U.S. colonisation of the Philippines
: interests, ideas and institutions and the politics of economic and political liberalisation (1898-1916)

  • Paolo Lim

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The Philippines was a former Spanish possession acquired by the United States (US) in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Although officials did not originally intend to acquire the islands, unlike Cuba and Puerto Rico, the then President, William McKinley, ultimately decided to do so. Throughout the years the US exercised sovereignty in the Philippines, it gradually introduced political and economic reforms normally associated with liberal democracy. In comparison to other colonisers however, the US introduced such reforms relatively early.

This thesis analyses the motives behind the introduction of selected political and economic reforms in the Philippine Islands from 1898 to 1916. This period was selected as the US had by then reached the zenith of its control over its only formal colony. The thesis examines the circumstances and motivations of US officials and politicians involved. It analyses how prevailing interests, ideas, and institutions (Hall 1997), especially among Washington-based actors, such as Congress, the President and their key appointees involved in the Philippines (i.e. Secretary of War and Governor General), played a role and at times worked together toward the gradual political and economic liberalisation of the islands. Key reform initiatives examined in this thesis include the passage of the 1902 Organic Act (also known as the first constitution of the Islands given by the US), certain tariff acts, inquiries on distributing religious landholdings, and the passage of the 1916 Philippine Bill (also known as the ‘Jones Law’). This thesis also revisits and surveys some of the developments the colonial government introduced such as the introduction of education and early efforts at land redistribution as well as the motives behind such initiatives. This thesis demonstrates how political and economic motivations in Washington, alongside external circumstances, shaped the gradual introduction of institutions otherwise associated with a liberal democracy. Overall, this thesis argues that although there were benefits for the Filipinos, the US found the introduction of such reforms necessary given their broader motives.

This thesis makes use of archived newspaper articles, letters shared between US officials, and official Congressional and colonial documents to support the empirical analysis.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorMagnus Feldmann (Supervisor) & Jeffrey Henderson (Supervisor)


  • philippines
  • colonialism
  • hall's 3is
  • us colonialism
  • united states

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