The American commander in the Philippines in 1898 was Gen. Thomas Anderson, a Northern lieutenant-colonel in the War Between the States, who knew firsthand about invasion and thwarting independence movements. In a twist of irony, Sen. George Hoar of Massachusetts, a radical Republican who was instrumental in subjugating the American South thirty-some years earlier, became outspoken in 1898 regarding US military force creating vassal states.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Former Colony Becomes Colonialist
“At the Paris Peace Conference of December 1898, where the terms of final surrender were fixed, Spain tried to retain Puerto Rico, arguing that the United States had never before challenged its sovereignty there. President McKinley rejected [this] . . . and said he decided that Puerto Rico was “to become the territory of the United States.” The Spanish, defeated and weak, had no choice but to accept.
No American alive in 1898 could have had any doubt about why the United States had gone to war with Spain. The conflict was fought to resolve a single question: Who would control Cuba? [But] as a result of Commodore Dewey’s victory at Manila, the United States suddenly exercised power over [the Philippines].
At first, McKinley seemed to want only enough territory in the Philippines to build a naval base at Manila. Then he considered the idea of granting the islands independence . . . [though] “One night late, it came to me this way.” He said. “there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and educate the Filipinos and uplift them and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could for them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.”
What is certain is that McKinley, in the words of one historian, “knew the Filipinos not at all, and would misjudge their response with tragic persistence.” He himself admitted that when he heard news of Dewey’s victory at Manila, he “could not have told where those darned islands were within two thousand miles.” His fervor to “Christianize” the Filipinos, most of whom were already practicing Catholics, suggested his ignorance of conditions on the islands.
He certainly had no idea that they were in the throes of the first anticolonial revolution in the modern history of Asia. “The episode marked a pivotal point in the American experience,” Stanly Karnow wrote in his history of the Philippines. “For the first time, US soldiers fought overseas. And, for the first time, America was to acquire foreign territory beyond its shores – the former colony itself becoming colonialist.”
On May 1, 1898 . . . Dewey welcomed the Filipino guerilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo aboard his flagship, the Olympia. Their versions of what transpired are contradictory. Aguinaldo said they agreed to fight the Spanish together and then establish an independent Republic of the Philippines. Dewey swore that he made no such commitment. Whatever the truth, when Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippine, on June 12, neither Dewey or any other representative of the United States turned up at the ceremony.
General Thomas Anderson . . . was the first commander of American troops in the Philippines, sought to reassure them “I desire to have amicable relations with you,” he wrote Aguinaldo on July 4, “and to have you and your people cooperate with us in military operations against the Spanish forces.”
On December 21, , McKinley issued an “executive letter” proclaiming American sovereignty over the Philippines. Rebels there were already proceeding along their own path. They had elected a constituent assembly that produced a constitution, and under its provisions the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed on January 23, 1899. Twelve days later, this new nation declared war against the United States forces on the islands.
McKinley took no notice. To him, the Filipinos were what the historian Richard Welch called “a disorganized and helpless people.” Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts warned that [this oppression] would turn the United States into “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and the other classes must forever obey.”
(Overthrow, America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer, Times Books, 2006, pp. 46-49)