Explain McKinley's decision to keep the Philippines.

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To understand why President McKinley kept the Philippines, it is useful to look at the text of a speech that he made around that time. (You can read the full text using the reference link provided). In this speech, McKinley describes the opportunity of owning the Philippines as a "gift from the gods" which suggests that he believed it was religiously ordained.

In this speech, he outlined a number of other important reasons, too:

  1. He did not want to return the Philippines to Spain because he thought this was a "cowardly" thing to do.
  2. He did not want to leave the Philippines to rule themselves because he thought they were "unfit" to do so. Self-rule would, he said, create a chaotic political situation, arguably far worse that life under Spanish rule.
  3. Keeping the Philippines also extended the influence of Christianity as McKinley intended on converting the native population.
  4. Keeping the Philippines also maintained American influence in the "Orient" which was important for American business interests in the region.
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

President McKinley three important reasons for why he decided to keep the Philippines.  Two of them illustrate nicely some of the major reason for imperialism at the turn of the century.  The two important reasons were (the third is simply that it would be immoral to give them back to Spain):

  • They could not be allowed to fall into the hands of Germany or France because those were "our commercial rivals" and letting them have the Philippines "would be bad business."  This shows the importance of economic considerations.
  • They could not be allowed to be independent because "they were unfit for self-government."  This shows the "white man's burden" aspect of imperialism.  It shows that one reason for imperialism was the desire to civilize "backwards" people.

Therefore, McKinley decided to keep the Philippines even though some people thought that it was against American values to have colonies and others did not want a country full of non-whites to become part of the US.


jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

McKinley said that at first, he did not want to keep the Philippines; however, he said that as the Philippines had fallen into his lap after the Spanish-American War, he had to decide what to do with them. When he was speaking with a delegation from the Methodist Episcopal Church, he told them that he had prayed for a decision and had come to the conclusion that it would be "cowardly" to return the islands to Spain, their former imperial masters.

He also said that letting a European rival such as France or Germany take over the Philippines would be bad for the American economy, as they were both economic rivals.

Finally, he felt that the Filipinos were unable to govern themselves, as they would devolve into anarchy. Therefore, motivated by a sense of "the white man's burden," he felt that Americans had the responsibility to educate and Christianize the Filipinos—a community which he considered to be less civilized. 

hgcai3456 | Student

The Philippines islands are close to China. As a result, McKingley wanted to reap the benefits of trading and providing services to such a large market in China. It would benefit both economies.