Roosevelt's Contemporaries: Emilio Aguinaldo

Oct 21, 2013

Emilio Aguinaldo, born March 23, 1869, was raised in Kawit, Cavite Province, on the island of Luzon, Philippines. He held several civic positions in Kawit, including the leadership of a small militia unit that operated against bandits. At some point in the 1890s, Aguinaldo joined the Katipunan, a Filipino revolutionary society that sought independence from Spain. The secret organization’s activities were discovered in the summer of 1896 and Filipinos responded to the Spanish crackdown with armed resistance. Aguinaldo rapidly assumed a prominent position in the revolution and led the Cavite rebels. The multifaceted Filipino coalition was unstable and at a March 1897 conference Aguinaldo was elected president of a Filipino republic. Controversially, the previous leader, Andres Bonifacio, was arrested and killed by Aguinaldo’s supporters.

With the Filipinos internally divided, a Spanish counteroffensive scattered the rebels and forced Aguinaldo into the mountains to engage in guerilla warfare. Facing a protracted conflict and a potential war against the United States over Cuba, Spain signed a truce with Aguinaldo that essentially exchanged peace for a cash payment and Aguinaldo leaving the islands. However, Aguinaldo claimed that he secured a promise of amnesty and reforms from Spanish authorities. Briefly based out of Hong Kong, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War and later claimed that he had been given assurances from American authorities, including Admiral Dewey, that the United States would recognize Filipino independence. Aguinaldo worked to reassert his authority on the islands and declared the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898. After the capture of Manila by American forces, it became increasingly clear that Filipino independence was not on the American agenda. Months of tension and minor incidents followed as the two sides faced off on the outskirts of Manila. Hostilities erupted on the night of February 4, 1899, and, although conspiracy theories abounded on both sides regarding the start of the Philippine-American War, the final break in relations was likely the result of a small skirmish escalating due to poor leadership.

Through peace to happiness

"Through peace to happiness", September 20, 1899. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

The Philippine-American War was a complex, three year struggle of guerrilla warfare. Aguinaldo, constantly on the run from American forces, exercised negligible control of the forces he claimed to lead. The conflict was decentralized; with American forces facing off against autonomous, regional resistance movements. Isolated at a remote base in Palanan, Aguinaldo’s limited role in the war came to an end on March 23, 1901, when he was captured by a small force of Americans, who were pretending to be prisoners, and their Filipino allies, disguised as reinforcements for Aguinaldo. He quickly swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and issued a peace proclamation. At the time of Aguinaldo’s capture, Filipino resistance was already crumbling throughout most of the archipelago, although the last Filipino general didn’t surrender until late 1903. The war officially ended with the passage of the Philippine Organic Act on July 1, 1902, and President Roosevelt offered a pardon to anyone who engaged in the conflict on July 4.

Aguinaldo returned to private life and peacefully advocated for Filipino independence. He lost the 1935 election for president of the Philippine Commonwealth and remained in the Philippines after Japan occupied the islands in 1941. Aguinaldo cooperated with the Japanese and was subsequently arrested as a collaborator when the islands were retaken. He was freed in a general amnesty. The Republic of the Philippines achieved independence from the United States in 1946 and Aguinaldo served a term on the Council of State, an advisory body to the president of the Philippines, starting in 1950. He spent his final years advocating for veterans of the revolution and helping to dispense pensions. Emilio Aguinaldo passed away on February 6, 1964; sixty-five years after declaring the independence of the Philippines.


“Emilio Aguinaldo.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Print.

Linn, Brian M. A. The Philippine War, 1899-1902. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. Print.

Posted by Grant Carlson on Oct 21, 2013 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

Add A Comment

Required Fields