The American Occupation of the Philippines 1898-1912

- By James H. Blount
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James Henderson Blount (September 12, 1837 – March 8, 1903) was an American statesman, soldier and congressman from Georgia. He opposed the annexation of Hawaii in 1893 in his investigation into the American involvement in the political revolution in the Kingdom of Hawai'i. Blount was born near Clinton, Jones County, Georgia. He attended private schools there and in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He graduated from the University of Georgia at Athens in 1858. He studied law and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1859. During the American Civil War he served in the Confederate States Army as a private in the Second Georgia Battalion, Floyd Rifles for two years, and was later lieutenant colonel for two years.
Any narrative covering our acquisition of the Philippine Islands must, of course, centre in the outset about Admiral Dewey, and the destruction by him of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on Sunday morning, May 1, 1898. But as the Admiral had brought Aguinaldo down from Hong Kong to Manila after the battle, and landed him on May 19th to start an auxiliary insurrection, which insurrection kept the Spaniards bottled up in Manila on the land side for three and a half months while Dewey did the same by sea, until ten thousand American troops arrived, and easily completed the reduction and capture of the beleaguered and famished city on August 13th, it is necessary to a clear understanding of the de facto alliance between the Americans and Aguinaldo thus created, to know who brought the Admiral and Aguinaldo together and how, and why.
The United States declared war against Spain, April 21, 1898, to free Cuba, and at once arranged an understanding with the Cuban revolutionists looking to co-operation between their forces and ours to that end. For some years prior to this, political conditions in the Philippines had been quite similar to those in Cuba, so that when, two days after war broke out, the Honorable Spencer Pratt, Consul-General of the United States at Singapore, in the British Straits Settlements, found Aguinaldo, who had headed the last organized outbreak against Spain in the Philippines, temporarily sojourning as a political refugee at Singapore, in the Filipino colony there, he naturally sought to arrange for his co-operating with us against Spain, as Gomez and Garcia were doing in Cuba. Thereby hangs the story of "Mr. Pratt's Serenade." However, before we listen to the band whose strains spoke the gratitude of the Filipinos to Mr. Pratt for having introduced Aguinaldo to Dewey, let us learn somewhat of Aguinaldo's antecedents, as related to the purposes of the introduction. The first low rumbling of official thunder premonitory to the war with Spain was heard in Mr. McKinley's annual message to Congress of December, 1897,1 wherein he said, among other things: The most important problem with which this government is now called upon to deal pertaining to its foreign relations concerns its duty toward Spain and the Cuban insurrection.
In that very month of December, 1897, Aguinaldo was heading a formidable insurrection against Spanish tyranny in the Philippines, and the Filipinos and their revolutionary committees everywhere were watching with eager interest the course of "The Great North American Republic," as they were wont to term our government.
The Report of the First Philippine Commission sent out to the Islands by President McKinley in February, 1899, of which President Schurman of Cornell University was Chairman, contains a succinct memorandum concerning the Filipino revolutionary movement of 1896-7, which had been begun by Aguinaldo in 1896, and had culminated in what is known as the Treaty of Biac-na-Bato,2 signed December 14, 1897. This treaty had promised certain reforms, such as representation in the Spanish Cortez, sending the Friars away, etc., and had also promised the leaders $400,000 if Aguinaldo and his Cabinet would leave the country and go to Hong Kong. "No definite time was fixed," says President Schurman (vol. I., p. 171), "during which these men were to remain away from the Philippines; and if the promises made by Spain were not fulfilled, they had the right to return." Of course, "the promises made by Spain" were not fulfilled. Spain thought she had bought Aguinaldo and his crowd off. "Two hundred thousand dollars," says Prof. Schurman, "was paid to Aguinaldo when he arrived in Hong Kong." But instead of using this money in riotous living, the little group of exiles began to take notice of the struggles of their brothers in wretchedness in Cuba, and the ever-increasing probability of intervention by the United States in that unhappy Spanish colony, which, of course, would be their opportunity to strike for Independence. They had only been in Hong Kong about two months when the Maine blew up February 15, 1898, Then they knew there would be "something doing." Hong Kong being the cross-roads of the Far East and the gateway to Asia, and being only sixty hours across the choppy China Sea from Manila, was the best place in that part of the world to brew another insurrection against Spain. But Singapore is also a good place for a branch office for such an enterprise, being on the main-travelled route between the Philippines and Spain by way of the Suez Canal, about four or five days out of Hong Kong by a good liner, and but little farther from Manila, as the crow flies, than Hong Kong itself. Owing to political unrest in the Philippines in 1896-7-8, there was quite a colony of Filipino political refugees living at Singapore during that period. Aguinaldo had gone over from Hong Kong to Singapore in the latter half of April, 1898, arriving there, it so chanced, the day we declared war against Spain, April 21st. He was immediately sought out by Mr. Pratt, who had learned of his presence in the community through an Englishman of Singapore, a former resident of Manila, a Mr. Bray, who seems to have been a kind of striker for the Filipino general. Aguinaldo had come incognito. Out of Mr. Pratt's interview with the insurgent chief thus obtained, and its results, grew the episode which is the subject of this chapter. A word just here, preliminary to this interview, concerning the personal equation of Aguinaldo, would seem to be advisable.
While I personally chased him and his outfit a good deal in the latter part of 1899, in the northern advance of a column of General Lawton's Division from San Isidro across the Rio Grande de Pampanga, over the boggy passes of the Caraballa Mountains to the China Sea, and up the Luzon West Coast road, we never did catch him, and I never personally met him but once, and that was after he was captured in 1901. He was as insignificant looking physically as a Japanese diplomat. But his presence suggested, equally with that of his wonderful racial cousins who represent the great empire of the Mikado abroad, both a high order of intelligence and baffling reserve. And Major-General J. Franklin Bell, recently Chief of Staff, United States Army, who was a Major on General Merritt's staff in 1898, having charge of the "Office of Military Information," in a confidential report prepared for his chief dated August 29, 1898, "sizing up" the various insurgent leaders, in view of the then apparent probability of trouble with them, gives these notes on Aguinaldo, the head and front of the revolution: "Aguinaldo: Honest, sincere, and * * * a natural leader of men."
Any one acquainted with General Bell knows that he knows what he is talking about when he speaks of "a natural leader of men," for he is one himself. Our ablest men in the early days were the first to cease considering the little brown soldiers a joke, and their government an opera-bouffe affair. General Bell also says in the same report that he, Aguinaldo, is undoubtedly endowed in a wonderful degree with "the power of creating among the people confidence in himself." He was, indeed, the very incarnation of "the legitimate aspirations of" his people, to use one of the favorite phrases of his early state papers, and the faithful interpreter thereof. That was the secret of his power, that and a most remarkable talent for surrounding himself with an atmosphere of impenetrable reserve. This last used to make our young army officers suspect him of being what they called a "four-flusher," which being interpreted means a man who is partially successful in making people think him far more important than he really is. But we have seen General Bell's estimate. And the day Aguinaldo took the oath of allegiance to the United States, in 1901, General MacArthur, then commanding the American forces in the Philippines, signalized the event by liberating 1000 Filipino prisoners of war. General Funston, the man who captured him in 1901, says in Scribner's Magazine for November, 1911, "He is a man of many excellent qualities and * * * far and away the best Filipino I was ever brought in contact with."
Aguinaldo was born in 1869. To-day, 1912, he is farming about twenty miles out of Manila in his native province of Cavite; has always scrupulously observed his oath of allegiance aforesaid; occasionally comes to town and plays chess with Governor-General Forbes; and in all respects has played for the last ten years with really fine dignity the rôle of Chieftain of a Lost Cause on which his all had been staked. He was a school-teacher at Cavite at one time, but is not a college graduate, and so far as mere book education is concerned, he is not a highly educated man. Whether or not he can give the principal parts of the principal irregular Greek verbs I do not know, but his place in the history of his country, and in the annals of wars for independence, cannot, and for the honor of human nature should not, be a small one. Dr. Rizal, the Filipino patriot whose picture we print on the Philippine postage stamps, and who was shot for sedition by the Spaniards before our time out there, was what Colonel Roosevelt would jocularly call "one of these darned literary fellows." He was a sort of "Sweetness and Light" proposition, who only wrote about "The Rights of Man," and finally let the Spaniards shoot him-stuck his head in the lion's mouth, so to speak. Aguinaldo was a born leader of men, who knew how to put the fear of God into the hearts of the ancient oppressors of his people. Mr. Pratt's own story of how he earned his serenade is preserved to future ages in the published records of the State Department.4 We will now attempt to summarize, not so eloquently as Mr. Pratt, but more briefly, the manner of its earning, the serenade itself, and its resultant effects both upon the personal fortunes of Mr. Pratt and upon Filipino confidence in American official assurances.
It was on the evening of Saturday, April 23, 1898, that Mr. Pratt was confidentially informed of Aguinaldo's arrival at Singapore, incognito. "Being aware," says Mr. Pratt, "of the great prestige of General Aguinaldo with the insurgents, and that no one, either at home or abroad, could exert over them the same influence and control that he could, I determined at once to see him." Accordingly, he did see him the following Sunday morning, the 24th.
At this interview, it was arranged that if Admiral Dewey, then at Hong Kong with his squadron awaiting orders, should so desire, Aguinaldo should proceed to Hong Kong to arrange for co-operation of the insurgents at Manila with our naval forces in the prospective operations against the Spaniards.
This message was received late Sunday night, April 24th, and was at once communicated to Aguinaldo. Mr. Pratt then did considerable bustling around for the benefit of his new-found ally, whom, with his aide-de-camp and private secretary, all under assumed names he "succeeded in getting off," to use his phrase, by the British steamer Malacca, which left Singapore for Hong Kong, April 26th. In the letter reporting all this to the State Department, Mr. Pratt adds that he trusts this action "in arranging for his [Aguinaldo's] direct co-operation with the commander of our forces" will meet with the Government's approval. A little later Mr. Pratt sends the State Department a copy of the Singapore Free Press of May 4, 1898, containing an impressive account of the above transaction and the negotiations leading up to it. This account describes the political conditions among the population of the Philippine archipelago, "which," it goes on to say, "merely awaits the signal from General Aguinaldo to rise en masse." Speaking of Pratt's interview with Aguinaldo, it says:
Mr. Pratt also forwards a proclamation gotten up by the Filipino insurgent leaders at Hong Kong and sent over to the Philippines in advance of Admiral Dewey's coming, calling upon the Filipinos not to heed any appeals of the Spaniards to oppose the Americans, but to rally to the support of the latter. This manifesto of the Filipinos is headed, prominently-for all we know it may have had a heading as big as a Hearst newspaper box-car type announcement of the latest violation of the Seventh Commandment-: "America's Allies."
Compatriots: Divine Providence is about to place independence within our reach. * * * The Americans, not from mercenary motives, but for the sake of humanity and the lamentations of so many persecuted people, have considered it opportune * * * etc. [Here follows a reference to Cuba.] At the present moment an American squadron is preparing to sail for the Philippines. * * * The Americans will attack by sea and prevent any reinforcements coming from Spain; * * * we insurgents must attack by land. Probably you will have more than sufficient arms, because the Americans have arms and will find means to assist us. There where you see the American flag flying, assemble in numbers; they are our redeemers
For twelve days after his letter to the State Department enclosing the above proclamation, Mr. Pratt, so far as the record discloses, contemplated his coup d'état in silent satisfaction. Since its successful pulling off, Admiral Dewey had smashed the Spanish fleet, and Aguinaldo had started his auxiliary insurrection. The former was patting the latter on the back, as it were, and saying, "Go it little man." But nobody was patting Pratt on the back, yet. Therefore, on June 2d, Mr. Pratt writes the State Department, purring for patting thus:
Considering the enthusiastic manner General Aguinaldo has been received by the natives and the confidence with which he already appears to have inspired Admiral Dewey, it will be admitted, I think, that I did not over-rate his importance and that I have materially assisted the cause of the United States in the Philippines in securing his co-operation
A glow of conscious superiority, in value to the Government, over his consular colleague and neighbor, Mr. Wildman, at Hong Kong, next suffuses Mr. Pratt's diction, being manifested thus:
Why this co-operation should not have been secured to us during the months General Aguinaldo remained awaiting events in Hong Kong, and that he was allowed to leave there without having been approached in the interest of our Government, I cannot understand.
Considering that in his letter accepting the nomination for the Vice-Presidency two years after this Mr. Roosevelt compared Aguinaldo and his people to that squalid old Apache medicine man, Sitting Bull, and his band of dirty paint-streaked cut-throats, Mr. Pratt's next Pickwickian sigh of complacent, if neglected, worth is particularly interesting:
In other words, knowing the proverbial ingratitude of republics, Mr. Pratt is determined to impress upon his Government and on the discerning historian of the future that he was "the original Aguinaldo man." A week later (June 9th) Mr. Pratt writes the Department enclosing copies of the Singapore papers of that date, giving an account of a generous outburst of Filipino enthusiasm at Singapore in honor of America, Admiral Dewey, and, last, if not least, Mr. Pratt. He encloses duplicate copies of these newspaper notices for the press, should you consider their publication desirable." His letter begins:
He then proceeds with further details of the event, without self-laudation. The Singapore papers which he encloses, however, not handicapped by the inexorable modesty of official correspondence, give a glowing account of the presentation of the "address," and of the serenade and toasts which followed. Says one of them, the Straits Times:
The United States consulate at Singapore was yesterday afternoon in an unusual state of bustle. That bustle extended itself to Raffles Hotel, of which the consulate forms an outlying part. From a period shortly prior to 5 o'clock, afternoon, the natives of the Philippines resident in Singapore began to assemble at the consulate. Their object was to present an address to Hon. Spencer Pratt, United States Consul-General, and, partly, to serenade him, for which purpose some twenty-five or thirty of the Filipinos came equipped with musical instruments.
First there was music by the band. Then followed the formal reading and presentation of the address by a Dr. Santos, representing the Filipino community of Singapore. The address pledged the "eternal gratitude" of the Filipino people to Admiral Dewey and the honored addressee, alluded to the glories of independence, and to how Aguinaldo had been enabled by the arrangement so happily effected with Admiral Dewey by Consul Pratt to arouse 8,000,000 of Filipinos to take up arms "in defence of those principles of justice and liberty of which your country is the foremost champion" and trusted "that the United States * * * will efficaciously second the programme arranged between you, sir, and General Aguinaldo in this port of Singapore, and secure to us our independence under the protection of the United States."
Mr. Pratt arose and "proceeded speaking in French," says the newspaper-it does not say Alabama French, but that is doubtless what it was-"to state his belief that the Filipinos would prove and were now proving themselves fit for self-government." The gentleman from Alabama then went on to review the mighty events and developments of the preceding six weeks, Dewey's victory of May 1st,
the brilliant achievements of your own distinguished leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo, co-operating on land with the Americans at sea, etc. You have just reason to be proud of what has been and is being accomplished by General Aguinaldo and your fellow-countrymen under his command. When, six weeks ago, I learned that General Aguinaldo had arrived incognito in Singapore, I immediately sought him out. An hour's interview convinced me that he was the man for the occasion; and, having communicated with Admiral Dewey, I accordingly arranged for him to join the latter, which he did at Cavite. The rest you know
Says the newspaper clipping which has preserved the Pratt oration: "At the conclusion of Mr. Pratt's speech refreshments were served, and as the Filipinos, being Christians, drink alcohol,7 there was no difficulty in arranging as to refreshments."
Then followed a general drinking of toasts to America, Dewey, Pratt, and Aguinaldo. Then the band played. Then the meeting broke up. Then the Honorable Spencer Pratt, Consul-General of the United States, retired to the seclusion of his apartments in Raffles Hotel, and, under the soothing swish of his plunkah, forgot the accursed heat of that stepping-off place, Singapore, and dreamed of future greatness.
A few days later the even tenor of Mr. Pratt's meditations was disturbed by a letter from the State Department saying, in effect, that it was all right to get Aguinaldo's assistance "if in so doing he was not induced to form hopes which it might not be practicable to gratify."8 But it did not tell him to tell the Filipinos so. For Aguinaldo was keeping the Spaniards bottled up in the old walled city of Manila on short and ever shortening rations, and American troops were on the way to join him, and the shorter the food supply grew in Manila the readier the garrison would be to surrender when they did arrive, and the fewer American soldiers' lives would have to be sacrificed in the final capture of the town. Every day of Aguinaldo's service under the Dewey-Pratt arrangement was worth an American life, perhaps many. It was too valuable to repudiate, just yet. July 20th, the State Department wrote Mr. Pratt a letter acknowledging receipt of his of June 9th "enclosing printed copies of a report from the Straits Times of the same day, entitled 'Mr. Spencer Pratt's Serenade,' with a view to its communication to the press," and not only not felicitating him on his serenade, but making him sorry he had ever had a serenade. It said, among other things:
The Department" was very scrupulous about even the appearance, at the American end of the line, of "lending a sanction" to Pratt's arrangement with Aguinaldo, while all the time it was knowingly permitting the latter to daily risk his own life and the lives of his countrymen on the faith of that very "arrangement," and it was so permitting this to be done because the "arrangement" was daily operating to reduce the number of American lives which it would be necessary to sacrifice in the final taking of Manila. The day the letter of reprimand was written our troop-ships were on the ocean, speeding toward the Philippines. And Aguinaldo and his people were fighting the Spaniards with the pent-up feeling of centuries impelling their little steel-jacketed messengers of death, thinking of "Cuba Libre," and dreaming of a Star of Philippine Independence risen in the Far East.
Such are the circumstances from which the Filipino people derived their first impressions concerning the faith and honor of a strange people they had never theretofore seen, who succeeded the Spaniards as their overlords. Mr. Pratt was subsequently quietly separated from the consular service, and doubtless lived to regret that he had ever unloosed the fountains of his Alabama French on the Filipino colony of Singapore.

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Word Lists:

Incognito : (of a person) having one's true identity concealed

Premonitory :

Succinct : (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed

Jocular : fond of or characterized by joking; humorous or playful

Summarize : give a brief statement of the main points of (something)


Additional Information:

Words: 3565

Unique Words : 1,146

Sentences : 140

Reading Time : 15:50

Noun : 1236

Conjunction : 288

Adverb : 194

Interjection : 3

Adjective : 231

Pronoun : 219

Verb : 529

Preposition : 540

Letter Count : 16,990

Sentiment : Positive / Positive / Positive

Tone : Formal

Difficult Words : 770

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