Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Maury Klein


This thesis critically examines the traditional historical interpretation of the events leading to American annexation of the Philippine Islands, the acquisition itself, and the debate which followed the Spanish-American War concerning the fate of the Philippines. The major topics of investigation comprise the extent of American economic interest in the Pacific area prior to the war, the writings and activities of American officials and business leaders, both in the Pacific and in the United States, the way in which the United States actually came to possess the islands, the basic beliefs of anti-imperialists concerning foreign policy, and the debate which followed the signing of the treaty of peace in Paris.

Several methods were used to conduct the investigation into the above topics. Leading business journals and periodicals and government statistical bulletins were researched to determine the amount and extent of American foreign trade and investment, especially in the Pacific area. Primary sources, such as articles in periodicals, autobiographies, newspapers and letters, were researched to determine the beliefs and activities of American leaders, political, economic, and social. This method as well as an extensive reading of secondary sources was also employed in the investigation of the anti-imperialists, their beliefs and activities. Secondary sources as well as official government documents and some primary material were read to aid in the reconstruction of the manner by which the United States came to actually physically possess the Philippine Islands. The debated which occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Paris was studied through examining the official record of debate in the Congress in the Congressional Record. The debate was also carried on in the public press and contemporary periodicals were researched extensively to better understand the feelings of the imperialists and anti-imperialists.

The inquiry resulted in the disclosure of several serious failings of the traditional interpretation of American foreign policy during this period. The United States did have extensive economic interests in the Pacific prior to the Spanish-American War and was second only to Great Britain in the amount of trade with the Philippines. Here important, most American officials viewed the economic potential pf the area as unlimited. Various public figures were aware of the Philippines and some actually called for American acquisition before the war. Most important, the anti-imperialists were expansionist as the imperialists. The debate which followed, then, was one of methods not of basic policy.

In all areas examined, therefore, the traditional interpretation was found inadequate. This thesis presents a new interpretation of the subject which is more valid and makes a unified whole of American foreign policy.



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