no tomorrow for the government. and here i'll just digress briefly in a forward direction and explain that point out, that the united states didn't get out of the great depression until 1940 and 1941. and everybody knows that it was world war ii that pulled the united states out of the great depression. but what everybody knows is not exactly correct. what pulled the united states out of the great depression was not all the soldiers who died and were wounded during world war ii, and it's not all of the to and froing of the military campaigns and the planning.
what was it that pulled the economy out of the depression? it was the federal spending for war. world war ii was, among other things, a huge federal stimulus package. anyway, so the civil war got american industrialization, got what i call in the book the capitalist revolution in america underway. the revolution picked up speed on it own relatively -- well, it continued to have a favorable climate of government. it's here worth noting or remembering that whereas the republican party today often presents itself as the party of business and opposition to larger government, the republican party in the days of abraham lincoln and his early successors was the party of
business, but it was the party in favor of government intervention, but government intervention precisely on behalf of business. and the period from 1865-1900 was a largely republican era. in fact, you know, from 1860 to 1932 it was almost republicans as far as the eye could see. the republicans certainly dominated the presidency. and the great depression and the election of franklin roosevelt changed that and ushered in an age when democrats could become competitive again. all right, so, the civil war starts things off, and the spanish-american war closes the period, and the spanish-american war is the first of what i would call, well, it's the first kind of war that would come to characterize american military history in the 20th century. and i will call it an elective war, a war that was not by any means forced upon the united states. now, having said that, i will say that in a basic way, a very
basic way if you really want to push the argument, every war is an elective war. because every war involves at least two belligerents, and they both have to decide to fight. now, it's true that sometimes war is forced on one country more than other wars might be forced on. world war ii was, in very many respects, forced upon the united states by the japanese at pearl harbor. except if you back it up a little bit, the japanese attacked the united states at pearl harbor because of decisions made by franklin roosevelt to oppose japanese expansion in the east asia. now, if japanese had tried to expand in east asia half a century earlier, it would not have occurred to an american president to try to oppose that, okay? that's east asia, that's not our bailiwick, that's not our concern. but franklin roosevelt by 1937, '38, '39 decided this was of a
danger to american security. okay. the spanish--american war, as i say, the first of america's elective wars, elective in the sense that there was no compelling demand on the part of the american people to go to war. there wasn't a sense that americans, well, we could talk a little bit about americans' honor was the u.s.' name was blown up in the harbor. except the reason it was there is william mckinley decided to intervene diplomatically in a war between spain and its cuban colony. so what was it that brought with on the war with spain? one contributor, you will gather from what i've already said now, was that there was a generation of young men who had grown up hearing these war stories and knew that they would never be heros like their fathers and grandfathers were heros unless they went to war. theodore roosevelt epitomized something that was felt by a whole lot of people, and can that is -- and it's not just in
that day, but even today -- that there is no test of courage, there is no test of manhood, there is no test of patriotism like service of in the military. and theodore roosevelt had this itch that had to be scratched. theodore roosevelt would have left his wife's death bed for the opportunity to go to war. in fact, he nearly did. his wife, edith, was recovering from a very severe infection, and she could easily have turned for the worse. they had six children. if theodore roosevelt had died in battle, there was no pension. edith would have had to figure out how i to raise the kids on her own. theodore roosevelt even more than his father left a very important position in washington. he was assistant secretary of the navy, and in those days the navy department was certainly during peacetime the more important of the two military departments. the war department geared up during wartime, but the united
states sent the soldiers home between wars. and the assistant secretary of the navy was actually in some ways more important than the secretary of the navy because that was a political appointment, and theodore roosevelt was the one who did the heavy lifting. he positioned the pacific fleet to take care of the spanish fleet in the philippines should war break out. theodore roosevelt quit that job over the objections of all of his friends, and anybody who knew i anything about the way washington operated. they told him, theodore, you're absolutely crazy. we need you more than ever in washington. you're the one who knows how the navy works. and why are you doing this. >> why are you joining a volunteer regiment? and the only answer he could say was that i have spent 30 years of my life saying that war is the test of a man's courage, a man's soul. and if i don't step up, well, i
will never know if i had passed the test. so theodore roosevelt went off and made himself a hero. in doing so in the battle of san juan hill, he definitely did a lesser service to his country than if he had stayed in washington because he would have done -- he had more responsibility, he would have done more for the good of the country, more for the war effort if he'd stayed where he was. but he wouldn't have had the psychological, the emotional satisfaction of testing himself. and interestingly with roosevelt, he was not at all in favor of the military as the military. he advised his son, don't go into the military as a career. you're more talented than that, for heaven sakes. when he fought in one battle, one important battle, the battle of san juan hill, and he ever after called it his crowded
hour. and his crowded hour was hardly more than an hour. he did definitely behave with conspicuous gallantry, and the casualties in his regiment were appallingly high, and he could have been killed several times during the course of that hour. but once he had demonstrated to himself more than to anybody else that he could stand up to enemy fire, then that was enough. in fact, one of the striking things about theodore roosevelt is all of his warmongering, all of his bellicose rhetoric take place before the spanish-american war. once he shows himself, i can do it, then after he became president theodore roosevelt was almost a pacifist. you know what theodore roosevelt's principle -- what shall i say, his principle recognition, the international recognition of roosevelt's presidency was during his time? the nobel peace prize. now i, there are some people who don't know that much about roosevelt's history, and they link it with their award of the
nobel peace prize to henry kissinger and say, well, those two, it just demonstrates those scandinavians have a real sense of humor. [laughter] but anyway, so one of the reasons roosevelt went to war is was to scratch this historical, school itch. there were other elements. there was the feeling on the part of some americans that the country, the economy had outgrown its consumer base. for the first time in american history by the 1890s, american, america's economy could produce more than american consumers needed to consume. in an agrarian age when farming is the basis of the economy, well, you don't have depressions because people, their needs are greater than their productive capacity. but when you emerge in the age of industrialization, of economic modernization, it's just the opposite. the productive capacity is greater than the consumptive
needs. the first serious industrial depression in american history takes place in the 1890s. and can americans look at this, and they say, boy, in the first place, this is something new. because now we've got this problem where we can produce more than we can consume. so what are we going to do? we need to find foreign markets. and this alerted americans to the need to look abroad for markets. and this is what caused some people to support roosevelt and henry cabot lodge and others in the desire for america to find colonies. some of the impetus to war was simply technological. in the days when navies moved by the wind, they didn't need to have foreign fueling depots. if you moved by solar power which is what wind is, you just wait for the wind to blow. but if you, after you switch to steam power, you've got to add the fuel, you've got to have the coal. america needed coaling stations.
and this alerted america's strategic thinkers to the need for expanding abroad. i'm running out of time, but i will close by saying that the principle reason, if you ask me, as to why there was a war in 1898 was for the first time americans could afford it. the country was rich enough that it could go to war without accounting the cost. and i will close with this thought, maybe thought-provoker. the 20th century, i'll say from 1893 -- 1898 to 2008, was an era when america could go to war and did go to war without accounting the cost ahead of time. there was no, there was no instance of one of the wars that america fought from 1898 until 2008 when americans, when somebody said, the country's security is threatened. we need to do this, we need to react to the north korean attack
on south korea. we need to go into vietnam, whatever. a cost benefit analysis never in any serious way preceded any of of those wars. why? because the country was rich. the united states could afford to go to war. we could have guns and butter both. why did i say up until 2008? because i'm of the strong opinion -- i can't prove, i'm just a historian. i look backwards rather than forwards. but i'm of the strong opinion that the united states has outrun -- at least for the foreseeable future -- its era of elective wars. i cannot believe that the united states would choose to go to war, well, as the united states did against spain in 1898 or as the united states did in iraq in 2003 without, without a lot of people saying, wait a minute, we can't afford it. you know what that's going to do to the deficit? and so the united states may have reverted now recently, since the financial meltdown of 2008, to the way the country was
before the period that i talk about. when, well, it wasn't that rich a country, and war like any other kind of national activity is something that costs money. and when the money gets tight, then people think strong second thoughts about this. i will stop there. i have spoken lodger than i spended to -- longer than i intended to. now we can take questions, right? >> h.w. brands. [applause] fascinating. my question is regarding the spanish--american war. i can see why we might have had a desire to take cuba and puerto rico from strategic and even economic interests, but what was the interest in the philippines other than, perhaps, competing with the french and the germans and the british in terms of of some sort of worldwide manifest destiny? >> well, as a matter of fact, that was the principle reason for considering the philippines as fair game. it's interesting that the war began over spanish atrocities in
cuba. and spain's violation of the human rights of cuban nationalists. there was also a feeling that the time had come to eject european powers from the western hemisphere. american presidents, american secretary of states have been talking in this vein since 1823 when john quincy adams wrote and james monroe announced the monroe doctrine, the western hemisphere is america's bailiwick. so in 198 people like roosevelt, lodge, wood contended we need to get the europeans out of the western hemisphere. but interestingly enough, it was always spoken by those people that said we have to kick the spanish out that this is not to make cuba part of an american empire. this is for the good of the cuban people. not primarily for the good of the unite. united states. now this, by the way, is
something that occurs in every war that the united states goes to. there is an aspect of altruism in the wars, and there is an aspect, also, of self-interest. so many americans decided that we needed to go to war against spain to save the suffering cuban people. and that was a strong aspect of it. and those folks who had broader, we'll call them more imperialistic designs even though you could hardly find an american who would accept the label imperialism because imperialism reeked of what the british were doing to the americans back in the 1770s. but nonetheless, policies had that effect. almost none of them said that we want to annex the philippines. so one of the interesting ironies of this is that when i'll call it the war party that included democrats as well as republicans, when the war party got its way and william mckinley asked the congress in april 1898 for a declaration of war against spain, the opponents or at least the skeptics of war said, all
right, we'll give you your war, but we are going to insist that you put your money where your mouth was, that you don't want to annex cue i baa. and -- cuba. and so written into the war appropriations bill was the teller amendment sponsored by henry teller of colorado which said that the united states will not annex cuba as a consequence of this war. and some of those imperialists realized that they had been hoisted by their own petard, and they were just kind of nationally, okay, we gotta do it. but that caused them to consider what else the united states might take because, after all, if we're going to go to the trouble and the expense of fighting this war, there ought to be something in it for the united states. theodore roosevelt had been looking at the philippines, and a lot of those people who had been worrying that there wouldn't be market for american production said, where might the markets be? and they looked at china.
the allure of the china market, the term was with often used, the china market, began in the 1890s. it persisted until after, well, right up until the time china went communist in 1949. there was this idea that china -- do you know how many hundreds of millions of people live in china? if we could get the average chinese to lengthen his cotton shirt by one inch, it would clear all the surplus cotton production in the south. that was the kind of thinking. and the philippines was the jumping-off point to the china market. but there was one last thing, and it had to do with i'll call it national image or national self-respect. this was an era when the european powers were dividing up the globe. this was the era of the so-called scramble for africa. in 1880 africa was largely uncolonized. by 1900 there was hardly a square foot outside of ethiopia that wasn't a colony, protected or something by europe. and americans, like theodore
roosevelt who was sort of a closet anglophile. when the british were building this empire in which the sun never set, roosevelt and a lot of people who thought like him, god, you know, we've got to do something like it because if we don't, we'll lose the opportunity. and one of the few places that was not taken was the philippines. of course; the philippines was taken by spain, but if we're going to go to war against spain -- americans thought it was a war about cuba. but, no, the war declaration said it's a war against spain. so roosevelt sent the asiatic fleet based in hong kong, he gave them standing orders to go right to manila and sink the spanish fleet there. there was certainly a naval and military justification for this because ships are portable. and even if serious fighting was to take place in cuba, those ships could sail from the philippines and show up in cuba, so we might as well sink them as
we can. so it had the side effect of of leaving the philippines in the possession of the united states, and it's very interesting. i won't go into detail about this, the diplomatic reason, the political reason that went into the decision to keep the philippines at the end of the war -- it's one thing to occupy the philippines during the war but then what are we going to do with them? should we give them back to spain? that'd be foolish. should we give them to another power? should we give them self-government? they're not ready. so the only thing, as william mckinley said, is to take them and, he went on, lift them up and christianize them -- despite the fact that 95% of them were catholic -- and make them the best that they can be. now, this is really self-serving when you hear it in the mckinley's own words. but the striking thing is that he was probably absolutely right. in the sense that the best thing for the philippines, leave aside what the best thing for the united states was with, the best thing for the philippines was probably exactly what happened.
because if philippines had been given back to spain, well, spain couldn't hold them. what would have happened is another imperial power would have taken the philippines. and as a colonial power goes, the united states was a pretty, you know, pretty responsible colonial power. the likely, the likely country that would have seized the philippines would have been one of two, either germany or japan. and the record of the colonies of those countries is not something anybody wanted to repeat. so, in fact, to carry the story a little bit farther forward and then i'll stop, the united states decided to give the philippines its independence in the 1930s at which point the leaders of the philippines said, wait a minute, not so fast, we kind of like it here. no, we've had enough, you guys are getting your independence. anyhow, next question. here we go. >> you describe the era from the end of the civil war through 1932 as being, basically, the
era of republican dominance. but focusing on the middle of your subperiod, '65-'98, between -- i've been looking at the history of control of the house of representatives. in fact, there was a joke, people were talking about how this could be 1994 all over again, and some soul thought it may be 1894 all over again. >> right. >> it wasn't that good, but it was still fun. anyway, the point i was going to make is that '94 actually is a turning point because from 1874-1893 the democrats almost continuously dominate the house, the republicans get a narrow majority a few times, but the house is always controlled by democrats. how does that tie into your, into the pro-business -- senate, by the way, mostly controlled by republicans -- but how does the democratic control of the house i tie into your view of the
government as a pro-business government across this period? >> good question. and so, first, let me sort of tease out the complications here. as you point out, the democrats controlled the house of representatives during a substantial portion of the period i called the republican era, and that's certainly true enough. the republicans tended to control the senate, and they dominated the presidency. there were only two democratic presidents between 1860 and 1932. these gore cleveland -- were glover cleveland and wilson. so at a national level, then, of course, the presidency and the vice presidency are the only two national offices. at a national level it was republican dominance, and that gave the republicans overwhelming control of appointments to the supreme court. and the supreme court establishes from the 1870s really until roosevelt tries to pack the supreme court in 1937, it gives republicans in
particular a conservative wing of the republican party, the ability to interpret laws in a way that turn out to favor business. so that's a large part. the second part of the answer is that the democrats, the strongest wing of the democratic party during this period was the southern democrats. and these are the ones who tended to elect all of those southern representatives and southern senators as well. and southern, the southern democracy with a cap call thal d as is often described, it was the most conservative wing of the democratic party. so, for example, when franklin -- after franklin roosevelt was elected in the 1930s, he had to fight back a revolt from within his own party. and really racing forward. do you want to know why the country has become so polarized in a partisan sense? and do you want to know why bipartisanship is dead and it's not coming back for the foreseeable future? it's not that people are any
more mean-spirited than they used to be, it's that the two parties have sifted themselves ideologically. until the 1960s both parties had both liberals and conservatives. the democratic party had all those southern conservatives, and partly as a result of that the republican party had a whole bunch of northeastern liberals. what happened? in 1960 lyndon johnson, the first southern president really since before the civil war, and he only came in the side door of the assassination of his pred is access sor. we could count woodrow wilson because he was born in the south, but anyway, lyndon johnson attached the democratic party to the cause of civil rights, and that gave permission to all of those southern conservative democrats to bolt the party. and they did over the course of the next 20 years. and as they did, the center of gravity of the republican party moved from somewhere in about iowa to somewhere in about
texas. and recently the newly-reelected governor of texas, rick perry, certainly hopes it's somewhere around texas. anyway, with the result that now there aren't any liberals left in the republican party. and really, there aren't any conservatives left in the democratic party. in the 1960s when lyndon johnson was crafting medicare and various aspects of civil rights, he could count on liberal republicans crossing the aisle to join with liberal democrats. but the two parties have become ideologically, philosophically distinct. there is no incentive for any republican these days to join forces with a liberal president or with liberal democrats. just, you know, the partisan incentives are pointed in the wrong direction. do we have time for one more or is that it? okay, thank you very much. [applause]
>> our thanks to h.w. brands for joining us. the book is "american colossus: the triumph of capitalism, 1865-1900," published by doubleday. you can learn more by visiting us at pritzker military library.org. for all the staff at the pritzker military library in chicago, i'm ed tracy. thanks for joining us. [applause] more questions? we have one in the back. >> yes. we can continue. >> very interesting talk. you were just mentioning lyndon johnson. i always kind of had a little pet theory that we got -- one of the reasons we got into vietnam is because we could. we were prepared in those days to fight two and a half wars at the same time. and, you know, lbj never even
had to raise the reserves during the war, and i guess we had over half a million troops there. and then we went on, and we put in a half million in the first iraq war and etc. so maybe we are not able to manage that now. but we had a speaker here, james bradley, who wrote "the imperial cruise," and he made the point that theodore roosevelt had a high regard -- had a low regard for china, later fdr had a high regard, thought it was one of the five major powers, going to be, after the war. but he had a high regard for japan and even had a secret treaty with japan not approved by the senate, but had entered into negotiations, and there was a secret treaty. do you know anything about that? >> i'm not sure exactly what secret treaty you're referring to.
there were a couple of executive agreements that were called the gentlemen's agreement. i should just adhere that in -- add here in the united states there is no such thing as a secret treaty. it's not a treaty unless the senate ratifies it. there are other kinds of agreement, and one of the things that roosevelt did -- and this, perhaps, can resonate with issues today -- americans in roosevelt's era were seriously concerned, a lot of americans were seriously concerned about japanese immigration to the united states. and roosevelt wanted to appease those critics of japanese immigration. they had a certain political leverage, and he felt he had to deal with them. for the united states' government, however, to formally bar japanese immigration would have been seen as a slap in the face of japan. chinese immigration, more