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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 27: Empire and Expansion, 1890 - 1909

Queen Liliuokalani (1838 - 1917)

The refusal by Liliuokalani, the native ruler of Hawaii, to accept the white planters revolt of 1893, and her eloquent pleas to President Cleveland, helped delay American annexation of Hawaii until 1898. Her devotion to her people and her resistance to white assimilation have made Liliuokalani a romantic symbol of traditional Hawaiian culture down to the present.

She became queen of Hawaii in 1891, at age fifty-two, after the death of her brother, King Kalakaua. She was a conscientious Christian with strong charitable interests, but she also had a disdain for Protestant moralism. Despite her tireless efforts to preserve the power of the monarchy, she was deposed following the 1893 uprising, in which American troops openly aided the rebellious white minority.

A contemporary newspaper described Liliuokalanis face as strong and resolute. She spoke a pure and graceful English, and her voice was musical and well modulated. Throughout her life she composed beautiful Hawaiian songs, including the famous Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee).

Quote: Some of my subjects, aided by aliens, have renounced their loyalty and revolted against the constitution and government of my kingdom. . . . Upon receiving incontestable proof that His Excellency the Minister of the United States aided and abetted their unlawful movements, and caused United States troops to be landed for that purpose, I submitted to force. (To President Grover Cleveland, 1893)

REFERENCE: Helena Allen, The Betrayal of Liliuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838 - 1917 (1982).

William Randolph Hearst (1863 - 1951)

Hearsts sensationalistic yellow journalism and bombastic warmongering in 1897 - 1898 have long provoked the debatable charge that he was personally responsible for the Spanish-American Wara view to which Hearst himself was willing to subscribe. You furnish the pictures and Ill furnish the war, Hearst allegedly responded to the assertion of artist-correspondent Frederic Remington (who covered Cuba during the war) that Remington had witnessed little evidence of Spanish cruelty. (Although the statement was reported by another correspondent, there is no proof that Hearst ever actually said it.)

A native San Franciscan, Hearst had been raised primarily by his mother and given an elite education, but he was expelled from Harvard (where he worked on the humor magazine Lampoon) for a stunt that involved sending chamber pots to professors. In 1887 he used family wealth to take control of the San Francisco Examiner, which he turned into a commercially successful paper. In 1895 he acquired the New York Journal and entered a fierce circulation war with Pulitzers New York World. In June 1898 Hearst personally sailed to Cuba, where he helped round up Spanish prisoners while writing headline-grabbing stories.

Ever an extremely flamboyant and controversial figure, Hearst was active in politics and remained a dynamic force in journalism for many decades.

Quote: The journalism that talked was a great advance from no journalism at all. But the future belongs to the journalism that acts. (1898)

REFERENCES: David Nasaw, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2000).

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)

Although Roosevelt was a great president, a skilled international diplomat, and a gifted writer, it was his brief actions during the Spanish-American War that created the enduring Roosevelt legend the public always loved best: Teddy the Rough Rider charging up San Juan Hill. Roosevelt himself never regretted that these exploits overshadowed his more substantive achievements, because he too loved the image of the rugged hero.

After graduation from Harvard in 1880, Roosevelt began his public life by writing lively works of naval and western history. An assistant secretary of the navy under William McKinley, he pushed for a big navy and expansionism. His famous order to Commodore George Dewey, issued when Secretary of the Navy Long was away for a weekend, led to the American victory at Manila Bay and the conquest of the Philippines, which Roosevelt and his friends strongly desired. Although lacking military experience, Roosevelt used his political connections to obtain his army commission for service in Cuba and, along with writer Richard Harding Davis, effectively promoted the legend of the Rough Riders that made him the most famous man in America.

Quote: There comes a time in the life of a nation, as in the life of an individual, when it must face great responsibilities, whether it will or no. We have now reached that time.The guns of our warships in the tropic seas of the West and the remote East have awakened us to the knowledge of new duties.

REFERENCES: Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979); John M. Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest (1983).

John Hay (1838 - 1905)

Hay was Abraham Lincolns private secretary, secretary of state under McKinley and Roosevelt, and a noted poet and historian.

Hays uncles law office in Springfield, Illinois, was next to Lincolns, and Hays childhood friend John Nicolay arranged for Hay to become Lincolns private secretary, even though Hay was only twenty-three. He performed many personal chores for the Lincolns at the White House and was sometimes awakened by a sleepless Lincoln, who would tell him jokes. Hay and Nicolay later wrote a ten-volume biography of Lincoln that presents the president in a highly favorable light but reflects serious scholarship rather than mythologizing the national hero.

In the 1870s Hay became a celebrated literary figure. His poetry, such as Pike County Ballads and Other Pieces, was quite popular, but his novels were mostly attacks on labor unions. Hay was the closest friend of historian Henry Adams, and the two built adjoining houses across the street from the White House. Hay appreciated Adamss philosophical distance from politics but could not accept his friends dark pessimism about public affairs.

Quote: I need not tell you the lunatic difficulties under which we labor.All the powers treat us as a central Hello Office, and we strive to please the public. If I looked at things as you do, in the light of reason, history, and mathematics, I should go off after lunch and die. (Letter to Henry Adams about Open Door policy, 1900)

REFERENCE: Tyler Dennett, John Hay: From Poetry to Politics (1933).

Philippe Bunau-Varilla (1859 - 1940)

Bunau-Varilla was the French engineer who energetically promoted the Panama Canal and the Panamanian revolution, and negotiated the HayBunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States.

As a young engineering student, Bunau-Varilla had come under the spell of Suez Canal builder Ferdinand Lesseps, and Bunau-Varilla became convinced that his mission in life was to complete Lessepss work by building the canal across Panama. Besides distributing stamps showing Nicaraguan volcanoes, he bombarded senators with favorable information about Panama, while carefully concealing the overwhelming problems the French builders had experienced there in nearly twenty years of effort.

He played a key role in fomenting the revolution in Panama, having obtained assurances that the United States would intervene as soon as independence was declared. He wrote the constitution and designed the flag of the new republic, and he gave both to one of the plotters.

Quote: I have been exposed to calumny in my long fight against ignorance and falsehood.I have served the Republic of Panama, and her interests are coincident with those of the canal. Once the treaty is ratified, I will have fulfilled the pledge I made to myself twenty-three years ago.

REFERENCE: G. A. Anguizola, Philippe Bunau-Varilla: The Man Behind the Panama Canal (1980).

George Goethals (1858 - 1928)

Goethals was the American engineer who built the Panama Canal.

Although a career military officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, Goethals never fired a weapon except in basic training. After the first two engineers assigned to the canal job resigned, Goethals was given near-absolute power over the Canal Zone in order to speed up the job.

Besides planning and supervising the construction, he managed over thirty thousand employees and their families, and created social institutions like jails, courts, hospitals, and so on. He set aside every Sunday morning to hear individual complaints from the workers.

Goethals was a tough, unsmiling, chain-smoking martinet. Someone once asked a family member how Goethals amused himself, and the reply was, He does not amuse himself.

Quote: The real builder of the Panama Canal was Theodore Roosevelt. It could not have been more Roosevelts triumph if he had personally lifted every shovelful of earth in its construction. (1919)

REFERENCE: David McCulloch, The Path Between the Seas (1977).

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