Philippine-American War, 1899

Throughout the 1890s, the Philippines had been struggling for independence from Spanish colonial rule. Revolutionary fighter Emilio Aguinaldo rose to prominence during this struggle and was elected president of the rebel government in 1897, although he soon after fled into exile in Hong Kong. While in exile, Aguinaldo met with American representatives, including Admiral Dewey, who encouraged him to continue the revolutionary struggle. The Americans were simultaneously fighting against the Spanish in Cuba, and hoped a revolutionary struggle on the other side of the world would weaken Spain’s fighting force. The strategy paid off for the Americans: the Spanish could not hold on to their Caribbean possessions and turned them over, along with Guam and the Philippines, to the Americans in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines, hopeful that the Americans who had encouraged the revolutionary struggle against the Spanish would continue to support the drive for Philippine independence; he would soon be disappointed. The American consul publicly denied having ever met with Aguinaldo, and American President McKinley issued a proclamation of “benevolent assimilation” in January 1899 avowing the intent of the U.S. to maintain colonial control of the Philippines. A guerrilla war raged for the next three years, with both sides claiming atrocities were committed by the other. At least several hundred thousand, and perhaps more than a million, Filipino civilians were killed in the conflict, many dying of disease and starvation in concentration camps. The U.S. had captured Aguinaldo in 1901 and ultimately forced him to surrender his forces and swear an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Some remaining guerrilla commanders continued fighting until the majority were forced to surrender in the spring of 1902. Aguinaldo remained an advocate for independence which the Philippines would ultimately win, first as an American commonwealth in 1935 and then as a fully independent nation in 1946.


A 1901 U.S. political cartoon. Many Americans were opposed to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines, seeing it as a costly imperial entanglement that the Spanish were happy to be able to walk away from.

McKinley’s Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation, 4 January 1899Top

Source: Albert G. Robinson. 1901. The Philippines: The War and the People. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co.

Sir: The destruction of the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila by the United States naval squadron, commanded by Rear-Admiral Dewey, followed by the reduction of the city and the surrender of the Spanish forces, practically effected the conquest of the Philippine Islands and the suspension of Spanish sovereignty therein. With the signature of the treaty of peace between the United States and Spain by their respective plenipotentiaries at Paris on the 10th instant, and as the result of the victories of American arms, the future control, disposition and government of the Philippine Islands are ceded to the United States. In fulfilment of the right of sovereignty thus acquired and the responsible obligations of government thus assumed, the actual occupation and administration of the entire group of the Philippine Islands becomes immediately necessary, and the military government heretofore maintained by the United States in the city, harbor and bay of Manila is to be extended with all possible despatch to the whole of the ceded territory.

In performing this duty the military commander of the United States is enjoined to make known to the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands that in succeeding to the sovereignty of SPain, in severing the former political relations of the inhabitants, and in establishing a new political power, the authority of the United States is to be exerted for the security of the persons and property of the people of the islands and for the confirmation of all their private rights and relations. It will be the duty of the commander of the forces of occupation to announce and proclaim in the most public manner that we come not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives in their homes, in their employments, and in their personal and religious rights. All persons who, either by active aid or by honest submission, cooperate with the government of the United States to give effect to these beneficent purposes will receive the reward of its support and protection. All others will be brought within the lawful rule we have assumed, with firmness if need be, but without severity so far as may be possible.

Within the domain of military authority, which necessarily is and must remain supreme in the ceded territory until the legislation of the United States shall otherwise provide, the municipal laws of the territory, in respect to private rights and property and the repression of crime, are to be considered as continuing in force and to be administered by the ordinary tribunals so far as practicable. The operations of civil and municipal government are to be performed by such officers as may accept the supremacy of the United States by taking the oath of allegiance, or by officers chosen as far as may be practicable from the inhabitants of the islands.

While the control of all the public property and the revenues of the state passes with the cession, and while the use and management of all public means of transportation are necessarily reserved to the authority of the United States, private property, whether belonging to individuals or corporations, is to be respected except for cause duly established. The taxes and duties heretofore payable by the inhabitants to the late government become payable to the authorities of the United States, unless it be seen fit to substitute for them other reasonable rates or modes of contribution to the expenses of government, whether general or local. If private property be taken for military use, it shall be paid for when possible in cash at a fair valuation, and when payment in cash is not practicable, receipts are to be given.

All ports and places in the Philippine Islands in the actual possession of the land and naval forces of the United States will be opened to the commerce of all friendly nations. All goods and wares not prohibited for military reasons by due announcement of the military authority will be admitted upon payment of such duties and other charges as shall be in the force at the time of their importation.

Finally, it should be the earnest and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring to them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the full heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substitution the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule. In the fulfillment of this high mission, supporting the temperate administration of affairs for the greatest good of the governed, there must be sedulously maintained the strong arm of authority to repress disturbance and to overcome all obstacles to the bestowal of blessings of good and stable government upon the people of the Philippine Islands under the free flag of the United States.

(Signed) William McKinley

Aguinaldo’s Declaration of War, 4 February 1899Top

Source: Daily Telegraph, 26 April 1899, Issue 9455, p. 3

At 9 o’clock pm this date I received from Caloocan station a message communicated to me that the American forces attacked, without prior notification or nay just motive our camp in San Juan del Monte, and our forces garrisoning the block-houses around the outskirts of Manila, causing losses among our soldiers, who, in view of this unexpected aggression and of the decided attack of the aggressors, were obliged to defend themselves until the firing became general all along the line.

No one can deplore more than I this opening of hostilities; I have a clear conscience that I have tried to avoid it at all costs, using all my efforts to preserve friendship with the army of occupation, even at the cost of not a few humiliations and not a few rights sacrificed.

But it is my unavoidable duty to maintain the national honor, and that of the army so unjustly attacked by those who, posing as friends and liberators, attempt to dominate us in place of the Spaniards, as is shown by the grievances enumerated in my manifesto of January 8; the continued outrages and violent exactions committed against the people of Manila; the useless conferences, and all my efforts in favor of peace and concord.

Before this unexpected provocation, urged by the duties imposed upon me, my honor and patriotism, and the defence of the nation commended to me, calling on God as a witness of my good faith and the uprighteousness of my intentions, I order and command: –

1. Peace and friendly relations between the Filipino forces and the American forces are broken, and the latter will be treated as enemies within the limits prescribed by the laws of war.
2. American soldiers who may be captured by the Filipino forces will be treated as prisoners of war.
3. This proclamation shall be communicated to the accredited consuls of Manila and to Congress, in order that it may accord the suspension of the constitutional guarantees and the resulting declaration of war.

Aguinaldo’s account of the causes of the outbreak of hostilities against the Americans, 23 September 1899Top

Source: Don Emilio Aguinaldo. 1899. True Version of the Philippine Revolution. Farlak (Philippine Islands): President of the Philippine Republic.

…I, Emilio Aguinaldo–though the humble servant of all, am, as President of the Philippine Republic, charged with the safeguarding of the rights and independence of the people who appointed me to such an exalted position of trust and responsibility–mistrusted for the first time the honour of the Americans, perceiving of course that this proclamation of General Otis completely exceeded the limits of prudence and that therefore no other course was open to me but to repel with arms such unjust and unexpected procedure on the part of the commander of friendly forces.

I protested, therefore, against such a proclamation–also threatening an immediate rupture of friendly relations,–for the whole populace was claiming that an act of treason had been committed, plausibly asserting that the announcement of the Commission applied for by Admiral Dewey was a ruse, and that what General Otis was scheming for was to keep us quiet while he brought reinforcement after reinforcement from the United States for the purpose of crashing our untrained and badly equipped Army with one blow.

But now General Otis acted for the first time like a diplomatist, and wrote me, through his Secretary, Mr. Carman, a letter inviting the Filipino Government to send a Commission to meet an American Commission for the purpose of arriving at an amicable arrangement between both parties; and although I placed no trust in the professions of friendly intentions of the said General–whose determination to prevent the Commission arriving at a peaceful solution of the difficulties was already evident–I acceded to the request, partly because I saw the order, dated 9th January, given by the above mentioned General confirmed, and on the other hand to show before the whole world my manifest wishes for the conservation of peace and friendship with the United States, solemnly compacted with Admiral Dewey. Conferences of the Mixed Commission, Americans and Filipinos, were held in Manila from the 11th to the 31st of the said month of January, the Filipino Commissioners clearly expressing the wish of our people for recognition as an independent nation.

They also frankly stated the complaints of the Filipino people about the abuses and atrocities of the American soldiery, being attentively and benevolently listened to by the American Commissioners. The latter replied that they had no authority to recognize the Filipino Government, their mission being limited to hearing what the Filipinos said, to collect data to formulate the will of our people and transmit it fully and faithfully to the Government of Washington, who alone could arrive at a definite decision on the subject. These conferences ended in perfect harmony, auguring well for happier times and definite peace when Mr. McKinley should reply to General Otis’s telegrams transmitting our wishes with his favourable recommendations, as the American Commissioners said.

While I, the Government, the Congress and the entire populace were awaiting the arrival of such a greatly desired reply, many fairly overflowing with pleasant thoughts, there came the fatal day of the 4th February, during the night of which day the American forces suddenly attacked all our lines, which were in fact at the time almost deserted, because being Saturday, the day before a regular feast day, our Generals and some of the most prominent officers had obtained leave to pass the Sabbath with their respective families.

General Pantaleon Garcia was the only one who at such a critical moment was at his post in Maypajo, north of Manila, Generals Noriel, Rizal and Ricarte and Colonels San Miguel, Cailles and others being away enjoying their leave.

General Otis, according to trustworthy information, telegraphed to Washington stating that the Filipinos had attacked the American Army. President McKinley read aloud the telegram in the Senate, where the Treaty of Paris of the 10th December, 1898, was being discussed with a view to its ratification, the question of annexation of the Philippines being the chief subject of debate, and through this criminal procedure secured the acceptation of the said Treaty in toto by a majority of only three votes, [7] which were cast simultaneously with a declaration that the voters sided with the “Ayes” on account of war having broken out in these Islands.

This singular comedy could not continue for a great length of time because the Filipinos could never be the aggressors as against the American forces, with whom we had sworn eternal friendship and in whose power we expected to find the necessary protection to enable us to obtain recognition of our independence from the other Powers.

The confusion and obfuscation of the first moments was indeed great, but before long it gave place to the light of Truth which shone forth serene, bringing forth serious reflections.
When sensible people studied the acts of Mr. McKinley, sending reinforcement after reinforcement to Manila at a time after an armistice was agreed upon and even when peace with Spain prevailed; when they took into account that the despatch of the Civil Commission to settle terms of a treaty of amity with the Filipinos was being delayed; when, too, they knew of the antecedents of my alliance with Admiral Dewey, prepared and arranged by the American Consuls of Singapore and Hongkong, Mr. Pratt and Mr. Wildman; when they became acquainted with the actual state of affairs on the 4th February knowing that the Filipinos were awaiting the reply of Mr. McKinley to the telegram of General Otis in which he transmitted the peaceful wish of the Filipino people of live as an independent nation; when, lastly, they riveted their attention to the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the approval of which, in as far as it concerned the annexation of the Philippines, was greeted with manifestations of joy and satisfaction by the Imperialist party led by Mr. McKinley, then their eyes were opened to the revelations of truth, clearly perceiving the base, selfish and inhuman policy which Mr. McKinley had followed in his dealings with us the Filipinos, sacrificing remorselessly to their unbridled ambition the honour of Admiral Dewey, exposing this worthy gentleman and illustrious conqueror of the Spanish fleet to universal ridicule; for no other deduction can follow from the fact that about the middle of May of 1898, the U.S.S. McCulloch brought me with my revolutionary companions from Hongkong, by order of the above mentioned Admiral, while now actually the United States squadron is engaged in bombarding the towns and ports held by these revolutionists, whose objective is and always has been Liberty and Independence.

The facts as stated are of recent date and must still be fresh in the memory of all.
Those who in May, 1898, admired the courage of Admiral Dewey’s sailors and the humanitarianism of this illustrious Commander in granting visible aid to an oppressed people to obtain freedom and independence, surely cannot place an honest construction upon the present inhuman war when contrasting it with those lofty and worthy sentiments.

I need not dwell on the cruelty which, from the time of the commencement of hostilities, has characterized General Otis’s treatment of the Filipinos, shooting in secret many who declined to sign a petition asking for autonomy. I need not recapitulate the ruffianly abuses which the American soldiers committed on innocent and defenseless people in Manila, shooting women and children simply because they were leaning out of windows; entering houses at midnight without the occupants’ permission–forcing open trunks and wardrobes and stealing money, jewellery and all valuables they came across; breaking chairs, tables and mirrors which they could not carry away with them, because, anyhow, they are consequences of the war, though improper in the case of civilized forces. But what I would not leave unmentioned is the inhuman conduct of that General in his dealings with the Filipino Army, when, to arrange a treaty of peace with the Civil Commission, of which Mr. Schurman was President, I thrice sent emissaries asking for a cessation of hostilities.

General Otis refused the envoys’ fair and reasonable request, replying that he would not stop hostilities so long as the Philippine Army declined to lay down their arms.
But why does not this Army deserve some consideration at the hands of General Otis and the American forces? Had they already forgotten the important service the Filipino Army rendered to the Americans in the late war with Spain?

Had General Otis forgotten the favours conferred on him by the Filipino Army, giving up to him and his Army the suburbs and blockhouses which at such great sacrifice to themselves the Filipinos had occupied?

Why should General Otis make such a humiliating condition a prime factor or basis of terms of peace with an Army which stood shoulder to shoulder with the American forces, freely shedding its blood, and whose heroism and courage were extolled by Admiral Dewey and other Americans?

This unexplained conduct of General Otis, so manifestly contrary to the canons of international law and military honour, is eloquent testimony of his deliberate intention to neutralize the effects of Mr. Schurman’s pacific mission.

What peace can be concerted by the roaring of cannon and the whizzing of bullets?

What is and has been the course of procedure of General Brooke in Cuba? Are not the Cubans still armed, notwithstanding negotiations for the pacification and future government of that Island are still going on?

Are we, perchance, less deserving of liberty and independence than those revolutionists?

Oh, dear Philippines! Blame your wealth, your beauty for the stupendous disgrace that rests upon your faithful sons.

You have aroused the ambition of the Imperialists and Expansionists of North America and both have placed their sharp claws upon your entrails!

Loved mother, sweet mother, we are here to defend your liberty and independence to the death! We do not want war; on the contrary, we wish for peace; but honourable peace, which does not make you blush nor stain your forehead with shame and confusion. And we swear to you and promise that while America with all her power and wealth could possibly vanquish us; killing all of us; but enslave us, never!!!

No; this humiliation is not the compact I celebrated in Singapore with the American Consul Pratt. This was not the agreement stipulated for with Mr. Wildman, American Consul in Hongkong. Finally, it was not the subjection of my beloved country to a new alien yoke that Admiral Dewey promised me.

It is certain that these three have abandoned me, forgetting that I was sought for and taken from my exile and deportation; forgetting, also, that neither of these three solicited my services in behalf of American Sovereignty, they paying the expense of the Philippine Revolution for which, manifestly, they sought me and brought me back to your beloved bosom!

If there is, as I believe, one God, the root and fountain of all justice and only eternal judge of international disputes, it will not take long, dear mother, to save you from the hands, of your unjust enemies. So I trust in the honour of Admiral Dewey: So I trust in the rectitude of the great people of the United States of America, where, if there are ambitious Imperialists, there are defenders of the humane doctrines of the immortal Monroe, Franklin, and Washington; unless the race of noble citizens, glorious founders of the present greatness of the North American Republic, have so degenerated that their benevolent influence has become subservient to the grasping ambition of the Expansionists, in which latter unfortunate circumstance would not death be preferable to bondage?

Oh, sensible American people! Deep is the admiration of all the Philippine people and of their untrained Army of the courage displayed by your Commanders and soldiers. We are weak in comparison with such Titanic instruments of your Government’s ambitious Caesarian policy and find it difficult to effectively resist their courageous onslaught. Limited are our warlike resources, but we will continue this unjust, bloody, and unequal struggle, not for the love of war–which we abhor–but to defend our incontrovertible rights of Liberty and Independence (so dearly won in war with Spain) and our territory which is threatened by the ambitions of a party that is trying to subjugate us.

Distressing, indeed, is war! Its ravages cause us horror. Luckless Filipinos succumb in the confusion of combat, leaving behind them mothers, widows and children. America could put up with all the misfortunes she brings on us without discomfort; but what the North American people are not agreeable to is that she should continue sacrificing her sons, causing distress and anguish to mothers, widows and daughters to satisfy the whim of maintaining a war in contravention of their honourable traditions as enunciated by Washington and Jefferson.
Go back, therefore, North American people, to your old-time liberty. Put your hand on your heart and tell me: Would it be pleasant for you if, in the course of time, North America should find herself in the pitiful plight, of a weak and oppressed people and the Philippines, a free and powerful nation, then at war with your oppressors, asked for your aid promising to deliver you from such a weighty yoke, and after defeating her enemy with your aid she set about subjugating you, refusing the promised liberation?

Civilized nations! Honourable inhabitants of the United States, to whose high and estimable consideration I submit this unpretentious work, herein you have the providential facts which led to the unjust attack upon the existence of the Philippine Republic and the existence of those for whom, though unworthy, God made me the principal guardian.

The veracity of these facts rests upon my word as President of this Republic and on the honour of the whole population of eight million souls, who, for more than three hundred years have been sacrificing the lives and wealth of their brave sons to obtain due recognition of the natural rights of mankind–liberty and independence.

If you will do me the honour to receive and read this work and then pass judgment impartially solemnly declaring on which side right and justice rests, your respectful servant will be eternally grateful.

(Signed) Emilio Aguinaldo.
Tarlak, 23rd September, 1899.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s