Background of the American Colonization of the Philippines

What was the political, social, and/or economic position of the country before colonization?


Before the colonization initiated by the United States, the Philippines were ruled by the Spanish. The treatment of the Filipinos under the Spanish is on the page describing the background of the Spanish Colonization of the Philippines. During Spanish rule, however, the Philippine Revolution began in 1896. It was the opposition to the power of the clergy that in large measure brought about the rising attitude for independence. Spanish injustices, prejudice, and economic oppressions fed the movement, which was greatly inspired by the brilliant writings of José Rizal. The Filipino leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, achieved considerable success before a peace was patched up with Spain. The peace and perception of independence was short-lived, however, for six months after Aguinaldo became the president of the republic, the United States signed the Treaty of Paris. Due to the Treaty of Paris, the Spanish lost their possession of the Philippines.


Which Western power colonized the country? What were the colonizing power’s motives? Did the colony serve any strategic purpose? How and when did that Western power actually take over?


The Western power that colonized the Philippines was the United States. At the time of the Treaty of Paris, when the Spanish had to give up the Philippines, the U.S. began to only maintain control over Manila and its surrounding provinces. The rest of the islands were controlled by the Filipinos. President William Mckinley,however, ordered the War Department to place the rest of the islands under military control. This was indicative of the American’s desire to colonize the Philippines. He issued the Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation which, although outwardly expressing friendship and offering guidance to the Philippine people, was actually a declaration asserting American dominance of the islands. The Filipinos were extremely discontented with this turn of events and refused to recognize American sovereignty. (13)


Irreconcilable tensions rose between American and Filipino troops despite Aguinaldo’s best attempts at peaceful negotiation. On February 4, 1899, an American soldier shot at a Filipino soldier crossing a bridge onto American territory. This marked the beginning of the Philippine-American War. Some 126,000 American soldiers would be committed to the conflict, 4,234 American and 16,000 Filipino soldiers, part of a nationwide guerrilla movement of inconceivable numbers, died. Estimates on civilian deaths during the war range between 250,000 and 1,000,000, primarily because of famine and disease. Insane atrocities were committed by both sides. In summation, much of the American colonization of the Philippines was characterized by warfare and violence. Again, however, the Philippines served a strategic purpose because enabled the Americans to have a better trade relationship with East Asia.


                         MOTIVE for United States colonization:

To enhance their imperial and industrial dominance and prevalence.


What was daily life under imperial rule? For the colonizers? For those being colonized?


During the Filipino-American war and when the Americans were colonizing the Philippines, American soldiers began to harass the Filipinos, enticing and disturbing the Filipinos. They clashed over liquor, food, transport and sex. Most social contacts between the Americans and the Filipinos were commercial in nature, with the Americans exercising policies of superiority over the Filipinos. Critical editors of the time said, “The policy of the national administration in dealing with Filipinos was the same as that of the Democratic state administrations in dealing with the colored people in the southern states” Apparently, many critics of the time made equivalences between imperialism and Jim Crow. Often times, the racist Americans would refer to the Filipinos as “niggers”, as they believed that those that they colonized were just as inferior as the blacks in the United States. However, in order to guarantee stability, the new colonial state of the U.S. couldn’t merely condescend the Filipinos, but they had to successfully demonstrate to influential Filipinos that they were brothers not serfs. However, many still actively opposed the Filipino-American collaboration, insisting on the Americans being superior.(14)


How did the Western imperial power exploit its colony? How did the imperial Western power rule its colony? Directly or Indirectly?


Civil government in the Philippines was established by the Americans in 1901, with William Howard Taft as the first American Governor-General of the Philippines. English was declared the official language. Six hundred American teachers were imported aboard the USS Thomas. Also, the Catholic Church was disestablished, and a substantial amount of church land was purchased and redistributed.

The Americans ruled the Philippines DIRECTLY and built museums and buildings to demonstrate the great imperial wealth of the United States. The United States exploited the Filipinos through forcing them to be laborers and consumers. They prioritized the wealth of the Philippines and the industrial exhibits as well as emphasized capital. All of this exploitation occurred under Taft. There were many plantations of rice and tobacco, abaca and pina plants would be continually worked by the natives before the visitors.(15)

However, when Woodrow Wilson became U.S. President in 1913, there was a major change in official American policy concerning the Philippines. While the previous Republican administrations had labeled the Philippines as an American colony, the Wilson administration decided to start a process that would gradually lead to Philippine independence. U.S. administration of the Philippines was declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. (16)


How, when and why did colonialism end in the country?


The colonialism ended in 1946 after extreme tensions between the United States and the Philippines. Though the Filipinos actually declared independence 50 years before, the United States finally recognized their independence in 1946.


            (14) Kramer, Paul A. The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines.(173-178)


          ( 15) Kramer, Paul A. The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines.(241-245)

(16) Kramer, Paul A. The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines.(321-328)




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