The One Other Country That Celebrates the Fourth of July (Sort Of)

Since the Philippines won their independence from U.S. colonial control on July 4, 1946, it's been a national holiday -- though not always the same one.

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A Filipino man marches in a Philippines Republic Day parade on July 4. (AP)

The Fourth of July is the most uniquely and intrinsically American of holidays. Thanksgiving is also observed in Canada and Liberia, after all, but surely only the United States could celebrate the anniversary of its revolutionary declaration of independence. Except that Americans are not the only ones marking the holiday today: thousands of miles away, on the opposite end of the Pacific, the Philippines have the Fourth of July on their calendars as well. Or, they did for a while, anyway; 50 years ago, they either changed the holiday's name or moved it up a few weeks, depending on how you look at it. This is the story of the Philippines' Fourth of July.

The Philippines actually declared their independence on June 12, 1898, after four centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Unfortunately for them, Spain was in the middle of fighting a war with the United States. When Spain lost, it "sold" the Philippines to America for $20 million, about one quarter of what Americans spend on cheese every Fourth of July weekend. The U.S. invaded, crushed the Filipino independence movement, and declared the Pacific island nation a U.S. territory.

The U.S. was an awkward colonial master, nowhere near as practiced or comfortable as the European powers, but from the beginning it worked to instill the importance of July Fourth in the Philippines. Though American forces effectively defeated the Filipinos in April 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt waited until July 4, 1902, to declare victory. That's right: the U.S. celebrated independence day that year by taking away the independence of another country; perhaps an early sign that America was not suited for colonialism. But it gave the thousands of American soldiers still in the Philippines two reasons to celebrate the Fourth. In Manila, the 30th U.S. Infantry Regiment held a parade to mark them both.

That same week, the U.S. Congress passed the Philippine Organic Act, which engineered the colonial Philippines' government as a semi-democratic, joint American-Filipino body. The legislature was split between a "Philippine Commission" of White House appointees and a less powerful "Philippine Legislature" of elected Filipinos. But overseeing them both was a Governor-General, hand-picked by the U.S. president. The first Governor-General was William Howard Taft. So, even if actual Filipinos did not observe the Fourth of July, their government certainly did.

But a number of Americans were uneasy with the colonial effort, among them The Atlantic, which that month published a long meditation on the contradiction of celebrating the Fourth of July while revoking another country's independence, and on "the attempts we are making to impose that organization by force upon Asiatic peoples." The unsigned piece argued, "It is plain enough now that we are holding the Philippines by physical force only, and that the brave and unselfish men we have sent there have been assigned to a task which is not only repellent to Americans, but bitterly resented by the supposed beneficiaries of our action." The magazine that had opposed slavery less than 50 years earlier, like many Americans, found colonialism a poor fit.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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