Some Ideas for Teaching about the Philippines (and the Philippine-American War)

LESSON PLANS

“I have asked myself many times: Is the Filipino worth suffering, or even dying, for? Is he not a coward who would readily yield to any colonizer, be he foreign or homegrown? Is a Filipino more comfortable under an authoritarian leader because he does not want to be burdened with the freedom of choice? Is he unprepared, or worse, ill-suited for presidential or parliamentary democracy?
I have carefully weighed the virtues and the faults of the Filipino and I have come to the conclusion that he is worth dying for because he is the nation’s greatest untapped resource.” – Ninoy Aquino
  • Islands in a Friendly Sea: Some Basics of Filipino History and Culture (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who are the Filipinos?  What is their history and culture?  How has it been shaped by island geography?  By contact with the outside world?
  • Manila at the Crossroads of World Trade (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): For more than three centuries, Manila was one of the crown jewels of the Spanish Empire, sitting at the intersection of global trade between Asia, the Americas, and Europe.  How did this global trade shape the Philippines – and how did the Philippines shape global trade?
  • The Origins of the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): How did the Filipinos gain independence from Spain, only to have it snatched away by their alleged ally, the United States?  How does this experience resonate in both Philippine and U.S. history?
  • The Brutality of the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Why was the Philippine-American War so violent?  Did this violence help or hinder the goals of each side?  Should there be rules that govern the conduct of war?
  • The Philippines in the American Empire (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): After nearly 400 years, how did independence finally come to the Philippines?  Was the United States conquest of the Philippines an anomaly in its history, or was it business as usual?
  • “The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Full text of this imperialist poem, as well as an answer in the form of an anti-imperialist parody.
  • Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet, allowing us to get a glimpse of the Philippine-American War as it was presented to Americans at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.
  • In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):  How did the American media cover the war in the Philippines?  An excerpt from “In The Trenches” by John F. Bass, originally published in Harper’s Weekly.
  • Ninoy and Marcos – “A Pact with the Devil is No Pact at All.” (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):  Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Cory Aquino, and the People Power Revolution toppled the kleptocratic Marcos regime through nonviolence, answering with their lives the question, “Is the Filipino worth dying for?”

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Morocco: The Western Kingdom

LESSON PLANS

  • A Basic History of Morocco (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): A brief overview of the geography, culture, and history of Morocco.
  • The Berbers: A Free and Noble People (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who are the Berber, and what makes them a distinct and special people?
  • The Sahara, Camel, and the Caravan Trade (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Highlighting the role of the caravan trade in Morocco’s ancient economy.  That trade was made possible in large part by the camel, which allowed Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan peoples to traverse the harsh Sahara desert, moving trade goods, and establishing religious and cultural connections where none could otherwise exist.
  • Fes: Center of Moroccan Empire and Culture (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The first capital of a united Morocco has been a dynamic player in culture, education, and the economy of North Africa for more than a thousand years.
  • The Medina: Sustainable Cities of the Ancient World (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Examining the characteristics of a traditional medina, and evaluating those traits as a possible template for a more walkable, communal, sustainable future.
  • Chefchaouen and the Moroccan Quest for Independence (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Exploring Morocco’s experiences as an imperial power – and as the subject of imperial power from abroad.  This history has shaped a distinctive culture at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, European, and African worlds.

Background on Islam, the dominant religion in Morocco:

  • Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who was Muhammad, and how did the Arab world of the seventh century shape his teachings?  
  • Five Pillars to Hold Me Up: What Do Muslims Believe? (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): What are the basic teachings of Islam, and what does it mean to be a Muslim?

THIS UNIT WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

The Medina: Sustainable City of the Ancient World

This lesson was reported from:

For Your Consideration:
  1. What is a medina?
  2. This article lists many benefits of living in a medina – list them, adding any additional benefits that strike you. Then, create a list of drawbacks.
  3. Should cities in your country build neighborhoods that look more like this?  Would you live in one?
  4. Design your own ideal neighborhood – create a map that considers space to live, work, and play, as well as transportation and utilities like power and water.

A medina quarter (Arabic: المدينة القديمة‎ al-madīnah al-qadīmah “the old city”) is a distinct city section found in a number of North African cities, including in Morocco. A medina is typically walled, with many narrow and maze-like streets. The word “medina” (Arabic: مدينة‎ madīnah) itself simply means “city” or “town” in modern-day Arabic.

Medina quarters have usually been inhabited for a thousand years or more, and often contain historical fountains, palaces, public squares, mosques, and churches.

The Medina of Chefchaouen.
The medina of Chefchaouen, Morocco – densely clustered, multipurpose buildings, many of which are both homes and businesses. (Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2019.)

Because of their very narrow streets, medinas are generally free from car traffic, and in some cases even motorcycle and bicycle traffic. The streets can be less than a metre wide. This makes them unique among highly populated urban centres. The Medina of Fes, or Fes el Bali, is considered one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world.

Aside from the addition of some electrical wires and modern plumbing, most medinas in Morocco today look a lot like they did in those bygone glory days of the trans-Saharan trade one thousand years ago. The streets are rarely wider that six or seven feet, and are sometimes as narrow as two or three. Mules and men with carts do most of the heavy lifting in the streets, delivering or carrying away what can’t be done by hand – no trucks or cars can penetrate, so most people buy groceries for today, and maybe tomorrow. Furniture and modern appliances are often transported into the medina over a neighbor’s rooftop, and down a home through the central, open air courtyard. Anger your neighbors, and you might have a hard time remodeling your house. 

Don’t think of a city like this as “backward” – think of it as a template for a life many in our modern times have forgotten… But which many of us are trying to rediscover.  What appear to be drawbacks at first glance, described another way, are what many Americans and Europeans list as desirable qualities in a neighborhood.

It is walkable, by necessity. Most anything you need is available in a five to ten minute walk from your door.  

It is communal – there are basically no police present, so most problems are solved in the community. Violence is squashed through neighbors’ intervention and social pressure. Public fountains with fresh, clean water can be found at most major intersections.  Same with mosques, which, in addition to the square full of small shops, are at the center of residents’ spiritual and social lives. 

Most all food is organic, fresh, and affordable, sold with zero plastic packaging.

The narrow streets, paved with stone, between high mud-walled homes are many degrees cooler than the open air outside the medina, meaning that while most who live within don’t have air conditioning, they don’t really need it either.

Without glamorizing the social problems like poverty and sanitation issues that persist in some medinas, there is a good reason that this way of life has persisted since prehistoric times, while the patterns of American suburbanization are barely a century and half old – but are killing the people who live there via social isolation, urban sprawl, excess carbon emissions, and water wasted irrigating green lawns.  

Which is really the ideal here? Can we learn something from our human past?

It’s not backward if it offers answers to questions of sustainability and community that so many in countries like the United States are trying in vain and at great cost to reinvent.

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Medina Quarter

The Berbers: A Free and Noble People

This lesson was reported from:

For Your Consideration:
  1. Who are the Berber? Briefly describe their culture.
  2. What do Berbers call themselves, and what does it mean in English?
  3. Write your name in the Berber alphabet.
  4. An anthropologist is someone who examines culture, artifacts, religion, language, lifestyles, and traditions to describe and understand a group of people, either from the present or the past. How would an anthropologist describe your community’s culture and history?

The main ethnic group inhabiting the Maghreb – which literally means “the west” in Arabic, and includes Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia – are known as the Berber people. They and their ancestors have inhabited North Africa for more than 10,000 years, and possess a rich history and culture shaped by the varied geography of the area, as well as by their interactions with other groups, including the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Spanish, and the French.

The Berbers call themselves Imazighen, which means free or noble people in their own language. It is a fitting descriptor.

Historically, the Berbers have been successful in trade, navigating the harsh conditions of the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains, linking Sub Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean world when other groups struggled to do so.  In ancient times, this wealth – as well as Berber prowess on horseback meant that groups such as the Carthaginians were paying them tribute in North Africa.

Unlike the conquests of previous religions and cultures, the coming of Islam, which was spread by Arabs, was to have extensive and long-lasting effects on the Maghreb. The new faith, in its various forms, would penetrate nearly all segments of Berber society, bringing with it armies, learned men, and fervent mystics, and in large part replacing tribal practices and loyalties with new social norms and political traditions influenced by the Arab world.

Almohad_Expansion
The Almohad Empire, a Berber empire based in Morocco that lasted from 1121 to 1269.

Traditionally, Berber men take care of livestock such as sheep, goats, cows, horses, and camels. Families migrate by following the natural cycle of grazing, and seeking water and shelter with the changing seasons. They are thus assured with an abundance of wool, cotton, and plants used for dyeing.  For their part, women look after the family and produce handicrafts like clothing, rugs, or blankets – first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in local souqs, or markets. While many Berber still live according to these patterns, many more no longer follow these traditional patterns – they now have jobs, homes, and lifestyles similar to any of those found in your country.

The traditional social structure of the Berbers is tribal. A leader is appointed to command the tribe through a generally democratic process. In the Middle Ages, many women had the power to govern. The majority of Berber tribes currently have men as heads of the tribe.

beber tea
Berber hospitality centers on a sweet mint tea, offered upon the arrival of guests. Refusal of this offer is considered to be quite rude – take the tea! Let it cool! Have a sip!
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The Berber are known for creating beautiful, artist front doors for their homes, featuring striking patterns, carvings, metal work, and sometimes bright colors.

Imazighen (Berber) cuisine draws influence and flavors from distinct regions across North Africa and the Mediterranean world.

Principal Berber foods include:

  • Couscous, a staple dish made from a grain called semolina
  • Tajine, a stew made in various forms
  • Pastilla, a meat pie traditionally made with squab (fledgling pigeon) often today using chicken

Writing in 1377, the scholar Ibn Khaldun offered a general description of the Berber that applies nearly as well in the twenty-first century:

“As for [their] moral virtues, one can cite: respect for one’s neighbours; the protection of guests; the observance of obligations and commitments; faithful adherence to promises and treaties; resolve in misfortune; indulgence towards the failings of others; renouncement of vengeance; kindness to the unfortunate; respect for the elderly; veneration for men of science; hatred of oppression; resolve before states; determination to win in matters of power; devotion to God in matters of religion.”

Indeed, nearly eight hundred years later the anthropologist Ahmed Skounti echoed these sentiments:

“The Imazighen (singular Amazigh) also known as the Berbers are among the original peoples of North Africa. Their myths, legends and history span 9,000 years, back to the Proto-Mediterraneans. They have achieved unity by keeping up their unique language and culture which are, like their land, both African and Mediterranean.
The Berbers of Morocco share this duality, reflecting the diversity of their nature and stormy history. Through contact with other peoples of the Mediterranean, they created kingdoms but also vast territories organised into powerful, democratic, war-mongering, tribal communities. Both aspects of this social political organisation have left a mark on recent historical events and the two millenia of the country’s history. As opposed to the pagan Mediterranean kingdoms of Antiquity, Berber empires developed inland and were Muslim. Judaism continued to be practiced, and the Sunni Islam majority gradually took
on a Berber hue with its brotherhoods, zaouias, marabouts. and rituals.
The roots of the Berber culture go deep down into Morocco’s proto-history. They are illustrated by a strong link with their land, a sense of community, hospitality sharing food and a specific relationship with spirituality. Its openness to many influences whether Mediterranean, African, Oriental, European or international have defined its current characteristics.
The Berber language, an Afro-Asian idiom, is the melting pot of the history and culture of the country. It has outlived most languages of Antiquity such as Ancient Greek, Phoenician, Latin and Egyptian. It used to be written but is now mainly oral. Though there are fewer now that can speak it, the language is nevertheless still used by a substantial number of Moroccans.”

 

Berber Writing

berber writing arabic french
French and Arabic are the dominant languages for many Berber today, as evinced by this street art in Essaouira, Morocco, but Berbers also have their own traditional language that is distinct from either.
berber script
The Berber alphabet has ancient roots.  It is more properly called tifinagh.

The unique Berber alphabet is called tifinagh. Like the Berbers themselves, the writing has been attributed in turn to having Egyptian, Greek, Phoeno-Punic or South-Arabic origins, though none of these theories is definitive. Other research points toward the indigenous origins of Berber writing, linking it closely to cave art. The undecoded signs and symbols that accompany the depiction of humans, animals, weapons and ritual or combat scenes create a sort of visual vocabulary which may have later developed into the writing system.

Historically, Berber writing had limited uses, primarily in memorials and commemorative stone carvings. It was largely replaced by Arabic around the fifth or sixth centuries, and later by French in the twentieth century. Berber was originally written vertically from top to bottom, but today is oriented from right to left, like Arabic. The alphabet is composed of a distinctive geometric written form, in which 33 characters are created from three basic shapes: the circle, the line, and the dot.

This ancient alphabet serves as the basis for the formation of the modern tifinagh alphabet adopted since 2003 by Morocco in order to write the Berber language.

berber symbol
The yaz (ⵣ) symbolizes the “free man”, which is the meaning of the Berber word Imazighen, the Berbers’ own name for themselves. It can be seen here in graffiti, but also in more formal decorative settings, and in a flag that symbolizes Berber pride and culture.

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

(Information on the Berber alphabet was adapted from the work of Aline Star, anthropologist at the Institut National des Sciences de L’Archéologie et du Patrimoine. Rabat)

The Sahara, the Camel, and the Caravan Trade

This lesson was reported from:

For Your Consideration:
  1. Citing specific examples, describe how the trans-Saharan trade linked Morocco to other regions of the world.  Likewise, how does trade link your hometown to other regions of the world?
  2. How does the camel make trans-Saharan trade possible?  Throughout history, where and when have other animals extended or enhanced the potential of humans?
  3. What factors lead to the rise of Islam in the West Africa?  Consider ancient Morocco and your own country – how does joining a dominant religion or social group give advantages to converts, immigrants, or outsiders?
  4. Taking inspiration from the griot tradition – using poetry, song, or visual art – tell the story of a journey along the trans-Saharan trade route from Timbuktu to Fez.  Be as specific and tangible as you can. Represent the geography, the people, the trade goods, and anything else you might encounter on the way.

The Sahara Desert

The Sahara (Arabic: الصحراء الكبرى‎, aṣ-ṣaḥrāʾ al-kubrā , ‘the Greatest Desert’) is the largest hot desert and third largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic worldwide. Its surface area is comparable to that of the United States. The desert comprises much of the land found within North Africa. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north, to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually transitions to a coastal plain. To the south, it is bordered by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa – which was, from c. 1230 to c. 1600 – the homeland of the Mali Empire.

Morocco and the historic empires that preceded it have benefited greatly by controlling trade routes through the Atlas Mountains, which link the economies surrounding the Mediterranean Sea to those on the far side of the Sahara.

map

Increasing desertification and economic incentive

The Sahara once had a very different environment. In Libya and Algeria, from at least 7000 BC, there was pastoralism, herding of sheep and goats, large settlements and pottery. Cattle wprehistoricere introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4000 to 3500 BC. Remarkable rock paintings (dated 3500 to 2500 BC), in places which are currently very dry, portray vegetation and animal presence rather different from modern expectations.

For several hundred thousand years, the Sahara has alternated between desert and savanna grassland in a 41,000 year cycle caused by the precession of the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the Sun, which changes the location of the North African Monsoon. The area is next expected to become green in about 15,000 years (17,000 AD). There is a suggestion that the last time that the Sahara was converted from savanna to desert it was partially due to overgrazing by the cattle of the local population.

As a desert, Sahara is now a hostile expanse that separates the Mediterranean economy from the economy of the Niger basin. Crossing such a zone (especially without mechanized transport like a train or truck) is worthwhile only when exceptional circumstances cause the expected gain to outweigh the cost and danger. The Sahara has always been home to groups of people practicing trade on a regular, if only local basis.

berber desert
The Sahara covers 9 million square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi), amounting to 31% of Africa.  It  is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus); ergs (sand seas – large areas covered with sand dunes, as pictured above) form only a minor part.  Other distinctive features of the Sahara include gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), dry lakes (oued), and salt flats (shatt or chott).
The Camel
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Camels water before a short trek across a sand sea. Camels do not directly store water in their humps; they are reservoirs of fatty tissue. Concentrating body fat in their humps minimizes the insulating effect fat would have if distributed over the rest of their bodies, helping camels survive in hot climates. The dromedary camel can drink as seldom as once every 10 days even under very hot conditions, and can lose up to 30% of its body mass due to dehydration.

Although they rarely travel faster than the walking speed of a man, camels’ ability to withstand harsh conditions made them ideal for communication and trade in the desert areas of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula for centuries, though they could only travel on routes with sufficient sources of food and water. The animals transformed the economy and culture of the Sahara.

Camels have a series of physiological adaptations that allow them to withstand long periods of time without any external source of water. Unlike other mammals, their red blood cells are oval rather than circular in shape. This facilitates the flow of red blood cells during dehydration and makes them better at withstanding high osmotic variation without rupturing when drinking large amounts of water: a 1,300 lb camel can drink 53 gallons of water in three minutes.

IMG_4621
Camels can close their nostrils the same way humans can blink their eyes, an adaptation that allows them close out the sand that sometimes blows fiercely across the desert.  Long eyelashes and ear hairs also form a barrier against sand. If sand gets lodged in their eyes, they can dislodge it using their transparent third eyelid.

When the camel exhales, water vapor becomes trapped in their nostrils and is reabsorbed into the body as a means to conserve water. Camels eating green herbage can ingest sufficient moisture in milder conditions to maintain their bodies’ hydrated state without the need for drinking.

Camels do not directly store water in their humps as was once commonly believed. The humps are actually reservoirs of fatty tissue: concentrating body fat in their humps minimizes the insulating effect fat would have if distributed over the rest of their bodies, helping camels survive in hot climates. When this tissue is metabolized, it yields more than one gram of water for every gram of fat processed.

Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water consumption that would kill most other animals. Their body temperature ranges from 93 °F at dawn and steadily increases to 104 °F by sunset, before they cool off at night again. Maintaining the brain temperature within certain limits is critical for animals; to assist this, camels have a rete mirabile, a complex of arteries and veins lying very close to each other which utilizes countercurrent blood flow to cool blood flowing to the brain. Camels rarely sweat, even when ambient temperatures reach 120 °F.

 

Camels’ mouths have a thick leathery lining, allowing them to chew thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with nostrils that can close, form a barrier against sand. If sand gets lodged in their eyes, they can dislodge it using their transparent third eyelid. The camels’ gait and widened feet help them move without sinking into the sand. The kidneys and intestines of a camel are very efficient at reabsorbing water. Camel urine comes out as a thick syrup, and camel feces is so dry that they do not require any additional processing when desert peoples use them to fuel fires.

The Ultimate Desert Technology

People have been using camels for over 4,000 years mostly as pack animals and for transportation. Camels came to north Africa from Arabia, by way of Egypt and the Sudan, coming into widespread use by 300 CE, replacing horses and donkeys as the preferred means of transportation across the Sahara. A caravan of camels took 70 to 90 days to cross the Sahara, so the camel’s ability to travel long distances without water made trans-Saharan trade possible. In short, adoption of domesticated camels represented the ultimate in desert technology.

Caravan Trade

Camels would be fattened for a number of months on the plains of either the Maghreb or the Sahel before being assembled into a caravan. According to Ibn Battuta, the famous Muslim explorer who accompanied one of the caravans, the average size per caravan was 1,000 camels; some caravans were as large as 12,000. Various Trans-Saharan trade routes connected sub- Saharan West Africa to the Mediterranean coast. Among the commodities carried southward were silk, cotton, horses, and salt. Among those carried northward were gold, ivory, pepper, and slaves.

Caravans would be guided by highly paid Berbers who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage from their fellow desert nomads. The survival of a caravan was precarious and would rely on careful coordination and knowledge of the land. Runners would be sent ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not easily carry enough with them to make the full journey.

kasbah
Aït Benhaddou is an ighrem (fortified village in English) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Such villages offered a walled refuge – complete with fresh water – for caravans traveling between Timbuktu and Marrakech, along the harsh Sahara trade routes.

Mediterranean economies were short of gold, but could supply salt, whereas West African countries had plenty of gold but needed salt. The trans-Saharan slave trade was also important because large numbers of Africans were sent north, generally to serve as domestic servants or slave concubines. The West African states imported highly trained slave soldiers. It has been estimated that from the 10th to the 19th century some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were transported north each year. Perhaps as many as nine million slaves were exported along the trans-Saharan caravan route.

trade routes

The Arrival of Islam

Merchants transported more than valuable commodities along the trans-Saharan routes. Just as Buddhism reached the Chinese Empire via Indian merchants traveling the Silk Road, Islam reached West Africa through Arab merchants on Saharan caravan routes. Arab merchants brought the Koran and the written language of Arabic to traditionally oral cultures in West Africa. The extensive trade networks throughout North and West Africa created a medium through which Islam spread peacefully, initially through the merchant class. By sharing a common religion and a common language (Arabic), traders showed greater willingness to trust, and therefore invest, in one another.

eating
Sharing a meal, sharing a culture.

The British Museum describes the process of conversion in West Africa:

It was Arab traders who first brought the new religion to the kingdom of Mali. Many of them were educated and religious men who through speech and the books of learned writers managed to spread the word. Malians who became traders, and who moved further from their roots, began abandoning their old religion and adopting Islam which proved a passport for entry into northern markets. Traders were followed by Arab immigrants who came as judges, imams and teachers and who settled in the country. They were treated with respect and one Mansa (king) even married his daughters to two of them. Mosques were built, and Islamic influences were felt in architecture, poetry, cooking and even dress. Men were sent to study in Moroccan madrasas (religious schools). Timbuktu became a major centre of Islamic culture and learning. Even so, in the villages much of the old religion remained, and Ibn Battuta was shocked to discover, even at court, old ceremonial dances being performed during an Islamic religious festival.

The Great Mali Empire

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the great Mali Empire owed its prosperity to its position at the center of a network of caravan trade routes which criss-crossed West Africa, linking sub-Saharan Africa, the Islamic world, and the Mediterranean. The empire was founded in 13th Century by Sundiata Keita, whose exploits remain celebrated in Mali today.

great mali map

Sundiata Keita

From the British Museum:

Sunjata (r. 1235–1255) was the first king to unify the Mandinka kingdoms and is as much a figure of legend as of fact. Epic songs of the griots tell of the ‘magician’ Sunjata who, when the Mandinka could no longer bear the burden of paying taxes to their Sosso leader Sumanguru, led them into battle. Sunjata killed Sumanguru at the Battle of Krina in 1235, and seized the major territories through which gold was traded. Sunjata declared himself Mansa (King of Kings) of the twelve kingdoms of the Mandinka. The 12 kings swore to obey Sunjata in return for being named governors of their territories. To help him rule, Sunjata set up a Gbara, or Great Assembly, of clan elders who would discuss and make decisions. Over the next two centuries the kingdom would expand through war, until it covered 1.3 million km2 . Sunjata’s successor Ali is credited with conquering the great trading centres of Timbuktu and Djenné.

An Oral History
image
A griot in modern Mali.
There are a few written accounts of this period, because West African society relied on a tradition of oral history passed down by griots (professional storytellers).  Our picture of the Mali Empire comes mainly from the modern continuation of this oral tradition, archaeological research, the extant remains of cities, and the accounts of a few visiting writers.  

In addition to royal griots who served the court, most villages also had their own griot, who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and hundreds of other things. 

Francis Bebey writes about the griot in his book African Music, A People’s Art (Lawrence Hill Books):

“The West African griot is a troubadour, the counterpart of the medieval European minstrel… The griot knows everything that is going on… He is a living archive of the people’s traditions… The virtuoso talents of the griots command universal admiration. This virtuosity is the culmination of long years of study and hard work under the tuition of a teacher who is often a father or uncle. 

griot 2

Mali’s Economy

With an economy built on the basis of the trans-Saharan trade, the Mali Empire was the largest and longest lasting kingdom in the history of West Africa. It profoundly influenced the culture of the region through the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River, which ran through the heart of the empire. The empire contained three immense gold mines – Bambuk, Boure and Galam within its borders, by some estimates accounting for nearly half the gold supply in Africa, Asia, and Europe from the 12th century on. The empire taxed every ounce of gold, copper, and salt that crossed its borders.

Gold

Gold nuggets were the exclusive property of the mansa (king), and were illegal to trade within his borders. All gold was immediately handed over to the imperial treasury in return for an equal value of gold dust. Gold dust had been weighed and bagged for use at least since the reign of the Ghana Empire. Mali borrowed the practice to stem inflation of the substance, since it was so prominent in the region. The most common measure for gold within the realm was the ambiguous mithqal (4.5 grams of gold). This term was used interchangeably with dinar, though it is unclear if coined currency was used in the empire. Gold dust was used all over the empire, but was not valued equally in all regions.

gold
Panning for gold is still a common – if challenging – livelihood in some West African nations.
Slaves

Similar to Christianity of the time, Islamic Sharia law allowed slavery, but prohibited slavery involving other preexisting Muslims; as a result, the main target for slavery were the people who lived in the frontier areas of Islam in Africa, in the Sahara and Sahel. Bernard Lewis writes that “polytheists and idolaters were seen primarily as sources of slaves, to be imported into the Islamic world and molded in Islamic ways, and, since they possessed no religion of their own worth the mention, as natural recruits for Islam.”

slaves

Large numbers of Africans were sent north, generally to serve as domestic servants or slave concubines. The West African states imported highly trained slave soldiers. It has been estimated that from the 10th to the 19th century some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were transported north each year.

Salt
salt
Rock salt at the market in Mopti. It is sold here in slabs, broken and weighed, and packaged into smaller amounts.

The next great unit of exchange in the Mali Empire was salt. Salt was as valuable, if not more valuable than gold in Sub-Saharan Africa. Salt is produced in the Sahara (and has been for over 2½ thousand years-mentioned by Herodotus) at several places. Since ancient times, salt has been used to flavor and preserve food. Salt was either extracted from evaporating pools or mined from underground, left behind from dried up ancient seabeds. It was cut into pieces and spent on goods with close to equal buying power throughout the empire. While it was as good as gold in the north, it was even better in the south. Salt was relatively rare in the south. The northern region on the other hand had no shortage of salt. Every year merchants entered Mali via Oualata with camel loads of salt to sell in Niani. According to Ibn Battuta who visited Mali in the mid-14th century, one camel load of salt sold at the northern trading post of Walata for 8–10 mithkals of gold, but in Mali proper it was worth 20–30 ducats and sometimes even 40. One particular source of salt in the Mali empire were salt-mining sites located in Taghaza. Ibn Battuta wrote that in Taghaza there were no trees and there is only sand and the salt mines. Nobody lived in the area except the Musafa slaves who working to dug the salts and lived on imported dates, camel meat, and millet imported from the Sudan. The buildings were even constructed from slabs of salt and roofed with camel skins. The salt was dug from the ground and cut into thick slabs, two of which were loaded onto each camel where they will be taken south across the desert and sold.

salt 2
Salt, mined from large deposits, is loaded onto boats on the Niger River.

No government can rule a nation if there is no economic activity to feed the people. Moroccan cities such as Fez and Marrakech appear to be landlocked on any map – they are nowhere near the ocean.  But in a very real sense, they are ports on the edge of a great sea – the Sahara.  Along with their neighbors to the south in Mali, the Berbers of Morocco became sailors on that sea, moving goods in great caravans on the backs of camels. Control of the last leg of the Saharan trade routes fueled the rise of Moroccan dynasties such as the Almoravids and Almohads.  The people of Morocco have long benefitted from their unique geographic perch – building an enterprising and resourceful civilization based on trade that straddles the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan worlds.

 

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Tran-Saharan Trade
  2. The Camel
  3. The Kingdom of Mali

Ninoy and Marcos – “A Pact with the Devil is No Pact at All.”

This lesson is is a part of a larger unit on the Philippines: At the Crossroads of the World.  It is also written to be utilized independently.
This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was born into a wealthy Filipino family on November 27, 1932.  His grandfather, Aquino, was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo, the officially recognized first President of the Philippines.

Ninoy_Aquino_3
Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

Ninoy’s prestigious family and the prosperity that facilitated his education and early political success did not make him elitist, however.  He would become an inspiration symbol of courage and nonviolence in the face of overwhelming repression, and his example would help set the Philippines free from decades of dictatorial rule under the thumb of Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino gained an early success in Philippine politics, as he was born into one of the Philippines’ political and landholding clans. In addition to his grandfather’s revolutionary service under President Aguinaldo, his father held office under Presidents Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. As a consequence, Aquino was elected mayor of his hometown of Concepcion, Tarlac at the remarkably young age of 23 years old. Five years later, he was elected the nation’s youngest vice-governor at 27 (a record surpassed in 2013). Two years after that, in 1961, he became governor of Tarlac province and then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos, a prominent right-wing politician won the Philippine presidency.  Early in his term, Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects and intensified tax collection which brought the country economic prosperity throughout the 1970s. His administration built more roads (including a substantial portion of the Pan-Philippine Highway) than all his predecessors combined, and more schools than any previous administration. Marcos was re-elected president in 1969, becoming the first president of the Philippines to achieve a second term.  Opponents of Marcos, however, blocked legislation necessary to further implement his expansive agenda. As a result, optimism faded early in his second term, economic growth slowed, and Marcos became increasingly heavy handed with his political opponents. Crime and civil disobedience increased. The Communist Party of the Philippines formed the New People’s Army in response to his shaky hold over the nation and the Moro National Liberation Front continued to fight for an independent Muslim nation in Mindanao.

220px-Ferdinand_Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos became the longest-serving Philippine president for 20 years.

In 1968, during his first year as senator, Aquino alleged that Marcos was on the road to establishing “a garrison state” by “ballooning the armed forces budget,” saddling the defense establishment with “overstaying generals” and “militarizing our civilian government offices.”

Aquino became known as a constant critic of the Marcos regime. His flamboyant rhetoric had made him a darling of the media. His most polemical speech, “A Pantheon for Imelda” was delivered on February 10, 1969. He assailed the Cultural Center, a signature project of First Lady Imelda Marcos, as extravagant, and dubbed it “a monument to shame” and labelled its designer “a megalomaniac, with a penchant to captivate.” President Marcos was outraged and publically labelled Aquino “a congenital liar.”

Lyndon_B._Johnson_and_Imelda_Marcos_dancing
U.S President Lyndon B. Johnson dancing with Imelda Marcos. Throughout Marcos’s reign, he enjoyed firm support from the United States government. He was, after all, staunchly anticommunist at a time when that mattered more than almost anything.

Open Hostility

PlazaMiranda
A still from a documentary showing Liberal Party members onstage at the Plaza Miranda, moments before the bombing.

At 9:15 PM on August 21, 1971, at a rally to kick-off the opposition Liberal Party’s campaign in the upcoming Philippine elections, candidates formed a line on a makeshift platform and were raising their hands as the crowd applauded. The band played and a fireworks display drew all eyes, when suddenly there were two loud explosions – obviously were not part of the show. In an instant the stage became a scene of wild carnage. The police later discovered two fragmentation grenades that had been thrown at the stage by “unknown persons.” Nine people died, and 120 others were wounded, many critically.

As Aquino was the only Liberal Party senatorial candidate not present at the incident, Marcos and newspapers friendly to his rule insinuated that he had had something to do with the attack. Aquino denied these allegations, and most historians continue to suspect Marcos as he is known to have used false flag attacks – that is, a covert operations designed to deceive the public; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.

Amidst the rising wave of lawlessness and the conveniently timed threat of a Communist insurgency, Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972.  This meant that ordinary law, including basic civil rights like the right to a fair trial or the need to pass new laws through a legislature were no longer guaranteed, and the president, through the military, could rule without any checks and balances from other branches of government.  The declaration of martial law was initially well-received, given the social turmoil the Philippines was experiencing. Crime rates plunged dramatically after a curfew was implemented.  Marcos, ruling by decree, curtailed press freedom and other civil liberties, abolished Congress, closed down major media establishments, ordered the arrest of opposition leaders and militant activists, including his staunchest critics: among them, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.

Aquino was one of the first to be arrested.  Before he was even put on trial – not in an ordinary, impartial civilian court, but in a military court friendly to Marcos – he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. This imprisonment would last for years before Aquino’s day in court.

On April 4, 1975, Aquino announced that he was going on a hunger strike, a fast to the death to protest the injustices of his military trial. Ten days through his hunger strike, he instructed his lawyers to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he subsisted solely on salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, amino acids, and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, suffering from chills and cramps, soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunal’s session. His family and hundreds of friends and supporters heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, San Juan, praying for his survival. Near the end, Aquino’s weight had dropped from 54 to 36 kilos (120 pounds to 80). Aquino nonetheless was able to walk throughout his ordeal. On May 13, 1975, on the 40th day, his family and several priests and friends, begged him to end his fast, pointing out that even Christ fasted only for 40 days. He acquiesced, confident that he had made a symbolic gesture.

But he remained in prison, and the trial continued, drawn out for several years. On November 25, 1977, the Military Commission charged Aquino  guilty of all charges and sentenced them to death by firing squad.

During this period, Marcos continued his political repression of the Philippines.  His regime was characterized as kleptocracy – a government with corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers. Typically, this system involves embezzlement of funds at the expense of the wider population.  Official estimates say that the dictator ultimately stole between $5 to 10 billion from the people of the Philippines during his twenty year rule.

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Room where Aquino was detained from August 1973 to 1980.

In mid-March 1980, after years in a solitary cell in Fort Bonifacio, Aquino suffered a heart attack. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center, where he suffered a second heart attack. EKG and other tests showed that he had a blocked artery. Aquino refused to submit himself to Philippine doctors, fearing possible Marcos “duplicity;” he preferred to one of two options – go to the United States for the procedure or return to his cell and die.

After a secret hospital visit by Imelda Marcos, his request was granted. Aquino was allowed to go to the United States for surgery – accompanied by his family – on the condition that if he leaves, he will return; and while in America, he would not speak out against the Marcos regime. Aquino received treatment in Dallas, Texas. Following the surgery, he made a quick recovery, after which, he decided to renounce the agreement saying, “a pact with the devil is no pact at all.”

Aquino, his wife Corazón “Cory” Aquino, and their children started a new life in Massachusetts. He produced two books detailing his experience and the Filipino plight under the tyranny of Marcos, and gave a series of lectures while on fellowship grants from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His travels across the U.S. became opportunities for him to deliver speeches critical of the Marcos government. Throughout these years abroad, Aquino was aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual planned return to the Philippines – even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family on American soil.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino received news about the deteriorating political situation in his country and the rumored declining health of President Marcos (due to lupus). Aquino believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country’s return to democracy – before extremist generals took over in the wake of Marcos’s impending death and made such a change impossible. Moreover, Aquino worried that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos’s strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.

Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, “if it’s my fate to die by an assassin’s bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay on the side…”

His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consular official that there were orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any passports for them.  They therefore formulated a plan for Aquino to fly alone (to attract less attention), with the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Despite the government’s ban on issuing him a passport, Aquino acquired one with the help of Rashid Lucman, a former Mindanao legislator. It carried the alias Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison).

The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Aquino to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and that no government could prevent him from doing so.

Marcos wanted Aquino to stay out of politics, however Aquino asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, “the Filipino is worth dying for.” He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down, for a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that “it’s only good for the body, but in the head there’s nothing else we can do.” Sensing his own doom, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight, “You have to be very ready with your hand camera because this action can become very fast. In a matter of a three or four minutes it could be all over, you know, and [laughing] I may not be able to talk to you again after this.”

In his last prepared statement – one he was never able to deliver – he said, “I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.”

Upon the airplane’s arrival in Manila, soldiers boarded the airplane to arrest Aquino. The soldiers escorted him off the airplane and onto the jet bridge; however, instead of following the jet bridge to the terminal, they exited the jet bridge down the service staircase onto the apron, where a military vehicle was waiting to bring him to prison. Sometime between his egress from the aircraft and his boarding of the ground vehicle, several gunshots were heard. When the firing stopped, Aquino was dead.

800px-Ninoy's_bloodied_jacket,_belt_and_boots
Bloodied safari jacket, pants (folded), belt, and boots worn by Aquino upon his return from exile are on permanent display at the Aquino Center in Tarlac.

People Power Revolution

Following her husband’s assassination in 1983, Aquino’s widow Cory became active and visible in various demonstrations and protests held against the Marcos regime. She began to assume the mantle of leadership left by her husband Ninoy and became the symbolic figurehead of the anti-Marcos political opposition. In the last week of November 1985, Marcos surprised the nation by announcing on American television that he would hold a snap presidential election in February 1986, in order to dispel and remove doubts against his regime’s legitimacy and authority.

Initially reluctant, Aquino was eventually prevailed upon to heed the people’s clamor, after one million signatures urging her to run for president were presented to her. Running on the offensive, the ailing Marcos  derided Aquino’s womanhood, saying that she was “just a woman” whose place was in the bedroom. In response to her opponent’s sexist remark, and in reference to the fact that the ailing and feeble Marcos was increasingly seen as being largely a front man for his wife, Imelda, Aquino simply remarked that “may the better woman win in this election.” Marcos also attacked Aquino’s inexperience and warned the country that it would be a disaster if a woman like her with no previous political experience was to be elected president, to which Aquino cleverly and sarcastically responded, admitting that she had “no experience in cheating, lying to the public, stealing government money, and killing political opponents.”

The snap election called by Marcos which was held on 7 February 1986 and was marred by massive electoral fraud, violence, intimidation, coercion and disenfranchisement of voters. Election Day proved to be bloody as one of Aquino’s staunchest allies, former Antique province Governor Evelio Javier, was brutally murdered, allegedly by some of Marcos’ supporters in his province. Furthermore, during the counting and tallying of votes conducted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), 30 poll computer technicians walked out to dispute and contest the alleged election-rigging being done in favor of Marcos.

Incumbent President Marcos as declared the winner on February 15, 1986. In protest, Aquino called for a rally dubbed “Tagumpay ng Bayan” (People’s Victory Rally) the following day, during which she claimed that she was the real winner in the snap election and urged Filipinos to boycott the products and services by companies controlled or owned by Marcos’s cronies. The rally held at the historic Rizal Park in Manila drew a mammoth-sized crowd, sending a strong signal that Filipinos were quite tired of Marcos’ two decades of rule and the lengths to which he would go to perpetuate it.

Further, the dubious election results drew sharp reactions from both local quarters and foreign countries. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement strongly criticizing the conduct of the election which was characterized by violence and fraud. International observers, including a U.S. delegation, denounced the official results.  The United States Senate likewise condemned the election.

Aquino rejected a power-sharing agreement proposed by the American diplomat Philip Habib, who had been sent as an emissary by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to help defuse the tension.

EDSA_Revolution_pic1
Hundreds of thousands of people filling up Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), facing northbound towards the Boni Serrano Avenue-EDSA intersection. (February 1986)

In what came to be known as the People Power Revolution, peaceful demonstrations took place on a long stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, more commonly known by its acronym EDSA, in Metro Manila from February 22–25, 1986.  They involved over two million Filipino civilians, as well as several political and military groups and religious groups. The protests, fueled by the resistance and opposition from years of governance by President Marcos and his cronies, culminated with the absolute ruler and his family fleeing Malacañang Palace to exile in Hawaii. Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, was immediately inaugurated as the eleventh president as a result of the revolution on February 25, 1986.

Corazon_Aquino_inauguration
Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as the 11th president of the Philippines on February 25, 1986 at Sampaguita Hall (Now Kalayaan Hall).

Marcos never ceased to maintain that he was the duly elected and proclaimed president of the Philippines for a fourth term, but unfairly and illegally deprived of his right to serve it.

In his dying days, Marcos offered to return 90% of his ill-gotten wealth to the Filipino people in exchange for being buried back in the Philippines beside his mother. However, Marcos’s offer was rebuffed by the Aquino government.  He died and was buried as he lived his final days, in exile in Hawaii.

However, in 2016, after a contentious legal fight, his remains were reinterred in at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Philippine National Cemetery, despite opposition from various groups.

IMG_2434
The People Power Monument is a monument built to commemorate the events of the 1986 People Power Revolution. The first and middle tiers are composed of statues of people from all sectors of the society. The first tier is composed of a chain of men and women with arms linked together. The middle tier represents various people, young and old, who had joined the protest; some of the statues are that of a musician, a mother carrying an infant, priests, and nuns. On the top tier of the monument is a towering female figure with arms raised toward the sky. The figure has unchained shackles on her wrist which represent freedom. From the back of the composition rises a large flag and staff.

This article was adapted in part from:

  1. Benigno Aquino, Jr.
  2. Assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr.
  3. Ferdinand Marcos
  4. Corazon Aquino
  5. People Power Revolution

Read more on this subject -> The Origins of the Philippine-American War  ◦  The Brutality of the Philippine-American War  ◦  The Philippines in the American Empire  ◦  “The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism  ◦  Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire  ◦  In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War Ninoy and Marcos – “A Pact with the Devil is No Pact at All.”


FURTHER READING

History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos by Luis Francia.


THIS LESSON WAS INDEPENDENTLY FINANCED BY OPENENDEDSOCIALSTUDIES.ORG.

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Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and the Conquest of Mexico

This lesson was reported from:

A chapter of The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

For Your Consideration:
  1. Why did the Mexican government encourage Americans to move to Texas? What caused these Americans to revolt against Mexico?
  2. What was Manifest Destiny? Did all people at the time agree with this idea?
  3. Why didn’t Texas immediately join the United States?
  4. How did the Mexican-American War begin?
  5. Why did a number of Northerners – such as Henry David Thoreau, John Quincy Adams, and Frederick Douglass – oppose the war?
  6. What did the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo do?

Texas

Comancheria
The Comancheria is the name commonly given to the region of New Mexico, west Texas and nearby areas occupied by the Comanche before the 1860s. They were dominate power in the region and are sometimes called an empire, though they were regarded as little more than bandits at the time.

Mexico obtained independence from Spain in 1821, and briefly experimented with monarchy, becoming a republic in 1824. This early period of Mexican history was characterized by considerable instability.  In the 1820s and 30s, the northern Mexican region of Texas was very sparsely populated, with fewer than 3,500 non-Native American residents, and only about 200 soldiers, which made it extremely vulnerable to attacks by the Comanche, Apache, and Navajo – who also claimed the land as their own. These indigenous people, especially the Comanche, took advantage of the weakness of the newly independent Mexico to undertake large-scale raids over hundreds of miles against Mexican targets to acquire livestock for their own use and to supply an expanding market in Texas and the US.

In the hopes that an influx of settlers could control the Indian raids, the bankrupt Mexican government liberalized immigration policies for the region. Finally able to settle legally in Texas, Americans from the United States soon vastly outnumbered the Tejanos, or Mexican citizens of Texas. Most of the immigrants came from the southern United States. Many were slave owners, and most brought with them significant prejudices against other races, attitudes often applied to the Tejanos.

Mexican authorities became increasingly concerned about the stability of the region – now because of the Americans in their midst. After Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, the American population in Texas teetered on the brink of revolt. Alarmed, the Mexican government implemented a new round of restrictions, which, among other things, prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States, increased taxes, and reiterated the ban on slavery.  Settlers simply circumvented or ignored the laws. By 1834, an estimated 30,000 Americans lived in Texas, compared to only 7,800 Mexican-born residents. By the end of 1835, almost 5,000 enslaved Africans and African Americans lived in Texas, making up 13 percent of the non-Indian population.

800px-FalloftheAlamo
The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States, killing the Texian defenders. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution.

The Republic of Texas declared independence from the Republic of Mexico on March 2, 1836. At the time the vast majority of the population favored the annexation of the Republic by the United States. Fearing a repeat of the Missouri crisis, the leadership of both major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, opposed the introduction of Texas, a vast slave-holding region, into the volatile political climate of the pro- and anti-slavery sectional controversies in Congress. Moreover, they wished to avoid a war with Mexico, whose government refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of its rebellious northern province.

Manifest Destiny

For individual settlers, the decision to move west was typically driven by the desire for economic opportunity.  But how did Americans justify their right to take lands from Native Americans, Mexicans, and others who might already live in the west?

In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across the entire continent of North America. A term coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan in 1845 to describe a set of attitudes that had already existed for some time before, there are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

  • the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
  • the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the United States;
  • the destiny under God to do this work.

O’Sullivan wrote: “And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

800px-American_Progress_(John_Gast_painting)
American Progress, (1872) by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, a personification of the United States, is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She is shown bringing light from the East into the West, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge,[1] and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation.
O’Sullivan’s original conception of manifest destiny was not a call for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of the United States would happen without the direction of the U.S. government or the involvement of the military. After Americans immigrated to new regions, they would set up new democratic governments, and then seek admission to the United States, as Texas had done. In 1845, O’Sullivan predicted that California would follow this pattern next, and that Canada would eventually request annexation as well. 

Ironically, O’Sullivan’s term became popular only after it was criticized by Whig opponents of the Polk administration. On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop ridiculed the concept in Congress, saying “I suppose the right of a manifest destiny to spread will not be admitted to exist in any nation except the universal Yankee nation.” Winthrop was the first in a long line of critics who suggested that advocates of manifest destiny were citing “Divine Providence” for justification of actions that were motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism, expansionists embraced the phrase, which caught on so quickly that its origin was soon forgotten.

The Mexican-American War

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Mexico in 1824.

For almost a decade, Texas remained an independent republic, largely because its annexation as a huge new slave state would disrupt the increasingly precarious balance of political power in the United States. In 1845, President James K. Polk, narrowly elected on a platform of westward expansion, brought the Republic of Texas into the Union as the 28th state. Polk’s move was the first gambit in a larger design. Texas claimed that its border with Mexico was the Rio Grande River; Mexico argued that the border stood 150 miles to the north along the Nueces River. Meanwhile, American settlers were flooding into the territories of New Mexico and California, citing manifest destiny as their justification to do so.

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The Republic of Texas: The present-day outlines of the individual U.S. states are superimposed on the boundaries of 1836–1845.

U.S. attempts to purchase from Mexico the New Mexico and California territories failed. In 1846, President Polk ordered General Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande, entering deep into the territory that Mexico claimed as their own.

Regarding the beginning of the war, Ulysses S. Grant, who had opposed the war but served as an army lieutenant in Taylor’s Army, claims in his Personal Memoirs (1885) that the main goal of the U.S. Army’s advance from Nueces River to Rio Grande was to provoke the outbreak of war without attacking first – to make the whole war seem defensive, rather than as a war of conquest against a weaker nation.

“We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, “Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,” and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it….

Mexico showing no willingness to come to the Nueces to drive the invaders from her soil, it became necessary for the ‘invaders’ to approach to within a convenient distance to be struck. Accordingly, preparations were begun for moving the army to the Rio Grande… It was desirable to occupy a position near the largest centre of population possible to reach, without absolutely invading territory to which we set up no claim whatever.

Eleven American soldiers were killed in this initial conflict, provoked by the Americans.  Just as Grant described, Polk claimed the need to avenge the honor of these fallen men and pushed for open warfare against Mexico – a full invasion by the better equipped, better organized U.S. army commenced.  His message to Congress on May 11, 1846, claimed that “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”

American troops occupied the lightly populated territory of New Mexico, then supported a revolt of settlers in California. A U.S. force under Zachary Taylor invaded Mexico, winning victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista, but failing to bring the Mexicans to the negotiating table.

Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor. Mexicans who opposed direct conflict with the United States were viewed as traitors.

800px-Battle_of_Churubusco2
This lithograph from 1847 depicting the Battle of Churubusco suggests the lopsided nature of many of the conflicts in the Mexican-American War.

Opposition to the War

In the United States, increasingly divided by sectional rivalry, the war was a partisan issue. Most Whigs in the North and South opposed it; most Democrats supported it.  Southern Democrats supported it in hope of adding slave-owning territory to the South and avoiding being overwhelmed in the Senate by the faster-growing North.

Northern antislavery elements feared the expansion of the Southern Slave Power; Whigs generally wanted to strengthen the economy with industrialization, not expand it with more land. Among the most vocal opposing the war in the House of Representatives was John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts. Adams had first voiced concerns about expanding into Mexican territory in 1836 when he opposed Texas annexation. He continued this argument in 1846 for the same reason. War with Mexico would add new slavery territory to the nation. When the vote to go to war with Mexico came to a vote on May 13, Adams spoke a resounding “No!” in the chamber. Only 13 others followed his lead.

Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
Ex-slave Frederick Douglass opposed the war and was dismayed by the weakness of the anti-war movement. “The determination of our slave holding president, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people, men and money to carry it on, is made evident by the puny opposition arrayed against him. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks.”

Northern abolitionists attacked the war as an attempt by slave-owners to strengthen the grip of slavery and thus ensure their continued influence in the federal government. Prominent artists and writers opposed the war.

The Transcendentalist writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson attacked the popular war. Thoreau, who served jail time for refusing to pay his taxes in opposition, composed an essay on how to resist such a large-scale injustice as the war.  That essay is now known as Civil Disobedience. Emerson was succinct, predicting that, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as a man who swallowed the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” Events proved him right, as arguments over the expansion of slavery in the lands seized from Mexico would fuel the drift to civil war just a dozen years later.

Democratic Representative David Wilmot introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which would prohibit slavery in new territory acquired from Mexico. Wilmot’s proposal passed the House but not the Senate, and it spurred further hostility between the factions.

The End of the War

The Battle of Chapultepec was an encounter between the Mexican Army and the United States on the castle of Chapultepec which sits high atop a cliff. At this time, this castle was a renowned military school. After the battle, which ended in the American capture of Mexico City, the legend of “Los Niños Héroes” was born. Although the story is unconfirmed by historians, six military cadets between the ages of 13 and 17 are said to have stayed in the school instead of evacuating, choosing instead to stand their ground for the honor of Mexico. Rather than surrender to the U.S. Army, some of military cadets leaped from the castle walls. One cadet wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped to his death. These Niños Héroes (hero children) became icons in Mexico’s pantheon of heroes.

Outnumbered militarily and with many of its large cities occupied, Mexico could not defend itself; the country was also faced with many internal divisions. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war. The treaty gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.-Mexican border at the Rio Grande, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, most of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming (together, so-called Mexican Cession). In return, Mexico received $15 million (approximately $424 million today) – less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities.

The acquisition was a source of controversy, especially among U.S. politicians who had opposed the war from the start. A leading antiwar U.S. newspaper, the Whig National Intelligencer, sardonically concluded that “We take nothing by conquest … Thank God.”

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Mexican territorial claims relinquished under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in white.

Before ratifying the treaty, the U.S. Senate made two modifications: changing the wording of Article IX (which guaranteed Mexicans living in the purchased territories the right to become U.S. citizens) and striking out Article X (which conceded the legitimacy of land grants made by the Mexican government).  As a result, the majority of Mexicans who suddenly found themselves living in the United States would come to be considered foreigners in their own home and would ultimately lose their land to American settlers who flooded the Mexican Cession over the next generation.

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War News from Mexico (1848).

The war was a decisive event for the U.S., marking a significant waypoint for the nation as a growing military power, and a milestone in the U.S. narrative of Manifest Destiny. The war did not resolve the issue of slavery in the U.S. but rather in many ways inflamed it, as potential westward expansion of the institution of slavery became an increasingly central and heated theme in national debates preceding the American Civil War. By extending the nation from coast to coast, the Mexican–American War was a next step in the huge migrations to the West of Americans, which culminated in transcontinental railroads and the Indian wars later in the same century.

The military defeat and loss of territory was a disastrous blow to Mexico, causing the country to enter a period of self-examination as its leaders sought to identify and address the reasons that had led to such a debacle.  The war remains a painful historical event for the country.

In Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park, the Niños Héroes (Monument to the Heroic Cadets) commemorates the heroic sacrifice of the six teenaged military cadets who fought to their deaths rather than surrender to American troops during the Battle of Chapultepec Castle. The monument is an important patriotic site in Mexico. On March 5, 1947, nearly one hundred years after the battle, U.S. President Harry S. Truman placed a wreath at the monument and stood for a moment of silence.

The United States has no national memorial to the war, which remains largely unknown to most Americans.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Texas Annexation
  2. Manifest Destiny
  3. The Mexican-American War
  4. Sectional Conflict