At the outset of any consideration of the question in hand, it is obvious that we are not shut up a priori to any one solution. Thus, we may decide, to keep the Islands, or we may grant them immediate independence, or independence at some future date; we may establish a protectorate, or give a qualified independence, or even turn them over to some other power—for example, England or Japan; or, finally, we may secure an international agreement to neutralize the Islands, thus ostensibly guarding them against the ambitions of powerful neighbors of colonizing disposition. All of these solutions have at one time or another been mentioned; not one of them has ever been officially announced by the Government, or ratified by the people. Although they are all possible, yet a moment’s thought shows that they are of very different weight: it is hard to conceive, for example, of our turning the Islands over to England. Excluding, then, cession to any foreign power, we may roughly arrange the various possibilities in a scale, as it were: (a) absolute retention; (b) qualified retention; (c) protectorate; (d) neutralization; (e) international independence at some future date; (f) immediate international independence. On examining this list thus arranged, certain deductions appear. The stated various possibilities are not all independent, nor are they all exclusive one of the others. Thus (a) excludes all the rest, or, better, implies (b), (c), and (d), and excludes (a) and (f); (b) and (c) between them are not independent, since a qualified retention may pass into a protectorate. Neutralization not impossibly may ultimately call for a protectorate. Future, independence, so long as unaccomplished, implies (a), (b), (c), and (d), while (f) is completely exclusive. It may, however, not prevent foreign absorption, if, once out, we stay out.
We shall not here take up all of these possibilities. Whatever other conclusion may be reached, the American people must first pass, either tacitly or explicitly, on retention or independence. If either of these extreme be selected, the other possibilities go by the board. If both are rejected, the remaining four will then have their day in court.
Our immediate purpose, then, is to discuss the question with which this investigation opens, with the definite purpose of suggesting, if not of reaching, conclusions that may help others in forming a decision. It is only when individual decisions have so increased in number as in some sort to form a body of public opinion that future action, whether for or against independence, is to be expected.