American-Philippine Relations: A Guide to the Resources in the Michigan Historical Collections

Balita mula Maynila (News from Manila)


By Thomas Powers


In 1874, nearly twenty-five years before the United States acquired the Philippine Islands, Joseph B. Steere, a zoology professor at The University of Michigan, stopped at the Islands while touring remote corners of the globe for the University Museum. The Islands fascinated Steere and he returned for further explorations in 1887 accompanied by several zoology students from the University. Among the members of this party was Dean Conant Worcester. Three years later, Worcester headed his own party to the Philippines under the auspices of the Minnesota Academy of Natural Science. From 1890 to 1893, he studied and traveled throughout the Islands and acquired a thorough knowledge of Philippine affairs. These three scientific voyages to the Philippines mark the beginning of an extraordinary relationship between the people of Michigan and The University of Michigan and the Islands which continues to this day.

Joseph Beal Steere with his party of University of Michigan students, 1887

Joseph Beal Steere (center) with his party of University of
Michigan students, 1887 trip to the Philippines, from his papers

Few Americans, in the weeks immediately preceding the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, knew of the exploratory work done by Steere and Worcester. For these citizens, only the heroics of Admiral Dewey entering Manila Harbor put the Philippines on the map. Once under control, however, the Philippines became a leading topic of conversation for all Americans. The successful conclusion of the "splendid little war" sparked a major debate on whether the Philippines should become a permanent American colony. Proponents of expansionism, including Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Alfred T. Mahan, relished the idea of a colonial empire in the Pacific. Advancing strategic, political, economic, and moral arguments, the American imperialists reasoned that the United States had a moral duty to govern the Philippines and elevate her people to "civilized" democratic standards. Ralph W. Taylor, an American teacher in the Philippines, made use of this argument when he wrote: "The Filipinos could not govern themselves now, but as soon as they show themselves fit to assume more control it should be allowed them. I think they should be governed as nearly as possible with the freedom of the English colonies if and when they show their capacity for governing."

Opposing the imperialists was an impressive array of anti-colonial spokesmen, including Grover Cleveland, William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain. The anti-imperialists challenged the assumptions upon which expansionists like Taylor had based their arguments. They insisted that an American controlled government in the Philippines, a foreign land far off in the Pacific, violated both the tradition of government by the consent of the governed and the intent of the Declaration of Independence.

On February 6, 1899, the Senate of the United States decided in favor of the imperialists. With the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, the Philippine Islands officially passed into American control. In lofty tones, President McKinley spoke of the new colony. "The Philippines are ours," he stated, "not to exploit, but to develop, to civilize, to educate, to train in the science of self-government .

For this purpose, the President solicited the support of experienced teachers and administrators to serve as his political missionaries in the Philippines. Drawing from the nation's colleges and universities, the President and his advisers selected men who seemed intent on serving the "best interests" of the Philippine people by awakening them to American institutions and preparing them for eventual self-government.

Dean C. Worcester stood high on the President's list of Philippine experts. Recognizing Worcester's special knowledge of Philippine affairs, McKinley selected the Michigan zoologist to be a member of the First Philippine Commission in 1899. With this step, the relationship between Michigan and the Islands took on wider political implications, going far beyond its original scientific orientation. Worcester remained in the Philippines for more than fourteen years, being reappointed to the Second Philippine Commission and serving as Secretary of the Interior of the Philippine Insular Government and as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Dean C. Worcester, Banaue region, Philippines, 1909

Dean C. Worcester conferring with
Ifuagos, Banaue region, Philippines,
1909, from Owen A. Tomlinson papers

Worcester's reasons for coming to the Islands were primarily scientific and political. Michigan men also played major military roles in the archipelago. When Emilio Aguinaldo and his followers realized that the United States meant to retain the Philippines, they revolted against this rule hoping to obtain their immediate independence. The United States countered by deploying a large military contingent to suppress the "insurrection." Harry Bandholtz of Constantine, Michigan, and Frank Burton of Bay City both served in the forces which captured Aguinaldo and which eventually prevailed over the Filipino guerilla army. While Burton returned to Michigan shortly thereafter, Bandholtz remained in the Philippines and eventually became the head of the Philippine Constabulary, the chief peacekeeping force in the Islands.

Teaching was another category of service for Michigan men. In a letter to University of Michigan president James B. Angell, Dean C. Worcester wrote: "We need especially at the present time good primary and secondary schoolteachers, and we shall soon need strong and energetic, and above all, honest, young men for positions which will pay better than similar positions pay at home and will give opportunity for advancement should it be merited." Many young university graduates, in this day before the Peace Corps, including Ralph W. Taylor of Albion, Michigan, and George Carrothers, later to be professor at The University of Michigan, found the pay and the chance to teach and travel in this exotic corner of the Pacific Ocean irresistible.

Joseph Ralston Hayden, professor of political science at The University of Michigan, was an exchange professor at the University of the Philippines during 1922-1923. Teaching, however, was but one of Hayden's interests in the Philippines. He accompanied Colonel Carmi A. Thompson on his 1926 survey of economic and internal conditions in the islands for President Calvin Coolidge. Four years later, he again taught at the University of the Philippines while also serving as correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. In 1933 President Roosevelt appointed this scholarly student of Philippine affairs to be Vice Governor-General of the Islands, a position which he filled with distinction until the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. During the Second World War, Hayden capped his Philippine career with service in the Office of Strategic Services and as adviser on the Philippines to General Douglas MacArthur.

To other Michigan men, the attraction of the Philippines was the administration of its legal system. In 1903, E. Finley Johnson, professor of law at The University of Michigan, began serving on the Philippine Supreme Court. He was joined in 1917 by George Arthur Malcolm of Concord, Michigan, and a graduate of the Michigan Law School.

Frank Murphy, 1933

Frank Murphy, Macabebe, Philippines,
1933, from his papers

Perhaps the most colorful of Michigan's representatives to serve in the Philippines was Frank Murphy. Murphy served both as Governor-General and later as High Commissioner in the critical years of 1933-1936. The Murphy appointment had shocked many experienced Philippine observers, including Joseph R. Hayden. In their estimation Murphy was not equipped to handle the sensitive Philippine post. In the years that followed Murphy mollified even his harshest critics. The Governor-General, his brother George Murphy, his sister Marguerite Teahan, and his aides, Norman Hill and Edward Kemp, played key roles in the crisis over independence. Murphy eased the transition to commonwealth status which was to precede complete political autonomy. In 1935 he became the first High Commissioner of the Philippines and held this position until the lure of Democratic politics brought him back to the United States in 1936.

For a brief time following Murphy's return, Michigan had relatively few major leaders in the Philippines. This changed with the outbreak of the Second World War. Michigan men served as part of the military forces which resisted the Japanese at Bataan and Corregidor and which later triumphed at the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. American forces invaded Luzon and occupied the capital city of Manila in February of 1945.

On July 4, 1946, after nearly a half-century of colonial rule, the United States and the Philippine Islands severed the political bonds which united them. Now an independent nation, the Philippines maintained its close relationship with The University of Michigan and the people of the state. Two Michigan men have served as U.S. Ambassador to the Islands. Former U.S. Senator Homer Ferguson served in that position during 1955-1956 in the Eisenhower Administration; and most recently, Michigan's six-term governor G. Mennen Williams filled the Ambassador's post during the last year of the Johnson Administration.

The history of American involvement in the Philippines would not be complete without an understanding of the role played by Michiganians in the modern development of the Islands. For nearly a century now, beginning with Steere's first voyage to the Islands in 1874 and continuing with Governor Williams' tenure as U.S. Ambassador, many of Michigan's most distinguished citizens have served in the Philippines. The papers of these Michiganians now represent an important key to understanding America's colonial experiment. They also contain an enormous quantity of information relating to internal Philippine affairs. Because of the contribution of individual Michiganians, the libraries of The University of Michigan, particularly the Michigan Historical Collections, have become the repository for a great deal of Philippine manuscript material. In recent years, this collection has grown noticeably both in size and importance. Of special significance was the acquisition of the microfilmed papers of Manuel Quezon, first President of the Philippine Commonwealth, and the addition of new material into the previously established collections of Frank Murphy, Joseph R. Hayden, and G. Mennen Williams. The purpose of this descriptive bibliography is to bring these manuscript collections to the attention of the Philippine scholar.