Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934)

Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934)
Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934)

With the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 the U.S. Congress created the Philippine Commonwealth and promised self-rule for the Philippines within a decade. Propelled by economic self-interest and xenophobia, the act marked a new stage in U.S. control of the Philippines, a shift from a period of political training to a period of transition toward full independence. It came at a difficult moment—just as imperial Japan was flexing its muscles in the entire Far East—and thus even Filipino nationalists hesitated about independence.

The Philippines had been under colonial rule since 1571, when it first became a Spanish colony. Filipino nationalists, including the general Emilio Aguinaldo, fought and lost a war for independence with the Spanish in the mid-1890s.

As part of a larger war against the Spanish, the United States intervened in the Philippines in May 1898 and, after defeating the Spanish, took official control of the country through the Treaty of Paris, signed in December 1898 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in February 1899.

Under William Howard Taft, the head of the first civil commission in charge of the Philippines, the United States retained ultimate control of the country but began a period of political tutelage for the Filipinos. Taft's goal was to develop the political institutions and leadership of the Philippines to allow for a modicum of self-government.

Taft, however, favored not eventual independence but "indefinite retention," giving Filipinos control of the local government and an elected Philippine legislature that shared lawmaking duties with a governing body, the Philippine Commission, appointed by the U.S. president.

Philippine control was expanded under the Jones Act of 1916, but executive power remained in U.S. hands. Eventually, political parties coalesced. The Spanish-speaking planter elite, the ilustrados, formed the Federalista Party, later renamed the National Progressive Party. The Nacionalista Party was established in 1907. Two Nacionalista leaders—Sergio Osmeña and Manuel Quezon—would dominate Filipino politics for the entire colonial period.

During the early 1930s two factors spurred a reconsideration of U.S. relations with the Philippines, neither of which related to the best interests of the Filipinos. First, economic pressures within the United States during the Great Depression encouraged many economic competitors of Filipino business to push for Filipino independence.

After the U.S. takeover of the Philippines in the late 1890s, Filipino businesses had enjoyed duty-free trading with the United States. As the U.S. economy slumped during the 1930s, however, U.S. businessmen began to push for measures that would curtail competition from Filipino businesses.

Second, a number of anti-Asian activists wanted to see the Philippines gain its independence in order to reduce Filipino immigration to the mainland United States. As part of a resurgence of U.S. racism and nativism, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 had closed the doors of the United States to immigrants from China, Japan, India, and the rest of Asia.

Filipinos, however, could continue to move to the United States because they came from a possession of the United States, not an independent country. Opponents of Asian immigration to the United States thus supported Filipino independence because it would close this loophole.

In 1933 the U.S. Congress passed the Hawes Cutting Act despite the veto of President Herbert Hoover. This act provided for Philippine independence following 12 years of commonwealth government. Despite its passage by the U.S. Congress, the act was denied by the Philippine legislature, which objected to the tariff provisions.

These had been put in place to protect American farmers, who feared the tarifffree import of Philippine sugar and coconut oil. In response, the Philippine legislature advocated a new bill and secured the support of the recently elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This would become the Tydings-McDuffie Act.

Public Law 127, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, passed in 1934. The act promised full Philippine independence within 10 years and reorganized the Filipino political system into the Philippine Commonwealth.

Under this system the United States administered Philippine foreign relations, defense, and major economic affairs but granted the Philippine legislature and the newly elected president the power to manage internal affairs. But Quezon won a concession: After independence the United States would only retain control of military bases if the Philippines consented.

In 1935 Manuel Quezon was elected the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth. The autocratic Quezon dominated the commonwealth period, solidifying his hold on power and dealing ruthlessly with political opponents. During his tenure he did little for the rural poor, crushing their protest movements with force. He led the commonwealth until forced to flee the Japanese invasion in late 1941 and died in exile in 1944.

After World War II the United States fulfilled its commitment to grant the Philippines independence. The United States handed over full sovereignty to the Philippines on July 4, 1946, thereby fulfilling the promise made by the Tydings-McDuffie Act 12 years earlier.