Study Guide

Emilio Aguinaldo in Imperialism

By William Jennings Bryan

Emilio Aguinaldo

Talking 'Bout A Revolution

Imperialists found Emilio Aguinaldo super irritating. He actually believed that the Philippines should be ruled by Filipinos. And that every person living in the Philippines had the right to participate in their own form of government and to create a nation-state that adhered to their own rules and customs.

Just who did he think he was?

We ask that last question with about two heaping cups of added sarcasm, but the Philippine islands did always seem to be at the nasty end of the empire stick. A lot of (horrible) people thought Aguinaldo was asking way too much.

Growing up, Aguinaldo had no idea what it was like to live in a free country. Spain had dominated the island nation since the 16th century. Can you image what it would have been like to live in a country ruled by a military power that came from thousands of miles away? They didn't even have the decency to call the territory the Philippines, either. It was called the Spanish East Indies.

And before Spain, the Chinese had almost complete control of the islands.

So you can't really blame Aguinaldo for having so much hatred for imperialism that smoke was basically billowing from his ears.

Either way, Spain was the controlling force…until Aguinaldo acted like a total boss when he got troops together to fight the Spanish. A full-blown war for independence broke out and, by a stroke of luck, the Spanish kept poking and prodding the U.S. until they finally snapped and joined the struggle too.

Spain was weak and on its way out anyways, so the war ended pretty quickly. But the U.S. just didn't take the hint to pack up their stuff to head home. Instead the question for the U.S. became, essentially, "Why don't we just take over for Spain? It would be so easy to just pick up their empire where they left off. Because, you know, having an empire is as easy as pie."

(Mmm. Pie.)

Empire Strikes Back

William Jennings Bryan had an opinion on the matter and expressed it in his "Imperialism" speech. Empire won in the end and the U.S. decided to give being the menacing overlord a try.

Unfortunately for the U.S., Filipino revolutionaries like Aguinaldo had heard of a thing called the "Declaration of Independence" and something known as the "American Revolution." In other words, they were willing to start another revolution for freedom. Aguinaldo wanted to create a new and free republic with himself as the president. But they had to get rid of those pesky Americans first.

The Philippine-Spanish War quickly turned into the Philippine-American War. Aguinaldo led the Filipino troops until his capture in March 1901. The war itself ended about one year later.

The Filipinos lost.

Aguinaldo would eventually be released from prison, but he had fought too hard for too long. He basically left the public life even though he always believed in the independence of the Philippines.

The U.S. controlled the island nation as an imperial power until 1946 when they decided to grant the Philippines independence. Finally, the U.S. decided they were done playing that game.