The Constitution: A Second Draft of American Democracy

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.

Constitutional Convention

By the time the Northwest Ordinance was enacted, American leaders were in the midst of drafting a new and stronger constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Already a legend in his own lifetime, George Washington was a vocal critic of the Articles, had written accurately that the states were united only by a “rope of sand.” Disputes between Maryland and Virginia over navigation on the Potomac River led to a conference of representatives of five states at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786. One of the delegates, Alexander Hamilton of New York, convinced his colleagues that commerce was bound up with large political and economic questions. What was required was a fundamental rethinking of the Confederation.

The Annapolis conference issued a call for all the states to appoint representatives to a convention to be held the following spring in Philadelphia. The Continental Congress was at first indignant over this bold step, but it acquiesced after Washington gave the project his backing and was elected a delegate. During the next fall and winter, elections were held in all states but Rhode Island.

A remarkable gathering of notables assembled at what came to be called the Constitutional Convention – a gathering of delegates with the goal of creating a new plan of government for the United States – in May 1787. The state legislatures sent leaders with experience in colonial and state governments, in Congress, on the bench, and in the army. Washington, regarded as the country’s first citizen because of his integrity and his military leadership during the Revolution, was chosen as presiding officer.

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The signing of the Constitution of the United States

From Pennsylvania came Benjamin Franklin, nearing the end of an extraordinary career of public service and scientific achievement. From Virginia came James Madison, a practical young statesman, a thorough student of politics and history, and, according to a colleague, “from a spirit of industry and application … the best-informed man on any point in debate.” He would be recognized as the “Father of the Constitution.”

From New York came Alexander Hamilton, who had proposed the meeting. Absent from the Convention were Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as minister representing the United States in France, and John Adams, serving in the same capacity in Great Britain. Youth predominated among the 55 delegates—the average age was 42.

Congress had authorized the Convention merely to draft amendments to the Articles of Confederation but, as Madison later wrote, the delegates, “with a manly confidence in their country,” simply threw the Articles aside and went ahead with the building of a wholly new form of government.

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Independence Hall’s Assembly Room, where the delegates worked through summer heat in 1787.

They recognized that the paramount need was to reconcile two different powers—the power of local control, which was already being exercised by the 13 semi-independent states, and the power of a central government. They adopted the principle that the functions and powers of the national government—being new, general, and inclusive—had to be carefully defined and stated, while all other functions and powers were to be understood as belonging to the states. But realizing that the central government had to have real power, the delegates also generally accepted the fact that the government should be authorized, among other things, to coin money, to regulate commerce, to declare war, and to make peace.

Debate and Compromise

The 18th-century statesmen who met in Philadelphia were adherents of Montesquieu’s concept of the separation of powers in politics. This principle was supported by colonial experience and strengthened by the writings of Montesquieu, with which most of the delegates were familiar. These influences led to the conviction that three equal and coordinate branches of government should be established. Legislative, executive, and judicial powers were to be so harmoniously balanced that no one could ever gain control. The delegates agreed that the legislative branch, like the colonial legislatures and the British Parliament, should be bicameral, consisting of two houses.

On these points there was unanimity within the assembly. But sharp differences also arose. Representatives of the small states—New Jersey, for instance—objected to changes that would reduce their influence in the national government by basing representation upon population rather than upon statehood, as was the case under the Articles of Confederation.

On the other hand, representatives of large states, like Virginia, argued for proportionate representation. This debate threatened to go on endlessly until Roger Sherman came forward with a plan that came to be known as the Great Compromise – for representation in proportion to the population of the states in one house of Congress, the House of Representatives, and equal representation in the other, the Senate.

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Quaker John Dickinson argued forcefully against slavery during the Convention. Once Delaware’s largest slaveholder, he had freed all of his slaves by 1787.

Almost every succeeding question raised new divisions, to be resolved only by new compromises. Northerners wanted slaves counted when determining each state’s tax share, but not in determining the number of seats a state would have in the House of Representatives. According to the Three-Fifths Compromise reached with little dissent, tax levies and House membership would be apportioned according to the number of free inhabitants plus three-fifths of the slaves.

Laboring through a hot Philadelphia summer, the convention finally achieved a draft incorporating in a brief document the organization of the most complex government yet devised – one which could only carry out enumerated powers, those powers listed in the Constitution. It would have full power to levy taxes, borrow money, establish uniform duties and excise taxes, coin money, regulate interstate commerce, fix weights and measures, grant patents and copyrights, set up post offices, and build post roads. It also was authorized to raise and maintain an army and navy, manage Native-American affairs, conduct foreign policy, and wage war. It could pass laws for naturalizing foreigners and controlling public lands; it could admit new states on a basis of absolute equality with the old. The power to pass all necessary and proper laws for executing these clearly defined powers rendered the federal government able to meet the needs of later generations and of a greatly expanded body politic.

The principle of separation of powers had already been given a fair trial in most state constitutions and had proved sound. Accordingly, the convention set up a governmental system with separate legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, each with powers of checks and balances to limit each other. Thus congressional enactments were not to become law until approved by the president. And the president was to submit the most important of his appointments and all his treaties to the Senate for confirmation. The president, in turn, could be impeached and removed by Congress. The judiciary was to hear all cases arising under federal laws and the Constitution; in effect, the courts were empowered to interpret both the fundamental and the statute law. But members of the judiciary, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, could also be impeached by Congress.

checks

Ratification and the Bill of Rights

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The Rising Sun Chair George Washington used during the Constitutional Convention.

On September 17, 1787, after 16 weeks of deliberation, the finished Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present. Franklin, pointing to the half‑sun painted in brilliant gold on the back of Washington’s chair, said:

I have often in the course of the session … looked at that [chair] behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting, sun.

The convention was over; the members “adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other.” Yet a crucial part of the struggle for a more perfect union remained to be faced. The consent of popularly elected state conventions was still required before the document could become effective.

The convention had decided that the Constitution would take effect upon ratification by conventions in nine of the 13 states. By June 1788 the required nine states had ratified the Constitution, but the large states of Virginia and New York had not. Most people felt that without their support the Constitution would never be honored. To many, the document seemed full of dangers: Would not the strong central government that it established tyrannize them, oppress them with heavy taxes, and drag them into wars?

Differing views on these questions brought into existence two parties, the Federalists, who favored a strong central government, and the Antifederalists, who preferred a loose association of separate states. Impassioned arguments on both sides were voiced by the press, the legislatures, and the state conventions.

In Virginia, the Antifederalists attacked the proposed new government by challenging the opening phrase of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States.” Without using the individual state names in the Constitution, the delegates argued, the states would not retain their separate rights or powers. Virginia Antifederalists were led by Patrick Henry, who became the chief spokesman for back-country farmers who feared the powers of the new central government. Wavering delegates were persuaded by a proposal that the Virginia convention recommend a bill of rights, and Antifederalists joined with the Federalists to ratify the Constitution on June 25.

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An advertisement for The Federalist, 1787, using the pseudonym “Philo-Publius.”

In New York, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison pushed for the ratification of the Constitution in a series of essays known as The Federalist Papers. The essays, published in New York newspapers, provided a now-classic argument for a central federal government, with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches that checked and balanced one another. With The Federalist Papers influencing the New York delegates, the Constitution was ratified on July 26.

Fear of a strong central government was only one concern among those opposed to the Constitution; of equal concern to many was the fear that the Constitution did not protect individual rights and freedoms sufficiently. Virginian George Mason, author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights of 1776, was one of three delegates to the Constitutional Convention who had refused to sign the final document because it did not enumerate individual rights. Together with Patrick Henry, he campaigned vigorously against ratification of the Constitution by Virginia. Indeed, five states, including Massachusetts, ratified the Constitution on the condition that such amendments be added immediately.

When the first Congress convened in New York City in September 1789, the calls for amendments protecting individual rights were virtually unanimous. Congress quickly adopted 12 such amendments; by December 1791, enough states had ratified 10 amendments to make them part of the Constitution. Collectively, they are known as the Bill of Rights. Among their provisions: freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right to assemble peacefully, protest, and demand changes (First Amendment); protection against unreasonable searches, seizures of property, and arrest (Fourth Amendment); due process of law in all criminal cases (Fifth Amendment); right to a fair and speedy trial (Sixth Amendment); protection against cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment); and provision that the people retain additional rights not listed in the Constitution (Ninth Amendment).

Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, only 17 more amendments have been added to the Constitution. Although a number of the subsequent amendments revised the federal government’s structure and operations, most followed the precedent established by the Bill of Rights – they expanded rather than limited individual rights and freedoms, in particular to the women and people of color who had originally been excluded when Jefferson wrote the words “All men are created equal…”

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government
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The Origins of Servitude and Slavery in Colonial America

How do you fill jobs that no one wants to do?  One choice is that you can pay workers in these positions extremely well, making these hard jobs desirable.  That is expensive, making it hard or impossible to turn a profit.  The other option is to coerce people into performing that labor – through financial, legal, or violent means…  Which way did landowners in colonial America solve this dilemma?
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.

Indentured Servitude

Indentured servitude was a system by which immigrants, typically young Europeans under 25, both men and women, came to the English colonies.

Farmers, merchants, and shopkeepers in the British colonies found it very difficult to hire free workers, primarily because it was easy for potential workers to set up their own farms by moving to frontier lands. Consequently, a common solution was to transport a young worker from Britain or a German state, who would work for several years to pay off the debt of their travel costs. During the indenture period the servants were not paid cash wages, but were provided with food, accommodation, clothing and training. The indenture document specified how many years the servant would be required to work, after which they would be free. Terms of indenture ranged from one to seven years with typical terms of four or five years.

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Virginia Gazette, March 18, 1775.

Servants could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment (like many young ordinary servants), and saw their obligation to labor enforced by the courts. To ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if they became pregnant. But unlike slaves, servants were guaranteed to be eventually released from bondage. At the end of their term they received a payment known as “freedom dues” (typically a small parcel of land or a new suit of clothes) and become free members of society. One could buy and sell indentured servants’ contracts, and the right to their labor would change hands, but not the person as a piece of property.

Both male and female laborers could be subject to violence, occasionally even resulting in death. Historian Richard Hofstadter notes that, as slaves arrived in greater numbers after 1700, white laborers in Virginia became a “privileged stratum, assigned to lighter work and more skilled tasks.” He also notes that “Runaways were regularly advertised in the newspapers, rewards were offered, and both sheriffs and the general public were enlisted to secure their return. … The standard penalty in the North, not always rigorously enforced, was extra service of twice the time the master had lost, though whipping was also common.”

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Pennsylvania Gazette, November 25, 1762.

Transatlantic Slave Trade

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The triangular trade. While slave labor was not widely practiced in New England, the region’s merchants participated and profited off of the trade directly – transporting enslaved Africans into slavery in the Americas, and carrying the fruits of slave labor, such as tobacco and sugar, to to consumers outside of the American South.

The transatlantic slave trade was the forced transportation of enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade regularly used the triangular trade route and its Middle Passage, and existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported in the transatlantic slave trade were Africans from central and western Africa, who had been sold by other West Africans to Western European slave traders (with a small number being captured directly by the slave traders in coastal raids), who brought them to the Americas.  South Atlantic and Caribbean economies especially were dependent on the supply of secure labor for the production of commodity crops such as tobacco, sugar, and cotton to sell elsewhere in the colonies and in Europe.

The duration of the transatlantic voyage varied widely, from one to six months depending on weather conditions. The journey became more efficient over the centuries; while an average transatlantic journey of the early 16th century lasted several months, by the 19th century the crossing often required fewer than six weeks.

It is believed that African kings, warlords and private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans who held several coastal forts. The captives were usually force-marched to these ports along the western coast of Africa, where they were held for sale to the European or American slave traders. Typical slave ships contained several hundred slaves with about 30 crew members.

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Diagram of a large slave ship. Thomas Clarkson: The cries of Africa to the inhabitants of Europe, 1822.

The male captives were normally chained together in pairs to save space; right leg to the next man’s left leg — while the women and children may have had somewhat more room. At best, captives were fed beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. Slaves were typically fed one meal a day with water, if at all.

bilboeSlaves lived below the decks in conditions of squalor and indescribable horror. Disease spread and ill health was one of the biggest killers. Mortality rates were high, and death made conditions even worse. Many crew members avoided going into the hold because of the smell, the sights, and the sounds below deck.  Even though the corpses were thrown overboard, living slaves might be shackled for hours and sometimes days to someone who was dead.

Current estimates are that about 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, although the number purchased by the traders was considerably higher, as the passage had a high death rate. Disease and starvation due to the length of the passage were the main contributors to the death toll, as diseases spread rapidly in the close-quarter compartments of the slave ships.

As a way to counteract disease, slaves were forced onto the deck of the ship for exercise.  This frequently resulted in beatings from the crew because the slaves would be unwilling to dance for them or interact. These beatings would often be severe and could result in the slave dying or becoming more susceptible to diseases.

Slaves resisted in many ways. The two most common types of resistance were refusal to eat and suicide. Suicide was a frequent occurrence, often by refusal of food or medicine or jumping overboard, as well as by a variety of other opportunistic means. 

Ottobah Cugoano, who was taken from Africa as a slave when he was a child, later wrote a book of his life and in it described an uprising aboard the ship on which he was transported to the West Indies:

“When we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames.”

Slave ships were designed and operated to prevent the slaves from revolting. Resistance among slaves usually ended in failure and participants in a rebellion were punished severely.  Despite this, about one out of ten ships experienced some sort of rebellion.

Slavery

The first Africans to be brought to British North America landed in Virginia in 1619. They arrived on a Dutch ship that had captured them from the Spanish. These approximately 20 individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, and a significant number of enslaved Africans earned freedom by fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity.  Like European indentured servants at the completion of their contract, many of these first African Americans were each granted 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land when freed from their indentures, so they could raise their own tobacco or other crops.

By 1650, there were about 300 Africans living in Virginia, about 1% of an estimated 30,000 population of people of English and European ancestry.  Some successful free people of color, such as Anthony Johnson, in turn acquired slaves or indentured servants for workers. Some historians say this evidence suggests that racial attitudes were much more flexible in 17th-century Virginia than they would later become.

Jamestown 1619From this early start, American slavery was born.  Slavery was an institution that lasted for more than three hundred years under which African Americans could expect to be held for life as the property of their masters.  This system evolved over time, gradually becoming more strict and regulated.  It also varied from owner to owner – some masters may have been more gentle or cruel than others, more generous or stingy with food, etc…  But at the end of the day, an enslaved person was regarded by the law as little more than a piece of livestock – property that was totally at the mercy, or lack thereof, of their master.

In the 1660s, the colonial legislature adopted a law stating that all children born in the colony would take the status of their mothers, regardless of who their father was. Thus children born to enslaved mothers would be enslaved, regardless of their ethnicity or paternity. This was contrary to English common law for children of parents who are both English subjects, in which the child takes status from the father. But the law also meant that mixed-race children born to white women were born free, and many families of free African Americans were descended from unions between white women and ethnic African men during the colonial era.

Slavery became a racial caste – a status determined at birth, for life.

You can see this process for yourself – Primary Source Analysis: The Evolution of the Virginia Laws of Servitude and Slavery (1643-1691).

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The law developed in Virginia and later adopted in other colonies said that one’s status as either slave or free derived from one’s mother. This meant that both of the children depicted in this photo – from New Orleans in 1863 – were enslaved, despite the obvious European heritage of the girl on the right.

During the early 17th century, Virginia planters developed the commodity crop of tobacco as their chief export. It was a labor-intensive crop, and demand for it in England and Europe led to an increase in the importation of African slaves in the colony. By the mid-eighteenth century, there were 145,000 slaves in the Chesapeake Bay region, spread mostly on large plantations, as compared to 50,000 in the Spanish colony of Cuba, where they worked in urbanized settlements.

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Enslaved African-Americans near their quarters during the middle of the nineteenth century.

The treatment of slaves in the varied by time and place, but was generally nothing that you would wish to experience – slavery was brutal and degrading.  Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, beating, mutilation, branding and/or imprisonment. Punishment was most often meted out in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but masters or overseers sometimes abused slaves to assert dominance.

An 1850 publication provided slaveholders with guidance on how to produce the “ideal slave:”

  1. Maintain strict discipline and unconditional submission.
  2. Create a sense of personal inferiority, so that slaves “know their place.”
  3. Instill fear.
  4. Teach servants to take interest in their master’s enterprise.
  5. Deprive access to education and recreation, to ensure that slaves remain uneducated, helpless, and dependent.
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While conditions varied across time and place, slave quarters were usually very simple.  This space would likely be occupied by an entire family.

Under slavery, planters and other slaveholders owned, controlled and sold entire families of slaves. The slave population increased in the southern United States as native-born slaves produced large families.  Slaves were at a continual risk of losing family members if their owners decided to sell them for profit, punishment or to pay debts. Slaveholders also made gifts of slaves to grown children (or other family members), such as on the occasion of their marriage. Masters considered slave children ready to work and leave home as young as age 12 or 14.

A few slaves retaliated by murdering their owners and overseers, burning barns, and killing horses. These acts were rare, however, given the strong, harsh reactions from neighboring whites who worried that any act of defiance might lead to a full-scale slave rebellion.  Work slowdowns were probably the most frequent form of resistance and hard to control – slaves deliberately worked at a pace fast enough not to get in trouble, but no faster.

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Enslaved Africans were not a hidden secret – they were included in the advertisements for Virginia tobacco.

Bacon’s Rebellion

The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle, c. 1905
The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle, c. 1905.

Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Royal Governor William Berkeley. The governor’s dismissive policy with regard to land on its western frontier, along with other challenges including leaving Bacon out of his inner circle, refusing to allow Bacon to be a part of his fur trade with the Native Americans, and a lack of colonial response to Doeg American Indian attacks, helped to motivate a popular uprising against Berkeley, who had failed to address the demands of the colonists regarding their safety.

A thousand Virginians of all classes and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, attacking Indians, chasing Berkeley from Jamestown, Virginia, and ultimately torching the capital. The rebellion was first suppressed by a few armed merchant ships from London whose captains sided with Berkeley and the loyalists. Government forces from England arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to be once more under direct royal control.

It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part.  The alliance between indentured servants and Africans (most enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. While the farmers did not succeed in their initial goal of driving the Indians from Virginia, the rebellion did result in Berkeley being recalled to England.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Indentured Servitude in the Americas
  2. History of Slavery in Virginia
  3. The Middle Passage
  4. Bacon’s Rebellion

The United States: An Open Ended History

One – A New World: Colonial America (1600 – 1754)
  1. Jamestown: English Settlers in the Land of the Powhatan
  2. Massachusetts: Church and State in the Land of the Wampanoag
  3. An Overview of the English Colonies in America
  4. The Origins of Servitude and Slavery in Colonial America
Two – Common Sense and Independence: The Revolutionary Era (1754 – 1788)
  1. Join, or Die: The French and Indian War
  2. Agitation, Taxation, and Representation by Other Means
  3. The Shot Heard Round the World, Common Sense, and Independence
  4. The Revolutionary War: With a Little Help from our Friends
  5. A New Nation in Crisis: Shays Rebellion and the U.S. Under the Articles
  6. The Constitution: A Second Draft of American Democracy
Three – A More Perfect Union: The Early Republic (1788-1824)
  1. President Washington and the Origins of Party Politics
  2. Adams, Jefferson, and Competing Visions for the New Republic
  3. Foreign Adventures in the New Republic
  4. The Era of Good Feelings and Others Who Were Not So Lucky
Four – New Frontiers: Economic, Social, and Westward Expansion (1824-1850)
  1. Andrew Jackson, For and Against the Common Man
  2. I Will Not Retreat a Single Inch: Reformers Make Themselves Heard
  3. Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and the Conquest of Mexico
Five – The Gathering Storm: Sectionalism and a Nation in Crisis (1850-1865)
  1. Sectionalism in the Fractured 1850s
  2. A Nation Divided Against Itself
  3. To Break Our Bonds of Affection: The Coming of the Civil War
  4. Gettysburg to Appomattox and Beyond: A New Birth of Freedom
Appendix – Student Activities

The United States: An Open Ended History is a free online history textbook adapted and expanded upon from open sources.  Its chapters are designed to address most state standards, splitting the difference between overarching themes, concise summary, and the kinds of vivid, personal details that make history memorable to the average student – a balance that seems surprisingly hard to find even in expensive textbooks from the big corporations.  Please use and share freely – to supplement or replace what you have at hand.  This book is a work in progress, developed over the course of the 2018-2019 school year for use in my own courses.

The Pristine Myth: How Native Americans Shaped Their World

This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

The Pristine Myth

  1. What is the pristine myth?
  2. Aside from fire, what other examples of indigenous Americans shaping their environment does Denevan cite?  Follow one of the links in the relevant portion of this passage and explain one of these techniques or accomplishment in greater detail.
  3. Why did so many Europeans and their descendants fail to recognize the ways that Native Americans purposefully shaped the land? 
  4. How did Native Americans use fire?
  5. How did Europeans achieve the same or similar goals using different techniques?
  6. Could any of these Native American techniques be applied today?
“There were not really very many of these redmen … the land seemed empty to invaders who came from settled Europe . . . that ancient, primeval, undisturbed wilderness . . . the streams simply boiled with fish … so much game . . . that one hunter counted a thousand animals near a single salt lick … the virgin wilderness of Kentucky … the forested glory of primitive America.” –  John Bakeless, The Eyes of Discovery, 1950.

In fact, Bakeless’s portrayal of Native Americans as passive in their environment – as little more than wild animals inhabiting a niche in an ecosystem – couldn’t be more wrong.  Various groups of Native Americans shaped North and South America for millennia before modern Americans started paving the forests to put up parking lots.

Historical ecologist William M. Denevan was one of the first scholars to recognize and describe the ways in which Native Americans, just like Europeans, shaped the environments in which they found themselves.  In a seminal book, he called the idea that Native Americans had not significantly impacted the landscape of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans “the pristine myth.”  To support his case, Denevan cited the many mounds, causeways, roads, terraces, and cultivated forests in both North and South America – as well as ample evidence that Native Americans used fire as a versatile tool to control and shape their environment.

Purposefully set fires helped promote valuable resources and habitats that sustained indigenous cultures, economies, traditions, and livelihoods. The cumulative ecological impacts of Native American fire use over time has resulted in a mosaic of grasslands and forests across North America that was once widely perceived by early European explorers, trappers, and settlers as untouched, pristine wilderness.

It is now recognized that the original American landscape was already humanized at the time that the first Europeans arrived.

The Indian’s Vespers by Asher Brown Durand was painted in 1847.  As part of the so-called Hudson River School of romantic painters, Durand often portrayed the American wilderness as a primeval state of nature, untouched by the hands of man.  Here, in keeping with the idea that Native American lived in harmony with nature, accepting its bounty while leaving almost no footprint on the land, a Native American prays toward the rising sun.
Eleven major reasons for Native American ecosystem burning:
Hunting The burning of large areas was useful to divert big game (deer, elk, bison) into small unburned areas for easier hunting and provide open prairies/meadows (rather than brush and tall trees) where animals (including ducks and geese) like to dine on fresh, new grass sprouts. Fire was also used to drive game into impoundments, narrow chutes, into rivers or lakes, or over cliffs where the animals could be killed easily. Some tribes used a surround or circle fire to force rabbits and game into small areas. The Seminoles even practiced hunting alligators with fire. Torches were used to spot deer and attract fish. Smoke was used to drive/dislodge raccoons and bears from hiding.
Crop management Burning was used to harvest crops, especially tarweed, yucca, greens, and grass seed collection. In addition, fire was used to prevent abandoned fields from growing over and to clear areas for planting corn and tobacco. One report of fire being used to bring rain (overcome drought). Clearing ground of grass and brush was done to facilitate the gathering of acorns. Fire was used to roast mescal and obtain salt from grasses.
Insect collection Some tribes used a “fire surround” to collect and roast crickets, grasshoppers, Pandora Pinemoths in pine forests, and collect honey from bees.
Pest management Burning was sometimes used to reduce insects (black flies, ticks, and mosquitos) and rodents, as well as kill mistletoe that invaded mesquite and oak trees and kill the tree moss favored by deer (thus forcing them to the valleys). Fire was also used to kill poisonous snakes.
Improve growth and yields Fire was often used to improve grass for big game grazing (deer, elk, antelope, bison), horse pasturage, camas reproduction, seed plants, berry plants (especially raspberries, strawberries and huckleberries), and tobacco. Fire was also used to promote plant structure and health, increase the growth of reeds and grasses used as basket materials, beargrassdeergrasshazel, and willows.
Fireproofing areas There are some indications that fire was used to protect certain medicine plants by clearing an area around the plants, as well as to fireproof areas, especially around settlements, from destructive wildfires. Fire was also used to keep prairies open from encroaching shrubs and trees.
Warfare and signaling Indians used fire to deprive the enemy of hiding places in tall grass and underbrush, to destroy enemy property, and to camouflage an escape. Large fires (not the Hollywood version of blankets and smoke) were ignited to signal enemy movements and to gather forces for combat.
Economic extortion Some tribes also used fire for a “scorched earth” policy to deprive settlers and fur traders from easy access to big game and thus benefiting from being “middlemen” in supplying pemmican and jerky.
Clearing areas for travel Fire was used to fell trees by boring two intersecting holes into the trunk, then dropping burning charcoal in one hole, allowing the smoke to exit from the other. This method was also used by early settlers. Another way to kill trees was to surround the base with fire, allowing the bark and/or the trunk to burn causing the tree to die (much like girdling) and eventually topple over. Fire also used to kill trees so that it could later be used for dry kindling (willows) and firewood (aspen).
Felling trees Fire was used to fell trees by boring two intersecting holes into the trunk, then dropping burning charcoal in one hole, allowing the smoke to exit from the other. This method was also used by early settlers. Another way to kill trees was to surround the base with fire, allowing the bark and/or the trunk to burn causing the tree to die (much like girdling) and eventually topple over. Fire also used to kill trees so that it could later be used for dry kindling (willows) and firewood (aspen).
Clearing riparian areas Fire was commonly used to clear brush from riparian areas and marshes for new grasses and sedges, plant growth (cattails), and tree sprouts (to benefit beavermuskratsmoose, and waterfowl), including mesquite, cottonwood, and willows.
Image result for controlled burns
Many plants have seeds that open only in the extreme heat of a fire.  Other plants thrive once the ground is cleared of dead matter, freeing up resources like sunlight and returning nutrients to the soil.  Game like deer and rabbits are attracted to this fresh green growth, both increasing their population and attracting them to the location of a Native American’s choice.  A controlled burn can also reduce the risk of an out of control wildfire like those seen recently in California. (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Gaming Commission)

Changes in Native Indian burning practices occurred as Europeans settled across the continent. 

Some settlers saw the potential benefits of low intensity, controlled burns, but by and large, they feared and suppressed them as a threat to their homes, farms, and towns.

Meanwhile, as Native American populations collapsed due to disease, violent conquest, and forced removal, the once-cultivated and sculpted green spaces between European settlements became truly wild.

In fact, the “primeval” forest observed by the romantic and transcendentalist writers of the early Nineteenth Century was the product of a catastrophic disruption of Native American society over the previous century by European settlers and conquerors.  In other words, the state of primeval nature – the overgrown forests with thick underbrush, overrun with wildlife – as described by such ostensibly perceptive men as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Henry David Thoreau existed because European-style civilization had supplanted Native American-style civilization, and their carefully cultivated wilderness landscapes had fallen into disrepair.

As Denevan puts it, “The pristine image of 1492 seems to be a myth, then, an image more applicable to 1750, following Indian decline.”

Asher Brown Durand’s The First Harvest in the Wilderness is impressed with the majesty of what he saw a untouched nature.  However, his painting might more accurately (if less poetically) be titled The First European-style Harvest in the Wilderness.

By the 1880’s, impacts of colonization had devastated indigenous populations, and fire exclusion became more widespread; by the early 20th century fire suppression had become official U.S. federal policy. Understanding how Native Americans used fire pre-settlement provides an important basis for studying and reconstructing subsequent fire regimes throughout the landscape and is critical to correctly interpreting the ecological basis for vegetation distribution.

Read more about how specific indigenous Americans groups shaped their world.

A section of Everglades National Park that is maintained through periodic controlled burns, which helps rangers consume dead plant material and clear invasive species. (Shark Valley, Florida, 2018.)

Further Reading

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.


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The lush product of controlled burns. (Everglades National Park, Florida, 2018.)

The Origins of the Philippine American War

This lesson continues in The Brutality of the Philippine-American War.  It 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.

Philippine Revolution

  1. In his famous novel El Filibusterismo, describing the abuses the Spanish government and the colonial church, Jose Rizal wrote, “It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted in the field without becoming part of an edifice.”  What did he mean?  Did he achieve this goal in his own life?
  2. Many risked and ultimately sacrificed their lives and livelihood for the cause of Philippine independence.  What cause do you believe in?
rizal
Jose Rizal was the author of novels and poems which inspired a strong sense of Filipino nationalism at the end of the Spanish colonial period. He on behalf advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain, and while he never really pushed for it himself, his critiques made him an inspiration to the independence movement. For this reason, the Spanish considered him dangerous. He was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion after the Philippine Revolution broke out. Though shot in the back, Rizal’s final act was to spin as he fell so that he would land facing up, toward the rising sun. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)

Andrés Bonifacio was a warehouseman and clerk from Manila, fed up with Spanish rule and his status as a second class citizen in his own homeland, and inspired, like many, by the writings of Jose Rizal.  He established the Katipunan—a revolutionary organization which aimed to gain independence from Spanish colonial rule by armed revolt—on July 7, 1892. After more than three hundred years of colonial rule, discontent was widespread among the Filipino population, and support for the movement grew quickly.  Fighters in Cavite province, across the bay from Manila, won early victories. One of the most influential and popular leaders from Cavite was Emilio Aguinaldo, mayor of Cavite El Viejo, who gained control of much of the eastern portion of Cavite province. Eventually, Aguinaldo and his faction gained control of the leadership of the Katipunan movement. Aguinaldo was elected president of the Philippine revolutionary movement at the Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897, and Bonifacio was executed for treason by Aguinaldo’s supporters after a show trial on May 10, 1897.

bonifacio
The revolution against Spain begins – In 1896, after the existence of the Katipunan, a heretofore secret society working toward independence, became known to the Spanish, founder Andres Bonifacio asked his men whether they were prepared to fight to the end. They all responded in the affirmative. Bonifacio then urged everyone to tear up his or her tax certificate, a symbolic gesture signifying the end of servitude to Spain. They did so amidst cries of “Long live the Philippines! Long live the Katipunan!” (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
Key moments in the opening months of the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

Aguinaldo’s exile and return

Emilio Aguinaldo in the field.
  1. Why did Aguinaldo agree to leave the Philippines?  Do you agree with his decision?
  2. What was the decisive contribution of the Americans to the defeat of the Spanish?
  3. Was Aguinaldo’s right to claim independence for the Philippines legitimate?

By late 1897, after a succession of defeats for the revolutionary forces, the Spanish had regained control over most of the Philippines. Aguinaldo and Spanish Governor-General Fernando Primo de Rivera entered into armistice negotiations. On December 14, 1897, an agreement was reached in which the Spanish colonial government would pay Aguinaldo $800,000 Mexican pesos—which was approximately equivalent to $400,000 United States dollars at that time in Manila—in three installments if Aguinaldo would go into exile outside of the Philippines.

Upon receiving the first of the installments, Aguinaldo and 25 of his closest associates left their headquarters at Biak-na-Bato and made their way to Hong Kong, according to the terms of the agreement. Before his departure, Aguinaldo denounced the Philippine Revolution, exhorted Filipino rebel combatants to disarm and declared those who continued hostilities and waging war to be bandits. Despite Aguinaldo’s denunciation, some of the rebels continued their armed revolt against the Spanish colonial government. According to Aguinaldo, the Spanish never paid the second and third installments of the agreed upon sum.

After only four months in exile, Aguinaldo decided to resume his role in the Philippine Revolution. He departed from Singapore aboard the steamship Malacca on April 27, 1898. He arrived in Hong Kong on May 1,which was the day that Commodore Dewey’s naval forces destroyed Rear-Admiral Patricio Montojo‘s Spanish Pacific Squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay. Aguinaldo then departed Hong Kong aboard the USRC McCulloch on May 17, arriving in Cavite on May 19.

USS Olympia art NH 91881-KN.jpg
The Battle of Manila Bay took place on 1 May 1898, during the Spanish–American War. The American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey engaged and destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron. The battle took place in Manila Bay in the Philippines, and was the first major engagement of the Spanish–American War. The battle was one of the most decisive naval battles in history and marked the effective end of the Spanish colonial period in Philippine history.

Less than three months after Aguinaldo’s return, the Philippine Revolutionary Army had conquered nearly all of the Philippines. With the exception of Manila, which was surrounded by revolutionary forces some 12,000 strong, the Filipinos rebels controlled the Philippines. Aguinaldo turned over 15,000 Spanish prisoners to the Americans, offering them valuable intelligence. Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence at his house in Cavite El Viejo on June 12, 1898.

aguinaldo
On June 12, 1898, the Philippine national flag was unfurled for the first time at the Aguinaldo residence in Kawit. At the same time, the Declaration of Philippine Independence was read aloud. It invoked the protection of God in heaven and “the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” on earth, dissolved all bonds between Spain and the Philippines, and proclaimed the right of the new republic to exercise all the attributes of a sovereign nation-state. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)

The Philippine Declaration of Independence was not recognized by either the United States or Spain on the grounds that it did not give power to the people and only left an elite few in charge. The Spanish government ceded the Philippines to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which was signed on December 10, 1898, in consideration for an indemnity for Spanish expenses and assets lost.

On January 1, 1899, Aguinaldo declared himself President of the Philippines—the only president of what would be later called the First Philippine Republic. He later organized a Congress at Malolos in Bulacan to draft a constitution.

The Relationship Sours

  1. What was Aguinaldo’s understanding his relationship with the Americans?  What were the Americans’ understanding?  Whose version do you believe and why?
  2. Would things be different if Filipino troops had captured Manila, raising their flag over Fort Santiago?
  3. How did the Filipino relationship with the Americans change once the Spanish were defeated?

On April 22, 1898, while in exile, Aguinaldo had a private meeting in Singapore with United States Consul E. Spencer Pratt, after which he decided to again take up the mantle of leadership in the Philippine Revolution. According to Aguinaldo, Pratt had communicated with Commodore George Dewey (commander of the Asiatic Squadron of the United States Navy) by telegram, and passed assurances from Dewey to Aguinaldo that the United States would recognize the independence of the Philippines under the protection of the United States Navy. Pratt reportedly stated that there was no necessity for entering into a formal written agreement because the word of the Admiral and of the United States Consul were equivalent to the official word of the United States government. With these assurances, Aguinaldo agreed to return to the Philippines.

Pratt later contested Aguinaldo’s account of these events, and denied any “dealings of a political character” with Aguinaldo.  Admiral Dewey also refuted Aguinaldo’s account, stating that he had promised nothing regarding the future:

“From my observation of Aguinaldo and his advisers I decided that it would be unwise to co-operate with him or his adherents in an official manner. … In short, my policy was to avoid any entangling alliance with the insurgents, while I appreciated that, pending the arrival of our troops, they might be of service.”

Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo writes of “American apostasy,” saying that it was the Americans who first approached Aguinaldo in Hong Kong and Singapore to persuade him to cooperate with Dewey in wresting power from the Spanish. Conceding that Dewey may not have promised Aguinaldo American recognition and Philippine independence (Dewey had no authority to make such promises), he writes that Dewey and Aguinaldo had an informal alliance to fight a common enemy, that Dewey breached that alliance by making secret arrangements for a Spanish surrender to American forces, and that he treated Aguinaldo badly after the surrender was secured. Agoncillo concludes that the American attitude towards Aguinaldo “…showed that they came to the Philippines not as a friend, but as an enemy masking as a friend.”

The first contingent of American troops arrived in Cavite on June 30, the second under General Francis V. Greene on 17 July, and the third under General Arthur MacArthur on 30 July. By this time, some 12,000 U.S. troops had landed in the Philippines.

Fort Santiago is a citadel first built by Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi for the new established Spanish city of Manila. The defense fortress is part of the structures of the walled city of Manila referred to as Intramuros, the primary military outpost from which the Spanish defended Manila in 1898. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)

Aguinaldo had presented surrender terms to Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines Basilio Augustín, who refused them. Augustín had thought that if he really needed to surrender the city, he would do so to the Americans. On 16 June, warships departed Spain to lift the siege, but they altered course for Cuba where a Spanish fleet was imperiled by the U.S. Navy. Life in Intramuros (the walled center of Manila), where the normal population of about ten thousand had swelled to about seventy thousand, had become unbearable. Realizing that it was only a matter of time before the city fell, and fearing vengeance and looting if the city fell to Filipino revolutionaries, Governor Augustín suggested to Dewey that the city be surrendered to the Americans after a short, “mock” battle. Dewey had initially rejected the suggestion because he lacked the troops to block Filipino revolutionary forces, but when Merritt’s troops became available he sent a message to Fermin Jáudenes, Augustín’s replacement, agreeing to the mock battle. Spain had learned of Augustín’s intentions to surrender Manila to the Americans, which had been the reason he had been replaced by Jaudenes.

Merritt was eager to seize the city, but Dewey stalled while trying to work out a bloodless solution with Jaudenes.  On 4 August, Dewey and Merritt gave Jaudenes 48 hours to surrender; later extending the deadline by five days when it expired. Covert negotiations continued, with the details of the mock battle being arranged on 10 August. The plan agreed to was that Dewey would begin a bombardment at 09:00 on 13 August, shelling only Fort San Antonio Abad, a decrepit structure on the southern outskirts of Manila, and the impregnable walls of Intramuros. Simultaneously, Spanish forces would withdraw, Filipino revolutionaries would be checked, and U.S. forces would advance. Once a sufficient show of battle had been made, Dewey would hoist the signal “D.W.H.B.” (meaning “Do you surrender?), whereupon the Spanish would hoist a white flag and Manila would formally surrender to U.S. forces.  This engagement went mostly according to plan and is known as the Mock Battle of Manila.

The Filipinos would not be allowed to enter the city. On the eve of the battle, Brigadier General Thomas M. Anderson telegraphed Aguinaldo, “Do not let your troops enter Manila without the permission of the American commander. On this side of the Pasig River you will be under fire.” On August 13, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish.

American flag raised over Fort Santiago 8-13-1898.jpg
Raising the American flag over Fort Santiago, Manila, on the evening of August 13, 1898. From Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899.

Before the attack on Manila, American and Filipino forces had been allies against Spain in all but name. After the capture of Manila, Spanish and Americans were in a partnership that excluded the Filipino insurgents. Fighting between American and Filipino troops had almost broken out as the former moved in to dislodge the latter from strategic positions around Manila on the eve of the attack. Aguinaldo had been told bluntly by the Americans that his army could not participate and would be fired upon if it crossed into the city. The insurgents were infuriated at being denied triumphant entry into their own capital, but Aguinaldo bided his time. Relations continued to deteriorate, however, as it became clear to Filipinos that the Americans were in the islands to stay.

On December 21, 1898, President William McKinley issued a Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation, which read in part, “…the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”

Major General Elwell Stephen Otis—who was Military Governor of the Philippines at that time—delayed its publication. On January 4, 1899, General Otis published an amended version edited so as not to convey the meanings of the terms “sovereignty,” “protection,” and “right of cessation,” which were present in the original version. However, Brigadier General Marcus Miller—then in Iloilo City and unaware that the altered version had been published by Otis—passed a copy of the original proclamation to a Filipino official there.

The original proclamation then found its way to Aguinaldo who, on January 5, issued a counter-proclamation: “My government cannot remain indifferent in view of such a violent and aggressive seizure of a portion of its territory by a nation which arrogated to itself the title of champion of oppressed nations. Thus it is that my government is disposed to open hostilities if the American troops attempt to take forcible possession of the Visayan islands. I denounce these acts before the world, in order that the conscience of mankind may pronounce its infallible verdict as to who are true oppressors of nations and the tormentors of mankind. In a revised proclamation issued the same day, Aguinaldo protested “most solemnly against this intrusion of the United States Government on the sovereignty of these islands.”

Otis regarded Aguinaldo’s proclamations as tantamount to war, alerting his troops and strengthening observation posts. On the other hand, Aguinaldo’s proclamations energized the masses with a vigorous determination to fight against what was perceived as an ally turned enemy.

Uncle Sam (representing the United States), gets entangled with rope around a tree labelled "Imperialism" while trying to subdue a bucking colt or mule labeled "Philippines" while a figure representing Spain walks off over the horizon carrying a bag labeled "$20,000,000"
1899 political cartoon by Winsor McCay.

Outbreak

  1. Why did Aguinaldo initially offer a cease fire?  Why do you think the Americans refused a cease fire when Aguinaldo offered one?
Filipino casualties.

On the evening of February 4, Private William W. Grayson—a sentry of the 1st Nebraska Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under orders to turn away insurgents from their encampment, fired upon an encroaching group of four Filipinos—fired the first shots of the war at the corner of Sociego and Silencio Streets, in Santa Mesa. According to Grayson’s account, he called “Halt!” and, when the four men responded by cocking their rifles, he fired at them. Upon opening fire, Grayson claims to have killed two Filipino soldiers; Filipino historians maintain that the slain soldiers were unarmed.

The following day, Filipino General Isidoro Torres came through the lines under a flag of truce to deliver a message from Aguinaldo to General Otis that the fighting had begun accidentally, saying “the firing on our side the night before had been against my order,” and that Aguinaldo wished for the hostilities to cease immediately and for the establishment of a neutral zone between the two opposing forces. Otis dismissed these overtures, and replied that the “fighting, having begun, must go on to the grim end.” On February 5, General Arthur MacArthur ordered his troops to advance against Filipino troops, beginning a full-scale armed clash between 19,000 American soldiers and 15,000 Filipino armed militiamen.

Utah Battery
The U.S. Utah Battery fires on insurgents near the San Juan Bridge, Manila.

Aguinaldo then reassured his followers with a pledge to fight if forced by the Americans, whom he had come to see as new oppressors, picking up where the Spanish had left off:

“It is my duty to maintain the integrity of our national honor, and that of the army so unjustly attacked by those, who posing as our friends, attempt to dominate us in place of the Spaniards.
“Therefore, for the defense of the nation entrusted to me, I hereby order and command: Peace and friendly relations between the Philippine Republic and the American army of occupation are broken—and the latter will be treated as enemies with the limits prescribed by the laws of War.”

In this Battle of Manila, American casualties totaled 238, of whom 44 were killed in action or died from wounds. The U.S. Army’s official report listed Filipino casualties as 4,000, of whom 700 were killed, but this is guesswork, and it is only the unfortunate opening battle of a much larger war that would drag on in one form or another for more than a decade.

That story is told in The Brutality of the Philippine-American War
Manila Burns
Fire during the fighting in Manila, 1899.

Activities

  1. There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines. 
    Juan Sumuory is celebrated in the Gallery of Heroes. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)

    Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino.  Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes.  These include:  Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat,  Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang.  Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom.  Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.

  2. Jose Rizal never specifically advocated violence or even open revolt against
    Untitled-1
    Jose Rizal famously declined the Spanish offer of a carriage ride to his execution site. Instead, he walked, and today, bronze footprints mark his path from Fort Santiago to today’s Rizal Park, a memorial that literally allows one to walk in the footsteps of a national hero.

    the Spanish, pushing instead for political reforms within the colonial structure.  He wrote with such clarity and passion, however, that he become a symbol to revolutionaries – and this is why the colonial authorities decided he needed to die, in a plan that ultimately backfired, transforming him into a martyr.  Debate with your class – “Does a national hero need to be a warrior – a violent figure?  If not, why are so many warriors celebrated the world over as national heroes?”

  3. Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem about the U.S. and its conquest of the Philippines.  It is called “The White Man’s Burden.”  The poem became so famous that it became the subject of parody as well.  Read both the poem and one of its parodies and discuss it with your classmates using the included questions to help guide you.
  4. Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire – 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.
  5. In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War – 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.

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

FURTHER READING

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

The Philippines is full of monumental humans – and monumental landscapes.  This is Taal – a volcanic island in the middle of a lake, which holds a lake and another island in its crater. (Taal Lake, Philippines, 2018.) 

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Islands in a Friendly Sea: Some Basics of Filipino History and Culture

This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

Balangays and Barangays

  1. What is a balangay? 
  2. What is a barangay?
Image result for balangay
A balangay is traditional Filipino ship, made of wooden planks and pins.  It is used for everything from fishing to hauling cargo, travel and conducting war, and it was likely the boat that carried the original settlers of the Philippines to the islands in ancient times.

The balangay is a boat used by native Filipinos for at least 2,000 years.  The balangay could cross open ocean – with navigation techniques involving the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns, and bird migrations.  The word barangay – a variant – is also the word used to describe the basic unit of Filipino political organization, with a meaning similar to clan, before the arrival of the Spanish.  Members of a barangay – typically 30 to 100 families – owed their allegiance to a datu, or chief, who ruled in conjunction with other datus.  So, poetically you could think of your community as the people who were in the same boat as you.

While this system fell away under Spanish rule, the word barangay is still used to describe a neighborhood in the Philippines, an evocative double meaning in a nation so oriented to the sea.

There are a number of distinctions between the modern barangay or Barrio, and the city-states and independent principalities encountered by the Spanish when they first arrived in 1521 and established relatively permanent settlements in 1574. The most glaring difference would be that the modern entity represents a geographical entity, the pre-colonial barangays represented loyalty to a particular head (datu). Even during the early days of Spanish rule, it was not unusual for people living beside each other to actually belong to different barangays.

The barangay of precolonial times was either independent, or belonged to what was only a loose confederation of several barangays, over which the rulers picked among themselves who would be foremost – known as the Pangulo or Rajah. In most cases, his function was to make decisions which would involve multiple barangays, such as disputes between members of two different barangays. Internally, each datu retained his jurisdiction.

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The barangay hall is typically a combination of city hall and community center.

timelineWho are the Filipinos?

  1. Consider the map of the Philippines – how does the country’s unique geography lend itself to the diversity of its population?
Image result for philippines gold chain ayala
This ten pound pure gold halter is one of the most spectacular artifacts ever found in the Philippines.  It is believed by some to be an Upavita, a ceremonial sacred thread worn members of the Brahmin class of India after a purification ritual – its existence demonstrates the influence of Hinduism and Indian culture in the early Philippines. (Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)

There is no easy way to describe Filipino culture – no one settled definition – because the Philippines are a particularly diverse nation spread across some 7,000 islands, with hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, thousands of years worth of history, trade, and colonization serving to add color and flavor to what seems like a simple question.

Prior to the advent of European colonialism in the 1500s CE, much Southeast Asia including the Philippines was under the influence of greater India.  India was a wealthy society with well-developed technology and religions.  Indians spread throughout southeast Asia as professionals, traders, priests and warriors, bringing with them a written language (Sanskrit) and religion (Hinduism or Buddhism).

 

Image result for philippines gold chain ayala
Detail of the sacred thread, woven entirely from gold.

Numerous Indianized principalities and empires flourished for centuries in areas that would become modern Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam.  Artwork, philosophy, models for royalty and class structure, as well as written languages in these lands were all influenced by India, similar to the way that Greek culture was a guiding influence on later European societies.  However, each of these countries adapted, blended, and assimilated this Indian influence in its own unique way, giving rise to the great diversity of cultures seen even just in the islands that make up the modern Philippines.

Locations of pre-colonial Polities and Kingdoms.
Locations of pre-colonial Filipino Polities and Kingdoms (900 CE to 1565 CE).

By 1000 BCE, the inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago had developed into four distinct kinds of peoples: tribal groups, such as the AetasHanunooIlongots and the Mangyan who depended on hunter-gathering and were concentrated in forests; warrior societies, such as the Isneg and Kalinga who practiced social ranking and ritualized warfare and roamed the plains; the petty plutocracy of the Ifugao Cordillera Highlanders, who occupied the mountain ranges of Luzon; and the harbor principalities of the estuarine civilizations that grew along rivers and seashores while participating in trans-island maritime trade. It was also during the first millennium BC that early metallurgy was said to have reached the archipelagos of maritime Southeast Asia via trade with India.

Piloncitos, small bead-like gold bits, each about the size of a corn kernel, are considered to be the earliest coin used for trade starting around the 9th Century CE by ancient Filipinos.  This one is marked with Baybayin, and a prehispanic Filipino alphabet.

Around 300–700 CE, the seafaring peoples of the islands traveling in balangays began to trade with the Indianized kingdoms in the Malay Archipelago and the nearby East Asian principalities, adopting influences from both Buddhism and Hinduism.

The Boxer Codex

  1. What is the Boxer Codex, and what can it tell us about the Philippines?
  2. Describe the general social structure of the prehispanic Philippines.  In what ways is it similar to or different from the social structure in your own society?
  3. Consider your status in your own society – to which corresponding class would you belong in ancient Filipino society?  Justify your answer.  Is this different from the class you WISH you belonged to?
  4. Can identify any foreign influence assimilated into the social structure of the Filipinos?
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An illustration from the Boxer Codex depicting a Spanish ship greeted by natives of the Mariana Islands, near the Philippines, naked and seemingly bearing gifts.  The Boxer Codex is one of the earliest attempts to describe Filipino daily life in detail.

The Philippines were ruled as a colony of Spain for 333 years.  This colonial experience transformed the culture and social structure of the islands dramatically, as Spaniards converted Filipinos to Christianity, reorganized barangays into barrios that suited Spanish political needs, and reorganized farming and land use according to their own economic needs.  The diverse languages and traditions of prehispanic Filipinos did not disappear completely, by any means, and much can be learned by talking to and studying the way of life practiced in various parts of the modern Philippines.

However, another important way that historians and anthropologists can gain greater insight into what the Philippines were like before the Spanish arrived is via the Boxer Codex, an illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Spanish around 1590.  The Boxer Codex depicts the TagalogsVisayansZambals, Cagayanes or possibly Ibanags and Negritos of the Philippines in vivid color.  The technique of the paintings, as well as the use of Chinese paper, ink, and paints, suggests that the unknown artist may have been Chinese.  Since Spanish colonial governors were required to submit written reports on the territories they governed, it is likely that the manuscript was written under the orders of the governor.  While it is written from an outsider’s perspective and contains many cultural biases that the Spanish carried with them, it is still an invaluable tool: this richly illustrated document provides a window into Filipino society at a time when the Spanish themselves were trying to gain a clear picture of it.

Social Hierarchy of Pre-colonial Polities

 

Class Title Description
Maginoo (Ruling Class)
RajaLakan,
Paramount Leader of the confederacy of barangay states. In a confederacy forged by alliances among polities, the datu would convene to choose a paramount chief from among themselves; their communal decision would be based on a datu’s prowess in battle, leadership, and network of allegiances.
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Datu
Datus were maginoo with personal followings (dulohan or barangay). His responsibilities included: governing his people, leading them in war, protecting them from enemies and settling disputes. He received agricultural produce and services from his people, and distributed irrigated land among his barangay with a right of usufruct.
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Maginoo
Maginoo comprised the ruling class of Tagalogs. Ginoo was both honorific for both men and women.Panginoon were maginoo with many slaves and other valuable property like houses and boats . Lineage was emphasized over wealth; the nouveau riche were derogatorily referred to as maygintawo (fellow with a lot of riches).

Members included: those who could claim noble lineage, members of the datu’s family.

Sultan Powerful governor of a province within the caliphate or dynasties of Islamic regions. Their position was inherited by a direct descent in a royal bloodline who could claim the allegiances of the datu. Sultans took on foreign relations with other states, and could declare war or allow subordinate datus to declare war if need be. The sultan had his court, a prime minister (gugu), an heir to the throne (Rajah Muda or crown prince), a third-ranking dignitary (Rajah Laut, or sea lord) and advisers (pandita).
Timawa and Maharlika (Middle Class and Freemen Visayans 2.png
Timawa
The timawa class were free commoners of Luzon and the Visayas who could own their own land and who did not have to pay a regular tribute to a maginoo, though they would, from time to time, be obliged to work on a datu’s land and help in community projects and events. They were free to change their allegiance to another datu if they married into another community or if they decided to move.

In Luzon, their main responsibility to the datu was agricultural labor, but they could also work in fisheries, accompany expeditions, and row boats. They could also perform irregular services, like support feasts or build houses

In Visayas, they paid no tribute and rendered no agricultural labor. They were seafaring warriors who bound themselves to a datu.

Members included: illegitimate children of maginoo and slaves and former alipin who paid off their debts

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Maharlika
Members of the Tagalog warrior class known as maharlika had the same rights and responsibilities as the timawa, but in times of war they were bound to serve their datu in battle. They had to arm themselves at their own expense, but they did get to keep the loot they won – or stole, depending on which side of the transaction you want to look at. Although they were partly related to the nobility, the maharlikas were technically less free than the timawas because they could not leave a datu’s service without first hosting a large public feast and paying the datu between 6 and 18 pesos in gold – a large sum in those days.
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Alipin/Uripon (Slaves)
Alipin Namamahay Today, the word alipin means slave and that’s how the Spaniards translated it, too, but the alipins were not really slaves in the Western sense of the word. They were not bought and sold in markets with chains around their necks. A better description would be to call them debtors.  Slaves who lived in their own houses apart from their creditor. If the alipin’s debt came from insolvency or legal action, the alipin and his debtor agreed on a period of indenture and an equivalent monetary value in exchange for it. The alipin namamahay was allowed to farm a portion of barangay land, but he was required to provide a measure of threshed rice or a jar of rice wine for his master’s feasts. He came whenever his master called to harvest crops, build houses, row boats, or carry cargo.Members included: those who have inherited debts from namamahay parents, timawa who went into debt, and former alipin saguiguilid who married.
Alipin Saguiguilid Slaves who lived in their creditor’s house and were entirely dependent on him for food and shelter. Male alipin sagigilid who married were often raised to namamahay status, because it was more economical for his master (as opposed to supporting him and his new family under the same roof). However, female alipin sagigilid were rarely permitted to marry.Members included: children born in debtor’s house and children of parents who were too poor to raise them.

The Laguna Copperplate

  1. What is the Laguna Copperplate?  How does it further illuminate our understanding of early Filipino social structure?
  2. Do you have documents that perform similar functions in your own society?  What are they?
The Laguna Copperplate, a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 AD, is the earliest known written document found in the Philippines.  The document states that it releases its bearers, the children of Namwaran, from a debt in gold amounting to 1 kati and 8 suwarnas (865 grams; 27.8 troy ounces).

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription was found in 1989 near the mouth of the Lumbang River near Laguna de Bay, by a man who was dredging sand to turn into concrete. Suspecting that the artifact might have some value, the man sold it to an antique dealer who, having found no buyers, eventually sold it to the National Museum of the Philippines, where it was assigned to Alfredo E. Evangelista, head of its anthropology department.

The text reads:

Line Transliteration Original translation by Antoon Postma (1991) Notes
1 swasti shaka warshatita 822 waisakha masa ding jyotishachaturthikrishnapaksha so- Hail! In the Saka-year 822; the month of March–April; according to the astronomer: the fourth day of the dark half of the moon; on
2 -mawara sana tatkala dayang angkatan lawan dengannya sanak barngaran si bukah Monday. At that time, Lady Angkatan together with her relative, Bukah by name,
3 anakda dang hwan namwaran di bari waradana wi shuddhapat(t)ra ulih sang pamegat senapati di tundu- the child of His Honor Namwaran, was given, as a special favor, a document of full acquittal, by the Chief and Commander of Tundun
4 n barja(di) dang hwan nayaka tuhan pailah jayadewa. di krama dang hwan namwaran dengan dang kaya- representing the Leader of Pailah, Jayadewa. This means that His Honor Namwran, through the Honorable Scribe
5 stha shuddha nu di parlappas hutangda wale(da)nda kati 1 suwarna 8 di hadapan dang hwan nayaka tuhan pu- was totally cleared of a salary-related debt of 1 kati and 8 suwarna (weight of gold): in the presence of His Honor the Leader of Puliran,
6 liran ka sumuran. dang hwan nayaka tuhan pailah barjadi ganashakti. dang hwan nayaka tu- Kasumuran; His Honor the Leader of Pailah, representing Ganasakti; (and) His Honor the Leader
7 han binwangan barjadi bishruta tathapi sadanda sanak kaparawis ulih sang pamegat de- of Binwangan, representing Bisruta. And, with his whole family, on orders of the Chief of Dewata
8 wata [ba]rjadi sang pamegat medang dari bhaktinda di parhulun sang pamegat. ya makanya sadanya anak representing the Chief of Mdang, because of his loyalty as a subject (slave?) of the Chief, therefore all the descendants
9 chuchu dang hwan namwaran shuddha ya kaparawis di hutangda dang hwan namwaran di sang pamegat dewata. ini gerang of his Honor Namwaran have been cleared of the whole debt that His Honor owed the Chief of Dewata. This (document) is (issued) in case
10 syat syapanta ha pashchat ding ari kamudyan ada gerang urang barujara welung lappas hutangda dang hwa … there is someone, whosoever, some time in the future, who will state that the debt is not yet acquitted of His Honor… * Line 10 of the LCI ends mid-sentence.

A year later, linguist Antoon Postma noted that the inscription was similar to the ancient Indonesian script of Kawi. Postma translated the script and found the document dated itself to the Saka year 822, an old Hindu calendar date which corresponds to 900 AD, making the Laguna Copperplate the earliest example of writing ever found in the Philippines. The document pre-dated the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and is from about the same time as the mention of the first known mention of Philippines in world history, in the official Chinese Song dynasty History of Song for the year 972.

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Place names mentioned in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription.

The text of the Laguna Copperplate offers us a window into Tondo culture, an ancient Filipino barangay that thrived along the Pasig River, not far from modern Metro Manila.  Because it is written in Kawi, an Indonesian script, and uses several Sanskrit loan-words, it demonstrates just how connected the Philippines were with other ancient societies in Southeast Asia.

IMG_2018
A turo turo is a special kind of Filipino restaurant.  Food is prepared in advance, and customers point, point – turo, turo in Tagalog – to the dishes they want to order. In a turo turo, one can find many of the Philippines’ most popular foods – and a great primer on its history. (Pasig City, Philippines, 2018.)
Available in the turo turo: Adobo is a popular dish in Philippine cuisine that usually involves pork or chicken marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns. It has sometimes been considered as the unofficial national dish in the Philippines. Early Filipinos often cooked by immersion in vinegar and salt to preserve the food longer in the island heat.

New Voices, New Flavors

  1. What outside cultures have contributed to the notion of what a Filipino is?  Describe ways in which these newcomers have shaped the Philippines.

Trade and interactions with China have also shaped the culture of the Philippines since ancient times.  Starting in the 900s CE, trade with China become more regular, leading to increased access to Chinese goods as well as intermarriage between Chinese merchants and local Filipino women.  This exchange would culminate in the Manila galleon route during the Spanish colonial period. The arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines attracted new waves of immigrants from China, and maritime trade flourished during the Spanish period. The Spanish recruited thousands of Chinese migrant workers called sangleys to build the colonial infrastructure in the islands. Many Chinese immigrants converted to Christianity, intermarried with the locals, and adopted Hispanized names and customs and became assimilated.

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Available in the turo turo: Lumpia are made from meat and vegetables, rolled in a crepe-like shell and usually fried.  They were brought to the Philippines by merchants from China’s Fujian province and have become a favorite Filipino snack.

Trade brought Arab and Malay merchants to the Philippines, especially in the southern islands of Mindanao and Palawan.  These traders brought with them their religion – Islam, which continues to be a crucial part of Filipino identity in these islands, where as much as 10% of the population is Muslim.  In fact, it is possible that if the Spanish had arrived much later, Islam could have become the dominant religion of the Philippines; while the independent-minded barangays were conquered one by one by the Spanish, the Muslim sultanates of that existed upon their arrival were united by a cohesive religious identity that contributed to an increased ability to resist Spanish attempts to dominate these islands.

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Arab traders have been visiting Philippines for nearly 2000 years. After the advent of Islam, in 1380, Karim ul’ Makhdum, the first Muslim missionary to reach the Sulu Archipelago, brought Islam to what is now the Philippines, first arriving in Jolo. Subsequent visits of Arab Muslim missionaries strengthened the Muslim faith in the Philippines, concentrating in the south and reaching as far north as Manila. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
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Available in the turo, turo: Satti is skewered, barbecued meat carried throughout the islands of Southeast Asia by Muslim traders.

The arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 began a period of European colonization. During the period of Spanish colonialism the Philippines was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was governed and controlled from Mexico City. Early Spanish settlers were mostly explorers, soldiers, government officials and religious missionaries born in Spain and Mexico who worked to convert the Philippines into a country that is today 83% Catholic.

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The death of Ferdinand Magellan while engaged in combat with the warriors of Lapu-Lapu became a potent symbol for later Filipino nationalists chaffing under the rule of the Spanish. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
A lush carving depicting the Virgin Mary – an important symbol for Filipino Catholics – adorns the 400 year old door of San Agustin Church.  The first San Agustin Church was the first religious structure constructed by the Spaniards on the island of Luzon. Made of bamboo and nipa, it was completed in 1571, but destroyed by fire in December 1574 during the attempted invasion of Manila by the forces of the Chinese pirate Limahong. A second wooden structure built on the same site. was destroyed in February 1583, by a fire that started when a candle ignited drapery on the funeral bier during services for Spanish Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.  The Spanish rebuilt the church using stone beginning in 1586. (Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 2018.)

The Peninsulares (governors born in Spain), mostly of Castilian ancestry, settled in the islands to govern their territory. Most settlers married the daughters of rajahsdatus and sultans to reinforce the colonization of the islands. The Ginoo and Maharlika castes (royals and nobles) in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish formed the privileged Principalía (nobility) during the Spanish period.

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Available in the turo turo: Longganisa is a (usually, but not always) sweet sausage of Spanish origin eaten widely across the Philippines, with lots of varieties suited to local tastes across difference islands.  Here, it is served with eggs and rice for breakfast, but it be eaten at any meal.  In addition, as part of the Colombian Exchange, Spanish colonizers brought with them produce from the Americas like chili peppers, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and the method of sautéing with garlic and onions.
Introduced from Spain, Lechón is a whole roasted pig, prepared throughout the year for any special occasion, during festivals, and the holidays. After seasoning, the pig is cooked by skewering the entire animal, entrails removed, on a large rotisserie stick and cooking for several hours in a pit filled with charcoal. The process of cooking and basting usually results in making the pork skin crisp and is a distinctive feature of the dish.

In modern times, the Philippines was an American colony and protectorate, meaning that English became the language of business and education, and the economy and culture of the Philippines was influenced heavily by this interaction.

The jeepney is the most popular form of public transportation in the Philippines and a relic of U.S. occupation.  Surplus Jeeps left behind by the U.S. military upon Philippine independence were transformed – their bodies were extended to increase passenger capacity and decorated in vibrant colors with chrome-plated ornaments on the sides and hood.  Thus was born a unique form of Filipino transportation. (Pasig City, Philippines, 2018.)
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Not available in the turo turo: The Americans inspired an abiding love of fried chicken and a distinctive, sweet style of spaghetti.  While you might be able to get each of those at the turo turo, Jollibee is a homegrown Filipino fast food restaurant with more locations across the country than McDonalds – they seem to have the market cornered.

Activities

  1. Seek out some Filipino recipes.  There are also plenty of cooking tutorial videos online.  Visit an Asian grocery store, purchase the necessary ingredients, and actually make a Filipino dish for dinner.  And don’t forget dessert – halo halo is one of my favorites (only the Filipinos would think to put raw beans in an icy desert).
  2. There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines. 
    Juan Sumuory is celebrated in the Gallery of Heroes. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)

    Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino.  Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes.  These include:  Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat,  Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang.  Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom.  Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.

FURTHER READING

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


Today, the Philippines is increasingly urbanized.  Manila, the capital, is one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)

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The Great Tokyo Air Raid

Introduction

On the night of March 9, 1945 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) conducted a devastating firebombing raid on Tokyo, the Japanese capital city. This attack was code-named Operation Meetinghouse by the USAAF and is known as the Great Tokyo Air Raid in Japan. During the raid, bombs dropped from 279 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers burned out much of eastern Tokyo. More than 88,000 and possibly over 100,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, were killed and one million left homeless, making it the single most destructive air attack of World War II. The Japanese air and civil defenses proved inadequate, and only 14 American aircraft and 96 airmen were lost.

Black and white photo of people walking along a road passing through a large area of destroyed buildings
A road passing through a part of Tokyo which was destroyed in the March 10, 1945 air raid.

In many parts of the world, World War II is remembered as a patriotic event – a tie that binds nations together, bringing out a peoples’ best qualities such as heroism, sacrifice, and determination.  Such is the case in Russia, where it is remembered literally as the Great Patriotic War. In the United States, the conflict is sometimes termed “the good war,” fought by “the greatest generation.”

But World War II is also notable its sheer ferocity.  Brutality became a science on all sides, systematized and streamlined for maximum effect, cranked out on an industrial scale.  Perhaps no nation committed so fully to this pursuit than the war’s eventual victor, the United States.  With its clockwork air war, refined via the experimental process and statistical analysis, the United States exhibited a chilling commitment to total war against the civilian populations of its enemies.

There is case to be made that this was war – that if the United States had not been so aggressive against Japan and Germany, those nations might have unleashed similar barbarity on the American people.  The ends may justify the means…

But it is also worth considering a question posed by Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the bombing campaign against Japan. “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.

Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945.

The U.S. government rightfully condemns the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the civilian populations of China or the Philippines, but it is loathe to grapple with the morality its own actions during the war.  This is largely because in the 21st century, the U.S. military continues to rely on many of the same techniques that helped to defeat Japan and Germany so many years ago – that is, the domination of the enemy and any attached civilization populations from the air, be it with incendiary bombs, Agent Orange, napalm, so-called smart missiles, or remotely controlled drones.

To recant on the morality of area bombing of Japan would be to call all of these subsequent strategies into question.

But a free society should never fear honest questions about its conduct – unless it fears the answers.

READ: DO:
A) Early Incendiary Raids Plan your own Bombing Raid
B) The Attack Roleplay as a Japanese Citizen
C) On the Ground
D) Casualties
E) Reaction
This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

A) Early incendiary raids

  1. How would you describe the planning and preparation that went into the deployment of incendiary bombs against Japan?
  2. What is the difference between precision bombing and area bombing?  How well did precision bombing seem to work in practice?  In your opinion, knowing that this will greatly increase the civilian death tool, is this justification to switch to a policy of area bombing?

In June 1944 the USAAF’s XX Bomber Command began a campaign against Japan using B-29 Superfortress bombers flying from airfields in China. Tokyo was beyond the range of Superfortresses operating from China, and was not attacked. This changed in October 1944, when the B-29s of the XXI Bomber Command began moving into airfields in the Mariana Islands. These islands were close enough to Japan for the B-29s to conduct a sustained bombing campaign against Tokyo and most other Japanese cities. The first Superfortress flight over Tokyo took place on November 1, when a reconnaissance aircraft photographed industrial facilities in city.

Black and white photograph of a World War II-era bomber releasing bombs. The bombs are falling in a scattered pattern.
A B-29 dropping conventional bombs over Japan. Note that the bombs are being scattered by the wind, a common occurrence which made precision bombing difficult.

The attack on Tokyo was an intensification of the air raids on Japan which had commenced in June 1944. Prior to this operation, the USAAF had focused on a precision bombing campaign against Japanese industrial facilities.  Precision bombing refers to the attempted aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of maximizing target damage while limiting collateral damage – destroying a single building in a built up area while causing minimal damage to the surrounding neighborhood.

Because of factors like altitude, wind, and limitations in military technology, these attacks were generally unsuccessful, which contributed to the decision to shift to area bombing – the indiscriminate bombing of city blocks or even whole cities – in this case, using firebombs. The operation during the early hours of March 10 was the first major firebombing raid against a Japanese city, and the USAAF units employed significantly different tactics than those used in precision raids including bombing by night. The extensive destruction caused by the raid led these tactics to become standard for the USAAF’s B-29s until the end of the war.

 

 

 

USAAF planners began assessing the feasibility of a firebombing campaign against Japanese cities in 1943. Japan’s main industrial facilities were vulnerable to such attacks as they were concentrated in several large cities, and a high proportion of production took place in homes and small factories in urban areas. The planners estimated that incendiary bomb attacks on Japan’s six largest cities could cause physical damage to almost 40 percent of industrial facilities and result in the loss of 7.6 million man-months of labor. It was also estimated that these attacks would kill over 500,000 people, render about 7.75 million homeless and force almost 3.5 million to be evacuated. 

The plans for the strategic bombing offensive against Japan developed in 1943 specified that it would transition from a focus on the precision bombing of industrial targets to area bombing from around halfway in the campaign, which was forecast to be in March 1945. The British and American bombing campaign against Germany also included frequent area bombing of cities, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and massive firestorms in cities such as Hamburg and Dresden.

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Two M69 incendiaries in the Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2018.  These would have been dropped as part of a larger cluster. (Tokyo, Japan, 2018.)

Image result for world war ii incendiary bombIn preparation for firebombing raids, the USAAF tested the effectiveness of incendiary bombs on the adjoining German and Japanese-style domestic set-piece building complexes at the Dugway Proving Ground during 1943. These trials demonstrated that M69 incendiaries were particularly effective at starting uncontrollable fires. These weapons were dropped from B-29s in clusters, and used napalm as their incendiary filler. After the bomb struck the ground, a fuse ignited a charge which first sprayed napalm from the weapon, and then ignited it.

 

 

Several raids were conducted to test the effectiveness of firebombing against Japanese cities.  On 3 January, 97 Superfortresses were dispatched on a firebombing raid against Nagoya. This attack started some fires, which were soon brought under control by Japanese firefighters. The success in countering the raid led the Japanese to become over-confident about their ability to protect cities against incendiary raids. The next firebombing raid was directed against Kobe on February 4, and bombs dropped from 69 B-29s started fires which destroyed or damaged 1,039 buildings.

On February 19 the Twentieth Air Force issued a new targeting directive for XXI Bomber Command. While the Japanese aviation industry remained the primary target, the directive placed a stronger emphasis on firebombing raids against Japanese cities. The directive also called for a large-scale trial incendiary raid as soon as possible. This attack was made against Tokyo on 25 February. A total of 231 B-29s were dispatched, of which 172 arrived over the city; this was XXI Bomber Command’s largest raid up to that time. The attack was conducted in daylight, with the bombers flying in formation at high altitudes. It caused extensive damage, with almost 28,000 buildings being destroyed. This was the most destructive raid to have been conducted against Japan, and LeMay and the Twentieth Air Force judged that it demonstrated that large-scale firebombing raids were an effective tactic.

The failure of a precision bombing attack on an aircraft factory in Tokyo on March 4 marked the end of the period in which XXI Bomber Command primarily conducted such raids. Civilian casualties during these operations had been relatively low; for instance, all the raids against Tokyo prior to March 10 caused 1,292 deaths in the city.

B) The Attack

  1. Describe the technical aspects of the U.S. attack on Tokyo.  How much of the attack was improvised, and how much of it was carefully orchestrated?

On March 8 LeMay issued orders for a major firebombing attack on Tokyo the next night. The raid was to target a rectangular area north-eastern Tokyo designated Zone I by the USAAF which measured approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) by 3 miles (4.8 km).  It was mainly residential and, with a population of around 1.1 million, was one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world.  Zone I contained few militarily significant industrial facilities, though there were a large number of small factories which supplied Japan’s war industries. The area was highly vulnerable to firebombing, as most buildings were constructed from wood and bamboo and were closely spaced. The orders for the raid issued to the B-29 crews stated that the main purpose of the attack was to destroy the many small factories located within the target area, but also noted that it was intended to cause civilian casualties as a means of disrupting production at major industrial facilities.

The B-29s in the squadrons which were scheduled to arrive over Tokyo first were armed with M47 bombs; these weapons used napalm and were capable of starting fires which required mechanized firefighting equipment to control. The bombers in the other units were loaded with clusters of M69s. The planes were each loaded with between five and seven tons of bombs.

The attack on Tokyo commenced at 12:08 am local time on March 10.  Pathfinder bombers simultaneously approached the target area at right angles to each other. Their M47 bombs rapidly started fires in an X shape, which was used to direct the attacks for the remainder of the force. Each of XXI Bomber Command’s wings and their subordinate groups had been briefed to attack different areas within the X shape to ensure that the raid caused widespread damage. As the fires expanded, the American bombers spread out to attack unaffected parts of the target area. Power’s B-29 circled Tokyo for 90 minutes, with a team of cartographers who were assigned to him mapping the spread of the fires.

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Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault.  This photo is from the May 26, 1945 attack.

The raid lasted for approximately two hours and forty minutes. Visibility over Tokyo decreased over the course of the raid due to the extensive smoke over the city. This led some American aircraft to bomb parts of Tokyo well outside the target area. The heat from the fires also resulted in the final waves of aircraft experiencing heavy turbulence. Some American airmen also needed to use oxygen masks when the odor of burning flesh entered their aircraft.

A total of 279 B-29s attacked Tokyo. As expected by LeMay, the defense of Tokyo was not effective. Many American units encountered considerable antiaircraft fire, but it was generally either aimed at altitudes above or below the bombers and reduced in intensity over time as many gun positions were overrun by fires.  Nevertheless, the Japanese gunners shot down 12 B-29s.

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C) On the ground

  1. What was the effect of the attack?
  2. Should civilians be considered as fair targets in time of war?

Widespread fires rapidly developed across north-eastern Tokyo. Within 30 minutes of the start of the raid the situation was beyond the fire department’s control. An hour into the raid the fire department abandoned its efforts to stop the conflagration. Instead, the firemen focused on guiding people to safety and rescuing those trapped in burning buildings. Over 125 firemen and 500 civil guards who had been assigned to help them were killed, and 96 fire engines destroyed.

Driven by the strong wind, the large numbers of small fires started by the American incendiaries rapidly merged into major blazes. These formed firestorms which quickly advanced in a north-westerly direction and destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings in their path. By an hour after the start of the attack most of eastern Tokyo had either been destroyed or was being affected by fires.

This Tokyo residential section was virtually destroyed.

Civilians who stayed at their homes or attempted to fight the fire had virtually no chance of survival. Historian Richard B. Frank has written that “the key to survival was to grasp quickly that the situation was hopeless and flee.” Soon after the start of the raid news broadcasts began advising civilians to evacuate as quickly as possible, but not all did so immediately.

Thousands of the evacuating civilians were killed. Families often sought to remain with their local neighborhood associations, but it was easy to become separated in the conditions. Few families managed to stay together throughout the night. Escape frequently proved impossible, with roads being rapidly cut by the fires. In many cases entire families were killed.

Many of those who attempted to evacuate to the large parks which had been created as refuges against fires following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake were killed when the conflagration moved across these open spaces. Others sheltered in solid buildings, such as schools or theatres, and in canals. These were not proof against the firestorm, with smoke inhalation and heat killing large numbers of people in schools. Many of the people who attempted to shelter in canals were killed by smoke or when the passing firestorm sucked oxygen out of the area. However, these bodies of water provided safety to thousands of others. The fire finally burnt itself out during mid-morning on March 10.

Image result for tokyo air raid color

D) Casualties

  1. Why is it hard to estimate the total loss of life during the Tokyo attack of March 9-10?
  2. American coverage of the bombing of Tokyo – during the war and ever since – typically features photos like the one immediately above.  Why wouldn’t war time leaders want to show Americans photos like the one immediately below? 
  3. Look in any American textbook you can find – are there any photos like the one below?  Should students be spared seeing the human cost of their country’s wars?

The large scale population movements out of and into Tokyo in the period before the raid, deaths of entire communities and destruction of records mean that it is not possible to know exactly how many died. Most of the bodies which were recovered were buried in mass graves during the days after the raid without being identified. Many bodies of people who had died while attempting to shelter in rivers were swept into the sea and never recovered.

The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back.

Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. Following the raid 79,466 bodies were recovered and recorded. Many other bodies were not recovered, however, and the city’s director of health estimated that 83,600 people were killed and another 40,918 wounded. The Tokyo fire department put the casualties at 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believed that 124,711 people had been killed or wounded. Following the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people had been killed and 40,918 injured. The Survey also stated that the majority of the casualties were women, children and elderly people.

American casualties were 96 airmen killed or missing, and 6 wounded or injured.

Black and white map of Tokyo shaded with the areas of the city which were destroyed in different air raids
A map showing the areas of Tokyo which were destroyed during World War II. The area burnt out during the raid on March 9-10 is marked in black.

The raid also caused widespread destruction. Police records show that 267,171 buildings were destroyed, and 1,008,005 survivors were rendered homeless. This represents a quarter of all buildings in Tokyo at the time. Most buildings in the Asakusa, Fukagawa, Honjo, Joto and Shitaya wards were destroyed, and seven other districts of the city experienced the loss of around half their buildings. Parts of another 14 wards suffered damage. Overall, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo was burnt out. The number of people killed and area destroyed was the largest of any single air raid of World War II, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While today, those atomic bombings are widely recognized to be uniquely devastating acts – inaccurately remembered as knock-out blows that ended the war, and worthy subject of another lesson – it is important to think of them in the context of the larger fire bombing campaign against Japanese cities.  By the time Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945, the Americans had been destroying whole Japanese cities – and their civilian inhabitants – on a regular basis for nearly six months.

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Wartime U.S. propaganda often emphasized the otherness of the Japanese, portraying them as less than human.

E) Reactions

  1. In your opinion, was the attack on Tokyo a success?
  2. Imagine you are the President of the United States during World War II – how many Japanese deaths are acceptable to save one American life?
  3. How would you respond to McNamara’s question?

LeMay considered the operation to have been a significant success on the basis of reports made by the airmen involved and the extensive damage shown in photographs taken by reconnaissance aircraft on March 10. The aircrew who conducted the attack were also pleased with its results. The raid was followed by similar attacks against Nagoya on the night of March 11/12, Osaka in the early hours of March 14, Kobe on March 17/18, and Nagoya again on March 18/19. An unsuccessful night precision raid was also conducted against an aircraft engine factory in Nagoya on March 23/24. The firebombing attacks ended only because XXI Bomber Command’s stocks of incendiaries were exhausted.

Image result for tokyo firebombing

Further incendiary attacks were conducted against Tokyo, with the final taking place on the night of May 25/26. By this time, 50.8 percent of the city had been destroyed and more than 4 million people left homeless. Further heavy bomber raids against Tokyo were judged to not be worthwhile, and it was removed from XXI Bomber Command’s target list. By the end of the war, 75 percent of the sorties conducted by XXI Bomber Command had been part of firebombing operations. Few concerns were raised in the United States during the war about the morality of the 10 March attack on Tokyo or the other firebombing raids directed against Japanese cities.

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The Dwelling of Remembrance memorial in Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo. (Tokyo, Japan, 2018.)

Following the war the bodies which had been buried in mass graves were exhumed and cremated. The ashes were interred at a charnel house in Yokoamicho Park which had originally been established to hold the remains of 58,000 victims of the 1923 earthquake. A Buddhist service has been conducted to mark the anniversary of the raid on 10 March each year since 1951. A number of small neighbourhood memorials were established across the affected area in the years after the raid.

Few other memorials were erected to commemorate the attack in the decades after the war. Efforts began in the 1970s to construct an official Tokyo Peace Museum to mark the raid, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly cancelled the project in 1999. Instead, the Dwelling of Remembrance memorial to civilians killed in the raid was built in Yokoamicho Park. This memorial was dedicated in March 2001. The citizens who had been most active in campaigning for the Tokyo Peace Museum established the privately-funded Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, which opened in 2002.

One man who helped to plan the attack on Tokyo was Robert McNamara, an American whose job it was to maximize the destructiveness of U.S. air raids on Japan.

“We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” he recalled later in life. “LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.”

“What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.

As noted in his New York Times obituary, McNamara, who could effectively organize the complex attack described above found this latter question impossible to answer.

 

Activities

  1. In a small group, plan your own strategic bombing strike against an enemy city.  Your goal is to win the war.  Assign each of the following targets a priority rating of one through ten, one being an unacceptable target for attack, to be avoided, and ten being the highest priority for destruction.  You may use numbers more than once, but be sure to explain your rationale for assigning each number.
    • A steel mill
    • A government office
    • A military base
    • A military hospital
    • A factory canning food
    • An elementary school
    • A high school
    • A railroad yard
    • A dam
    • Workers’ housing near a factory
  2. OWI Leaflet #2106 – a warning dropped over Japanese cities on August 1, 1945 in the run up to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

    The U.S. military preceded many of its bombing raids by raining cautionary leaflets over Japanese cities.  Its Japanese text carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”  Imagine that you are resident of Tokyo and you find this message in your backyard.  Do you believe it?  What options for action do you reasonably have? What do you do?  Write a short story following this scenario.


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Tokyo has rebounded.  Japan is now one of the world’s most prosperous economies, achieving through peace and commerce what it could not through war and conquest. (Shibuya, Japan, 2018.)

You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:

Solemn Feats of the Atomic Tourist – A travel journal documenting a two week educational trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, made in an effort to better understand the legacy of the atomic bombing of Japan, originally published as a zine in 2012.