The Philippine Question | Prairie Public Broadcasting

The Philippine Question

Oct 28, 2019

On this date in 1898, the Spanish American War was nearing an end. The American peace commission spent the afternoon negotiating the peace treaty with Spain. The discussions focused on the Philippines and had little to do with the conflict in Cuba. This was of special interest to North Dakotans. The First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry had shipped out to the Philippines the previous May. The expectation was that the war would be over in a few quick weeks. It was more than a few weeks, but it looked like the war was rapidly nearing an end. North Dakotans anxiously awaited the return of their boys.

But it would take longer than they hoped. The negotiations had begun in Paris on October 1st. It was a hostile atmosphere. With the exception of Great Britain, Europe was in sympathy with Spain. The negotiations touched briefly on Cuba, and Spain wanted the United States to assume the Spanish war debt, but the most contentious topic was the Philippines. Admiral Dewey’s smashing victory at Manila had come as a surprise to both sides. Neither Spain nor the United States knew quite what to do.

Spain argued that Manila had surrendered. In Spain’s view the United States could not claim the Philippines as a prize of war. But Spain was in a poor financial situation and was in no position to make demands. The United States finally agreed to pay Spain twenty million dollars for the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

North Dakotans could be forgiven for assuming that the boys would soon be coming home. It was true that a peace treaty was nearing -- the Treaty of Paris would be signed on December 10th. But Filipinos were not happy. They thought the United States had come to liberate their country from Spain. Instead, the United States had purchased the islands, and the Filipinos felt betrayed. The Spanish American War was over, but the Philippine-American War was just beginning.

So, the First North Dakota remained in the Philippines, serving gallantly. Many of them were with the elite unit known as Young’s Scouts. Nine North Dakota soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. When the troops finally returned home on October 2nd the following year, in 1899, they were greeted by parades, brass bands, and the warm hugs of friends and family.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Oakes Republican. “Philippine Question.” Oakes ND. 10/28/1898. Page 5.

Library of Congress. “Treaty of Paris, 1898.”  Accessed 9/29/2019.

United States Army. “Medal of Honor Recipients: Philippine Insurrection.”  Accessed 9/29/2018.