Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States

Expansionism by the United States in the Philippines awakened feelings of ambivalence, selfishness, and altruism among the American people regarding treatment of Filipinos.

Summary of Event

The Spanish-American War of 1898 led to a number of direct territorial annexations by the United States. In December, 1898, a peace treaty between the United States and Spain officially turned over to the United States the islands of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. In the case of the Philippines, the United States paid Spain $20 million. Even with this remuneration, the taking of the Philippines led to heated debates within President William McKinley’s administration: Should these islands be left to themselves, or should they receive “guidance” from the victorious American nation? Philippines
Philippine Insurrection (1902)
[kw]Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States (1902)
[kw]Uprising Against the United States, Philippines Ends Its (1902)
[kw]United States, Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the (1902)
Philippine Insurrection (1902)
[g]Philippines;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
[g]Southeast Asia;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
[c]Atrocities and war crimes;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
[c]Independence movements;1902: Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States[00340]
McKinley, William
Roosevelt, Theodore
[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;Philippine Insurrection
Root, Elihu
Aguinaldo, Emilio
Bradford, Gamaliel
Gardener, Cornelius

In the end, the fate of the Philippines was left to President McKinley, who believed that the Filipinos were ignorant and childlike and therefore unfit for self-government. McKinley chose to “educate, uplift, civilize, and Christianize” them by annexing the islands. Secretary of War Elihu Root was appointed official overseer of this process. He organized and charged the newly created Philippine Commission Philippine Commission to maintain the “happiness, peace, and prosperity of the people” and committed the U.S. government to establish courts, municipal governments, a civil service, and schools in the Philippines. Under a policy of “benevolent assimilation,” Filipinos were to be integrated officially into Western culture as espoused and practiced by the United States. Implicit in this cultural ideal was the rhetoric of social Darwinism: Social Darwinism natural selection and survival of the fittest.

For the most part, Americans viewed Filipinos with a mixture of condescension and scorn, secure in the belief that Filipinos were incapable of managing their own affairs. Attitudes such as these began to manifest themselves in a blend of selfishness and altruism. Many believed that the acquisition of territory by the United States was always motivated by the highest ideals.

On the other hand, the American articulation of expansionist policies in the Philippines, which promoted social Darwinist principles, often perpetuated racist notions such as the concept of the “white man’s burden.” This made the wearing of the mantle of expansionism a somewhat difficult task for many Americans. Consequently, the American people responded to the entire Philippine incursion with a mixture of ambivalence, selfishness, and altruism. “Benevolent assimilation” began to be defined by those government officials who were implementing it, and American policy tended to confront public ambivalence with a good dose of patriotic selfishness. In the process, altruism was all but lost as benevolent assimilation was implemented more for American goals than for Philippine self-determination.

American benevolence became a policy that thrived on the acquisition of territory for its own end. Any Philippine opposition to this policy was seen as the failure of the Filipino culture to grasp the ideal of progress, a view that justified McKinley’s assessment of Filipinos’ unfitness for self-governance. American policy in the Philippines was always justified as humanitarian by design, especially when compared with the decidedly inhumane policies of the previous Spanish rule.

For their part, the Filipinos apparently did not see any difference between the two outside ruling powers. In 1899, under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippine Insurrection began. Aguinaldo had originally proposed Philippine independence within a U.S. protectorate in return for services the Philippines rendered to the United States against the Spanish during the war. The U.S. government rejected his proposal immediately following the removal of Spanish suzerainty over the islands. Instead of negotiating with the insurgents and assisting the Filipino people in their struggle for self-determination, the United States elected to go to war with the insurrectos, using seventy thousand American troops to crush the indigenous independence movement.

The United States all but abandoned any pretext of rescuing the Filipinos from latent Spanish oppressive rule by the end of 1899. American ideals of peacefully “civilizing the uncivilized” were soon replaced with racist attitudes and policies that were implemented savagely. The Filipinos, even without significant weaponry, soon managed to return such savagery. This was a short-lived response, as the military and economic power of the United States was, in the long run, too much for the insurrectos. In 1902 the conflict came to an end.

Beginning in July of 1901, Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential administration “elevated the application of extreme measures . . . into a policy that was official and acknowledged.” These measures were often brutal. Letters revealing to soldiers’ loved ones the harshness and wickedness of the insurrection began to find their way into print shortly after the Roosevelt policy was put into effect. Writing in the Springfield, Massachusetts, Daily Republican on April 9, 1902, publicist and historian Gamaliel Bradford described the savagery of the infamous “water cure” to his American readers: “placing a man on his back, forcing open his mouth and pouring into him a pail of water, till he swells up like a toad, and then squeezing it out again.” The New York Evening Post of April 8, 1902, described the water cure in more vivid detail:

If the tortures I’ve mentioned are hellish, the water cure is plain hell. The native is thrown upon the ground, and, while his legs and arms are pinned, his head is raised partially so as to make pouring in the water an easier matter. An attempt to keep the mouth closed is of no avail, a bamboo stick or a pinching of the nose will produce the same effect. . . . A gallon of water is much but it is followed by a second and a third . . . a fourth and even a fifth gallon. . . . By this time the body becomes an object frightful to contemplate.

Associated Press dispatches from Manila in the last week of January, 1902, noted without comment that General J. Franklin Bell, Bell, J. Franklin U.S. Army commander of the troublesome southern Luzon province of Batangas, had recently instituted new measures for the pacification of the Philippines. Veterans of this new campaign corroborated the resulting action by describing the herding of entire village populations into detention camps, where they were held under the surveillance and guard of American troops to “ensure the isolation of insurgent guerrillas.” According to Colonel Arthur Wagner, the American army officer in charge of isolating insurgent guerrillas in Batangas province, all civilians were to enter these camps with no belongings.

Detention centers on average allowed a twelve-foot by six-foot area for each inhabitant. A soldier under General Bell’s command insisted that Bell’s inhumanity exceeded that of the hated Spaniards: “They were content with ’concentrating’ the miserable women and children left after the devastation of farms and villages, but General Bell marks the husbands and fathers and brothers as criminals to be hanged when caught.”

The people of the Philippines were not the only victims during the insurrection. The environment also suffered greatly. The American army, charged with the “extensive burning of barrios” so that the insurrectos could not find sanctuary, destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile land in their attempts to pacify the natives. Testifying later before a U.S. Senate committee investigating wartime atrocities, Major Cornelius Gardener stated that environmental destruction on this scale was necessary if the army was going to induce a famine. Apparently, the insurgents—including any village suspected of housing or of even being related to an insurrecto—could not be allowed to find food anywhere. This campaign of starvation was relatively successful. Gardener went on to report that one-third of the population had died as the result of military slaughter, famine, and pestilence.


Many Americans believed that the Philippine Insurrection had to be crushed. The United States had fought for the islands and had officially purchased them from Spain—why give them up to an undeserving indigenous population? Furthermore, if the United States did not control the islands, then the Germans or the British would most certainly colonize them. Finally, the duty to extend Christianity and civilization was part of the American mission to tutor backward peoples.

These reasons, along with a foreign policy elite who believed that the United States must prove its power through aggressive policy abroad, help to explain why so little attention was paid to the inhumanity of this mission. To gloss over or cover up any wartime atrocities would show the United States to be weak; any nation that was weak would not expand, and any nation that did not expand would perish. In the eyes of American policy engineers, this attitude provided sufficient justification for the use of extreme measures. “It is not civilized warfare, [because] we are not dealing with civilized people. The only thing that they know and fear is force, violence, and brutality, and we give it to them.” These attitudes, fueled by social Darwinist principles, were pervasive in American society at the beginning of the twentieth century and were actualized abroad by American forces in the Philippines.

Many American troops looked at the Filipinos as being of one race and condition. Because the Filipinos had dark skin, these soldiers labeled them “niggers,” an extension of the contempt they had for African Americans back home. U.S. government proclamations complemented these feelings. By implying the inferiority of the Filipinos, many government edicts reflected the recently formalized Jim Crow codes of the American South and the segregationist practices of the cities and unions of the North. The individual American soldier in the Philippines became an overseer, a master to an inferior race that needed discipline and training so as to be properly integrated into the Western ideal. The name given to this training was “benevolent assimilation.” Benevolent assimilation The force to implement this assimilation was imperialism, bothersome to many Americans because it showed a powerful nation being driven by brute expansionism, camouflaged by a cultural atmosphere of altruism.

Despite these halting beginnings, American administration of the Philippines led eventually to the Commonwealth Constitution in 1935 and a deepening sense of comradeship owing to the common American and Filipino struggle during World War II, after the Japanese invasion of 1941. The eventual liberation of the Philippines from brutal Japanese occupation in 1944, as General MacArthur fulfilled his famous promise “I shall return,” was followed swiftly by Filipino acquisition of independence in 1946. Filipinos enjoyed generally good relations with Americans and with the American government in subsequent years. Philippines
Philippine Insurrection (1902)

Further Reading

  • Delmendo, Sharon. The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004. History of the troubled relationship between the United States and the Philippines in the twentieth century. Examines several issues, including the long-term effects of American imperialism. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • Feuer, A. B. America at War: The Philippines, 1898-1913. New York: Praeger, 2002. Employs previously unpublished letters, diaries, and photographs to present a look at the Philippine-American War from the point of view of American soldiers, sailors, and marines who participated.
  • May, Glenn Anthony. Social Engineering in the Philippines: The Aims, Execution, and Impact of American Colonial Policy, 1900-1913. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Comparative history examines the impact of one set of values on another. Analyzes the values and goals of Americans who made Philippine policy and those of Filipinos on whom it was imposed. Challenges the widely held view of the United States as an essentially successful colonial power. Includes appendixes, index, and bibliographical essay.
  • Miller, Stuart Creighton. Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Explores American imperialism as an aberration and as part of a historical continuum, focusing specifically on the conquest of the Philippines. Draws on a wide range of views from generals, presidents, and soldiers to analyze the war itself and its challenge to Americans’ sense of innocence. Includes bibliography and index.
  • Schirmer, Daniel B. Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1972. Carefully researched study of the period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during which the United States conclusively turned to an imperial course. Focuses on the American anti-imperialists who became active during this era and on the Philippine war they so vigorously opposed. Includes extensive examples from primary sources.
  • Storey, Moorfield, and Julian Codman. Secretary Root’s Record: “Marked Severities” in Philippine Warfare. Boston: George H. Ells, 1902. Valuable primary source documents the “actions and utterances” of President Roosevelt and Secretary Root during the Philippine-American War, as noted in the “Law and Facts Hearing.” Reprints telegraphic messages concerning American military tactics that traveled between the Philippines and Washington, D.C. Also provides some revealing commentary on this correspondence and on testimony from the hearing.
  • Storey, Moorfield, and Marcial P. Lichauco. The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1926. Supplements and comments on Secretary Root’s Record (cited above). Suggests that the American people were led, through false statements and suppression of the truth, to support the taking of the Philippines and to believe in the “American mission.”
  • Welch, Richard E., Jr. Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. 1979. Reprint. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Analyzes the responses of various sectors of American society to imperialism and to the Philippine-American War, revealing the strength of such social forces as racism and patriotism. Includes bibliography and index.

Insular Cases

United States Begins “Dollar Diplomacy”

Philippine Independence Act