Philippine Insurrection Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In a manner similar to U.S. involvement in Iraq more than a century later, the United States entered the Spanish-American War with a plan for helping Filipino rebels defeat their Spanish overlords in the Philippines but with no plan for extricating itself from the conquered colony. As a result, the United States found itself in a costly and unprofitable war with Filipino nationalists.

Summary of Event

The Philippine Insurrection, known as the War of Independence by Filipinos, is an early example of a country resisting the rise of the United States as an imperial power. It resulted from misunderstanding and indecision on both sides. U.S. and Filipino forces, which had worked together to end Spanish control of the Philippines in 1898, found themselves fighting as enemies in a long, brutal struggle for domination of the Philippine Islands. Philippines;insurrection Aguinaldo, Emilio McKinley, William [p]McKinley, William[MacKinley, William];and Philippines[Philippines] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Philippines[Philippines] [kw]Philippine Insurrection (Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902) [kw]Insurrection, Philippine (Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902) Philippines;insurrection Aguinaldo, Emilio McKinley, William [p]McKinley, William[MacKinley, William];and Philippines[Philippines] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Philippines[Philippines] [g]United States;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] [g]Southeast Asia;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] [g]Philippines;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] [c]Colonization;Feb. 4, 1899-July 4, 1902: Philippine Insurrection[6380] Dewey, George Funston, Frederick Mabini, Apolinario Taft, William Howard [p]Taft, William Howard;and Philippines[Philippines]

U.S. Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];Battle of Manila Bay involvement in the Philippines began during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Before the war even began, U.S. naval strategists had a plan ready for attacking the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. Manila Bay, Battle of (1898) As relations between the United States and Spain worsened in 1897, Commodore George Dewey Dewey, George , the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Navy, U.S.;Spanish-American War[Spanish-American War] Asiatic Squadron, was ordered to move his fleet to Hong Kong Hong Kong;and Spanish-American War[Spanish American War] , with instructions to attack Manila Bay if war broke out. War was declared on April 24, 1898. Exactly one week later, Dewey’s fleet steamed into Manila Bay. By noon, his ships had sunk or disabled every Spanish ship, without a single loss to the U.S. fleet.

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The U.S. government was slow to react to the news of Dewey’s overwhelming victory. The almost effortless defeat of the Spanish fleet was unexpected, and President William McKinley had no plan for what to do with the Philippines after the war ended. McKinley considered either taking the entire archipelago, establishing a U.S. naval base in the Philippines, or returning the islands to Spain. Spain;and Philippines[Philippines] Philippines;and Spain[Spain] Complete independence for the islands was never seriously considered. While McKinley contemplated the fate of the Philippines, relations between the U.S. military occupation force at Manila Bay and the Filipino population deteriorated. At first, the Filipinos welcomed Dewey’s forces as liberators. However, the Filipinos soon realized that the Americans intended to control the islands until at least the end of the war and perhaps even longer. In early May, McKinley dispatched an expeditionary force, under the command of General Arthur MacArthur MacArthur, Arthur , to Manila Bay. MacArthur arrived in time to accept the Spanish garrison’s surrender at the end of the war, an honor that Filipino revolutionary forces had assumed would be theirs.

Filipino insurgents had been fighting the Spanish since early 1896. Spanish efforts to destroy the infant revolution had failed, as rebel leaders fled to the heavily forested hills of the islands to hide and organize bases for guerrilla warfare against the Spanish. In 1897, both sides, weary of the increasingly bloody war, agreed to a cease-fire to discuss peace. The Spanish authorities refused to consider independence, forcing the Filipino insurgents to continue their rebellion. Under the military leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo and the intellectual direction of Apolinario Mabini Mabini, Apolinario , rebel leaders established a base of operations at Hong Kong Hong Kong;and Spanish-American War[Spanish American War] , where they could easily purchase supplies and arms. It was at that time that the Spanish-American War began, bringing an unexpected opportunity for the rebels.

Filipino leaders first believed that the United States would assist them in expelling the Spanish and establishing an independent Philippine state. Aguinaldo accepted anticolonial statements by U.S. consular officers at their face value. The Filipinos soon found, however, that Dewey Dewey, George was more cautious, speaking only of military cooperation to defeat Spain and saying nothing of Filipino independence. Meanwhile, Aguinaldo organized an army of thirty thousand men and won notable victories; nevertheless, the United States held supreme authority, accepting the surrender of Manila Bay and refusing to allow Filipino rebel forces into the city without permission. When the Spanish flag came down, the American Stars and Stripes, not the Filipino revolutionary flag, replaced it.

Cover of Judge magazine with an illustration by Grant E. Hamilton depicting President William McKinley slapping a giant mosquito labeled “Insurgent Aguinaldo.” Below “Hit him HARD!,” the caption reads, “Mosquitoes seem to be worse here in the Philippines than they were in Cuba.”

(Library of Congress)

Faced with the realization that the United States was going to annex the islands, Aguinaldo moved to organize a new government. On June 12, 1898, he proclaimed independence for the Philippines Philippines;independence of . In September, a constituent assembly was convened, and on November 29, a constitution Constitutions;Filipino was adopted. The United States largely ignored this move toward independence. Largely because of racial prejudice against the Philippines’ dark-skinned peoples, McKinley’s administration assumed that the Filipinos were not ready for self-government. In addition, there was a fear that an independent Philippines might fall easy prey to another ambitious European power, such as Germany or Great Britain. Therefore, the United States proceeded to obtain full control by a provision for annexation of the Philippines in the peace treaty ending the war with Spain.

While the U.S. Senate debated ratification of the peace treaty, a series of clashes between U.S. and Filipino forces that began on February 4, 1899, soon escalated into large-scale fighting. The Philippine Insurrection against U.S. rule had begun. The United States, because of its decision to assume responsibility for “civilizing” the Filipinos, was forced to wage a bitter war, one that would cost the United States much more money and take many more human lives than the U.S. war with Spain.

The Philippine Insurrection was, in many ways, a prototype of modern guerrilla warfare. Filipino revolutionary leaders quickly lost the support of conservative Filipinos who accepted U.S. rule. As a result, Aguinaldo and his forces retreated to fight the U.S. troops in the jungles, as they had done earlier against Spanish forces. In early 1899, U.S. forces moved into central Luzon, where they captured and burned Malolos, the rebel capital. Rebel forces, however, escaped into the hills, where they were supplied by sympathetic villagers until spring rains forced U.S. troops to withdraw.

U.S. commanders finally admitted that Aguinaldo had extensive popular support and that total war was necessary to pacify the islands. The U.S. government responded by sending reinforcements, increasing the number of U.S. troops in the Philippines to seventy-four thousand. As the scale of the fighting rose, vicious tactics and brutality on both sides also increased. Both sides committed atrocities involving soldiers and civilians. U.S. forces systematically burned villages and took hostages in an effort to deny popular assistance to rebel forces. Gradually, the overwhelming strength of the United States prevailed, as U.S. forces took rebel strongholds in the hills and rural regions. By 1901, 639 U.S. garrisons dotted the islands, breaking Filipino resistance.

The insurrection finally collapsed with Aguinaldo’s capture in March, 1901. He was treacherously seized by Colonel Frederick Funston Funston, Frederick and three other U.S. officers pretending to be the prisoners of a group of Filipino defectors, who led the officers directly to Aguinaldo’s headquarters in northeastern Luzon. After his capture, Aguinaldo reluctantly took an oath of allegiance to the United States. By July 4, 1901, civil government, under United States auspices, was instituted everywhere in the Philippines, except in southern Mindanao and the Sulu Islands, where Moro tribesmen continued their resistance.

On July 4, 1902, the Philippine Insurrection was formally declared to be over. The United States issued a proclamation of general peace and amnesty. As a result of the struggle, the United States suffered 4,200 dead and 2,800 wounded. While close to 20,000 rebels were killed in the war, another 200,000 Filipinos died from disease, famine, Famines;Philippine and other war-related causes brought by the U.S. campaign.

William Howard Taft served as the first U.S. governor of the Philippines and later continued to be heavily involved in the administration of the islands as secretary of war and president of the United States. It was Taft Taft, William Howard [p]Taft, William Howard;and Philippines[Philippines] who coined the phrase “little brown brothers,” which referred to his hope that the United States could somehow “Americanize” the Philippines’ native peoples. This phrase remained a strong racial force in U.S. relations with the states in the Pacific and Latin America. The Philippine Islands remained under U.S. jurisdiction until 1934, when Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934[Tydings MacDuffie Act of 1934] , granting independence to the Philippines. However, the developments in the Pacific leading up to World War II delayed complete independence for the islands until 1946. Modern Filipinos celebrate their independence on the anniversary of June 12, 1898, and regard Emilio Aguinaldo as their national hero.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brands, H. W. Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Expansive history that emphasizes the interaction of cultural forces in U.S.-Philippine relations and traces the development of the Filipino independence movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dobson, John. Reticent Expansionism: The Foreign Policy of William McKinley. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1988. One of a few works devoted to McKinley’s foreign policy, which Dobson characterizes as ambiguous, indecisive, and reactive.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karnov, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. Argues that the United States was inept and ineffective in dealing with the Philippine Insurrection and its aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Langellier, John P. Uncle Sam’s Little Wars: The Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, and Boxer Rebellion, 1898-1902. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1999. Part of a series of books on the uniforms and equipment of American soldiers in different conflicts, this little book offers vivid illustrations that provide some insights into the nature of the soldiers’ experiences in the Philippines.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Stuart Creighton.“Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Study of the war in the Philippines and its consequences, including the atrocities committed by the U.S. Army.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phillips, Kevin. William McKinley. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt, 2003. Analysis of McKinley’s presidency arguing that McKinley was a “near great” president, whose place in history has been diminished because he was unable to complete his second term. Phillips describes how McKinley began transforming the United States into a global military power, and how many of McKinley’s goals were later accomplished by his successor, President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Salamanca, Bonifacio S. The Filipino Reaction to American Rule, 1901-1913. Quezon City, Philippines: New Day, 1984. A Filipino historian’s harsh criticism of U.S. policy in the Philippines during the insurrection and the following years of U.S. rule.

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George Dewey; William McKinley. Philippines;insurrection Aguinaldo, Emilio McKinley, William [p]McKinley, William[MacKinley, William];and Philippines[Philippines] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Philippines[Philippines]

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