Fighting for New Export Markets:
U.S. Agricultural Press Coverage of the Philippines Theater of the
Spanish-American War (1898-1902)
1890s farmers were politicized by economic/legal issues represented by Nebraskan
Bryan's popluarity. In the 1898 Spanish-American War, most early volunteers were
from western states, and farmers could closely follow war news in general
newspapers. But agricultural publications varied in coverage levels, were
conflicted by simultaneous anti-imperialism and patriotism, and--despite
understanding that the War's true goals were capitalistic--failed to inform
farmers about new markets or new competition posed by overseas possessions.
Fighting for New Export Markets: U.S. Agricultural Press Coverage of
the Philippines Theater of the Spanish-American War (1898-1902)
Fighting for New Export Markets:
U.S. Agricultural Press Coverage of the
Philippines Theater of the
Spanish-American War (1898-1902)
Submitted to the International Division,
Baltimore, Maryland, Aug. 5-8, 1998
By Dane Claussen, M.S., M.B.A.
Teaching Assistant & Doctoral Student
Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
The University of Georgia
P.O. Box 3028, Athens, GA 30612; 800-554-3091 (H/FAX); 706-542-6190 (O);
[log in to unmask]
Richard Shafer, Ph.D.
School of Communication
University of North Dakota
Introduction and Background to U.S. Colonial Expansion into Asia
One hundred years ago, when Congress declared war against Spain on April 25th,
1898, the majority of American citizens were rural, and most of the media from
which they received their information about U.S. foreign policy and the course
of the war were local newspapers and agricultural publications. Of course, many
of the editors of these publications were influenced by urban newspapers,
particularly the New York-centered "Yellow Press," lead by papers such as World,
Journal, Sun, and Herald. The often manufactured stories from such papers
about the dastardly deeds of the Spanish and their colonial enslavement of the
Cuban people were sent westward--because such papers were readily available
nationwide to those who wanted them, and because local newspapers reprinted New
York papers' stories. Such stories thus stirred the righteous indignation and
patriotic sentiments of America's heartland, while likely titillating farmers
and miners and store clerks after a hard day of labor.
This Yellow Press influence, however, was fleeting and composed only one factor
in forming public opinion in the American heartland about the Spanish American
War, the ensuing colonial expansion into Asia with the capture of Guam, and
defeat of the Spanish naval forces in the Philippines in the war's first month.
Farmers had access to much information in the already complex international
market for agricultural commodities, although whether they could and did use
this information is much less certain. They also had been politicized, if not
earlier, by William Jennings Bryan, who appealed to such strong political
elements as the radicalized farmers of the Midwest, miners and ranchers of the
West, and loggers in the Northwest; such voters formed a base that nearly
defeated the urban business class candidate, William McKinley, in the turbulent
election of 1896. The underlying rural versus urban conflict with the on-going
demographic shift was very much reflected in the rural media, including its
coverage of the war and issues related to the annexation of the Philippines.
This paper is unique, we believe, in focusing on the agricultural press'
coverage of issues related to American colonial expansion into Asia, and in
reflecting upon what influence that coverage might have had on the larger debate
on America's direction as an emerging power in the struggle for colonial and
international market influence.
Taking the War to Asia
By the time the United States Congress declared on April 25th, 1898, that war
existed with Spain, much of the nation was in a jingoistic fury over "yellow
press" reports of allegedly cruel acts of repression by the Spanish in Cuba,
and particularly over the sinking of the US battleship Maine on Feb. 15th, with
the loss of 266 of its crew. This extension of the Spanish-American War to Asia
was the result of the success of Commodore George Dewey and his Asiatic Fleet's
defeat of a decrepit Spanish naval forces in Manila Bay on the morning of May
1, 1898. That American expansion into Asia with Dewey's victory came as a
surprise to most Americans is evidenced by then-President William McKinley's
reaction to news of this naval victory, when he is reported to have asked,
"where are the Philippines?"
Harry Hawes wrote that McKinley was originally anti-expansionist, saying that
before the war he had entertained vigorously anti-expansionist ideas. He quotes
McKinley: "Forcible annexation, according to our American morals, would be
criminal aggression." Hawes says part of McKinley's change in attitude toward
annexation was due to his railroad tour of the far West in 1898, where he sensed
a collective support for permanent domination over the Philippines to be strong
among the crowds he addressed from the platform. Hawes says what was lacking was
the sober conservative feeling that seldom finds utterances in such assemblies.
He also notes the revulsion against imperialism which was to grow in the rural
sector as such jingoistic fervor abated.
That even in the far West of the United States, much of which had been taken
from Native Americans only in the previous two decades, news and information
about the war was of significant quantity to stir this jingoistic and
imperialistic fervor, is evidence of the great strides that had been made in
communication technology, particularly the telegraph and the trans-oceanic
Although the communication technologies had grown more sophisticated, the level
of reporting on the expansion of the war to the Philippines was in many ways
unsophisticated, racist, and geographically and culturally inaccurate.
Christopher Vaughan writes that even as it launched Asia's first anti-colonial
revolution in 1896, the Philippines remained far outside American consciousness,
and virtually absent from press accounts and public discourse alike. Vaughan
adds that, "Geographical and cultural ignorance formed a basis for the
international knowledge deficit that hindered American efforts at peaceful
domination of the strategic soil and water contested for most of the first
decade of the encounter." He adds that in 1897, the Philippine archipelago and
its nearly eight million inhabitants lay so far beyond the horizon of American
popular awareness, that it had to be explained in the most elementary of
When the US press had virtually exhausted glorification of Dewey and his
relatively easy victory at Manila, it began to deal with the issue of whether to
continue with military operations against the Spanish garrison at Manila. It
also began to cover issues of annexation and colonial policies effecting the
islands and their inhabitants. The momentum of the naval victory at Manila and
war hysteria in much of the United States helped to speed the McKinley
administration's decision to continue with operations against Spanish land
forces in the Philippines, which would lead to fighting a tragic three year
guerrilla war against the Philippine "insurrectionists."
On May 7, Dewey telegraphed from Manila Bay to Washington that, "I control bay
completely, and can take the city at any time, but I have not sufficient men to
hold."  By late July 1898, more than 11,000 American troops had arrived in
Manila Bay, with 5,000 more on the way --commanded by Gen. Wesley Merritt, who
was appointed Philippines governor-general. These first land forces disembarked
at the town of Cavite on the Bay. Because the bulk of the American regular army
was engaged in fighting the Spanish in Cuba, much of the Philippine
expeditionary force was comprised of 19 voluntary units, all but two (Tennessee
and Pennsylvania) units were from west of the Mississippi River. The majority
were probably farmers or sons of farmers.
When the American people began to embrace imperialism in the late 1800s, the
United States was still predominately an agricultural nation. In 1900, it was
45.8 million rural and 30.2 million urban. This rural majority existed in an
internal colonial relationship with the industrialized and metropolitan sector
of the nation, and the larger Western European metropolis of which some consider
New York City to be a part. In fact, at the nineteenth century's end,
"colonials" in rural America exerted a great influence on American views of
foreign policy, opposing European market restrictions and pushing the
metropolitans for overseas economic expansion, writes Williams.
Metropolitan businessmen and intellectuals were forced by the colonials in the
agricultural sector to devote more attention to the fortunes of commodity and
food exports, and politicians began to advocate for market expansion. This
translated into concern in Washington for expanded market opportunities and the
need to satisfy both the needs of the larger system dominated by the metropolis
and the political needs of the producers of the raw materials -- the colonials
in new agricultural states and territories in the West. Williams says, "The
colonials, not the metropolitan manufacturers or bankers, alerted the rest of
the world to the challenge and the dangers of the rising power of the American
economy,"  adding that:
Hence the problem is devined as delineating the way the internal colonial
majority came either to accept or acquiesce in imperialism. And the answer lies
in understanding that the domestic colonial majority embraced overseas domestic
expansion as the best way of improving its relative and absolute position within
the system. The reason for this is that the domestic colonials were commercial
farmers. They did not go to the land to escape the marketplace and live a life
of quiet contemplation. They turned the sod and chopped the cotton to win a
healthy share of marketplace rewards. They intended to be, and they were, men of
the marketplace. And they knew that, in order to improve their position, they
had to have either: (1) a domestic market capable of absorbing their vast
production, (2) a foreign market sufficient unto their surpluses, or (3) a
willingness to change their existing outlook and embrace some form of
In much of the Midwest, farmers embraced the promise of expanded markets
for their spring wheat. So when this expansion into the Caribbean and Asia
failed to improve the export market for their products, and failed to relieve
their level of dependency on the railroads, flour mills and banks centered in
cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, they then turned to the socialist
experiments led by the Non-Partisan League, and eventually to a hard
isolationist stance that included opposition to entering the First World War.
Certainly in Midwestern and Western states farmers showed their adaptability--if
not also their ignorance about what market changes would or would not improve
their profits--both politically and economically, on both the domestic and
international fronts. Farmers were generally bitterly dissatisfied with
government economic policies, particularly following the Panic of 1893 and the
agricultural depression that followed.
These dissatisfied farmers were often reluctant to accept the dominant
explanation of over-production for their economic woes. The depressed condition
of agriculture was often attributed to other factors such as high freight rates,
usury by bankers, price gouging by "middle men," and a contraction of currency.
It was argued that underfed people could not afford agricultural products
because of the withdrawal of money from circulation. Trusts were also blamed for
inflated prices for agricultural inputs such as coal, lumber, twine and
machinery. These were among the factors that tended to make Western and
Midwestern farmers reject the projectionist and tariff policies proposed by the
Democrats and to embrace the imperialist rhetoric put forth by leaders like
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and their own adopted son of the Wild West, Theodore
Roosevelt. To some of these farmers territories such as Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto
Rico, and the Philippines looked like home to potentially millions of new
customers for their superior grain, meat and other agricultural commodities.
Thus they were willing to go overseas and fight for these new markets, or at
least support their countrymen in the effort..
The Press Debates Annexation of the Philippines
The colonial relationship between the United States and the Philippines rapidly
deteriorated with the first news reports of attacks by Filipino "insurgents"
upon American occupation troops in February 1899. These large-scale attacks
followed a relatively peaceful period after the quick and glorious victory over
Spanish forces in Manila the year before. The attacks by the Filipino
"insur-gents" did a lot to damage public opinion initially favoring Philippine
Without this change in American public opinion, it is unlikely the U.S.
Congress would have ratified the Philippine annexation treaty with Spain
negotiated in Paris. This treaty not only delayed Philippine independence for
almost half a century, it handicapped Filipinos in establishing a national
identity and political integration that facilitate the national development
process. Strong objections to colonization of the Philippines were carried out
both in the U.S. Congress and in the press. The farm press fully participated in
the debate, although it never provided adequate information with regard to the
effects of the war on the agricultural economy.
The debate quickly degenerated into a caustic and partisan one. On Jan. 7,
1899, Illinois Senator William Mason introduced a Senate resolution holding that
the principle of self-determina-tion ruled out annexation, stating that: "The
government of the United States of America will not attempt to govern the people
of any other country in the world without the consent of the people themselves,
or subject them by force to our domination against their will." And on
December 10, 1899, Missouri Senator George Vest introduced a resolution
outlining constitutional impediments to Philippine annexation, stating: "Nowhere
in the Constitution is there a grant of power authorizing the President to
acquire territory to be held permanently as a colony. All land held by the
United States must be prepared for eventual statehood."
In the U.S. press, Harvard professor William James, writing in 1900 for several
influential newspapers, called the annexation "the most incredible, unbelievable
piece of sneak-thief turpitude that any nation has practiced." James further
attacked the proposed policy of "benevolent assimilation" as being criminal and
contributing to the murder of another culture, adding: "God damn the U.S. for
its vile conduct in the Philippines."
Despite American news reports of such atrocities by American troops, mostly
from farm states in the Midwest and West--such as extensive use of torture, the
burning of villages and the internment of Filipino civilians in camps--by
October 1899 popular support for Philippines annexation had gained such momentum
in the United States that President McKinley, initially opposed to it, finally
lent his full support. Speaking in Springfield, Ill., in a classic defense of
Manifest Destiny, McKinley said: "My countrymen, the currents of destiny flow
through the hearts of the people. Who will check them? Who will divert
them?...And the movements of men, planned and designed by the master of men,
will never be interrupted by the American people."
Later McKinley justified his decision to annex the Philippines by saying that,
"No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to the American
sentiment, thought and purpose. Our priceless principles undergo no change under
a tropical sun, they go with the flag."
As the Philippines insurgency dragged on through 1902, and as newspapers
reported mounting casualties, the American public began to lose heart for the
campaign, but no so much so that Americans were willing to forego a successful
conclusion to the guerrilla war. The effort required 126,500 American troops, of
which 4,200 were killed and 2,800 were wounded. On the Philippine side, 18,000
partisans were killed in battle, and an estimated 100,000 Filipino civilians
died as a result of the fighting and of related hunger and disease. It was a
Vietnam-like conflict that grew increasingly unpopular in the United States and
resulted in strong sentiments among Americans for granting Filipinos their
As it did later during the Vietnam War seven decades later, the American press
beginning in 1898 became a forum for a national debate with regard to the moral
and practical value of the war being carried out against Filipinos.
Anti-imperialist leader Mark Twain said that after the occupation of Manila, the
stars and bars of the American flag should be replaced by the skull and
crossbones. Twain added that, "We cannot maintain an empire in the orient and
maintain a republic in America." In a reply that would especially appeal to
Westerners, Roosevelt replied:
Every argument that can be made for Filipinos could be made for the Apaches,
and every word that can be said for Aguinaldo could be said for Sitting Bull. As
peace, order and prosperity followed our expansion over the land of the Indians,
so they'll follow us in the Philippines.
The Agricultural Press and Philippine Annexation Issues
The agricultural press joined the mainstream press in first reporting the
beginning of the Spanish American War, and then the consequences as the Spanish
were defeated and the military turned to putting down the Philippine insurgency.
Within the agricultural press there was great di-versity in support for the war
and annexation, as well as a diversity of views on the potential economic
effects of expansion and colonization. Many farm papers ran ads for discount
subscriptions to the major New York dailies, wherein for one price a subscriber
could get a Hearst or Pulitzer paper, along with their local daily or weekly.
This indicates that even the most rural citizen--especially with the help of the
Rural Free Delivery Act of 1896--could have relatively inexpensive access to
important foreign news and foreign policy debates. It also meant that they were
susceptible to the Yellow Press' pro-war hysteria that raged in 1898. We must
not assume, however, that only one or two factors influenced the position
farmers took related to the war and to annexation of the Philippines.
The effects of the "Panic of 1893," a depression that especially hit the
agricultural sector, were still being felt at the beginning of the Spanish
American War. These effects had added a very radical element to American
agriculture, which especially rallied around the free silver issue that almost
won Bryan the presidency in 1896. Richard Hofstadter says of the period:
To middle class citizens who had been brought up to think in terms of the
nineteenth century order, things looked bad. Farmers in the staple-growing area
seemed to have gone mad over silver and Bryan; workers were stirring bloody
struggles like Homestead and Pullman strikes; the supply of new land seemed at
an end; the trust threatened the spirit of business enterprise; civic corruption
was at a high point in the large cities; great waves of seemingly unassimiliable
immigrants arrived yearly and settled in hideous slums.
Polls showed that leading Republican newspapers were pro-expansion as the war
was starting in 1898. A sample of 65 newspapers taken by Literary Digest in
August 1898 showed that 43 percent were for permanent retention of the
Philippines, 24.6 percent were opposed, and 32.4 percent were wavering. Wavering
was said to mean they had previously opposed expansion. A New York Herald poll
of 498 newspapers the same year found that 61.3 percent were in favor of
annexation, with the New England and Middle States showing clear margins in
favor. The West was reported to be strongly opposed to annexation, and the South
was in favor by a thin margin. In a 1900 poll the New York Herald found that of
241 Republican papers, 84.2 percent favored expansion, and for Democratic
papers, 71.3 percent were opposed.
A review of major agricultural publications indicates that farmers, who tended
to be Democrats, were generally opposed to United States foreign policies
related to "expansion," "imperial-ism" or "manifest destiny." It is apparent
that many in the agricultural sector were conflicted with regard to this
opposition, which was often tempered by strong feelings of patriotism. Early in
the war it was difficult to resist the robust jingoism of the era, and the
propaganda the New York-based Yellow Press was able to disseminate across the
It appears that patriotism was the strongest motivation for farmers supporting
expansionist policies, or who were hesitant to openly criticize them. In the
Northeast, Midwest and West, this patriotism was very much a remnant of the
Civil War, which had ended only 33 years before. Many Union veterans were
Midwesterners or Westerners and many of these were farmers. It was easy for the
Republican party of President McKinley to "wave the bloody shirt" of the Civil
War to gain support for the Spanish American War. The Philippine
"insurrectionists" were even accused of the same disloyalty to the Union that
Confederacy and its sympathizers had once exhibited, despite the fact they had
never been American citizens or professed any semblance of loyalty.
At the same time U.S. farmers tended to be very suspicious of the motives of
politicians, business executives, military leaders and expansionist newspaper
editors. If farmers supported the war, they tended to express the feeling that
it should be brought to a swift conclusion. Even Democratic leader Bryan, who
would soon become the most vocal and effective critic of annexation, would seek
a commission as an officer of Nebraska volunteers in the Spanish American War,
fearing that any appearance of disloyalty would tarnish his image.
Anti-imperialism was initially an unpopular stance to take and it was often the
radicals who led the way, particularly farmers, miners and loggers in the West
and Northwest, who had been hurt hardest by the Panic of 1893 and the resulting
depression. The rationality of the market seem-ed to win the debate, although
all sectors of the economy seemed to influence the debate over expansion and
annexation. Williams says:
Watching the statistics, and evaluating the evidence, metropolitan businessmen
and intellectuals increasingly devoted more attention to the fortunes of
commodity and food exports, and to the relevance of that pattern for their own
operations. Politicians began to act within the framework of that new
metropolitan concern for market expansion as well as respond to colonial
agitation and pressure for the same objective.
In order to analyze coverage of the Spanish-American War and
Philippine-American War in U.S. agricultural publications, nine such
publications were examined for the period between mid-1898 as the war was
beginning, to July 1902 when the Philippine theater of that war was winding
down. Exact beginning and ending dates for examination could not be adhered to,
because of the variation in publishing schedules. Content specifically related
to the war and its effect on agriculture as well as political opinions expressed
about the war were. Accounts of battles and strategy were primarily from wire
and other news services or lifted from urban newspapers. These often lengthy and
detailed accounts were for the most part ignored for the purposes of this study.
The analysis is qualitative for the reason that it was relatively easy to
isolate stories or content directly related to agricultural economics and the
war. As we will report later, there wasn't much of it. For that reason a
systematized and quantitative content analysis generally did not appear to be
the most effective method for utilizing the data and carrying out a productive
and comprehensible analysis. Publications examined are: The Farm Journal, a
monthly newspaper published in Philadelphia (additional information is available
in Quebral, 1970); The Maine Farmer, a weekly newspaper published in Augusta;
The Massachusetts Ploughman, a weekly newspaper published in Boston. The
Michigan Farmer and State Journal of Agriculture, a weekly newspaper published
in Detroit; The Progressive Farmer, a weekly newspaper published in Raleigh,
North Carolina; The Southern Cultivator, a semi-monthly published in Atlanta,
Georgia; The Southern Planter, a monthly published in Richmond, Virginia;
Wallace's Farmer, a weekly published in Des Moines, Iowa (additional information
is available in Schapsmeier & Schapsmeier, 1967); and The Dakota Ruralist (later
named The Dakota Farmer) , a weekly published in Aberdeen, South Dakota
(avowedly socialist). These nine publications were not randomly selected, but
are thought to be generally representative of agricultural publications of the
period. Hundreds of farming periodicals--weeklies, biweeklies, and monthlies;
local, statewide, regional and national; specialized and general--were being
published at the turn-of-the-century in the United States.16
The Farm Journal and Wallace's Farmer were two of the largest farming
publications of the period; the other six were included because they were high
quality, and/or distinctive publications representative of variations in
geographical regions, in dominant crops and in production methods. Of course,
another reason for their selection was availability on microfilm to the
researchers. Microfilmed volumes of alternative agricultural publications were
often unavailable for the 1898-1902 period, or there were too many missing
volumes and/or issues for those years.
Early Indications of Optimism for the War Boosting Agricultural Prices
The March 26, 1898, issue of The Michigan Farmer was a very early instance of a
newspaper speculating about what a war with Spain would do to the prices of
farmers' products. The article did not specifically advise farmers to attempt to
sell goods to the U.S. military, but instead implied that a farmer could
increase profits when a war is on regardless of whether he or she is a military
supplier or not. The predicted impact was significant for virtually all
agricultural products, including for horses, mules and cowhide. With regard to
demands for food, the paper reported:
In articles of food, the government supplies its army with hard bread, barreled
pork and beef, bacon, coffee, sugar, and fresh beef and salt. These are called
marching rations, and in camp are reinforced with various vegetables, soft
bread, vinegar, etc. All these articles are of good quality, free from
adulteration, and provided in quantity ample for even the ravenous appetite of a
soldier during a campaign. The sudden and large demand that would at once be
made for the articles enumerated above would be sure to advance values, and this
would be reflected in higher prices for cattle, hogs, wool, hides, wheat, oats,
corn, hay, and sugar..... The highest range of values would probably materialize
soon after war was declared, and future values would be gradually reduced when
once the enormous productive capacity of the country was directed into the
special lines which would be required for the use of army and navy when engaged
in active hostilities. That is what we think would be the effect of a foreign
war upon the value of farm products.
There seemed to be no follow up on any such predictions made early in the war.
Readers of The Michigan Farmer never were very informed by the paper whether
such speculation was accurate. Little evidence was found in the content analysis
that readers were informed effectively of the war's actual impact on the
agricultural economy. Readers were warned that there might be a temporary
shortage of imported goods such as sugar and coffee, as the war progressed. The
Michigan Farmer and other papers continued to explicitly and indirectly
speculate on what effects the war was having on its readers, with little effort
to provide a reliable analysis. The May 7, 1898, Michigan Farmer pointed out:
If, as some predict, the war comes to an end within a few weeks (which we do
not believe), another strong prop would be knocked from under the [wheat]
market. If, on the other hand, it should be extended indefinitely, the result
would be a strengthening in values of bread-stuffs. It is likely to last until
the fall months at least, and it must be a strong support to the market until it
Perhaps because of market complexities and apparent lack of data, farmers'
opportunities to benefit from the war were never adequately reported,
alternative market factors related to the war were routinely discussed but never
resolved with hard evidence in the papers. A May 28, 1898, Michigan Farmer
article speculated on whether wheat prices had increased because of the war or
because lower yields in other wheat producing nations were increasing U.S.
prices. The Dakota Farmer identified factors of the war that echoed the major
campaign issues of the agitated 1896 presidential election, particularly the
issue of the money supply, when it provided this somewhat indecisive and
questionably reliable report on May 15, 1898:
If war continues for any length of time it will result in much good to the
producer, said a member of one of the leading commission firms in Chicago and
one of the largest individual feeders in the state, who was at the yard looking
after some business interests. A two months or a six months war, on the other
hand, will operate just the other way....Dealers in Chicago have already begun
to feel the hardening effect on the money market. The large money lenders of the
east are drawing in their money as fast as possible, no doubt to be prepared to
take up any interest bearing bonds the government may be compelled to issue, and
this has tightened money correspondingly with us.
The Dakota Farmer from the beginning of the war avoided the kind of jingoistic
optimism about the war that many papers borrowed from the New York-based Yellow
Press, although the Dakota Farmer did early in the war publish its share of
maudlin and sentimental tributes to the soldiers who were fighting and dying in
Cuba and the Philippines. For instance, on June 1, 1898, a page one article
beginning, "Where Sleep the Brave," begins:
In these closing hours of springtime, while we anxiously await the latest news
from the battlewaves, listening to hear above the scream of shot and torpedo the
cry of victory, and to see above the smoke and din the star and stripes
streaming heavenward, we turn reverently and with love-laden hearts and
flower-laden arms to the graves of those who fell fighting for an immortal
The June 1, 1898 Dakota Farmer reported a large increase in foreign trade,
especially for wheat for the ten months ending April 30 (five days after the
declaration of war), indicating that the export economy was already strong as
the war was beginning. As in all articles about the war between 1898-1902, it
fails to mention the war as a factor at all in the agricultural economy, at
least as that economy impacted its readers. The article titled, "Our Enormous
Foreign Trade," never speculates on the acquisition of Cuba or the Philippines
as factors in increasing export market opportunities, stating:
Our trade in merchandise, corrected for May 14th, shows a very large increase
of exports over imports. During the ten months ended April 30, 1898, the exports
of merchandise exceeded by $127,497,435 the exports during the corresponding
period of 1897...The cause of this most gratifying condition of our foreign
trade, for almost the whole of it is due to the phenomenally large foreign
demand for American agricultural products.
Those few publications that did engage in speculation about the effect of the
war on agricultural commodity markets, agricultural newspapers also tended to
engage in attempts to persuade the military to consume more of the agricultural
products their state or region produced in quantity. On June 4, 1898, for
example, the Michigan Farmer claimed that soldiers at the front should be eating
pork and bacon, not beef, due to alleged logistical problems of providing fresh
beef while the army was in the move. On July 2, 1898, the Michigan Farmer also
endorsed cheese in soldiers' diets, and on July 9, explicitly said they should
eat cheese rather than beef.
Farm editors seemed to understand that provisioning the military during the war
was unlikely to provide significant economic benefits to their farmer
subscribers. Rather, there was speculation and guarded optimism expressed that
the results of the war, particularly annexation and colonization, would
eventually produce a positive increase in consumption and exports. The July 30,
1898, Michigan Farmer (in addition to information about trade with Cuba and
Puerto Rico), noted that trade with the Philippines had actually declined since
the war began. The paper went on to suggest that annexation of the Philippines
would result in a reverse in this trend..
The Dec. 24, 1898, Massachusetts Ploughman professed to answer the "ultra
conservative" question, "What kind of market can eight to ten million naked
savages make for American manufactures?" It assured its readers that, "Contact
with American civilization will change them and make them want more and more of
American goods, and will also train their people to work so as to supply their
The Southern Cultivator raised the question: if the United States had a larger
market, would farmers be smart enough to take advantage of it? The Sept. 1,
1898, Southern Cultivator explained that, "We have so few large cities that our
home markets are easily supplied. We must depend largely upon foreign markets."
The editorial urged farmers to study the existing markets and to develop
strategies to succeed in them, rather than relying on the vagaries of new
foreign markets. As in other commentary and coverage in our sample
publications, there was little concrete information provided that might assist a
farmer in taking advantage of expanding foreign markets created by the war. And
Southern Cultivator expressed little confidence that farmers would or even could
take its advice, as it said on March 1, 1899:
It is time for Southern farmers to wake up and keep well to the front.
Everybody else is alive and looking for opportunity, but the Southern farmers
are many of them still asleep or rubbing their eyes to see if day is breaking.
The Dec. 24, 1898, Massachusetts Ploughman minimized the importance of the
Philippines as an export market but detailed the benefits and advantages of
trade with China, citing annexation of the Philippines as a means of
expanding and securing the vast China market. It said:
Providential interposition that the Philippine Islands have come to us without
our seeking, at just the time when we are feeling the need of wider markets, and
when we have shown in nearly every kind of production that we can produce nearly
everything more cheaply than can anybody else. The fact that the Philippines are
under our control gives us a right to interfere in this defense of our own
commerce as we could not do without it. We are on the great highway to Asia, and
can reach it from our Western coast States more easily than European nations can
by the round-about way through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Indian
Ocean...."All the indications now favor an enormous traffic in American
manufactures across the Pacific Ocean within the next few years.
The Jan. 13, 1899, Wallace's Farmer also suggested that annexation of the
Philippines was primarily an advantage with regard to securing favorable trade
with China. It suggested that if the U.S. followed an "Open Door" policy on free
trade with the Philippines, it would have a greater moral influence on
negotiating for an open door policy with "all parts of the Chinese empire,
whether under Russian, German or English influence."
Reporting Actual Market Advantages Created by the Acquisition of the Philippines
A year after the beginning of the war, there was a significant unfavorable
trade imbalance with the Philippines, although this could be blamed on Dewey's
extended naval blockade and on continued fighting between American troops and
Filipino insurgents. The April 1, 1899 Michigan Farmer quoted the U.S. Bureau
of Statistics figures to the effect that the U.S. was importing $250 million in
goods from its new possessions and exporting only $100 million to them,
including $22 million to the Philippines. Confidence was expressed that
development of the islands would reduce the imbalance. The Jan. 5, 1899 Maine
Farmer simply claimed that "Power in the world's markets comes with a demand for
breadstuffs and other necessities never before equaled," and told its readers on
Feb. 21, 1899, that with regard to the Philippines, "a richer land or group of
islands, as regards area and population, variety of agricultural, mineral, and
forest resources undeveloped, cannot be pointed out on the map of the world."
Combined import and export trade with the Philippines was only $30 million in
1894, but would surpass the $200 million mark, the newspaper asserted. The
April 13, 1899 Maine Farmer, drawing from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics report,
went into extensive detail about Philippine products and exports, teasing that
only one-ninth of the islands' "very fertile" land was under cultivation.
By Aug. 17, 1901, the Massachusetts Ploughman was reporting that farmers were
becoming nervous about potential competition from all of the new possessions,
but asserted that there was little need to worry. A year later it was able to
report that trade with the Philippines doubled between 1899 and 1901, although
it hadn't doubled from much and anti-imperialists cited the enormous cost of the
war in lives and property to belittle the improved trade figures. They were
easily able to produce convincing statistics indicating that trade with the
Philippines could not rectify the tremendous military expenditures for the war
for many decades, nor could it atone for the loss of over 7,000 American lives.
There were other negative impacts of the war cited by farm publications. For
example, the July 21, 1898 Maine Farmer complained that farmers were having to
pay more for Philippine twine due to Dewey's blockade. The Dakota Farmer on
July 15, 1898 published two large ads, headlined: "The Binding Twin Famine" and
"Cordage Famine!: One of the Unfortunate Results of Admiral Dewey's Blockade at
Manila Harbor." Portions of the text of the second ad suggest that the blockade
would create a cordage dearth throughout the "civilized world," adding that the
blockade has, "doubled the price of manila rope and twine in this country, and
by doubling the price of manila hemp has made fortunes for manufacturers who had
large stocks in reserve." Both ads suggest that a bumper wheat crop would result
in farmers having to regress to the "old fashioned method" of binding their
sheaves with straw.
Anti-Imperialist Sentiments Reflected in the Rural Press
Although the Spanish American War was ostensibly fought to free the Cubans from
the Spanish, there is little to indicate that American troops fighting in the
Philippines, who were mostly from agricultural states in the West, had such high
aspirations with regard to freeing Filipinos. With the defeat of the Spanish in
Manila, a hatred for the Philippine insurgents developed among the occupation
troops. This animosity soon turned against the Filipino people as a whole, who
were often referred to as "niggers" by the American troops and in agricultural
press accounts. According to Cooper and Smith, conditions for the troops had
rapidly declined by mid-August 1898. All Midwestern and Western governors who
had mobilized their National Guard units for the fight against the Spanish were
under tremendous pressure to bring their troops home after the Spanish forces
quickly surrendered in the Philippines. Cooper and Smith state that:
Most American troops lacked sleep when logistics broke down completely in the
confusing days after the battle (for Manila). While many went hungry, others
became sick from eating the native food. Tired, hungry, confused, they took
their anger and frustration out on the jostling Filipinos. The majority
probably did not yet hate the Insurgents, but they did not trust them
Many of these farm boys began to fill their letters home with descriptions of
their plight and of the folly of the polices and planning that were causing
their suffering. These letters found their way into the rural newspapers,
swaying opinion away from support for the war. The soldiers themselves provided
strong arguments against annexation of the Philippines, and further colonial
expansion. Volunteers, their families and officials of the states that had sent
volunteer regiments began to press the War Department, which was not prepared to
release any such volunteer units, since it was only beginning to execute a long
and drawn out war to exterminate or to force the capitulation of Gen. Aguinaldo
and his well organized Filipino insurgents. Both morale and condition of the
U.S. troops declined as they were informed that they would not be returning home
as expected. Their despondency and anger were further aggravated by the policy
quarrels that were beginning at home, including the rise of strong
Occupation duty tended to be monotonous and hard on military discipline. Among
the troops prostitution and related diseases flourished. There were many
incidents of drunk and disorderly behavior, insubordination, sleeping or
drinking on guard duty, and harassment and striking of Filipino natives. There
were also epidemics of dysentery, malaria and other tropical diseases. By
October 1898, the sick rate for units like the First North Dakota Volunteer
Regiment were as high as 21 percent. The Dakota Ruralist was scathing in its
attacks on what it called "Our Imperial Army." On March 2, 1901, it reported
the "Infamous Disease Record of the Philippine Army," with an accompanying chart
showing an increase from 210 in 1898 to 3,678 1900 in soldiers on the "sick
list" for venereal disease. This could hardly have had a positive effect on the
wives, girlfriends, and relatives of the men serving in the Philippines.
The volunteer units, like the regular Army units, engaged in torturing of
prisoners, the looting and burning of villages, and increased harassment of
civilians. One officer, Lt. Charles Gentile, described a Feb. 5, 1899 advance on
Pasay, "as an opportunity to go looking for niggers." Sergeant William H. Lock
wrote to a friend at home, "I tell you the way the insurgents were killed was
something awful. There was such a feeling among the boys towards them that they
shoot them down like they were hunting jackrabbits." Later he wrote that: "most
of the boys say, as the cowboys did of our North American Indian: A dead
Philipino is a good Philipino." John Kline described an incident where a
volunteer accidentally shot a woman through the chest as she held a baby, while
his unit attacked suspected insurgents in a village.
Volunteer John Russater noted in his diary on Feb. 7, 1899, that his unit had
orders to burn every house where there was evidence of occupation by insurgents,
as well as permission to shoot any insurgent who resisted being searched.
They also began to plunder food from the villages, even when they had plenty of
their own. Looting, burning and intimidation of Filipinos was said to mark
American behavior throughout the insurrection, although there were orders by
commanders to control their men in the field. Such restraint became more
important as a policy to pacify the Filipinos developed, partly due to the
increasing cost of the war and a growing American public aversion to military
actions and atrocities reported from the Philippines.
Reports of atrocities and public sentiment against annexation began to be
reflected in agricultural publications such as the Dakota Ruralist, which under
a February 21, 1901 headline, "Our Duties to the Heathen," the writer vividly
expresses the disgust many Americans were feeling about the war in the
Philippines, which had been going on for three years:
From Greenland's icy mountains and Manila's coral strand, the poor benighted
heathen call away to beat the band. They're achin' ter be civilized, in every
heathern land, an' we've gotter have an army fer the job. The heathern are
a-callin to our noble Christian race. America with all the rest has got to set
the pace, and for our surplus produc's we must have a market place -- and we've
gotter have an army for the job.
The Press Debates Annexation of the Philippines
Strong objections to colonization of the Philippines were echoed in both the
U.S. Congress and in the press. The rural media fully participated in the
debate, such as covering the Senator Mason introducing his resolution on Jan. 7,
1899, and Senator Vest introducing his resolution on Dec. 10, 1899," or
publishing the commentary by William James.
On March 27, 1902, the Dakota Ruralist printed a letter from an American
soldier describing the "water cure" practiced against recalcitrant Filipinos who
wouldn't provide information. It details how a victim would be bound, laid on
his back and have water, kerosene or coconut oil forced down his throat until he
was bloated. He would, according to the description, be kicked or punched in the
stomach. A May 15, 1902 front page story in the Dakota Ruralist is equally
graphic in its description of the water cure, using it to reinforce its
obviously anti-imperialist sentiments:
An army of brutalized men were sent over to the Philippine Islands, in the name
of Christian civilization, to subjugate the people to the United States
government, by shooting them down like dogs. The soldiers treat the Filipinos
very cruelly. They often receive orders to shoot every human being that comes in
sight, man, woman and child. The "water cure" is a new punishment, invented for
the sake of finding out secrets from people who know something about the army
forces. By the command of an officer, they take a man, bind his hands and feet,
take him over to a tank and full his body with water; then some of the soldiers
throw themselves upon him, squeeze the water out again, and when he recovers a
little, they again do the same thing to him. This is kept up so long till he
either tells all he know or dies.
Despite American news reports of such atrocities by its own troops, such as
extensive use of torture, the burning of villages and the internment of Filipino
civilians in camps, by October 1899 popular support for annexation of the
Philippines had gained such momentum in the United States that President William
McKinley, initially opposed to it, finally lent it his full support. Speaking in
Springfield, Illinois in a classic defense of the concept of Manifest Destiny,
McKinley said: "My countrymen, the currents of destiny flow through the hearts
of the people. Who will check them? Who will divert them?...And the movements of
men, planned and designed by the master of men, will never be interrupted by the
Later McKinley justified his decision to annex the Philippines by saying that,
"No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to the American
sentiment, thought and purpose. Our priceless principles undergo no change under
a tropical sun. They go with the flag."
As the Philippines insurgency dragged on into 1902, and as newspapers reported
mounting casualties, the American public began to lose heart for the campaign.
Still support remained strong enough to bring the guerrilla war to a successful
conclusion for the Americans, although the effort required 126,500 American
troops, of which 4,200 were killed and 2,800 were wounded. On the Philippine
side, there were 18,000 partisans killed in battle, and an estimated 100,000
Filipino civilians who died as a result of the fighting and of related hunger
and disease. It was a Vietnam-like conflict that grew increasingly unpopular in
the United States and resulted in strong sentiments among Americans for granting
Filipinos their independence.
It may have been too late to change the public perception about how the war in
the Philippines was being carried out. McKinley and his administration had much
to defend. Teddy Roosevelt, as war hero and vice presidential candidate in 1900,
was one of the chosen apologists for McKinley's foreign policy. He was a
natural, since he had done much to lobby for the fight with Spain and the
annexation of the Philippines.
It appears, in fact, that the agricultural press, even those papers opposing
imperialism, were reluctant to admit that the United States had engaged in
ignoble acts with regard to the Philippines. The Sept. 23, 1899, Michigan
Farmer, for example, offered:
There is no question but the commercial results of Dewey's victory in Manila
Bay will outweigh anything we had ever imagined as to our Pacific Ocean
trade....But this is not the issue at stake. If it is, God pity us! If we cannot
justify before the world our position to date in the Philippines, and the policy
concerning them, which is generally accredited to the present administration, we
shall have to take our place among the nations as a most brutal example of force
employed for greed--an example of high promises and unworthy attainment. The
issues involved in the Philippine question are moral. We believe the problem
will be settled on moral lines.
Press Speculation on Philippine Competition With U.S. Farm Products
Both the Dec. 3, 1898, and Feb. 11, 1899, issues of the Michigan Farmer raised
the specter of U.S. farmers competing against those in the Philippines,
especially with regard to sugar, and to a lesser degree with regard to tobacco.
Under the headline, "Future of the Beet Sugar Industry," the Dec. 3rd story
argued that it would be years before U.S. farmers felt the competition from
Philippine cane sugar, by which time dropping prices would increase consumption
anyway. It did hint, however, that imports eventually could put the domestic
sugar growers out of the sugar business. The second article was even less
optimistic, concluding that sugar beet farming hinges on contingencies such as
development of the sugar industry in our new territories, maintenance of the
state bounty, and continuation of the tariff duty on foreign sugar. The story
advised farmers to continue growing beets, regardless of the risks, but to avoid
investing capital in sugar factories. This was one of the few stories identified
in the sample of farm publications that made an attempt at advising farmers.
Since sugar was the main export commodity of the Philippines, we suspect it was
easier to provide a sound market analysis.
Sugar was the primary concern of farmers with regard to issues of Philippine
annexation. Sugar and abaca made up roughly 75 percent of Philippine exports,
while tobacco and coffee comprised about 13 percent. American occupation was to
lead to preferences for Philippine sugar imports, causing a significant growth
in production until the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1934 set quotas for all
exporters to the United States
Starting at the end of 1898, when it became clear that the Philippines might be
annexed by the United States, the agricultural press began publishing
information about farming in the islands. This information generally was printed
without editorial comment, so that farmers had to calculate for themselves the
degree of threat the Philippines posed with regard to market competition for
U.S. products. Both the Dec. 20, 1898, and June 6, 1899 issues of the
Progressive Farmer, for instance, included information about agriculture in the
The Dec. 24, 1898 Michigan Farmer reported that a federal expert would go to
the Philippines to study the agricultural situation there, and the May 27, 1899
issue of that paper published a glowing report of all of the islands' crops and
exports, including rice, corn, fruit, coconuts, and cigars. In fact,
information about Filipino agriculture seems to have appeared increasingly
frequently, including in the Michigan Farmer on Nov. 11, 1899, and in 1900 in
the issues for Nov. 11, Feb. 10, May 12, May 26, June 9, July 14, Aug. 11,
and Aug. 18. Such stories also appeared in issues of the Massachusetts
Ploughman on Nov. 18 and Dec. 30, 1899, and on Jan. 27, 1900.
The Nov. 11, 1899 Michigan Farmer was one of the few publications to provide
detailed import and export statistics for each new U.S. possession. For example,
it reported that the U.S. exported 42,289 tons of coal to the Philippines in the
first nine months of 1899, versus 11,085 tons during the first nine months of
1898. It also reported exports of 143,293 yards of cotton cloth in 1899 versus
1,714 yards in 1898. The Jan. 27, 1900, Massachusetts Ploughman detailed
Spanish exports to the Philippines in 1896, the last year before the American
occupation, to provide a base of comparison for markets since the U.S.
acquisition of the islands. The newspaper editorialized, "Not only is all this
trade likely to come to the United States in the future because of better goods
and cheaper transportation, but it is likely to be largely increased by the
better condition of the people under our Government...." As was usually the
case, the newspaper failed to offer advice on how readers could act to take
advantage of these new market conditions.
The powerful sugar lobby was one that generally opposed Philippine annexation
and began a struggle for the imposition of tariffs against competitive
Philippine products. The Feb. 4, 1899, Michigan Farmer reported such trade
debates at length. Under the headline, "Working the Agricultural Press," the
publication detailed the objection by some US senators to inserting
anti-imperi-alist articles from the farm press into the Congressional record,
saying many of these papers were engaged in "a very systematic and subtle
attempt to mislead the people of the country with respect to the question of
expansion." It reported Sen. Charles Fairbanks of Indiana as arguing:
The agricultural press of the country as a rule has occupied a high position in
the confidence of the people, and we are sorry to see its influence used in
promoting the projects of any schemer. It will surely end in lowering its own
self-respect and forfeiting the good opinion of the agricultural classes. Let us
all be frank and honest in expressing our opinions, and fair to those who differ
from us, but keep clear of all schemes and combinations, which will assuredly
make this great engine of progress and advancement liable to the suspicion of
being mercenary and dishonest.
The Indiana senator acknowledges the power of the agricultural press to sway
national public opinion and political forces at the time of the Spanish American
War, lamenting that many in the rural sector had come to reject colonial
Summary and Conclusions
It would be assumed that the traditional functions of the agricultural press
during the late 19th century were to inform agricultural producers about the
economic, legal, meteorological, technological, demographic, and other
conditions directly impacting their readers. But a reading of the agricultural
press of the Spanish American War period reveals a very limited amount of space
devoted to agricultural news. Pages were filled with news and commentary
concerned with management of the farm house, medicine, fashion, poetry, and
with political and economic news and commentary generally unrelated to farming.
Farm publications, such as those in our sample, were often sold in combination
with general interest and general circulation newspapers and magazines, but it
appears that the farm press was meant to provide virtually all the reading a
farmer or his family would require. This might reflect an inability for most
farmers to afford more than one or two publications
A closer reading reveals clearly that the agricultural press was not fulfilling
the functions that might be expected of a trade press. In the midst of rapidly
expanding import and export opportunities, the agricultural press devoted very
little, if any space to import and export information. Even when such
information was provided, there was no advice as to how the farmer might act
upon it by increasing their profits, decreasing losses, increasing productivity,
or lowering their workloads.
Agricultural publications had no need to appear impartial or passive with
regard to the possibilities of exploiting new markets overseas. Most of their
readers were small farmers assumed to be generally allied against the power
elite of politicians, retailers, bankers, transportation executives, although it
is true that taking a hard stand against the McKinley Administration's foreign
policies and adventurism might in some way alienate major advertisers or
Republican political patrons. There was little to indicate that this was the
case, however, since there was no particular indication of a strong endorsement
for such policies in the papers analyzed.
When these agricultural publications did address foreign trade, such as in
articles about beef exports to Cuba, or competition from imported sugar, they
provided seemingly factual and statistical detail, but this type of reporting
was rare from our observations.
It is also possible that the audience for these publications was relatively
uneducated and unable to absorb complex information about the international
agricultural market. Again, this assertion could be challenged on the basis of
the complexity of much of the other content of the agricultural publications,
which included sophisticated news and analysis on hundreds of other topics
unrelated to agriculture. The Dakota Ruralist, for instance, carried long and
complex pieces by Leo Tolstoi, detailing his social and political theories for
rural transformation. The papers also carried long analysis pieces on the
Spanish American War and its projected effects, along with other international
news and commentary.
This paper set out to demonstrate the agricultural sector was very much
integrated into the world economic system by the late 1890s, and that the
agricultural media reflected the sophistication of this integration. Although it
is obvious the rural media was sophisticated in its analysis of the causes and
execution of the war, it was unsophisticated in regard to its analysis of issues
specific to agricultural economics and market exploitation.
Rural states, despite their physical isolation, fully participated in a
collective analysis, through the press, of the factors of American imperialism
and colonial expansion, actively supporting President McKinley's foreign policy
at the beginning of the Spanish American War. They then tended to turn against
these policies as the Philippine Insurrection dragged on. This initial sup-port
for the war was the result of rural economic and social conditions at the time,
including an agricultural recession resulting from factors of the Panic of 1893.
It was also the result of historical factors such as remnant patriotism and
nationalism from the recent Civil War era.
Farmers could only get the impression from the papers analyzed that overseas
markets such as the Philippines and Cuba would not solve their economic
problems. There is clearly a lack of adequate agricultural market information to
sustain farmer interest or optimism with regard to the conflict. A farmer could
only conclude from the coverage that the war was not producing the agriculture
market results that had been predicted in mid-1898, as the war was beginning.
It is most likely that reliable international agricultural market information
was simply not available for the Philippines, and what was available was
primarily in regard to crops that most farmers weren't producing themselves, or
in regard to crops that were unlikely to reach the same markets that these
farmers traded in.
1. Emery, Michael and Edwin Emery. The Press and America: An Interpretive
History of the Mass Media (Eighth Edition). Allyn and Bacon. Boston. 1996. pp.
 Hawes, Harry B. "Philippine Uncertainty: An American Problem." The Century
Co. New York. 1932. pp. 5-6
 3. Ibid.
4. Vaughan, Christopher, unpublished manuscript. Rutgers University. 1997.
 5. The Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition. Vol. XXV. Cambridge.
University Press. 1911. p. 597
 6. Williams, William Appleman. "The Vicious Circle of American Imperialism."
in Fann, K.T. and Donald. C. Hodges (editors). Readings in U.S. Imperialism.
Porter Sargent. Boston. 1971.
 7. ibid. p. 118.
 8. ibid.
 9. Trask, David A. War With Spain in 1898. New York. MacMillan. 1981. p. 469
 10. Welch, Richard E. Jr. Response to Imperialism. Chapel Hill. University
of North Carolina Press. 1981.p. 122.
 11. Trask, David A. ibid. p. 472.
 12. Vidal, Gore. The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. Odonian
Press. Berkeley. 1995. pp. 17-18
 13. Hofstadter, Richard. in American Imperialism in 1898: Problems in
American Civilization. By Theodore P. Greene (editor). D.C. Heath and Co.
Boston. 1955. p. 55.
 14. ibid. pp. 62-63.
 15. Williams. ibid. p. 122
 16. Quebral, N.C. (1970). Wilmer Atkinson and the early Farm Journal.
Journalism Quarterly 47, 65-70. Schapsmeier, E.L., & Schapsmeier, F.H. (1967).
The Wallaces and their Farm Paper: A story of agrarian leadership. Journalism
Quarterly 44, 289-296.
 17. Robinson. ibid. pp. 56-57.
 18. ibid. pp. 68-70
 19. Cooper, Jerry with Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the
North Dakota National Guard. The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.
Fargo, N.D. 1986.
 20. Trask, David A. War With Spain in 1898. New York. MacMillan. 1981. p.
 21.Welch, Richard E. Jr. Response to Imperialism. Chapel Hill. University
of North Carolina Press. 1981.p. 122.
 22. Trask, David A. ibid. p. 472.
 23. Beisner, Robert. Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists,
1898-1900. McGraw Hill. New York. 1968.