The close of hostilities brought the United States to a critical juncture in international affairs, and along with that development came some important personnel changes in the Department of State. William R. Day cheerfully resigned as secretary—it was an assignment he had accepted with reluctance—and became chairman of the American peace commission that went to Paris to work out the treaty with Spain. To take Day's place, McKinley named John Hay, the brilliant ambassador to Great Britain and a man of long experience in international affairs. Hay was to exercise a profound influence on the shaping of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, but for the moment McKinley and the nation were preoccupied with the treaty negotiations in Paris.
On 16 September the commissioners met with McKinley in the White House and received their instructions. The president reiterated his opposition to the annexation of Cuba and his insistence upon acquiring Puerto Rico. The final disposition of the Philippines presented a more difficult problem. Filipinos under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo had, like the Cubans, revolted against Spanish authority and welcomed American assistance in their effort to win independence. Yet McKinley had doubts about the wisdom of independence for the islands. For one thing, many Americans had caught a vision of commercial possibilities in the Orient, and an American outpost in the Philippines might well serve the interests of trade. For another thing, the United States was not alone in its enthusiasm for expansion in the Far East. Germany, in particular, appeared ready for a colonization effort if the United States withdrew.
Characteristically, McKinley reviewed the alternatives for American policy in the Philippines and rejected all but one. Returning the islands to Spain was out of the question. The Spanish had already demonstrated their administrative incompetence, and the American people would oppose such a move. To grant independence without provision for defense of the islands would be tantamount to turning them over to Germany or some other imperialist nation. Taking only one island or establishing an American protectorate would mean accepting responsibilities without power. By such reasoning, McKinley concluded that the only course was to take the Philippines, improve conditions of life for the Filipinos, and eventually grant them independence when they had achieved viability as a nation.
In the end, the American negotiators in Paris followed McKinley's wishes. Signed on 10 December 1898, the treaty provided that Cuba should become independent and that Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines should be ceded to the United States. To placate the Spanish, whose pride had been wounded, the United States agreed to a payment of $20 million for the newly acquired territory. The terms of the Treaty of Paris did not meet universal approval in the United States, but to enthusiasts and critics alike, they marked the path of empire that McKinley had apparently chosen to follow. The acquisition of the Philippines, along with the annexation of Hawaii and, later, of Wake Island and American Samoa, provided coaling stations and bases that could prove useful for the commercial and missionary penetration of Asia. The proponents of empire also found Puerto Rico an admirable possession from which to defend a proposed isthmian canal, should it be completed.
Submission of the treaty to the Senate rekindled old debates over the nature of the Republic and the advisability of territorial expansion. In the discussion of ratification, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge led the fight for the treaty, while his colleague from Massachusetts, Senator George F. Hoar, rallied the opposition. A lively debate also took place outside the Senate chamber as expansionists confronted anti-imperialists on a wide range of issues. Opponents of the treaty argued that it was both immoral and unconstitutional for the United States to impose American rule on an alien people without their consent. Expansionists countered with moral arguments of their own, contending that the United States had a duty to uplift and educate backward populations in order that they might properly appreciate the blessings of liberty. Expansionists also believed that by fulfilling the American destiny in the Pacific, they would assure the economic well-being of the American people at home. Yet neither American manufacturers nor American workers unanimously favored expansion. Andrew Carnegie thought, for example, that acquisition of the Philippines would threaten the peace and security that were necessary for foreign trade. And Samuel Gompers feared that imperial expansion would open the way for cheap contract labor to enter the United States and drive down the wages of American workers.
On 6 February 1899 the debate in the Senate came to an end, and senators passed the treaty by a vote of fifty-seven to twenty-seven, one vote more than the necessary two-thirds. Except for Hoar and Senator Eugene Hale of Maine, Republicans voted with the majority; although twenty-two Democrats voted no, ten voted for the treaty. Willam Jennings Bryan, front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 1900 and an anti-imperialist, had urged that the treaty be approved in order to end the war and ease the way for Philippine independence. His influence over Democratic senators was important in securing ratification. Yet it was McKinley who had framed the debate so as to make ratification appear to be the only logical alternative. In December he had asked the crucial question: "If, following the clear precepts of duty, territory falls to us, and the welfare of an alien people requires our guidance and protection, who will shrink from the responsibility, grave though it may be?"