The US and the Philippines

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Why Did Some Americans Oppose The Annexation Of The Philippines

Why did many Americans oppose the annexation of the Philippines?

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The Spanish-American War sparked an anti-imperialist movement within the United States. On June 15th, 1898, the American Anti-Imperialist League was organized in response to the United States's imperialist war in the Philippines. The American Anti-Imperialist League took the position that denying Filipinos their sovereignty was a direct contradiction of democratic...

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The Spanish-American War sparked an anti-imperialist movement within the United States. On June 15th, 1898, the American Anti-Imperialist League was organized in response to the United States's imperialist war in the Philippines. The American Anti-Imperialist League took the position that denying Filipinos their sovereignty was a direct contradiction of democratic principles. Additionally, the American Anti-Imperialist League denounced the murder of Filipinos by American soldiers. The Spanish-American War catalyzed the position of the United States as a militarized super power. Anti-imperialists positioned themselves against the growth of the US military and growth of military technology.

While some anti-imperialists understood the connection between the United States's military campaign in the Philippines and the horrific treatment of people of color in the United States, many others failed to make the connection and insisted that the military's actions in the Philippines contradicted the principles and actions of the United States domestically.

Additionally, some people and organizations positioned themselves against the Spanish-American war because they believed that annexation of the Philippines would translate into negative effects for American workers. This position had nothing to do with fighting against the racist attacks on the Filipinos, and was more concerned with economic prioritization of American workers and the American economy.

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The answer to this question falls roughly into two categories.

First, there was an element within American society who viewed such imperial adventures as both morally wrong and antithetical to the American ideals of self-government and freedom. This element found its focal point in the Anti-Imperialist League, which was spearheaded by such luminaries as Jane Addams, William James, John Dewey, Andrew Carnegie, and, perhaps most prominently, Mark Twain, who was so effective a critic of American Imperialism that, years after the Spanish American War, Theodore Roosevelt refused to give a talk when he knew Mark Twain would be at the same event.

Consideration of the ideals of the Anti-Imperialist League brings up an ancient question: are the democratic institutions of a republic or a democracy threatened when the same country becomes an imperial colonizer to other peoples? Was it right for a democracy born of revolution to obstruct another people who wanted to throw off their own imperial shackles? Mark Twain certainly didn't think so, and many others agreed with him.

The other considerations were driven by considerations of an economic and racial nature, with the language of the two often mixed together. Members of the labor movement, including Samuel Gompers, had concerns that cheap labor from the Philippines and East Asia would flood the country, diluting the bargaining power of American-born labor.

While racism remains a part of American society to this day, the United States of the 1890s, only thirty-five years removed from the Civil War, was another thing altogether. In a country where the Irish and Italians were considered racially undesirable, and Chinese and Japanese immigration was halted completely or severely restricted, many Americans desired for the United States to be as white as possible and did not want to allow Filipinos into the country.

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Some Americans opposed the annexation of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War because they felt that it was not humane. Opponents of annexation formed the American Anti-Imperialist League in 1898. The members of the League, who included Jane Addams, Henry James, and other intellectuals and business leaders, were opposed to annexing the Philippines because they believed that this type of American imperialism violated the principles of American self-government. They used Lincoln's speeches and other foundational American documents such as the Declaration of Independence to argue that conquering the Philippines without the Filipinos' consent violated American principles. Others, such as Mark Twain, the American writer and humorist, fell into this camp, as he felt that imperialism was racist and that it was unjust for white people to colonize countries with non-whites. 

There was also an economic argument against annexing the Philippines. Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, and other labor leaders feared that annexation would lead to a flood of Filipino immigrants to the U.S. who would take American jobs. Gompers asked in a speech given in 1898, "If the Philippines are annexed what is to prevent the Chinese, the Negritos and the Malays coming to our country?" He believed that annexation would hurt the American working class by resulting in immigrants who would take away American jobs. 

 

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There were two main reasons why some Americans did not want to annex the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.  One of these reasons was rather noble while the other one was most emphatically not noble.

On the noble side, some Americans like Mark Twain believed that it was simply wrong and un-American to deprive the Filipinos of their independence.  After all, here was a country that was acting just like the American colonies had in the 1770s.  It wanted to be free from a colonial power that had been oppressing it.  And yet here was the United States, a country built on freedom, going over to subdue the Filipinos by force and to annex their country.  This seemed completely contrary to all American values and, therefore, these people opposed it.

On the ignoble side, there were many Americans who did not want to annex the Philippines for racial reasons.  They worried that, if the US annexed the islands, all of the Filipinos would become American citizens or at least part of the American nation in some way.  They did not want a bunch of non-white people being included in the US and they, therefore, wanted to avoid annexing the Philippines.

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