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LTE, 1899: May the thunderbolt which is to fall from heaven upon this nation

For Independence day we might ask: is it more patriotic to support illegal wars than to oppose them? I’d like to revisit a century-old letter to the editor submitted to the Springfield Republican on April 21, 1899, by Caroline Hollingsworth Pemberton a few days after tax day. She wrote to defend another letter writer, critic of America’s imperial expansion into the Philippines, accused of “treason” for suggesting that his taxes should not be funding a war of aggression.

The number of persons who share, without expressing, the sentiments of the young single taxer, F. Stevens, is doubtless increasing daily. It may be a wise economical policy for the government executives to decide that his utterances do not constitute “treason,” for the reason that there are not, and probably never will be, enough prisons in his land to contain all the “traitors” that now reside in it.

Alas! we are all of us made traitors (and against our wills in many cases) by the deliberate acts of those whom we have chosen to represent us. We are already traitors to the high ideals of a free people: traitors to our constitution and to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Whether we want to or not, we “treacherously” support a policy of “criminal aggression” whenever we lick a revenue stamp and stick it on a check or receipt, and help pay the cost of sacrificing our principles before the world.

My soul loathes this Filipino slaughter, yet I am actively supporting it out of my own pocket every day of my life. I count myself the worst kind of a traitor, –yet it is well that our government has decided to look leniently on traitors, for there are thousands and millions like me, some willingly and many most unwillingly made traitors like myself!

One can choose between two kinds of treason. Mr. Stevens chooses what he takes to be the lesser kind. We have that much choice and that is all that is left to us.

For my part, I pray that the thunderbolt which is to fall from heaven upon this nation for its career of crime in the Pacific ocean may fall quickly and end the iniquities for which in the sight of God we are all individually responsible. If this is “treason” of the peculiar brand that newspapers do not approve, it is to be remembered as an “extenuating circumstance” that my education in treason has not progressed far enough yet for me to distinguish with certainty the various brands, –accidentally, as it were, I have picked up the wrong kind– for which I ask their kindly indulgence.

C. H. Pemberton

Springfield Republican, April 21, 1899

Quoted in The Anti-Imperialist Reader, Volume I, Philip S. Foner, ed., p. 404

One thought on “LTE, 1899: May the thunderbolt which is to fall from heaven upon this nation

  1. Exxon didn’t pay any taxes last year, although they’re one of the biggest beneficiaries of the War. About the ONLY beneficiaries of the War.

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