Open Access
Vickery, Ian Claggett
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Daniel L Letwin, Thesis Supervisor
  • Catherine Wanner, Honors Advisor
  • Matthew Robert Isham, Faculty Reader
  • Spanish American War
  • Debate
  • Philippines
The end of the 20th century saw dramatic change throughout the globe. As Europe and the West enjoyed an explosion in technological innovation spurred by the second Industrial Revolution, intense rivalry for economic, political, and militaristic power fueled the countries of the continent to use their advances to exploit lands less fortunate across the globe. In their pursuit of raw natural resources to power their expansive empires, the Europeans carved up large chunks of the globes, and subjugated the native inhabitants to work for “King and Country.” The United States, having successfully healed from its destructive civil war barely 40 years prior, teetered on the edge of jumping into this great scramble for colonies. However, holding it back was a great debate on the nature of its identity. The U.S had always been the great experiment of liberal democracy. It prided itself on the fact that its people were all equal under the law and its government was one of the people, for the people, and by the people. To subjugate another would have violated its doctrine of liberty and justice for all, and it would have been hypocrisy to preach this ideal within its borders, then do the opposite abroad. But, the nation had always been an expansionist nation. Under the banner of Manifest destiny, Americans rolled their covered wagons all the way to the Pacific Ocean from the east, claiming anything their wheels crossed over as their own. Then, in 1898, America launched itself into a war with Spain, quickly defeating the dying Imperial power. From Spain, the U.S received a variety of new territory; the most controversial of it being the Philippine Islands. A debate quickly ensued on what should be done with the newly acquired land. The debate surrounding the Philippine question on the surface appears to be just a dispute over the proper proceedings of what to do with the seized territory. However, in actuality, it was much more than that. The debate was used as the battleground in which the different visions of America’s future held by its citizens squared off. Instead of a black and white argument - to fully occupy the islands or to leave them in peace- the dispute centered in a world of grey. Every opinion on the situation was backed by an American ideal. For acquisition, against acquisition, for expansionism, against expansionism - every person within the debate felt like the rational for their belief was fully justified by a value that all citizens of the United States held dear. Each one looked to the Philippines as a crucial cog that would determine the future of that value in the United States for the century to come. From political, to economical, to religious and moral, to the United States position as a world power, the Philippines became the issue that Americans used to air their opinions on the past, present, and future of the nation.