Henry Teller and the Legacy of Imperial Justification

Colorado Senator and Secratary of the Interior for Chester Arthur

Henry Teller was only mentioned once in the chapter, yet his biography tells much about the political climate in the United States with regards to a number of questions including foreign policy and monetary policy. He served as a Colorado Representative and later Senator in Congress for over thirty years and also as the Secretary of the Interior for a few years during the Chester Arthur administration. He switched from being a Republican to a Democrat and was a self-proclaimed ‘Silver-Republican’ meaning he had Populist sympathies but was not fully committed to their cause. In Foner, he is quoted as saying that America’s mission in the Caribbean was to aid the Cuban patriots in their “struggle for liberty and freedom”. While first put into this language in 1898 by Teller, this doctrine of cloaking imperial aspirations in the language of aiding oppressed peoples in their struggle for freedom and liberty became a central tenet of justifying American imperialism in the century to come and still is the party-line in the recent Afghani and Iraqi campaigns of 21st century. So, although a mover and a shaker on the front of monetary policy, for the purposes of this assignment Henry Teller altered history in that he birthed a form of justifying naked American imperialism that has been used all throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Senator Teller, why do you think it is so important to categorize the current campaign in the Spanish Caribbean in terms of aiding oppressed peoples in their struggle for liberty and freedom as our nation did just over 110 years ago?

If it is our duty to help oppressed peoples to gain freedom, why not use our resources to free others under the yoke of an imperial powers; say, an Algerian liberation campaign or a campaign to free the Russian peasantry from the tyrant Tsar Nicholas?

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