How is it that in the months between the summer of 1898 and the spring of 1899 Americans came to view Filipinos with such visceral hatred? The essential causes of the Philippine-American War can be found in the U.S. government's quest for an overseas empire and the desire of the Filipino people for freedom. In other words, this war was a conflict between the forces of imperialism and nationalism. After centuries as a Spanish colony, a revolution led in part by Emilio Aguinaldo broke out in 1896 in the Philippines. After fighting a savage guerilla war for two and a half years, the Filipinos suddenly found themselves in a seemingly advantageous position as allies of the United States. In 1898, Spain fought a losing war with the United States in which her colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam were overrun with relative ease by the U.S. Army and her Atlantic Fleet devastated outside of Santiago, Cuba. Similarly, Spain's Pacific Fleet was wiped out in the Battle of Manila Bay, and American troops landed on the outskirts of the capitol city. The Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War on December 10, 1898. Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, Cuba was granted its independence. In return, the US paid Spain the sum of $20 million for the Philippines. Following the surrender of the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines to American military forces, tensions developed between U.S. and Filipino forces near Manila.
Then on December 21, 1898, President McKinley issued the BENEVOLENT ASSIMILATION PROCLAMATION, announced in the Philippines on Jan. 4, 1899, which stated the U.S.' altruistic mission in acquiring the Philippines (pg. 258 Reader, Guerrero and Schumacher, The Filipino-American War). The American government decided to keep the Philippines as a colony, thereby denying independence to the Filipino people. The US refuses to recognize Filipinos claims of sovereignty. Aguinaldo and his army of nearly 80,000 veteran troops realized that their "allies" in the Spanish War would soon become foes. As early 1899, U.S. and Filipino forces faced off as a tense situation became worse. American forces held the capitol of Manila, while Aguinaldo's army occupied a trench-line surrounding the city. On the evening of February 4, 1899, Private William Grayson of the Nebraska Volunteers fired the first shot in what would turn out to be a very bloody war. Grayson shot at a group of Filipinos approaching his position, provoking an armed response. Shooting soon spread up and down the ten-mile U.S.-Filipino lines, causing hundreds of casualties. Upon the outbreak of hostilities, U.S. troops, supported by shelling from Admiral Dewey's fleet, quickly overwhelmed the Filipino positions while inflicting thousands of casualties. Within days, American forces spread outward from Manila, using superior firepower, mobile artillery and command of the sea to full effect (Nov. 4, 2010 lecture notes). From the American perspective, one must consider the fear and uncertainty they experienced fighting in an unknown land. In an overwhelmingly complex war and cultural environment, a few simple notions about the world provided them some sense of certainty and security. The refusal of recognizing the legitimacy of the Malolos Republic and Revolution, the victory over Spain and Treaty of Paris established the US’ rights to rule the Philippines. They, like other late nineteenth-century white Americans, found their mandate to conquer in an ideology of racial and cultural superiority. They saw themselves as soldiers fighting to spread civilization against those who opposed it. In addition, the ideology of white supremacy and Anglo-Saxon superiority entitled US to empire (pg. 335 Reader). So strong was their need to justify this struggle in racial terms, they were able to assign and reassign racial identities to their enemies in order to justify the needs of the moment. When the Filipinos were allies or bystanders,