Notes from God's Arbiters,
Americans and the Philippines, 1898 - 1902

For The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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History notes

All [page numbers] reference God's Arbiters, Americans and the Philippines, 1898 - 1902, by Susan K. Harris, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York, 2011

These notes are meant to aid my writing the U.S. War Against Asia, not to be definitive. Given my pre-existing knowledge of the topic, these mainly flag information not already found in other sources.

"Filipinos were almost universally Roman Catholic ... Although many friars were seriously engaged in helping Filipino peasants, overall they gained a reputation for corruption and exploitation, and the revolutionary movements of the late nineteenth century called for their removal." [10]

Filipinos only turned to revolution after seeking "increased autonomy within the Spanish colonial framework." The reformist organization La Liga Filipina was formed by the novelist Jose Rizal in 1892. "After Rizal was arrested and exiled by the Spanish, La Liga was replaced by the Katipunan, which called for armed conflict." ... "By 1897 the revels had declared a Philippine Republic, with Emilio Aguinaldo as its president." [10]

After a low in the 1880's, the U.S. Navy had been rebuilt under presidents Harrison and Cleveland, responding to the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. [11]

Thesis: "the core of all these issues: first, the fact that most speakers in the debates, no matter what position they defended, believed that the United States was a nation of white Protestants under a special mandate from God to represent freedom and fair dealing to the rest of the world; and second, the circulation of that belief in their arguments both for and against annexation." Both Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan first supported the Spanish-American War, then turned to opposition. [13]

"The Monroe Doctrine, first promulgated in 1823, became a tool for national expansion after midcentury." "Moreover anti-Chinese sentiment was as strong as anti-Catholic sentiment ... The United States had passed a stringent anti-immigration law aimed specifically at the Chinese in 1882." In other words, anti-Asian racism was strong in the U.S. [16]

Yet "few Americans disputed the allure of economic ties with China ... knowledgeable Americans knew that the power that controlled the Philippines would control access to commerce with China" in competition with European powers. "Roosevelt and his supporters also wanted to make sure that other European powers did not appropriate the archipelago." "During the construction of the transcontinental railroad some of the most animated conversations had envisioned the United States as a transportation artery between Europe and China." [17]

"For white Anglo-Saxons and those identifying with them, the exceptional nature of American Civilization was grounded in it religious and racial composition." [p. 18, my italic]

In the United States "few writers of nineteenth-century textbooks imagined the possibility of moral action that was not motivated by Christian values." Public school policy was that "Self-control, orderliness, and honesty were central to the project of creating American citizens in the Protestant mold." [50]

The Insular Cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court found that territories were not automatically in line for eventual statehood, and that the Constitution did not follow the flag, that is the U.S. could possess territories whose inhabitants did not have constitutional rights. [80]

"Americans discovered that their blunders in imperial management had been staged on a global platform, provoking sharp criticism from other former colonies — especially in Latin America." [80]

Four American books from the period: In His Steps by Charles Cheldon, 1896; Tales of Laguna by Frank Steward, 1902-1903; A Woman's Impressions of the Philippines by Mary H. Fee, 1912; and Captain Jinks, Hero by Ernest Crosby, 1902. [111]

Ruben Dario, a Latin American writer, wrote negatively about the United States. He was incensed by the "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, which permitted "the United States to exercise police powers throughout the Western Hemisphere." [171]

All of Chapter 7, "Noli Me Tangere, Filipino Responses to Annexation" is worth reading, as much of what is available about the war in the Philippines is from the American point of view.

Mark Twain read Rizal's Noli Me Tangere before writing his "To the Person Sitting in Darkness." The U.S. brought Aguinaldo back to the Philippines from exile and encouraged the Filipinos to fight the Spanish. "Twain concludes that the February 4, 1899 outbreak of shooting between American and Filipino forces, two days before the Senate was scheduled to ratify the Treaty of Paris, had been an American strategy for transforming a joint action between American and Filipino forces against the Spanish into a platform for American occupation of the islands." [180]

Philippine Sedition Act was enacted on November 4, 1901. It "prohibited Filipinos from advocating independence of Separation from the United States publicly or privately, in speech or in print." [180]

More on the Insular Cases: Supreme Court declared Congress had the power to determine what rights to grant territories in Downes v. Bidwell. [181]

More on the development of nationalism in the Philippines starting in 1880. An organization, La Solidaridad, was formed in Barcelona, Spain in 1888, and began smuggling its pro-independence, pro-democracy newspaper La Solidaridad into the Philippines in 1889. It points out that the upper class of the Philippines were well-educated and familiar with Western history, culture, and politics. [184-185]


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