American Presidents

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

In the following letter, Taft, while serving as Commissioner of the Philippines, writes to Judge William Worthington regarding his personal living situation and the political developments in the Philippines.


Manila, July 20, 1900.

My Dear Will:

T he amount of rain fall when it does rain passes all idea that one could form from the rains in a temperate climate.
I have your kind letter of the llth ultimo, and have read with great interest the story of the trip of the Commercial Club to Boston. The newspaper which you were good enough to send me has not yet arrived. I am very sorry to have missed the trip, for it has been a long time since I have been in Boston and it was a great opportunity to visit a city, like Boston under such auspices. As you say, I hope that when you go again I may be there.

Our trip to the Philippines was full of interest and very delightful. I left Mrs. Taft and the family in Yokohama , and they are to devote about three months to Japan. They will join me late in August or-on the first of September.

The situation in the Philippines is distinctly better than I had been led to suppose that it was. The City of Manila is really a very pretty city. It has possible opportunities of picturesqueness that are exceeded by no city I know. The Islands are not pacified in the sense that you can go any where in the Islands without a guard. The country is infested with ladrones and with small bands of insurgents, but the insurgents have no organized force anywhere, and the leaders who have not taken the oath are engaged in dodging from mountain haunt to mountain haunt, shooting into barracks at night, and robbing and killing their own people who manifest any desire to take the oath of allegiance and become subject to the Americans. The election of McKinley, if it follows, will in my judgment make the complete pacification of the Islands only a matter of two or three months. That which holds the people out, as well as many of the leaders, is the fear that the Americans will not stay here if Bryan is elected. There are irreconcilables who hope that he will be elected and who count on his election to give them an independent government under a protectorate. The chaos that would follow his election in these Islands I do not wish to describe.

The work we have before us is Herculean in certain respects, but with the policy of the government settled as to the retention of the Islands it would furnish a most interesting task, and one, which I am sure is possible of successful performance.

The heat here has been about what it would be in Cincinnati in July, though the wet season has begun and the rains moderate the temperature very much from day to day. Occasionally the temperature will go high and then we will have a rain which will reduce it. We do not, however, have rains every day during the wet season. We occasionally have typhoons which last from six to eight days, and some of them are quite violent. The amount of rain fall when it does rain passes all idea that one could form from the rains in a temperate climate.

We are very pleasantly situated in a house on the bay that stands not more than fifty feet from the high water mark, and which has a sea wall. 'We are where we get the benefit of the breezes as they blow six months of the year one way and six months the other, and are really likely to be as comfortable as possible.

There are great opportunities for the Commission to make things better by a number of carefully drawn laws, because the military government has had so much to do in other matters that it has not been able to address itself to reforms of the Spanish law. The mode of procedure, which has made every case in the Spanish courts a case of "Jandyce vs Jandyce," we propose to remedy by a very simple act. With one or two notable exceptions it seems impossible to trust a Filipino lawyer as a judge. Society has been permeated by the corruption which characterized the Spanish administration of every office, judicial and executive, and the Oriental nature of the people of Malay origin harmonizes entirely with that spirit. The people here have no idea of Anglo Saxon liberty; no idea of the possibility of a minority living under a rule of the majority and enjoying the same rights as the majority.

The Filipinos have observed the laws of war with the Americans from policy's sake, but in dealing with their own people the amount of cruelty-of which they have been guilty reflects seriously on their racial characteristics. They are a light hearted people, an imaginative people, an artistic people, a musical people, and a people fond of their families; they are a polite people, a politeness derived from their Spanish training. They are, however, absolutely untrustworthy, they are exceedingly superstitious, and prone to fall into fetishism if the Catholic church releases its hold upon them. There are among them a very small per cent who have had a good Spanish education, and these gentlemen, who have headed the insurrection, have obtained a smattering knowledge of American constitutional principles, and are greater constitutional lawyers than the Ante-Bellum lawyer from the South. When it comes to the question of practical government, they say that that is a detail to which they have not given their attention. If we can stay here, I think we can do a great deal of good for these people. If we attempt, to let them run the government themselves, and become responsible for it to the other Nations of the world, which I understand will be the result of a protectorate, we will need a great deal larger army and navy than we now support in the Philippines and in China.

But I have run on at too great length. Thus far I have enjoyed very good health. Our boy Robert had the diptheria in Yokohama, but is entirely recovered I am glad to say. All the Commission and all its staff have thus far avoided all of the diseases with which we were threatened, and we are getting along fairly well.

We shall not assume the legislative powers which we expect, to exercise, take charge of the purse-strings, and appoint judges and other officials, until the first of September. Then our real work will begin.

I am very much obliged to you for writing me; and do write again.

      As ever, my dear Will,

Sincerely yours

William Howard Taft

Hon. Wm. Worthington,
          Wiggins Block,
                         Cincinnati, O.

[The above letter is reproduced exactly as written and was obtained through the archives at the Library of Congress]

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