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Diplomacy in The Spanish-American War

Let's Make a Deal

The treaty that ended the Spanish-American War did far more than settle the conflict between the United States and Spain and cripple Cuban independence. The Treaty of Paris transferred control of the Philippines—a Spanish colony—to the United States.

For a mere $20 million, the treaty granted the U.S. the opportunity to purchase the islands. It was quite a lucrative deal, a tempting acquisition of land, resources, and a population of people that could be just what growing American industry needed. "[O]ur only chance is to extend our American market by acquiring more trade territory," pro-expansion senators Henry Cabot Lodge and Stephen Elkins proclaimed in 1898. "With our protective tariff wall around the Philippine Islands, its ten million inhabitants, as they advance in civilization, would have to buy our goods, and we should have so much additional market for our home manufactures."29

The Open Door

But the potential for new markets in the Philippines was not the only thing that lured American industrialists and pro-expansion politicians. In acquiring the Philippine Islands, the United States would control a territory located in the western Pacific Ocean just east of China—a highly strategic position for the U.S., which sought access to Chinese ports for trade.

At this time the Chinese Empire was considered a virtual haven for commerce and by the 1890s several powerful nations, including Great Britain, France, Russia, and Japan, had begun to tap its resources, partitioning the Asian nation into spheres of influence, or regions of exclusive control. This concerned American businessmen who saw the doors to Chinese markets rapidly closing. The United States needed the Philippine Islands, they concluded, in order that it might better compete with the other major powers that had begun to stake their claims in China.

A Brief Moment of Independence

And so, just a few weeks after the Treaty of Paris had been signed, President William McKinley annexed the Philippines and declared it a territory of the United States. The transfer of power, however, was fraught with complications.

When the United States Congress and President McKinley agreed to purchase the Filipino territory and ordered U.S. troops stationed on the islands, they dismissed the fact that Filipinos had been fighting against Spain since August 1896, two years prior to the start of the Spanish-American War. Plus, while America had been fighting Spain in Cuba, Filipino revolutionaries had all but defeated the Spanish colonial government, had nearly gained complete control over the islands, and had declared Filipino independence from Spain. By the end of 1898, the Filipino people had ratified a constitution and Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino general who had played a key role in the revolution, was in place as president of the new republic.

The First Shot

President McKinley did not recognize Aguinaldo's authority as president of an independent Filipino republic; to do so would have essentially rendered the U.S. purchase null and void. So instead, he sent more U.S. troops to occupy the region and to help enforce his annexation orders. But tensions flared between American soldiers and Aguinaldo's supporters, the latter committed to expelling yet another colonial intruder, and the former believing in their mission to secure a U.S. territory against hostile rebels.

On 4 February 1899, American Privates Grayson and Miller while patrolling a suburb of Manila opened fire on a Filipino man assuming him to be an armed insurgent. Grayson recalled, "something rose up slowly in front of us. It was a Filipino. I yelled 'Halt!' and made it pretty loud... I challenged him with another loud 'halt!' Then he shouted 'halto!' to me. Well, I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him."30

A wire from Captain Fernando Grey of the Filipino army to headquarters illustrates just what happened next: "At nine sharp tonight, American camp started hostilities. Our forces answered enemy fire. All in their posts without fear. Await orders."

The Philippine-American War had begun.

An Invisible War

On paper, the conflict would last just three years with President Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's successor, declaring an end to hostilities—and U.S. victory over Aguinaldo's "rebellion"—on 4 July 1902.

A three-year conflict, to be sure, is no small war especially compared to the so-called "splendid little war" between the U.S. and Spain. For the Filipino people, however, the war extended over fifteen years, long after Teddy Roosevelt had left office, and years after the American public had forgotten what the all fuss in the Philippines had been about. Across the water, war remained very real. Violent battles continued to rage between U.S. troops and Filipino guerilla soldiers still desperately seeking independence.

An end did not come until 1915 when the United States agreed to Filipino demands for self-government and vowed to grant full independence to the Philippines. But the U.S. did not fulfill its promise immediately. In fact, full Philippine independence and the removal of the last U.S. military troops would not come until 1992, nearly a century after the first shot had been fired in Manila.

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