James LeRoy

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James A. LeRoy (1878-1912) was an American author, colonialist, and influential Philippine scholar.

As a civil servant, he was the secretary of Dean C. Worcester, the most influential and controversial member of the first two Philippine Commissions. Worcester would groom LeRoy as his protegé and key sympathizer in implementing American imperialist policies. LeRoy also became one of the top Philippine advisers of William Howard Taft, who would later on become President of the US.

Philippine Career

LeRoy sailed with Worcester to the Philippines on 17 April 1900. LeRoy's first job was as a secretary to the Philippine Commission. As such he was privy to most influential American officials, who relied on him to defend their colonial policy against the attacks of the US-based Anti-Imperialist League.

He used his Philippine sojourn to develop his scholarly career. In 1905 he published Philippine Life in Town and Country, which is still considered today as one of the best foreign narratives of travels and observations in turn-of-the-20th-century Philippines.

LeRoy was not above to attacking other authors whose views he did not share. On Englishman John Foreman's The Philippine Islands published in 1899, LeRoy wrote that is was "malicious and untrustworthy" and motivated by greed and pettiness. He petulantly noted that the British merchants in the Philippines were the "most reckless critics" of the American colonial government.

LeRoy would form a coterie of friends who would support him, including David Barrows, superintendent of education, and James Alexander Robertson, another Philippine scholar and co-editor of the 55-volume compendium The Philippine Islands.

Upon contracting tuberculosis in 1904, he was transfered to a much more conducive location, and was appointed US Consul of Durango, Mexico. In that Mexican city, LeRoy continued his career as a Philippine scholar and he became known throughout as the scholar buying all the Philippine books. Even from Mexico, LeRoy's influence on Philippine affairs would be keenly felt.

LeRoy's Record on Suppression of Key Philippines Sources

LeRoy's scholarly reputation among American policymakers was enhanced by his closeness to both William H Taft and Dean Worcester, who was the only American scholar with prior Philippine experience, having arrived as part of two scientific expeditions in 1887 and from 1890-93.

With the initial publication of the first five volumes of Blair and Robertson's The Philippine Islands, LeRoy wasted no time criticizing the ambitious compilation, writing in the prestigious American Historical Review in 1903 that "“the editors of the series found themselves confronted at the very outset with a vast amount of such material which was all the more confusing in that it was so ill-assorted and undigested.” He also criticized the selection of documents that were previously published in Wenceslao Retana’s Archivo del Bibliófilo Filipino and the Colección de documentos ineditors relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y posesión de las antiguas posesiones españoles de Ultramar, published from 1864 to 1884 in Madrid. He lashed out against its over-reliance on friar accounts, at some point “inferring that [they] were being misled by someone who had been “a hireling of the friars,” obviously a jibe at Retana.

Gloria Cano's research (2008) traces LeRoy's hijacking of the Blair and Robertson enterprise from volumes 6 onwards. In volume 52, for example, instead of presenting important source documents of the late 19th century, Robertson had LeRoy construct a narrative dismissing the ilustrado and revolutionary contributions of Filipinos by claiming in its opening sentence that “the ‘modern era’… did not really begin until after the establishment of American rule.” (Blair and Robertson 1903-09, 52: 112).

The Katipunan was described by LeRoy in his private correspondence as thus: “While these over-important Katipunan leaders thought in terms grandiloquent, and led their humble followers in the towns around Manila most affected by the propaganda to indulge in futile and ridiculous dreams of a coming millennium (while some of themselves were quarreling over the bolos contributed), the movement was mostly talk…”. Further “…we have seen that only vague ideas of a political organization were in the minds of the leaders, while the deluded masses who followed them with, for the most part, bolos only, had virtually no idea of such an organization, except that Filipinos should succeed Spaniards."

LeRoy instructed Robertson to refrain from using Retana’s books, describing the Spaniard as “a hireling of the friars… and his writings…are vitiated almost on every page…. He is… absolutely untrustworthy… I hold everything obtained from him as suspicious.” LeRoy, with Robertson’s complicity, initiated a campaign to assassinate Retana’s character by inciting both Austin Craig and Manuel Artigas y Cuerva, who would extensively requote LeRoy’s private critiques to demonize the Spanish writer.

LeRoy viewed Retana, together with Pedro Paterno, Isabelo de los Reyes, Leon and Fernando Ma. Guerrero of El Renacimiento, and many Filipino ilustrados, as firmly on the other side of the cultural war raging between America, the new colonial power, and vanquished Spain. Confirming that Filipinos still held the upper hand in the intellectual world, LeRoy wrote to William Taft in February 1906 that “the real force in Manila journalism is El Renacimiento, there is in the hearts of the men who are really the mainsprings of the periodical, a thoroughgoing hatred of everything American or Anglo-Saxon, and it comes out in a rancorous way now and then” (as quoted in Cano 2008, 287).

In 1909 his caustic and often heavy-handed advice to both President-elect Taft and General Clarence Edwards, chief of the US Bureau of Insular Affairs led to the suppression of the publication of Captain John R.M. Taylor’s The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States(from the compilation of the Philippine Revolutionary Records. LeRoy was at that time working on his own Philippine historical manuscript (posthumously published as Americans in the Philippines) and strongly advised that Taylor's compilation of confiscated Philippine source documents "should not be published as it is."

LeRoy died at age 34 from tuberculosis he contracted in the country.

LeRoy's Bibliography

  • The Americans in the Philippines 2 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.
  • Philippine Life in Town and Country. New York: Putnam, 1905.
  • Reviews: Blair, Emma H., and Robertson, James A. (Editors), The Philippine Islands, I493-I898 in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 1909 33: 241-243


  • Gates, John M. "The Official Historian and the Well-Placed Critic: James A LeRoy's Assessment of John R.M. Taylor's The Philippine Insurrection against the United State," The Public Historian 7 (Summer 1985): 57-.
  • Go, Julian, eds. American Colonial State in the Philippines. Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Sullivan, Rodney J. 1991. Exemplar of Americanism: The Philippine Career of Dean C. Worcester. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Cano, Gloria. 2008a. “Blair and Robertson’s The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898: Scholarship or Imperialist Propaganda?” Philippine Studies 56: 3-46.
  • ___________. 2008b. “Evidence for the Deliberate Distortion of the Spanish Philippine Colonial Historical Record in The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 39 (February): 1-30.
  • ___________. 2008c. “La cara oculta de (Wenceslao) Retana: una nueva aproximación histórica a su obra.” Illes Imperis 10-11 (Primavera): 273-302.

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