William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft (President 3/4/09 to 3/4/13)

    No one person exerted more influence and control over the first decade and one-half of American rule over the Philippines, and in the determination and conduct of American policy towards the Moros, than William Howard Taft. In June of 1900 the 42-year old Taft, a Federal circuit court judge, arrived in the Philippine Islands as the President of the Philippine Commission, a civilian fact-finding board appointed by President William McKinley and charged with determining on a civil government for the newly-designated "U.S. territorial possession." Taft had almost no prior experience outside the United States. One year later the Commission evolved into a civil governing body, replacing the military government, and Taft was appointed its Chief Executive, the first American Governor-General. He remained in that position and in the islands until January 31, 1904. McKinley relegated nearly all of his executive and oversight responsibilities for the islands to Taft, and neither interfered nor played much more of a role in Philippine policy after that time. Following McKinley's assassination in September, 1901 his successor, former Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, out of the necessity of domestic political realities, deferred to Taft on almost all decisions and policy regarding the islands as well. Although a special Congressional committee supposedly provided oversight and advice on the Philippines during this period, it was not much more than a rubber stamp.


                                                  William McKinley                          Theodore Roosevelt

                                        March 4,1897 to Sep 14,1901        Sep 14, 1901 to March 4, 1909

    In February 0f 1904 Taft returned to the United States to become Secretary of War (from 4/1/04 to 6/30/08), and retained a firm grip on US-Philippine policy until 1909, when he became President. However ironically, once President Taft became so distracted by contentious domestic issues and a developing Conservative-Progressive rift within the Republican Party that he had little time or energy left for the affairs of the islands. William Cameron Forbes, his aristocratic designee as Governor-General, eagerly acted as his surrogate for the next four years. Following his abrupt defeat for reelection in 1912, Taft cofounded  "The Philippine Society", an unabashed special interest group that became the voice of opposition to the new policy directions with regard to the territory taken by the Wilson administration. In particular the Society sought to undermine or reverse "Filipinization" of the colonial government and bureaucracy. But when the Republican Party recaptured the Presidency, in 1921 under Warren Harding, Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a demanding office which he held until his death in 1930 and substantially eroded his influence in matters affecting the islands from that point on.

      During his entire, long association with the Philippines, Taft made only two very short visits in person to Moroland, March 1901 and  May 1905 (after he had returned to the U.S. and was Secretary of War). During each visit he was accompanied by large retinues and subjected to many distractions. The reaction of his first visit (of only seven days total) proved pivotal in regard to  the Moros. A reporter from the New York Times wrote, “Close acquaintance with the barbaric backwardness of these people (the Moros) was an object lesson to the commission, and at the close of the visit they were in a state of considerable uncertainty as to how to deal with the situation.” More to the point, although the United States was at war with the majority of Christian Filipinos while at peace with the Muslims, the exposure to the Moros completely unnerved Taft and the other members of the Commission. It was a combination of culture shock and fear. They concluded that, of all the various peoples and cultures living within the confines of the Philippine Islands the Moros, because of their warlike, warrior cultures, "severely oriental outlook", long history of enmity to Christianized Filipinos, and above all hide-bound adherence to the religion of Islam, rendered them unlikely to ever be "assimilated" into their shared vision of a thoroughly Americanized future republic. Besides, the Moros seemed to spell out nothing but trouble. Taft wanted no part of them. 

    His decision was to exclude the Moros (and only the Moros) from the Philippine equation for the time being. Besides the US Army, with the war winding down, the military government about to be dissolved, and no prospective foreign or internal enemies, was desperate to hang on to a major mission somewhere in the world, rather than face the scary prospect of returning to the prewar obscurity, minimal troop levels, scant budgets, and abysmal career prospects that existed prior to 1898. (Rubbing salt in the wound, President Roosevelt was embarked on a major effort to increase naval expenditures in order to make the US Navy second only to Great Britain). With the Army signaling its eagerness, it was a politically easy decision to leave the Army in charge of Moroland and push any other decisions far off into the future.

(1) Sultan's fleet of vintas greets Taft's ship - March 26, 1900 (2) Taft meets the Sultan of Sulu

(1) Taft is received by Datu Uto of Cotabato (2) Two Maguindanao princesses dance for Taft

Governor-Generals of the Philippines (after Taft) during the Roosevelt and Taft Administrations

          Luke Wright                         Henry C. Ide                   James F. Smith         William Cameron Forbes

      4/01/04 to 3/30/06              4/1/06 to 9/12/06         9/20/06 to 11/10/09          11/11/09 to 9/1/13

Secretaries of War (except Taft) during the Roosevelt and Taft Administrations

          Elihu Root                             Luke Wright                 Jacob M. Dickinson              Henry Stimson

       5/1/99 to 1/31/03                  7/1/08 to 8/11/09              3/12/08 to 5/21/11           5/22/11 to 5/4/13