After its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States for $20 million with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. On 4 February 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who sought independence for the Philippines rather than colonial rule. The ensuing Philippine Insurrection or Philippine-American War lasted about three years. The conflict took the lives of more than 4,200 U.S. service members and about 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, or disease as well. The conflict was brutal on both sides. U.S. forces at times burned villages, implemented civilian reconcentration policies, and tortured suspected guerrillas, while Filipino fighters also tortured captured American service members and terrorized civilians who cooperated with American forces.
The decision to annex the Philippines was not without controversy. Americans who advocated for the annexation had several motivations: commercial opportunities in Asia, concern that Filipinos were incapable of self rule, and fear that other countries (Japan, Germany) would take over the archipelago. Opposition to U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines came in many forms, ranging from the position that colonial rule was morally wrong to apprehensions that Filipinos would have a role in American domestic politics. Some just simply opposed any policies of President William McKinley’s administration. While the United States debated the annexation of the Philippines, Filipino revolutionaries under Aquinaldo seized control of most of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and proclaimed the establishment of the independent Philippine Republic. When it became clear that the United States was intent on colonial rule of the Philippines, widespread fighting broke out. Americans referred to the conflict as an insurrection while the Filipinos contended they were fighting off a foreign invader and perceived it as a war.
There were two phases to the conflict. The first (February–November 1899) was dominated by Aguinaldo’s failed attempts to fight a conventional war against a better equipped and trained U.S. military. In addition to a vastly superior land force, the U.S. Navy had control of all of the archipelago’s waterways, essentially trapping Filipino fighters and negating outside help from other countries. The second phase of the conflict was marked by the Filipinos’ shift to guerrilla-style warfare. It began in November 1899 and lasted through the capture of Aquinaldo in 1901. By the spring of 1902, most of the Filipino resistance had dissipated. On 4 July 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the conflict was over, although there were still sporadic minor uprisings.
In 1907, in the aftermath of the conflict, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, and in 1916, as part of the 64th Congress’ Jones Act, promised the nation eventual independence. The archipelago eventually became autonomous in 1935. In 1946, after World War II, the United States granted the Philippines independence.