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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How the 1898 Treaty of Paris was railroaded

Is it not rather unusual that the United States had to pay $20 million to Spain in order to effect the annexation of the Philippine Islands?  If the spoils of war are the prerogative of the victor, as the saying goes, why pay? This article attempts to examine the motivations that led to the consummation of the Treaty of Paris in December 10, 1898.

(Photo courtesy University of Michigan Digital Library)

The Treaty of Paris was preceded by a Peace Protocol that ended the Spanish-American war. The protocol was signed in August 12, 1898 at Washington DC by Secretary William R. Day of the U.S. State Department and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, who acted as plenipotentiary of Spain.

Article I of the Peace Protocol provided for the relinquishment by Spain of all rights and sovereignty over Cuba which paved the way for the establishment of an independent Cuba. Article II provided for the cession of Puerto Rico and several other islands in the West Indies and in the Ladrones by Spain to the United States, and these territories became possessions of the United States.

However, the status of the Philippines was not clearly defined in the Peace Protocol. A vague provision gave the United States the right to occupy the bay, harbor and city of Manila, as follows:
"Third. On similar grounds, the United States is entitled to occupy and will hold the city, bay and harbor of Mania, pending the conclusion of the a Treaty of Peace, which shall determine the control, disposition and government of the Philippines."
The control, disposition and government of the Philippines was finally determined and contained in what is now referred to as the Treaty of Paris. Article III of the treaty provides as follows:
"Spain cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippine Islands, comprehending the islands lying within the following line: ...

"The United States will pay Spain the sum of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) within three months after the exchange of the ratification of the present treaty."
In the course of the negotiations between the American and Spanish commissioners it became clear that the United States wanted to take over from Spain control of the Philippines. The Spanish Commissioners rejected the American position on the basis that the Peace Protocol of Washington merely provided for temporary possession and occupancy of the city, bay and harbor of Manila and did not admit the possibility that the United States would in any way claim any sovereignty over the Philippine Island.

The parties were deadlocked and unable to agree. Spain proposed to take the issue to arbitration. The prospect of subjecting the treaty to unnecessary delay was not acceptable to the American Peace Commissioners. Therefore, to this Spanish proposition, the American side made a counter offer to pay $20 million to Spain, which the Spanish Commissioners viewed as a “take it, or leave it” offer, accompanied by a threat to renew the hostilities, as can be gleaned from the following reply issued by the Spanish Commission:
“…The Spanish Commissioners are now asked to accept the American proposition in its entirety and without further discussion, or to reject it, in which later case, as the American Commission understands, the peace negotiation will end and the peace Protocol of Washington will, consequently, be broken.” (Treaty, 213)
The American gambit worked and Spain yielded, expressing its total surrender to the United States position in the following terms:
"The government of Her Majesty, moved by lofty reasons of patriotism and humanity, will not assume the responsibility of again bringing upon Spain all the horrors of war. In order to avoid them it resigns itself to the painful strait of submitting to the law of victory, however harsh it may be, and as Spain lacks material means to defend the rights she believes are hers, having recorded them, she accepts the only terms the United States offers her for the concluding of the Treaty of Peace." (Treaty, 213)
Thus, the Treaty of Paris was signed and the United States took possession of the Philippines Islands under questionable circumstances. What follows is a question and answer on this very unusual treaty:

Question No. 1 - The American commissioners heard several testimonies from the American generals assigned in the Philippines, from experts on natural resources and from the famous English author, John Foreman, but not from any Filipino, viz:"
The testimony of no Filipino, nor representative of that people, appears to have been taken by American commissioners at Paris, who had summoned before them witnesses from all over the globe to testify about the islands and the people there. The treaty was signed, and then came the demand upon the Filipinos for immediate and absolute allegiance to the United States." (Thomas, 61)
Felipe Agoncillo, the Filipino official handpicked by President Emilio Aguinaldo to represent the Filipinos in the conference, was refused recognition and barred from presenting the case for the Filipinos. In contrast, the credentials of the representative of the Catholic Hierarchy, Bishop Placido Chapelle, were recognized and he was given the opportunity to work out a special provision in the treaty, i.e., Article VIII, which provided for the protection of the property and rights of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Why were the Filipinos ignored and barred from the conference?

Answer: (No comment. The answer is very obvious.)

Question No. 2 - The United States annexed Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but granted Cuba its independence. Why the difference in treatment?

Answer: It must be borne in mind that the United States prided itself as the land of the free, the bastion of democracy, and enshrined in its constitution the proposition that all men are created equal. Accordingly, in dealing with the issue of acquisition of foreign territories, the administration of U.S. president William McKinley had to reckon with the constitutional restraint and libertarian tradition of the American people, lest the United States is branded a neo-colonialist or accused of being unfaithful to its democratic heritage. Be that as it may, it is now possible to speculate why the Peace Protocol was framed in such a way that Spain ceded Puerto Rico and freed Cuba, but was indecisive as far as the Philippine Islands was concerned.

The Cuban people were in a state of rebellion against Spain and, therefore, had clearly expressed their desire to be free and independent. To hold Cuba as a colony against the wishes of the Cuban people would be viewed as an act of imperialism. Hence, Article I of the Peace Protocol provided for relinquishment of Spanish sovereignty over Cuba which led to its independence from foreign rule.

In the case of Puerto Rico, the people were not in the state of rebellion against Spain and did not express their desire to be free and independent. Leaving the territory in the hands of Spain or without a functional government would be irresponsible. Hence, the annexation of Puerto Rico as provided in Article II of the Peace Protocol was justifiable because temporarily holding the territory until the Puerto Ricans finally decide what they want for themselves would be viewed as humanitarian.

A different case presents itself for the Philippine Islands. The Filipinos have already thrown off the Spanish yoke and established a government of their own with full knowledge of the representatives of the U.S. government and, presumably, McKinley and Washington officials. Not only did the Filipinos express their desire to be free and independent, but they were, in fact, already administering the country and the remnants of Spanish authority were hopelessly holed up in an area called Intramuros in the besieged capital of Manila.

If the United States were true to her libertarian and democratic traditions the direction for the Philippines was no other than an independent republic. However, at this time, the idea of a colony was already being considered by the American commissioners and the Philippines came as a very attractive addition to American territory.

However, the cards were stacked against the Filipinos. For one, the British did not favor the idea of an independent Filipino republic because it would be like setting a bush fire that could spread all throughout the British empire in the orient. Attached to the treaty documents forwarded by President McKinley to the U.S. Congress were item no. 14, "Protectorates, colonies and non-sovereign states", and item no. 15,"The Federated Malay States: A sketch of growth and political organization by Francis B. Forbes.

The protection of the interest of the Catholic church was the other major factor. To the Vatican, the independence of the Filipinos would mean the confiscation of its rich farm lands, the destruction of the religious orders and perhaps the slaughter of its members. Accordingly, Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Ireland were instructed to move to Washington while Bishop Chapelle was sent to Paris. As later events showed these moves brought positive results most favorable to the Vatican because President McKinley was influenced to retain the Philippines as an American territory and the property and interest of the Catholic church were protected from seizure through a provision in Article VIII of the peace treaty.

The pressure brought to bear upon the United States by the British and the Vatican were the principal factors that shaped Article III of the Peace Protocol that would hold the status of Philippines in abeyance until it was successfully resolved at the Treaty of Paris in favor of annexation.

In the meantime, the administration of President William McKinley would have already perfected the clever ploy – convince the American people that the Filipinos were savages and unfit to govern themselves, and the United States was coming to educate and prepare them for self-government.  This course of action was successfully executed with the implied consent of the American people, which meant like securing a license to keep the Philippines as a colony, which was what McKinley wanted in the first place.  

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