Americans Who Acted as Civil Governors in the Philippines

On July 1, 1901, the civilian government, the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands, was established. It transferred the executive authority over the archipelago to the designated Civil Governor. Among his missions was to prepare the country for its eventual independence.

The civilian government was preceded by the United States Military Government of the Philippine Islands from 1898 to 1902 and was then replaced by the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935. For more than three decades, various notable leaders held the position and helped established order, peace, and development in the country

So, continue reading below as we’ll discover the Americans who acted as Civil Governors in the Philippines.

1. William Howard Taft (July 4, 1901 to December 23, 1903)

William H. Taft

William H. Taft served as the first civil governor of the Philippines. He first headed the Philippine Commission or the Taft Commission in 1900, from which evolved the civil government of the Philippines. A talented executive and administrator, Taft focused on the economic development of the archipelago. He was devoted to the Filipinos, even rejecting Theodore Roosevelt’s offer to be appointed to the Supreme Court twice. It was only in 1904 when he agreed to leave the islands and serve as the Secretary of War, but not without the condition that he could still oversee Philippine affairs.

2. Luke Edward Wright (February 1, 1904 to March 30, 1906)

Luke Edward Wright

Following Taft’s departure, Luke E. Wright was appointed as the civil governor on February 1, 1904. He highlighted the need of the islands concerning transportation and industrial development and stressed that friendliness and encouragement to all who visit the island are vital for legitimate development.

Under his helm, Manila improved vastly. Durable piers were constructed to protect it from heavy typhoons and winds. The water system was also developed and enlarged, and the country’s first electric car service also started during his term.

In 1905, the Cooper Act, an Act of US Congress, changed the name of the position from Civil Governor to Governor-General, making him the first Governor-General of the Philippines before his term ended on April 1, 1906.

3. Henry Clay Ide (April 1, 1906 to September 19, 1906)

Henry Clay Ide

Henry Clay Ide was among the Commissioners of the Taft Commission. He assumed legislative power after arriving in the Philippines in June 1901. Later on, he gained executive power after being chosen as one of Taft’s cabinet members, serving as the Secretary of Finance and Justice until 1904. He became the acting governor-general in November 1905 after Wright’s departure and then succeeded him in April 1906. He resigned in September of the same year and went back to Washington, D.C.

4. James Francis Smith (September 20, 1906 to November 11, 1909)

James Francis Smith

James Francis Smith held various positions prior to serving as the governor-general. He became the Collector of Customs for the Philippine Archipelago (1901), Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines (1901-1903), Secretary of Public Instruction for the United States Philippine Commission (1903-1906), and the Vice Governor of the Philippines (1906). On September 20, 1906, he was finally appointed as Governor-General of the Philippines and remained in the position until November 11, 1909.

5. William Cameron Forbes (November 11, 1909 to September 1, 1913)

William Cameron Forbes

Willam Cameros Forbes, an American investment banker, was appointed as the governor-general of the Philippines on November 11, 1909, during Taft’s tenure as president. Prior to that, he became the Philippines’ Insular Government’s Commissioner of Commerce and Police from 1904 to 1908, and Vice-Governor from 1908 to 1909. The gated community of Forbes Park in Makati City, where some of the wealthiest people in the country reside, was named after him.

6. Newton Whiting Gilbert (September 1, 1913 to October 6, 1913)

Newton Whiting Gilbert

Newton Whiting Gilbert served as the acting governor-general of the Philippines from September 1, 1913 to October 6, 1913 prior to Francis Burton Harrison’s arrival to Manila. 

7. Francis Burton Harrison (October 6, 1913 to March 5, 1921)

Francis Burton Harrison

On October 6, 1913, Francis Burton Harrison was appointed as governor-general of the Philippines under the term of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. During Harrison’s tenure, he oversaw and advocated for transferring the authority to the Filipinos to further equip and ready them for their independence.

It was during his time when the Jones Act, or the Philippine Autonomy Act, was passed and established the first fully elected legislature in the Philippines. His pro-Filipino stands made him popular among the Filipinos. However, he gained criticisms in return from the conservative Americans, who deemed his policies weren’t in line with the interests of the United States.

8. Charles Emmett Yeater (March 5, 1921 to October 14, 1921)

Charles Emmett Yeater

Charles Emmett Yeater served as the acting Governor-General of the Philippines while waiting for Leonard Wood’s arrival. His term started on March 5, 1921, and ended on October 14, 1921.

9. Leonard Wood (October 14, 1921 to August 7, 1927)

Leonard Wood

Leonard Wood was the second-in-command of Theodore Roosevelt in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war. He arrived in the Philippines to serve as Moro province’s governor (1903) and commanded the Philippine Division (1906-1908).

In 1921, he retired from the U.S. Army and was chosen to be the University of Pennsylvania’s provost. He took a leave of absence from the position, allowing him to pursue his appointment as the governor-general of the Philippines for a year. However, he decided to stay in the country and resigned from his position as provost.

Wood was criticized for misusing his veto power, after vetoing 16 measures during his first year. Francis Burton Harrison, only vetoed five bills, in his nearly 8-year term. Wood had tension with the members of the Filipino government, with some Filipino officials even seeking his removal. Members of his cabinet also tendered their resignations in protest of some of his actions. In 1927, he died during surgery on his brain tumor, without settling the strained relations between him and the Filipino leaders.

10. Eugene Allen Gilmore (August 7, 1927 to December 27, 1927 and February 23, 1929 to July 8, 1929)

Eugene Allen Gilmore

Though equally skilled and experienced, Eugene Allen Gilmore was never appointed as the official governor-general of the Philippines. He only served as the acting-governor twice, first from August 7, 1927 to December 27, 1927, and second from February 23, 1929 to July 8, 1929. Some people had regrets when he didn’t gain the appointment, even after his long, faithful service to the Philippines and the Filipinos, which unquestionably entitled him to the post.

11. Henry Lewis Stimson (December 27, 1927 to February 23, 1929)

Henry L. Stimson

Like many other appointed governors-general, Stimson had a long career prior to being appointed for the position. He became the Secretary of War (1911-1913) under President Taft’s term, and Secretary of the State (1929-1933) under Pres. Hoover’s tenure, and Secretary of War (1940-1945) again during Pres. Roosevelt and Truman’s administrations. In 1927, he became the governor-general of the Philippines and remained in the position until 1929. However, Stimson deemed that the Filipinos weren’t suited for the responsibilities that come along with self-government and independence.

12. Dwight Filley Davis (July 8, 1929 to January 9, 1932)

Dwight F. Davis

Dwight F. Davis is an athlete and politician, well-renowned as the founder of Davis Cup. He became the Assistant Secretary of War (1923-1925), and Secretary of War (1925-1929). Afterward, Pres. Hoover appointed him as governor-general of the Philippines (1929-1932). His appointment was generally well-received both in the United States and in the Philippines. He later became a cabinet member in the United States.

13. George Charles Butte (January 9, 1932 to February 29, 1932)

George Charles Butte

George Charles Butte first served in Puerto Rico as attorney general from 1925-1928, and as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney general. In 1930, he served as vice governor of the Philippines, and then as acting governor-general in 1932.

14. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (February 29, 1932 to July 15, 1933)

Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the eldest son of President Roosevelt, first worked as Governor of Puerto Rico from 1929 to 1932. President Hoover was impressed by his work. Thus, chosen him to be governor-general of the Philippines in 1932.

15. William Francis Murphy (July 15, 1933 to November 15, 1935)

William Francis Murphy

William Francis Murphy was the last governor-general of the Philippines. He served from 1933 to 1935, emphasizing the need for social justice and showing sympathy to the situation of ordinary Filipinos, specifically the oppressed and land-hungry tenant farmers. 

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was inaugurated in November 1935, giving birth to the transitional government that would prepare the nation for its independence. With that, the position of governor-general was changed to high-commissioner, who had no executive power but acted as the representative of the United States government.

William Francis Murphy became the first of the three high commissioners in the islands before the Philippines was granted its independence, 47 years after the Filipino-American War, on July 4, 1946.