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Admiral George Dewey’s Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Philippines



     The Chairman.1 Admiral, the committee has asked you to be kind enough to come here because they were desirous, and have been for some time desirous, of hearing from you in regard to the early operations at Manila in which you were chiefly concerned, and especially as to our relations with the Filipinos in those days, in the beginning. The committee would be very glad to have you make any statement you care to make in your own way.

     Admiral Dewey. I think it would be more satisfactory if the committee would ask me exactly what questions they like, because it would be a rather long narrative, which I have already reported upon—that is, the early operations.

     The Chairman. When did you first hear from Aguinaldo2 and his friends?

Admiral Dewey. I should think about a month before leaving Hongkong; that is, about the 1st of April, when it became pretty certain that there was to be war with Spain, I heard that there were a number of Filipinos in the city of Hongkong who were anxious to accompany the squadron to Manila in case we went over. I saw these men two or three times myself. They seemed to be all very young, earnest boys. I did not attach much importance to what they said or to themselves. Finally, the day before we left MirsBay for Hongkong I received a telegram from Consul-General Pratt3 at Singapore saying that Aguinaldo was there and was very anxious to see me. I said to him, “All right; tell him to come on;” but I attached so little importance to Aguinaldo that I did not wait for him. He did not arrive, and we sailed from MirsBay without any of the Filipinos, although I told these young men they could go if they wanted to. They did not go. I had been led to believe that there were a large number of Filipinos under arms in and about Manila, and our consul, Williams,4 had said: “At your first gun there will be 30,000 Filipinos rise.” I joked him a good deal about it afterwards. I said: “Why don’t they rise? I don’t see anybody rising.” As a matter of fact there was not a Filipino under arms the day I reached Manila.

I would like to say here that the governor-general of Manila5 virtually surrendered to me on the 1st day of May. During the engagement between the two squadrons they fired a number of rifle guns from batteries in front of the city at my squadron, and as soon as the Spaniards were sunk I took the squadron in front of the city and sent word to the governor-general that if he fired another shot at my ships I would destroy the town. He replied in writing that he would not fire if I did not. I anchored my ships in front of the city within easy range. and lay there twenty-four hours. That is not generally known. The city of Manila virtually surrendered to my squadron the 1st of May. If we had had 5,000 troops to have occupied the city that day we would have had no war; it would have been the end of it. I lay there twenty-four hours and then withdrew back to Cavite. I was afraid that some one might fire and I would have to keep my word. Then by the first steamer I sent over I received a letter from Consul-General Wildman6 at Hongkong saying that Aguinaldo was there, and a number of others, and they were very anxious to come over. So the next trip of the McCulloch, my steamer (there was no other communication with Hongkong except my vessel), I told the officer that went over that he might bring over about a dozen, still having no faith in them.

Senator Burrows.7 Would it trouble you to explain a little more clearly that the governor-general virtually surrendered to you. What did that surrender consist of?

 Admiral Dewey. He said, “I won’t fire if you don’t;” and I anchored my ships under his guns, within easy range, within less than 2,000 yards, and lay there twenty-four hours. Don’t you see that that was virtually surrendering? He did not haul down the Spanish flag, and I may say that he sent word to me several times afterwards that he wanted to surrender to me; he wanted to surrender to the navy. I would not entertain any messages until enough troops came to occupy the city.

Senator Burrows. Pardon me interrupting you. You may go on, if you please.

Admiral Dewey. I told this officer he could bring about a dozen on the McCulloch, and the McCulloch came back with Aguinaldo and about a dozen young men. Aguinaldo came to see me. I said, “Well, now, go ashore there, we have got our force at the arsenal at Cavite, go ashore and start your army.” He came back in the course of a few hours and said “I want to leave here; I want to go to Japan.” I said “Don’t give it up, Don Emilio.” I wanted his help, you know. I said, “Don’t give it up.” He did not sleep ashore that night; he slept on board the ship. The next morning he went on shore, still inside my lines, and began recruiting men, and after a few days I went ashore to see him and said to him, “You had better go outside my lines. There is our enemy up there at Manila, and it would be better for you and better for me if we work independently; you go your way and I will go mine.” He then went into the town of Cavite and began recruiting troops. We found in the arsenal 75 or 100 rifles which I had no use for. I gave him those. I told him also he could take any of the cannon at the arsenal. I gave him a lot of Mauser ammunition that we captured. We had a common enemy, and of course I wanted his help. Then when I heard our troops were coming I asked him to withdraw his troops from Cavite to make room for our men. He demurred at this, but finally withdrew and established headquarters across the bay at a place called Bacoor, from which place on the 15th of July he sent me a proclamation declaring the independence of the Philippines.

 The Chairman. Was that the first?

Admiral Dewey. That was the first intimation; the first I had ever heard of independence of the Philippines.8

The Chairman. He had said something to you———

Admiral Dewey. Not a word. He had done what I told him. He was most obedient; whatever I told him to do he did. I attached so little importance to this proclamation that I did not even cable its contents to Washington, but forwarded it through the mails. I never dreamed that they wanted independence. Then he began operations toward Manila, and he did wonderfully well. He whipped the Spaniards battle after battle, and finally put one of those old smooth-bore guns on a barge, and he wanted to take this up——wanted me to tow it up so he could attack the city with it. I said, “Oh, no, no; we can do nothing until our troops come.” I knew he could not take the city without the assistance of the navy, without my assistance, and I knew that what he was doing——driving the Spaniards in——was saving our own troops, because our own men perhaps would have had to do that same thing. He and I were always on the most friendly terms; we had never had any differences. He considered me as his liberator, as his friend. I think he had the highest admiration for us because we had whipped the Spaniards who had been riding them down for three hundred years.

The Chairman. Did you at any time, Admiral, recognize his government or his independence?

Admiral Dewey. Oh, never. I have seen it stated in print that I saluted his flag. Of course, I never saluted it. The German admiral9 came to me and said, “These Filipino tugs that are running about here have hoisted the Filipino flag; are you going to permit it?” I said, “It is not a flag; they have no government; no government has recognized them; they have a little bit of bunting that anybody could hoist.” I said, “That is not a Filipino flag.” Well, that was the end of that. We know that any yacht, any vessel, any steamer, can hoist a bit of bunting, and they called this a Filipino flag, but I did not.

The Chairman. You, of course, never saluted the flag?

Admiral Dewey. Certainly not; and I do not think I ever called Aguinaldo anything but Don Emilio; I don’t think I ever called him “general.”

The Chairman. And when he came on board ship was he received with any special honors at the side?

Admiral Dewey. Never.

The Chairman. You remember the question of your recognizing his republic was a good deal discussed and you wrote me a letter, which I read in the Senate. Of course, I am only asking now about what you said in the letter. There was no recognition of the republic?

Admiral Dewey. Never. I did not think I had any authority to do it and it never occurred to me to do it. There was a sort of a reign of terror; there was no government. These people had got power for the first time in their lives and they were riding roughshod over the community. The acts of cruelty which were brought to my notice were hardly credible. I sent word to Aguinaldo that he must treat his prisoners kindly, and he said he would.

The Chairman. What, in your opinion, Admiral, would have been the effect of having allowed them to enter Manila when our troops did? They were not allowed to?

Admiral Dewey. That would be only an opinion. As you know, soldiers are generally given to looting.

The Chairman. However, they were not permitted to enter the city?

Admiral Dewey. No; they were not permitted by General Merritt10 and our troops; they were not permitted to enter. The Spanish authorities were very fearful about that. They surrendered the city to me. It was all arranged and we need not have lost a man there. The governor-general arranged with me that I was to go up and fire a few shots and then I was to make the signal, “Do you surrender?” and he would hoist the white flag and then the troops would march in; but he was fearful that the Filipinos would get in.

Senator Burrows. Who was that arrangement with?

Admiral Dewey. The governor-general who commanded. I said, “If you are going to surrender, why must I fire any shots?” He said his honor demanded that. So I had to fire, to kill a few people.

Senator Burrows. To preserve his honor?

Admiral Dewey. Yes. I said to his messenger, “Now make him understand that he must keep his word, because if he fires one shot down goes that city.” They did not fire a shot; although they had probably 15,000 troops in the city and 47 rifled guns on the city front, they did not fire a shot at my squadron. I am glad for an opportunity to say this because it has not been printed before. That is a part of history which I was reserving to write myself.

The Chairman. Could the Filipino forces under Aguinaldo have taken Manila without your assistance? How large a force did he have?

Admiral Dewey. We never could tell exactly, they exaggerated so; but I suspect he had at that time 25,000 men. He had a large force.

Senator Burrows. Armed?

Admiral Dewey. That I don’t know. I did not, of course, see them. They were stretched right around the city, the back part of it, and I did not see them. The Army officers would know better about that. Some were armed. They were getting arms; they captured a great many arms from the Spanish troops. In every battle they captured arms.

The Chairman. And there were 15,000 Spanish troops in Manila?

Admiral Dewey. Yes, probably that number.

The Chairman. Would they have fought if the Filipinos had tried to come in alone; would those 15,000 Spanish troops have fought them?

Admiral Dewey. They were pretty badly demoralized. You see, the navy controlled the situation there; we had cut off their supplies. Communication in the Philippines is principally by water, and we commanded that, controlling the situation, and they had gotten nothing in. They surrendered on August 13, and they had not gotten a thing in after the 1st of May. They were short of provisions and supplies of all kinds and were pretty well demoralized. They wanted to surrender, and were very anxious to surrender to the navy.

Senator Burrows. The Spaniards?

Admiral Dewey. Yes. . .

Source Note Print: Transcript, DLC-MSS, Senate Document 331, 57th Congress, 1st Session, 2926-2930. Dewey’s testimony above was delivered on 26 June 1902.

Footnote 1: Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.

Footnote 2: United States Consul at Singapore E. Spencer Pratt.

Footnote 3: Filipino insurgent leader Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy.

Footnote 4: United States Consul at Manila Oscar F. Williams.

Footnote 5: Governor General Basilio Augustín y Dávila.

Footnote 6: United States Consul at Hong Kong Rounsevelle Wildman.

Footnote 7: Sen. Julius Caesar Burrows of Michigan.

Footnote 8: Aguinaldo claimed that the American Consul in Singapore, E. Spencer Pratt, offered independence for the Philippines under an American protectorate if the Filipino insurgents assisted the American war effort. Aguinaldo’s claims were supported by Howard W. Bray, a friend of the independence movement, and the interpreter during the meetings between Aguinaldo and Pratt at Singapore. In his testimony, Pratt stated he never promised anything to Aguinaldo. Pratt said he suggested the possibility of a loose alliance between the United States and insurgents, but made clear that he was in no position to negotiate recognition of an independent Philippines. Trask, War with Spain, 399-400.   

Footnote 9: Vice Adm. Ernst Otto von Diederichs.

Footnote 10: Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt.

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