The Classical Liberal Antiwar Tradition: William Graham Sumner
Few Americans know about the classical liberal/libertarian antiwar tradition in the United States. This tradition probably reached its highpoint during the Spanish-American War and the subsequent insurgency in the Philippines. Classical liberals in the leadership of the Anti-Imperialist League included Moorfield Storey (who was also the first president the NAACP), Edward Atkinson (a wealthy fire insurance executive), and Grover Cleveland.
One of the vice presidents of the League was William Graham Sumner, perhaps the best-known classical liberal defender of free trade and the gold standard. In 1899, Sumner condemned the U.S. decision to go to war with Spain in unforgiving terms in his essay, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” In that essay, he offered a prediction on the course of events for the twentieth century:
The great foe of democracy now and in the near future is plutocracy. Every year that passes brings out this antagonism more distinctly. It is to be the social war of the twentieth century. In that war militarism, expansion and imperialism will all favor plutocracy. In the first place, war and expansion will favor jobbery, both in the dependencies and at home. In the second place, they will take away the attention of the people from what the plutocrats are doing. In the third place, they will cause large expenditures of the people’s money, the return for which will not go into the treasury, but into the hands of a few schemers. In the fourth place, they will call for a large public debt and taxes, and these things especially tend to make men unequal, because any social burdens bear more heavily on the weak than on the strong, and so make the weak weaker and the strong stronger. Therefore expansion and imperialism are a grand onslaught on democracy.
David T. Beito