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February 08, 2012


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Well,in 1902, the Americans signed a peace agreement with Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the insurgency. The advent of a negotiated peace meant that the McKinley administration needed Congress to establish a civil government in the Philippines.

Sorry to nitpick - wait, why am I apologizing, I love to nitpick - but unless someone held a seance there wasn't a McKinley administration in 1902.

Yeah, I elided the history. The civil government bill was introduced in 1900, but Democratic opposition meant it didn't pass until 1902. I shortened something I'd written to go into the post, for simplicity, and forgot to correct the President's name.

Fixed now.

I should add that the bill was introduced right after the November election. The insurgents closely monitored American politics, and once the GOP won, surrenders multiplied. Aguinaldo didn't make peace until May, but the writing was on the wall.

I'll also add that the Philippine War ended in a negotiation. It was not a victory, and yes, the Democrats made a lot of hay about the turnaround in Republican rhetoric. Aguinaldo went from a white-person-hating savage to a statesman who of course would be given land and a high position in the government.

Helping my son prepare for a school presentation on the Bell Trade Act of 1946 and stumbled upon this discussion. Could you explain what led to the complete turnaround in the US legislators' position when it comes to allowing US investments in the Philippines. That is, strong opposition in 1902 versus insisting it in the Bell Trade Act of 1946. Is it mainly driven by the experiences of WWII?

Hi, Leonora,

Sorry for the delay! The short answer is that no, it didn't really have to do with WW2. What changed was Philippine independence.

When the U.S. annexed the Philippines, Congressional opposition ran very high. The reason was that many Democrats feared that once under U.S. sovereignty, the Philippines would never become independent. They feared that Americans would invest in the islands and form an undefeatable anti-independence lobby. (The primary reason for Democratic opposition was racial: they feared that if the Philippines remained a colony, Filipinos would eventually gain citizenship. Adding seven million "Malays" to the American polity was not palatable.

The easiest way to prevent the formation of such a lobby was to prohibit American investment in the islands. The Democrats used parliamentary delaying tactics to force the Republicans into agreeing to such a prohibition. Even after the Philippines started on the road to independence in 1934, there was little support for relaxing the prohibition --- after all, the scheduled independence date could always be postponed. (In fact, we know that Manuel Quezon was lobbying against full independence until the last possible minute.)

By 1946, however, independence was in the bag. That removed strong Congressional opposition to American investment. Sure, allowing investment might produce a lobby with incentives to keep America involved in Philippine affairs ... but there was no longer any risk that such involvement would either involve the United States on the wrong end of a independence struggle or (more relevantly) become a large version of Puerto Rico, with mass migration to the mainland. What opposition remained to the Bell Trade Act was weak and fragmented.

Does that help? For more on the politics of Philippine annexation, see Chapter 2 of The Empire Trap. http://www.amazon.com/The-Empire-Trap-Intervention-1893-2013/dp/0691155828

The alternate history in which the Philippines eventually become a state, or maybe a collection of several states (the population is more than twice as large as California) seems like an interesting one.

Except that the scenario is literally unthinkable, in the sense that I can't think of how it possibly could have happened.

You would probably need to silence all the Democrats and a few Republicans for it to happen no?

You would need to change the deeply held beliefs of almost everyone in the governing class -- not merely their racial beliefs, but their beliefs about religious affiliation (most Filipinos then as now were Catholic), illiteracy, and poverty.

Even had most Filipinos been white English-speaking Protestants, I bet there would still be objections to their deep poverty and their willingness to undercut the authentic descendants of Pilgrims and pioneers for good American jobs.

(On the other hand, you wouldn't have the sexual paranoia, my personal favorite of the charges against Filipino immigrants. All those well-dressed and well-mannered Filipino migrant laborers successfully chatting up white women at the dance halls. It literally provoked riots.)

I'm not as sure that Catholicism and poverty would have been show-stoppers: consider Puerto Rico. Or the votes on Dominican annexation treaty; the Senator who killed it was a Catholic but objected on racial grounds.

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