President Taft, in this 1908 speech, is explaining how well things are going in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, the “dependencies” the United States had taken possession of after the Spanish-American War.
Cuba and the Philippines became independent countries in the 20th century, but President Taft’s speech doesn’t support independence for any of the dependencies. He felt that supporting independence “would lead to ultimate chaos in the islands” and that it would be “cowardly to lay down the burden until our purpose is achieved.”
What was the purpose? That was a controversial question in those days. Some Americans believe that the U.S. should follow England’s example and become an imperial power. A famous speech by Senator Albert J. Beveridge in 1898 encapsulated the idea:
Hawaii is ours; Porto Rico is to be ours; at the prayer of her people Cuba finally will be ours; in the islands of the East, even to the gates of Asia, coaling stations are to be ours at the very least; the flag of a liberal government is to float over the Philippines, and may it be the banner that Taylor unfurled in Texas and Fremont carried to the coast.
On the other side of the question were people like Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie, members of the Anti-Imperialist League. These people, along with many other Americans, said that the idea of holding colonies was un-American.
This argument is over, but the strange position of Puerto Rico, the last of the American colonies, is left over from those days. The American Empire didn’t happen.
We’re getting into the next presidential election, but we won’t be hearing speeches like Beveridge’s “March of the Flag.” None of the major candidates will be talking about world domination. It’s time to settle the position of Puerto Rico.