The Philippine Question in the Light of Mexican History

MEXICO and the Philippine Islands, more especially Luzon, were once both Spanish provinces, and were ruled—as all Spanish provinces were—by the Catholic Church. Out of this similarity in point of government arose conditions from which an interesting and instructive parallel may be drawn; and such a parallel has been drawn by a writer in The Rams Horn, of January 27. And that writer if John Sobieski, the Crown Prince, by birth, of the kingdom of Poland. Of his credibility as an authority upon the subject with which he deals, The Rams Horn says:—

“After an honorable career as a young soldier, he went to Mexico chiefly to investigate the popular uprising which culminated first in the conquest of that country by the army of Maximilian, and later in the overthrow of that usurper. Although Sobieski was, at that time, as he had always been, a devout Catholic, he found his mother church to be the parent of every conceivable outrage against the liberty of Mexico, and he gladly took up the fight in behalf of that oppressed people. This experience qualifies him to speak with authority on the subject which he discusses; and the parallel he draws between the course of events in Mexico in the 60’s and those in the Philippines in the 90’s, will be found no less mournful than striking.”

“At the close of our [the American] Civil War,” Mr. Sobieski begins, “I had determined to go to Mexico to fight in behalf of the republic against the so-called Emperor Maximilian. There was a great deal of sympathy at that time for Mexico, as it will be remembered our Government had never acknowledged the empire, nor received its minister, but had retained Romero, the last minister appointed by the republic.

“Not knowing Romero personally, I went to General Hancock, then the commander of the District of Columbia, to seek, through him, an interview with the Mexican minister. I was very well acquainted with General Hancock, having served with him on the plains before the war. So I went to him and told him my desire, and asked him for a letter of introduction, which he gladly granted, writing a high commendation. I easily secured an interview with the minister, who seemed to be great pleased at my enthusiasm, and our interview was quite lengthy. From him I received the whole history which led up to the invasion of Mexico by the combined forces of France and Spain. And the story I now give was afterwards repeated by President Juarez in an interview which he had with some American, English, and German officers who had served the cause of Mexico in the overthrow of Maximilian.”

We give a condensed statement, following, of the facts narrated by Mr. Sobieski regarding conditions in Mexico and their causes during the period of which he writes.

“The Liberal Party in Mexico had come into power upon the issue of confiscating the church property.” The church had come into possession of two thirds of all Mexican real estate. The church was monarchical in her principles and was continually conspiring against the Mexican republic, causing thereby numerous revolutions.

Upon the triumph of the Liberal Party at the ballot box, the church party appealed to arms, but were as badly beaten as they had been at the polls. Their leading generals, Marion and Majir, fled from Mexico and took refuge in Europe. The Liberal Party then confixcated the entire church property in Mexico, permitting the church, however, the use of church buildings for worship.

Generals Marion and Majir proceeded to Rome and had an interview with the pope, Pius IX., and it was determined to make an appeal to the Catholic powers of Europe, to re-establish the church in Mexico. Spain was willing, but was weak. Napoleon III., emperor of France, was able, but at first not willing. But he was ambitious. So the Mexican church generals arranged an interview with the pope’s representative at Paris and the empress Eugenie, and at this council it was decided to urge upon the Emperor Napoleon, as a grand idea, that he establish in Mexico an empire which should serve as a breakwater against republican ideas which were constantly flowing out from the great Republic of the Western World. Archduke Maximilian, of Austria, was to be made emperor, and the two great Catholic empires of Europe were by this lofty project to be united against the rising Protestant powers of Europe, England, and Germany.

The scheme pleased Napoleon III., who was to have the honor of founding the new Latin empire, and he heartily joined in the undertaking. The support of Spain was secured by the promise of restoration of the confiscated church property.

Next a pretext was found for making war upon Mexico. That country was heavily in debt to French, Spanish, and English subjects, and being unable upon demand to satisfy these creditors, France declared war, and sent an army and fleet to Vera Cruz. This city was bombarded and captured. The French army marched upon the capital, and after a campaign of several months, the republic was apparently conquered. The church party assembled a congress and declared their desire that Maximilian should be emperor of Mexico. The latter replied that he “believed he had been called of God for the post,” and with his wife set out for his new seat of authority. Proceeding to Rome they received instructions from the pope, and the papal blessing; thence they went to Vera Cruz, where the church party and the French soldiers received them with great demonstrations of honor. The new emperor soon found that the republic was not extinguished, as he had supposed.

A few months later, the United States, having suppressed the southern confederacy, demanded of France the withdrawal of her troops from Mexico, and France was forced to comply. Maximilian’s power at once began to decline. His troops were defeated in the field and in May, 1867, he was taken prisoner and shortly afterwards put to death.

Since that time several efforts have been made by the church party to recover from this overthrow, but all have miserably failed; and Mexico meanwhile has been advancing steadily in the pathway of national progress and prosperity.


The parallel between the conditions which gave rise to the struggle for freedom in Mexico, and the conditions from which the Filipinos have been long struggling to be free—but have finally failed—we give in Mr. Sobieski’s own words:—

“The condition in Mexico in 1858, has its parallel of condition of things in the Philippine Islands, especially in the island of Luzon. The Catholic Church, or more properly speaking, the priesthood and friars, have acquired from two-thirds to three-fourths of all the valuable real estate of the island. It is well remembered as it has been stated by every writer and by General Merritt, of the United States Army, that the rebellion in the Philippine islands against Spain was more a rebellion against the monks and clergy than against the sovereignty of Spain. Indeed, the people of that island did not know much about the government of Spain. The church ruled it; they levied their taxes upon the people of that island and collected them, and it formed more than 80 per cent. of the taxes which that people had to pay. Then, in addition to this, being simply renters, they merely eked out an existence, and that was all, and could not have done that had it not been that it was a tropical climate where so little was required on which to subsist.

“The great aim of their uprising was to accomplish what had been accomplished in Mexico; to confiscate the real estate and turn it over to the government that would pass it out to the people. That property had not been acquired by the monks by purchase, but by confiscation. Whenever a man had a desirable plantation, they would trump up some charge against him, have him arrested, and, without investigation, shot; and the property was turned over to the monks. It was in this way, principally, that they had acquired their possessions.

“When the commissioners met at Paris, to make peace between this country and Spain, it will be remembered that the Philippine government, of which Aguinaldo was the head, appointed a commissioner to appear before that body and state their grievances, but the commissioners refused to listen to them, or in any way receive him.

“About this time, Archbishop Ireland, as the daily press informs us, had an interview with President McKinley, and it was there agreed that the property rights of the church or monks, should not be interfered with. Accordingly, a clause was put into the treaty that all the property rights that existed under Spain would be accordingly respected by the American Government. So the people of the Philippine Islands found that practically everything they had fought for against Spain would be lost if the America Government’s supremacy was maintained. So to them it was only a question of slavery or death, and they preferred the latter.

“So this Government, by the treaty at Paris, put themselves in the same position that the Catholic Church party of Mexico occupied in 1858, and for which the Catholic powers invaded Mexico in 1861.”

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