"Insurrection" in the Philippines ~ America’s first colonial war (1898 - 1902)

“[The real issue] is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world…. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

~ Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, 1854

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Among the artifacts that define the history of modern nations are their postage stamps. How they were used, and where, often reveal more than history books, which often serve to obscure the past rather than enlighten their readers.

In 1899, an American soldier named Jesse L. Rains, attached to the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the Philippines, posted a letter to a woman in Grangeville, Idaho.

A cover from an American soldier in the Philippine Islands, postmarked Feb. 8, 1899. The duplex cancellation on the U.S. stamp, which pictures a young George Washington, reads “Mil.Sta.No.1.Manila.Phil.Isl’ds.” — Military Station No. 1, Manila, Philippine Islands. The cancellation was in use from Dec. 5, 1898 to Aug. 25, 1900. Postmarks on the back of the cover show that it was received in San Francisco on March 17 and in Grangville on March 22.

U.S. military covers posted in foreign lands are by no means unique, but covers such as this one serve as concrete evidence of a period in American history when that country, no less than European powers, was engaging in economic colonialism based on military strength and its belief in “Manifest Destiny,” which gave America carte blanche to subjugate other lands and peoples in order to steal them blind while providing them with the fruits of American democracy and opening up new markets for produce from America’s farms and products from its factories.


After the United States declared war on Spain on April 21, 1898, with the goal of wresting Cuba from Spanish control, an expeditionary force was assembled preparatory to the occupation of the Philippines, also a Spanish colony.

The destruction of the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1 by the Americans under Commodore Dewey sealed the fate of the defenders, and an armistice was signed on August 12. But that hardly meant the end of fighting. Some of the Filipinos wanted independence, not merely the substitution of American rule for Spanish, and an insurrection led by Emilio Aguinaldo required the presence of a large American military force until it was finally put down on April 16, 1902.