Spanish Americna War (detail from print of U.S.S. Maine exploding)

Defeating Spain in the Philippines

The opening battle of the Spanish American War took place in the Philippines. As soon as the United States declared war, Commodore George Dewey led his Asiatic squadron from Hong Kong to the Philippines. With the words, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley,” Commodore Dewey ordered Captain Charles V. Gridley to fire on the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. On May 1, 1898, Dewey decisively defeated the Spanish squadron in Manila Bay, sinking or capturing every Spanish ship with no loss of American life. It was dramatic evidence that the United States was now a major naval power.

Celebrating Dewey

Following his victory at Manila Bay, Commodore George Dewey became an overnight sensation in the United States. His picture appeared everywhere, and young people, like those seen here, honored and emulated him.

Becoming an International Power

The United States relied greatly on assistance from Filipino revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who already controlled much of the countryside and had proclaimed a Philippine republic. American troops did not arrive in large numbers until July. They negotiated Spain’s surrender of Manila in August, as the war ended. But, instead of liberating the Philippines from Spanish domination, the United States chose to annex the islands and begin building an American empire.

A Filipino-American War

Many Americans strongly opposed this new trend of imperialism, as did the Philippine revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo. He turned from fighting Spain to resisting American domination. Defeating Aguinaldo’s guerillas took longer than defeating the Spanish. The United States combined tactics of pacification and social improvement with brutal military strikes. Aguinaldo was captured in 1901, and then in 1902 President Roosevelt officially declared an end to the conflict. However a Filipino-American War continued on until 1915. In years to come, Americans remained divided over the nation’s actions and imperial ambitions.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick

Theodore Roosevelt became the twenty-sixth president after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt strongly supported American expansionism, and increased the size of the military to implement it. His policy was epitomized in the phrase, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Following the fall of Cuba, the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, and Wake Island became American territories.

Captain Charles V. Gridley
Battle of Manila Bay, off Cavite
Newspaper headline celebrating Dewey’s victory
Map of U.S. possessions
Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine independence movement, 1899
Dead Filipino insurgents, 1899
Signing of the Peace Protocol Between Spain and the United States, August 12, 1898, by Theobald Chartran. President McKinley is standing to the left
Philippine nationalists
Theodore Roosevelt and his Big Stick in the Caribbean, 1904 by William Allen Rogers

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