Background/Philippine Revolution
The roots of the Philippine-American War (not an "insurrection" as the US press and "received" histories referred to it—and some continue to do so) lie in its revolution to gain independence from Spanish colonialism.

The Philippines were "discovered" during Ferdinand Magellan's famed voyage to circumnavigate the world. He claimed the islands in the name of Spain (and probably God, too, as he planted a cross on the beach) and though he died there in conflict with one of the local peoples, the Archipelago of San Lazaro (as he named it) was on the road to being a Spanish colony—which it officially became in 1565.

In the 1800s, anger and resentment built up against the "landed elite" (Spanish and some wealthy Filipinos) and the religious orders (termed the "friarocracy"; who owned more than their share of land) who represented "authority" over the native population. The people, supported by Filipinos abroad, desired basic human and civil rights and a degree of self-representation. This eventually led to the creation of the Katipunan, a secret society that was dedicated to Philippine independence (it had as many as 30,000 members). The Spanish learned of the group and began mass arrests of members and suspected members in 1896. This forced the organization's hand and they declared war on the Spanish.

Spanish-American War
The year before (1895), Cuba began its own revolt against Spain. The colonial power built concentration camps in which to place the " rebels" and " sympathizers". That and general stability in the area concerned the United States (primarily its businessmen and investors who stood to lose a fortune), which gained the Cubans much support (how much was genuinely "humanitarian" is debatable). In 1898, the USS Maine was sent into Havana harbor; its stated purpose being to help evacuate any Americans if needed. When the battleship sank from an explosion (just who caused it is still argued about by historian and conspiracy theorist alike), the United States had its reason—or pretense—to declare war two months later.

Already, American naval forces had been told to head to Manila in case war broke out. Additionally, negotiations with Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the revolution who had gone into exile in Hong Kong following the Pact of Biak-na-Bato that "officially" ended the revolution (some resistance continued, though it was of a more "quiet" nature).

The US Navy arrived at Manila Bay on the morning of 1 May 1898 and had destroyed the Spanish fleet by noon. Just over two weeks later, Aguinaldo made his return to the islands and renewed his battle with the Spanish. This, of course, was fortunate (convenient) for the Americans who had no ground forces to speak of, the first arriving almost a week later.

Though translators had to be used (Aguinaldo didn't know English and spoke poor Spanish), it seemed to be "understood" that upon the expulsion of the Spanish, the Philippines would get its independence. It isn't entirely clear at what point annexation became the American desire, but it was decided that the Philippines would not be returned to Spain following the conflict by 14 June—two days after Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence. No other nation, including the United States (which, given its past would lead one to think it would support independence—though a look at the historical record shows that not to be the case), was willing to recognize the Philippines as an independent sovereign nation. In one of those historical ironies, it was modelled on the American Declaration of Independence. Whether the US was looking ahead to annexation or not, other European powers most certainly were. By mid year, Britain, Germany, and Japan all had ships in the area hoping to pick up the Spain's soon to be lost colony.

Filipino and US forces (mostly Filipino) made numerous victories again the Spanish, eventually leaving the majority of their forces and people in the walled part of Manila. Under siege, the Spanish had little choice but to capitulate. What followed was one of the stranger episodes in military history as well as one of the opening acts that—at least in retrospect—signalled America's aspirations for the islands. In order to avoid the humiliation and dishonor of surrender and loss, a deal was struck that would have the Americans promise not to bombard the city and to enter in a "mock" or "sham" battle. The Spanish would put up their own mock resistance and then there would be a surrender. One other stipulation: none of the Filipinos would not be allowed to participate. Not only that, but the night before, Aguinaldo was telegraphed that any of his troops who entered would be fired upon.

Interestingly, the day before the mock battle, the United States and Spain signed a Peace Protocol which didn't reach the Philippines until four days later (the cables had been cut shortly after the naval battle at Manila Bay). Terms of the treaty included

  • Spain will relinquish all claim of sovereignty over and title of Cuba. (Article I)
  • Spain will cede to the United States the Island of Puerto Rico and other islands now under Spanish sovereignty in the West Indies, and also an island in the Ladrones to be selected by the United States [this would end up being Guam]. (Article II)
  • The United States will occupy and hold the city, bay and harbor of Manila, pending the conclusion of a treaty of peace which shall determine the control, disposition, and government of the Philippines.
The third article becomes important when considering "authority" of the territory (and the subsequent war). Except for Muslim Moros on the island of Mindanao (who had their own agreement with the US), the islands were controlled by the people and forces of the unrecognized nation. The only territory held by the US—per the agreement—was Manila (the Filipinos were not allowed to jointly occupy the city). That part of the protocol was supposed to be a temporary measure, in place until a decision of "what to do" with the islands was made.

Treaty of Paris and "Benevolent Assimilation"
One of the key issues in what was to become the Treaty of Paris (10 December 1898) was the fate of the Philippines. Of course, the Filipinos were not allowed to participate in negotiations about their unrecognized independent nation. Spain wanted the colony returned (feeling that since the occupation of Manila wasn't until after the armistice, it wasn't really "conquered" territory) but the United States had no plan to do that.

As terms of the treaty, Spain would "cede sovereignty" and evacuate all territories involved. Cuba was to be "occupied by the United States" and "so long as such occupation shall last, assume and discharge the obligations that may under international law result from the fact of its occupation, for the protection of life and property" (something that must have made American businessmen, investors, and quite a few politicians happy, as American desire for control of Cuba dated back to the early days of the United States). Puerto Rico and other West Indies islands under Spanish sovereignty were also ceded to the US—Guam in the Pacific. And finally, Spain had to cede the Philippine archipelago to the US. Then the United States—as part of the same Article III—would give Spain a total of $20 million. The treaty doesn't actually state that it is "buying" the Philippines, but it seems to be the implication and it certainly was how people—particularly the Filipinos—viewed it.

So not only had the United States betrayed its ally in the Spanish-American War by snatching up the territory (which had conveniently been unrecognized), but it had "bought" the islands from a nation that the Filipinos had declared independence from—and having had control of the islands following independence, the Filipinos saw no basis for giving Spain the authority to do so. Nor for the US to "purchase" them. This, along with American forces being ordered to extend their occupational territory beyond Manila, angered the Philippine people. It also concerned them; as did the growing numbers of US troops on the island.

21 December brought President William McKinley's announcement that he had decided to retain the Philippines as a "colonial possession." January brought the "Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation." In it, he explained that the "forces of occupation" had "come not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives in their homes, in their employment, and in their personal and religious rights" and that the US wanted "temperate administration of affairs for the greatest good of the governed"—that its mission was "one of the benevolent assimilation."

It was also noted that "the military government heretofore maintained by the United States in the city, harbor, and bay of Manila is to be extended with all possible dispatch to the whole of the ceded territory" and that the ceded territory was "within the absolute domain of military authority, which necessarily is and must remain supreme." For all its "benevolence" (and as colonial powers go, aside from the actual conflict, the United States was relatively benevolent), it was certainly clear who was in charge.

Furious over being placed under control of a military governor, Aguinaldo issued a manifesto in which he stated he at no time had ever recognized "by word or in writing, the sovereignty of America over this beloved soil," officially protesting the act. Further:

My nation cannot remain indifferent in view of such a violent and aggressive seizure of a portion of its territory by a nation which has arrogated to itself the title: champion of oppressed nations. Thus it is that my government is disposed to open hostilities if the American troops attempt to take forcible possession.

I denounce these acts before the world in order that the conscience of mankind may pronounce its infallible verdict as to who are the oppressors of nations and the tormentors of mankind.

Upon their heads be all the blood which may be shed.

Major-General Elwell S. Otis (the military governor) considered the manifesto practically a declaration of war.

The treaty had actually been a very controversial issue and there was much debate in the Congress concerning its ratification. It was a split between those of the imperialist persuasion and those who were not. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge later admitted that had the outbreak of fighting that was the official start of the war not taken place when it did, the treaty would not have been ratified ( Republicans tended to favor annexation but, despite being the majority party, did not have the needed two thirds majority votes for ratification).

4 February 1899 the shots that began the war were fired (by American soldiers).
6 February 1899 the Treaty of Paris was ratified.

Philippine-American War

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