Americans have sometimes consciously planted American constitutional ideas in other lands. After its victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States found itself in control of the Philippines. Anti-imperialists, William Jennings Bryan among them, argued that imposing an American-style government on another people was antithetical to American values.
Other leaders, however, saw commercial or strategic advantages in acquiring new territory. They augmented these practical considerations with an argument that Americans had a duty to bring civilization to the Philippines. Stirred by the spirit of manifest destiny, Sen. Albert Beveridge declared, “American law, American order, American civilization and the American flag will plant themselves on shores, hitherto bloody and benighted.” God, he said, “has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.”
President William McKinley appointed William Howard Taft, who would become president in 1909, to head up the Philippine Commission. That body functioned as the Philippines’ legislature, pending the gradual emergence of an elected legislative body. The United States embarked on plans to Americanize the Philippines. That project had three main goals.
One goal was to establish a system of public education. American textbooks were used to promote values of hard work, honesty and independent thinking.
A second goal was to steer the Philippines, step by step, toward self-government. The first elections of the Philippine Assembly were held in 1907. The franchise was limited to adult males who were either literate or property owners. Even so, allowing the creation of native legislatures elected by the people was a novelty among colonial powers.
A third goal was the transfer of American law and jurisprudence. Law codes were revised to mirror American laws. American judges were imported to show Filipinos, as Taft put it, “what Anglo-Saxon justice means.” American case law became binding or persuasive in local courts.
Ultimately, in 1934, the process of drafting a constitution for the Philippines began. An act of Congress authorized the calling of a constitutional convention but provided that a new constitution must not only be approved in a referendum but also be approved by the U.S. president.
Delegates to the convention drew on a number of sources. The ultimate constitution, though not an exact copy of the U.S. Constitution, reflected strong American influence. Thus, it established a presidential system rather than a parliamentary one, which was common in many nations at that time. Eschewing parliamentary supremacy, the new constitution provided for constitutional supremacy and for judicial review of legislation.
The Treaty of Manila, signed by President Harry S. Truman in 1946, granted independence to the Philippines. The country’s government today is modeled after the United States, with power divided among three branches — executive, legislative and judicial.