1898-1933: America's Colony
The Philippines become a reluctant part of a new empire.
America's involvement in the Philippines started with a bang.
On the morning of May 1, 1898, an American flotilla commanded
by Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay and, without
losing a single sailor, promptly sank a Spanish squadron that
was anchored there. President William McKinley would later admit
that when he first heard the news of the victory, he "could
not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles."
American troops pose victoriously on the ramparts of Manila, circa 1899. (photo: Library of Congress)
When the Spanish-American War ended in December 1898, Spain
sold the entire Philippine archipelago to the United States
for $20 million. The Philippines had acquired a new colonial
ruler. The United States had acquired a colony the size of Arizona,
located more than 4,000 miles away across the Pacific.
But in the purchase, the United States also had received control
over ancient Muslim sultanates still angry about the Spanish
takeover centuries earlier. More urgently, it confronted a separate
Catholic nationalist rebel movement, led by Emilio Aguinaldo.
War soon erupted between the nationalists and the American troops
stationed in the islands. The outgunned Filipinos adopted guerilla
tactics; the U.S. army responded by rounding peasants into "reconcentration
camps" and declaring entire areas battle zones, in which no
distinctions were made between combatants and civilians. At
least 4,200 American and 16,000 Filipino soldiers are thought
to have been killed in the fighting. Historians have debated
the scale of civilian deaths, with estimates ranging from 200,000
to almost 1 million.
Back in the United States, a newly formed anti-imperialist movement
protested the war as an act of criminal aggression against the
Filipino people. But self-described imperialists insisted that
America had a duty to bring order and civilization to what Indiana
senator Alfred Beveridge called a "barbarous race." As the senator
insisted, "The Philippines are ours forever. We will not repudiate
our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our duty in the
Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race,
trustee under God, of the civilization of the world."
Aguinaldo was captured in March 1901 and eventually pledged
allegiance to the United States. The Philippine-American War
was declared to be over a year later, though Muslim fighters
in the southern Philippines continued to resist until 1914.
Filipino insurgents, led by Emilio Aguinaldo (seated third from the right), waged a guerrilla campaign to expel Americans from the islands. U.S. soldiers captured Aguinaldo in 1901. (National Archives)
To run America's new possession, President McKinley implemented
a policy of "benevolent assimilation," under which the United
States would control the Philippines temporarily while it oversaw
the transition to self-rule and independence. The colonial administration,
headed by future president William H. Taft, set up local governmental
bodies and a system of universal public education. But it did
little to reform the land tenure system, which gave a few wealthy
landlords control over the rural areas where most Filipinos
Filipino nationalists suspected the United States of postponing
independence indefinitely while exploiting the islands' economic
resources and using their country as a military base. A 1910
editorial in a Manila journal summed up the first decade of
American colonial rule as "10 years of bitter deception."
NEXT - 1934-1964: War and Independence
PREVIOUS - Introduction
back to top