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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

McKinley's imperialist policy

America was a latecomer in the age of imperialism when powerful nations of Europe looked down on tropical nations as objects of colonization. During this period, peoples of tropical regions were classified as lower races to be controlled by the supposedly higher races, or those people inhabiting the temperate regions. America entered this age with its more influential Wall Street decision makers embracing this imperialist idea and dictating on the course of American foreign policy.

As America looked beyond its shores in late 19th century, it saw the Philippines as a prized possession for its unexploited natural resources, for its harbors well suited for coaling stations and repair of ships, and for its strategic location for control of the commerce in the east.

U.S. republican President William McKinley effected the conquest of the Philippines under the guise of a humanitarian mission to uplift, educate and prepare the unwilling Filipinos for self-government.

(Photo source: University of Michigan Digital Library)

Policy of acquisition

Acquiring the Philippines as a possession, not as new member of the American Union, was the underlying policy of the McKinley administration. Previous acquisition of territories by the United States such as Louisiana and Texas were made through adhesions to the American Union, making the inhabitants American citizens. In the case of the Philippine Islands, the McKinley administration applied the traditional European imperialist model. There was no intention of making the Philippine islands part of the United States, nor granting citizenship to the Filipinos. Rather, the purpose of the acquisition was to hold the Philippine islands as a colony, which meant keeping its inhabitants in bondage.

However, this acquisition policy was in direct contravention of the constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, which upholds the right of all men to freedom, democracy and liberty. McKinley managed to wiggle out of this constitutional restraints by assuming a profile of a disinterested party, claiming that the involvement of the United States in the Philippines was humanitarian - uplifting, educating, and preparing a savage race for self-government, and not for profit.

McKinley's defining policy

President McKinley publicly announced his acquisition policy in a melodramatic tone in an interview at the White House on November 21, 1899, when he said:
"When next I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides Democrats as well as Republicans - but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands, perhaps, also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. 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 we would be cowardly and dishonorable;

"(2) That we could not turn them over to France or 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 by them, as our fellow-men from whom Christ also died.

"And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of this office); and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President."
(Olcott, 110-111)
It is not true that President McKinley did not know what to with the Philippines when it "dropped" on America's lap as a result of the Spanish war. There are evidences to prove that the McKinley administration was keenly interested on the Philippine Islands as far back as October, 1897, which is months before the USS Maine blew up at Havana harbor which the Americans blamed on the Spaniards, and the reason for the Spanish-American war.

Perhaps, the reason why President McKinley mentioned his invocation of Divine Providence was because his audience at the time were ministers of Protestant Churches. But it cannot be denied that he wanted the message to sink into the minds of the American people - the humanitarian mission of the United States. And there was no question that his statements were the official pronouncement of his policy regarding the Philippines.

That being the case, the alternatives McKinley presented are being tested in the light of the facts obtaining at the time, as follows:

First alternative: "That we could not give them back to Spain - that we would be cowardly and dishonorable."

Aguinaldo had already crushed the Spanish army and held 9,000 prisoners of war. Spain had weakened; no reinforcements were coming. Practically all towns and cities outside Manila were in the hands of the Philippine government. The remnants of the Spanish army that sought refuge inside the city numbering less than 2,000 would not be able to put up a credible fight against the 30,000 strong Filipino army. That the Filipino forces had not moved in to take the city was a monument to the naiveté of Aguinaldo for overly trusting the Americans and a credit to Admiral Dewey who convinced Aguinaldo to wait until the main bulk of American land forces had arrived. McKinley knew this first alternative was not acceptable not because it was cowardly or dishonorable, but rather, Spain was no longer in a position to hold the Philippines given Aguinaldo's growing strength.

Second alternative:" That we could not turn them over to France or Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would be bad business and discreditable."

The concern that other powers were interested in the Philippine Islands was not an overstatement. According to Dewey among the early arrivals of foreign men-of-war, besides the British ships Linnet (May 2) and Immortalite (May 7), were the French cruiser Brieux (May 5), the Japanese cruiser Itsukushima (May 10), and the German cruisers Irene (May 6) and Cormoran (May 9). Assuming the United States turned over the Philippines to one of the powers, that power would meet a more difficult and arduous campaign than the kind of war that the American army faced. When the war with the Filipinos broke out, the Americans were already mobilized on land and strategically positioned. But if peaceable disembarkation and mobilization was not provided the American army such as they had under friendly terms with Aguinaldo, if they had to mobilize troops and war materiel from the sea under conditions of belligerency, the story of the American intervention in the Philippines would have taken a different course. The same difficulty would certainly have applied to the succeeding power.

Third alternative: "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."

This statement contradicted all impartial testimonies thus far expressed, most especially by the very representatives of the United States government.

The first to express admiration for the Filipinos was Admiral Dewey himself when he said:
"In my opinion, these people are far superior in their intelligence and more capable of self government than the natives of Cuba, and I am familiar with both races. "(Dewey, 312)
General Charles King, who fought the Filipinos, made the following comment:
"The capability of the Filipinos for self government cannot be doubted; such men as Arellano, Aguinaldo, and many others whom I might name, are highly educated; nine tenths of the people read and write; all are skilled artisans in one way or another; they are industrious, frugal, temperate, and, given a fair start, could look out for themselves infinitely better than our people imagine. In my opinion they rank far higher than the Cubans or the uneducated negroes to whom we have given the right of suffrage." (Leonidas, 129-130).
Two navy men from Admiral Dewey's squadron, Sargent and Wilcox, toured northern Luzon and their report spoke favorably of the Aguinaldo government, as evident from these statements:
"As a tribute to the efficiency of Aguinaldo's government and to the law-abiding character of his subjects, I offer the fact that Mr. Wilcox and I pursued our journey throughout in perfect security, and returned to Manila with only the most pleasant recollections of the quiet and orderly life which we found the natives to be leading under the new regime." (PIS-V3N01, 39).
Here is a very revealing discovery by an American officer of the machinery of the Philippine government after Santa Ana, a town near Manila was overran on the second day of the war by advancing American troops:
"When we reached the headquarters at Santa Ana another surprise awaited us, for here was found some of the machinery of Aguinaldo's government. Among the papers scattered about in confusion by the retreating officials were telegrams, letters, and commissions, showing something of their system. One letter was from a township governor asking relief from his duties; a surgeon's certificate was inclosed. It had been forwarded through official channels to Aguinaldo's secretary of state and returned with abundant indorsements approved. With it was an order to the governor of the province to have a new election. Another letter was a complaint made against another local governor for mal-administration. It stated the charges in real legal form, and was duly signed. The numerous papers concerning school teachers' appointments showed that the Filipinos had already perfected arrangements for the education of the youth on a large scale. I might also mention the deeds of property, records of births, deaths, etc., to show that Aguinaldo's organization is at least not a laughable farce. I might mention also meteorological and other scientific instruments and records to show that the Filipinos didn't neglect science during those busy, warlike times. Letters dated February 4 from Malolos showed that they had a good courier system. A book on tactics, engravings of the several uniforms, beautiful topographical maps, copies of the declaration of independence and the revolutionary constitution, military and state seals, and other articles all went to show that labor and intelligence were united in their production. " (Atkinson, 44-45)
And finally, in answer to McKinley's assertion that anarchy and disorder will prevail if the Filipinos were left to themselves, here is a report of a U.S. newspaper correspondent on the take over by Filipino forces of Iloilo City on December 24, 1898 which the Spaniards abandoned after a siege of the city . He said:
"...they entered the city in the most perfect order, scattered their forces in various public buildings, policed the streets and maintained the peace and quiet of the town in a manner that would have done credit to a most highly civilized nation. There was no looting, no insult to men or women, no robbery, no drunkenness or disorder..." - (Kimball, 3)
Did all these affirmations of Filipino competence and capability for self-government fell on deaf ears at Washington, or was it reasonable to conclude that the administration of President McKinley was predisposed to acquiring the Philippines as a colony, regardless of the state and condition of the people? Obviously, the answer would be yes.

Fourth alternative: "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 by them, as our fellow-men from whom Christ also died. "This fourth alternative masqueraded the colonization plan as a humanitarian mission - America was rich and therefore needed no colonies; the Filipinos were savages and America was coming to educate, uplift and civilize them. However, succession of events confirmed that the acquisition of the Philippines was not an afterthought, but consisted of well-studied actions of the McKinley administration that started earlier than it was possible for America to get involved in Philippine affairs. Enumerated below are incidence of such well-studied actions dating as far back as the last quarter of 1897:
(1) On October 21, 1897, or four months before the U.S.S. Maine incident, orders were issued to Commodore George Dewey as follows: "... to sail for Nagasaki, Japan, and there take command of the Asiatic squadron. Before he sailed, the policy of the administration was outlined to him and he was given instructions regarding the course to pursue in the contingency of a war with Spain. He began at once to collect information regarding the Spanish forces in the Philippines."(Olcott, 39)

(2) On the 24th day of April, 1898, even before the U.S. Congress had formally declared war on Spain, another order was given as follows: "War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to the Philippine Islands. Commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy them. Use utmost endeavors." (Brooks, 9).

(3) During the framing of the August 12, 1898 Peace Protocol which gave the United States the right to occupy the bay, harbor and city of Manila (not the whole Philippine islands), the United States wanted to use the word possession in completing the third article referring to the Philippine question, revealing the intention of taking over the Philippines. But Spain insisted that the word disposition be used instead because Spain did not intend to relinquish control of the Philippine islands to the United States (Brooks, 4-5)

(4) At the Paris peace conference in the last quarter of 1898, the United States peace commissioners demanded from Spain the cession of the whole archipelago with a payment of $20 million. Spain initially refused and cited the provisions of the Peace Protocol that limited the right of the United States to the bay, harbor and city. In the end, the American demand succeeded in view of what Spain considered a threat of an imminent resumption of hostilities if she refused. (Brooks, 6).

(5) As soon as the Peace Treaty was signed and without waiting for the ratification of the treaty by the United States Senate, McKinley sent instructions to General Otis to extend the military government maintained in the city of Manila to the whole of the ceded territory. McKinley could not have been unaware that the Philippine Republic was already administering all the towns and provinces outside of the city of Manila. Perhaps, he underestimated the determination of the Filipinos. He probably thought Aguinaldo would meekly submit, roll over and hand to General Otis the whole country on a silver platter.

(6) The first attempt at a peaceful American take over of the country was made in December, 1898 when General Otis, under orders from Washington, sent an expedition of 2,500 men under the command of Gen. Marcus Miller with orders to occupy the city of Iloilo. The Filipino government in Iloilo resisted and refused to allow the disembarkation of American troops. The impasse was referred by General Otis to Washington and the order was to hold the use of force and await further instructions. If Gen. Miller took the city after a fight, this action would be viewed as an aggression, something that McKinley did not want to project to the American people.

(7) A second attempt at the same objective was made by General Otis himself when he presented to Aguinaldo early the following year a modified version of the same McKinley's proclamation omitting the strong words sovereignty. The Otis version of the proclamation required all the inhabitants to recognize American military authority in consequence of the Treaty of Paris and those who did would have their life and property protected and those who did not would face terrible consequences. The Filipinos rejected the proclamation and tore down the posters. Similarly, the American forces did not react but held in check their guns and artillery. Again, McKinley did not want to appear to the American people as the aggressor.

(8) On February 4, 1899, an opportunity for McKinley to unleash the dogs of war came when hostilities between American and Filipino forces were opened which the Americans blamed on the Filipinos. Aguinaldo pleaded to stop the hostilities and sit down to thresh out the conflict, but the Americans refused, confirming the claim that the war was actually forced on the Filipinos on the eve of the U.S. Senate vote in order to force the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. McKinley needed the ratification of the treaty to provide him with the stamp of approval to proceed with the colonization of the Philippines.

(9) A facsimile of a memorandum written in Mr. McKinley's own handwriting and recording a conversation which he had with Admiral Dewey. The piece of paper was of the White House stationery, and it bore the date of October 3, 1899. The notes read: “SELF GOVERNMENT, - are they capable? No and will not be for many, many years. The United States must control and supervise giving Filipinos participation as far as capable. WHAT DOES AGUINALDO REPRESENT in population and sentiment? He has no more than 40,000 followers of all kinds out of 8 or to millions WHAT IS OUR DUTY? Keep the islands permanently. Valuable in every way HOW MANY TROOPS NEEDED? 50000 HAVE WE SHIPS ENOUGH? Ought to send some more. Recommends that Brooklyn go and smaller vessels. SHOULD WE GIVE UP THE ISLANDS? Never – never.” (Olcott, 96(a))

10. Finally, McKinley revealed the commercial purpose of retaining the Philippines in his September 16, 1898 instructions to the American Peace Commissioners who were to meet with their Spanish counterpart in Paris on October 1, 1898, viz:
“Incidental to our tenure in the Philippines is the commercial opportunity to which American statesmanship can not be indifferent. It is just to use every legitimate means for the enlargement of American trade.. “ (US Papers, 7)
Aguinaldo reechoed McKinley's reason for keeping the Philippines when he said:
"Oh, dear Philippines! Blame your wealth, your beauty for the stupendous disgrace that rests upon your faithful sons. You have aroused the ambition of the Imperialists and Expansionists of North America and both have placed their sharp claws upon your entrails!" (Aguinaldo, 56).


McKinley succeeded in his grand design of acquiring the Philippines as an American colony and the American people rewarded him with a reelection. However, an assassin shot McKinley at the Pan American Exhibition at Buffalo on September 6, 1901 and he died eight days later. Sarah Vowell, in her book, Assassination Vacation, mentions that the assassin, Leon Czolgosz, found disparaging the fact that the Philippine-American war erupted over U.S. Occupation of the Philippines, saying “It does not harmonize with the teaching in our schools about our flag”.

In his book, Imperialism and Liberty, Morrison Swift makes these bold assertions:
"... McKinley recorded and pledged himself in now famous and memorable language. Said he: "I speak not of forcible annexation, because that is not to be thought of, and under our code of morality that would be criminal aggression."

But one year later, ...this man on his own initiative, without the authority of Congress or the people, more than a month before the Treaty of Peace was ratified by the Senate, and when there was no certainty that it would be ratified, issued the following astounding proclamation to the Filipinos:
[text of proclamation omitted]

This proclamation drove the Filipinos into war against the United States. There was nothing left for them to do unless they consented to national enslavement. It was not only natural but right that they should go to war against us. Our Chief Man had notified them by arbitrary decree that if they did not submit to the usurped authority of the United States - "the absolute domain of military authority," he called it - they would be forced into submission by shell and grapeshot. "Honest submission," or death: they had their choice. "Honest submission," or "forcible annexation." All who did not honestly submit to the proclamation of the tyrant were to be "brought within the lawful rule we have assumed, with firmness if need be." On the 5th of February that firmness began to be applied and 4000 heroic Filipinos who could not honestly submit to the self-made despot were killed. The man who killed them was William McKinley. The death of each one of them was groundless manslaughter, McKinley was their murderer. He was their self-condemned murderer, convicted by his own words of one year before. "I speak not of forcible annexation, because that is not to be thought of, and under our code of morality that would be criminal aggression."

Under the light of this solemn promise and its bloody repudiation McKinley reveals himself to be the crowning fraud and hypocrite of the age, who has no right to respect from any honest man in the United States. He originally declared a true American principle, that we cannot take any form of authority over a people that is opposed to that authority without criminal aggression and breaking our code of morality; this code holds of Cuba, of the Philippines, and of every foot of ground not our own under the sun that our cupidity might be disposed to seize. The breaking of this code, consciously held and publicly announced, was therefore an act of detestable piracy, bringing shame and dishonor upon the whole nation.

The administration and the imperialist press have striven to convince our people that the Filipinos are responsible for the war. This is one of the lies that we must tell each other to save a last remnant of our self-respect. But it is nevertheless a lie with no mitigation. McKinley declared war in his Proclamation, and the Filipinos began hostilities. The feeble McKinley doubtless honestly hoped that they would honestly submit to his declaration that they were to be as a conquered and subject people to the United States, without the sad necessity of being obliged to forcibly conquer them. The subterfuge did not work. They had never acknowledged the sovereignty of the United States: for the United States to declare sovereignty was therefore for the United States to declare war.

After the "criminal aggression" of McKinley's proclamation that a state of virtual war already existed, that they must submit or be killed, there was nothing for them to do but to fight. And every true American who resents this dastardly aggression by the president upon a harmless race of barbarians, should be deeply thankful that they did fight, and must hope that our arms will not be able to subdue them. No honorable American can uphold the criminal attempt of American potentates to deprive a weak race of its liberty in the name of liberty. As liberty-loving American citizens it is our duty to uphold the Filipinos in their righteous and patriotic attempt to keep our yoke from falling on them.
- (Swift, 39-41)


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