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Philippine-American War

Filipino history
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Philippine-American War, war between the United States and Filipino revolutionaries from 1899 to 1902, an insurrection that may be seen as a continuation of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule. The Treaty of Paris (1898) had transferred Philippine sovereignty from Spain to the United States but was not recognized by Filipino leaders, whose troops were in actual control of the entire archipelago except the capital city of Manila. Although an end to the insurrection was declared in 1902, sporadic fighting continued for several years thereafter.

The end of Spanish rule and the First Philippine Republic

In preparation for possible war against Spain, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt placed the U.S. Asiatic squadron in Hong Kong on alert. When war was declared in April 1898, Commodore George Dewey sailed from Hong Kong and defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on the morning of May 1, 1898, but he could not occupy Manila until ground troops arrived three months later.

In the meantime, on June 12, 1898, the Filipinos declared independence and proclaimed a provisional republic with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as president. Within days, on the other side of the Pacific, the American Anti-Imperialist League had begun to take shape. This organization, which opposed American involvement in the Philippines, grew into a mass movement that drew support from across the political spectrum. Its members included luminaries such as social reformer Jane Addams, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, philosopher William James, and author Mark Twain.

On August 13 Manila fell after a bloodless “battle.” Spanish Gov. Fermín Jáudenes had secretly arranged a surrender after a mock show of resistance to salvage his honour. American troops were in possession of the city, but Filipino insurgents controlled the rest of the country. The leaders of the nascent Philippine Republic did not recognize U.S. sovereignty over the islands, and the U.S. rejected Filipino claims of independence; conflict was inevitable.

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On the night of February 4, 1899, shooting erupted on the outskirts of Manila. Morning found the Filipinos, who had fought bravely, even recklessly, defeated at all points. While the fighting was in progress, Aguinaldo issued a proclamation of war against the United States. Anti-imperialist sentiment was strong in the United States, and on February 6 the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty that concluded the Spanish-American War by a single vote. U.S. reinforcements were immediately sent to the Philippines. Antonio Luna, the ablest commander among the Filipinos, was given charge of their military operations but seems to have been greatly hampered by the jealousy and distrust of Aguinaldo, which he fully returned. Luna was murdered, and on March 31, 1899, the rebel capital of Malolos was captured by U.S. forces.

In March 1900 U.S. Pres. William McKinley convened the Second Philippine Commission to create a civil government for the Philippines (the existence of Aguinaldo’s Philippine Republic was conveniently ignored). On April 7 McKinley instructed commission chairman William Howard Taft to “bear in mind that the government which they are establishing is designed not for our satisfaction, or for the expression of our theoretical views, but for the happiness, peace, and prosperity of the people of the Philippine Islands.” While nothing explicit was said about independence, these instructions were later often cited as supporting such a goal.

The guerrilla campaign

Meanwhile, the Filipino government had fled northward. In November 1899 the Filipinos resorted to guerrilla warfare, with all its devastating consequences. The major operations of the insurrection were conducted in Luzon, and, throughout them, the U.S. Army was assisted materially by indigenous Macabebe scouts, who had previously served the Spanish regime and then transferred that loyalty to the United States. The organized insurrection effectively ended with the capture of Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901, by U.S. Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston. After learning of the location of Aguinaldo’s secret headquarters from a captured courier, Funston personally led an audacious mission into the mountains of northern Luzon. He and a handful of his officers posed as prisoners of war, marching under the guard of a column of Macabebe scouts who were disguised as rebels. Aguinaldo, who had been expecting reinforcements, welcomed the lead elements of the force only to be stunned by a demand to surrender. When Funston arrived, Aguinaldo remarked, “Is this not some joke?” before being led back to Manila.

Although Aguinaldo pledged his allegiance to the United States and called for an end to hostilities, the guerrilla campaign continued with unabated ferocity. Brig. Gen. Jacob F. Smith, enraged by a massacre of U.S. troops, responded with retaliatory measures of such indiscriminate brutality that he was court-martialed and forced to retire. After the surrender of Filipino Gen. Miguel Malvar in Samar on April 16, 1902, the American civil government regarded the remaining guerrillas as mere bandits, though the fighting continued. About a thousand guerrillas under Simeón Ola were not defeated until late 1903, and in Batangas province, south of Manila, troops commanded by Macario Sakay resisted capture until as late as 1906.

The last organized resistance to U.S. power took place on Samar from 1904 to 1906. There the rebels’ tactic of burning pacified villages contributed to their own defeat. Although an unconnected insurgency campaign by Moro bands on Mindanao continued sporadically until 1913, the United States had gained undisputed control of the Philippines, and it retained possession of the islands until 1946.


The human cost of the war was significant. An estimated 20,000 Filipino combatants were killed, and more than 200,000 civilians perished as a result of combat, hunger, or disease. Of the 4,300 Americans lost, some 1,500 were killed in action, while nearly twice that number succumbed to disease.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.
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