No one more succinctly described the imperial lineaments of the American invasion than that observer of America, Rudyard Kipling. Telling Teddy Roosevelt what he thought of the Smithsonian’s indigenous relics, Kipling commented  “I never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely than any modern race had ever done, honestly believed that they were a godly little New England community, setting examples to brutal mankind.”

American exceptionalism has a deep history.  De Tocqueville saw it in his travels in 1831, “I see the destiny of America embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the human race was represented by the first man.”  Puritanism has been called a ghost-dance religion; American the ‘Redeemer Nation.” The gospel brought by American has been freedom.  In Manila on his way to Iraq, Pres. Bush told

Filipinos,  ”U.S. administration of the Philippines was always declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and independent government.”  Extending the area of freedom has been American’s manifest destiny.

Filipino and American scholars have commented on this aspect of the occupation of the Philippines. In his BUREAUCRACY OF THE PHILIPPINES Onofre D. Corpuz wrote the creators of the Philippine civil service were not merely innovators of a new system “but were also crusaders dedicated to a cause.”  John Morgan Gates found in SCHOOLBOOKS AND KRAGS that many American soldiers in the Philippine War were very similar to the reformers at work in the US at the same time, thus providing “ the key to understand the motives of the Americans in Manila.” (p67) A primary example of the soldiers’ dedication was the extensive development of schools throughout occupied areas.

“The Mansion House, Baguio City


The Mansion House is located at the eastern part of Baguio City along Leonard Wood Road and right across from Wright Park. It was constructed from 1907 to 1908 at the instance of William Cameron Forbes to serve as the residence of the Philippine Chief Executive during the summer months, and was named after Forbes’ summer cottage in New England. William Parsons, an aide of architect Daniel Burnham, designed the mountain retreat in accordance with the North American City Beautiful architectural reform movement. In 1910, the Mansion House was used for the special sessions of the Second Philippine Legislature.

The Taft regime quickly set about to establish its “godly little New England community.” At an open meeting of the Philippine Commission in 1901, Taft is reported in the Manila Times as saying, “The town is the unit, or ought to be the unit, of all good government.  If one reads de Tocqueville’s history of the United States, he will find that great writer devotes much of what he has to say to the town conditions of New England and other parts of the country.”

As Civil-Governor, Taft understood tutelage in democracy having two tracks.  “1 Education in schools for the youth of school age [, and] 2 Practical political education by the extension step by step of political control to an eligible class.”  The “FIRST: EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS” May be thought of as the classroom or interpretive aspect, and the “SECOND: PRACTICAL POLITICAL EDUCATION”   “There is no doubt” Taft commented, “that the exercise of political power is the best possible political education.”  Doing democracy as the best way of learning democracy was embedded in the principle image presented in the classroom, the New England Town Meeting.

Not just college students were to learn of the blessing of the New England town meeting.  In 1903, a “Teacher of History and Civil Government at the Normal School in Manila” published a book for teachers to use at all levels. Of the Normal School itself, Dudley McGovney wrote, “The Insular Normal School is in Manila. It is free to students from all parts of the islands. It is a school for the instruction of those who wish to become teachers.”   McGoveny saw his work as part of the American tutelage in democracy of the Filipinos.

In his PREFACE to CIVIL GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES, Judge of the Court First Instance, Manila, E. Finley Johnson wrote, “The importance of giving instruction in the public schools, upon the subject of civil government, can hardly be overestimated. Every child before he leaves the public school should be taught the general plan of the government under which he lives. This knowledge not only creates in his mind a loyalty to his government, but enables him more perfectly to comply with the duties of citizenship.”  Included in this teacher’s guide to civil government in the Islands is the entirety of Sec. 7 of the 1902 Philippine Government Act, which calls for organizing an Assembly.

The chapter, COMPARISON OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN THE UNITED STATES AND IN THE PHILIPPINES, told Filipino pupils what the needed to know of New England town meetings:

New England Township. The early settlers of New England fled from England to escape religious persecution. They desired to settle in a country where they could establish their own church and worship God in their own way. All the members of a church congregation frequently went together and settled in the same place. The families settled on farms near each other in order to attend the same church and near enough also for protection against the American Indians. The New Englanders called their settlements towns, more properly townships. A township included, usually, a village and the farms lying about it. The government of the New England township was a pure democracy, that is, the people governed themselves directly. Once a year all the men of the township met in the town-hall to elect their officers, to make the laws of the township and to rate the taxes. Every man could thus take a direct part in the government of the township. This form of government, a pure democracy, is considered the best kind of government, but it is possible only in small communities.

No “Modell of Christian Charity” this. The covenanted community the settlers of Salem bound themselves in with the leadership of John Winthrop was no democracy.  “For this end, wee must be knitt together, in this worke, as one man. Wee must entertaine each other in brotherly [Page 47] affection. Wee must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other’s necessities.”  That for the first several generations church membership – subject to a spiritual crisis —  was required to vote at town meetings suggests more “a totalitarianism of true believers,”  rather than ‘pure democracy.’

The New England town meeting had powerful impact.  This romantic reference to the New England village, Winthrop’s city upon a hill, Lowell’s “sturdy commonwealths,” pondered upon, reveals underlying American frontier mythology. The role of the New England village in American utopian dreamings has long been noted.  De Tocqueville declared that “the township seems to come directly from the hand of God.” Michael Zuckerman observes, this archetypal image seems to have long answered the aspirations and anxieties of Americans.   Norman Rockwell has been its artist.

Filipinos were not immune to this vision. José Paciano Laurel y García, President of the Japanese supported Philippine Republic, and lecturer on municipal government at the University of the Philippines, complied his lecture notes into a book published in 1926, LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS.  An opening epigram comes from Woodrow Wilson: “The history of a nation is only the history of its villages written large.”  Lest it be thought this was not the intent of his lectures, the opening sentences of the opening chapter reads, “Importance of Local Government. –‘Local assemblies of citizens,’ says De Tocqueville, ‘constitute the strength of free nations.  Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach; they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it.  A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.’”


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