Benevolent assimilation

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The term benevolent assimilation refers to a policy of the United States towards the Philippines as described in a proclamation by U.S. President William McKinley issued on December 21, 1898. It succinctly stated that "future control, disposition, and government of the Philippine islands were ceded to the United States" and that "the military government is to be to the whole of the ceded territory."[1] The proclamation was issued after Spain was defeated in the Spanish–American War but before fighting began in the Philippine–American War. Prior to the proclamation, the United States had defeated Spain during the naval Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Subsequently, on June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent and established a revolutionary government whose the Filipino revolutionary armed forces surrounded Manila and the occupying American Army. This created a stand-off between opposing armies that would erupt in fighting in early 1899.

The proclamation reads in part:

Finally, it should be the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.[1]

The proclamation was sent to General Elwell Otis, U.S. military commander and Governor-General in the Philippines. Otis sent Emilio Aguinaldo a version of the proclamation that he had bowdlerized by removing mention of U.S. sovereignty "to stress our benevolent purpose" and not "offend Filipino sensibilities", by substituting "free people" for "supremacy of the United States," and deleting "to exercise future domination."[2][3][4] General Otis had also sent an unaltered copy of the proclamation to General Marcus Miller in Iloilo City who, unaware that an altered version had been sent to Aguinaldo, passed a copy to a Filipino official there. The unaltered version eventually made its way to Aguinaldo.

Otis later explained,

After fully considering the President's proclamation, and the temper of the Taglos, with whom I was daily discussing political problems and the friendly intentions of the U.S.A. Government toward them, I concluded that there were certain words and expressions therein such as "sovereignty," "right of cessation" and those which directed immediate occupation and so forth, which though most admirably employed and tersely expressive of actual conditions, might be advantageously used by the Tagalog. The ignorant classes had been taught to believe that certain words such as "sovereignty," "protection," and so forth had peculiar meanings disastrous to their welfare and significant of future political domination, like that from which they had been recently freed.[5]


  1. ^ a b McKinley's Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation
  2. ^ The text of the amended version published by General Otis is quoted in its entirety in José Roca de Togores y Saravia; Remigio Garcia; National Historical Institute (Philippines) (2003), Blockade and siege of Manila, National Historical Institute, pp. 148–150, ISBN 978-971-538-167-3; See also s:Letter from E.S. Otis to the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands, January 4, 1899.
  3. ^ "McKinley's Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation".
  4. ^ Arnaldo Dumindin. "Dec. 21, 1898: Mckinley issues "Benevolent Assimilation" Proclamation". Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. MGen. Elwell S. Otis proclaims American protection over the Philippines. Typo error in this original press release submitted to Manila newspapers by the US army: the date "January 4, 1898" should have read "January 4, 1899.".
  5. ^ Miller, Stuart Creighton (1982), Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (4th edition, reprint ed.), Yale University Press, p. 52, ISBN 978-0-300-03081-5

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