Sermon: JosÚ Rizal, Filipino Patriot by Herbert S. Bigelow
Printed in The Public (18 March 1899)
JosÚ Rizal, Filipino Patriot
By Herbert S. Bigelow
Selections from the address of the Rev. H. S. Bigelow, delivered at the Vine Street Congregational church, Cincinnati, Sunday night, February 12, 1899. From the author's manuscript.
There came into my hands, the other day a pamphlet containing a biographical sketch of a great man. Very few will ever see this pamphlet, yet its contents should be known to every American. I consider it to be my duty, therefore, to assist in publishing the facts of this life.
The pamphlet contains a translation from a life of Rizal, written by a German professor in the University of Leitmeritz, Austria. It is translated by a man who knew personally both Rizal and Aguinaldo. It is dedicated to Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, who is characterized as "the liberator of his country, a chivalrous and brave warrior."
Jose Rizal was a native of the island of Luzon, of which Manila is the capital. He was therefore a Malay, with the brown complexion, black eyes and straight, black hair which are the physical characteristics of his race. He graduated from the University of Madrid as doctor of medicine and philosophy. He pursued his graduate studies in Paris, Heidelberg, Leipzig and Berlin. Returning to his home in Manila he wrote and published a novel which excited the wrath of the government by its anti-Spanish sympathies, and by its exposure of the corruptness of the church on the islands. For the crime of telling what he believed to be the truth he was banished. He came to the United States, and from here he went to London, where he devoted himself to further study. About this time he produced another political novel. He then settled as a practicing physician in Hong Kong. From here he went to Borneo, where it was his intention to found a colony of Filipinos. In 1892 he returned to Manila, presumably for the purpose of recruiting his colony. He went at once to the home of his family, leaving his baggage in the customhouse.
This baggage was opened, and in it there were found certain pamphlets of an anti-Spanish character. It has been charged that these pamphlets were smuggled into the baggage by some fanatical monks, and that the type from which they had been printed were found, still set up and in the possession of these monks. However, Rizal was banished a second time. This time he was sent to the island of Dapitan, where he was held a political prisoner under the close watch of Spanish guards. While he was on this island and under the eyes of his guards, another insurrection in the Philippines broke out. Though for the last four years he had been a prisoner on a distant island and under the constant surveillance of the authorities, still, when the insurrection broke out, he was taken to Manila on the charge of having incited the uprising; and, after the forms of law had been complied with, he was condemned to death, and shot on the 30th of December, 1896. Such is the brief outline of the story of his life.
Rizal was a profound student of anthropology and ethnology. He was incited to master these studies by the behavior of the Spaniards, who always treated the natives as though they were by nature inferior. As a schoolboy he was often cut to the quick by their arrogance toward his people. He could not see why he should be despised because his skin was brown and his hair straight. He took delight in standing at the head of his class, just to prove to himself that the Spaniards were no better than his own people. He observed that when Europeans came to the islands they seemed to regard the natives as a species of animal fit only for menial service. What moral right, he asked, has the white man to look down on the men who have similar thoughts and studies as they and similar abilities, just because their skin is brown, or their hair is straight? He resolved to probe the matter to the bottom and see if there was any foundation for these claims of the haughty Spaniard.
In the schools of Manila he came to the conclusion that ability did not depend upon color. While pursuing his studies abroad he kept his eyes open to see what truth there was in the doctrine that he was an inferior being -- a doctrine, which his soul hated. In Madrid he became very bitter when he saw how great a contrast there was between the freedom which Spain enjoyed and the theocratic absolutism of his fatherland. He became disgusted with the selfishness of the Spanish politicians.
He noticed, also, that ninety-nine out of every hundred Europeans believed without criticism all that the editors of their favorite newspapers chose to tell them. "That also happens to my Tagals," said he, "although they have no white skin." In France and Germany he lived among the peasants for months at a time for the purpose of studying their race characteristics. He came to the conclusion at last that "the human races are distinguished in their outward habits and in their build, but not in their psychology." "White, brown, yellow and black feel and are excited by all the same passions and emotions." He repudiated the doctrine of colonial politicians, that there are races of limited intelligence who can never rise to the level of Europeans.
While the inhabitants of the Philippines belong to the mildest and most cultured branch of the Malay race, the race as a whole has been described by travelers as deceitful. To this charge of moral inferiority Rizal replies:
Merchants come to the tropics to enrich themselves as soon as possible. This they can do only when they buy at extremely low prices in the country. The natives, however, consider such transactions as not fair business; believing that the white race are trying to deceive them, they take their means, also, to get the advantage of the Europeans, whilst among themselves they show far more honesty. The Europeans, consequently, denounce them as liars and deceivers; but that they, as Europeans, prey upon the natives, never appears to enter their heads. On the contrary, the white race believe they are morally entitled to trade with them in immoral ways.
These reflections of Rizal require no comment. Race pride and rapacity are the charges which Rizal brings against the Spaniards. And yet, as for race pride, I think history proves that the Spaniards have been not quite so bad as the Americans. There is no other nation so hopelessly prejudiced against the colored man as we. When, right here at home, the laws are ignored and men are lynched, almost daily, because of race prejudice, he must be an optimist indeed who believes that Americans will be less prejudiced 3,000 miles away from home. There are places in our country where men are supposed to enjoy all the rights guaranteed by the constitution, where, nevertheless, the colored man who should dare to vote his convictions would be shot down with impunity. This can occur at home where the rights of the negro are protected by powerful political interests. What, therefore, may the Philippines expect who are to be ruled as subject people without even a nominal claim to the protection of the constitution; who are to be ruled by men that will have 3,000 miles of ocean between them and the government to which they are responsible; and, who are to exercise control over people who cannot look to great political interests, as the negroes can, for protection? Maybe there is some alchemy in the Pacific breezes which will neutralize the race pride for which we have become infamous; but if I were a Filipino I should not care to put faith in it.
A Spanish newspaper, commenting on the death of Rizal, said:
What a misfortune parliament was not sitting when the Filipino insurrection broke out! Romero Robledo would have raised his voice as he is now doing in defense of those who have fallen victims to unjust outrages; he would have closed the road to calumny and perhaps have prevented the soil of the Philippines from being stained with the blood of Rizal, impiously shot by the authorities in cold blood.... Injustice has always been the mother of odium and future wars.
And this from a Spanish newspaper! Perhaps some will ask why if any considerable number of Spaniards felt in that way the authorities were permitted to carry things with such a high hand. Our author answers the question for us. And in his analysis of the situation in Spain I see a very close analogy to our own situation.
There are Spaniards and Spaniards; some who represent the worst phases of official corruption; others who are keenly sensitive of the existence and deleterious effects of the vices that have crept in and are undermining the virility of the nation. These have no sympathy with the excesses committed by, or with the connivance of, the ruling authorities, but denounce them in far stronger language than I have used; unfortunately they are at present powerless to effect any improvement, and whilst the constitution of Spain remains unchanged, and the people exercise no direct control in the management of their affairs it is useless to look for any reform. Some day, perhaps, the Spanish laity will assert itself in Spain and make a clean sweep of the foul, reeking hotbed of official corruption, together with the parasites that habitually live on the budget. Then and only then will Spain be able to lift her head and take her proper place among the nations of the earth.
This is indeed an unexpected place to find a demand for direct legislation; yet it appears that even Spaniards are waking up to the truth that until the people have the right to vote on these questions they are at the mercy of the designing politicians whose very existence depends upon the multiplication of offices as opportunities for plunder.
In spite of the protests of humane Spaniards, then, Rizal was shot. One hour before his execution this gifted Filipino married his betrothed, a charming Irish girl, who afterward became a Philippine Joan of Arc. What a time for a wedding! How this reminds us of the last hours of Robert Emmet! The bride followed her lover to the place of execution. What a wedding march! Yet they would not permit her to give his body a decent burial. His own countrymen were compelled to do the shooting. Back of this row of Filipinos stood Spanish soldiers, ready to cut them down if they shrank from their cruel business. "Never," says an eyewitness, "never shall I forget that awful morning, nor the horror-thrill that came with the report of crackling rifles as his mangled body fell on the public promenade, amid the jeers of Spaniards and monks, who had consummated thus one of the most cold-blooded crimes registered in history since the tragedy of Golgotha. My blood boiled, and from that hour I espoused the Filipino cause."
Why did Spain shoot Rizal? Because he was found guilty of encouraging his countrymen to take up arms to secure their independence. Why are we shooting the Filipinos? Because, now that we have bought from Spain the right to lord it over those people, they are guilty of taking up arms against us to secure their independence. Our right to control the Filipinos is no better than Spain's right, unless might makes right. If Spain committed a crime in shooting Rizal, then, before God we are criminals. The fact that we believe ourselves able to govern the islands better than Spain, or better than the people themselves, does not change the moral status of the question a hair's breadth. If the conqueror is justified in conquering because he has implicit faith in himself, then there never was an unrighteous war. If national conceit, backed up by superior force, is sufficient justification for a war of conquest, then there is no such thing as right in this world and no safety whatever for any man's liberty who has not the power to defend it by brute strength. If our right to shoot down Filipinos is to be sustained by the necessities of trade and our own good opinion of ourselves, then our patriotism is only a maudlin sentiment and our Christian professions are a shameless mockery.
On the day following Rizal's death his widow passed the Spanish lines at Manila, and made her way on foot to the camp of the insurgents. There she met Aguinaldo. He gave her command of a company, at the head of which this Irish bride gained more than one victory. Tonight this modern Joan of Arc may be dying on the battlefield, slain by American soldiers. Oh God! that we should have lived to see fair America, mad with visions of world-kingdoms and their glory, kneeling at the feet of him whom to serve is greed and hate and hell and death.
Before he died Rizal wrote a poem which was his dying message to his native land. Can you listen to these words and not wish that all this horrid dream were over, and we were standing once more on the side of the oppressed? Can you listen to the lofty words of this gifted Tagal, and not blush for shame at our hypocritical doubts about the ability or the right of these men to govern themselves?
Bigelow (1870-1951) was a member of the executive committee of the
Cincinnati Anti-Imperialist League and a vice president of the national
American Anti-Imperialist League. He delivered the opening prayer at the
August 1900 Liberty Congress held by the Anti-Imperialist League to
determine its strategy during the 1900 presidential campaign. Bigelow was
the pastor of the Vine Street Congregational Church in Cincinnati (which he
renamed the People's Church), a nationally prominent single taxer, and an
associate of the progressive Ohio reform mayors, Tom L. Johnson and Brand