American Imperialism: Annexing the Philippines

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A Brief History

On November 2, 1900, Dr. Jacob Gould Schurman (1854-1942), President of the First Philippine Commission, stated, “Should our power by any fatality be withdrawn, the commission believe that the government of the Philippines would speedily lapse into anarchy, which would excuse, if it did not necessitate, the intervention of other powers and the eventual division of the islands among them. Only through American occupation, therefore, is the idea of a free, self-governing, and united Philippine commonwealth at all conceivable.  And the indispensable need from the Filipino point of view of maintaining American sovereignty over the archipelago is recognized by all intelligent Filipinos and even by those insurgents who desire an American protectorate.  The latter, it is true, would take the revenues and leave us the responsibilities.  Nevertheless, they recognize the indubitable fact that the Filipinos cannot stand alone.  Thus the welfare of the Filipinos coincides with the dictates of national honour in forbidding our abandonment of the archipelago.  We cannot from any point of view escape the responsibilities of government which our sovereignty entails; and the commission is strongly persuaded that the performance of our national duty will prove the greatest blessing to the peoples of the Philippine Islands.”1  If I were a participant in the debate over American annexation of the Philippines in 1900 and similarly favored this annexation, I would be for it because of strategic, economic, political, social, and moral considerations.

Digging Deeper

First, I would use the book The Influence of Sea Power on History: 1660-1783 (1890) by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914).  In it, Mahan advocates the United States of America (U.S.) building of a strong navy to become a great power.  The Philippines, would give this navy a great base near Asia to protect the U.S. holdings in the Pacific from the great navies of Britain, Germany, and Japan.  As Mahan shows in his book a great navy keeps a nation protected from invasion and successful in world dominance, by using historical examples such as the British victories over Napoleon at the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805), preventing him from holding Egypt and invading Britain.  If the U.S. had a great navy like Britain, it would be protected from invasion and could use places like the Philippines for strategic operations during war.  As the U.S. had coaling stations in Samoa and a naval base in Hawaii, the Philippines would add to the new American empire’s defense in the Pacific.

A map of “Greater America” c. 1900, including overseas territories.

The above also relates to the economic aspect of Mahan’s thesis; a great nation must expand commerce through foreign trade and just as Secretary of State John Hay (1838-1905) recognized the great market in China, the Philippines would help open up China to American trade and act as a stepping-stone for American ships to China.  Contrary to industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s lack of enthusiasm at annexing the Philippines, or labor union leader Samuel Gompers’s fear that American workers would lose jobs, an increase in Asian trade would mean that overproduction in America would no longer be a big problem and could result in better wages for American workers.  The opening of new markets would raise the status of America and with the Philippines as a base, the vast Asian market would be opened up.

Politically, an expanded U.S. with a greater economic and strategic power gives it a more prominent role in international affairs.  With the Philippines in American control, the U.S. would be a global power with a say in Asian affairs instead of just North American affairs.  Despite the feeling of anti-imperialists like William Jennings Bryant (1860-1925), American heroes like Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) wanted U.S. expansion and in a political sense nationally, this annexation would help to appease vocal men like Roosevelt.  In a purely international sense though, this annexation would make the U.S. a force to be reckoned with which would make other nations less inclined to give the U.S. any trouble.

Colonel Roosevelt and the Rough Riders after capturing Kettle Hill along with members of the 3rd Volunteers and the regular Army black 10th Cavalry

Morally and socially, as it was America’s manifest destiny to expand on the U.S. continent, it is its destiny to both dominate world affairs and provide a model for world government.  The already Catholic Filipinos would be easily converted by missionaries into Protestants like the great mass of America, and the U.S. could help to bring them a stable government after years of oppressive Spanish rule.  In this sense, America could improve the lives of the Filipinos and help to give them the ideals of the founding fathers.

For these reasons of strategic, economic, political, social, and moral expansion and growth of the United States there was a favorable opinion for the Philippines annexation as desired by imperialists like Mahan, Roosevelt, and Schurman.

Question for students (and subscribers): Should the U.S. annex the Philippines?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence


  1.  As quoted on Wikipedia contributors,”Philippine-American War,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 20, 2015).

For more information, please read:

Tucker, Spencer C.  The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (3 Volumes).  ABC-CLIO, 2009.


About Author

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.