Shall we give their independence to the Philippines? To this question an answer is still to be made by the American people. Not only do we not know whether we shall give this independence or not, but we have not yet decided whether we ought to or not. Even if we could suppose that the country had made up its mind on the subject, it would still be true that no competent authority has considered the manner in which our country would translate its desires into action, whether in one direction or another.
The reason of this state of affairs is not far to seek: our people neither know anything about these islands, nor do they care anything about them. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that our ignorance is the logical result of our indifference. The Islands are far away, as it were, inhabited by a different race, busied, on the whole, about things that form no part of our life, whether national or private. We have, as a people, bestowed no serious thought upon them; we have not yet raised the disposition to be made of them to the dignity of a national question.
The Philippines became ours by the fortune of war. On the subsidence of the immediate questions raised by the war, we have continued in the ownership of the Islands without concerning ourselves thus far as to the ultimate place they are to occupy in our national ecomony. Of this state of affairs, but one opinion can be expressed: it is extraordinary. Even in a grossly material point of view, our attitude is indefensible; if we regard ourselves as landlords, we are indifferent to our tenants; if as mere owners, then are we careless of the future of our property. We have not assumed the responsibilities involved with any national sense of responsibility; we have neither declared nor formed any policy. But in this fact lies the extraordinariness of the situation. Of the soundness of our title to the Islands at international law there is not the shadow of a doubt; the Islands are ours. What do we intend to do with them? Why have we not, after fourteen years’ possession, found an answer to the question, or, in other words, declared a policy? Nations, no less than individuals, must take an interest in their property, and society demands as a right that any property of whatever nature shall be adjusted in respect of relations to all other property. We have followed this course as regards Cuba and Porto Rico; but, apart from taking the Philippines and continuing to own them, we have made no adjustment of their case. The property, as such, has been administered, and, on the whole, well administered; the amount of work done, indeed, is astonishing. But that is not the issue: however good has been the official administration of the Archipelago, whatever the progress under our tutelage of its peoples as a whole, no one knows to-day what relation will be permanently established between the Archipelago and the United States, what our policy is, or is to be, in respect of the Islands. And yet upon our declaration of a policy hangs their future. The matter in its interest and importance is national; equally national is the indifference we have displayed with respect to its settlement. Both the United States and the Philippines are entitled to a decision.