This Week in History

The U.S. Wins the Philippines:

December 10, 1898

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The Battle of Manila Bay

The Spanish-American War had made Dewey, the Rough Riders, and Theodore Roosevelt national heroes. It also assured for Roosevelt the governorship of New York and the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 1900. More importantly, the war had made the United States an imperial power. In July 1898, the United States Senate approved the treaty annexing Hawai’i, and the course of the war had brought into America’s possession the former Spanish Pacific island of Guam. The annexation of the Philippines that was being discussed at the negotiations in Paris was more controversial. It brought into focus the ques­tion of whether the United States should become a colonial power.

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Emilio Aguinaldo

It seemed to many Americans that the Philippines would be granted independence, just like Cuba. Indeed, Dewey had welcomed back exiled Filipino insurgent Emilio Aguinaldo, who, with other rebel leaders, had begun organizing a republic. But other Americans argued that if the U.S. did not annex the Philippines, Germany would; before the war, Kaiser Wilhelm II had offered to buy the islands from Spain. Others argued that the United States needed a base of operations in the Far East, while still others claimed that the United States economy required colonial expansion and new markets for American manufacturers. Among these was Henry Demarest Lloyd, a prominent journalist who had exposed the monopolistic tactics of Standard Oil and other trusts and defended the Haymarket anar­chists. “American production has outrun American consumption,” wrote Lloyd, “and we must seek new markets for the surplus abroad.” Lloyd thought the subjugation of peoples like the Filipinos necessary for world progress. “It will be a great prelude to the fraternalization of the races,” he wrote, “to have all the inferior nations under the protectorate of the greater ones.” And though he thought such subjugations would bring with them “terrible abuses and faithlessness . . . it was an idle dream that we could progress from perfection to perfection while the Chinese ossified, and the Cubans and the Philippine people were disemboweled, and the Africans contin­ued to eat each other…”

Other Americans, however, opposed an imperial America. Among these was the famous author, Mark Twain, who on June 15, 1898 formed the Anti-Imperialist League. Other prominent anti-imperialists included William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Carnegie. These would have agreed with the words of the reform lawyer, Moorfield Storey, who asked, “Why should Cuba with its 1,600,000 people have a right to freedom and self-government and the 8,000,000 people who dwell in the Philippine Islands be denied the same right? . . . It is said that there is a war necessity or that we need indemnity. Can we extract our expenses from the enslaved people whom we intervened to help? . . . Is the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal, qualified by the proviso, ‘Unless it is necessary’?”

William McKinley

In the end, it was economic and strategic arguments that moved McKinley to deny Filipino independence. Arguing (as Dewey had reported) that, since the Filipino republican government represented only a fraction of the population, it could not keep order, McKinley pushed for the annexation of the Philippines. The president explained to a delegation of Methodists that he had decided to take the Philippines in order “to educate the Filipinos and uplift and civilize and Christianize them” — forgetting, perhaps, that the vast majority of Filipinos had imbibed Spanish culture and were Catholic. Despite the protests, the United States agreed to pay $20 million for the Philippine islands in the peace treaty with Spain, signed in Paris on December 10, 1898.

The annexation of the Philippines created new problems for the United States. The Filipino insurgents wanted independence, not a new master. To crush the Filipino revolt that now had turned against them, Americans before long resorted to measures that they had condemned when done by Spain. The United States military imitated Weyler by establishing concentration camps throughout the islands. American troops burnt Filipino towns and vil­lages and destroyed crops. The military used torture techniques, introduced by the Spanish, to extract information from captured prisoners, including priests. Anglo soldiers tended to despise the shorter, dark-skinned, Catholic Filipinos. Only black American soldiers treated them with respect.

Archbishop Placide Chapelle (seated) with Archbishop J.B. Salpointe

The October 27, 1900, Literary Digest reported that Catholic sentiment — at least as evi­denced by the Catholic press — was “almost unanimously in favor of . . . anti-imperialism.” Many Catholics, it seems, feared that the United States occupation of the Philippines threat­ened the Catholic Church there. Yet, despite such Catholic opposition, the Digest said it appeared “a large number of influential members of the hierarchy” supported McKinley’s policies in the Philippines. Among these were Placide Chapelle, archbishop of New Orleans and papal envoy to the Philippines, who argued that not only would Spain have sold the Philippines to another power if the United States had not annexed the islands, but that “the islands are very valuable commercially, and, above all things, they furnish the key to the trade with China.” Archbishop Chapelle insisted that the Philippines “should be ours on moral, legal, commercial, sociological, and religious grounds.”

Cardinal Gibbons too supported the annexation, even though it meant that in the Philippines the Catholic faith would be placed on an equal footing with other religions. Writing in the March 8, 1900 New York Sun, Gibbons said he thought “the government which we enjoy in the United States is the best government for us in the Philippines. The Catholics do not ask any special protection or privileges. All they would ask is a fair field and no favor . . . I know of no objection [to U.S. policy in the Philippines] among people of my religion on religious grounds.” In an interview published in the October 20, 1900 Sun, Archbishop Ireland claimed that Pope Leo XIII had told him that he was “pleased with the relations of the American government to the church in Cuba and the Philippine islands.” If Leo XIII did indeed express these sentiments, it may have been because the constitution established by Aguinaldo’s government in 1899 called for separation of Church and state. During the insurrection, Aguinaldo’s government imprisoned Catholic priests and religious.

A caricature of John Hay, from an 1897 edition of Vanity Fair

With the occupation of the Philippines, the United States began to exert its influence in the Far East. In 1899, Secretary of State John Hay announced a “open door policy” in regards to China to assure that the United States would not be edged out of the Chinese market by Russia, Great Britain, France, and Japan. When the Boxer Rebellion — an uprising on the part of traditional elements in Chinese society — broke out in June 1900, the United States participated in a joint expeditionary force to relieve Peking. In July of that year, Secretary Hay issued a circular letter setting forth U.S. policy toward China. China, declared Hay, was not to be divided up between the European powers, nor was the principle of equality between trading countries to be violated.

In the Caribbean, the United States made Puerto Rico a territory with the right to become a state or to declare for independence, according to the wishes of the majority of Puerto Ricans. Six thousand United States troops under General Leonard Wood occupied Cuba for three years following the war. The occupation helped the Cubans to recover from the wars of the previous years, and American reform of sanitary conditions wiped out an ancient pest — malaria. In 1900, a constitutional convention drew up a constitution for Cuba patterned on that of the United States. The convention agreed to grant the United States Guantanamo Bay for a naval base and adopted the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to “intervene” in Cuban affairs “for the preservation of Cuban indepen­dence” or to keep order. United States military occupation of Cuba ended in 1902.


A Dance of the Philippines

A dance that originated during the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines, Tinikling imitates the movements of the indigenous tikling bird as it avoids bamboo traps set by rice farmers. One wonders if President McKinley would have found it uncivilized.