What Were the Causes of the Philippine Insurrection?

President William McKinley devised a policy of benevolent assimilation to explain American annexation of the Philippines.
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After purchasing the Philippines from Spain as part of the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War, the United States embarked on a three-year military expedition against Filipino revolutionaries. From 1899 to 1902, Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines following its independence from Spain, led forces fighting the American occupation. This insurrection resulted in the deaths of at least 250,000 Filipinos. The Filipino quest for independence, the American desire to establish overseas colonies and the perception that Filipinos could not rule themselves were all causes of the Philippine Insurrection.

1 Filipino Revolution

Filipinos revolted against their Spanish colonizers, creating an opportunity for the United States to help them. From 1896 to 1898, the Filipinos, led by a succession of generals, most prominently Emilio Aguinaldo, waged war against Spain. In 1897, the Spanish and Filipino rebels agreed to a truce requiring Aguinaldo to move to Hong Kong. Though he accepted the truce and exile, for 400,000 pesos, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines in May 1898, on an American fighting ship, with the desire to continue the revolution.

2 War with Spain

During the Spanish-American War in Cuba, the United States expanded the scope of the war into the Philippines, then Spanish territory. The American defeat of Spain in 1898 created a new threat to the Filipino revolutionaries’ goals. On April 18, 1898, the United States began fighting the Spanish in Cuba. On May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey led a fleet of American ships into the Philippines, defeating the Spanish in the Battle of Manila Bay. Part of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended this war, required the United States to pay Spain $20 million for the territorial rights to the Philippines. This purchase placed the Americans at odds with the Filipino rebels, who had established what they considered their own independent nation on June 12, 1898.

3 American Imperialism

The belief that strong nations should control weaker nations drove the United States into imperialistic endeavors, such as the one in the Philippines. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan influenced American foreign policy by advocating for expansion into territories to set up military bases. Acquisition of the Philippines became a goal as a result of this policy.

4 Benevolent Assimilation

Many Americans did not perceive the Filipinos, a people of color, as being capable of self-rule. Instead, President William McKinley announced his policy of “benevolent assimilation.” Rather than subduing the Filipinos for the purpose of extracting wealth, as Spain had done, the United States would uplift the people, the doctrine claimed. By educating the Filipinos about civilization and liberty, benevolent assimilation would allow them to one day be self-governing; however, before the United States could annex the Philippines and even begin this project, it first had to defeat the insurgents, leading to the Philippine Insurrection.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.