Susan Harris

God's Arbiters

Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

University Press 2011

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network May 22, 2012 Dhara Anjaria

Mark Twain called it “pious hypocrisies.” President McKinley called it “civilizing and Christianizing.” Both were referring to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines in...

Mark Twain called it “pious hypocrisies.” President McKinley called it “civilizing and Christianizing.” Both were referring to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines in 1899. Susan K. Harris‘ latest book, God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) targets the religious references in McKinley’s and Twain’s comments, assessing the role of religious rhetoric in the national and international debates over America’s global mission at the turn into the 20th century. She points out that no matter which side Americans took, all assumed that the U.S. was founded in Protestant Christian principles. Harris probes the ramifications of this assumption, drawing on documents ranging from Noah Webster’s 1832 History of the United States through Congressional speeches and newspaper articles, to In His Steps, the 1896 novel that asked “What Would Jesus Do?” Throughout, she offers a provocative reading both of the debates’ religious framework and of the evolution of Christian national identity within the U.S. She also moves outside U.S. geopolitical boundaries, reviewing responses to the Americans’ venture into global imperialism among Europeans, Latin Americans, and Filipinos. Harris works through key voices, including Twain, U.S. Senators Albert Beveridge and Benjamin Tillman; Filipino nationalists Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini; Latin American nationalists José Martí, José Enrique Rodó, and Rubén Darío; and the voices of Americans who wrote poems, essays, and letters either endorsing or protesting America’s plunge into colonialism. This book matters: in the process of uncovering the past, Harris shows us the roots of current debates over textbooks, Christian nationalism, and U.S. global imaging.

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