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Debate: Should the U.S. Annex the Philippines?

In this activity students investigate various perspectives on the debate over the annexation of the Philippines by the United States after the Spanish-American War. Students read a variety of primary sources on the annexation question and the struggle for Philippine independence, debate the relevant issues while in character of proponents of either side, attempt to reach consensus on the issue, and report the outcome to the class.


  • Students will describe the issues surrounding the U.S. annexation of the Philippines from a variety of perspectives.

  • Students will debate with each other the various arguments for and against annexation and attempt to form consensus.  


Step 1: Analyzing the Documents

Divide the class into small groups (3-8 students) and give each group a packet of all the documents.  Each group member should choose ONE of the documents to closely examine.  The group member will debate the annexation of the Philippines from the perspective of the writer of his or her document.  Make sure that each group includes at least one pro-annexation view, one anti-annexation, and one Filipino perspective.  After reading the document assigned to them, the students should skim the other documents in the packet.  

Step 2: Preparing to Debate

Students prepare to debate from the perspectives of their characters, by answering the following questions:

  • What is the name of your character (i.e., the author of the document)?

  • What position is your character taking on the question of annexation (making the United States part of the Philippines)? What are his/her reasons?

  • What more would you like to know about your character?

  • Why do you think your character thinks the way he or she does?  What would it take to change his or her thinking somewhat?

  • What are some of the reasons on the other side of the argument?

  • If your character had to try to reach a consensus or compromise with others who disagree, what kind of compromise would your character be willing to accept?  What would he or she not be willing to compromise on?

Step 3: Choosing a Recorder

Each group should choose a person to record the debate.  That person should make a chart with space for reasons for and against U.S. annexation of the Philippines.

Step 4: Presenting the Views from the Documents

Each group member, pretending to be the person who wrote their assigned document, should present that person's view on annexation to the rest of the group.  The recorder should make note of pro and con arguments on the chart.

Step 5: Debate

When everyone has presented his or her view, students should continue discussing and debating the question of U.S. annexation.  They should use the documents and their authors as the basis for the debate; they should strive to STAY IN CHARACTER.

Step 6: Reaching a Consensus

By the end of the debate, group members should try to reach a consensus--a compromise on which everyone can agree--about what position the U.S. should take on the question of annexing the Philippines.  Participants should refer to their answers from Step 2.  

Step 7: Report to the Class

Members of each group should share with their classmates what kind of consensus they reached.  If the group was unable to reach a consensus, they should explain why not.  

Activity Extension

Based on the consensus it reached in the debate/discussion, the group should write a newspaper editorial on whether or not the United States should annex the Philippines.

Historical Context

Americans divided sharply in 1899 over whether to annex the Philippines as part of the United States. In 1900 Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, running for a second time against William McKinley, made anti-imperialism the central issue of his campaign. McKinley won easily and historian Walter LaFeber has argued that Bryan's defeat showed that the American public had reached a fundamental consensus in favor of American expansionism abroad. "By 1899," LaFeber concludes, "the United States had forged a new empire." Still, the conflict between imperialists, isolationists, and Filipinos who fought for their nation's independence would echo in debates over U.S. foreign policy for the rest of the twentieth century.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2008.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Debate: Should the U.S. Annex the Philippines?,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 3, 2024,

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