HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902 Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough
Riders, and the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine are but a few of the images people have about the United
States’ 123-day war with Spain, in 1898. What they may not remember is that this was the war that
launched the United States as a world power. Victorious over Imperial Spain in both Cuba and the
Philippines in the span of months, the United States became the “New Spain” by taking over Spanish
territorial holdings in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and in Asia. At the same time that the U.S. acquired
overseas possessions in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, it began a century-long debate
over its newly assumed role as empire builder. The Spanish-American War may have catalyzed the
debate, but the ensuing Philippine-American War—a long, bloody, and costly affair—truly crystallized
the argument over America’s new international role. Pro-imperialist arguments held sway until the high
costs of war triggered an anti-imperialist backlash, caused an agonizing reappraisal of the assumed
benefits of empire-building, and contributed to a long-term amnesia regarding America’s first overseas
The United States-Spanish peace talks began in Paris on October 1, 1898. No Filipinos or Cubans
attended the deliberations, nor were any invited. McKinley clearly wanted Cuba from the Spanish, but
he was not yet sure about the Philippines. Ultimately, he decided that he needed the port of Manila in
the Philippines in order to have a naval base in the Western Pacific. After considerable debate and
reflection, McKinley also recommended annexing the Philippines rather than giving the Filipinos outright
independence. Undeterred by American actions in Paris and the White House, as well as the upcoming
treaty debate in the United States Senate, the Filipinos approved a constitution in January 1899 based
on the republican representative principles embodied in the United States Constitution.
As a result of McKinley’s decision and the Senate’s ratification of annexation, the U.S. Army
battled Filipino nationalist insurgents for four years, from 1898 to 1902. This was a timetable ten times
longer than the war with Spain. In sum, the American-Philippine war was a drawn-out series of
encounters that caused the deaths of over 4,000 Americans (compared to 385 in Cuba) and at least
50,000 Filipinos, many of whom were civilians dislocated by American policies.
In April 1902, following more than three years of warfare, Filipino leaders conceded defeat to
the United States. For their part, the exhausted Americans had lost most of the zeal that had led to late
nineteenth-century imperialism. Even President Roosevelt, once a champion of U.S. empire-building,
admitted that his nation was ill-suited for imperialism. On reflection, he opined that the Philippines had
become America’s Achilles heel.
Documents Related to the Causes of the Conflict
NOTE: Filipino sources are noted with an asterisk (*)
“The Filipino is the true child of the East. His moral fiber is as the web of the pineapple gauze of
which the women make their dresses. He will cheat, steal, and lie beyond the orthodox limit of the
Anglo-Saxon. His unreliability and the persistence with which he disobeys orders are irritating beyond
description; besides this, his small stature and color invite abuse.” —John Bass (Soldier correspondent)
“I am reliably informed that the natives of these islands are no farther advanced in civilization
than they were 300 years ago.” —A. J. Luther, Letter of July 27, 1898
“The natural resources of the Philippines are very good, and under a civilized administration,
these islands would be rich and prosperous. But the mildew of Spanish administration is upon
everything.” —Trumbull White 1898 (American author who wrote “Pictorial History of Our War With
Spain for Cuba’s Freedom”)
“In the West Indies and the Philippines alike we are confronted by most difficult problems. It is
cowardly to shrink from solving them in a proper way; for solved they must be, if not by us, by some
stronger and more manful race.” —Theodore Roosevelt, 1900. U.S. Vice President.
“I want to get this country out of war and back to peace. . . . I want to enter upon a policy which
shall enable us to give peace and self-government to the natives of these islands.” —Henry Cabot
Lodge, Sr. American historian, statesman and conservative political leader, best known as a U.S.
Representative and Senator from Massachusetts.
“Damn, damn the Filipinos! Cut-throat Khadiac ladrones! (thieves) Underneath the starry flag
Civilize them with a Krag (rifle) And return us to our beloved home!” —[Popular U.S. Military Marching
“It is as a base for commercial operations that the islands seem to possess the greatest
importance. They occupy a favored location, not with reference to one part of any particular country of
the Orient, but to all part. . . . Together with the islands of the Japanese Empire, the Philippines are the
pickets of the Pacific, standing guard at the entrances to trade with the millions of China and Korea,
French IndoChina, the Malay Peninsula, and the Islands of Indonesia to the South.” —Frank A.
Vanderlip, an American banker and journalist, 1898.
“Our largest trade henceforth must be with Asia. The Pacific is our ocean. More and more,
Europe will manufacture the most it needs, secure from its colonies and the most it consumes. Where
shall we turn for consumer of our surplus? Geography answers the question. China is our natural
customer . . . the Philippines gives us a base at the door of all the East. . . . No land in America surpasses
in fertility the plains and valleys of Luzon [major island in the Philippines].” —Albert Beveridge,
imperialist U.S. senator from Indiana, 1900.
“The closing years of the century seem to be, in all lands save our own, not of war, but of a
strenuous making ready for it. Alsace and Lorraine, the Eastern Question in its many varied phases, and
the jealous rivalry as to colonies and dependencies, make Continental Europe but a camp, with more
than three million men under arms.” —Commodore G.W. Melville, 1898, naval engineer promoted to
Engineer in Chief of the Navy in 1900
“Since it is their desire, may the responsibility of the war and its consequences fall on the great
nation of the United States of America. We have done our duty as patriots and human beings, showing
the great powers of the world that the present cabinet has the diplomacy necessary to protect our
cause as well as the arms required to defend our rights.” —Pedro Paterno (1898) * Served as prime
minister of the First Philippine Republic 1899, and captured by the U.S. in 1900
“True, we might have thought it hopeless to attempt the improvement of conditions in the
Philippines, had not fate placed the power in our hands. Granted, if you will, that we cannot right the
wrongs of all oppressed nations, yet we cannot refuse to accept the responsibility which logic of events
has thrust upon us.” —Dean Worcester, 1898, a scientist who had traveled twice to the Philippines on
zoological expeditions, established himself as one of America’s leading experts on the Philippines.
“Wesley Merritt’s (first military governor of the Philippines) most difficult problem will be how
to deal with insurgents under Aquinaldo (Philippine revolutionary leader), who has become aggressive
and even threatening toward our army.” —Admiral George Dewey, cable to Secretary of Navy John
“In the war against Spain the United States forces came here to destroy the power of that
nation, and to give the blessings of peace and individual freedom to the Philippine people, that we are
here as friends of the Filipinos, to protect them in their homes, their employments, their individual and
religious liberty; that all persons who either by active aid or honest endeavor cooperate with the
government of the United States to give effect to these beneficent purposes, will receive the reward of
its support and protection.” —Elwell S. Otis, 1899, replaced Merritt as military governor.
“In my manifesto of January 8 , first I published the grievances suffered by the Philippine
forces at the hands of the army of occupation. The constant outrages and taunts, which have caused the
misery of the people of Manila, and finally, the useless conferences and the contempt shown the
Philippine government provide the premeditated transgression of justice and liberty.” —Emilio
Aguinaldo *, 1899, Rebel leader of the Philippine Forces.
“When I realized the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do
with them. . . . And one night late it came to me this way-I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That
we could not give them back to Spain-that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) That we could turn
them over to France and Germany-our commercial rivals in the Orient— that would be bad business and
discreditable; (3) That we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government-and
they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) That there was
nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and
Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could do by them.” —President William
Choose from two of the following factors:
Q. Based on the primary documents above and at least three other resources, which two factors, in your
view, were most important in causing the conflict, and why?
Your response should be approximately 1200 words and have paragraphs. This exercise is worth 10% of
your overall grade.
Below is the rubric to be used to grade your paper. Remember, all good essays have an introduction,
several paragraphs as the main body, and a conclusion. Your assignment is worth 10% of your overall
You will submit a 1200 word paper by 11:59pm on Friday November 22nd through E-Campus using a
Microsoft Word document.
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