The Rise and Fall of American Rule in the Philippines

Kurz & Allison print of the Battle of Quingua, April 23, 1899

The American colonization of the Philippines spanned from 1898 to 1946. It commenced in April 1898 with the outbreak of an armed conflict between the United States and Spain in the Spanish-American War. 

As at that time, the country was a colony of the Spanish Empire via the Spanish East Indies. America would continue to maintain its direct control and influence on the land, leading to the locals demanding nothing but freedom and independence. 

Spanish-American War

The leading cause of this conflict was Spain’s inability to take part in the social reforms going on in Cuba, as stated by the United States of America. The American government was triggered by an unexplained explosion that led to the sinking of the American navy battleship USS Maine in 1898, right in Havana Harbor, which was in Cuba. 

Political pressure piled on the United States government, and a determined Congress pushed President William McKinley to give an ultimatum to Spain, which then declared war. The United States responded shortly after with a declaration of war too. Commodore George Dewey of the United States Navy was dispatched to the Philippines, and he arrived the Manila Bay with his squadron on the 30th of April, 1898. 

The Battle of Manila

This military engagement occurred on the 1st of May 1898. The naval squadron of Commodore Dewey took hours to defeat the Spanish forces led by Admiral Patricio Montojo. The United States maritime squadron then took over the military resources. Dewey messaged Washington that even though he had taken over the Manila Bay, he would need 5,000 extra soldiers to seize Manila, the capital city. 

US soldiers in the Philippines, Manilla, during the Philippine-American war. The gun is a 3.2-inch gun M1897.

The Philippine Declaration of Independence

On the 12th of June, 1898, President Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines’ independence right from his residence. The document for freedom was in Spanish, and it was read out in his house. On the 18th of June, he declared a dictatorial government and later proclaimed himself president of a revolutionary government. 

Problems between American and the Revolutionary Forces 

On the 9th of July of the same year, General Henry Clark Corbin, who had served as the Adjutant General of the United States Army, went against President Aguinaldo. He accused him of being a dictator who wants to take Manila singlehandedly without the Americans’ input. The general painted a picture of doom and stated that he would go against the United States if allowed to proceed. Aguinaldo was not deterred; he even went ahead to make more decrees to consolidate his power grip. 

On the 18th of July, another American general (Anderson) wrote that there are suspicions that Aguinaldo was already having negotiations with the Spanish in secret sessions. He accused Aguinaldo of trying to have a military junta and also mapped out plans to rein in the United States forces. 

Later on the 24th of July, Aguinaldo fired a letter to General Anderson, and he wanted the Americans not to land their troops in places that had been conquered and taken over by the Filipinos from the Spanish without writing him first and explaining the reason for the occupation. At this point, the United States military commanders started nursing suspicions against Aguinaldo as they thought he was going to leak their movement details to the Spanish. 

Tensions came to a head on the 12th of August when American generals told Aguinaldo to stop insurgents under his control from taking on Manila. The next day, American forces swooped on and captured the positions of the Spanish forces in Manila. The insurgents responded by launching their attacks, and this led to more trouble with the United States. 

A telegram from General Anderson to Aguinaldo angrily warned him not to allow his troops into Manila without getting approval from the American commander. This warning was brushed aside, and Aguinaldo’s forces pressed on until they confronted the Spanish troops. Even though the Spanish forces were referring to peace, the Filipino insurgents opened fire on the Spanish troops, who returned fire too. In the melee, 19 American soldiers were shot dead, and over 100 were wounded. 

A furious General Anderson sent a telegram to Aguinaldo, but the latter was only interested in the capital city’s joint occupation. Chaos continued all over the city while negotiations for peace continued until hostilities were suspended in August 1898, followed by Manila’s capture.

The American Military Government 

Following Manila’s capture in August 1898, the United States set up a military government, and General Wesley Merritt was appointed as the acting military governor. It was during this rule, which lasted from 1898 to 1902; all of the Philippines were governed by the US military commander under the authority of the American president as the overall head of the United States of Armed Forces. 

End of the Spanish-America War 

The Treaty of Paris of 1898 led to the end of the Spanish-American War and Spain relinquished all its claims of sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States. The American military governor would later organize local elections too. 

Philippine-American War of 1899 to 1902 and Independence

Tensions escalated, and soon a war broke out between the Filipino and American forces. The war picked up steam, and President Aguinaldo declared that all Americans be treated as enemies. The Malolos Congress declared war on the United States, but the war ended in 1901 with Aguinaldo’s capture and surrender. The United States governments would later organize the Philippine Commissions, and the Filipinos pressed on with independence campaigns. Eventually, on the 4th of July, 1946, independence came for the country with the signing of the Treaty of Manila between the governments of the Philippines and the United States. That marked the official end of the rule of the United States in the Philippines. 

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