American History
The Philippine Insurection and the Open Door

*During the Spanish-American War, the US had fought alongside Filipinos who sought independence from Spain led by Emilio Aguinaldo.

*When the Spanish surrendered, Aguinaldo helped create the Philippine Republic and served as its first president.  However, despite what he thought, the United States intended to keep the Philippines as a US possession to have a trading and military base near Asia and the US did not recognise the Philippine Declaration of Independence. 

*Some fighting between Filipino and American forces took place in 1898, and in 1899 a large-scale uprising called the Philippine Insurrection began, led by Aguinaldo. 

*The Filipinos fought a guerrilla war, attacking out of the jungle and out of villages, often hitting the US Army behind their own lines.  The US fought a war of extermination in return, particularly under the US military governor Arthur MacArthur.  Both sides tortured prisoners and generally fought in the most brutal fashion they could.  The US put Filipinos in concentration camps and the Filipinos deliberately infected American captives with diseases they could carry back to their bases when released and slaughtered other Filipinos who would not support them.  A few American officers were tried in courts martial for their actions, and many captured Filipino leaders were executed, but many perpetrators of war crimes went unpunished.

*Read the selection from the San Francisco Argonaut on page 264.  How do you feel about its statement?

*Many people felt the role of the US in the Philippines should be to ‘civilise’ the local people—teach them English, end the role of the Catholic Church in government, convert the large Muslim minority to Christianity, and generally make the Philippines as much like America and Europe as possible.

*Other Americans opposed the occupation of the Philippines.  Mark Twain helped found the Anti-Imperialist League in 1898 and served as its vice-president from 1901 to 1910, and William Jennings Bryan ran on an anti-imperialist platform in 1900.

*Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in 1901 and only allowed to go free after swearing allegiance to the US and asking his followers to stop fighting.  Most did so by 1902, although in more remote areas violence lasted at least until 1913.

*Over 5,000 Americans died in the Philippine Insurrection and more (perhaps many more) than 200,000 Filipinos were killed.

*One reason violence did decrease is that Arthur MacArthur was replaced by a new governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft, who treated the Filipinos with much greater respect and allowed some self-government (although he also was strict in some areas, limiting the freedom of the press and imprisoning people who protested against American rule).

*In 1916 the Jones Act promised that the Philippines could eventually have their independence, which was granted in 1946 after the end of World War II, although the US continued to keep military bases in the Philippines for years afterwards.  Emilio Aguinaldo did live to see this and was given a position in the Council of State in which he served a full term before retiring.

*The US was interested in having a presence in Asia because one of the richest areas in Asia was very weak by the end of the 1800s.  China had been carved up into ‘spheres of influence’ by European powers and Japan, in which each had exclusive trading rights and a great deal of political control—it was like have a colony, but with less expense.

*Because the US got into the imperialist game too late, it was unable to obtain a sphere of influence.  Instead, Secretary of State John Hay proposed an Open Door policy in which any country (or at least the United States) could trade with any part of China.  This was mostly ignored by the countries that dominated China.

*Many Chinese did not appreciate the dominance of their country by foreigners or the fact that their own Emperor permitted it (although he probably had little choice).  One group who opposed foreign influence were the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, who secretly met to study martial arts and celebrate traditional ways of life.  They believed that doing so would, among other things, make them immune to the bullets of the foreign devils—an important point, as they planned to rebel against them.

*The Boxer Rebellion (named by the Yellow Press, who based the name Boxer on the Fists in the group’s name) began in May, 1900 with the assassination of the German ambassador to China.  Soon every European country with an interest in China, Japan, and the United States sent soldiers to China to put down the Boxer Rebellion.  Over 20,000 soldiers put the rebellion down, then forced the Chinese government to pay for the damage done to their property by the rebellion.

*Eventually the Chinese would successfully rebel against their own government and (some) foreign dominance in the Wu Chang Rebellion of 1911-1912, which created the Republic of China.

*The United States were also increasingly suspicious of Japan.  It had not only beaten China in the 1894-1895, but in 1904-1905 destroyed the Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War (begun with a surprise morning attack on the Russian Pacific Fleet in Port Arthur) and also took over most of Manchuria.  Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping negotiate and end to the war, but Americans were still concerned about Japanese expansion.

*Furthermore, racism against Asians was wide-spread on the West Coast, particularly in California.  In 1906, San Francisco banned Asian children from going to school with white children.  When the Japanese government protested, Roosevelt (who also disliked the plan) negotiated a Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan under which San Francisco would end its segregation policy, but Japan would limit emigration to the US.

*Just in case things heated up more in the Pacific, Roosevelt built up the US Navy, and in 1907 sent 16 new battleships on a world tour.  These ships were painted white and were known as the Great White Fleet.  Roosevelt called this a good will tour, but to the rest of the world, it was a demonstration that the US was a military power to be reckoned with.




This page last updated 14 September, 2009.