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American Imperialism and the Colonization of the Philippines

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The irony of the 1898 Spanish-American war was that Americans fought partly to aid Cubans in the fight for Cuban sovereignty, and the United States ended up colonizing some territories they won from Spain, like the Philippines. Despite America’s previous claims of only supporting independence and democracy, the United States became an imperialist power and colonized the Philippines (Introduction to the Spanish-American war and the Filipino insurgency in the assignment sheet). This led to a Filipino insurgency, led by discontent Filipinos, who fought American troops through guerrilla warfare (Conlin 545). Conlin states that many Americans died fighting against a “popular revolution” in the Philippines for independence (Conlin 545). Years ago, Americans were fighting for Cuban independence. During the Filipino insurgency, the United States fought to suppress anger among the Filipinos against American colonization of the Philippines. Americans justified colonizing the Philippines by arguing that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the Filipinos, Filipinos were incapable of sustaining a sovereignty, and a colony in the Philippines would benefit the United States economically.

Americans believed that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the Filipinos. Albert J. Beveridge from Indiana wrote that God made the “English-speaking and Teutonic peoples…the master organizers of the world” (Beveridge, 15). Beveridge believed that Anglo-Saxons were the dominant race of the world and that they needed to govern their inferiors to “establish system where chaos reigns” (Beveridge, 15). Beveridge wrote that Americans were “trustees of the world’s progress” (Beveridge, 15) because he believed Americans were more economically and socially advanced than other ethnicities. These claims helped to justify why colonizing the Philippines was acceptable. In the cartoon “Types and Development of Man,” the American-European man is portrayed to be the most developed in the hierarchy of the evolution of man (Types and Development of Man cartoon, 20). Josiah Strong, a Reverend, describes the Americans of the Anglo-Saxon ethnicity as having a “superior vigor [in] our people” (Strong, 2). He wrote that a “marked characteristic” of Anglo-Saxons are their “instinct or genius for colonizing” (Strong, 2).

One of the Anglo-Saxon’s distinguishing features is his ability to colonize inferior countries. Strong continued to write about how an Anglo-Saxon has “unequaled energy” and “indomitable perseverance” (Strong, 2). The words “unequaled” and “indomitable” (Strong, 2) show that Anglo-Saxons are unconquerable and undefeated socially, physically, and intellectually. Although Strong wrote his book before the Spanish American War and the Philippine insurrection, his ideas on Anglo-Saxon superiority were similar to other people’s ideas that justified the United States’s colonization of the Philippines years later.

Americans believed that they had a religious duty to govern and protect the Filipinos. Americans claimed that Filipinos were incapable of maintaining a self-government because they were inferior to Anglo-Saxons. Beveridge wrote that the Filipinos were a “barbarous race” (Beveridge, 14) who went through years of “corruption in government” (Beveridge, 15), and were therefore incapable of “self-government in the Anglo-Saxon sense” (Beveridge, 15). Beveridge argued that God has prepared the “English-speaking and Teutonic peoples” to govern the “savage and senile peoples” like the Filipinos who could not govern themselves (Beveridge 15). Cartoon 2 depicts the Philippines as a baby who is vying for Uncle Sam’s attention. Uncle Sam, a full grown adult, is superior to the baby. Children are not as physically and mentally developed as an adult.

The paternalistic portrayal of America as a parent to the Philippines indicates the necessity for America to colonize the Philippines. Without America’s protection, the Philippines would be vulnerable. (Cartoon 2. How Some Apprehensive People Picture Uncle Sam after the War, 8). President McKinley also believed that America had a duty to “bring civilization and Christianity to the benighted people of the islands” (McKinley quote, Conlin 582), although Conlin states that many Filipinos were already Christian (Conlin 544). McKinley’s justification for colonization was that Filipinos were intellectually and morally inferior, so America’s duty was to govern the Philippines and civilize them. McKinley added in his “Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation” that the Filipinos would be governed by a “good and stable government” because the Filipinos were incapable of “overcom[ing] all obstacles” by themselves (Mckinley, Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation 11).

Americans argued that the Pacific trade would be important in the future and that Asian markets would be more accessible with the addition of a colony in the Philippines. According to Conlin, many Americans favored a colony in the Philippines because of its economical benefits for America (Conlin 583). Without a base in the Philippines, Americans would feel “shut out of the Philippines trade” and left with a much weaker “strategic position in the Pacific” (Conlin 583). According to Beveridge, “China is our natural customer,” (Beveridge 14) because of geography and where the countries are located. Americans were producing more goods than their wages would allow them to consume. A Filipino colony would help increase the United States’s trade with Asian countries that could absorb America’s surplus products. Beveridge wrote that the “consumers of our surplus” (Beveridge 14) would come mainly from China, because they are naturally closer to America than the other European countries.

Beveridge claimed that other countries have already “moved nearer to China by securing bases on her borders” (Beveridge 14). If Americans did not colonize the Philippines, they would not have a base in Asia at the “door of all the East” (Beveridge 14). Beveridge also argued that the Pacific trade would be the “commerce of the future” (Beveridge 14). He claimed that it was important to keep the Philippines because “the power that rules the Pacific…is the power that rules the world” (Beveridge 14). That power would be with the United States if they kept the Philippines. In addition, a naval construction program strengthened the American navy during the 1880s (Conlin 538). Conlin claims that the naval ships needed coal to run, and if the United States wanted the capacity to travel to “trouble spots anywhere in the world, especially in the Pacific,” then it must establish ports and naval bases in different parts of the world that would serve as “coaling stations and good harbors at which to base ships” (Conlin 538). Because the Philippines are located in the Pacific, having a colony there would also support America’s naval power.

There were many different arguments for the colonization of the Philippines. One was Anglo-Saxon superiority, another was Filipino inferiority and inability to self-govern, and yet another was for America’s best economic interests. The authors of the many works in defense of imperialism had to be aware of their audiences. Albert J. Beveridge, for example, wrote the “Defense of Imperialism” essay and his main audience was the Senate. Hence, Beveridge wrote with a sense of nationalism when he claimed that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the Filipinos. Beveridge also addressed the economic interests of America and mentioned how other countries also wanted the Philippines because they valued the Pacific trade (Beveridge, 14). To these arguments, a sense of urgency and international competition arose within the policymakers of the United States. When President McKinley addressed the nation in his Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation, he wrote in a patriotic tone and stated that the United States will govern the Philippines, but only because Americans have a duty to take care of others who are incapable of self government.

In addition, he mentions the “destruction of the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila by the United States” in the beginning of his rhetoric to boast of America’s naval power and unify the sense of patriotism (McKinley, 10). In excerpts from Josiah Strong’s book, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, he talks about Anglo-Saxon, especially American, superiority. Strong was a Reverend, although he did not hesitate to compliment Mr. Darwin’s works on the theory of natural selection. Although Strong wrote this book before the question of Filipino colonization arose, he strongly believed that Americans would soon take part in international developments and encouraged American Imperialism (Strong, 1). One reason for the colonization of the Philippines could have originated from the Frontier thesis. Conlin stated that Frederick Jackson Turner, a historian, argued that the frontier was a place where “discontented Easterners” went to “release social and economic pressures that otherwise might have led to unrest and even rebellion” (Conlin, 537).

Turner wrote in The Frontier in American History, “the existence of an area of free land…explain American development” (Turner, 4). He credited the innovation, democratic views, and open-mindedness of Americans to the frontier. However, Turner stated that the “Superintendent of the Census for 1890” claimed that there were no more frontiers (Turner, 4). Conlin states that “there was no [longer a] vast area of unsettled land to attract the ambitious and restless” (Conlin, 537). According to Conlin, some people decided that “economic, social, and moral decline [can be] averted by creating new frontiers in colonies overseas” (Conlin 537). Some people argued that colonizing the Philippines was necessary to prevent the deterioration of the United States. Americans also believed they were more developed than other ethnicities in the evolutionary sense, which justified their taking over inferior populations. This resulted mainly from social Darwinism, an idea that took Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory and applied it to the evolution and hierarchy of humans. This idea became widespread in America in the nineteenth century.

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