Study Guide

Admiral George Dewey in Imperialism

By William Jennings Bryan

Admiral George Dewey

If William McKinley was accused of having "no more a backbone than a chocolate eclair" and William Bryan was made a mockery of as the Cowardly Lion, Admiral George Dewey was a guy with a backbone made of steel and the courage of at least two dozen real-life lions who shot laser beams from their eyes.

In other words, when all of these politicians were busy arguing about whether or not the United States should start doing the whole imperialist thing, Dewey was out there kicking Spain's imperial butt and maintaining an American presence in the Philippines.

Dewey had earned a name for himself during the Civil War, where he had participated in a number of naval sieges and blocking campaigns. But when the U.S. and Spain found themselves at war with one another, Dewey became a legend. He defeated Spain's Spanish fleet in a matter of hours, seizing Manila Bay for the U.S.

But he also symbolized the contradictions built into America's relationship with the Philippines. Like many decolonization efforts, the United States actually joined forces with the revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo. But once the U.S. decided that yeah, actually, they did want to do the imperial thing, Aguinaldo and Dewey (and therefore the Philippines and the U.S.) became enemies, starting a whole new imperial war.

Dewey was ultimately just following orders, but this whole situation characterized the entire imperial relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines—a kind of flip-floppy, I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine, I'll-stab-your-back-if-you-stab-mine sort of deal.

It's almost as harsh as the Game of Thrones. Almost.

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