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Letter to the Hon. Manuel Roxas, Chairman The Philippine Mission, on Relations with the Philippine Islands

February 21, 1924

My Dear Mr. Roxas:

The resolutions adopted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines, touching upon the relations between the Filipino people and the Government of the United States have been received. I have noted carefully all that you have said regarding the history of these relations. I have sought to inform myself so thoroughly as might be as to the occasions of current irritation between the Legislature of the Philippines and the executive authority of the islands.

In your presentment you have set forth more or less definitely a series of grievances, the gravamen of which is that the present executive authority of the islands, designated by the United States Government, is, in your opinion, out of sympathy with the reasonable national aspirations of the Filipino people. If I do not misinterpret your protest, you are, disposed to doubt whether your people may reasonably expect, if the present executive policy shall continue, that the Government of the United States will in reasonable time justify the hopes which your people entertain of ultimate independence.

The declaration of the commission of independence charges the Governor General with illegal, arbitrary, and undemocratic policies, in consequence of which the leaders of Filipino participation in the government have resigned and their resignations have been accepted by the Governor General.

The commission of independence declares that it is necessary "to take all needful steps and to make use of all lawful means within our power to obtain the complete vindication of the liberties of the country now violated and invaded." It proceeds: "And we declare, finally, that this event, grave and serious as it is, once more demonstrates that the immediate and absolute independence of the Philippines, which the whole country demands, is the only complete and satisfactory settlement of the Philippine problem."

It is occasion for satisfaction to all concerned that this declaration is couched in terms of moderation, and that it goes no further than to invoke "all lawful means within our power." So long as such discussions as this shall be confined to the consideration of lawful means there will be reason to anticipate mutually beneficent conclusions. It is therefore a matter of congratulation, which I herewith extend, that you have chosen to carry on this discussion within the bounds of lawful claims and means. That you have thus declared the purpose to restrict your modes of appeal and methods of enforcing it is gratifying evidence of the progress which the Filipino people, under American auspices, have made toward a demonstrated capacity for self-government.

The extent to which the grievances which you suggest are shared by the Filipino people has been a subject of some disagreement. The American Government has information which justifies it in the confidence that a very large proportion, at any rate, and possibly a majority, of the substantial citizenry of the islands does not support the claim that there are grounds for serious grievance. A considerable section of the Filipino people is, further, of the opinion that at this time any change which would weaken the tie between the Filipinos and the American nation would be a misfortune to the islands. The world is in a state of high tension and unsettlement. The possibility of either economic or political disorders, calculated to bring misfortune if not disaster to the Filipino people unless they are strongly supported, is not to be ignored. It should not be overlooked that within the past two years, as a result of international arrangements negotiated by the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armament and problems of the Far East, the position of the Filipino people has been greatly improved and assured. For the stabilizing advantages which accrue to them in virtue of the assurance of peace in the Pacific they are directly indebted to the initiative and efforts of the American Government. They can ill afford in a time of so much uncertainty in the world to underrate the value of these contributions to their security. By reason of their assurance against attack by any power, by reason also of that financial and economic strength which inevitably accrues to them, by reason of the expanded and still expanding opportunities for industrial and economic development—because of all these considerations the Filipino people would do well to consider most carefully the value of their intimate association with the American nation. Although they have made wonderful advances in the last quarter century, the Filipino people are by no means equipped, either in wealth or experience, to undertake the heavy burden which would be imposed upon them with political independence. Their position in the world is such that without American protection there would be the unrestricted temptation to maintain an extensive and costly diplomatic service, and an ineffective but costly military and naval service. It is to be doubted whether with the utmost exertion, the most complete solidarity among themselves, the most unqualified and devoted patriotism, it would be possible for the people of the islands to maintain an independent place in the world for an indefinite future.

In presenting these considerations it is perhaps worth while to draw your attention to the conditions in which some other peoples find themselves by reason of lacking such guaranties and assurances as the Filipino people enjoy. The burdens of armament and of governmental expenses which many small nations are compelled to bear in these times are so great that we see everywhere the evidence of national prosperity and community progress hindered, if not destroyed, because of them. During the World War the Filipino people were comparatively undisturbed in their ordinary pursuits, left free to continue their fine progress. But it may well be doubted whether, if they had been shorn of the protection afforded by the United States, they could have enjoyed so fortunate an experience. Much more probably they would have become involved in the great conflict and their independence and nationality would have become, as did those of many other peoples, pawns in the great world reorganization. There could be no more unfortunate posture in which to place a people such as your own. You have set your feet firmly in the path of advancement and improvement. But you need, above all else, assured opportunity of continuing in that course without interference from the outside or turmoil within. Working out the highest destiny of even the most talented and advanced of peoples is a matter of many generations.

A fair appraisal of all these considerations, and of others which suggest themselves without requiring enumeration, will, I am sure, justify the frank statement that the Government of the United States would not feel that it had performed its full duty by the Filipino people, or discharged all of its obligations to civilization if it should yield at this time to your aspiration for national independence. The present relationship between the American nation and the Filipino people arose out of a strange, an almost unparalleled, turn of international affairs. A great responsibility came unsought to the American people. It was not imposed upon them because they had yielded to any design of imperialism, or of colonial expansion. The fortunes of war brought American power to your islands, playing the part of an unexpected and a welcome deliverer. You may be very sure that the American people have never entertained purpose of exploiting the Filipino people or their country. There have indeed been different opinions among our own people as to the precisely proper relationship with the Filipinos. There are some among us, as there are some among your people, who believe that immediate independence of the Philippines would be best for both. I should be less than candid with you, however, if I did not say that in my judgment the strongest argument that has been used in the United States in support of immediate independence of the Philippines is not the argument that it would benefit the Filipinos, but that it would advantage the United States. Feeling as I do, and as I am convinced, the great majority of Americans do regarding our obligations to the Filipino people, I have to say that I regard such arguments as unworthy. The American people will not evade or repudiate the responsibility they have assumed in this matter. The American Government is convinced that it has the overwhelming support of the American nation in its conviction that present independence would be a misfortune and might easily become a disaster to the Filipino people. Upon that conviction the policy of this Government is based.

Thus far I have suggested only some of the reasons related to international concerns, which seem to me to urge strongly against independence at this time. I wish now to review for a moment some domestic concerns of the Philippine Islands, which seem also to argue against present independence. The American Government has been most liberal in opening to the Filipino people the opportunities of the largest practicable participation in, and control of, their own administration. It has been a matter of pride and satisfaction to us, as I am sure it must also have been to your people, that this attitude has met with so fine a response. In education, in cultural advancement, in political conceptions and institutional development, the Filipino people have demonstrated a capacity which can not but justify high hopes for their future. But it would be idle and insincere to suggest that they have yet proved their possession of the completely developed political capacity which is necessary to a minor nation assuming the full responsibility of maintaining itself in the family of nations. I am frankly convinced that the very mission upon which you have addressed me is itself an evidence that something is yet lacking in development of political consciousness and capability.

One who examines the grounds on which are based the protests against the present situation is forced to conclude that there has not been, thus far, a full realization of the fundamental ideals of democratic- republican government.. There have been evidences of a certain inability, or unwillingness, to recognize that this type of governmental organization rests upon the theory of complete separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions. There have been many evidences of disposition to extend the functions of the legislature, and thereby to curtail the proper authority of the executive. It has been charged that the present Governor General has in some matters exceeded his proper authority; but an examination of the facts seem rather to support the charge that the legislative branch of the insular government has been the real offender, through seeking to extend its own authority into some areas of what should properly be the executive realm.

The Government of the United States has full confidence in the ability, good intentions, fairness, and sincerity of the present Governor General. It is convinced that he has intended to act, and has acted, within the scope of his proper and constitutional authority. Thus convinced, it is determined to sustain him; and its purpose will be to encourage the broadest and most intelligent cooperation of the Filipino people in this policy. Looking at the whole situation fairly and impartially, one can not but feel that if the Filipino people can not cooperate in the support and encouragement of as good an administration as has been afforded under Governor General Wood, their failure will be rather a testimony of unpreparedness for the full obligations of citizenship, than an evidence of patriotic eagerness to advance their country. I am convinced that Governor General Wood has at no time been other than a hard-working, painstaking, and conscientious administrator. I have found no evidence that he had exceeded his proper authority, or that he has acted with any other than the purpose of best serving the real interest of the Filipino people. Thus believing, I feel that I am serving those same interests by saying frankly that it is not possible to consider the extension of a larger measure of autonomy to the Filipino people until they shall have demonstrated a readiness and capacity to cooperate fully and effectively with the American Government and authorities. For such cooperation, I earnestly appeal to every friend of the islands and their people. I feel all confidence that in the measure in which it shall be extended, the American Government will be disposed to grant in increasing degree the aspirations of your people. Nothing could more regrettably affect the relations of the two peoples than that the Filipinos should commit themselves to a program calculated to inspire the fear that possibly the governmental concessions already made have been in any measure premature.

In conclusion, let me say that I have given careful and somewhat extended consideration to the representations you have laid before me. I have sought counsel of a large number of men whom I believed able to give the best advice. Particularly, I have had in mind always that the American nation could not entertain the purpose of holding any other people in a position of vassalage. In accepting the obligations which came to them with the sovereignty of the Philippine Islands, the American people had only the wish to serve, advance, and improve the condition of the Filipino people. That thought has been uppermost in every American determination concerning the islands. You may be sure that it will continue the dominating factor in the American consideration of the many problems which must inevitably grow out of such relationship as exists.

In any survey of the history of the islands in the last quarter century, I think the conclusion inescapable that the Filipino people, not the people of the United States, have been the gainers. It is not possible to believe that the American people would wish otherwise, to continue their responsibility in regard to the sovereignty and administration of the islands. It is not conceivable that they would desire, merely because they possessed the power, to continue exercising any measure of authority over a people who would better govern themselves on a basis of complete independence. If the time comes when it is apparent that independence would be better for the people of the Philippines, from the point of view of both their domestic concerns and their status in the world; and if when that time comes the Filipino people desire complete independence, it is not possible to doubt that the American Government and people will gladly accord it.

Frankly, it is not felt that that time has come. It is felt that in the present state of world relationship the American Government owes an obligation to continue extending a protecting arm to the people of these islands. It is felt, also, that quite aside from this consideration, there remain to be achieved by the Filipino people many greater advances on the road of education, culture, economic, and political capacity, before they should undertake the full responsibility for their administration. The American Government will assuredly cooperate in every way to encourage and inspire the full measure of progress which still seems a necessary preliminary to independence.

Yours very truly,


THE WHITE HOUSE, February 21, 1924.

Chairman The Philippine Mission.

NOTE: Published in Congressional Record of March 5, 1926.

Calvin Coolidge, Letter to the Hon. Manuel Roxas, Chairman The Philippine Mission, on Relations with the Philippine Islands Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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